Thursday, July 17, 2003
A Tale in the Desert
Of all the MMORPGs I played, A Tale in the Desert is probably the most unusual one. The game plays in ancient Egypt and you play one Egyptian citizen. The game is all about resources. The most simple resources you can collect: sand, grass, mud, and so on. Then there are buildings where you can transform those simple resources into more complicated ones. For example from sand, mud, and straw (dried grass) you can build bricks. Then you can use the bricks to build other buildings, which allow you other resource transformations, and so on.
There is no combat. There are no experience points or levels. But there are skills, which you can learn at schools. Learning those skills costs again resources. There are no quests, but there are "tests". These tests are rather varied. Some you have to do certain things in a certain time. Others you have to work together with your fellow players. Social interaction is very important in ATITD, several resources can only be reached when 3 to 5 people work together.
I stumbled upon this game by accident, a recommendation by somebody I knew from another game. The client is a free download. You can play a certain time for free. A very customer-friendly approach, try before you buy. If you then want to continue playing it costs the usual $13 per month like many other games, but you never have to pay the $50 for the box and CD like the other games force you to. Recommended.
Is it the perfect game? No, the perfect game doesn't exist. There are about 100 different buildings and a similar number of different resources right now. And there is a lot of variety, for example flax is planted differently than vegetables. Making charcoal is some sort of mini-game, where you try to balance heat, oxygen, and wood with the danger of the whole thing blowing up. But if you play ATITD for 2 or 3 months, you reach the limits of the game. Once you have built more or less every building, made more or less every resource, and tried you hand in different tests, there isn't anything interesting left to do.
Like many online games, ATITD isn't finished. Every new patch not only fixes bugs, but also modifies the game, and creates new content. Some people dislike that, but I think its an advantage. Especially in ATITD, where the players have an usually large influence over how the game is modified. One way for a player to do so is to write a petition in-game. He then has to get 40 people to sign that petition. And then the petition is voted upon for some days. If it receives 60% or more YES votes, the petition is passed to the developers. And while the developers can always veto a petition, either because it is too hard to program, or because it doesn't fit the concept of the game, there are a number of petitions that have passed and been implemented.
Yesterday I participated in an in-game developer chat (on the German server). The players discussed with the lead designer that it was difficult to meet other players, because the map is so huge. There is a teleportation system, but it was limited to teleporting to a few places you set a waypoint to, and this teleportation cost too much of a special resource "navigation time". So the lead designer (named Pharaoh) proposed several suggestions for improvement, let the players rate his proposals on a scale from 1 to 5, and then implemented the suggestion that got the highest score. And the impressing thing was that he implemented it DURING THE CHAT. Well, obviously he had already coded it in and just needed to release the code. But other game companies need to take down their servers for hours for such changes. Pharaoh added public waypoints and halved the navigation time cost while the game was running. Both his cooperation with the players and the speed of implementation is something you won't see in bigger games like Everquest.
Still, I'm cancelling my account next weekend. End of the month I'll be on holiday for three weeks, with no computer access. And then I want to start SWG. And as I said, after a couple of months I've run out of things to do in ATITD. But I will remember it fondly and recommend it.
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