[page=To Infinity and Beyond.]
With the woefully linear presentation of Freelancer and the extreme difficulty of the X series, it seems as though we might never see a spiritual successor to Elite. That is, until Flavien Brebion's Infinity is released.
For the uninitiated, tell us a little bit about Infinity and the "team" behind it.
My name is Flavien Brebion and I'm 28. By day, I work as a graphics programmer in a small Belgium company. During the night (or the weekends), I work on Infinity, my pet project. I've been involved in a few independent projects before, some did succeed, some failed. But I finally came to realize that for a small team, it is extremely hard to make an ambitious game with a lot of content. I had for quite a while in my mind an idea for a new game, so I decided to give it a try by taking a different approach this time: generating most of the universe procedurally.
Procedural techniques are nothing new (64 KB demo coders have been using them for years), but very few games have been using them extensively. I'm definitely looking forward to Will Wright’s "Spore" for that reason. A science-fiction setting, space-based game was best to cut the amount of work down to a realistic level, and as a fan of the classic game "Elite", it was a natural choice. I started to develop the 3D engine in 2004, although I previously worked on some early prototypes to make sure it was technically feasible. I opened the website in September 2005 and received an incredible amount of support. At this time, many people volunteered to give some help, in particular Kevin Haelterman (Betelgeuze on the forums) and Andreas Österman (Abzence). In December, Shawn Sullivan (with whom I had already worked on a previous project) joined the team as a 3D artist and started to work on the first space station.
Tell us a bit about the procedural techniques used in the game engine.
In current games, the world is restricted by the amount of work and time the designers can put in it. Every little detail has to be positioned and tweaked manually. Of course, it allows the developers to make incredibly rich and immersive games, but they have to severely limit the size of their world and levels so that they can release their game in time. It's all about creating an illusion: you think that the world is huge, while in reality you're only walking in a corridor enclosed by invisible walls and all doors (except those few ones where developers allow you to go) remain closed.
With procedural techniques, you can offset the world generation to the computer rather than the designers, and even do that on-the-fly while the game is running. It's not a "magic" technique though: it comes up with its own set of limitations and opens a new can of wormy problems. In particular, instead of tweaking the world directly, you now have to tweak the algorithms that generate this world so that you can control it and make it fit your design.
What does this mean for players? Simply a massive and limitless world. When I say massive, I do truly mean MASSIVE. To give you an idea, all the planets have realistic dimensions and scales. If you were to land on a planet and fly at low altitude at airplane speed, it'd take you hours before reaching another continent. You'd never see the same hill or some mountain twice. Then, each major planet can have tens of moons. Each solar system can have many planets, all rotating with realistic, dynamic orbits, allowing you to attend an eclipse or a sunset in real time. Finally, the galaxy will contain millions, if not billions, of these solar systems. All different.
In addition, landing on planets is fully seamless, without any loading time to break immersion. This was probably the main technical challenge for this project, and as far as I know, no big recent game has been proposing this. It can be seen in the second part of the video.
[page=Space: Above and Around.]
On your website, you define the game as being an MMO. How similar will it be to most MMO games out there now? Does this mean people will have to pay to play it?
If you are thinking of a subscription-based monthly fee, then probably not: I’d like to stay away from this model as much as possible. People will probably be able to play for free, but some advanced content might only be available to paying customers, under the form of premium memberships, for example. This model seems to be pretty successful in the Asian market, and more and more "occidental" games are trying it.
Infinity will be pretty different than currently existing MMOs. First of all, it is not a traditional RPG, which is why I hesitate to call it a "MMORPG". It integrates real-time combat (similar to an action game). There will be no levels, skills or visible experience. It will be pretty close to a "sandbox" game, where every player is able to choose his own path and game play style. It will have a dynamic economy, gathering resources will be an important part of the game, as a way to build new ships from factories. The game will not place restrictions on player killing, although most of the core (populated) systems will have an efficient police to prevent griefing. Playing as a pirate will be no easy task.
In addition to all of this, we are planning to include a pretty advanced A.I. system. How advanced it will be, I do not know yet, even if I have many ideas. It has to be carefully implemented, since it can easily become a resource hogger for the server. But a space game is a great setting to add a ton of specific optimizations.
