Worlds adrift is not your typical MMO. London-based studio Bossa, famous for games like Operation Simulator and I am bread— ditches common systems around character growth, exploration, and combat and replaces them with new perspectives on player progression, interaction, and performance in the online world. Most interesting of all, it hopes to create the holy grail of the MMO: a truly persistent world where any player on any server can change the world in a way that every other player will see, right down to brick placement. For a team with no previous experience in the genre, this is ambitious. After all, there’s a reason so many games have adhered to the conventions that have existed since then World of Warcraft.
This is what makes MMOs such a conservative genre: since the business model is based on attracting large numbers of players and retaining them over a long period of time, it’s much easier if you can show potential players something relatable – and because Wow was the first MMO experience for so many gamers, many MMOs end up being very similar. Worlds adrift however shares at least some similarities with Bossa’s previous work. Players interact with complex physics systems, just like Operation Simulator and I am bread. With a grappling hook and chain, players can swing over holes, abseil down rock walls and scramble over walls. Performing Spider-Man-esque sequences of seamless swings is difficult given the system is completely unassisted, but the lack of automation gives you more freedom.
Worlds adrift takes place on islands floating in the air, each procedurally generated with their own unique geometry, colors, and evidence of past civilizations in the form of derelict structures. There will also be some player-designed islands, courtesy of the free ones Island Creator tool currently available on Steam, while Bossa has promised to put his favorites in the final game. Players are simply tasked with exploring this fractured environment. Think of it as Nobody’s Heaven, only with exploration on a more local, recognizable scale. To travel between these islands, you must build airships, the movement and power of which are determined by your design. For example, place the motors unevenly, and energy efficiency will suffer. Want to use light armor to maintain high speed? Don’t expect to last long in battle.
Ship design is performed in real time. For example, to mount a motorcycle you have to physically stand next to it, pick it up and place it where you think is best. Construction has a do-it-yourself nature that, like wrestling, is hard to master at first, but it does allow for the maximum amount of freedom (at least outside of a more abstract system), and thus the more convincing final designs . Spending time manually attaching each mast, wing, and gun gives ships a much more personal touch, and the end result is more “you,” even if it’s imperfect.
Of Worlds adrift announced so early (December 2014), and with such a focus on the studio’s partnership with London startup Improbable – which provides the underlying technology for the game’s persistent world – basically outlines what you to do in the game outside of grappling and shipbuilding, the technological hype has taken a bit of a back seat. Which is not to say that such a hype is not completely unjustified. After all, it’s quite an achievement to create a stubborn world where debris from an explosion can float through the air to another player hundreds of virtual miles away, or where the body of a fallen enemy will rot over time instead of to disappear.
“What we built is a way to dispense with the whole client-server architecture, which is traditional for mainstream games,” Improbable CEO Herman Narula told me. PC gamer in a recent interview.
Instead of one server with a game loop and geographic control over one area – a server that can’t handle a lot of load or interesting behavior – we have a swarm of processors that live and die as and when they’re needed. These orchestrate together without a game loop, without a central controller, to model and simulate a world, and it just scales, because you have a swarm of these things.
Now instead of a single game engine, you have thousands of these employees who are able to collaborate on the fly, in milliseconds, to come together in a space in the game world and do work that simulates the world. We can siphon different things, like physics, AI, whatever, to things that are really good at that kind of work. Instead of a central authoritative loop, as games and simulations are traditionally created, think of it as a large swarm or orchestra of processors.
It’s all very similar to another game that promised the world: Nobody’s Heaven. There’s the breakthrough technology, the scale that seems beyond the reach of the small indie team handling development, and the mystery surrounding the core gameplay. Yeah, sort of. Worlds adrift does have a beta that players can sign up for, and at least I have an idea of what you can do outside of ship building and grappling. With a ship built, you are free to cross the world as you please, alone or as a team. Forming a crew with players gives you the advantage of teamwork when it comes to sailing through the air, and as a group you can take greater risks.
Other ships may try to attack and loot the materials you used to build your ship, but as a crew you can make use of everything the ship has to offer. One can concentrate on piloting, while another mans the guns, while someone else carries out repairs and another acts as a lookout. Keeping your ship intact is the key to survival. Many islands are blocked by massive storms and flying into them will cause massive damage to your ship. Within two minutes of boarding a ship during a demo, my engines had cut out and I had lost control of the rudder. I managed to slide out of the storm using a wing suit, but was essentially stranded on an island until I could build a new ship.
The idea is that you travel between islands to find new parts to improve your ship and give you the best chance of getting through the storm gate to the next set of islands. It’s also important to have a crew here, as repairs are constantly needed given the number of lightning strikes you’re likely to encounter.
Conversely, you can choose to omit the travel angle altogether. It is very likely that visionary members of the community will find satisfaction in building ships for others. A player may want to focus on exploration and combat, but that means he or she has the time or inclination to build a ship. Those same creative individuals might decide they want to see different places and hop aboard a ship they originally built, piloted by someone with the kind of skills needed to safely weather a storm – skills the creator doesn’t have the took time to learn.
The maker side has been expanded from the original design to allow you to build a ship from the ground up, giving you complete control over core geometry rather than simply providing blocks to connect. Wireframe models can be modified any way you like, allowing you to design ships that are unique to your needs. Perhaps you want a flying fortress that can accommodate a large number of players, giving up island life for a nomadic commune. Alternatively, a small, fast scout ship might be more your style. Of course, many people will want to recreate their favorite vehicles Star Wars, Star Trek et al.
One of the most interesting things about giving players complete freedom to design something is how the community is going to react to the presence of these ships. Once the ship is in the world, it’s fair game for anyone, which means it could be stolen by someone in love with what you’ve built. This form of tangible, dare I say “emergent”, gameplay is the most exciting thing about it worlds adrift, persistent online world included. Your personal story isn’t built around abstract values assigned to your health, speed, or magic, it’s built around what you’ve seen and done.
The value you have as a player depends on what you have explored, how good you are as a builder, what advice you can give others, how well you can struggle to reach remote places, how good you are as a pilot, and more . It is likely that you will have a natural ability in at least one of these areas and as such you will be a valued part of the community from day one. This is unlike a traditional MMO, where you’re a n00b until you’ve spent the hundreds of hours it takes to reach the level where you’re of value to the dedicated player base.
Any unique take on a successful genre will of course be met with caution by the core players, but it’s by rewriting the rulebook that progress is made. Regardless of the level of success Worlds adrift Moving on, I hope the game’s objectives spark new ways to think about what an MMO can be.
Worlds Adrift will be released for Windows PCs at some vague point in the future. There is currently no release date.