Builder gameplay: Voxel Tools & Elements


In the past few weeks Dual Universe has been on occasion described as being mainly a PvP MMO. However Dual Universe is so much more than this: it has a rich “Builder” gameplay at its core, which is rather new in the MMO genre (at least at this scale). Specifically, this gameplay is not just a kind of single player experience added on top of a MMO, but takes an entirely new dimension because of the fact that you are building within a MMO that takes the word “massive” seriously. This is a crucial aspect, and is central to the emergent gameplay experience.

We plan to implement the Builder gameplay in the Alpha version (not all tools might be ready though) before any PvP gameplay. We are doing this for 2 reasons:
– We would like to send a message: our game is as much a Builder Game as a PvP Game.
– In our game vision, building constructs will be the first brick of the gameplay cycle.

Warning: everything said in this blog post is still “work in progress”. Development is an iterative process and the gameplay may evolve a lot between now and when the players will get their hands on the game. 

Goals we have in mind for the Builder role:

1) Building as a meaningful activity

Instead of just remaining an end in itself, we want to give to the Building activity a purpose to all the time invested in it. To build gigantic things and just stare at them once they are finished feels like something is missing. If you have played other Builder games, like some people in our team, you might have felt this way. That’s why we plan to place the Builders at the heart of the Economy. We want to make them feel useful or even essential to other players. Builders will be able to sell, or buy their creations together with other players to increase their wealth for other purposes. Building activity will, along with the crafting activity, bootstrap the player-driven Economy. And a strong emergent Economy will be necessary to make PvP possible on a large scale. So even for PvP Players, Builders will matter.

2) Showing your art to an incredibly bigger audience

You are an artist for the sake of Art, and you don’t really care about making your creations profitable or being useful to anyone. That’s fine and even in that case you could still have a solid reason to build in a single-shard game like Dual Universe. Why? If you want to show what you’re capable of to the community, well, in the average Builder game, you will be able to show your work to 20, 50 or possibly a few hundred players if you are on a solid and very populated server, but this is still a small part of the game community. Of course, you have social media to enlarge your audience, but watching a video on YouTube is not comparable to seeing an impressive fortress in game, right? Imagine that in a single shard universe, your creations can become a tourist attraction similar to real life monuments (Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower), bringing thousands of in-game visitors just here to see your Art… Well, you get the picture.

The protection we plan for the Builders:

Building is a very time consuming activity to bear fruits, we are very well aware of this. It is also something many players practice as a relaxing activity. So if a builder wants to build without risking being attacked by a PvP player, he will have the opportunity to do it in non-PvP, secure areas. Right from the beginning, there will be a secure area of several kilometers around the Arkship (the in-game starting point). Beyond the safety of the Arkship, as players explore the universe, we are currently evaluating other possibilities for additional secure areas in the game to protect builders and their creations, as the number of players in game grows and they spread across the universe. We know that each possibility comes with Pros and Cons. Expect the final decision to be announced more or less at the same time we’ll communicate in detail about the PvP gameplay. Here is a brief outline to some safe building zone ideas:

- Arkification Token: the ability to find tokens (alien relics?) for the players while exploring or mining. They could be used wherever the owner want, and will be destroyed upon use. This would then create an indestructible safe area and anything in it become untouchable by PvP Mechanisms.
- Alien Ruins: areas on planets containing lost, deactivated alien technology that could be rebuilt/reactivated by players. Once the area is rebuild/reactivated, the area becomes safe and anything in it becomes untouchable by PvP Mechanisms.
- Virtual Simulator: enabling player to enter a virtual world (call it “inception syndrome”!). While in that virtual space, the player would be able to design any construct, in a completely peaceful setting. This would help builders to design their construct and create their blueprints safely, without being interrupted by any PvP action. For ships, it will also be possible to test their flight mode, without risking a crash or wasting resources!

What about the constructs built in non-secure areas? These will be destructible. We assume what take the most time in the building activity is to design a construct the first time and tweak all the small details on it. Once you have the Blueprint, or a Construct Snapshot with a Repair Unit, it’s only a matter of gathering resources to repair it or reproduce it an infinite number of times. This is the best way to make the PvP destruction acceptable in our opinion, but we remain open to community suggestions!