New content will be constantly added after release; it's actually one of the main ways to make the story dynamic and evolve based on the player’s actions. Note that a single-player mode (not requiring Internet access) will probably be proposed at some point, too.
Do you think the comparison to Elite is valid?
It would be incredibly pretentious to claim that Infinity is "the" spiritual successor of Elite, but it is true that Elite is a main source of inspiration. More so than some of the current popular space-based games.
It will have a lot in common with Frontier/FFE ( Elite's sequels ): a seamless, coherent universe; realistic scales and dimensions; a full 3D game play; planetary landing without loading times; dynamic orbits for planets; space stations with bulletin boards and missions to accomplish, and much more.
The main differences will probably lie in space combat and many extensions to the game play, for example the business/corporation side, being able to own many ships (or even a small fleet), stations or planets, and of course all the MMO aspects.
With all this generated content, I'm sure some people might be afraid that half of the planets will all look the same, or just be utterly barren. What do you have planned to keep this from happening?
This is a potential danger (and one of the main challenges) in procedural content generation. With millions of planets to explore, even if all unique, you can bet some of them will look similar. This happens in reality, too. But I do have many ideas to make the universe as varied as possible and give some "personality" to many planets.
What should players expect to start with when they first load up the game and how customizable will their avatars \ ships be?
Players will probably start by generating a context for their avatar. This context will include an "orientation" (trader, explorer, pirate, scientist, etc.. ) when the game starts, which will be used to determine if the player owns a ship, which type of ship, which type of equipment/weapons, and what amount of money. The context might also include some events in their past history, for example a player starting as a pirate could already have a bounty on him. How customizable spaceships will be, I’m not sure yet as there are a few design and technical issues to be solved first. It's safe to say that ships will have different tags/logos, use different weapons, and they'll possibly be assembled from different modules.
How far along is development at this point? Should we expect a pre-release demo at some point?
I would roughly estimate that it is at 35% of its development. The game engine is well under way and many core features have been completed, but there isn't much going on the game play side at the moment, except simple movement in space or on planets. The goal is to complete the game engine in 2006, and focus on the game play in 2007. A technical (but non-interactive) demo should be released by the end of 2006.
[page=Firefly Me to the Moon!]
While you mention on your website that players will not be allowed to wander outside of their ship on planets, will they be able to walk around on space stations? Or within their own ship?
No. This feature would require a lot of additional game content work, and with such an ambitious project I feel that there's already enough to do in the other areas. It might come back later as a patch or an add-on, but it will likely be missing at release time. Note that even though players cannot walk on foot on planets, some small vehicles are planned.
How will inter-character communication and interaction work? Will players just keep accepting missions from post boards, like in Freelancer?
It will be more advanced than that. In-game bulletin boards will be the central system; players will be able to accept missions given by NPCs from it, but also post themselves missions that other players (or even NPCs) can accept. Templates will be available to avoid abuses. Players will be able to exchange, buy or sell goods safely in stations or even directly between each other in deep space (at their own risks). Global and private chat will of course be present. Corporations will also be an important part of the game.
If players were to cause some damage on the surface of a planet, or were to leave a pod or something on the surface of a world and return to it many months later, should we expect to see that same item or bit of damage there?
It depends on the amount of damage caused to the planet. Minor damage will quickly disappear, but permanent damage (like a nuclear explosion, or a large crater) will stay forever. Items will also stay for a long time, but how much exactly will probably depend on the nature of the item and has to be determined in the beta test.
Will the planets feature realistic weather systems?
Yes, and some of these will directly affect the game play or controls. We plan to implement rain, snow, storms, but also lightning, geysers, volcanoes, sand storms and possibly tornadoes.
Are you looking for any help?
We are always looking for new talents, especially 3D modelers/artists who are dedicated, creative, and can make professional quality work.
And finally, when is your projected release date, at this point?
Officially "When it's done"; but if you want an estimation, we are aiming for an open beta test in end-2007 if progress remains constant.
All of us at Mod Database would like to thank Flavien for his time, and be sure to check out the exclusive preview trailer here.