Robota: The Ongoing Battles Of Perpetuum

By Jim Rossignol on March 8th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Laser! Laser!
Perpetuum, the offbeat sandbox robot MMO that we’ve been playing since January, is going through a bit of a strange time, and things aren’t looking so rosy for our exploding robots.


Perpetuum is one of those games that it’s tough to recommend, but I nevertheless find myself totally absorbed by. It has a sort of level of complexity and fiddliness that appeals to the deepest, darkest part of my tinkering nerd-soul: working out optimal set-ups for the robot, working as a team to gather resources and manufacture items, planning assaults on enemy territory, that sort of thing. It also has gangs of robots ripping into each other with lasers. And, well, there’s nothing about that I don’t like. All that said, there are some challenges – and not just those of coming to terms with Perpetuum’s sedate pace and peculiar way of doing things.

Quite a lot has happened since I wrote my last piece about this ambitious indie MMO, and not all of it good. At a personal level, of what has happened to our corporation, well, things took a turn for the violent. We got booted out of the base we captured by more experienced players, starting with a devastating battle where we lost fifteen robots to a team of just five enemies, and then trailing off into a series of skirmishes and attempted help from other factions in the game. Lots of laser action, and a rapid ascent up the learning curve, but certainly a difficult time for our little robot army.


The truth was that we lacked the resources to hold on to our territorial prize: firstly we were all characters less than two months old, versus characters that were mostly over six months old. On a damage/hit-point basis, fifteen of us could barely scratch less than half a dozen. The only way we could really get wins was by getting the jump on our enemies, or teaming up with the more experienced players of other corporations – something we had wanted to avoid.

Of course we did end up accepting help from some of the other factions in the game, who were keen to help us gain a foothold in the game’s “beta” territories. But without a commitment from us to sustain our territorial attacks, it was going to be impossible to hold on versus a smaller, more determined faction. We packed up our stuff, moved backed to the safety of the “alpha” islands, and began to make the money we’d need for a more sustained conflict.

Of course that hasn’t stopped us PvPing, and learning more about Perpetuum’s unusual combat dynamics. This has led to some genuine heart-in-mouth moments that remind of some of the best things about MMO combat – battles where you are going to lose something expensive, and where something in the game world is genuinely at stake. That is what I want from an MMO, and I am glad we’ve found it in Perpetuum.


While lots of parallels have been drawn with Eve, the truth is that Perpetuum’s combat is quite unlike the famed space MMO. There are similarities in how robots can be equipped and in the lock-time/damage time model for skill-based combat, but other aspects are quite esoteric. One of these is that you can use cover, which means that where a battle takes place, and on what terrain, can make all the difference. Get your electronic warfare guys behind cover and they can lock out enemy robots without being shot themselves, as I discovered to my peril on several occasions.

More interesting still is the “signal detection” part of the game, with robots able to use electronic systems either to mask themselves, or to detect robots at a greater distance. Being able to detect enemy mechs at over two kilometres, rather than the kilometre or so you might have as standard on a robot, becomes utterly essential for survival. It’s features like these that drive me to want to play games like Perpetuum. Things I can feel like I’ve mastered. Skills I’ve learned that aren’t just left over from other games. That’s a good feeling.

The other aspect of the game that has taken some getting used to – and is about to be patched again tomorrow – are the player-built structures. So far these have taken the form of player-built walls, which allowed players to wall off huge sections of the beta islands. A delight for the industrialists who want to mine their resources in peace, but a nightmare restriction for everyone else. With the future of the game hanging on the developer’s vision for player-built structures of a vastly more complex nature, it’s a worrying precedent. The developers being able to get this right in their continued evolution of the game will be utterly essential. You can read about their plans here.


But perhaps Perpetuum’s biggest challenge right now is a decline in server population, which has come about with larger Russian and North American corporations quitting the game for varied reasons in the past few months. While the RPS corporation has been enjoying itself enormously, it seems that the political and military struggles of the game – combined with an unclear and sometimes unhelpful vision of the capturable beta territory from the development team – has led to some disillusionment for some of the player-base.

