Every Promise Ever Made: The Universe Project

By Alec Meer on January 7th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

Come back Peter Molyneux, all is forgiven

If you polled a thousand people about what their dream game would include, the resulting torrent of big ideas, virtual universes, absolute freedom and stuff about space would sound a lot like the “pre-Kickstarter” (Oh my God) pitch video for The Universe Project.

While John’s more upset with it for repeatedly saying “was” instead of “were”, the rest of us are perhaps happy to stare in rapt amazement/horror at the sheer absurdity of what’s promised. All things to all people! All platforms ever! “Imagine what a video game will be like in 1000 years…” as illustrated by crude drawings of stick figures.

Er. So, to recap, that’s creating a parallel virtual universe, in which all games and all activities are possible and exist simultaneously, and they’re going to fund this project which apparently transcends all existent technology via Kickstarter rather than sell it to the government or Donald Trump or something. Maybe it’s a spoof. Or maybe it’s just going to be like Wurm Online.

Good luck, I guess? There’s a very long FAQ offering more detail on The Universe Project’s infinite ambitions here. More is promised here when the project’s mysterious (though one’s named ‘Nik’, I’ve established) but presumably superhuman creators launch their AAAARGH OH GOD NO STOP IT “pre-Kickstarter campaign”.

Maybe they’ll really pull it off. Maybe they’ve really got an incredible plan. But maybe they shouldn’t promise a dozen moons on sticks made from unicorn horns before they have even a single thing to demonstrate how they can make their wild claims a reality, because it means they can only start on a back foot of suspicion and snark. It really is a very good idea for anyone to look at themselves in the mirror before they stride into a room and declare themselves Jesus.

As for what the game will really look like, we do have this screenshot to go on:

So I retract my earlier Wurm Online reference and substitute it with an Ultima Online one.

As a thought experiment, let’s imagine how convincing the pitch video would be were it narrated by Wee Jimmy Krankie rather than Deep Voice Prophetic Trailer Man.

Fan-Dabi-Dozi.

Thanks to like every indie developer ever for sharing this on Twitter.

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94 Comments »

  1. Faldrath says:

    Screenshot looks like Fallout, actually. Heh.

  2. Stardog says:

    …and then there was the screenshot…doh.

  3. TCM says:

    I’m having Molyneux flashbacks.

    • Yglorba says:

      More like Will Wright. This sounds exactly like Spore. Like, my thought was, on watching the video, “so all of this drumbeat for a Spore clone?”

      • jinains1988 says:

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      • piccolo113 says:

        To be fair, it probably isn’t Will Wright’s fault that Spore got significantly dumbed-down before it was “finished”. It’s more likely that Spore was just another sad example of an overambitious game designer’s imagination, and his dev team was incapable of delivering just what he wanted to make within the constraints they had. Much like all of Molyneux’s games since Black & White.

    • MadMatty says:

      mine: So Molyneux teamed up with Derek Smart?

  4. fractallatcarf says:

    So a world the literal size of Earth, that will be populated by what, some thousands of players? That means either everyone’s just going to hang out in basically the same part of one country or no-one’s going to see anyone else ever.
    In other thoughts, I couldn’t help asking “isn’t this kinda what Second Life was going for?”, and we know how that turned out.

  5. iGark says:

    Pre-Kickstarter game promises a lot of cool stuff.

    There are three options:
    1. It will be trash.
    2. It will be good, but not what it promised to be.
    3. It will be what it promised to be (and therefore phenomenal.)

    1 and 2 are going to be the same in a lot of peoples heads and 3 seems very unlikely considering what they’re promising.

    • iGark says:

      I will say that the promised version of this game is something I have wanted my entire life and wished existed numerous times, so I might keep an eye on this in some form. I fully expect it to be trash though.

      • frightlever says:

        This isn’t the game you’ve wanted all your life. You’re confused because they’ve promised everything, which conveniently includes aspects of the game you’ve wanted all your life.

        Basically it’s promising Salem/Wurm Online with a bigger playing area. Those games exist. You can play WO right now. That game you wanted all your life… not going to be quite the same when thousands of other people with different ideas are involved.

        People ruin everything. Ask the guys attempting to balance Salem.

        • Reapy says:

          Was about to write almost exactly what you did.

          Basically they are like trying to make a second life that will work. Secondlife did have millions of dollars and an established player base and they couldn’t get it to work, how are these guys with no money going to do it?

          Stuff like this already exits, this is the game I wanted to play in my head 20 years ago, then people made the game, and I played it, and realized this is most definitely not the game I want to play. I hope this video is a joke, and I hope they make no money, if they do, I’m going to make a kickstarter fueled by naive bullshit too.

