National Video Games Examiner Patrick Hickey Jr. chats with Jean-Christophe Baillie CEO and Founder of Novaquark to get the inside scoop on the recently announced Sci-Fi themed PC MMORPG “Dual Universe.” From the development process to its goals, Baillie lets us know exactly why this is a project you should keep your eyes on.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this game?
Jean-Christophe Baillie: We like sandbox and emergent type of gameplay, the idea that what you experience in the game is the result of the interaction of millions of players, rather than a rigid setting or a predefined story. With such an emergent gameplay, everything becomes possible, you can really live your dream, forge your destiny. I think this is an old dream for gamers. We are huge fans of games like Eve Online, for the socio-political aspects of emergence, or Minecraft for the 3D in-game content, maybe more Everquest Landmark actually, because we use a quite sophisticated voxel technology that is not limited to cubes (we have our own voxel tech, not VoxelFarm).
Review Fix: I know it’s early, but what has development been like thus far?
Baillie: Intense! We have focused first on the technologies that are making all this possible: the voxel engine, the 64bits planetary engine, the Continuous Single-Shard Cluster (CSSC, the server side). We needed to be sure that it was working. All these, and especially the CSSC, are incredibly disruptive and innovative technologies. We had to reinvent how we approach things like client/server interactions, player updates when tens of thousands of people are in the same area, rendering for gigantic scene covering the scale of galaxies, procedurally generated planets that can be edited at any place. We have made a true sandbox game.
Review Fix: What games have you guys worked on in the past and how have they played a role in this one?
Baillie: We have veterans from Ubisoft, Sony, Apple or Aldebaran Robotics (the Nao robot!). The backgrounds are very diverse but more importantly, we have very talented and creative people. No, I know everybody says that, but really, they are awesome! Some of them have worked on titles like Watch Dogs or Ghost Recon, but we also want to take some distance with the codes of traditional gaming: quests, goals, story, all this will emerge and not be designed. We want to inspire players rather than direct them. Sometimes we talk about “meta-gamedesign” to suggest that we don’t directly implement the player experience, but rather the environment that will give birth to it.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy this one the most?
Baillie: Ultimately, when we are done covering all the gameplay aspects that we want, like exploration, industry, warfare, politics, etc, the game should appeal to a very large audience of quite diverse people. But, interestingly, we will have a game experience that evolves over time: because we will implement features one by one (we don’t have the necessary budget to do everything in parallel), and because players will use these features to transform the world and the gaming experience. In other words, what it’s like to play Dual Universe, and who will like it, will probably change over time. And this is good. At first, we think that mostly explorers and builders will be joining, perhaps a bit of traders. But then, people interested in politics and territory management will start to come in, and then warfare. In any case, we are targeting a mature audience that is interested in immerging itself into a “dual” reality.
Review Fix: There are a ton of MMOs out there, what makes this one special?
Baillie: When you look carefully, what people call Massively Multiplayer Online games today are often limited to a set of a few hundreds or thousands of players, with instances or local servers. What we do is a unique gigantic world where millions of people will be able to connect simultaneously and will meet in-game. Also, everything in the game is editable. Every ship or construction is made by players, blueprinted and copied by players, sold on markets by players, etc. What you see in other games are usually pre-defined ships or entities, given by the game developers. The world is usually small and local to a few people, often reset between games. The exception is Eve Online, which we admire a lot. But even Eve does not have planets you can land on, and does not have a continuous single-shard (when a solar system is “full”, with a few thousand people in it, you just cannot enter it anymore, you have to queue). There is no magic, we have a technology that handle all this is in a very different way (we have a devblog article about it, for interested readers). But we believe it changes everything in terms of experience, because in a continuous single-shard world, everything you do matter: everybody is in the same boat. It’s a game with “History”.
Review Fix: What are your goals for this game?
Baillie: We would like to gather a community of gamers that share our vision of creating a lively online world where incredible stories will develop, incredible constructions will be undertaken, where everybody can live his or her dream, together or in solo. And we want to build the game with them, listening to their feedback, learning from what works and what does not work. We certainly don’t want to rush things. The growth model of Eve Online is a reference for us: they grew steadily over the years, gathering a solid community and improving the game over time. I think it’s a very sound model. At the end, of course, we hope to have a very large population in-game, and perhaps more than just gamers: it is possible that if the in-game world is rich enough to be entertaining in itself, or spectacular, some people will be joining in as spectators with VR headsets and just enjoy the show! But this for some time in the future.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Baillie: The trailer! And then the alpha somewhere at the beginning of 2017 if we don’t run into unforeseeable delays. We really want to have people in the game as soon as possible, because all we show in these screenshots, or in the coming videos is genuine. No photoshop, no CGI, no fancy effects. This is in-game. Some people don’t believe us, it’s ok. But we can’t wait to share it with everybody.