December 17, 2012
The Repopulation may be the science fiction sandbox MMORPG that we’ve all been waiting for. That’s a very grandiose statement to make, I know. Hear me out, though, and you’ll see why this may just be Star Wars: Galaxies 2. First, a little background on the team behind this upcoming MMORPG. The company Above and Beyond Technologies is headed up by Joshua Halls and J.C. Smith. Joshua Halls seems to be a relative newcomer to professional game development, but J.C. Smith has been involved with Nintendo for several years. The rest of the team is an amalgamation of professionals and amateurs with aims to become professionals, and the quality of the game even in its alpha state is testament to their collective skill. Regardless of what happens with Repopulation, I see great things in store for this team. Back in June, A&B ran a Kickstarter for The Repopulation that asked for the very modest sum of $25,000 to finish the game by mid 2013. Considering that Star Citizen earned itself seven million dollars through crowdfunding, and that The Repopulation itself earned just over $50,000 in its Kickstarter, I think they were selling themselves a little short. They would have been better served by paying more attention to their Kickstarter campaign at this time. That said, the influx of cash certainly has added a lot of polish to an already-polished game.
Even just watching the few videos on Youtube that A&B has released will get you excited about the game if you’re a fan of SWG. While the crafting system is certainly different from how SOE did it, preferring to use an overall grading system ranging from F0 to A9 instead of Galaxies’ 1-1000 resource attribute system, the feel is similarly complex. Your skill at crafting improves on a per-recipe basis, not just a per-category one, as with SWG. You may be fantastic at producing light weapon components but abysmal at medium weapon components. This kind of system provides for a lot of variety in crafted items, and bodes well for a player economy. Also, The Repopulation has a unique item decay system. Items have a Minor and Major condition, which decrease over usage. They can be increased by repairing an item, but repairing reduces the item’s durability. Eventually, you will either wear out or repair your item into oblivion, requiring a replacement in much the same fashion as SWG had.
Interestingly, The Repopulation has an item customization system which completely separates visuals from mechanics. You choose the appearance of items using molds, and then you can give the items stats by adding various Fittings. Fittings wear out just like items, and come in the same F0 to A9 grades. There’s a lot of complexity here, and a lot of opportunity for customization. Now, that does mean that inevitably there will appear Flavor of the Month item Fitting combinations, but no game is safe from that. Fittings first appeared in conceptual form in the now-defunct Hero’s Journey, the very first MMORPG built on Simutronics’ Hero Engine. Hero Engine, made famous by Star Wars: The Old Republic, has a special place in my heart. I worked as a world builder GM for Hero’s Journey prior to its cancellation, and the engine was so easy and fun to work with that I was giddy with anticipation on what HJ would amount to. While that game never materialized, Fittings have seemed to survive through The Repopulation, which also uses Hero Engine. That makes me very happy.
Generally, indie games tend to fall into one of two categories - either they’re artsy, or they’re just bad. On rare occasions you’ll find one that hits a very high-quality mark that competes with AAA titles. The Repopulation is one of those that has great visual appeal without catering to a niche audience. Some of the visual feel is comparable to Star Wars: The Old Republic, in terms of animation flow and physics determination. However, most of it has its own particular theme that suits the game’s premise very well. The GUI is well presented and clean. In essence, The Repopulation’s UI looks a lot like how I’d imagine SWG would look, if given ten years to advance. The spiritual succession remains intact there. The icons being 2D instead of 3D is a departure, but a lot of the flavor is still present.
The Repopulation features a pet taming system comparable to SWG’s. You find juvenile creatures and tame them, then teach them abilities they can use in combat. Also like SWG and other games since, you can harvest creatures for their parts. However, The Repopulation’s creature-harvesting system is even more complex than SWG’s. Like with item crafting, you gain skill in harvesting from specific types of animals, so while you might be excellent at fetching skins from the six-legged scorpion-like beasties, you might suck at getting bone from others.
Yes, The Repopulation will have entertainers. And yes, they’re a lot like SWG entertainers, being able to buff other players at campsites by dancing or playing music. But they’re a lot more, too - they can weave stories, tell jokes, and customize buffs to a degree Galaxies players opined for.
In SWG, player cities were a much-anticipated and enjoyed feature. However, The Repopulation goes a step beyond even this. Not only can players build out cities using buildings, furniture, city walls, and other decorative goodies, but they can populate those cities with NPCs, manage the NPC populace, declare war or allegiance with other player nations, and command player militaries with custom ranks and titles. The nation system provides the third faction that SOE never got around to developing in SWG. If you choose to align yourself with a player nation instead of one of the two NPC nations, you have access to a host of customizations that are currently only touched on in EVE Online.
No game company, especially an indie company, is immune to failure. In this case, Above and Beyond’s big failure is in its marketing. Only through word of mouth is hype spread about this game. While A&B does have a presence at a few major industry conventions, they have no advertising to speak of, and no marketing strategy. As a result, the player population could be devastatingly small at release for such a player-centric game. This may spell disaster for A&B unless they have help. So, if you’re at all interested in the kind of sandbox MMORPG that Star Wars: Galaxies presented, give The Repopulation a look! I know I’ll be following its development very closely over the next year. There’s a lot more about the game that’s similar to SWG, so head over to their website and check it out.