      • saginatio says:

        then just open your house front door and take a step ;)

    • FhnuZoag says:

      4. It will never see the light of day.

    • Cinek says:

      My bets go for option 1 and 4

    • The Random One says:

      4. It will be what it promised to be, and very fun for the half a dozen players who manage to be big in the fake global politics. The rest of the players will be doing the equivalent of subsistence farming until an army by the half a dozen players decides to raze their lands or conquer them and tax them to hell, or will be working in said armies which will essentially be the same as a RTS in which you constantly micromanage a single unit.

  6. chuckles73 says:

    Funny. My corporate proxy blocks their website because it is in the “gambling” category. I laughed.

  7. NathanH says:

    To be fair to them, quibbling over “was” and “were” in that sort of sentence is silly, akin to quibbling over whilst/while and and further/farther.

    To be less fair to them: “circumfrence” and “qadrillion”.

  8. Artist says:

    Peter, is that you?

  9. reggiep says:

    I have to admit, they got my attention. I can’t wait until their Kickstarter campaign with a $2 quadrillion goal.

  10. renolc says:

    I’ve read this before years ago, but by a different unknown developer with a different game title. I present to you, Dawn: http://www.glitchless.com/dawn.html

    Both of these pitches make for a good laugh, especially to anyone who has actually done some gamedev. It’s at best a naive but sincere idea, and a worst a scam of some sort. Either way I’m not touching it with a 39.5 foot poll.

    • harakka says:

      Hooray, someone else still remembers Dawn! That’s what I first thought of too when I heard about this. Dawn was a vaporware project of such epic proportions, with all those news and community sites forming up around it, and the game promising the players an unlimited MMO where technology would start from stone age and progress towards the modern age via players crafting and building everything.

      And all they actually managed to show of the game was a couple of screenshots and short videos, and a terrible browser game. All done by one programmer too with no previous experience in the field, except winning some programming competition once. Good times. Had Kickstarter existed back then, at least Jeff would have probably been able to walk away with a fat wallet.

  11. lordcooper says:

    Man, I’m starting to miss Bunky now.

  12. Craig Stern says:

    And in the ultimate display of tackiness, they stuck an ad in their own game trailer. Amazing.

  13. Dreamhacker says:

    You can do ANYTHING at Zombo.com!

  14. Naum says:

    If that’s what the Kickstarter scams that everyone has been predicting since the dawn of time look like, I’m not too afraid for my money.

  15. Hoaxfish says:

    players invent technology

    oh the 3rd day, fizgog the ugh invented fizgog’s most marvellous interplanetary swirelling throwing stick transport device

  16. Knightley4 says:

    Ah, this. I thought RPS just decided to ignore that abra-kadabra.

  17. lowprices says:

    So that’s what Peter Molydeux sounds like. I always wondered.

  18. Grey Ganado says:

    Thanks to John I now cringe whenever someone doesn’t use the subjunktive.

  19. Berzee says:

    Whether fake or serious, this is a very amusing (and nicely made) video-tainment.

    So…to give at least part of this a teensy bit of serious consideration for a second –

    The main problem with making a game that includes every crafting option under the sun (i.e. “picking apples”, “building towns”, etc) is that they will very likely all end up being the same craft.

    In real life, a burnt-out architect may decide that he needs a change in his life, walk over the horizon and become an apple picker. It will be a nice change, because apple picking is just a little bit different than architecture.

    But in a game like this, apple picking is probably exactly like architecture. You click on an apple/tree/basket, or you click on a book/blueprint/foundation. If your big career shift means you click on a different image today than you clicked on yesterday, it’s not going to be so very exciting.

    The obvious solution is to make the two crafts more closely resemble their real-life counterparts: so architects really design buildings (this might get implemented in a game) or apple pickers really climb stepladders, stretch out their hand and pick individual apples (probably not going to be implemented except in a weirdly-specific sim game).

    But of course, that never happens — because MMOs are about stats and combat, not about convincingly-modeled handicraft-simulators. “Crafting” usually has nothing to do with making you feel like a master of an actual craft; it’s really aimed at making you feel like a good collector/trader of items discovered in the wild via slaying or exploring. This is quite alright, but it means that becoming (say) a blacksmith is not going to impart the heat of the forge or the shock of steel on steel…because if they had to make a hammer-swinging minigame for that, they’d have to do another minigame for the baker and another one for the tanner and another one for…

    Thus my advice to these developers or anyone else contemplating making a game with “crafting” in it is this: either be content to take the path of MMOs and relegate crafting to something that supports and gives more meaning to the adventures of the Warrior/Explorer “main” game and characters…or else be willing to make a unique in-game system for each separate craft which attempts to capture at least something of the skill and fascination that people find in the actual craft (or at least in their imagination of the craft, for made-up ones like enchanting). If you’re going to put furniture-making in your game, I want to see something like Black Belt Sorvi Hero!

