If you’ve ever played an online role-playing game like, say, World of Warcraft, you know that they’re generally vast, open-world games that plop your avatar down in a digital world filled with hundreds of AI characters and literally thousands of gamers (when you tally up attendance across the many servers available). In those make-believe lands you quest, dungeon crawl and, well, die over and over. And each time you croak, your avatar respawns somewhere nearby so you can give that last difficult stretch another shot.
There’s a new game coming soon, though, that has decided to turn all that on its head.
Upsilon Circuit is an online RPG that only has one server and pits two teams of four players against each other as they battle their way through dungeons filled with loot and monsters. That’s a maximum of only eight players in the world going at it at any given moment, and for only a few hours of play per day.
What about all the gazillions of gamers who want to play during the other 10 hours of daylight?
Well, they have to bide their time, checking back with the daily ongoing skirmishes until it’s their turn to be allowed in. But they don’t simply stand quietly by. Oh no. They get to shape the onscreen action a bit, too. As the eight players rack up monster kills and treasure, their earned EXP points go to that watching audience. And they get to upgrade whatever player or players they happen to like.
Yeah, that’s right. They can bulk up the guys or gals they want to watch. Or if they’re not particularly pleased with the players, they can send in special monsters to cut the boring ones off at the knees. Dubbing itself as “part gameshow, part action RPG,” the game defines a waiting audience member as being equal measures dungeon master, strategist, and a member of a judge & jury.
What’s really “wild” from the perspective of an RPG, though, is the fact that once you die in this game, you’re out. Totally. Players that keel over from a sword slash or a monster chomp can never play the game again. Suddenly, that beastie blocking your path becomes much more threatening and frightening. How powerful is this creature? You’ve only got one life to live, so how much of a howling and charging Rambo do you want to be? (Of course, if you’re always hiding behind a rock, the audience will likely usher you to a quick demise anyway.)
And that’s the part of this game that really flies in the face of the standard video gaming philosophy. Dying over and over in a video game is the norm, right? We expect it. In fact, some have claimed that the dying, respawning and trying again side of video games is part of what can make them addictive. I mean, even games with some form of “permadeath” woven into their DNA generally let you get back in on the action after losing everything. But not in Upsilon.
“We’re making this because we want to watch it,” Calvin Goble, co-founder of the studio making Upsilon Circuit, told pcgamer.com. while demoing the game at indie game showcase PAX East. “And we’re excited because, oh my gosh, what could happen when somebody really cares about their one life in a game? And that’s what really interests me in it. … It’s like a really neat social experiment.”
Ain’t that the truth? And in a way, this is much more like real life than you’d likely ever expect from a video game. Sure, it’s all fantasy whiz-bang and filled with monsters, but you have to stop and think before leaping into grave danger. No restart button or ability to respawn here. It brings a whole new definition to the words virtual reality, doesn’t it?