E3 2013: The secrets of TUG's universe

Over a heaping smorgasboard of food yesterday, I was given a healthy dose of the logical functions of the universe. The universe of TUG, that is, and the professor of the hour was Peter Salinas, Nerd Kingdom founder and expert in just about everything science. At this year's E3, Massively got to test a functional tech demo that showed some progress over earlier video capture and artwork, and Salinas told me about TUG's mechanics and how the systems of the game work together to create a unique experience.

"A lot of the tacky-looking games on the internet are impressive by design, but they just don't have a lot of visuals to support what that design is," he explained cryptically. "Every once in a while, a game comes out and its systems are amazing, so a publisher will snatch it up, put [those systems] into a game, and then realize they don't want to use it. [So the developer] gets shelved. That's why we want to stay independent." The indie market proves innovation is still in demand, and the design of TUG is a lot more complex when one starts to peel back the layers like an onion (but not an ogre).

TUG focuses on removing the "restriction points" games often employ in hope of creating a personal basis for conflict. Let's say a player joins a guild, and the entire purpose of the guild is to raid all ogre towns. Salinas told me how that restriction doesn't create a personal level of conflict; instead, it forces the game mechanics to work in a certain way instead of creating a natural level of conflict, one that arises out of human interaction.

TUG is hoping to be a much more organic game than others we're used to. In previous interviews, Salinas has argued that emphasis on sound was critical to TUG, and he said the same to me: "It's emotional. When you can't see anything, you rely on every sensory response... this is an environment in which you need to use real problem solving. If I'm going to look for, say, a cricket, are we going to have someone with a chat bubble saying 'go find me a cricket'? That kind of defeats the point of immersion because now it's no longer an environment where you solve problems -- it's an environment where you're looking for tooltips."

The small community of Nerd Kingdom is built of "extremists," as Salinas calls them, who infuse the game with creativity but also science. With experts in each field doing their best to ensure a strong product and a playable game, TUG's levels of conflict are based solely on the human experience, something the team feels is the domain of indie MMOs. It presents a constant problem-solution model for Nerd Kingdom, as the company is so small that discussions about the game and its systems amongst the group are almost like speaking different languages. "In a publisher environment, there's a fat chance you're going to find a producer who understands behavioral science, analytics, extreme technologies, obsessive sounds sytems -- it's just not going to happen," Salinas laughed. "So we just happened to find our own method to communicate."

TUG also focuses heavily on the character, not just on science. Imagine your character spawns on an island where you need to eat to survive, but your only hope for food is to raid a nearby town of ogres that every other nearby player is friendly with. This inter-personal level of conflict is where TUG thrives. There's no "caste" system or assigned jobs to characters; instead, if a player wants to start the game as a hunter, he'd merely need to craft an axe and go out hunting. How a character appears directly affects the over-arching experience. If a character is decked out in ogre-green, it's probably a bad idea to wear that in sneaking situations.

The tech demo was more polished than anything we've seen so far. Blades of grass slightly bend in the breeze, there's a slow progression from day into night, and the lighting is incredibly dynamic. When asked if TUG would ever have a true name, Salinas responded, "We have a thousand names, apparently. There's a funny forum post that went up for TUG. The Ultimate Gorrilla. The Uncanny Gerbil." We're rooting for the last one.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-13, bringing you all the best news from E3 2013. We're covering everything from WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online and ArcheAge to FFXIV's inbound revamp and TERA's latest update, so stay tuned!
This article was originally published on Massively.