When you create a MMO, you need to answer a few basic questions: what is your character doing here, where does he/she come from and what’s the background. In our case, it is starting with a question: what would happen if the Earth were doomed by some foreseeable cataclysmic event, and humanity had to create some kind of arkships to evacuate to another planet. In our world, the cause of the doomsday is the imminent arrival of a neutron star that will cross our solar system and swallow all of it on the way. I’ll try to convince one of my astrophysicist friends to tell us more about the plausibility of this scenario and write about it in some future post!
Anyway, in our game, this catastrophic event is what we call the Grand Exodus. You can read about it on the main game website here. Basically: you are one of the survivors who embarked on one of the thousands of arkships that left our solar system some 10.000 years ago to escape the neutron star. You are waking up from cryosleep as the ships has just arrived on a new virgin planet. Everything has to be rebuilt, because the arkship has been designed with efficiency constraints in mind to transport people, not infrastructures.
On top of that, you are, of course, completely amnesic. In our case, the reason is that the long travel in cryosleep has taken its toll on your brain and as you wake up, while most deep memories are still there (your identity, your language, basic motor and social skills), anything more superficial is lost due to some slow but still active biochemical activity that took place during the 10.000 years of the trip. You will have to selectively relearn skills from the arkships internal memory, using a wireless transfer technology that is able to slowly reconfigure your neurons. More advanced skills will take more time, and you can only train one skill at a time.
The arkship did not transport vehicle or infrastructure, but all settlers were equipped with a small miniature factory: embedded in your arm is a nano-assembly cannon that is capable to take raw materials and reassemble it into most basic objects for which you have acquired the building skill. You can craft weapons, inventory items and small objects. All you need is the skill and the raw materials (including some energy material). You can of course mine the materials from the environment (some are rare, some are common), compress those materials into your nano-inventory, and they will be available for you to use anytime later. If you want to build bigger things (there is a limit to what your nano-assembly can do), you’ll need more advanced structures, built from simpler objects that your nano-assembly can forge.
The bottom line is that when you step out of the arkship, you have everything you need to start rebuilding the world. One design principle for the game is that it should be possible to drop you naked anywhere on a planet and you should be able to rebuild everything, step by step (if you survive…). The only bias is that, yeah, well, you have a nano-assembly wired in your arm. Talk about 22nd century’s fashion!
The arkship will play also a very central role in the game, providing shelter and defining a security zone around it for beginner players to start. No aggression will be tolerated in this zone, weapons will simply be ineffective and outlawed activities banned. We will come back to the role of the arkship in some other post.