By:Troy Roberts
Date: Monday, October 14, 2002

In the last few years, online gaming has swept onto the video gaming scene. Boasting new things that could never really be done before, online gaming has been "the" thing as of late. And with massively multiplayer online gaming, video games will never be the same again. Westwood Studios, the people who brought you COMMAND AND CONQUER, has taken notice of this, and has developed their own brand of online game, EARTH AND BEYOND.

"We believe that our players really are the story in EARTH AND BEYOND, because it is a persistent state galaxy populated by literally thousands of people simultaneously," says Chris Plummer, Creative Director at Westwood Studios. "But, there is a fictional backdrop."

In EARTH AND BEYOND, there are three different races (or factions), and each has their own specialty. First and foremost, there are the Terrans, which are basically present day humans, the race that dominates manufacturing and trading in the galaxy. Next up is the Jenquai, the scientists of the galaxy. "These guys grew up around the moons of Jupiter, so they're a little bit taller and thinner than the normal human," Plummer says.

Then there are the Progen, who are the warriors of the galaxy. "The race originated around Mars," Plummer continues. "The Progens are genetically enhanced, mutated warriors. When one of them dies, they keep the genetic code of that warrior so he can live another day. All three of these races have just come out of a war over an ancient gate, which became a source of conflict in the galaxy."

"Depending on what character class you play, you get to experience the story from a completely different perspective," says Plummer.


While science-fiction movies had much to do with the initial conception of the game, the internet also had a huge role in the development of the game.

"I think epic space adventures, a sort of classic space opera had a lot to do with the inspirations we drew on," explains Plummer. "There was a lot of inspiration from the internet, and the online medium as a platform as well. There are a lot of experiences that we can deliver over the internet that you just can't get anywhere else. And we're probably leveraging that better than anyone else. There is an in-game guild system that allows you to literally create a player organization. So lets say, we set up a guild, and we can recruit thousands of members, and it can all be done with an in-game interface. History tells us that players tend to join guilds, but there has never been a game that allows you to join a guild within the game."

According to Westwood, EARTH AND BEYOND has been an "online-only" game from the beginning.

"I think it goes back to the inspirations to begin with," says Plummer. "At the end of the day, the galaxy is a massive place. And it's so fitting to populate it with thousands of people. It's such a big place that trying to make that big of a galaxy and playing it by yourself, it can get pretty lonely. And if space games have suffered from anything in the past it's the vastness of space. So, by making it online, we are making it a lot more interesting. There's nothing like exploring the far reaches of the galaxy with people you've just met, or with people you've known for years. But it's an incredible experience."

Westwood Studios has done a lot to keep gamers' individuality intact in EARTH AND BEYOND.


"Well, this is a MMORPG, so we know that a unique identity in that community is critical," explains Plummer. "And so, we've gone through great pains to create all the customization options that will allow individual identity in the galaxy. So that means, as a character, you start by choosing gender and race. From there, you can customize thousands of choices, like hair, shape of face, details on face, clothing, tattoos, wrinkles, scars; all these things can be customized on your captain. So, basically, you can create an entirely unique character in the game. But when you get into the starship, you're really only limited to the profession of your character. So, for example, a tradesman ship has a massive cargo bay and gigantic engines, yet doesn't have a lot of room for weapons. But the warrior ship looks a lot different and has a lot more weapon mounts. But then you can adjust different wings, hull shapes; so the physical shape of your ship can be adjusted. And you can also change the color of your ship. You can put decals on your ship. You can also put a name on your starship, which is really cool, because the name will appear on different places on the ship."

When asked what the biggest problems with the development have been, Plummer only laughed.

"I think the biggest problem has been the patches for the beta test," says Plummer. "They're like a gig (gigabyte) each."

EARTH AND BEYOND is on store shelves now.