PAX Prime 2013: Exploring Wander with creator Loki Davison

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PAX Prime 2013: Exploring Wander with creator Loki Davison
Wander is an MMO that eschews the primary mechanics of traditional titles and instead relies on what creator Loki Davison refers to as "collaborative exploration." Designed to recreate the feeling you get when you discover something beautiful in real life and rush home to tell your friends, Wander has no maps, checkpoints, or objectives. The only ways to uncover the game's secrets are to discover them yourself or have another player show you the way.

Our own Jasmine Hrushcak snagged some time with Wander and its creator at PAX Prime 2013 and managed to ask a few questions in between acrophobic Oculus Rift-induced panic attacks.

The world of Wander

Wander is set in a fantasy universe consisting of wide-open spaces and floating islands in the sky. In this universe, different races collaborate with one another to better understand the world around them. The races are common fantasy fare -- elves, ents, etc. -- but placing them into a collaborative and cooperative world instead of one perennially at war is an interesting change of pace for the MMO niche.

Wander has been in development since February of last year. The core dev team is small, consisting of about seven people, but contributions to the game have come in from dozens of other creatives. Even Wander's early alpha testers have left their mark on its content; Davison explained that the mythical sea creatures inhabiting Wander's oceans were named by testers and that the dev team is very intent on incorporating player feedback throughout development.

The core concept of Wander is simple: It's a world that is opened to and designed for exploration. Instead of providing you with a list of things to do and a bunch of mobs to kill, the game gives you a massive universe to learn about through the investigation of its many nooks and crannies. According to Davison, the primary mode of progression in Wander is learning about its races via exploration.

Wander has no centralized lore. There is no main storyline. Instead, each of the game's races has concocted its own mythology about the universe; it is up to you to learn about each belief system and to decide for yourself which one you like best. Wander's species interact with one another and there is no superior race -- sea creatures, elves, and ents are all in the same social circle. The world and its lore are designed to be the main attractions, not the background noise to kill quests and node gathering.

"Davison wants to create a space where content is shared between players, not delivered by developers."

When you start your life in Wander, you will have access to only the elven race. By exploring and discovering hidden secrets, you will unlock the game's other races for play. Each race offers its own unique benefits: Sea creatures are fast in the water, while ents are easy for other players to see (helpful for gathering players when starting groups). However, secrets are not always easy to find. Davison explained that Wander's world is packed with hidden cave systems and underwater caverns, and many of the game's points of interest are "exceptionally hidden." Planet-wide storms add a level of depth to the gameplay, changing the environment and forcing you to take shelter.

The Wander team is constantly looking for new ways for the game's inhabitants to interact, and the devs are working to add new race variations to further deepen the game's lore and universe. The game is meant to be a living world open to interpretation rather than a static universe. Davison wants to create a space where content is shared between players, not delivered by developers.

Getting technical

Wander runs on Linux, PC, and OS X, but the most notable feature is likely its support of the Oculus Rift VR device. Jasmine noted that playing Wander with the Rift was quite an experience, explaining, "It was my first time using the Oculus Rift and I came incredibly close to having a real-life panic attack when I walked near the edge of a cliff. I have a fear of heights, and wow, I felt all of that fear. It was horrifying but really, really cool."

The game also supports Razer's Hydra motion controller. If you're using a Hydra and playing as a bipedal character, you'll be able to directly control your characters arms by moving your own. The best part of this feature, however, is why it was implemented: Davison said that one of the first requests from early alpha testers was a way to hug each other.

The Wander team has designed the game to look and feel like one enormous world, so it is backing this design with a single-shard server that can hold thousands of people. Davison noted that the only real limitation on players in a given space would be your video card; otherwise, the server is designed to hold all of Wander's players at once. EVE Online, for example, uses a similar single-shard system to host its entire playerbase on one server.

As of this week, Wander has officially entered early access/open beta. It will cost you $25 to enter Wander and start exploring its secrets. Davison noted that there is no cash shop planned, no incremental fees, and no additional costs -- your payment grants you lifetime access to the game and any updates or upgrades it may receive. Additionally, you'll be able to play Wander on PC, OS X, and Linux with just one purchase, and Oculus Rift support is included with the game.

Wander is still fairly rough beta, but it is a curious idea that dumps many common MMO mechanics in the hopes that players will collaborate and share. As for whether or not the idea works, well, that's something testers will have to decide as they soar through its mysterious skies.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 30th to September 2nd, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, The Elder Scrolls Online, EverQuest Next, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!
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