Earth and Beyond unveiled

Westwood announces its sci-fi massively multiplayer online role-playing game. We've got new screenshots and an interview with producer Eric Wang.

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This morning, Westwood Studios officially announced the development of Earth and Beyond, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that the company has been working on for over four years. Previously referred to only as "G," Earth and Beyond places players in a massive persistent universe filled with hundreds of planets and worlds that can be explored, inhabited, and fought over. The game takes place sometime in the 23rd century, and it involves three factions that are all vying for control of the solar system they tenant. Players can choose to play as any one of these three groups--Progen fighters, Jenquai explorers, and Terran traders--and they can gain experience points in several ways. Quests in Earth and Beyond are automatically generated to fit players' profile and experience level, and they include trading and exploration missions. Successful completion of these quests will grant players a hefty bounty, which they can use to buy new spaceships or modify their existing one.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Earth and Beyond producer Eric Wang to discuss the game in more detail.

GameSpot: Eric, just to clear up any confusion, Earth and Beyond is in fact the game previously known as "Project G," right?

Eric Wang: Geez! How are people finding out our code names?

GS: How long has Earth and Beyond been in development?

EW: Earth and Beyond has been in development for almost four years now, from the initial planning phases to the stage we're currently at--developing content for over 100 sectors of space people can play in.

GS: This is one of the first games that Brett Sperry has been intimately involved in. What role does Brett play in the game's development?

EW: Actually, that's not true. As the chief creative officer of the company, Brett is intimately involved in every project that bears the Westwood name, most notably the Command & Conquer series. But to answer your question, the initial concept of Earth and Beyond was Brett's, and he's been actively involved in all the key decisions of the project--content, interface, design, etc.

GS: Are the fighter, explorer, and trader the only character classes in Earth and Beyond?

EW: The Progen (fighters), Jenquai (explorers), and Terran (traders) are the three races of Earth and Beyond, but players can further customize their character by selecting [from one of the professions, which mirror the races.] The names of the professions have not been finalized, but the ultimate fighter will be a Progen warrior, the best trader will be a Terran trader, etc. You can also be a hybrid of any of these nine classes, such as a Progen explorer or a Jenquai trader. It really allows the players to personalize their characters and take them in any direction they choose.

GS: Only one of those classes is actually suggestive of combat. Does that mean there's more to the game than just fighting?

EW: Absolutely! We've deliberately designed the game so players can advance their character without ever having to take part in combat--most notably through exploring and trading--and the missions will reflect that. Any character class--fighter, trader, or explorer--will be able to get non-combat missions such as discovering new Star Gates, exploring a previously uncharted territory, or delivering supplies to a stranded colony.

GS: Is level advancement based on experience, like in EverQuest and more traditional RPGs?

EW: Yes, advancement is based on gaining experience by completing missions in combat, trade, or exploration. We have two types of missions available to the players, personalized and crafted. Personalized missions are found through the mission generators in any of the space stations. The generator scans the character's class and abilities and custom-designs several missions of varying length and purpose for the player to choose from. We also have crafted missions that advance the overall story of Earth and Beyond. These are larger, more involved missions that usually take longer to complete and require the player to get help with.

GS: There's an inherent dependent relationship between all three character classes. How so?

EW: The three character classes all have different abilities that, together, create a powerful team. For example, the warriors are very good at fighting and inflicting/sustaining damage, but the explorers are needed to find good targets to fight and the traders have the ability to repair damaged ships and components. Each class will have unique and powerful abilities that will be appreciated and desired by other players.

GS: How many different planets and moons will Earth and Beyond have?

EW: I don't have a set number to give you, but we will have over 100 unique sectors of space to explore, with more being added after launch. In these sectors, we'll have many planets, all with different types of climate and terrain. We'll also have vast nebulae and free space populated with all manner of alien life-forms--peaceful and hostile.

GS: So the game takes place on these planets and in outer space?

EW: That's right. We have space mode and planet mode in the game, both of which are open to combat, trade, and exploration, although there will be designated areas that combat will not be allowed in. Throughout it all, nearby players will be able to interact with each other through a chat system.

GS: Will there be any non-player characters that populate the world of Earth and Beyond?

EW: Yes. We will have many non-player characters that the players will be able to interact with. Players will be able to get missions from non-player characters, and they'll also be able to get news and information about what is going on in this massive virtual world.

GS: What about player vs. player? Have you decided on how Earth and Beyond will handle player vs. player?

EW: Player vs. player will be allowed only around the fringes of civilized space. Currently we are looking at around 20 percent or so of space that [will make up] these fringe areas. All other areas will be strictly non-player vs. player.

GS: Have you decided how much the monthly fee is going to be?

EW: We don't have a set price yet, but the monthly fee will be on par with the current generation of MMPORPGs.

GS: Will you have an open beta for Earth and Beyond?

EW: Yes, we will have a massive open beta, probably sometime this summer. Our goal is to have 10,000-plus players for the open beta.

GS: When will the game be released?

EW: We are currently looking at a winter 2001 release.

GS: Thanks, Eric.

We'll have more on Earth and Beyond in the coming weeks. In the meantime, be sure to take a look at the first set of screenshots in our image gallery.

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