This makes for a precarious position for the game, because it’s the kind of game that really needs a certain level of population to keep the action – and the player-driven economy – flowing. However, it’s also an opportunity for newcomers to game to make more of an impact than they might otherwise have done, thanks to the power-vacuum that has appeared.

My feeling about Perpetuum is that the entire game is an opportunity: I ranted for years about the need for more experiments in the sandbox space and this one – with robot vs robot battles and a pipeline toward player-built bases and terraforming – remains one of the bravest. I hope the developers can be fast enough to see that the real challenge for the game is enticing players onto their beta islands to make war. War is where the stories for these games come from, its where the thrills are, and it’s where the demand for that intricate player-driven economy comes from.


Everything about this kind of game hangs on facilitating PvP conflict. Players need a reason to take risks, and a reason to fight.

And it’s down to that ever-awkward partnership between players and developers to make it work, and get Perpetuum to place where it can claim to be one of the MMOs that matter.

Anyway, for my part, as someone who is greatly enjoying Perpetuum’s weird, obscure little robot world, here’s an open challenge to other online guilds, clans, and corporations: If you’ve not tried Perpetuum, do so, and do so now. Perhaps you’ll get to blow up some of our robots. Perhaps we’ll blow up some of yours. Either way, it need not cost a dime, because there’s a free trial. We’re in the RPS chat channel in-game.

This quiet little corner of the MMO universe needs your attention. Perhaps we’ll see you in there?

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38 Comments »

  1. kukouri says:

    Played this during beta, has it really improved that much? It was fun, but got stale quick. Screens look a lot better than it was when I played maybe a yearish ago.

  2. Jockie says:

    I gave it a brief try after the last post and while It’s sad to see this kind of brave game struggling, I don’t understand why games with detailed and complex player led economies and PvP feel the need for such appalling UI’s and fiddly mechanics. The scanning for minerals tutorial was properly traumatic.

    Time-lock based combat doesn’t really do it for me either, I guess it’s about timing things correctly as a group and having good co-ordination?

    • pepper says:

      It indeed is very fiddely, and I also gave it a try after the last post, didnt get to play much due to real-life stuff coming up.

      What I found most lacking was how boring combat was. It didnt feel like you where controlling a mech, but merely a stale character with unimaginative combat. Then again, I never felt any connection with the combat in MMO games so that might just be me.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      As in Eve, the PvE combat is just a money grind, really. Any excitement comes from PvP, which is much more challenging.

  3. Blackcompany says:

    Damnit, Jim, I’m a Role Player, not a Mech Pilot.
    .
    Nonetheless, I become gradually more fascinated with this every single time I see an article about the game. I guess it comes down to a few concerns for me:
    .
    -I can’t play games with kb/m. Wish I could. But I can’t. Now, I have Xpadder, and I don’t mind reaching out for a keyboard key now and again (its a short reach). But I am afraid this will get me – and more importantly, my team mates – killed, often.
    .
    -Voice Chat. I get that its needed. I have good connection speed. Don’t even mind buying a mic. Need one anyway, for other stuff. But how is the built-in voice chat? Sounds like that is what you folks are using, so, it must be a non-issue as a concern.
    .
    These are easily my two largest concerns. Just thought I would chime in with them and see if folks could offer any insight. I do like the game and the player-made stories, and every time I read about this I get more interested.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      We use a teamspeak server. It’d be impossible to play without a mouse, I think.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Thanks for replying. I truly suck with the kb/m combo. Hurts my wrists and I just…gave up on it years ago. I was afraid this would affect combat in games such as this. Its also the reason I never play online shooters.
      .
      Its a shame that s physical problem such as this can cut a person out of not only individual games, but entire genres, but that’s the way it is sometimes. And there are other games I can play.
      .
      Thanks again.

