Available: 17 September 2002

Westwood, a company we know from great titles like Dune and Blade Runner are at it again. This time they’re going a new way for them as a company; by creating a MMORPG that at first may look like a space simulator, but which in fact is much more of a role-playing game. There’s already a beta out, and those we have talked to liked it a lot. Even though they were in crunch-mode we were lucky enough to ask the dev-team some questions, so here’s what Eric Wang had to say about Earth & Beyond: Online.

Hi there. Please introduce yourself and your role in the development of Earth & Beyond.

My name is Eric Wang and I a senior producer for Earth & Beyond. Myself, along with another senior producer, Rade Stojsavljevic, and our executive producer, Craig Alexander, oversee all aspects of the project. Specifically, I’m responsible for the programming, game balance, customer service and community relations teams on the project.

How similar will the space combat be compared to space simulation classics like Wing Commander and X-Wing?

Not very similar at all, outside of the space setting. Unlike twitch, simulation, combat-based action games such as Wing Commander and X-Wing, Earth & Beyond is truly a role-playing game. We’ve designed a very robust story that focuses on character development. In addition, the games you mentioned focus on combat. In Earth & Beyond, characters can grow and progress through the game without ever having to fire a weapon. Rather, they can gain experience simply by exploring the galaxy, or by making a profit by trading on the galactic exchange.

How will Earth & Beyond handle dialup connections and low-spec computers?

Earth & Beyond has been built to work with 28.8 dialup connections and we have also invested quite a bit of time into developing scalable Level of Detail (LOD) systems so that the game will work on a wide variant of computers.

Please talk about how communications with other players and ships will work.

Communicating with other players in the game will be very simple. We’ve designed a system that will allow you to find, and talk with, anyone in the game with ease. First, we’ve added a host of chat channels. Players can create their own channel, or chat on any of the game’s global channels. We’ll have several global channels, such as one for new players, one for players to buy and sell goods, a channel for each race and profession, etc. In addition, players will be able to create in-game buddy lists that will tell them which of their friends are online and exactly where they are in game.

Earth & Beyond seems innovative in that it will combine the space simulation and RPG genres. How will it cater to those who are not used to playing the usually high learning curves of space simulation games?

Actually, Earth & Beyond is not a space simulation in any way, shape, or form. It is completely a role-playing game. However, if players do choose to engage in combat, the outcome is solely determined by the character’s skills and attributes, rather than the twitch reflexes of the player (as in most space sims). As for the learning curve, we’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that players can jump right into the game, by combining an easy-to-understand interface and a robust tutorial at the beginning of the game.

How much interactivity is there with the player and the universe? For example, will players have to avoid asteroids or comets? Can a player actually mine an asteroid or resources on a moon?

Players won’t have to fear about taking damage if they run into an asteroid or other space debris. However, there is a high degree of interactivity with the galaxy. Players will spend the majority of their time in space, and we’ve filled it with thousands of items the player can interact with, including asteroids to mine, aliens to kill, NPCs to trade with, stargates to warp through, etc.

The Earth & Beyond website mentions a storyline. How will players be able to influence the storyline, and how will the storyline progress?

We’ve designed the story of Earth & Beyond to act very much like episodic television, in that we’ve mapped it out for the next several years. We know exactly how it will progress for the next 18 months, and have a general idea of what will happen in the next five years. The story will begin with a big event soon after the game launches in September. Players will be able to influence the story to some extent, simply by their actions in-game. The story will be revealed to them by their conversations with NPCs and by going on quests.

Will players be able to battle outside of their starship?

The only time players will be outside their starship is when they are in a starbase. There, they can meet up with friends, get new quests, trade their goods, and buy new stuff, but will not be able to engage in combat.

Games such as Everquest required players to invest huge amounts of time in order for their character to level up. How easy will it be for the player in Earth & Beyond to level up?

We’ve designed the game specifically so that all players will have a rewarding experience, and can make meaningful progress regardless if they have 30 minutes or three hours to play. Beyond that, achieving levels will be much quicker, and far less painful than in current MMORPGs, specifically because we reward all play styles. Most MMORPGs require players to engage in combat to gain levels, but Earth & Beyond has three different experience pools that players can level up: trade, exploration and combat.

Westwood has never created a space simulation or an online-only game before. Why did Westwood choose to have such a large, massive project like Earth & Beyond? How do you think the final product will be?

The initial idea for Earth & Beyond came from Westwood co-founder Brett Sperry. He had always wanted to create an open-ended role-playing game that emphasized player cooperation. He also loved the space setting; hence, Earth & Beyond was born. The development team has taken that initial vision and shaped it into the game that you see today.

I’m really excited to see players’ reactions to Earth & Beyond. Now that we can see the light at the end of the development tunnel, I can say that the game has exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait for the fans to play the final version.