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Seed (2006)

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: Runestone Game Development
Release Date: March 1, 2006


PC Preview - 'Seed'

by Keith Durocher on April 21, 2006 @ 1:12 a.m. PDT

Seed is a new massively multiplayer game featuring advanced AI, interactive story, and a truly mutable world.On an alien world in the far future, desperate human settlers must work together to ensure the survival of their colony and the whole human race. In Seed you will Seed will have no combat, no dungeons, no elves.

Publisher: Runestone
Developer: Runestone
Release Date: May 2, 2006

From the moment we took to the stars, humankind has dreamed of finding other worlds to live on. The quite real possibility exists that many of these planets might be "fixer-uppers," and thus the idea of terraforming was born; shape by hook or by crook the spheres we most want to populate. Not many PC games have touched on this idea, but a small group of determined Danish developers is quite keen on changing this with an upcoming persistent-world online game they're calling Seed. Welcome to the colony-ship known as DaVinci.

The basic plot goes something like this: a massive pod-craft powered by a full artificial intelligence is fired off into the cosmos, programmed to germinate a previously uninhabitable rock via any means necessary. This craft is called DaVinci, and once it reaches its destination, it immediately sets up a massive home base for the hordes of vat-grown humans carried along to do the manual labor. Something goes wrong, however; the AI somehow clicks into self-preservation mode and channels all resources into maintaining the ship and not actually making the world a livable place. Thus, a seemingly unending cycle of colonists are grown for the sole purpose of keeping the aging ship running. They are essentially ignorant of any greater existence; all they know is to work at keeping DaVinci alive.

This is the basis of play in Seed; you are a synthesized human whose whole life will be within the walls of this pod-craft. You will spend all your time repairing, maintaining, and upgrading an insane AI's shell and learning new skills and abilities along the way to better handle these tasks. Since this construct is entirely unconcerned with the petty ins and outs of this process, the "lord of the flies"-like tribal social structures that arise are left more or less unchecked, so the other half of the game involves these political power games.

Seed has been crafted bottom-to-top in a unique artistic style that is best described as "comic-book cyberpunk." This shines so far as the environment is concerned; the entire DaVinci colony is a seamless ocean of technological decay webbed together via cloistered access tunnels ribbed with spot-welded pressure plates. The player avatars are also crafted to look as though they were lifted straight off of the pages of an anime manga; bold and angular lines abound with a minimum of excess detail. Thanks to the spectacular success of Blizzard's World of Warcraft, this tendency to lean away from photorealism appears to be more and more openly embraced, and Seed benefits from it considerably.

What may be most surprising to people is that Seed is a non-combat game. This may also be something that will drive many people away, but other MMO experiments have proven that there is a market for socially-driven environments. Titles such as The Sims Online, A Tale in the Desert, and Second Life have all proven that there is a demand for escapism that isn't all hacking, slashing, phase-beaming, and grinding. Runestone hopes to establish their share of the pie via story-driven play mechanics, politically active social mechanics, and fully fleshed out NPCs who have heart and soul. The first step in this direction is the abolition of "character classes." Seed is an entirely skill-based system, and your avatars evolution will be 100% reliant on what you choose to learn. You begin with a few abilities that you can improve by yourself, and you can learn more by finding other players to teach you, or by uncovering certain non-player avatars that know what you need. "Players teaching players" is a great feature, and I would love to see this sort of thing used on a wider basis in other games.

The idea of "quests" is supposedly disposed of as well, but I'm given to believe that all Runestone have done is renamed a spade, calling it a shovel instead. You'll still be given objectives to complete – thus, quests. Just because they don't involve rescuing a princess or recovering the lost Sword of Ultrafantasticawesomeness doesn't mean that your missions are any less of a quest. However, when you really get into the thick of Seed and find that half of your objectives involve working towards the political stability of your guild, it can be quite easy to cease thinking along traditional lines. The goal of this game is to hook people in with engaging story arcs that tell a futuristic fable, not provide glossed-over avenues of loot and nothing else. How successful the developers will be overall is still somewhat up in the air, as much of the architecture for this system appears to be missing. It's an admirable goal that holds much promise, and the potential for mystique in a decaying colony pod is certainly extensive.

The best news of all is the distribution model Runestone plan on using for Seed. The client won't be on retail shelves and will only be available via download. However, that download will be free, as will the first two weeks of gameplay. After that, monthly fees will be required in order to maintain development and server costs. While this may result in a lack of an initial "release blitz," it will certainly draw in many people who are willing to try it just because they have nothing to lose. After that, word of mouth will do the rest.

My initial impressions of Seed have been somewhat of a mixed bag. I love cyberpunk, and I love the idea of DaVinci; I think that purposefully blinded colonists being forced to slow the entropic decay of an AI is a superb idea for a setting, like a cross between The Matrix and Logan's Run. I also appreciate the attempt at creating a science fiction experience that is more than just levels, experience points, and loots. That the graphics focus more on art than details is just icing on the cake. However, I cannot help but feel that Runestone may be pushing this game out the door too quickly. The current state of Seed is clearly unfinished and even somewhat directionless. By way of an example – upon first creating a character, you are given no tutorial, and no stories to pull you in. There aren't even directions to any NPCs who might give you something to do. I think it's probable that many people will find themselves unwilling to overcome such an invisible learning curve. I sincerely hope that with some time and perseverance, the potential of this game can be exploited to its fullest. For now, all we can do is wait and see how the story unfolds.

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