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Some Assembly Required: Happy birthday Perpetuum!

Jef Reahard

Welcome back to Some Assembly Required, dear readers. This week marks something of a milestone for Perpetuum, the sci-fi sandbox set in the distant future on a far-flung planet known as Nia. Yes, the mech-based MMORPG has survived its first year (without a free-to-play conversion crutch!), and more than that, it's even grown a little bit. That's no small feat for an indie title in today's overcrowded MMO marketplace, never mind a niche sandbox that's been called a ground-based EVE Online.

Join me after the break for a recap of Perpetuum's first 12 months.

Perpetuum - Arkhe robots fighting
Launch and EVE comparisons
Perpetuum initially debuted on November 25, 2010, after a lengthy gestation period presided over by a tiny 10-man development team. Avatar Creations toiled in relative obscurity, and it's safe to say that the game's release went unnoticed by much of the MMORPG-playing public.

Those who did notice pointed out that Perpetuum bore more than a little resemblance to EVE Online, and everything from the far-future sci-fi setting to the cutthroat corporation-based PvP and player politics seemed to pay homage to CCP's long-running title. Even the user interfaces were similar, and some fans questioned whether Avatar was being honest when it announced that it had not used EVE as inspiration.

"The idea of a complex sandbox single-server world might be very similar, but most of the Perpetuum team never played EVE," Avatar said. The game weathered this mild controversy throughout the last month of 2010 by focusing attention on upcoming development, and its first major patch arrived just after the new year.

Avatar released the new Lithius hauler mech in early January, and alongside it came a system tweak designed to prevent players from clustering together into a giant blob of firepower which could one-shot helpless player targets. Since the game was intentionally designed without friendly fire and collision detection, Avatar needed a way to simulate the effect of fighting in close quarters with large, cumbersome mechs. In a nutshell, it would be highly dangerous and require a lot of careful attention, thus the fire rate would be slower and the game's interference system was born.

The change was mostly well-received by the playerbase since it cut down on both newb ganking and blob-related lag spikes.

Insurance fraud
EVE is famous for its metagaming shenanigans and unsavory player types, and even though Perpetuum is but a babe in comparison, it's well on its way toward a scandalous reputation of its own. The first big brouhaha took the form of robot insurance fraud, and Avatar confiscated billions of NIC (the game's currency) during a February sting operation that warranted a brief mention on the company's blog.

No bans were forthcoming, and in fact the devs initially embraced the scam as part of the sandbox, but this decision was eventually reversed and all the ill-gotten gains were subsequently removed.

A free trial
Perpetuum is an increasingly odd duck in the MMORPG space due to the fact that it continues to buck the free-to-play trend. While we expect games from mega-corps like BioWare, Sony Online Entertainment, and Funcom to launch with some sort of monthly cost, it's getting more and more unusual to see smaller indie projects do the same let alone continue to charge a sub after a year in which F2P conversions and game closures were the norm rather than the exception.

Perpetuum does have a cheaper than usual monthly sub ($9.99), but it's still a monthly sub, and aside from the 15-day free trial for new accounts that was introduced in March of 2011, there have been no free-play hints forthcoming.

Terra Incognita
Perpetuum didn't exactly go dark during the spring and early summer, but news blurbs about the game became increasingly rare. As it turns out, Avatar's silence was due to the fact that it was working on the game's first proper expansion.

Terra Incognita went live on May 4th and brought with it a host of new content and tweaks. The game world doubled in size due to the addition of six new islands (divided into three PvE and three PvP zones). The update also saw the introduction of a new highway system, which sped up travel and made the distances between points in the expanded world a bit more manageable.

The patch also added AoE damage from exploding robots, new armor and weapon modules, an event notification system, and a bunch of smaller tweaks relating to minerals and mining.

More scandal, more players
The game's second major scandal broke in June of 2011, and this time the banhammer broke the backs of those responsible. Avatar was pretty tight-lipped when it came to revealing the details behind the exploit, but a company dev blog did outline the zero tolerance policy that took the form of permanent account bans for the players who masterminded the scheme.

June also saw a significant influx of disgruntled EVE Online vets as CCP's disastrous Incarna expansion compelled thousands of sci-fi sandbox fans to seek greener pastures on the planet Nia. The mass migration was so great that Avatar found itself dealing with unexpected (but welcome) server load problems as it struggled to cope with the new demand on its hardware.

Fall updates
July and August were faily quiet in comparison, with a couple of dev blog updates regarding new mission assignments and a revamp of base attack mechanics accounting for the only real news during the period. September saw the Avatar team outgrow its initial datacenter, and the Perpetuum game service was shut down for a day in order to enable the transfer of the entire operation to a bigger server farm in Budapest, Hungary.

While the dry spell in terms of content updates and the service interruption were somewhat annoying, a look at the larger picture showed a clear trend of both progress and growth as Perpetuum approached its one-year anniversary.

Recent updates have included a streamlining of character attributes, the addition of shader 3.0 functionality (and an associated bump in minimum end-user hardware requirements), and Spark bot upgrades.

Avatar is also gearing up for Intrusion 2.0, otherwise known as Perpetuum's second expansion. The new content will allow corporations to fight for outposts on the game's unprotected Beta islands as well as gradually increase their influence via a new concept called stability. There's also a new freighter robot in the works, as well as new level three missions and mission types.

As we reported last week, plans for the anniversary are in motion, and despite a few growing pains and the relatively small size of Perpetuum's dev team, the game's future looks undeniably bright.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!

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