I am very excited by many aspects of our game, including the gigantic procedural world to explore, the MMO aspect and the fact that you can craft anything you like, including spaceships that you can script in LUA. But between the original idea of the game and now, we have seen many other projects starting with similar ideas and it doesn’t seem to sound so new anymore. One could say that it is now in the “Zeitgeist”. However, one aspect of the game is still very hot and very interesting in my opinion: the emergent gameplay mechanics. Let me say a few words about it.
The design principle behind emergent gameplay is to say that instead of designing rules to set what players are allowed to do, you are going to design some sort of “meta” rules that will be simple building blocks of structure that the player can use to design his/her own rules. For example, instead of defining a hard-coded price for an item, you let this price emerge through the interplay of a real economy defined around player-driven market places where offer and demand will meet. A still more obvious example is in the traditional quests you find in games: with emergent gameplay, quests are player driven. Imagine one player looking at the sky and dreaming about the idea of building the Death Star in orbit. Within our game this is possible. But this one-player project will trigger an avalanche of subgoals, involving probably thousands of other players: resource harvesting, space transport logistics, security to defend the construction site, planning and architecture design, even engineering as you need to organize the energy and control system of such a huge construct, etc. You will probably need the collective financial resources of an Alliance, or some very large group of players. You might actually need to get the favor of an Empire and rise to the top of the power hierarchy! All this simply starting out of a dream, looking at the sky. This is the essence of emergent gameplay.
For this approach to work, the game design should also be very careful to always add a counter-power to every power you grant in the game. If some player or group of players become too powerful, there must always be a way for other players to counter them. You expect the balance to adjust by itself, a bit like the famous “invisible hand of the market”. This is very difficult to achieve however, and we will need our community in early alpha access to fine tune a lot of things.
We have big plans to extend the notion of emergence to politics, organizations and warfare. Perhaps even player-driven justice. This idea of emergence is actually at the root of many sciences, from evolutionary dynamics to artificial intelligence. There is something beautiful in the fact that complex structures can emerge out of nothing. In nature, the search for equilibrium is done by trial and error, as best exemplified through natural selection, but in the game we can expect the players to be much more efficient by using their intelligence to explore the landscape of possibilities in a constant battle to control the universe. This process has led to the emergence of amazing civilizations in the real world, what will it do in the Dual universe?