Few licences have ever been as suitable for an MMO as Stargate SG-1. The very premise that enabled MGM's sci-fi show to run for ten years without running out of new ideas - that is, travelling between a near-infinite network of planets through wormhole-connected gates and usually blowing up whatever's there - provides an endless, running source of material with which to fill up a truly massive online world. In addition, Stargate Worlds' purpose-built developer Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment has a ready-made and well-loved universe of carefully-constructed, fully fleshed-out science-fiction as a backdrop for its game. The developers really are spoiled for inspiration.
Stargate Worlds has been in development for three years, and is due to enter beta testing within the next few months. The development team was assembled specifically for the game, and it shows - it is hugely faithful to its source material, and our chat with studio head Dan Elggren left us with the strong impression that the developer has a sense for what makes the series great. The team is committed to making the Stargate game that fans fantasise about.
Players will begin in Stargate Command on Earth, the hub of the television series, before taking their first steps through the stargate itself into unknown lands. The stargates work exactly the same way as they do in the series: you dial up a seven-symbol address, walk through, and emerge in a different area. Low-level areas are predictably geared towards educating new players in combat, equipment and Stargate SG-1 back-story, but the system is open; gate addresses can be found and earned through missions, but there's nothing to stop you from dialling up an address you got from another player, or simply dialling at random and hoping to strike lucky - as long as you're prepared for the distinct possibility of getting slaughtered by whatever lurks on the other side.
This naturally allows for a lot of variety in the appearance and structure of the game's various environments, which is promising. Unconstrained by a TV series budget, the developer has free rein to craft whatever alien world comes to mind, whereas in the early days of the TV series, about 80 per cent of the planets looked remarkably like Colorado forests, or a Canadian quarry. There will be limited instancing for the purposes of story missions, but otherwise it's all one big, open world - or open galaxy, more appropriately - with various SG teams independently exploring planets, discovering new technologies and shooting at things.
Combat-wise, being a Stargate game, SG Worlds is heavily focused on guns and other ranged weapons; but it's not a shooter. There'll be a right-click auto-attack and an infinite-ammo system to prevent hauling crates of ammo around on quests, and players will receive a buff from cover, as will enemies - as a consequence, the developer is going to have to pay close attention to the layout of the environments to keep combat interesting. A dynamic indicator will show the quality of cover at a glance - rather like Diablo's equipment colour-coding - and line-of-sight or tactical advantages like high ground will come into the equation as well.
This might all sound rather Tabula Rasa at the moment, and as with that game, Stargate Worlds' combat all relies on behind-the-scenes dice rolls in the end. But the combat is a key area in which the game is attempting to differentiate itself from the crowd and offer something new, partly through the more action-oriented gameplay, and partly through the variety of weaponry on offer. Equipment plays a huge part in the game, with skills closely tied to armour, weapons and other equipment, rather than dependent upon character stats.