    And if you don’t have the resources to make a crafting system that’s somehow inspired by the crafts it portrays, consider scaling back to the craft you think are most important to your world and doing those really wonderfully, instead of just adding 400 different resources you can “[Double-click] to gather”.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      Well said. “More” is frequently the enemy of “good” when it comes to computer games. I always recoil in horror when I see expansions listing 800 new things with no mention of bug squashing or balancing, or improvement to existing mechanics because it always ends up so shoddy.

  20. bgf says:

    Even assuming they deliver on all the promises made and produce a working game with such vast features, I have little doubt that it will still be a disappointing experience.

    These open world explore-survive-create-trade-fight-type games always seem to start with a wonderful premise and great promise but are quickly ruined by the legions of griefers, weirdos, PKers, exploiters, and hackers that seem drawn to the freedom of these worlds and the freedom to behave terribly that doesn’t exist in the real one.

    Look at Haven and Hearth, Salem, Wurm, Second Life and to a lesser extent even EVE and Day Z, all of which are vastly more interesting to read about then actually play due to the antisocial nature of their gaming communities.

    Until a developer of these types of open world games figures out how to encourage cooperative and competitive play simultaneously, it doesn’t matter how many fully parallel universes they can deliver, the genre is a dead end.

    • Berzee says:

      Less is better in games like this. Make death painful but not debilitating, so that players can act out with grim resolve the proverb, “The best revenge is living well.” Make some possible (if difficult) means of retreat from hopeless and unfair battles (see Asheron’s Call PvP for a good example of how relaxing the death-grip on player mobility and allowing people to run/jump/portal with ease makes even dying more thrilling). Make the game world detailed and flexible enough that a small band of players can seek out some obscure haven and arrange for a little bit of security and comfort there.

      Then take your hands off. Don’t make “laws”, “criminal statuses”, or giant swaths of “safe land”. Especially don’t make in-game “police” moderators who ban people for “obeying the rules but in a mean way”. All of those things can be exploited, ignored, or avoided.

      What cannot be so easily handled (and what, I think, brings satisfaction to all even in defeat) is a labyrinth of hidey-holes, an angry mob, and buoyant spirits.

      (On the other hand, if your game is easily speedhacked or infested with third-party tracking software, all of the elegant design in the world is a bit pointless, so feel free to crack down on that :P).

      (On the other other hand, I’ve never actually seen a freeform multiplayer game that wasn’t 80% or more just death and chaos, even those which follow a lot of the suggestions I gave above…so maybe the only true options really are just Darkfall or Furcadia. ;)

  21. JademusSreg says:

    Apparently it will be the first game to utilize Euclideon’s Unlimited Detail tech.

  22. Beelzebud says:

    To make a game from scratch, first you must kickstart the universe.

  23. Muzman says:

    Which thousand people are we polling here?

    I think if you scraped together a thousand people I know you’d get a turn based WW2 cover platformer set in the Medieval Middle East with battle suit crafting quicktime events and every now and then you get jumped by slenderman who has inexplicably big tits..

  24. Jarenth says:

    So ignoring the grandiose claims the video makes for a second, I’m left with one major question: Why would I want to play this ‘game’?

    Seriously. Their selling point is ‘this game is just like life!’ But life is boring, and filled with hard work and poor luck and nonsense. Why would I want to create a virtual apple farm to grow virtual apples to sell to another virtual player so she can feed her virtual army? Why would I want to spend a year walking around your massive virtual game world when I could just try to do that for real?

    If games are escapism, why are these people trying to create regular life and package it as a game?

  25. MOKKA says:

    Assuming the song you posted is as old as I think it is (I have no knowledge about british child singers from the last century), chances are high wee Jimmy Krankie and Deep Voice prophetic trailer man are one and the same person (or wee Jimmy Krankie is now weeing in his pants, because he is even older than that).

  26. DJ Madeira says:

    Here’s the whois info for the domain:

    Admin Name: A, Nik
    Admin Street1: Dont worry about it
    Admin City: Ottawa
    Admin State/Province: NO
    Admin Postal Code: k1v 9n2
    Admin Country: CA
    Admin Phone: +1.234561233
    Admin FAX: +1.234561233
    Admin Email: nikolasarmstrong@gmail.com

    So yea, I think it’s a spoof. But pretty hilarious.

