As technology gets more and more advanced, and the things developers are able to do with it get more and more impressive, the ambition to make ultra-realistic games comes closer to realization. Although MindArk doesn’t use any cutting edge technology to make Project Entropia as realistic as it is, they have reworked the MMORPG format enough to make a frighteningly natural game.
The setting is in the far future when human colonists have recently settled down on the planet Calypso. The colonists are looking forward to a time of peace after defeating the robot army that turned rogue during a terraforming mission. Well, these things happen. Although the surviving robots are gathering up strength again, and the native Calypso animal life and the not-so-native mutant life are making a menace of themselves, the folk living in Calypso’s cities don’t have to worry about any of that. Players are free to enjoy the social comforts of the safe towns, or (more likely) go out and fight. The latter will be accomplished by a First-Person Shooter format, meaning the player controls where the bullet (actually, energy blast) is going, and the skill level controls how much damage it does. These features are small manifestations of MindArk’s realism promise, but it isn’t them that are going to have players feeling the cold, hard sting of reality.
Perhaps an explanation is required. It should be mentioned, first of all, that Project Entropia is freeware, meaning it is free to download and burn in its entirety. There is no monthly subscription, and there is no sign up charge. Players must have credit cards, but no charges will be made right away. However, the first lesson in reality Project Entropia will teach you is that nothing is ever free. Just like in any RPG, there is an in-game currency, Project Entropia Dollars in this case, that players use to buy and sell items. The thing is, PED can be exchanged for RLD – Real Life Dollars, or Yen, or Euros. Effectively players use real money to buy digital items in this game. The interesting thing is that it works both ways: any liquid PED can be exchanged back into real-life cash. That means, in theory, players can make a profit in this game. By selling items manufactured by the player or recovered from enemies, either in a shop of the player’s own, or to a merchant avatar or NPC, players can get some cash coming back in for what must be the first time in gaming history.
Still, the whole idea leaves open some serious questions, which MindArk has taken pains to answer. Their security system is without visible flaw, and there is redundant backup in case of a major crash. Another question involves possible conflicts with local tax laws; in the end, it is the responsibility of the player to report any earnings, but will a video game even be seen as a legitimate form of income? Should it be? The biggest question, however, is probably how MindArk intends to make a profit. Much of the commerce in the game is player to player, and the fund transfer is the concern of the banks. The company has said that it will follow the standard freeware practice of acquiring income through advertising and merchandise, in addition to collecting funds in its digital world. Repairing degenerating character equipment will be MindArk’s domain, and they will presumably also have shops of their own.
Another thing that’s striking about this Project is its size. Calypso has 3 continents, covering the equivalent of 2900 square kilometres. Even more ambitious is the goal of having only one server for the entire game, with a capacity of one million players at once. With all these impressive figures, it is interesting to note that one mundane feature has been overlooked – there is no night on Calypso.
Character creation is a big part of PEProject Entropia, people can tell each other apart just by looking at them – just like in real life.
Since this game has a certain impact on the real world, law and order is a sketchy area. Seeing as how goods in the game have monetary value in real life, there will be no outright theft in the game. Also, when an avatar dies, there is an insurance that protects his or her items from being removed from his or her body. The only time this insurance (not actual monetary insurance…yet) is removed is in a player killing situation. Player versus player combat can’t occur in the cities (besides special arenas) but if someone kills a player out in the field, open season is declared on them for a certain number of hours, and their corpse may be looted. As for the deceased, they wander as a soul until they can find a hospital or some other healing source.
Project Entropia uses a skill based system rather than an experience/level system. That means that only skills the player makes use of will improve. One of those skills is Mindforce. Ostensibly some product of research into the human mind, players would do well to think of this as the game’s magic.
PE is certainly one of the more intriguing MMORPGs to come around in a while. The money system might end up being the downfall of some careless gamers, certainly; it will be an attraction for many. It is frightening and exciting to ponder what developers are going to come up with next in the world of RPGs. Will Project Entropia be herald for computer gaming in upcoming years? We’ll get our first clue on the thirtieth of January.