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Worlds Adrift

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Bossa Studios
Release Date: 2017


PC Preview - 'Worlds Adrift'

by Adam Pavlacka on Oct. 8, 2015 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

Worlds Adrift is an unscripted, sandbox game with real-time physics, set in a world that is permanently changed by players’ actions.

When you hear the acronym MMO, it's difficult not to think of EverQuest or World of Warcraft. The latter has become something of a juggernaut, more or less printing money for Activision. Even with teams of developers, keeping players engaged is a challenge because all of the major events in World of Warcraft are scripted. EVE Online is another major MMO, except it relies on its players to tell the story. Events happen because players do things. Take the emergent gameplay of EVE Online, get the players out of space ships and onto the ground, toss in a bit of steampunk flair, and you have the basic idea of Worlds Adrift.

According to the developers who demoed the game for me, the focus on emergent gameplay has been at the core of every design decision. The whole point of Worlds Adrift isn't to create a typical structured game but rather to create a complex sandbox that is ripe for players to explore and exploit. To that end, there are no instances in the game. Everything is happening at the exact same time for everyone.

The developers highlighted this point by showing me the game running on two different laptops. When one destroyed a ship on his screen, the action happened at the same time on the second laptop. While the graphics are rendered locally, all of the key calculations (including player position and physics simulation) are done on the game server.

Exploring the world requires a custom flying ship because the world — or at least what's left of it — is no longer in one piece. Story specifics haven't yet been divulged, but the overall plot has to do with a mineral called Atlas. The world used to be a normal world  until Atlas was discovered. People realized that Atlas would float when electricity was passed through it, so it became a valuable commodity. Overzealous mining caused the surface of the planet to break apart, so now the world consists of thousands of floating islands. That's why you need a ship.

Ships can easily be built from a basic set of plans, but there is a natural tendency to customize. Part of the reason for this is because your ship more or less doubles as your base of operations. You can set respawn points here, and you can also freely travel with your ship. Building a ship consists of warping in the frame and then using items you find in the world to construct the actual parts. This doesn't just mean putting walls and floors on the frame; you actually have to do things like install a helm if you want to steer it or a speedometer if you want to know how fast you are going.

One strategic decision involves deciding where to place your helm (and if you need to install a backup helm). If an opposing ship takes out your last helm, you can't steer and are vulnerable to attack. If your helm is well protected but you don't have clear visibility to the world, then you'll basically be flying blind. Damaged items can be repaired, but broken items fall off the ship.

Destroying an enemy ship means that you can take whatever parts you need, even those you may not yet be able to construct. Anything you don't want can be left where it lands, and it'll stay there. Because the world is persistent, items will not be removed. If you leave a shipwreck, it'll stay just as you left it until someone else comes across it. The developers are hoping that this sort of organic discovery will result in in-game lore being naturally created by players as they play.

There is no difficulty setting in Worlds Adrift, and because there are no instances, all players are free to explore as they see fit. More advanced areas are initially "gated" by strong storms. If you are a low-level player with a weak ship, your only chance of making it through in one piece is to be an expert level flyer. Stronger ships can withstand the storm and fly through to the next area.

Perhaps the most promising idea being implemented is full 3-D movement of the ships. Not only will you be able to battle on a single plane, but the ships can move up and down. Making proper use of all three dimensions will offer a distinct advantage in battle.

One example the developers offered was the use of junk as a makeshift bomb. They told me of one instance where a smaller ship loaded up its deck with junk and then flew up above an opponent. Once there, the smaller ship tipped to the side and dumped its junk. Because Worlds Adrift features real physics, all of the items that fell impacted the deck of the target ship and caused damage.

Of course, when your game relies on a living world and emergent play, some odd issues do crop up. For example, the developers are currently trying to figure out how to deal with animal life. As-is, all of the individual islands are floating alone. They aren't connected, so getting from one to another requires a ship. Animal life on an island will eventually eat all of the plants and then end up dying from starvation.

Because the final game is still more than a year off, there is no definite monetization model, but the developers behind Worlds Adrift told me that they are trying to avoid a subscription plan. The idea is to sell the game and let people play. If they do have to sell items, it will be limited to cosmetics or things like additional item slots.

Worlds Adrift is a game built around a very ambitious idea. Emergent gameplay can be brilliant but only if there is enough of a living world to let it emerge. How the game develops is going to depend greatly on all of the systems that are put into place. It's a risky gamble, but if the developers have the skill to match their ambition, Worlds Adrift could end up as a surprisingly addictive game.

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