  27. Lambchops says:

    Even if this turned out to be absolutely Kosher, I’d still find it shite. Doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. It would end up to be a diluted experience by trying to be all things to all people or “playing” it in a certain way would be most adventitious and hence dominate the game to the detriment of the ideas of others.

    So fi you could do it, I’d find it an interesting experiment to read about but I’d like to partake in it about as much as the Stansford prison experiment.

  28. Beernut says:

    “just like massive online games of today, in the game every character is a real player”
    I’m having a hard time namingf even a single MMO without NPCs, to be honest. Well, at least I can take comfort in the fact, that the Universe Project is the “most unique computer game project ever”, so we have that. Cower in fear, all you less unique computer game projects!

    (Honestly, this has to be fake O.o)

    • DJ Madeira says:

      Only one I can think of is DayZ. And that game already tends to be cutthroat & unfair. Now imagine spending an actual YEAR building an empire (assuming that’s possible) just to have some jerk griefer set fire to your castle. Doesn’t sound fun.

      The more I think about it, the more problems I think of. What about prison? Can you lock up a player and prevent them from re-spawning so they can’t make trouble? If not, then there’s no consequences for griefers since they can just suicide and try to kill you again; if you can, then you can easily prevent someone from playing the game. Dig a ditch, drop them in, you’re screwed. At least until they starve.

      Balancing would be impossible with this game. If there’s the tiniest exploit/bug, you’d throw the whole economy into chaos. I just don’t see how anyone could pull this off, let alone some anonymous secret group with a joke screenshot that looks like a 20 year old game.

      • Beernut says:

        Really? I was under the impression, that the zombies in Day-Z were NPCs rather than players. But never having played it myself, I may be mistaken.

        • DJ Madeira says:

          Good point, but what I mean is human NPCs. This ‘game’ (it’s just a video, let’s not forget)’s FAQ says there will be AI animals.

    • Berzee says:

      I said Shadowbane, but then realized that had NPCs. What game was I thinking of???

    • Tergiver says:

      A Tale In The Desert: http://www.atitd.com

      There are no characters (human, animal, or other) in the game that are not player-controlled. I thought of ATITD when I read this, it’s actually quite a bit of fun if you develop relationships early on to build a large community.

  29. mcwill says:

    Urist McFanboy says:

    “STILL LESS COMPLEX AND AMBITIOUS THAN DWARF FORTRESS”

  30. zeekthegeek says:

    Sure we can do everything in this world. But can we play The Universe Project inside the Universe Project? I want to watch my character sit down at a computer and start playing and be able to zoom in and watch a realistic simulation of playing The Universe Project.

  31. Berzee says:

    I’ve never heard that song before.
    It’s just amazing.

    *jig*

  32. Zeewolf says:

    There was something Apple-ish about the whole trailer.

  33. someguywho says:

    Sounds crazy but Outerra is the entire world. In 3D. And they plan on making it into a game just like this one. http://outerra.com/wfeatures.html

  34. Pat says:

    Well…uh…there is already a game sort of like this, you probably know it…i will just leave this here http://hazeron.com/

  35. H-Hour says:

    Of course this is a spoof. It’s making fun of the more absurd premises of the open-world MMORPG — it takes really mundane activities, wraps them up in a sense of limitless possibility, and tries to convince you they’re “fun” because it’s a “game”. Picking apples? Building a boat? Everyone playing at once, but each in exactly they’re own style? It’s mocking the genre too deliberately to be unintended.

    • Skabooga says:

      It seems to me to be so obviously a parody that there is no question, but then Alec and many of the commenters here seem to be taking seriously, which only makes me think that they’re being blatantly sarcastic with their comments and I’m just too stupid to realize otherwise.

  36. MuscleHorse says:

    THIS IS WHAT THEY’RE PROMISING

  37. LintMan says:

    So basically, this is an epic-scale Second Life MMO rehash?

    Or it’s a spoof. Hard to tell, either way.

  38. Zippy says:

    Sounds more like A Tale in the Desert on an impossibly grand scale.
    http://www.atitd.com/index.shtml

  39. Chizu says:

    I’m with John on this one.

  40. Hunchback says:

    pre-kickstarter… oh man.

    Also, i love games with freedom, such as EVE and UO, i’ve sunk countless hours in those… But do i really want a game where i can do EVERYTHING? What’s the difference with real life then? I can already do everything as it is…

    Oh well

  41. Victuz says:

    My heart goes “I want to believe!” but my brain goes “Bah fat chance”

    Damn you brain. Damn you :(

  42. thebluemonkey81 says:

    So I can travel around the universe in space ships and raise armys of people to fly with me to take over planets and space…….

    but I already play eve.

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