Black Prophecy Preview from GDC 2011

With Jumpgate Evolution seemingly down for the count, it’s tempting to think that Black Prophecy is a worthy stand-in. To view BP in that light – just as a second-rate space shooter substitute – is to vastly underrate the time and care that Gamigo is putting into this project. From top-notch cutscenes that mask zone loading, to high quality, fully localized voiceovers (the game will launch in German and English), to a fully orchestral soundtrack, Black Prophecy is unmistakably top tier.

And it plays well too. Unlike pew-pew space sims, Black Prophecy is skill-based and will require you to be good on the stick. Don’t expect to pilot massive dreadnoughts crewed by thousands of faceless minions; in BP it’s just you, your single seater, a small assortment of tactics (or combo abilities – short keystroke based in-flight maneuvers a la Snoopy Fighter Ace), and pure skill.

black prophecy

As Gamigo’s Dennis Hartmann created a character with the same sort of photorealistic palette you’d expect from a game like EVE Online, he explained a bit about the backstory. Humanity, as seems to be our sci-fi destiny, is searching for a new home. The twist is that part of humanity, the Genides, saw fit to twiddle with human genetics to aid the search. The opposing player faction, the Tyi, only relies on technology – i.e. cybernetics and implants. A third, non-playable human faction, the Sapiens, isn’t augmented in any way, while a fourth, the obligatory bug-like alien race, will oppose your every move.

Dennis started out in the opening stages of the game, a short tutorial mission arc dubbed the Prologue. To accentuate Black Prophecy’s skill-based nature, Dennis showed me the three perspectives available to players – typical MMO-ish third-person view, a surprisingly robust cockpit view, and a first-person view. Dennis expressed a preference for first-person view, and I agreed – this view offers the most real-estate for the game environment and helps you keep your focus at the center of the screen.

Gamebryo has been used on lots of video game projects, from Oblivion to Epic Mickey to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas to LEGO Universe and Rift.  It’s a versatile engine for open-world games, but this marked the first time I saw it used in a space game. Projectiles chipped off asteroids, missile vapor trails hung convincingly, spacecraft seemed to respond with that comfortably non-Newtonian take on physics which is all we can or should hope for nowadays.

In the look and feel department, I might have done with a smidge more of that over-the-top rumbling, screen blurring boost or weapon damage effect more common among arcadey space shooters, but now I’m nitpicking. Making space visually interesting is one of the perennial challenges of creating a game like Black Prophecy, and it’s one that Gamigo appears to be tackling.

Player progression occurs along levels and eight point-bought attributes. Put more points into explosives and you’ll be able to equip better missile launchers and missiles. Increase your points in shields and more powerful, faster regenerating shields will be unlocked for your use. Other categories include energy, mechanics, ship, weapons, and hull, but tactics is worthy of a second mention. Tactics is how you’ll unlock new combo moves – everything from the simple -  tapping W twice for a special speed boost – to the complex, such as popping an immelman to quickly end up behind and above your enemy.

black prophecy

Core gameplay in Black Prophecy happens through missions. Three types of level-based missions are up for grabs: PvE, PvP, and (with a nod to Aion) PvPvE. Players can fly missions solo, in groups of up to 10 people, or in clans of even larger size. Clans will have their own logos and ship decals, and can also control Clan Stations – a limited number of discoverable stations that offer better quality missions, crafting, and living quarters. These stations come at a huge price, and maintaining one means capturing and holding a small number of resource stations.

Crafting, using blueprints and components found in wrecks, is something you can do aboard any station, not just clan stations.  Plans for an auction house are less certain. Without one at launch, players will likely be relegated to competing with gold ad spammers for the shout channel to hawk their goods. The item shop, however, will be in full effect, offering paints, cosmetic items, and convenience goods like experience boosts while omitting advantage items like new ships, weapons, etc.

At launch, stations will be little more than graphical menus offering no avatar interaction, much like those in EVE Online. But, like CCP, Gamigo has plans for a walking-in-stations project post-launch.

But first comes beta, and Dennis is hopeful that US servers will go online later this month. Until then, we’ll wait patiently with dreams of x-wings and TIE fighters and the Wing Commander series dancing in our heads. Thanks Dennis, and no pressure!

black prophecy

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