Otherland Preview from GDC 2012
Gamigo rescued Otherland from development limbo in August of last year, and GDC 2012 marks our first chance to see, in person, how the game has fared since its 2008 reveal. Gamigos latest pickup is based on Tad Williams bestselling books about a recreational virtual reality construct that takes on a life of its own (no, its not about the last 3 seasons of TNG), so the IP seems like a natural fit for a sociably sandbox-style cyberpunk MMO.
And, as Gamigos Denis Hartmann and Anthony Guzzardo took me on a tour of the games social hub, Lambda Mall, Otherlands sandboxy hooks were on full display. Denis explained that the high-rise condo buildings in the background werent just decoration players will get their own living space in the hub. If that seems too tame, groups of players can get clan lands offworld that yield resources and must be protected from other clans.
Back on Lambda Mall, a sprawling area Anthony aptly described as Blade Runner meets Coruscant, Denis was showing off some of the minigames. These ranged from the traditional pub staples (such as the billiards tables found in the English Pub) to a wacky Roswell minigame where players abduct cows with UFOs. Otherlands minigames are more the participation-oriented party game variety rather than the EQ Gems-ish solo timewaster sort more common in MMOs.
Lambda Mall is the social hub, but key to the Otherland experience is a genre-bending mashup of whatever meme suits your fancy. This is the holodeck, after all. Eight Squared was the next stop on our tour. A medieval-themed world complete with castles, market squares, out of the way priories, and the occasional blue wireframe (just to remind you youre in a construct), Eight Squared is how Otherland gets its Ren Fest on.
The oddly mathematical name of the sub-world, in case you were wondering, comes from the number of spaces on a chessboard, and chess themes are predominant. The World PvP side of Eight Squared pits the red team against the white team as each side attempts to capture the other teams king, for example.
While Gamigo has announced another world - the Far-Eastern themed Mars a demo of this world will have to wait. Denis suggested that we might see Mars and more at E3 in June. Instead, Denis showed us a little more of character creation and combat.
In 2008, players were to be limited to Max Headroom-like simuloids beings of light energy (the color choices were blue and blue at that time), that players could dress up like Barbie dolls to match whatever world they were adventuring in. Todays simuloids look far more awesome, but players are no longer limited to virtual beings. Your choices now include humans and aliens (humanoid models with more skin tone options and less proportionate limbs). This was a bit of a downer for me though I recognize that the majority of players are most comfortable with characters that they can either relate to or find beautiful, Otherlands simuloids were a unifying element in an anything-but-unified story experience.
Along with the new race options, Otherland is instituting classes as well. Two classes were revealed at GDC 2012 the Gunner (who, as you might expect, specializes in shooting things) and the Rage (a melee specialist). We dropped into Hacker Zone, a partially decompiled dark side of Lambda Mall where Otherlands more mind-bending and illegal activities take place, to try out the Gunners abilities.
In combat, Otherland is following the action combat trend in other words, no tab targeting or auto-attack. Players will have a modest assortment of hotbar combat skills to use. Player combat animations look promising and the weapon choices are highly unique, but enemy AI, behaviors, and animations still need a lot of work.
Other features mentioned but not seen in this demo included a full-featured crafting system modeled on the Soma Forge found in the novels, more PvP options including arena PvP and Clan Wars, and a progression system based on the collection of eDNA, which can be harvested and used to protect Clan Lands from marauders, for example. No beta or launch timeline is available for the free-to-play, free-to-download game yet, and while the title is starting to coalesce, I wouldnt anticipate seeing this in beta before the end of 2012.
Our thanks to Gamigos Denis Hartmann and Anthony Guzzardo for offering an Otherland update at GDC 2012.