E3 2006: Runestone shows SEED
05.12.06 - 1:01 PM

In an interview with Danish company Runestone, I got to learn quite a bit about their newest game, SEED.

SEED takes place in the future, with a ship sent from earth to terraform a new planet. While the unmanned ship is working to make the new planet more earthlike, however, things start going wrong; the new organisms introduced to the environment don't quite take; the weather starts getting worse; and in a last ditch effort, the ship starts creating humans, fully formed and educated, who wind up having to compete with limited resources.

It is into this world that the player is thrust, as one of the vat-grown humans who help to direct and run the colony. This is where the gimmick of SEED comes into play; there is no combat. Instead, the players all are trying to survive and explore/expand their influence in the ship's tower. Each player represents a human being in the game, each of who has a say in the way things are run. For example, if there is a particular machine that is important to the colony, a person may be elected to run that machine democratically. If certain technologies want to be researched, it will have to be at the discretion of the majority of players, making community building and role-playing vital to gameplay.

While this may sound more like a social experiment than an MMO, the complete removal of combat has resulted in a significant absence of most griefer players, leaving the field free for real role-playing to take place, according to CEO Lars Koll. Furthermore, since the community directs how things develop in the game, Runestone has contracted with a Canadian company to provide gamemasters (fluent in English, French, and German) and even play NPCs so that they can draw in and respond to individual players and groups. Instead of instanced areas, the NPCs will respond to a quest by searching for willing players. If players are responsive, they will set up the quest, but if not, they will search for other players in the area.

Furthermore, the game is greatly community-based; if the community seems to be researching technologies for a space elevator, for instance, Runestone will create a new area in response to player desires. New areas, technologies (including DNA manipulation) and more will all be provided in response to community desires. In this way, the emphasis has been put on cooperation and role-playing to get others to see your point of view and achieve your goals.

Of course, the question arises, with so many internet users taking the anonymity of the internet for granted to ignore etiquette, what's to keep a mass of such players from ruining the experience for the rest of the population. The answer is that the democratic process is decentralized. What that means is that no person or group rules “the colony” but rather individual parts of the colony are ruled by individuals, so that if one faction controls a group of machines, another individual or faction can control a machine that might be necessary for group one to achieve their aims, and thus compromises must be made.

The art style is very reminiscent of silver-age comic books, which is a look that Runestone hopes will distinguish them from other MMOs. The emphasis on realism, says Kroll, will not be met by the current technology, so rather than doing a half-job of it, SEED wants to focus on a unique art style that won't be forced to hold to the standards of realism that other games have.

SEED was released May 2nd to a rocky launch, technically, after a rather successful two-month closed and three-week open beta, and looks to be smoothing out. Currently the game is available in Europe and North America, with possible plans for a second server to support Asia if interest is present, and is available for download for a 14 day free trial.

Damian Thomas