Oddly, Love isn't the only trippy single-programmer MMOG with an emphasis on player landscaping and building that's currently in beta. There's also Neverdaunt 8Bit, or N8, which swaps procedurally generated gorgeousity and lethal roaming AI for a retro aesthetic and plain old messing around. I took a closer look at both of them recently and find myself liking one an awful lot more than the other. Find out which after the jump.
I checked out Love first, paying €3 for a month's subscription to the "alpha". My not following the game too closely in the games press quickly turned out to be a good thing. As I wasn't expecting anything I wasn't too disappointed when the High End graphics failed to work on my (capable) machine, nor was I that upset when the server I picked turned out to have several AIs pottering around right on top of the newbie spawn, meaning they gunned me down over and over again. The lack of sound - missing while the game is tested - was also unexpected.
Lucky for Love I am a crazy man and inaccessible games are my favourite. On went the Charles Mingus album as, to a soundtrack of hoarse saxaphones, I eventually went scrambling over cliffs and chasms to some degree of seclusion and safety. Now what?
Read its design document and you'll find out that Love is meant to be a game where each server's players unify against the evil AI by building settlements. Everyone can build, and everyone works together to string up power lines, place machines, dig caves and build fortifications. A game where there is no inter-human conflict, only love! And freedom!
In practice, as you'd expect from an online game built around the concept of co-operation, Love has problems. The amount of time required to build a sizeable fort is nothing to the time it takes a knowledgeable griefer to rip it apart, and the recent addition of a 'griefing gun' that allows a settlement's inhabitants to teleport troublemaker to the other side of the world is a monument to Eskil's misjudgment of people. But there's also a temptation for the inhabitants themselves to tear up their home, because when you've got a decent settlement up with walls and power running to defensive guns, there's nothing left to do. The game's over.
I found a settlement to join in the end but it was already completed, and I wandered the grand battlements in a daze. I couldn't believe the game was close to being feature complete. Eskil's made a game of building sandcastles in a desert.
Or maybe... that's all true love really is!
Probably not though. I don't think you have to pay three Euros a month for true love, or turn to excitable jazz as respite from love's silence and violence.
But Love is unquestionably a game with potential. It's easy to imagine this framework becoming an utterly absorbing competitive game, a masterpiece of passive-aggressive warfare, with two settlements of players working not only to build but to undermine the other group by cracking holes in their walls, hacking their doors, deactivating shields, breaking their power relays and causing cave-ins, then letting the murderous AI do their dirty work. Or a game on which you create a competitive building framework - creating a world in which settlements struggle to be the most beautiful, the most useful, the most heftily defended.
But, if Eskil is currently considering a new direction for Love, I think this is unlikely to be it. At this point we can only hope he's considering any addition at all, hopefully one that'll make this game more than sweet nothings. Give us something worth licking, Eskil! Something worth sinking our teeth into. Right now, this isn't it.
On the other hand, N8 (short for Neverdaunt 8Bit) is a hopelessly flirtatious game. Browse their site if you don't believe me. I especially like the almost-useless FAQ, or 'User Guide For Users 1: Beginner Stuff For Beginners'.
N8 describes itself thus: "Neverdaunt is a dream like world of floating Islands and falling stars where nearly anything can happen... 8Bit refers to the era of computers with eight bit processors. N8 parodies the graphics style these computers were capable of... Right now you're just getting the very basics of N8. But soon there will be all sorts of cool things. Soon there will be Guns to shoot, More PowerUps to get, Achievements to unlock and Ships to sail through the sky!"
Even at this very early stage it's crystal clear that developer Calvin Goble is a very, very talented guy. There's a sparkling personality to everything in N8, from the proportions and gait of your blocky avatar, to their hats and clothes, to the emote animations, to the garbled chip jabbering you hear as players chat. I was giggling for at least 35 minutes of the hour I lost in N8. It has all the charm which Love, ironically, lacks.
Keen to experiment with the game's all-important building, my friend and I were instructed by some very friendly locals where the free build area was. They then followed us as we jogged off under a blue archway into a confused jumble of player constructs. There was a huge recreation of a Mega Man sprite, a giant chess board and some rubbish little houses. My friend and I got busy spawning trees into the world and sticking boxes to each others' faces.
We then got distracted by the chessboard, effortlessly sliding all the man-sized pieces back into place and commencing a game. We were four moves in before one of the other players slid the board out from under us, sending my friend tumbling into space. I drew my sword and demanded satisfaction from the prankster, and a bizarre yet completely awesome 8Bit jedi duel followed. With both of us able to jump very high and manipulate objects within the environment, we spent most of the fight pulling the floor out from under each other, sliding walls between into and out of the way or flinging chess pieces around. None of it helped us kill one another, but it was fun. We were playing.
I also like that N8's distinctive and deliberately basic art style allows player-created content to immediately look at home in the world. As the guy who uninstalled any user-created mods for Morrowind and Oblivion that didn't look like they were made by Bethesda, this is important to me. It also makes me more keen to add to the world myself.
I'll definitely be keeping an eye on N8 and seeing where it goes. If Mr. Goble decides to keep up the hard work, he definitely has a future ahead of him. Have a look yourself and see what I mean