Preview - massively multiplayer gaming goes orbital in Eastern Europe
One of the latest games to emerge from the rapidly growing gaming industry in Eastern Europe is "3rd World", a free-form massively multiplayer space sim that is aiming to be an Elite for the new millenium. Designer Vitomir Jevremovic chatted with us over lunch at the ECTS trade show in London back in September, and recently we caught up with him again to find out more about this ambitious title...
Perhaps the most exciting element of the game is just how much freedom you will have. Instead of limiting players to a single path, you can develop your character however you see fit, setting yourself up as a pirate, smuggler, bounty hunter, businessman, trader, fixer, hired hand, or any other niche that you can cut out for yourself.
To aid you there will be a wide range of basic ships to purchase, as well as a whole host of optional extras to upgrade it with. Whether it is a faster engine, bigger guns, missiles, docking computers, mapping systems, improved radar systems or a new heads-up-display you are after, you will find someone willing to sell you one. And even if the game doesn't ship with what you want, there is always the chance that it will be added later. A modular system allows the game to be updated by the developers after its release, with everything from new ships and equipment to improved graphics and new artwork possible.
Even at this early stage the game is looking visually impressive, with some of the finest graphics we've seen in a space sim of any kind to date. Space is full of colourful dust clouds and nebulae, while the ships that inhabit it are highly detailed, dynamically lit by their surroundings, and leave garish exhaust trails behind as they speed between the stars.
Down To Earth
You aren't limited to flying around in space either, as the game comes with not one but two graphics engines. The most impressive is undoubtedly the one which handles the space scenes in all their 3D accelerated polygonal beauty, but you can also get out of your ship while it is docked and explore space stations, which are made up of some rather fetching pre-rendered isometric rooms and corridors.
Once in a space station you can wander around, meet up with other players, hold a business meeting in a private conference room, go shopping, enjoy a swift one in the bar, head over to the medical bay for a check-up, or simply leave your character in the relative safety of a hotel room while you are logged off. Fights can break out between players on space stations as easily as in the depths of space, although it is possible to restrict certain areas or even entire stations to unarmed players, and you may have to face internal security systems.
With enough players and the right planning it is even possible to destroy or sieze control of space stations. For example, you could just blast your way in from the outside, try to take over from the inside with a group of heavily armed players, or attempt to hack the station's computer systems to weaken their defences. It will be difficult to pull off though, and simply charging in brandishing weapons is likely to lead to your swift demise.
Home Sweet Home
Once you have gained control of a space station, what next? Well, the game will allow you to build new modules on to the station, adding everything from research and manufacturing facilities to earn you some cash to both interior and exterior defence systems. You can even program these turrets with some basic parameters to control the circumstances under which they will fire, allowing the station to defend itself when you aren't there to give the orders.
Controlling a space station also allows you to trade goods with the planet which it is orbiting, buying products and raw materials from the surface and either using them on the station or selling them on to traders visiting your outpost at the price of your choice. Every planet imports and exports various goods, and if you and your friends can gain control of every station orbiting it you will have a strangehold on its economy. As some planets export rare or even unique products that may be needed elsewhere, you can then cut off vital supplies and enforce your monopoly to raise prices.
The range of possibilities on offer are almost endless, and the developers seem to be aiming to give players as much freedom as possible, instead of trying to limit them with rules and restrictions. The universe of 3rd World is likely to be a rather violent and lawless one in places, but it does mean that (within reason) you will be able to do whatever you want to, even if you may have to face the consequences later.
The character development system has also been designed to give you as wide a choice as possible, with many ways of gaining experience, and a wide range of skills which you can choose to train yourself in as your character develops.
Skills vary from computer hacking to weapons abilities. Combat on board space stations is a simple case of pointing and clicking, using a system similar to that found in most role-playing and real-time strategy games, but once out in space, Vitomir told us that you will need a mixture of "tactics, planning and skills" to be successful.
As well as the usual benefits from completing quests and emerging victorious in battle, experience can also be earned by trading, running space stations, and even carrying out jobs for other players. Somewhat uniquely you will be able to hire other characters to work for you, and pay them both in cash and with experience. This should prove particularly useful for players who control space stations, as they will be able to divert some of the regular flow of experience they get from the job towards hiring other characters to help them out. How this will work in practice remains to be seen, but it's certainly a novel idea.
Ever since the first massively multiplayer games started springing up, many of us have been awaiting the arrival of an Elite-style space sim which would allow us to fly amongst the stars with hundreds of other players. Sadly there have been a lot of false starts, and nobody has quite hit the mark yet.
Assuming that Vitomir and his team can pull off their ambitious design they will have the genre virtually to themselves, and if they can implement even half of what has been promised it should be well worth a look for space sim addicts and role-players alike. Hopefully we will know more next year as the game nears completion, but it's certainly looking intriguing at this point.