By Mark Rollins
Planetarion is a space-based MMORPG that has won numerous awards, and is played by thousands across the globe. The 22nd round, “Shards of Infinity” is currently in progress. As people play it we asked the designers about it.
MPOGD: Planetarion is listed on your site as a “totally free game”. How in the world can anyone afford to give something out like this?
Richard: Planetarion is a free game but it does have premium pay for
features. These premium features allow us to finance the game. A free account on
the game is fully capable of winning and indeed this has happened in the past,
but the premium features do make it a little easier. Upgrading to a premium
account costs 1 “credit” and you can either buy 1 credit for £5 or 3 for £10, so
even premium accounts are pretty cheap compared to a lot of online games. The
reason we have such low costs is because all of the staff undertaking day to day
activities are volunteers. We also run free “speedgames”, where the turns are 1
minute instead of the normal 1 hour and all beta testing rounds are free.
MPOGD: You can control an entire planet with Planetarion. How in the world do you make the interface on that not be too confusing?
Richard: The game itself is totally browser-based. Once you login, you’re
greeted with an “overview” screen that summarises the state of your planet. On
most skins, there’s a menu down the left hand side broken up into several
sections allowing you to control your planet. There’s just over 20 main links,
some of which are barely used and some of which are used all the time. One is
dedicated to the income your planet receives, one the research that the
scientists are doing on your planet, one the constructions that you are building
on your planet, and so on. The names are all fairly clear and help to guide new
users through the different parts of the game.
MPOGD: There is a lot of emphasis on “you and other players to help make a galaxy work together”. Is Planetarion not designed for those who like to solo it out? Is PvP mode out of the question?
Richard: All the planets in Planetarion are controlled by players. By its very nature, it’s a PvP game as opposed to a PvM game. However, it’s practically impossible to solo against the other players due to the nature of the game. At the beginning of the game you are placed into a galaxy of around 10 planets, with associated bonuses. Many planets also join an alliance to pool support, and both galaxy and alliance politics play an important part of the game. On its own, no planet is perfect, and co-operation is encouraged to bring the user into the community more firmly.
MPOGD: I notice that action is divided up into “ticks”. I’m not certain if this “tick” system is unique to Planetarion, but can you explain how the “tick” system works?
Richard: The tick is the fundamental game turn unit. Each time a “tick”
occurs the whole universe is updated. A research progresses further towards
completion, ships progress towards being built, fleets move through outer space
towards their target, and so on. In the standard games, ticks are 1 hour. In
“speedgames” and beta games, the ticks are generally 1 or 2 minutes. You can
tell an experienced user by the amount he or she refers to time in ticks!
MPOGD: You have just released Round 22 of your game. Can you tell me how the round system of Planetarion works? Does everyone have to go through every round, starting at Round 1?
Richard: The round system represents the latest iteration of the game. The
game has changed in almost every aspect to some degree since the first round,
with many new features leaving and some returning in later rounds. The game
server is opened up with the latest version of the game for signups at a
pre-announced date, and everyone registers an account. The round then starts at
a given time, and does not stop (hopefully!) until approximately 7 weeks later.
You can therefore join whenever you want. There are a few summaries of changes
for returning players, and guides for new players.
MPOGD: As far as Round 22, “Shards of Infinity” goes, how is this different from your other rounds?
Richard: This round we had quite a big shift in the way that
constructions, researches and the production of ships were carried out.
Previously, you placed an order and were given a static finish time. There was
only an option to cancel, or wait, no matter how much you changed your planet.
For example, changing the areas that your population are working in could speed
up or slow down researches and constructions, but only before you started. This
was very unrealistic. We’ve changed this now so that turn by turn you have an
output which takes you further towards the total each turn, but this can be
changed by changing your population, and by certain constructions that give
benefits to production and research. Production orders now also take longer if
you order many more ships, which gives a slightly different dimension to
deciding when to order ships.
MPOGD: Now that Round 22 is in progress, what are your plans for Round 23?
Richard: With the changes from Round 22, we’ve had a lot of feedback from the community. Whilst we took this into account and modified some of the features before the round, we’ll wait and see how they change the round as a whole and look to solve any problems that may have arisen and fine tune some settings for next round. Next round is more a consolidation, with a few more minor changes and maybe one slightly bigger change, compared to the comparatively large amount of changes that we have had for this round.
Planetarion round 22, or “Shards of Infinity”, looks like it should be quite something. We look forward to seeing more on Planetarion in the future. If you haven’t already, feel free to sign up at http://game.planetarion.com/signup.pl?ref=100030, and get to playing Planetarion, a truly out-of-this-world MMORPG!