Tobold's Blog
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.
Comments:
Sounds great. Not a game for me, though. Combat is mandatory for me.

But I would LOVE to play an MMO that included those mechanics you described.

About the community: Now compare that to an automated mechanism that teleports random people who do not depend on each other and will never meet again into some predesigned, never changing, super-easy 'dungeon' to gain more of the ever-same 'badges'.

Believe it or not: This dig was organised by somebody. It wasn't a soulless mechanism that teleported you in and automatically distributed the 'rewards' afterwards.
 
Well you've persuaded me that I want to try this game. Can't do this week but it's certainly something I'm going to have a look at now :)
 
I was at the dig originally, but had to leave. Who are you in game? I'm Quixotic.

I think I'm going to go ahead and pay for the subscription tonight. Though I never have enough time to really invest in these games, I feel like my subscription dollars helping to continue a game about building vs. destroying is a good thing.
 
Thanks for the extensive post, I hope you'll continue to write about this game! It seems very interesting and fun to me, and I would love to try it now that a new season has begun. Unfortunately, I just don't have the time for it... Maybe next season!
 
I was at the dig originally, but had to leave. Who are you in game? I'm Quixotic.

I'm Tobold. Sue me for not coming up with a more original name for my character.

I don't remember having seen a Quixotic, but then I would assume that there was more than one public dig in ATitD yesterday, as there are several regions, and chat is region-wide, not Egypt-wide. I'm in the Sterope region.
 
This game sounds great. I love games where you build and explore primarily--games where vertical growth is a product more of exploring game systems than it is of doing repetitive tasks. Also, I love the idea that I'm working towards material gain in the world that is physical for all to see. Building a compound, gathering and crafting to improve it, and exploring to find new resources: this really appeals to me.

Thanks for featuring this game, Tobold. You've opened my eyes to a game I might not have otgerwise bothered to investigate in much depth.
 
I love love love crafting. Seriously, I almost kept a LOTRO account just to crossbreed tobacco. HOWEVER, I tried ATitD and it just isn't pretty for my WoW-spoiled eyes. So I went back to leveling my second priest on a different server.
 
Ahh, I was in Maia. The borders of the game are still alien to me. But I'm loving it. The exploration and crafting is keeping me distracted from a long boring day of database work.
 
You totally turned me on to this game again, having played in tales 1 and 3. Played a few hours yesterday and great fun so far.

I'm also in Sterope, and have to agree the community is great. After the dig (which I missed) there was a leadership party at the School of Leadership. Several people turned up (the test requires you get 21 signatures on a petition ) and again there was a great vibe, like you described at the dig, with many people sticking around after their own petitions were done to help others.

-Sasha of Sterope
 
ATITD is a thinking man's game, rewarding patience and cooperation. It also has its fair share of conflict and drama, as you'd naturally get when you get people interacting with each other.

I fell in love with it when Van Hemlock and you wrote about it ages ago. It's always had a special place in my heart since, because it does MMO so differently.

Thanks for covering the game, hope it engenders more interest among the blogging community!

Do stick around for the new techs. Fishing is quite interesting this tale with all the bugs (er, as in insects) popping out of the woodwork!
 
I really want to be able to play this game. The crafting system is incredible. I find myself wanting to build a big compound, with every construction/device and explore every aspect of the crafting game.

But I can't. The whole thing is hidden behind this absurd popularity contest. I can't learn to build, mine, farm, etc, until I beg or bribe a couple dozen people to watch me do a dance, or click on a statue I made and say they like it, or a dozen other inane things.

I really want to play this game for the crafting, but you can't get to the crafting without acting like a little whiny kid, shouting for his mommy to come watch him do this or that. I'll stick with Wurm Online.
 
When I first heard about this game, I was really interesed. Then I found out they reset it every season. Permanent toon improvement is a must for me so I didn't check it out.

As others have said though, incorporating the crafting and teamwork elements of this game into other MMOs would be really cool.
 
People! Please don't get caught up in all these seemingly good qualities of ATITD. The game is truly terrible. The support staff is corrupt almost 100% of the time. Every single planned event by the dev and support team turns out to be incredibly buggy or just outright not work the way they say it will. I have a long experience with this game and I can say with total conviction that you will be better of avoiding this game.
 
Tried out this game last night, and had enough fun that I started a subscription. I wandered off and found a secluded valley in Sinai with all of my basic necessities nearby (though I have to trek a bit to find thorns) and set up a compound.

The interface was a bit annoying to get used to at first without having free camera control or WASD movement (or even arrow keys or keyboard shortcuts unless you minimize the chat window, which I found to be a very odd limitation) but when I stopped thinking of it as an MMO and more as the Sims, it felt a lot more natural.

I'm not much of a social person, but I love having non-combat objectives to work towards. One guy stumbled upon my compound, and he needed thread to learn the fishing skill, and noticed I had a bunch of it just sitting there (I didn't understand how much thread a small amount of lint would make, and ended up having over 200 units of it) so he traded me some of the wood and bricks I needed to build my compound for some thread. It works out pretty well. Otherwise I haven't really been interacting with people. Needing to have the chat window minimized to use keyboard shortcuts makes chatting difficult.

I'm looking forward to learning how to fish, though it might take me a while since I apparently need dirt in order to learn how to find bugs to make lures, and I have no idea how I'm supposed to get a shovel. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. Until then, I'll just keep on building things in my compound!
 
So.. its harder to make a rope on ATITD than it is to save the day on a monster huntin quest on WoW or any other fantasy mmo ? I'm not feeling it, got to say.

What happened when you failed to butcher the sheep, they got you instead? :)
 
As has happened before, I tried a game just because Tobold wrote about it and I spent some time in A Tale in the Desert over the weekend.

As chance would have it, I actually spawned in the same region where Tobold settled so his compound should be somewhere rather near mine I guess.

It IS indeed a totally different game. Things I found so far is that is quite relaxing to just go and build things. It gets kind of slow after a while though, but then again, so does levelling in an MMO.

It doesn't look very pretty but that is probably not the point anyway.

Also, Tobold wrote before that it is a huge sandbox and that is certainly a fact. After I finished the tutorial and the first 'test', becoming a citizen of Egypt by doing more tasks that pretty much teach you how to get to the point where you can make rope and build a compound, there's no easy way to figure out what to do next.

I saw there are seven schools, picked Leadership at random, figured out where the nearest Leadership School is, walked down there in about 10 minutes. Easy going right? Not really, as I get there I see you need to be level 2 to take the Test of Leadership, and the skills I could buy there asked for a bunch of things I haven't a clue how to make. I think some of them could not even be made yet in the region as the first rock saw was finished only later that day.

So back to the starting point where the school of architecture did give a Test I could do, build a compound and expand it to 16 'cells'. For which I am still making bricks, wooden boards, various flax products, etc.

It's definitely a whole other game, for sure.
 
@Vads: Making your first rope does take a while indeed.

You need to:

Get Slate which can be dug up near water wherever the dig for slate icon lights up. With two pieces of Slate, you make a Stone Blade which regularly fails as you break the Slate trying to make a Stone Blade.

With a Stone Blade and four Slate you make a Wood Plane.

Gather Wood from trees, and use the Wood Plane to make Boards. The Wood Plane breaks regularly and then you need a new Stone Blade for it.

With Boards, you make Brick Racks.

Gather Grass and drop it and wait a bit for it to dry into Straw.

With gathered Mud, gathered Sand and Straw, you make Bricks (and Brick Racks break too).

With Bricks, Boards and Thorns (gathered from thorny plants), you make a Flax Comb.

Tobold described the growing of Flax already.

When you have Flax, put it in water and let it rot for a few minutes to get Rotten Flax.

With the Flax Comb and Rotten Flax, you get Lint, Tow and Straw.

Build a Small Distaff from Boards and Bricks.

