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GDC 2012: The Repopulation demonstrates world-building elements

MJ Guthrie

GDC literally has a little of everything, from indie developers to major studios, from free-to-play games to shooters to arena battles to retro to family... there really is something for everyone. As a massive fan of sandboxes myself, I was pleased to get to spend so much time with Above and Beyond Technologies' lead dev and co-owner Josh Halls and artist Kevin Grove as they demonstrated some of the features in their upcoming title, The Repopulation. (And I would have even spent longer if I could have!)

While I had a monopoly on the team's attention, I had the chance to see some of the customization available to characters, both in appearance and gear, as well as get the lowdown on the world building element. We actually walked through the building of a nation, a feature that will make many a sandbox fan giddy! Although Josh was quick to point out that only a few items were available at this point in development, there was certainly enough to get a feel for the system. And I am looking forward to it!

The Repopulation screenshot
This land is my land

This land ain't your land! The feature in The Repopulation that really captured my attention was the ability to grab yourself a plot of land and start building. Any decent sandbox needs a sandcastle, right? Granted, this ability to build won't be available everywhere, but Josh tells us that there will be a giant continent area where land can be claimed, about 64 square kilometers' worth. However, building will not be personal structures but will involve cities and nations instead.

What exactly is a nation? A nation is, according to Josh, "a guild on steroids." It's a larger controlling body, whereas cities will be more like smaller guilds. He continued by explaining:
Cities have to be aligned with the nation, so there is that political aspect that someone else is controlling that city at the top level. You don't have a lot of little independent cities; they are all usually linked to one central nation.
Can a smaller group be a nation, or perhaps even a single player? While there doesn't appear to be any restriction, keep in mind that building fortifications and defenses to protect your land and holdings takes time and money, something not easily provided by one person alone. And yes, there will be politics involved. Ideas about how to best implement internal politics (like what to do about a despot or absentee leader) are still swirling round the devs' minds but are not yet solidified enough to be shared, let alone implemented.

To claim the area, nations need to set down a control structure. If the land is unoccupied, it's just a matter of plopping that baby down. However, if someone else owns an area you want, you have to fight your way through all the defenses and destroy the current control structure before you can place yours. Defenses come in the form of physical barrier structures (like fences and walls) and turrets. Josh pointed out that it will take effort to conquer a city, allowing players to rest a little easier instead of worrying that things might disappear right when they log off:
Sieging an area does take a considerable amount of resources. Whether it's bringing groups of players together or deploying resources from your city or nation to take over another city or nation, there will be some kind of cost associated with it. You can't just roll through in the middle of the night and take it all over.
The Repopulation screenshot
Building itself is not brick by brick, but whole structures that can also be destroyed. Once you place the structure, you start a completion timer. While there are some terrain and collision restrictions, there is still quite a bit of freedom in where things can be placed. Items are chosen from a specific interface. Currently there are only a few items in the nation building interface, but hundreds of items are planned for release. One good point to note: A share of the structures and items will have a crafting component to them in their creation process, whether they have to be made by a crafter or one of the components has to.

Initially, cities have a small radius; in order to grow, the "city" needs to be happy. This is accomplished at the most basic level by players' providing food and water via structures placed in the city limits. However, as the cities advance, they may need more sophisticated happiness-inducers. There wasn't time to really get into this advanced aspect much, but I am thinking it won't be a red light district!

Some structures that can be placed in cities are barriers, turrets, work camps, harvesters, and buildings that can be entered as well as decorations. Work camps will actually deploy units to harvest local resources, and the harvesters actually generate a resource, albeit on a slower and smaller scale than personal harvesting. Turrets can actually be set to fire on sight at players depending on allegiance, which can be set at five different levels from nemesis to ally. (Factions are truly a whole other article, but suffice it to say that there are two main factions and a rogue faction; nations align themselves to one and enjoy the benefits and suffer the consequences of each choice. Individual nations can also be personally tagged by another nation as any of the five levels of camaraderie.) Of course, there will be many more structures, all with their own special benefits.

Another +1 in the sandbox tally sheet: Unique housing separate from the nation building is in the works to give players a place to decorate. These personal abodes will be completely safe from destruction and might have more advanced decorating tools. The housing will be instanced, but the plan is to have a seamless kind of transition (meaning no loading screen) to move from a city into the housing.

The Repopulation screenshotTake me to your leader panel

The nation interface is actually really nice. There are too many aspects to cover in detail here, but I will highlight some of the main features.

