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E3 2010: A look inside Black Prophecy

One of the games many of us here at Massively have been waiting on for some time has been the upcoming space dogfighter by Reakktor Media, Black Prophecy. Although the game was originally an indie title that was likely going to run on a subscription model, things changed drastically when Gamigo picked up the title and announced they'd be publishing it under a free-to-play model. While this has made some players very hesitant about the game, our time checking it out at E3, and talking to Dennis Hartmann, PR Manager at Gamigo, has made us even hungrier for it to OMG launch already.

So if you're curious about just what this upcoming space shoot-em-up F2P title has to offer in terms of mechanics -- or perhaps even surprises -- then join us behind the break as we break down our look at Black Prophecy! Alternatively, if you're more in the mood for eye-candy, we have a handful of screenshots for you to check out in the gallery below.

Gallery: E3 2010: Black Prophecy | 4 Photos

We had a brief opportunity to get some hands-on time with Black Prophecy's space combat. It's a very pretty game -- as you can tell from the screenshots -- but it's no slideshow. If we had to explain the game's space combat in one word, we'd say fast. You're not just zipping around in space: You're also spinning, rolling, and twisting in every possible direction to dodge shots or get behind your target. The game's controls are extremely responsive (we had to nudge the sensitivity down to keep it from being too twitchy) and easy to get used to. And with control of a powerful spaceship just a mouse-twitch away, who wouldn't enjoy some time well-spent trying to pull off crazy flight maneuvers? In short, though there's a lot we've yet to see of Black Prophecy, what we've seen so far has been easy to love.

With that said, here's a bunch of juicy information that we picked up in our talk with Dennis Hartman:

What's it all about?
Hartman described Black Prophecy as an "action online game in space." The game starts out as most do -- generating a character. While right now players are locked into their ships and only able to create character portraits as in EVE Online, Hartman assured us that the team is planning on building out station interiors and the like, giving players the chance to meet up with friends and hang out, outside of their ships. Presently, only a shoulders-up customization is available; players can choose among faces of varying ethnicities, alter their facial details, add tattoos, gadgetry, and implants, or just cover up their ugly mug with a helmet.

The tutorial contains nine missions currently, which we're told will take most players approximately six to eight hours to play through in total. That said, we were also assured that players won't be forced to complete them all before jumping into the game. The game is designed to allow pilots to jump into other side-missions as they progress, if they choose to, and return to the prologue later -- or just log out and come back at some other time if a long gaming session isn't your playstyle.

While the game is in closed beta, Gamigo's plans are for a November launch to both German and English language players. There was no word on any other localization plans, but we can't imagine they'll be too far behind if there's enough demand for it.

More on missions
From there we got a chance to buzz by several of the stations, which are all situated on a large stellar map, and divided into various sectors. One station was a mission hub for players from 1-10, the next was from 11-20, and we were told this continues all the way up to the game's current level cap, which is 50. In each station, players will have access to a mission terminal, offering missions for different configurations and styles of play. If you're in the mood to just dogfight by yourself, you can pick a solo assassination or patrol mission. If you're more in the mood to run with friends, you might try a group or clan-based rescue or guard mission. There are also options for PvP, PvE and PvEvP, in which players and enemy NPCs will all fight it out for control of certain areas in space.

Another nice thing we noticed about missions is that, while they're largely instanced (this keeps others from crashing your mission), there is virtually no travel time to get to them. You (or your group) selects the mission from the terminal; a quick jump animation later and boom! You're where the action is, so you'll want to make sure you stock up on ammo and fit your ship properly before you ever accept the mission -- there's not going to be time to turn back.

Group mission mechanics will allow players to group up to five at a time, whereas clan missions are for three wings of five players each for a total of 15 players flying together at a time. We weren't able to see a clan mission, as that system is currently under development, but again we were assured they would be in the game before launch.

The kills & skills to pay the bills
Now what about the combat, you say? Well, as we mentioned before, this is some hot and heavy dogfighter action. At first, you'll have access to the regular forms of steering. However, as you level up, you'll gain skill points that will enable you to perform special acrobatic moves, just perfect for getting you out of the way of heavy fire. Some of the things we got to see were rolls and loops that looked pretty awesome.

The skill system is set up to be level-based. For every level, players get skill-points that they can spend in nine different skills. Ship skills will grant better cockpits; energy is for energy weapons like pulse lasers, particle beams, and plasma guns; mechanical skills give you access to mechanical weapons such as chain guns, scatter-guns, and sniper guns. Additionally, there is a Specials skill that will offer unique weapons like lightning guns, fusion cannons or grenade launchers. As if that weren't enough, players can unlock skills for shields, engines, hull and explosives, which are things like rockets and missiles. The final skill is tactics, which is the one we're sure every crazy pilot will be gunning for (no pun intended). Tactics unlocks those cool rolls, twists and loops for your ship. Can we get an "aw yeah"?

Build your own ships -- or empire
Black Prophecy's ship system is entirely modular, allowing players to plug different modules in and configure ships to their liking. That said, there's also a weight system in play here, so if you plug in a lot of heavy items, your ship will be heavier, and thus will travel more slowly. A nice aside to this is that the instant you change out a module for your ship, it will also change the look of your ship. This varying level of customization helps to ensure that no two ships should look the same.

Clans are able to build their own clan stations, which are similarly based on a modular building system, like the ships are. If you have the correct resources, you can build up bigger and better stations.

However, unlike the PvP resource-wars, clan stations will be instanced into their own areas, allowing clans to maintain control over those who have access to the stations via membership or via invitations for friends who aren't in the clan. The clan stations will offer players the chance to buy better items than those available in regular stations.

Another thing we thought was interesting is the mechanic for living spaces: If you want to add more members to your clan than you have room for, you will have to physically build additional living quarters onto the station for them.

With that said, only the modular form of building is in the game at this point. The actual crafting to build modules has not yet been implemented, but is another thing they're working on adding at a later time. As it stands, you can purchase modules from NPCs or the cash shop, if you choose.

Get off of my (space) lawn
Unlike the enormous all-on-one shard of EVE Online, Black Prophecy's servers will have a few thousand people apiece, with only a handful of persistent areas each. Each server's persistent areas will include hubs where NPC organizations can be found, and large PvP areas that let players jump in and out, as their mood takes them. The idea is to get players into the action rapidly, and above all, to make it fun.

With that said, this isn't really no-consequence PvP -- oh no! Those clan stations we mentioned earlier? You'll need to control resource stations to be able to build them. We'll give you three guesses where the resources are located. If you said PvP areas, you've got the right idea -- any clans looking to build stations will have to jump into the fray and spend some time carving out (and holding) their niche.

Also, lest the achievement junkies feel left out, we were assured that there is an achievement system in the game. A couple of different possibilities mentioned include achievements for PvP, for killing a certain number of enemies, and even for dying repeatedly -- if you're not so good at the twitch-based space combat.

The elephant in the room
Before we wrapped up, though, we wanted to make sure we asked about their plans for the item shop, as this has been a very large concern with many of our commenters since the F2P announcement. Hartmann assured us that while the item shop is obviously a large part of the game's pricing model, players "will never be able to buy the best weapons and shield generators" via the shop, as this would grant too large of a combat advantage to those spending the most money. Instead, their intent is to offer items that will give unique visual looks for your ship, experience-boosting buffs, and cosmetics that Western gamers more readily accept.

While it is still very much in beta, Black Prophecy gives the impression that Gamigo is steering in the right direction. Welcome news, we're sure, for all those who have been keeping an eye on the game.

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