Development for Earth and Beyond—originally designated as Project G—began in 1997. By 2001, Westwood had created content for over 100 sectors of playable space. Public Beta for the game began on March 9, 2002, allowing up to 100,000 new players to roam the sectors and test content. The finished game launched on September 24, 2002. It was initially shipped in limited quantities to retailers to allow for smooth experience as new players sign on to the servers. In January 2003, the main story line and accompanying events began. This required all players to download a patch and wait for servers to be upgraded. This was the first of regular monthly story driven updates designed to gradually change the game environment as the plot unfolded. In June that year, players met a new race - the Vrix. This was a substantial update to the online universe, adding many more missions for higher level players and improving the intelligence of all NPCs in the game.