Thank you for taking some time to answer our questions about Dual Universe. First of all, could you introduce yourself to our readers?
Thank you for having me in! I’m Jean-Christophe (JC) Baillie, the founder of Novaquark and the guy behind the Dual Universe project. It’s a project I have been thinking about (and programming about!) for many years now, even if I have been more involved into AI and robotics quite recently, both in research and with my first startup. The link between my background and Novaquark is my passion for innovative technology, trying to break the “impossible” barrier by looking at new approaches, being creative.
Could you give us a brief overview of what the game is about?
Dual Universe is a Sci-Fi sandbox set within a continuous single-shard universe. This means that everybody shares the same universe, at the same time. There are many planets and places to explore, and Dual Universe is also all about emergent gameplay: players can build anything they want (ships, cities, orbital stations, etc) and create collective stories and gameplay based around exploration, mining, crafting, trade, politics and warfare. The “continuous single-shard” aspect means that there are no abstract boundaries. We want to offer a really immersive experience, because in terms of gameplay, we believe that it changes everything: everything you do matters, you are part of a collective history. The catch phrase is “Shape the Universe, Leave your Mark”.
There is something about space and huge spaceships that everyone loves. How and why did you decide to start the development of Dual Universe?
Well I love Science and I love Sci-Fi! I’m also an avid gamer, but at some point I felt that the innovation I was hoping for in the MMO genre was not coming. A lot of games are recycling old recipes and I was not very interested anymore. I wanted to get back to the root of the MMO dream: millions of people in a continuous universe, with emergent gameplay and the possibility to build things in the world, including social and political aspects. I want to be surprised when I play a game! A game where you can become anything, create anything. You know, “virtual worlds” is an old idea that you see in lots of Sci-Fi movies and books, so it’s not very original. But I thought it was time to try to make it real!
We are personally pretty excited about the game. How has the MMO community reacted to it so far?
To be honest, we have been really surprised by the amount of support we received from our first press release and pre-alpha screenshots: sure we hoped to get some visibility, but we didn’t expect that much! The community has given us incredible positive feedback so far. Of course, there are some people skeptical that we can achieve such an ambitious game and that’s perfectly understandable: there have been several ambitious projects that have failed in the recent years… But we try to learn from them and not make the same mistakes and all we ask from those who don’t believe us: please wait and see.
How much freedom will you give players when it comes to building? For example, will it be possible to create space stations anywhere?
Absolutely. There will be gameplay rules however: obviously creating giant structures will cost time and in-game money, and will almost always involve large organizations of players. A space station can only be built if you have secured the proper material resource channels, the logistic, the mercenaries to protect it while it’s built, the political alliances, financing, design, etc. It’s like a mega sub-plot within the game, but entirely emergent and player-driven. I think building something like a giant space station could get – directly or indirectly – thousands of players busy for many months! We also plan to introduce a fairly advanced territory system that will imply that not anyone can build anywhere, for political reasons. This, in turn, should lead to interesting tensions against the control of land and space.
Although there are not many titles similar to Dual Universe on the market, how will it differ from the existing ones?
There are two major differences that makes it a quite unique game on the market today: first it is a real Massively Multiplayer game, with one single universe shared by everyone at the same time (the “boundless” MMO concept). Space is not subdivided into zones (like planets or solar systems) that can get full and force you to queue: everything is in continuous single-shard cluster. If you check carefully, nobody is doing that, and you need this feature if you want cities, large territorial structures, etc.
Second, as I mentioned previously, every ship, city, station or construction is player-made. The world is entirely modifiable, planets are harvestable. Space ships (or to be more precise: constructions that fly and that you decide to call spaceships!) are scriptable, physically based, and can be “sculpted” in any way with our voxel technology, so the only limit is the players imagination. And because it’s all taking place in a single-shard universe, with realistic economy and in-game markets, you can compete with others on the markets and the best designs will be selected, so we hope to see a relatively high quality of content emerging in the long term. The content also includes what players are doing in the game: we won’t have quests, goals or stories to follow. We believe that players will create their own stories, in a true emergent approach.
Other than that, there are many other differences: customizable political systems, rights & duty management system, a market-based contract system, etc. I recommend having a look at our devblog, which goes into detail regarding the emergent gameplay we have in mind, and also describes the technology we have developed.
Will Dual Universe focus on PvP in terms of gameplay? Can players expect to see some PvE?
That’s a question coming back a lot these last days. Well PvP will undoubtedly play a big role in Dual Universe. We consider this is unavoidable for a realistic sandbox, under the form of space piracy and territorial warfare. But we will also try to make room for those who are not interested in PvP, especially players interested mainly in PvE, roleplay or just making detailed, complex voxel art in peace. Implementing this will involve the possibility to create safe bubbles that are hard to maintain but almost impossible to break (or at least, you have a lot of time to react to any threat, and good alliances could help you out of trouble). There is still a lot of thinking going on this aspect, it’s really something complex and very interesting.
Can you share estimates, if any, for the release date or open beta of the title?
We want to be transparent here: we just achieved a significant milestone by making complete editable and realistic-looking planets and constructions, with the ability to handle many players gathering at the same place in a scalable way. However the work on gameplay is just at the beginning. We already have the voxel building gameplay, but we know the gameplay scope we are aiming at is huge, and to release all the features we plan, it will take time. That’s why we are planning to release the gameplay by “bricks” over time, one after another. We will open limited access to the Alpha early in 2017 but this is clearly for the people who want to help us in shaping a smooth gameplay and track the bugs, not for those expecting a complete game. Beta should be released early 2018, and, if all goes well, we hope to officially launch the game in the second half of 2018.
Anything you can tell us about the business model you plan to introduce?
We plan to use a subscription model, because we are convinced this is the right model for this kind of game and for the audience we are targeting. But it will not necessarily be a paywall, because we will also introduce a system of time coupons that can be purchased from us to get one month of game-time, but can also be sold on the in-game markets. Active players with surplus in-game currency can buy these and effectively not pay for the subscription. This is a very good model with a lot of virtues: players contributing the more to the in-game content creation, thus likely to get in-game money for their efforts, will be rewarded by playing for free.
We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and we wish you the best with Dual Universe. If you want to add anything else, now is the time.
First of all and again, a big thank you for this opportunity to discuss Dual Universe. We have still a long way to go, but I want to tell the community that we have focused on the “hard” technological challenge of making this a continuous single-shard world, with editable content and voxels. We believe it’s a breakthrough that can bring a lot of novelty to the MMO genre. Now with this done, we have a solid basis on which to develop more gameplay and head for the first Alpha at the beginning of 2017! Stay tuned.