TUG: A New Take on Sandbox MMOs

ZAM asks developer Peter Salinas about the new sandbox MMO Kickstarter project

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There is a lot of interest in game studios looking to take a different approach to the tried and tested method of creating MMOs. As Camelot Unchained hit its ambitious target this week, it proved that smart ideas don’t have to be aimed at every demographic to be successful.

Another intriguing project with a swathe of fresh ideas is TUG, currently on Kickstarter. TUG is an MMO in development that uses social science to guide development and generate content. With a lot of appealing systems under the hood, I asked Peter Salinas, Research and Development Director at Nerd Kindgom, about the details.

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Firstly, for readers who are meeting TUG for the first time today, what does the name stand for and what makes your game and its Kickstarter project stand out from the crowd?

TUG stands for The Untitled Game. It’s actually part of our group’s philosophy -- we want to really build a world with the community, with people we play games with. We are not trying to look at it as a gimmick; it's simply a matter of fact. Like any world people inhabit, they name it and make it their own. One day, we may go back and see what people may be calling it, and perhaps have fun renaming it. I honestly am not really good with the pitch, but certainly the application of science and very progressive technology to create fun and unique player interactions within a sandbox makes TUG unlike anything else that currently exists in video games. While the game will boast a deep amount of complexity, any player should be able to jump in and enjoy what the world has to offer, making it as fun and accessible as Zelda, but offering the complexity of a game like Eve Online for those who wish to seek it out.

TUG will ask players to figure out what they want to be in the game world, once they’ve figured how to interact with it. After beginning as a young Seed, characters will grow in age as well as power. Will there be class-style or skill-based progression? What limitations will there be to the skills/abilities the players can utilize at any particular time?

Actually, we are not using class systems, and we are also not using any elaborate UI systems to dictate player abilities either. Immersion really is key, which also translates into how the UI is being handled. Everything is heavily reliant on tools, load-out, and intent. If you use a 2-handed sword, you may start off swinging slowly and for less damage but, over time, you will get stronger and faster with it. This would also be the same for other weapon types. You never step into the real world and say, “I’M GONNA BE A DOCTOR!” Or at least, no one is literally born a doctor. If you want to be a doctor, then you put in work; you learn what it actually takes to be a doctor, and you start using your knowledge and the tools at your disposal to get there. Even the use of what would be seen as magic -- or advanced technology, and definitely tools -- will all come from logical configuration of items/gear. Players will use visual cues and associations to gauge other players’ strengths and abilities as well... something beyond just a number hovering over their heads. We will, of course, have under-the-hood statistics that will allow for people to experiment with different types of tools and weapons, but their class is organic -- skills they use more frequently will become faster, more refined, or more powerful; while skills they neglect may diminish over time. These things are also offset with balancing from the load-out and space systems with inventory.

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The physical appearance of characters will change depending on their activities. Characters who wield big two handed swords will become more physically intimidating, those who run around a lot will become svelte and the food-happy will get inflated around the waist. Will different activities offset these changes? Can someone who has spent a long time on their cooking skill, for example, go exploring and work off the extra pounds?

Yes, but I think you may be thinking of skill in a traditional sense :). Certainly in games, we are accustomed to seeing a bar to articulate skill with different professions (I still will never forget my constant fishing and cooking grind with each new WoW expansion), but what does it really take to make something? Real knowledge and ingredients. So, some things may be much more complex than others to make; some things perhaps could be just thrown in an oven, but other things will need to be better prepared. What you choose to eat certainly will have some kind of impact on your waistline, and changing that diet later and making a character become more active would likely have a chance at reversing these changes. These systems are what we are good at, with the number of science nerds in place. Of course, we are taking a more modular design to the game; we want to actually show it evolve, share those studies of that process with the world, and, who knows, maybe some younger children may actually learn from this how nutrition can impact things. Games can be excellent educating tools, after all... it certainly is not the focus of the project, but it is a potential bonus!

What kind of story delivery system are you designing? Without quest delivery NPCs, what method are you utilizing to add narrative content?

Consistency and logic! Look at our own world; so many things remain that indicate worlds from our past. We pore over ancient statues, paintings and scriptures, trying to piece together the society they came from; we have entire fields that develop in pursuit of these understandings, and of taking those understandings and helping us better understand ourselves and the way the world works, or once worked. These same principles apply to TUG: there is a world that exists, and it’s something that can be incredibly deep if you choose to explore and delve into it. It can even give insight and direction into more rewarding and complex gameplay, but can be totally ignored as well. Players will see things in the world they cannot define or explain, and when those things are figured out, it could change the way everything is done in the world. There are things that may never be solved in game ever... there may very well be lost mysteries and lost opportunities. These things are also very exciting for us... to see how social discovery and collaboration can challenge our perception of what “gamers” can really do. It also helps that we have such large academic names that will bring this information to bear against the world.