    • Askeladd says:

      Well, never heard of “not beeing able to play with m+k”, but you could try training your wrist with this thing:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyroscopic_exercise_tool

      After training a few months your grip will never be the same. You’ll try to crush things. And Hands.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I also can’t see how it’s possible to not be able to play with a M+K. It seems far more accessible to me and all the non gamers I’ve tried to get into games have always found it easier to go with the m+k, as it relates to actual movement a bit better. A mouse simulates your head rather well, unlike a joystick.

      Anyway, that’s enough pointless rambling. Check this out, looks interesting and could remove at least the keyboard from the equation. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/99644-PC-Glove-Controller-Peregrine-Ships

      • jamesgecko says:

        You’ve heard of repetitive stress injury? No? Well, then.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      If KB/M hurts your wrists, you may have a medical issue. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or something. Maybe see a doctor about that?

  4. iGark says:

    Is this game really something to play with friends? I’d very much like to give it a try, but I’m not in a particularly big gaming circle, and the one I’m in is mostly console people and/or Minecraft. I could try to get them to give it a go, but from what I’ve read about this it sounds like it wouldn’t be particularly interesting in single player.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I would imagine it is unplayable solo. There is an RPS corp, however, join the RPS chat channel in-game to find us.

    • Zanchito says:

      I’m interested too, so long as it is free. I don’t have the time to justify paying a subscription for something I might play 6 hours a month tops.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      It is not free.

    • HothMonster says:

      6 hours = 3 movies = ~30$ / 6 hrs at the strip club = 600$ / 6 hrs at the bar = ~100$ / 1 book with 6 hours worth of reading = 20$
      or
      6 hours of robot killing = 10$

      Really its not a bad return on your money for the amount of entertainment available. If you are interested at least try the free demo, if it hooks you then 10$ a month seems like a deal.

  5. caddyB says:

    Well, I signed up and now I’m downloading the client. As a total and complete stranger to EVE and Perpetuum, what do I need to do first?

  6. Askeladd says:

    I just wonder.. why is there not more coverage about this mmo? If nobody talks about it then nobody will play it. It’s sad… it looks promising from all I can tell.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      There are very few writers interested in MMOs, fewer still in obscure ones like this. Writing about this stuff is why RPS exists.

    • Blackcompany says:

      I do love the RPS coverage of the lesser-knowns out there. One of the things that brings me to this site almost daily. Get so tired of reading strictly about so-called AAA titles.

    • Bobzer says:

      There have been so many sandbox experiments over the years that nobody heard about. It makes me sad when people complain about nobody trying to do anything in the sandbox genre. Mortal Online, Perpetuum, Dawntide (Which is in serious trouble at the moment, really try help these guys out), Darkfall, Alba, Xsyon. There is no shortage of people trying.

    • Askeladd says:

      I want to have all those games on steam. They could do weekend specials to raise awareness.
      Getting new players…
      Why aren’t they? From my Steam user perspective: Those games that aren’t on steam probably aren’t worth it.
      It’s an convenient stance, I know.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Darkfall. Tried that. Liked what I saw, but the server was just…dead. I mean totally empty. Middle of a Saturday on the U.S. east coast and there was literally no one.
      .
      Granted, the size of darkfall was intimidating. The sheer, what-do-i-do-now feeling was both wonderful and…empty. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want the theme park – had enough of those – but at the same time, a little warmer welcome to the game might have been nice.
      .
      Still and all, I would like to try games like this, I really would. But five minutes of typing is killing my wrists as is and face it – PVP I am at an immense disadvantage using a controller.
      .
      Still intrigued by these games, though.

  7. hemmingjay says:

    I love the game but just don’t have time to play. I still subscribe in the hopes that my measly $9.99 a month may help them continue this interesting experiment.

