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Rethinking the Meaning of Sandbox

William Murphy Posted:
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In most Sandbox MMOs, the developers give players a rule-set, but give them tools within the game to let them build and make their own experiences. Shards, the new independent MMORPG from Citadel Studios, aims to take that design one step further by essentially giving every player the sort of access to the server and game mechanics that are typically reserved for the designers themselves. As its namesake implies, Shards gives players the power to manage, maintain, and mod their own servers to their hearts’ content.  There will be official game “shards” where the story, lore, and driving forces of the studio keep the game content coming, but as we found out during PAX Citadel hopes and expects some of the players’ creations to outshine their own. 

They know that building a content-heavy MMORPG with an Indie team is not possible, which is why the Citadel lads are focused on delivering a technology based system that will allow the players to make worlds, tell stories, and build playsets while Citadel works on their own core servers as well.  Tim and Derek showed us a shard that plays a lot like Rust as a survival RPG with a top-down view.  We also saw a PVP map that’s used internally to test combat.  Each corner of the map has its own elemental bastion that teams can fight for control over.  The game engine is Unity, while the server tech is all Citadel.  With the two combined, there’s literally no limit to what you might come upon in game. 

You can spend all of your free time on the Citadel official servers, playing up your character with the free-form classless progression you remember from Ultima Online.  Build a house, become a ninja, a pirate, a farmer, an animal tamer… you name it, it’s there.  Or, perhaps you want to venture out into the universe that other players create.  You’ll simply find a portal, and then select from a cast of worlds with untold adventures and riches.  They’ll be clearly marked so you won’t accidentally step into a portal that brings you to a perma-death shard with full PVP loot… unless you’re into that sort of thing.  But if your character from the official shards dies in the player-made permadeath shard? It’s over for that character.  Development and progression of your hero spans across worlds, so in a sense even the “fan-made” worlds are “official” in the eyes of Citadel.

There’s a whole lore basis to how these worlds are intertwined, and some of that can be seen in the teaser above.  But essentially, as a player if you head up one of the many Shards, you’ll be allowed to server as its God.  You can rove about in god-mode, wreaking havoc on poor denizens of your world, or like a benevolent GM if you watch them beat a tough boss you placed in the world you can reward them by spawning awesome gear right then and there on the spot.  Citadel will allow players to rate and review other player shards, so the idea is that the “best” will rise to the top, while the worst will fall to the bottom.  So don’t go getting ideas that your Shard will be awesome because you insta-kill all new players… chances are you’ll wind up alone on that shard soon enough.

In essence, Shards could wind up being the ultimate sandbox MMORPG. This isn’t some Minecraft builder clone, but rather a series of worlds that are limited only by the player’s imagination.  I wish we could show you the footage and gameplay we saw, but the art and assets are pretty early going so they didn’t quite want to show it off just yet.  If you think UO with a more polished and modern 3D look, using the Titan Quest camera view, you’ll get an idea.  Ripper X and I were seriously blown away by Citadel’s vision, and we can’t wait to see the game in a more finished state.  Until then, we’ll keep you posted on all we learn about the game.

Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.