PC, Rift, Vive

EDGE - - CONTENTS - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease NetEase PC, Rift, Vive China 2019

“We want to en­cour­age play­ers to in­ter­act, which means cre­at­ing in­cen­tives”

E ven in this early stage – ob­jects pop­ping in and out of view, fram­er­ate all over the place – Nos­tos is breath­tak­ing to be­hold. Blades of grass and laven­der flow­ers dance in the wind; clouds roll over­head like foamy waves over sea-blue sky. It’s a scene straight out of a Stu­dio Ghi­bli film, or plucked from the art­books of clas­sic JRPGs. As an­i­mals roam the fields stretch­ing out be­fore us, there’s a flurry of move­ment over to our right – an­other hu­man. Their limpid an­ime eyes stare at us. Then, they wave, be­fore mo­tion­ing for us to join them.

Nos­tos is an open-world vir­tual-re­al­ity RPG fea­tur­ing on­line mul­ti­player, a place full of lush forests, dusty deserts and frigid moun­tain­sides to ex­plore. This ex­pan­sive world comes courtesy of a part­ner­ship be­tween Chi­nese com­pany NetEase and Im­prob­a­ble, cre­ators of Spa­tialOS. The lat­ter’s re­mark­able cloud-based plat­form is the key to the in­stance-based mul­ti­player, which al­lows play­ers to hunt, craft, cook and build to­gether. It also lends an edge of re­al­ity to the can­dy­coloured apoc­a­lypse of Nos­tos: the world is per­sis­tent, and your ac­tions have an ef­fect on its ecosys­tem. Chop down a tree and it won’t grow back un­less planted, mean­ing you have to be care­ful about how you al­ter the en­vi­ron­ment. Get too axe-happy, and you run the risk of cre­at­ing more desert. Still, we open our in­ven­tory and pull out the tool we need, be­fore swing­ing it re­peat­edly into the trunk to fell it.

“Spa­tialOS em­pow­ered us to think dif­fer­ently about the de­sign of our game,” pro­ducer Shui Ge says. “Even at that first stage, be­ing able to think about what could be done with­out hav­ing to cut down your de­sign to ac­com­mo­date the lim­i­ta­tions of sin­gle­server ar­chi­tec­ture is quite ex­cit­ing – you get to throw in wild ideas!” Whereas the so­cial and mul­ti­player ca­pa­bil­i­ties of many VR games are lim­ited in terms of com­plex­ity, Spa­tialOS can han­dle it all, and more be­sides. “We can ex­per­i­ment with ideas like hav­ing a hu­man player build­ing a vil­lage by in­struct­ing AI-con­trolled al­lies, and then work­ing with other hu­mans to de­fend their vil­lages against threats, and see how that ex­pe­ri­ence plays out,” Ge says.

The beau­ti­ful cel-shaded land of Nos­tos is un­der con­stant threat from a de­struc­tive storm known as the Co­ralsea. “We want play­ers to feel con­nected to other play­ers of Nos­tos, and to feel en­cour­aged to in­ter­act, which means cre­at­ing in­cen­tives for in­ter­ac­tion,” Ge says. The Co­ralsea is a re­mark­ably ef­fec­tive one: with the threat of ex­tinc­tion quite lit­er­ally thun­der­ing over­head, we find our­selves keen to get on with our new ac­quain­tance in hopes of staving off dis­as­ter. It’s a shame we can’t com­mu­ni­cate be­yond vague ges­tures for now – voice chat or an emote wheel would work won­ders. But still, there’s some­thing peace­ful about silently agree­ing to work to­gether with strangers, gath­er­ing ma­te­ri­als to place down walls, ceil­ings and stoves. Two peo­ple head up a large hill to for­age nuts and berries; we split off to help fight and loot a ma­raud­ing bug boss, be­fore de­fend­ing our camp from an in­com­ing AI ban­dit.

Com­bat is not Nos­tos’ best fea­ture: our op­po­nent just sort of stands there as we whale on them with a clumsy-feel­ing sword un­til the in-game model even­tu­ally falls over, like a card­board cutout in the wind. What we’re play­ing is clearly more of a proof of con­cept than any­thing, but the con­cept is strong, a kind of mul­ti­player in­ter­ac­tions-fo­cused

Dragon Quest Builders in VR. And we sense Nos­tos is more about col­lab­o­ra­tion than con­flict, any­way. “I think the world of game de­vel­op­ment is get­ting smaller, but there are def­i­nitely still cul­tural dif­fer­ences in dif­fer­ent ap­proaches – not just be­tween China and the West, but be­tween dif­fer­ent re­gions as well. I like these dif­fer­ences,” Ge says. “We can def­i­nitely learn from each other with­out los­ing the el­e­ments that give these games char­ac­ter. Western games of­ten fo­cus on a more in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ence, and pro­duce games with very deep char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and plots for a sin­gle­player ex­pe­ri­ence. I be­lieve that Chi­nese games have re­ally ad­vanced in mak­ing dif­fer­ent forms of con­nected play re­ward­ing.”

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