At “Origins” this year, I ran across a new game, “Beyond Protocol ” and managed to beg my way into their beta test. These are my thoughts after a few hours of tinkering with the game. This is not a review because the software is not done and will probably change significantly before release.
At the outset, I should state that I despise “MMORPG” games like “World of Warcraft.” I find them tedious, shallow level treadmills with no real role-playing and even less story.
Strategy games, on the other hand, fascinate me. “Beyond Protocol ” advertises itself as a “Massive Multi-Player Online Real-Time Strategy” game. I went in expecting a beefed-up version of “Command and Conquer” or “Warcraft.” Nothing wrong with that, as I loved both of those games.
I started playing and all of the usual suspects were in place:
1. Engineer unit to construct buildings: Check.
2. Minerals to mine: Check.
3. Other players to threaten my holdings: Check.
4. Upgrade paths to new technologies: Check.
I played for about 3 hours and managed to construct a respectable city. Here is a shot of my new metropolis.
This is where it got strange. I started chatting with other players and discovered that building a city is just the first step. After you secure you ground holdings, you have to get a foothold in orbit! Once you reach orbit, then you can launch your starships to other planets and start colonies there.
While real time strategy is a part of the game and it has all the unit rushing goodness of “Starcraft,” there is much more going beneath the surface. This game is all about deep, long-term strategy. Building a city for a quick “rush” to defeat your enemies is simply not possible.
In short, empire building.
I had a flashback to the early 1990s. Me, in college, destroying my second mouse playing “Master of Orion 2 .” I do not make the comparison lightly. “MOO2” is possibly one of my favorite games of all time. This game very much reminds me of “MOO2.”
“MOO2” was abstract in that combat was just flashes on a screen and winning and losing had less to do with your skill than the quality of the ships you built. “Beyond Protocol” removes that layer of abstraction and puts the player back in charge of unit combat. Unit quality and technology are certainly a factor, but now the player is in charge of tactics and combat.
All the players are human, so diplomacy also plays a critical part in the game. The game never stops running, even when you are logged off. Making friends to come to your aid or join in a inter-planetary raid or inter-stellar raid is a must.
Raiding brings me to my next point. This game is begging for guilds to form. In fact, I am not sure you can thrive without a few allies. Building big items, like space stations requires so much material and time that creating your own empire without allies is extremely difficult.
Once groups of players form guilds (or whatever they will be called) let the backstabbing, spying, threats and bribery begin! Thousands of players online jockeying for power will be a blast to play. There is even an espionage feature in the game to steal technology or to sabotage a critical installation.
So far I have not discussed the actual game play much, since it is very familiar to any RTS players. There is one item that deserves special note. The technology tree is complicated, involving researching every piece of technology separately, engines, shields, hull, etc. Here is a shot of the “alloy” screen that lets you combine different materials for a better alloy.
Obviously, better materials take longer and cost far more to research. The research options look very flexible and allow a level of control that is missing from most RTs’ technology trees. There are literally hundreds of combinations.
Research complete, you now build something with your new technologies. Here is a shot of the ship design window. There are some pre-existing designs, but you can also create your own. The design system is robust and requires you to balance features such as speed, armor and firepower in your ship.
There is a separate view of the ship that is a 3-D, but those models are not the final ones, so I did not include them.
After building your new ship, you launch it into orbit to do battle with your foes. Here is a shot of a space battle.
I cannot imagine what a “big” space battles will look like. You know, the one where huge guilds do battle over a piece of rock they both covet. I hope the servers can take it.
I am glossing over a great deal of the details in this game, both for reasons of brevity and its beta status. I simply do not know what will make it into the final released version.
“Beyond Protocol” has a lot of potential as an “empire building” game with RTS components. I liked the long-term strategy and diplomatic aspects and look forward to its release. The release date on the site is “Spring 2008,” but that has clearly slipped. As soon as I get a firm date from “Dark Sky Entertainment,” I will post it.
Update: I got the new release date: September 9th, 2008.
If you are interested in further information or applying to the beta test, click on the link below.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer