Monday, August 09, 2010
A Tale in the Desert 5 - Day Two
No doubt some of you are wondering what the heck a player is doing all day in a game like A Tale in the Desert, which has no quests and no monsters to kill. So I’ll explain a bit taking my second day in ATitD 5 as example: The three main activities in A Tale in the Desert are doing so-called “tests”, doing gathering or crafting, or exploring the game world. The “tests” are comparable to quests, but much, much bigger. There are seven disciplines in ATitD, like architecture, body, or art, and each of them has a series of tests in increasing difficulty. On my second day I finished two of these tests, the initiation tests for architecture and for body. The architecture test involved expanding my house (called a “compound”) from the initial 6 to 16 spaces, which needed a good number of various basic materials. But then, I wanted to have a bigger house anyway, so the test was just an added bonus. The body test gave me 20 minutes to run around exploring, trying to find 35 different plants, which was easy enough after asking in chat which direction was best to find plants from the School of Body. Each test made me gain a level, so I’m now level 3, with each level unlocking new skills I can learn.
The gathering and crafting part of A Tale in the Desert is the biggest part. There are a very large number of different materials in the game, and many different “machines” you can build to transform them. For example I was making some ropes on my second day. I had learned how to make flax on the first day, and received some flax seeds of a basic kind called Old Egypt. Standing anywhere on grassland gives you the option to plant a flax seed, so a small flax field pops up. You’ll first see some flax plants growing, and then you see some weeds that appear. You can weed those out, but at first you should not do that, and instead let the flax field grow wild. Every minute or so you can harvest one flax seed from the wild field for about 5 minutes, thus multiplying your seeds. Once you have enough seeds, you plant them again but weed them this time. After weeding twice, you can harvest your flax. Then you need to put the flax in water (it is generally advisable to build near water for various purposes), and let it rot for some minutes. You collect the rotted flax, and proceed to treat it in a flax comb, which you had to build first. That separates the flax into straw, tow, and lint. The tow can be spun in another machine you need to build, a distaff, into twine. The twine can be spun in the same distaff into rope.
A Tale in the Desert is definitively a niche game, with just a few thousand players. Many people think that lets say making rope in the way I just described is less exciting than killing monsters. But if you look at it closer, you’ll see that killing monsters in a typical MMORPG involves only a very limited number and variety of mouse clicks. Making that rope in ATitD involves *more* different steps, decisions, and clicks than doing a standard quest in World of Warcraft. And that is just one production path, making other materials like bricks or boards works differently, unlike crafting in WoW where making a potion or a sword works in exactly the same one-click way. With time you get access to more and more different production paths, some of them quite elaborate mini-games. I’m already looking forward to blacksmithing, which involves hammering a block of metal into shape in 3D, trying to get as close to a given ideal shape as possible. The many different activities also allow for division of labor, where by trade or working in a guild each player can concentrate on the production he finds most fun.
The other major activity I did on my second day in ATitD 5 was to run around and explore. The map of Egypt in ATitD is huge, much bigger than let’s say Azeroth, and it would literally take hours to run from one edge to the other. Besides running there are other forms of transportation, like chariots, but at the start I could only run. On my first exploration trip I found some wild sheep. Later in the game I will be able to carry a wild sheep back home and breed them in a sheep pen. But with that technology not yet researched, I could only slaughter the sheep. That has a less than 50:50 chance of success, but from the 4 sheep I found, I managed to successfully slaughter one, which resulted in me receiving among other stuff 2 leather. With that leather as “tuition fee”, I was then able to learn exploration travel at a School of Harmony. I had built my compound quite close to an expedition site, to which I can now teleport. But teleportation requires “travel time”, which you can acquire while offline, provided you have a paid-for account and not just a free trial account. A subscription costs $14 a month, with several multi-month packages available. As I started to really get into this game, I decided to subscribe for at least one month, so now I’ll be able to teleport back home from my exploration runs.
I did some more exploration, in the hope of finding a medium stone, which I will need later to make a pottery wheel. Medium stones are hard to get at the start of the game, but some are distributed over the map at the start of the game. Also papyrus is spawned that way at the start of the game. I found 6 more wild sheep, and was more successful in slaughtering this time, getting 6 leather out of 3 successful attempts. Unfortunately I found neither medium stones nor papyrus. However I met another player who had already found several medium stones, and was willing to give me one for free. A Tale in the Desert is a cooperative multiplayer game with strong social interactions, and people tend to be *much* nicer than in other MMORPGs. You can even ask stupid newbie questions in regional chat and receive good answers instead of being laughed at as a n00b.
Collaboration makes sense on many levels in ATitD. One is research: Many technologies become only available for one region after a large number of resources has been donated to an university in that region. So most of the ropes I made as described earlier went as my donation towards the research of the technology to form guilds. Another area of collaboration is making machines available for use to the public, or your guild. I mentioned making a pottery wheel out of medium stone, but that requires the stone cutting technology to be researched, and then a rock saw to be built to cut the medium stone. With such a rock saw needing 15 leather, and me just having found 6 in a long exploration trip, it is better for me to cooperate with other players to build one rock saw for all of us together.
A third kind of collaboration then happened at the end of my second day: Another player organized a “public dig”. You can find medium and smaller stones by digging a deep hole with a shovel. But a solo player can’t do it, because the hole collapses faster than you can dig. The solution is to organize a larger group of players to dig on the same hole together. The dig I participated in was organized for one hour, and had 48 participants. Most of them dug, three players gathered all the stones and dumped them on the dig organizer, and at the end the organizer distributed the stones evenly among all participants. That way I got 4 medium stones (of which I returned one to the guy who had given me one earlier), and 26 smaller stones. And this was organized just like that, via public chat, with 48 players who didn’t know each other and were not guilded. With no loot drama or people fearing that the organizer would just keep all the stones, just through the common interest we had by all having settled in the same region. The community is definitively one of the strongest points of A Tale in the Desert, and it is difficult to imagine a working spontaneous collaboration between strangers without anyone complaining or getting cheated in a game like WoW or EVE. And while you might think that the size of the game is responsible for that, or that a different sort of people plays ATitD than play the other games, I do think that the game design also plays a big role here: MMORPG players react strongly to rewards, and if the incentives for collaboration are obviously better than those for ignoring or backstabbing each other, people will behave nicely. In spite of there being far fewer players in A Tale in the Desert, you might well end up feeling less lonely there than for example trying to play World of Warcraft without a good guild.