If you threw a bunch of gaming catchwords in a hat and then pulled them out one by one and put them in order, you might have an approximate description for the upcoming Deepworld. It's a 2D, steampunk, post-apocalyptic sandbox MMO, with Minecraft-style creation, and block graphics that open up to a quite varied and vast game world. Deepworld is almost a game that sounds too good to live up to its promise, but its developers Bytebin (consisting of three guys who have a ton of experience in server architecture, but not quite as much in game development and design) understand they're promising a lot.
But the version they kindly showed me at GDC last week definitely lived up to that promise, as least as just two of their characters wandering around the world together. Deepworld's graphics may not look great in screenshots (they're ... "stylistic", you might say), but as you explore more and more of the world, there's a charm there that can't be denied. Only after a makeshift shelter was built, complete with lanterns spreading pools of light, and a storm began in the background, with lightning flashing across the sky and acid rain coming down hard, did the game's beauty really make itself evident.
There's a lot of beauty in the various mechanics, too, though. One of the devs describes the title as "a game based on a sort of scarcity," and that scarcity refers to all of the various resources in this originally barren world. As you dig down, lava can be found, which creates steam, which can then be transferred into pipes and used to power technology. There is a crafting system, but unlike Minecraft (where items have to be discovered and built), the game basically just offers up a menu of what's available to build from the various resources you've collected.
The interface is nice as well -- you can build whatever you want just using the cursor on the Mac version, and while the iOS version is still under development ("There's a few kinks with touch," Bytebin says), being able to "draw" creations on the iPad's screen will be nice.
The biggest issue with Deepworld probably isn't in the game, however: It'll probably be with keeping the servers up. The title is subdivided into 1200x800 block "zones," and the devs are hoping to limit those zones to a certain number of players (and maybe eventually even charge players to customize and save those zones). But there will be a metagame of sorts in "improving the ecosystem" of each zone, so it's not hard to see that Bytebin may run into trouble, if the game turns out to be uber popular, in keeping its servers afloat.
Bytebin understands the concern (and again, the team's background is in running large servers for corporate software, so they have a fighting chance at least), but we'll find out for sure how they do when the game goes for an open beta later on this year. Alpha is set to take place "in a few weeks," and there's a beta signup for the game available now. Deepworld looks really fascinating, and it's a title we will probably be proud to have on Mac and iOS.