Boundless [official site] looks like a massively multiplayer Minecraft with portals. When I saw the video from Sony's press even this morning, I was impressed by the art style but wary of the claims that this single universe, open-world sandbox would be altogether different from the many that I stumble across when picking through Steam on a Monday morning. Should I have been surprised to find Boundless in the Early Access section of Valve's store, where it has existed for almost a year under the title Oort Online, until a recent switch to this snappier new name? Video and details below.
It looks a treat but I can't be alone in finding it odd that a game apparently revealed on-stage last night has actually been available for purchase these past twelve months. Steam reviews are 'mixed', although most of the complaints focus on the lack of players and things to do rather than issues with the game's foundations or eventual goals. That's to say, it doesn't appear to be bugged and broken. Just a little empty.
Updates have been fairly regular, although I can't comment on how much they've actually added to or improved the game, not having played it myself. Perhaps Sony's involvement will act as a catalyst, pushing the game toward its ambitious end-point. Changes in the most recent major update, released at the end of last month include character customisation, and new creatures, tools and weapons. There were also useful cosmetic changes (equipment is now visible on characters) along with an overhaul of the user interface.
That last big update had been a long time coming and Wonderstruck address the issue of frequent-versus-substantial releases:
"We don't plan to leave multi-month gaps between updates, and we'll certainly try to avoid them as much as possible in the future."
The 1.0 release had initially been planned for the end of 2015 but because the game is "even bigger" than originally planned, more resources have now been committed to the project and it'll remain in development for a while longer. The 1.0 release is due sometime next year but the next update should include "a big portion of the Oort Online core gameplay loop", including the basics of an economy, trading, crafting and land-claims.
Here's what the devs have to say about their long-term vision:
"Your homeworld in Boundless looks and feels unique, procedurally generated to look like no other. You don't like it? Hey, acid rain can be a serious drag. No worries! Build a Portal and instantly step into another world in the Boundless universe. Ah, a beautiful pistachio-coloured, livestock-rich nirvana — much better for a farmer like you.
"The universe is huge and disparate. When you open a Portal to a new world you never know what you'll get — sometimes you'll thrive, sometimes you'll have to fight to survive."
The development of the homeworld and those journeys through portals seem like the key to the game, but there's more. Huge team-based battles against giant boss creatures sound appealing:
"Search each new world to discover the location of its ancient Titan. Once activated, these huge sentient fortresses menacingly stalk the landscape searching for anything they perceive as a threat. These apex predators are filled with traps and swarming with deadly Protectors.
"Attempted alone, your only hope is to explore, survive and escape with a handful of valuable resources. If you’re feeling brave, call together all the citizens of your adopted world and attempt the impossible — defeat the Titan."
PvP will come in the form of battles over territory. It'll be possible to leap through portals into other worlds and claim land there for yourself or your clan. Wannabe colonists and pioneers might face resistance from the inhabitants of new worlds though, whether in the form of AI-controlled creatures or other players.
Boundless is available direct from the developers as well as through Steam Early Access. The former purchase option comes with a Kickstarter-like series of stretch goals, with the maximum buy-in costing £3600. That'll provide you with all sorts of in-game goodies, as well as the opportunity to design an item and world, and to chat with the developers over Skype once a month.
It's all brimming with possibilities (as are so many other Early Access games), and perhaps the name change, Sony announcement and eventual cross-platform play will all work in its favour. For now, I'm just going to have a quiet chuckle at Sony's misinterpretation of the terms "first look" and "new".