Science fiction author Larry Niven, perhaps best known for his award-winning Ringworld series, has be creating worlds for readers to explore since the mid 1960's. Now, with the help of transmedia production company Alchemic Productions, he's creating a world for gamers to play in. Larry Niven's Free Fall isn't based on any of Niven's existing works. Desiring more involvement than simply handing over his books as source material, Niven is working with Alchemic to create an entirely new fiction for the game, which will center around a nation of miners and spacers that inhabit Earth's Moon, Mars, and the asteroid belt. You begin the game as newly immigrated Earther looking to get a fresh start as a miner who soon finds himself embroiled in miner revolution. I spoke extensively with Alchemic co-founder Rick Ernst about the project, touching on the concept, the technology, and the gameplay - which takes place entirely in zero-gravity.
Larry Niven has written some of the most critically acclaimed science fiction of the past century, with several series of books that would seem perfect for the video game treatment. His Known Space world alone has enough fodder for dozens of games. Instead of capitalising on the built-in audience of Ringworld and Man-Kzin Wars fans, he opted for something different.
After talking about a bunch of options Larry decided it would be most fun to create a new world for the game, rather than set it somewhere already established. That way we could build the world to support the game, rather than the other way around... which I really wasn't expecting from an author.
It is indeed a risky move. The last game that decided to go with an original story from a noted science fiction author was Orson Scott Card's Advent Rising, which would up being an utter bust, albeit one with an exciting story. Advent's failing was in the gameplay, which was relatively standard fare. Niven's Free Fall is anything but. The gameplay takes place entirely in zero gravity - the only time you'll have your feet firmly planted on the ground is during the game's cutscenes. The player starts off as a miner just learning the ropes of zero-g movement, using tools, etc. The early stages of the game will introduce the mechanics that will turn you from a fledging miner into a zero-g warrior, and you'll have real technology to back you up.
Niven is known for hard science-fiction - sci-fi that uses explainable technologies. You won't find nonsense voodoo tech in his stories. Even his rational fantasy series The Magic Goes Away treats magic as a non-renewable resource. The same rules apply for Free Fall. Alchemic is so keen to make sure the tech in the game is functional and realistic that they've recruited aerospace engineers to create their equipment.
The guys we have designing our tech (space suits, weapons, tools, ships) are aerospace engineers as well as artists... these are the same guys that are helping visualise the spacecraft for NASA's Mars mission. So everything is totally workable. Like I can point to anything on the tech illustrations and ask "what does that do?" and they can tell me. We actually had to redesign our suits because our initial design wouldn't allow the miners to thrust backwards because of the placement of the nozzles.
That's some serious attention to technical detail, which is nothing less than I would expect form a game with Niven's name on it. Don't worry though, while they strive to make the game strives to be technically sound, they're also focused on making it a hell of a lot of fun. Expect plenty of entertaining physics using toys like the zero-g shotgun, which functions as both a weapon and a means of propulsion. If that's not enough to sell you on the title, I have three words for you. Crystallized floaty blood.
Alchemic is envisioning the game as an Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 title, though the game is still in early developmental stages and that's always subject to change. They pitched the concept around at last month's GDC and got a very favorable response, so I'd fully expect to hear more news on the game soon. For now, oogle the concept art and imagine what could be, just like Larry Niven's been doing for the past 40+ years.