Use the Small Distaff to spin Tow into Twine.

Use the Small Distaff to spin Twine into Rope.

And there you go, you have Rope. If you start out new with target 'Make Rope' for the first time, you're looking at a couple hours.
 
I played ATITD during Tales 1 & 2. The game has a great community and many great ideas that make it pretty unique. Unfortunately many of these ideas are poorly implemented if implemented at all due to lack of manpower (IIRC, there are 1-2.5 devs working on the game) or lack of interest from the creator of the game (tests aren't validated on time, laws aren't implemented at all, etc.).

But the worst part is that the basic gameplay of the game is boring as hell. E.g. you need 200 boards to build your compound (100 to buy the skill, 100 for the compound itself), making these boards means clicking on the board plane every 5 seconds 200 times. And many other crafting activities boil down to "click a button, wait x seconds". A job for a bot/macro not for a player. As a matter of fact, macroing (which is allowed if attended) is rampant in the game as it is the only way to make it bearable.

So sure, when advertising the game, players will talk about blacksmithing, glassblowing or gem cutting which are fun minigames but represent a tiny part of what a player does.

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.

Trade is not very developped in ATITD because it is very expensive. There is no auction house, so if you need something you need to find a player that has the item you want. There is no currency as well, so once you've found someone who has what you're looking for, you need to find something to give him. Without any market nor currency, values of items are unknown "how many rotten flax for this sheep?". Finally, assuming you've found someone who has what you want and who is willing to take what you offer, you'll need to meet each other somewhere : 10-20 minutes run to go to the nearest chariot stop. All these overhead costs make trading worth only for rare items. Eventually, players have to be self-sufficient for most of the items they can produce.
 
Part of its beauty is the reward for Explorer types to figure out mechanisms for excellence.

When I first started, I was also caught up in the day-to-day nitty gritty of "oh, I need this, so I need that, and I have to go pick slate, in order to get something else done. Argh."

Over time, observing veterans at the game, they build up huge amounts of infrastructure and stocks, so that 3000 bricks are already sitting there waiting when you need to build something. Rather than having to pick grass one blade at a time, starting from scratch.

Wood planes - ah, the dreary wood plane. So slow. P once every couple seconds. And then it breaks. And you have to get slate. For stone blades.

So you set up 6-8 wood planes in a handy rectangle or circle around you, you prep 100+ slate for the blades... Then you minimize chat, hold down P, and wave the mouse over the whole bunch, repairing broken planes as you go. Voila 200-300 boards done.

Flax is also interesting. Again, when I started, I was struggling with ten beds or so. I had no clue how the vets were doing it.

Then eventually figured out that disabling hotkeys on flax meant that your character didn't run to each bed. Suddenly 6 x 6 beds was something I could handle, with lots of abuse on the mouse button.

I didn't like that, so I looked at the metagame of writing your own macro. Worked out one to handle the multiple clicks with a keyboard press, and I can flax at 40+ beds a go if lag doesn't get me. That is a pace that even many vets (except the most hardcore) cannot handle, which makes it a valuable skill / trade resource.

Try as I might, I haven't figured out other metagames yet, like blacksmithing or gemcutting, so one relies on others for those.

One could barter trade, if one is determined to try and live in self-sufficiency. No determined value on resources simply means you can set the price to whatever it is worth to you. Someone who grows flax easily might value it less and cuttable stones more. Whereas someone who always organises digs but hates flax, will have plenty of stones.

There is also The Goods, a player set up organisation that has created player currency (Goodscript).

Or you could simply communally live together and share resources. Lots of different ways to play ATITD.
 
Wow, so many comments. Haven't had time to read them all.

However, my friend and I were thinking about giving this game a try. I stumbled on your blog looking up information about it. You have definately swung my vote in favor of trying.

Don't think I have time to start now, but tomorrow or maybe after the weekend I will.

Thanks for writing about it in such detail and I hope to read more of you adventures soon.

~Marc
 
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