    • Torgen says:

      The neat thing about this game is, even if you don’t have time to play for a while, your character is still accumulating skill points. Figuring out what you need to spend them on depends on what role you want to play, but there are folks who will help you figure it out. Combat is a balance of character skills and player skills. Someone who has been playing for a year can skill fall to someone who has only been playing for a couple months, if one person is sloppy and the other one is good.

      Also, you’re usually running with others when spoiling for a fight, and how well a team works together can make a huge difference.

  8. Reefpirate says:

    Don’t lose heart, Mr. Rossignol. I left the game, along with most of our corporation Gallowglass, about one year ago amid the same kind of rumblings: Not enough population and dropping. I was pleasantly surprised to read your series here and find that there are still conflicts on the Beta islands.

    It’s a hard game for large masses of people to get excited about, I guess. But it would be fantastic if it would see a population explosion one of these days. Oh the intrigue, the politics, the nail-biting combat. Some of my favorite days in any MMO!

    • HothMonster says:

      Maybe its time you had another look? Bring your friends ;)

  9. Rikjs says:

    Have they ever considered going F2P?

    • Moraven says:

      For a game where you essentially gain experience/skill points over time versus time invested, a free to play system would not work at all.

      • Jubaal says:

        I don’t really agree there. You could have a F2P model whereby the base game is free but if you subscripe you gain skills etc faster. A bit like World of Tanks.

  10. Moraven says:

    One big part of MMOs in general is being involved in the community. Be it your guild, general chat, forums etc. With a game like this you can be be involved while not having to be forced to fire a shot(after tutorials) to progress, where a typical level up MMO requires you to fight your way to the top before you are open up to more choices (Say, profession/gatherer focused playtime). WoW has slowly opened up options to progress over the years (once you are level capped), which is nice. The gameplay of mining, gathering is not much playing a game in itself but you are putting in work towards something and being a part of a group effort

    You have 30 days to downgrade skills 5 per day (for any skill at 6 or less). This is a nice feature opening up the options to find what role you wish to eventually fill. You have access to it all from the second you create a character. The fun of sandbox games.

    (never played EVE, giving Perpetuum a couple months)

  11. Sillywhiteguy32 says:

    Sounds good. Give it a go for a month or too. Have been wanting a game i can really sink my time into and it sounds like this one rewards you for that.

    • Sillywhiteguy32 says:

      Why does my avatar look positively phallus orientated…….

  12. thepaleking says:

    Played a number of months back, just after it had left beta I think, when they couldn’t get more than 2,000 (not sure if that was the number, but there was some sort of pop limit) people on the server. I had always wanted to get into EVE but managed to hit a wall a couple of hours in; somehow I avoided that here, so if some of you have tried EVE but failed to be engrossed in it, don’t write this game off. Also as someone who usually cannot get into crafting and such in MMOs, I really enjoyed the crafting/reverse engineering system in this game. I don’t know if EVE had something similar, but it actually made me feel like I had some room to think in crafting, rather than following some mapped out smithing tree like in WoW. Though that could have just been an illusion.

    What made me leave was that there didn’t seem to be anywhere to go after a certain point of progression, but now that they’ve got more corps and PvP going on I can see myself getting back into it. Considering how much I love the setting with its awesome (that’s awesome used properly) industrial structures and mechs, I would hate to see the game go under.

  13. Khader says:

    Current player who is holding a player run light bot tournament. If your subbed or still on trial come by and check it out.
    http://forums.perpetuum-online.com/topic/4659/robodome-death-tournament-31712/
    I’m willing to give new players light bots, entry fee and some fittings if they want to participate but have no way to fund themselves.

    The game with all its minor flaws pulls you and holds you until you pry your eyes away from the screen, Time based toon development means you pay your 10$ for 30 days and come back after the first 15 and think OMG look how much i can develop my toon now. No need to log in every day to reset ques like in EVE. Thats why I love this game. Really 10$ wont get you 2 cups of anything but regular Joe at Starbucks so don’t complain about the price.