Whenever a new creative sandbox appears, it's only a matter of time before it's compared to Minecraft. Despite the higher polycount, UemuU invites the comparison more than most. At times, it feels like a direct response to Minecraft's limitations as a community building platform; with flexible tools that are geared towards letting creators define, shape and share their ideas.
“I spent a year and a half writing mods to try to make [Minecraft] how I wanted it to be, and how the majority of people wanted it to be,” says UemeU's project lead Jeremy Hindle as he takes me on a tour through the game's creative potential. “Certainly there's a lot of influence that comes from it. Not so much directly from the game Minecraft, but from the community that was around it.” Given Hindle's experience with Minecraft and its community, it's clear he wants UemeU to be an evolved version of that same construction and consumption of creative content.
If UemeU is the next step for sandbox expression, its expanded toolset does require some getting used to. Rather than individual cubes, you can bring up a list of shapes, then move, rotate or scale those objects in any way you need. A separate "Gizmo" creates a gyroscope-shaped rotation tool inside an object, allowing for an even finer degree of control. In terms of complexity to manipulate, it falls somewhere in between Minecraft and Garry's Mod; but the ability to automatically group and tinker with designs makes it potentially more flexible than either.
Get used to the interface, and it's possible to quickly create some amazing things. As Hindle was running me through the basics, programmer Stathis Aposporis worked quietly in the background of our server. Within half an hour, he'd finished his own creation: a recreation of the first level of Fez, complete with giant cube.
Beyond the basic shape of objects, it's possible to define their colour and material, or deform them into completely new shapes, patterns and groupings. Everything in the world - from whole maps down to custom objects and items - can be saved and, depending on the permissions you define, be loaded, used and further tweaked by the community.
Other options let you change how physics affects an object: whether it has a physical presence in the world, whether it's static or movable, and whether it obeys the laws of gravity. Alternatively, if you don't want to get into the minutia of how an object works, the behaviours menu offers off-the-shelf items - like jump-pads and teleporters - that can aid in the creation of levels.
The upshot of these possibilities is that levels and designs can come together quickly and collaboratively. You can switch between avatar and creative floating god hand with a press of the Tab key, easily letting you drop in and test your designs, or - in multiplayer sessions - allowing certain players to build things as others are playing the level. In our demo, Hindle demonstrated the pathing system by creating a platform under my avatar, then giving it a course to follow whenever I pressed a specific key.(opens in new tab)
The level options expand out to let creators set lighting and world properties. UemeU's creators are even thinking about a voxel-based terrain system, allowing for the generation of infinite worlds and varied biomes. Overall, it's an impressively powerful tool, and one that's starting to show its potential for those not interested in the creation side of creativity.
In the tradition of the Minecraft community's adventure maps, UemeU wants to fully support the making and playing of what are essentially in-game games: everything from platformers and RPGs, to stealth games and race maps. Creators can even define the permissions of their level - ensuring players can't cheat or reverse engineer their way to victory. Beyond that, the game and its makers are extremely mod friendly, to the point that Hindle assures that they will be actively engaging the community, and implementing many of the ideas and solutions they create.
Right now, UemeU's biggest problem is that its avatar controls are too clunky to support the type of games it could enable. That's a problem its makers are aware of, though, and a full control overhaul is on the way. If that goes well, and the game can attract the right mix of challenge-hungry players and talented, expressive creators, the potential for what it could offer seems almost limitless.
UemeU is now available as an early access alpha.