The Tools available for the Builders:

We have taken some time to analyze and gather information about what are the strengths and weaknesses of already released builder games. It seems they all fall into two main categories:

- Those who have predefined blocks which are easy to take in hand gameplay wise, enabling players to build nice designs quickly but where the creativity is limited, due to the number of different preset blocks you can choose from to build with.
- Those who have voxel tools enabling players to manipulate the world to reach maximum creativity freedom. The drawback is generally that this ability to manipulate voxels is incredibly intimidating and difficult to take in hand for a beginner. While a few experienced players can build wondrous things, the vast majority of players are overwhelmed and discouraged.
In order to avoid the pitfall from the two genres, we’ve come to the conclusion to get the best of both worlds to appeal to both experienced and novice builders. So yes, in the Alpha, you can expect to have “Voxel Tools” as well as what we call “Voxel Elements”. So, what exactly are Voxel Tools & Voxel Elements?

Voxel Tools:

1) Deploy/Remove Shape Tool

In a nutshell this tool enables the builder to deploy (or remove) a primitive shape, a bit like a 3D brush. Right now it can be a cube, a sphere or a triangular prism. The size of the shape can be resized and rotated. It can be used for deploying/extracting large shapes or for fine tuning those intricate details.

However it will grow in versatility as time passes: we plan to include cylinders, cones, tetrahedrons (triangle-based pyramid), square-based pyramids and many more!

2) Line Tool

This enables the builder to create a plain linear connection between two rectangular surfaces that you are free to define. Both the starting rectangular surface and the ending rectangular surface of the volume are defined before deployment: the size of the rectangular base at each extremity is decided by the player with a simple drag&drop movement.



3) Smoothing Tool (work in progress)

This enables the builder to smooth sharp edges and corners progressively enabling more organic and streamlined shapes to be made. The smoothing action can be triggered either by a click or by maintaining the mouse button to have a continuous smoothing action.

4) Select Tool (work in progress)

This enables the builder to select a precise group of voxels and save it temporarily (like in a clipboard) or permanently in their Voxel Element Library. The selection can then be reproduced (copy/paste) in the world (assuming the builder has the necessary quantity of material to reproduce it). Note that it only stores the voxel content and not other game Elements (eg Engines).

5) Paint Tool (scheduled)

This enables the builder to “paint” any surface of a construct. In fact, it’s material swapping: one voxel of a specific material is replaced by one voxel of another material. The removed quantity of material is put in the player inventory while the quantity of material used to replace it is taken from the player inventory. We will try to have two painting modes: sharp painting (similar to hard edge painting) and smooth painting (where the material recently deployed is slightly propagating to adjacent voxels, creating a blending effect).

Voxel Elements (or Voxel-based Elements):

Put simply, a Voxel Element is a complex, predefined voxel-based shape constituted of one (or more) material(s). A spiral staircase is a good example of a Voxel Element. Voxel Elements will be gathered in a library. We plan to include more and more complex shapes in this library. The feedback from the community will be essential to know which complex shapes will be the most useful to builders. In the long term, builders will also have the ability to create Voxel Elements themselves, and to save them to their Voxel Element Library. They will also be able to modify the materials used by the Voxel Elements, so if you want a metal stair with a wooden handrail, or vice versa, you will have to simply update the materials attached to the Voxel Element.

Mesh-based Elements (or “Elements”):

As well as Voxel Tools and Voxel Elements there are also predefined game Elements like Cockpits, Engines, Boosters, etc… They bring functionalities to your Construct, and can be attached to your voxel-based creations, setting up their anchor point and orientation. Some Elements will be required to build certain things. A basic flying craft will require a Core Unit, a Control Unit, a Gyroscope, and a few propulsors (adjustors to orient, rockets to fly), but the voxel-made chassis, hull and design of the craft is entirely left to the builder.

Well, that’s all for now. We hope this gives you a better idea about the plans we have for all the Builders in Dual Universe. Don’t hesitate to give your feedback on the forum, if you have any suggestion or comments to make: we really want to have your opinion on this! :)

The Novaquark Team.