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March 10, 2008
GDC 2008 - Earthrise

By Paul Philleo

Apparently the future will be a depressing and grim apocalyptic sort of place, victimized by vengeful gods annoyed at the abuse of the environment or by a self-destructive human race, if a lot of sci-fi MMORPGs are accurate predictors. Count Masthead Studio’s Earthrise among the titles that take that future as a given, then pose the question, “What about the future past that future?”

Earthrise, as the title implies, is not about a society scrounging for survival among mutants and other misfits, but imagining a society that has re-built itself from the ashes of World War III into a near-utopia. It’s the “near” part where the storyline begins, because not all is well in the beatific dictatorship that defines Earthrise’s future. For those who view the technologically advanced, strict and powerful regime as a utopia, they can fight on the side of Continoma, who rules the city-state of Sal Vitas. Conversely, those who’d see this future as a dystopia would fight on the side of Noir, who represent the rebellion underground.

I spoke with George Petrov, the Technical Director for Masthead Studios, to discuss some of the nuts and bolts that have gone into Earthrise to date, in its pre-alpha state. Petrov was already confident if cautious about the condition of the game build at this early juncture. “We’ve already got a very stable proprietary rendering (graphics) engine in Earthrise...and it will be Direct X 10 compatible.” Direct X 10 is good news for gamers who like their textures, lighting effects and shading detailed and crisp. The audio system, and whether it will use any niceties like surround sound or voice chat, is still in the planning phase.

As mentioned before, the game is approaching an alpha build. During testing at least, players should see Earthrise build updates posted quickly. “We’re using a WYSIWYG editor while we’re developing Earthrise, which allows us to do quick turnarounds in testing,” said Petrov. “If there’s a bug, we can make the changes in the game right away, as soon as we hear about it.” Live streaming will be part of the update system, but only for smaller content updates and not for bandwidth-killing ones.

Without going into detail, Petrov mentioned emphatically that a lot of thought is going into the technology to deal with latency and make the Earthrise as smooth a play experience as possible. Open alpha or beta should be able to tell the tale where that characteristic is concerned.

A distinction that sets Earthrise apart from many MMO games is that the level-based treadmill has been scrapped, in favor of a skill-based game. How the skills are developed is up to the player, but of course that would depend on how the player wishes to develop their character. “They (gamers) are not forced onto a path, and not forced into any alliance they can’t change. We want our players free to explore any path they choose to.”

By that, Petrov also means players may even be murderers if they‘re willing to take the chance. While PvP is planned to be wide open throughout most of the zones in the game, players who choose to be killers will have to live with the consequences of their actions. They will be red-flagged and hunted. For example, imagine if you take down a member of your own faction? Imagine a scene where you’ve maxed out your stars in Grand Theft Auto and you’ve got an army of police and their hardware on your tail – except PvE characters and other players will have you in their gun sights.

Players don’t have to be caught in the PvP free-for-all if they don’t want to. New players, as Petrov mentioned, will have a walled garden area to play within at the start. If you happen to want to play Earthrise and don’t have a penchant for killing opponent’s pixels, a complex crafting system will be in place as well. Crafting will be the engine behind much of the user-created content in the game.

Earthrise is currently targeted for a 2009 launch and will be subscription-based. There are more holes than cheese in this Swiss cheese, as far as what we know about the game so far. Yet, even at this point, Masthead Studio’s sci-fi MMORPG is showing an early glimmer of promise for gamers looking past level-driven MMOs.

A glimpse at Earthrise's classic architecture and futusristic accessories

Mutant rats strolling through a desolate ruin in mid-day

George Petrov, Technical Director for Masthead Studios


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