The interface updates in real time, and that can be done from anywhere in the world, such that any changes made by one person are instantly implemented. This comes in handy when assigning permissions not only for nation management but for turrets as well -- very handy if you need to let someone enter your city (or keep someone out) without your having to be there.

The interface allows for the creation of 99 different personalized ranks within the nation. Each of the myriad permissions (everything from placing structures to inviting people to the nation) can be tailored by rank. With these tools, a nation can really customize its setup to reflect its own need and ideals. Can we say grrrrrreat for roleplay!

Another interesting feature is that you can actually check a box for the option to allow people to join the nation without being invited. I can see where this could be great, but I can also see how this could be negative. Who knows -- perhaps this will be a political tool for infiltrating and taking over a city from the inside (not like we haven't seen that before *cough* Star Wars Galaxies *cough*).

One last feature we will discuss is the bank panel. Here, players can move any amount of credits (money) to their nation or city funds. Leaders, of course, can move money between all of the accounts. There's much more to this system, but basically, the nation interface is very detailed and interactive. It will be a great tool for guilds.

I am unique just like everyone else

One key feature of a sandbox game is the ability to personalize your character. The devs recognize this and are giving players the opportunity to customize both their looks at creation and their armor. Facial and body features have sliders, and the color palettes for hair and such are reminiscent of Star Wars Galaxies, meaning a huge selection covering the entire spectrum. Yes, I did watch Josh give his guy a bright blue beard to perfectly match his bright blue shirt!

Gear-wise, players will choose between heavy, medium, and light armor (each having different protection values and costs) and clothing (which offers no protection but lets you look cool). Besides changing the styles and colors to suit your tastes within each type, you can mix and match any of the categories. Each arm is also separate so that you can put a different style on the right vs. the left or even leave one or both off all together. Yes, men can choose to go bare-chested (sorry guys, no-can-do with the female toons), but the current Ken-doll bug of pantslessness will be fixed. However, with this customization, there are no appearance slots; you will forfeit protection when you opt for lighter grades of armor. Maybe that won't matter too much if you are just hanging out in your city crafting, but defending your territory, raiding another city, or just braving the wilds might necessitate a teensy bit more protection than skin alone.

Another interesting point is that gear won't be replaced by other gear when players advance but will instead be upgraded by adding fittings instead. So if you have a favorite look, you will be able to keep it and still gain better protection and power. And the best news: Fittings are crafted!

The Repopulation screenshot
Make my day... and my gun...

Oh, you heard the magic word all right: crafting! Crafting and a player economy will be key elements in The Repopulation. Besides the awesome deal of building up cities and nations, I was lucky to hear a bit about the crafting system. Basically, the world is going to run on crafted goods. For instance, all players will enter the game with shells of armor and weapons, a base level. These items will have some basics stats, but to upgrade and really start stacking on power, players will be able to fill slots with player-crafted addons called fittings. There will be multiple grades and levels within these items, with increasing tiers offering more stat bonuses. These levels and tiers are dependent on the crafter's level and the level of the materials used.

Josh also offered this extra awesome shiny: Players will be able to run their own shop within the cities. HALLELUJAH! Cities and nations will also be able to tax trade to help fund the nation over and above member donations. Add in the programmable turrets and crafting hub cities can be created allowing for commerce among all factions.

Oh, and for the record, there will be no junk loot in this game, so there's no finding random bits of trash you have to haul to a vendor to sell off for a few coin -- anything you can harvest off of mobs will be usable by crafters. Harvesting skill and mob difficulty will both play a role in what item and what grade of material you acquire from said mob.

I really could go on and on about everything I saw at GDC, like how credits in-game will be earned through the mission system... but I had to be dragged me out of the interview because I was so riveted! I have to say, getting a look at some of these great features, even in their young and tender pre-alpha stage, set my sandbox-luvin' heart all a-flutter. I can't wait to see how things look in alpha in June (fingers, toes, and eyes crossed I can get in!), and I can hardly contain the excitement for how things will progress through beta and launch. Like a middle school crush, The Repopulation is definitely a title I will be thinking about and giddily waiting for those moments we can spend together. Maybe it will be love at first log in...

Massively sent four resolute reporters to San Francisco to bring you back the biggest MMO news from this year's GDC, the largest pro-only gaming industry con in the world! From games like The Secret World to PlanetSide 2, we're on the case, so stay tuned for all the highlights from the show!

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