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Robota: Our First Month In Perpetuum

Zoom, Boom

Okay, let me say up front that RPS is running a Perpetuum corporation. If you want to try out some sandbox MMO robo-action you should grab the 15-day trial from here and join the chat channel "RPS" in-game. With that over, let's talk about what's happened in our first month in this peculiar little MMO, the trials and tribulations of brutal PvP, and our first significant victory.

The first part of my write up is here. It didn't take long for that to get noticed, and for the large number of newbies that came into the game to capture the interest of some of the local, long-term residents of Perpetuum. It took us a couple of weeks to settle down and get a regular crew (I think we saw about 30 of the 70 people who signed up only once) but now we are making money and running regular ops. It was at this point that the meta-game started in earnest. I've now talked to perhaps a dozen different players from the game's various factions, each with their own stories to tell, each with their own agendas. While the population of this game is low, the sandbox mechanics and territory-control systems mean there are some genuine power-struggles going on. The population is also small enough for almost everyone to know each other. The result of has been a lot of interest in our activities.

We've had two different mysterious benefactors help us out with technology and with making the most of the game's resources. One of them was keen to help us get on our way with the game's impenetrable industry and production game, while others wanted to see us get into "beta", the open areas of territory war and free PvP, as soon as possible. A few of the game's outpost "terminals" - capturable bases - have been left open for anyone to access, and we've made good use of that. Everyone we have spoken to has been incredibly welcoming and helpful, with the commanders of enemy gangs even apologising for blasting the hell out of us in larger gangs of 'bots.

What's been most interesting, however, is how quickly we've become candidates for involvement in the game's struggles. After recent controvo-dramas and subsequent abandonment of the game by a large Russian contingent, things in Perpetuum are in flux. Several different parties have made their agendas (secretly) known to us, and deciding which one to go with has been interesting. As it turns out, we've remained independent, and I suspect that will be true for a while. I've always enjoyed this kind of cloak and dagger stuff in games, however, and Perpetuum looks like the perfect canvas for it.

Anyway, all that social and political stuff is nothing without good PvP, and mastering that has taken us some time. While it's easy to equate Perpetuum with Eve - many of the systems are near-identical - the fact of fighting on a 2D field, where line-of-sight matters to getting a hit, makes for a distinct and challenging experience. Here are some of the things we've learned about Perpetuum's PvP:

  • When a robot dies in PvP territories, it explodes. This led to several comedy insta-deaths for our roaming gangs. One person would die and because everyone else was close by, they'd explode too. This feature really demands that players think about positioning, and also acts as a sort of "anti-blob" mechanism. Large groups, close together, can end up destroying themselves if one of the number goes down.
  • Scanning for enemies is complicated. Rather than having a set visual range for enemies in your "landmarks" window (Eve's overview) the distance at which enemies are detected depends on your ability to scan and their ability to scan. A small, light robot with good sensors can detect large stuff far away, while remaining unseen itself. Getting my head around this system has been a struggle. I wish the game visualised it better.
  • The speed imbalance between small and large robots is probably not correct. Smaller robots should be slightly faster than they are. As the game stands the skills and equipment of a long-term player do so much to alter the speed of a robot that the lumbering mechs of veterans are as fast, or faster, than the light robots of newbies. To create a newbie-friendly spread, where some one can act as a fast, light scout within a few days or weeks of entering the game, the devs need to increase the speed of light boys by 20-30kph. It would be a big change to the balance of the game, but would allow for much more varied gangs and combat.
  • Getting fights right is brilliant. Perpetuum does offer some spectacular robot battles.

Of course light robots are cheap and disposable, and they can still use cover to avoid being hammered by the massive guns of their mech adversaries. They also get hit a little less than larger robots, although a mech can quite easily murder a light bot or an assault bot (medium bot) if it gets a couple of clear shots.

We are, thanks to these esoteric elements, finally learning to use small robots effectively. There's been a bit of solo action (and I killed a mining operation at one point) and some roaming about, and some running away from terrifying enemy gangs. After several outings where we tried to take on small enemy groups and found ourselves managing to get some kills through force of numbers, but ultimately dying in the process, we've recently managed to get a couple of kills that made us feel confident about holding the field in future.

Last Friday we went out with seven light robots to scout a nearby island. We glimpsed a few enemies at terminals or teleports, but they docked or jumped out as we approached. There was then a notification about an outpost defence, and so we went to investigate. Arriving at the remote capturable base we found a mk2 Artemis, one of the more expensive and powerful robots in the game, lurking around his HQ. To our surprise the player came away from his base and began to engage our gang of small robots. Using the cover of plants, rocks, and topography, we began to tackle the hostile bot, slowing it with our demobilizers and slowly putting damage onto it. The running battle lasted five minutes. It was a long fight in which two of us died, but eventually the stomping, blasting thing went down.

To our delight it was full of "T4" loot, some of the better stuff in the game. We picked it up and zoomed off with our prize, only to find ourselves being pursued by the roused denizens of the island. I realised it was the perfect moment for a trap. Two dead and one newly logged-on pilot were back at the base, and so we quickly deployed the heavier mechs (as opposed to the small, light robots) for the first time. As our original gang fled for the teleport gate home, so the mechs ran to meet them on the other side.

Our gang, full of loot, waited at the gate as enemies charged towards them. I listened to the reports on our voice comms: "Four hundred metres." I told the gang to get behind cover so they didn't get sniped. Our mechs were not in position. "Three hundred metres." The enemy mech was closing quickly, and would kill our gang if they were out in the open. "Two hundred metres. Two more mechs, two mk2 light bots." The enemy reinforcements were upon us. "One hundred metres. He's got us locked. He's engaging." The enemy robot attacked our light gang just as the three mech pilots arrived at the teleport.

Our mechs jumped in. The hostile mech realised he was in trouble. Half a kilometre ahead of his friends, he was now surrounded by light bots and had three mechs were locking him up. He threw up a shield bubble and tried to tank his way out, but it wasn't happening. Surprised, his backup stalled, and then began to pull back. The firepower from three mechs and the small gang was too much, and our aggressor went down in a fireball. We even remembered about the death blast thing and didn't lose anyone else. Thrilled, we chased after the enemy gang, which fell back to the other side of a nearby mountain. We were not fast enough to cut them off.

Full of loot, and fearing experienced enemy reinforcements, we decided enough was enough and went home. We savoured what was the first, I hope, of numerous successful fights to follow.

This was exactly the kind of PvP I was hoping for: challenging, complicated, dynamic. Perpetuum has some problems, not least of which are recent sporadic attacks by DDOSer types, but I am hopeful the tiny, brave game can make its way onwards. The developers are committed and making the kind of game I have only hoped to see made in the years since Eve Online was released. For that reason, and the action outlined above, I'm sticking with it.

This game definitely won't be for everyone, but feel free to come and join us.

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