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GDC10: An in-depth look at Black Prophecy


Space: the final frontier. Space: in it, no one can hear you scream. Space: it's been looking at us the wrong way lately, so let's take a laser cannon to it and readjust its attitude.

If you haven't been feeling a ball of growing excitement in your tummy over Black Prophecy's development (over four years at this point), then we feel pity for you. It might be another spaceship MMO, but while EVE Online has a heavy focus on the economy and political intrigue, and Star Trek Online boasts a slower, tactical approach to combat, Black Prophecy is all about fast, sweaty, double-fisted fighter action in the depths of the cosmos. And it doesn't look half bad while doing it, either.

At GDC, Massively got under the hood of this title with Black Prophecy's Falko Böcker to find out all we could about this promising free-to-play MMO. Check your oxygen levels and then hit the jump to hyperspace for more!

Lock and Load!

Who will you be in the universe? After choosing a faction -- the Tyi or Genides -- you'll create the look of your character. Currently this portrait is an "eye candy" feature, much like it is in EVE, to be used in chat windows, etc. However, Böcker said that the team has plans to eventually allow you to leave your ship to explore space stations and personal housing.

Unlike EVE and STO, Black Prophecy is more of a straight-up action game along the lines of classic space dogfighter games like X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and Wing Commander. It might be easiest to think of this as a "FPS in space," as the game will reward those with skill, reflexes and nerves of steel. If you're looking to jump into quick battles without a lot of downtime, this might be the game for you.

Black Prophecy's universe relies on a standard instance system. Pilots will congregate in larger areas to socialize and form groups, with these areas capable of holding between 150 and 200 ships at a time. From there, you'll head into missions that are instanced for just you and your team, or missions that are open instances for anyone doing the same task. Travel time to these missions is negligible; pilots are teleported there instantly and then urged to get right into the thick of things.

Combat-wise, Black Prophecy is a twitch game through and through. Depending on your gaming preferences, you can handle the action with a controller, keyboard and mouse, or even a flight stick. Views in the game include a third-person camera, a cockpit camera, and a first-person camera (with no cockpit dashboard).

As you duke it out in space, keep in mind that different weapons have different travel speeds, so your lasers might hit the target sooner, while a Gatling gun may require more lead time. Some missiles are automatically guided, but most weapons are manually aimed. Pilots who nail down targeting and anticipating where the enemy will be in a few seconds (versus where they are now) will have the greatest advantage in combat.

One thing that caught our attention in combat is that each part of the ship has its own HP, and can be targeted independently. So if your weapons get hit enough, they will blow off of your ship and you won't be able to attack. In addition, ships show battle damage, such as a blown-out engine that trails smoke and sparks. This will be a great way to visually size up how wounded an enemy target is, and what systems they might be missing at any given moment.

The other big combat mechanic is the tactics system. Tactics allow you to execute special maneuvers in flight, such as a barrel roll (you really should do one!) or a quick loop to get behind an enemy. As you fly and fight, you'll build up adrenaline. Once you get enough, you can spend the adrenaline to put in a few quick stick maneuvers (like "right, left, left" or "up, up, down, down") to execute one of these stunts.

An achievement system will track various stats and award accolades as you hit certain milestones.

Carve Out Your Place Among the Stars

Missions vary between randomized encounters and scripted stories. The randomized missions include repeatable content that switches up bits and pieces to create unique experiences. So one run will vary wildly from the next run, even if you get the same mission twice in a row. An example of this would be heading out to find a carrier: in one version of the mission, the carrier may be under assault from a huge fleet, while in the next you'll only find a few scout ships and one giant battleship. The mission generator also rotates between background visuals -- an ice field, junk yards, and so on.

If you're looking more for a storytelling experience, then the 10+ hours of scripted storyline missions are for you. These are crafted to include cut-scenes, voice-overs and the works. The story will be unique to each race, but players of that race will experience the same set story as everyone else -- no branching dialog or unique storylines, although Böcker said it's a possibility for the future.

Settle a Grudge Match or Two

Naturally, with two factions who hate each other, PvP is inevitable. PvP can be queued up at space stations, where pilots will choose between free-for-all PvP, team PvP, and something called "PvEvP," where a third NPC side jumps in and starts attacking both player factions.

PvP missions are diverse and intriguing. One example given was a team PvP battle where each side has a giant battleship that they must defend while attempting to take out the enemy's by blowing up the ship's turrets and other critical hardpoints.

Grease-Monkeys Wanted

Building and customizing your ship is a huge part of the game experience -- after all, who wants to be in a boring Honda Civic that looks like all the other Civics when you can trick out your vehicle and end up with a monster truck that spits fire? Currently, all of the ships in the game are fighters (this may expand in the future), but that doesn't mean they all are identical.

Black Prophecy's gear is wholly dependent on skills. Your skills in the game don't unlock more powerful abilities, but instead they let you equip more powerful items. As you level up, you're granted points to put into different gear specializations. So, for example, say that you have a level 15 skill in Engine Use. You might loot a level 20 engine from an enemy, but you can't equip it because your skill is inadequate (until you raise it, of course). You could, however, equip a level 12 engine.

Items have Diablo-esque sockets, which allows you to customize them further. Do you want better accuracy? Faster cooldown times? The game lets you modify gear to suit your needs.

One of the coolest parts of the ship-building system is that each item will change the look of your ship. So each ship will have a unique design based on your gear and desires. Outfit huge guns, and your ship will have huge guns. Outfit an awesome engine, you'll see a huge quad engine in the rear. Be careful what you choose to equip, as different gear has a trade-off between benefits and drawbacks (for example, a sniper weapon might give you longer range, but slow down your ship overall).

My Other Ship Is a Giant Intergalactic Space Station

Unlike EVE, don't expect a massive economy or crafting system. Both of these will be in the game, but they won't be the main focus. Instead, Black Prophecy's devs hope that you'll eventually turn your attention to the efforts of building and maintaining a space station. This happens at endgame, where guilds band together to purchase and construct one of these mammoth structures. This requires a great deal of resources, as you might imagine, which involves the capture of mining colonies and other resource areas from NPCs. Once you capture them, they will begin to automatically send resources to build and power your space station.

If you can build up your station, merchants will arrive to allow you and your guild to buy and build endgame equipment. Other players can visit your station and buy things as well, which will net your guild additional funds in the form of taxes. However, this all requires your station to be in tip-top shape, which other players will be happy to ruin.

This is where guild PvP comes into play. Once a week, enemy guilds can warp to your resource nodes and attempt to steal them from you. You'll have a chance to defend, of course, which should lead into awesome dogfighting PvP.

Gallery: GDC10: Black Prophecy | 6 Photos

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Böcker made it clear that Black Prophecy was designed to be a free-to-play game from the ground up, and they're quite enthusiastic about this business model.

"We want the free gameplay to be really, really good," Böcker said. "When you come into the game, you should enjoy it from the beginning, if you pay or not. And we want players to experience everything in the game, whether they're paying or not. There will be no weapon you can't unlock if you don't pay. It might take you longer to get to that point, but all of the content in the game will be free."

He went on to say that the item shop will offer "niceties" such as decals, boosts in getting XP and gear that you want right here and now instead of spending a lot of time getting it.

If this is enough to pique your curiosity, then head over to Black Prophecy's website to register for the upcoming closed beta.

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