If I were to start describing a game where players have zipped about one persistent universe as one of three factions in customizable ships vying for wealth and territory by mining, dodging hostiles, fulfilling missions, blasting one another to bits, docking at stations, blazing trade routes, and pirating for the past 10 years, you would say… Vendetta Online, of course! Perhaps the longest-running epic space-based sandbox MMORPG, the game hit a milestone last week that few others can boast: It turned 10!
Although its major retail distribution was in 2004, Vendetta Online marks its anniversary as the day it was spotlighted in Penny Arcade during the game’s completely open and public alpha (which means it basically launched since everyone could dive in and play) and the population exploded! A truly multi-platform MMORPG, Guild Software's game can be played on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Android, giving pilots the freedom to log in when and where they may, even to surreptitiously check the markets or maybe sneak an event in while at work via a smartphone. After all, who wants to miss an event just because employment gets in the way?
Luckily for those of us without an Android, Vendetta Online celebrated its decennial anniversary with some developer-run in-game events over the weekend. Always willing to join the party, Some Assembly Required strapped into a shiny new ship and blasted right into the thick of things in order to share in the festivities.
A couple of months ago, this column highlighted the gameplay and features of Vendetta Online, so this installment is not going to delve into the mechanics or inner workings of the title but rather share my experience with the events surrounding the game’s anniversary.
While not an avid zip-about-in-a-spaceship type of player, I found myself easily drawn into the universe during these celebratory events. And the best part for players is that while celebrating 10 years is a once-in-a-life-time event for an MMORPG (and not one a lot of games ever reach), events in Vendetta Online are not merely an occasional occurrence; in fact, both developer- and player-run events are the norm. There is a weekly Nation War that’s largely run by the players, and on the 26th, there was a Maze Run, which involved picking up chocolates and either getting out of the maze or hunting the runner. And that’s just to name a couple. Over the anniversary weekend, two different events were held.
The first anniversary event transpired on the night of Friday the 20th, calling on players to come assist a damaged ship and keep pirates from blasting it to bits. Because destruction looked a bit too imminent, players then began to hook up with the life pods to rescue survivors and transport them to medical attention back at the safety of stations.
Although admittedly I’m a first-time pilot for this jaunt into space, and the controls took a bit to get used to (turning to look at something doesn’t turn your ship any more than turning your head to look out a window does in a car), I was able to keep up with the group and even avoid getting my own ship destroyed in the process. OK, so I bumped fenders with the poor decrepit behemoth we were trying to protect and escort, but I swear I had nothing to do with that piece of hull that sheared off!
I didn’t participate directly in the rescue by collecting the life pods (oh, my evil cold heart!) or firing my weapons because I was too busy watching the event unfold. And while I did not get to experience the adrenaline rush that the active participants did as they dodged and weaved between unfriendly fire, I enjoyed quite a show and was drawn into the spirit of the event as the other captains chattered away in the special event channel.
What I experienced was a beautiful fireworks display of color exploding repeatedly over the dark backdrop of open space. It truly was worth it to sit back and see the light show provided by the battle. Camaraderie was everywhere; there was a distinct lack of smack talk in the event channel. Humor was even in evidence as one pilot came to discover that the life pod he was rescuing packed additional weight due to the luggage, which including a hairdryer. Jokes obviously ensued — after all, can’t leave a burning ship without a hairdryer, right?
In the end, approximately 500 aboard the damaged ship were rescued by 40 event participants, and a total of 81% of the ship’s occupants actually survived the whole ordeal. At the very end, the giant rig blew, and anyone caught within the blast radius (*tries to look innocent*) was blown into fiery bits along with it.
What I really was impressed by was the developers’ willingness to stay after the event and interact with the players, gathering feedback, answering questions, and just plain being involved in their community. We are talking not just GMs but the actual developers. You know, those people who can make a difference in the game’s design.
What did players have to think about this event? Although there were a smattering of comments about lag, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Alloh UIT cheered the development team and declared, “Nice event, really surprising and immersive.” Denji Royhu called out, “Fun times everyone!”
The festivities did not end after just one night; on Saturday, the next anniversary event unfolded. Participants learned that one of the corporations under the UIT umbrella (one of the three factions) had a mishap with an unnamed prototype. Help was requested to gather the scattered pieces and return them to a Valent station in exchange for a reward. Of course, rival Axia, not above a little espionage, offered a larger reward for any pieces returned to its stations. Pilots had to scour the universe to find these pieces mixed among scrap metal. In total, 48 pieces were scattered across 16 different sectors.
Making semi-short work of it, players ensured that all but the last 10 pieces were recovered within 40 minutes. At the one-hour mark, there were only two pieces unaccounted for. Every pilot that recovered and turned in a piece received a decent award (funds). Considering my piloting skills were still in their infancy, I just sat on the sidelines for this event. However, from my vaunted insider position, I was able to learn before the event participants exactly what the results of their labors would be!
The real beauty of this event was that it demonstrated that players’ choices do indeed influence the game — they’re the heart and soul of a sandbox game. The dev hosting the event let me in on the fact that if the Valent faction collected the majority of the pieces, a new mineral scanner would become available at its stations for pilots of appropriate faction standing to take advantage of. However, if Axia or Corvus received more, a curiously labeled scanner would ultimately be made available for their loyal pilots.
Near the end of the event, a message broadcast across the channel: “We’ve recovered more than half our prototype, for which we thank you, but it is obvious that many of you betrayed our good will.” After participant Interstellar interjected with a “Way to go, betrayers of good will,” the message continued, “Nevertheless, we’ve been able to determine that the design was not to blame for the demise of the test drone. As a gesture of thanks, we are making copies of our large Port Mineral Scanner available to those most loyal to the Valent.”
At this point, one pilot began the requisite whining and bellyaching that all games must sadly endure, complaining loudly that the game is supposed to be PvP-based, a “space combat simulation,” after all, and then he declared the reward worthless since he himself could not use it. Hands down, my favorite part of this event was the developer’s response: “How often does combat-related stuff come out and all the miners quietly go about mining.” Zing! Besides this one naysayer, though, the comments that were batted back and forth were about how players enjoyed themselves and had fun. Another successful event.
Again, the developer in charge stayed after the event and took player requests and feedback into consideration, such as more opportunities for people to shoot each other and steal things. Other suggestions like making the search radius a bit smaller scaling to the number of participants were also discussed.
For active developer participation, Vendetta Online definitely runs near the head of the pack and might even lead it. Given how much these developers invest in their game, I can certainly anticipate many more years of enjoyment for new and veteran players alike. If you feel like powering up a ship and checking out an indie sandbox game where you determine your own path and where your actions do actually influence the game, I suggest giving Vendetta Online a spin. Need another incentive? The game offers a free, no-strings-attached eight-hour trial, meaning that you can play up to eight hours in the game spread out however is convenient for you to get the feel of things and decide if this universe is right for you (without having to provide a credit card, I might add). So what are you waiting for?
Happy anniversary, Vendetta Online! Here’s to 10 more! May your space continue to fill with ships and your cargo holds overflow with bounty.
by MJ Guthrie