What dangers will the world of TUG present? As well as NPC enemies, will the environment pose a threat through temperature extremes or the Day/Night cycle? Will players need to find food and water to survive?

Beasts, Demons, resource scarcity and other players. A lot of the more subtle dangers, including response to diet, are things that are to be refined and tested over time. We are not so bold as to assume what really makes the experience fun for our gamers; those are things we will learn more from time and play. Right now, our team is small, but we have incredibly efficient and smart systems and members in place that help us get a lot done. If we can prove that a system is fun, and at what extreme, it’ll go in the game.

What level of variety will there be in combat? Will players be able to discern between each others’ combat styles? Will there be scope for traditional combat roles?

The way we handle combat will be a huge part of that visual association as well. Because we want the players to become much more responsive to their surroundings, they should get a solid idea of how those players will move and fight, based on the tools they use, the weapons they carry and their overall physical appearance. This actually is where we draw some of our inspiration from what Monster Hunter does; certainly it wasn’t perfect, and didn’t really allow for that much variation, but the premise was accurate to some extent.

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Could TUG’s combat be described as “action combat”? What kind of interface usage will there be to engage? Is it hotbar or mouse click focused? Will there be auto targeting or free aim? Will NPCs – or players if there is PvP – react to each attack when it hits them?

It will focus more on action combat. For everyone who is getting involved in our project early, we are going to have a lot of fun introducing different types of combat styles here. We have a lot of room to try some different things... there are a TON of possibilities in a game where physics and terrain manipulation exists. We really want to avoid the hotbar thing, but there may be some logical ways of articulating that. Auto targeting also may be a thing, but only when logic dictates, and even that will have a trade off for players (and they may have to craft the tools/technology to enable it).

Will there be PvP in TUG? If so what form will it take? Open world, or instanced, territorial ownership etc?

It will be much more open world; we really want to unhook artificial restraints. Sure, there are inevitably going to be a handful of people who don't like PVP, or cannot deal with conflict. For those people, we will encourage them to enjoy their own local games, or make their own games to connect with one another. But for the games we are interested in, we want to let players really get at each other. There is a lot more to consider in this world than a typical RPG or online game, where people can just be destroyed. It’s not just going to be about beating someone down with better weapons or more skill -- it’s also about out-thinking them. You may be much larger or stronger than I am, but maybe I’m smart enough to make you think you can take me out and I lead you into a chase that lands you in a trap you could not deal with.

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Very Interesting...
# May 07 2013 at 3:13 PM Rating: Decent
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The thing that impresses me most is how they challenge ground level design and are really thinking things through, this is how game design should be, not just cloning each others games and making tiny iterations. If they manage to pull this game off it will be fantastic, but I've seen so many try and fail, it is very hard formula to get right.

You can set out with the ideas they have and get WURM Online (Yes, a very good game, but hardly the most accessible or successful) or you can get Minecraft -- I use these two examples because Notch worked on both, they both have the same idea's and yet one of them is a cultural phenomenon and the other I bet a lot of people haven't even heard of, it all comes down to execution.

I'm not entirely sure why we are calling this an MMO. I hate the MMO term being thrown around because it is hip, an MMO has a whole different set of design challenges. Let's not call every game that can support 60-100 players on a dedicated server an MMO.

Anyway, just my two cents. Great interview Scott, you asked good questions and he gave perfect answers. I'll be keeping an eye on this one, I need to see more before I feel safe pledging to yet another Kickstarter.

P.S The art style reminds me of WildStar -- curse that game, it haunts my dreams.

Edited, May 7th 2013 5:16pm by Crainey

Edited, May 7th 2013 5:21pm by Crainey
Very Interesting...
# May 07 2013 at 9:17 PM Rating: Decent
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Indeed, the part about MMOs is a good point. Guess we need a new acronym, RLMORPG. Rather Large Multiplayer Online RPG. I think 60-100 is a great number though for a game that wants to be really organic.
Very Interesting...
# May 08 2013 at 1:51 AM Rating: Decent
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I suppose we could just call them multiplayer games, as Minecraft and Battlefield do with their 64 man servers. When you look at a game like MAG with 256 (?) players I guess that changes the ball game a little.

Though who are we to say when the game is in pre-alpha and could well change, all the details are in the air still, maybe it is an MMO after-all. And anyhow, when you get a couple hundred or even thousand people in one area even MMOs break, we've seen it in EVE and WoW numerous times, WoW even witch hunt people who organise such events.
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