A dive into a fully editable continuous “single-shard” universe, and why it matters


When I first started to think about Dual Universe, somewhere in the summer of 2011, I wanted to get back to the roots of the idea of a MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game) as a truly massive, unique experience: millions of people in a continuous universe shared by everyone, with emergent gameplay and the possibility to build things in the world, including social and political aspects. I wanted to be able to explore and discover completely unexpected places and creations, because in a game, I want to think that I can be surprised.

Technology has made tremendous progress since the early days of MMOs in 1997 (Ultima Online), or even Eve Online (2003) and World of Warcraft (2004). Back then, the engineers had to deal with 56k modems or slow ADSL, and comparatively slow computers and 3D rendering. The incredible innovations of Cloud technologies and the scalability approaches we have now did not yet exist. Yet, to my knowledge, no radical change in the architecture of MMOs have occurred since then: we still have instances, zone-based single-shards or simple matchmaking arenas.

Rethinking completely the server architecture and the assumptions about how client updates were done, and using modern scalable technologies, I started to work on a prototype, to test how far this could be pushed. At the end of 2013, I got a first iteration working, that demonstrated the notion of what we decided to call a “continuous single-shard” cluster: a seamless unique universe shared by every player at the same time, with the possibility to edit the world, based on Voxel technology. Novaquark was born soon after.

The “continuous” aspect is important, compared to the traditional zone-based single-shard approach, because it is the only way we can imagine to have large physically grounded social structures emerging in the game, which is necessary if you want to nudge people into interacting with each other (we are in a MMO). Think for example of a giant station, or a city. A city cannot a priori be broken down into zones, simply because a city is player-made and does not have a formal existence in the game. Where would you draw the line then? So if you imagine to have tens of thousands of people living in approximately the same area, you need a continuous single-shard technology, which is what we have developed.

The question that matters is: why would a fully editable, continuous single-shard universe be important for a MMO? What does it buy in terms of gameplay? The answer is quite simple: the fact that everything you do is done in a universe shared by everyone changes the meaning of almost everything you experience in the game. Imagine that you build a fantastic imperial palace in Minecraft. You can show it on YouTube, invite a few friends to see it. But, ultimately, what is the meaning of this creation, what’s the point? Now, instead, imagine that this imperial palace will actually become the headquarters of a powerful organization within a vast network of empires in a unique universe. That changes everything. What you do has more value, it makes sense, it matters.

To give another example, imagine a large battle that involves thousands of ships. If that is just an arena that is spawned for a short time, the winner will get his name on a ladderboard. This is great, but instead imagine now that this battle can actually change the balance of power in the universe and make or break the domination of some ruthless alliance over a set of peaceful planets. Again, it changes everything.

The smallest actions also have an impact: when you mine resources to sell them on a market, you are indirectly contributing to the whole universe economy. Someone is buying your mined material because, perhaps, they are building a large “death star” space station, which is giving goals to thousands of other players. You almost always have an impact, no matter what you do. I could go on with many such examples. Basically, in a continuous single-shard universe, you are part of a collective story, and this fact gives meaning to almost everything you do.

This concept is often called “emergence”. For example, it has been beautifully illustrated by games like Eve Online. By going further with new technologies, which allow people to create their own ships, stations, cities, but also their political systems, their territorial organizations, etc, all this in a continuous single-shard universe, we just attempt to push this vision one step further. We want to create the ultimate dreaming machine, where we can all invent a story, a fun life, and a destiny in a lively vibrant online world that never stops. Shape the universe, leave your mark!

JC Baillie,
Project Lead.