Once asked what he thought was the most innovative MMO from the last decade, Dr. Richard Bartle, the creator of MUD, gave a succinct answer: “A Tale in the Desert. Note that ‘innovative’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘successful.'”
Right there is the crux of A Tale in the Desert’s unique position in the MMO industry. Instead of storming down a path well-traveled, it took a machete and made its own trail — a trail down which few have followed. It is an “odd duck” of a game, skewing as far away from combat as possible to focus instead on crafting and politics. Even though its focus pegged it as an eternally niche game, the MMO proved that constant fighting isn’t the only thing that can draw an online community together.
Have you ever noticed that you play it way too safe in your MMOs, especially when it comes to interacting (or not) with others? Aywren of Sygnus wrote an honest blog post lately in which she felt challenged to examine and even buck her “safe patterns” in life and gaming and to try to get out of her rut and try new things.
“On my gaming blog, I’ve talked about my struggles with grouping in MMOs, and how FFXIV specifically had to pick me up and forcibly throw me out of my safe zone if I wanted to keep playing it. This is something I still struggle with,” she admitted. “I do everything I can to avoid stressful dungeons, raids or classes. I’m still afraid of tanking and healing for strangers outside my FC.”
Join us for more thought-provoking blog posts from the MMO community as we fill up your screen with the latest in Global Chat!
Last summer, we included classic sandbox A Tale in the Desert in our Whatever Happened To column as one of those games that had just slipped off our radar. That was because of how relatively quiet the game had become since its ownership changeover in 2014 and seventh Telling in 2015. Back then, there were whispers of an eighth Telling – that’s the world reboot the game periodically goes through – but there’d been nothing major since.
Until now. ATITD sent out a news blast to players this week alerting them to the fact that the beta test for the Tale 8 is complete and the real deal has launched as of yesterday..
“Tale 8 introduces factions to the game, upon leaving Welcoming Island you must decide on a faction you wish to be apart of,” says Pluribus Games. “Your interactions with your faction will be rewarded, giving you new powers to build community buildings and participate in community events.”
Most MMORPGs have the core sandbox problem: Whoever gets there first, controls all the toys and has the power to drive everyone else away. Even in a themepark, the “richest” players, whether they control the gold or the dungeons or the gear or the PvP, eventually help kill the game.
That’s the subject of a Raph Koster blog that recently popped back up on my radar. Koster, known for ecosystem-oriented virtual world MMOs like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, is subtly making the case for MMOs that end, even if that end starts a new beginning. It’ll sound familiar to A Tale In The Desert players, surely, or anybody watching Koster’s latest MMO, Crowfall.
In the service of his argument, he references a blog post about the age of the world’s best tennis players, which just keeps rising. Is it because the olds are innately better at tennis? Nope. It’s because the “winners” are entrenched in a rich-get-richer situation that ensures “the typical person in the system ends up below average.” The more the winners win, the more money they have to ensure they win more, whether that’s with better coaches, better equipment, better medical treatment, or just plain more time to train, which makes it progressively more expensive (on all fronts) for newcomers to compete… until the newbies stop trying and the olds start retiring.
And then? The whole system collapses.
Ever pause during your day and find yourself wondering, “What ever happened to that game?” With hundreds upon hundreds of online titles these days, it’s surprisingly easy for MMOs to fall through the cracks and become buried as more aggressive or active games take the spotlight.
Well, every so often we here at Massively Overpowered find ourselves curious what has transpired with certain MMOs that we haven’t heard from in quite a while. Have we missed the action and notices? Has the game gone into stealth maintenance mode? What’s the deal? What has it been up to lately?
That’s when we put on our detective hats and go sleuthing. Today we look at whatever happened to PlanetSide 2, A Tale in the Desert, and Istaria (witness protection program name: Horizons).
Even though there are hundreds and thousands of MMOs spanning several decades, only a small handful were so incredibly influential that they changed the course of development for games from then on out. DikuMUD is one of these games, and it is responsible for more of what you experience in your current MMOs than you even know.
Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone knows what DikuMUD is or how it shaped the MMOs that came out after it. You might have seen it used as a pejorative in enough comments that you know it is loathed by many gamers, but I find that there are varying degrees of ignorance about DikuMUD in the community. What is it, exactly? Why is it just the worst? And is it really the worst if we like the games that can point to this text-based MMO as a key ancestor?
Today we’re going to dispel the mystery and myths of DikuMUD to lay it out there as it was and is today.
Last week, an interesting question dropped into our team inbox. It was from a game developer — I don’t know for which game — named Matthew.
“As a developer, I’d be really interested to know what MMO gamers think about the idea of a ‘prestige system’ in an MMO, akin to Call of Duty’s, to encourage players who reach the endgame content to play through the game again from level 1 (with a different approach). Especially in the context of a game that has enough choices and options to make replaying the game interesting. My small studio doesn’t have the resource to produce an expansive endgame, and this seems like it could be a viable option.”
There are a handful of MMORPGs that try this already — Mabinogi is coming to mind — but it’s very rare in the RPG genre in general, and I bet you guys can think up a few reasons why. So let’s tackle the question for this week’s Overthinking: Which games have prestige systems that encourage you to replay your character from level 1, why do you think it’s so rare in MMORPGs, and how would you like to see such a system play out in a genre that prides itself on character development and permanence?
Stronghold Kingdoms developer Firefly Studios claims to be making history today by becoming “the first developer to place the fate of entire game worlds in the hands of its players.” We suspect games like A Tale in the Desert and Shards Online might quibble with that, but the rationale is certainly interesting: The game’s upcoming expansion, Final Age, is expected to “give a single player, the Marshall of a winning House, the option end their game world with the press of a single button.”
“In this expansion a single House of players must conquer and capture all Royal Towers, a new PvE target on the world map, before deciding whether or not to press ‘The Button’ and close their world forever. Players are then rewarded with multiple prize tiers based on their rank and position at world end, with up to $500 of in-game loot each.”
The strategy MMO is also due to offer a revamped iOS and Android client. There is no date yet for those versions or for the Final Age expansion, so take heart: You don’t have to worry about some jerk deleting your mapserver on a whim just yet.
No MMO can be in the spotlight eternally. Even some of the biggest names out there — your World of Warcrafts, your Guild Wars 2s, your Star Stables — wax and wane in the amount of press and attention they get depending on what they’re doing and how well their PR department is functioning.
It doesn’t take much for a title to fall off of practically everyone’s radar. In some cases it’s merely a matter of passing time and slipping popularity, but in others it’s just that the game or its marketing team hasn’t done anything of note in a long, long time. So that’s when you get MMOs that, when mentioned, cause the listener to cock an eyebrow and say, “Huh. That’s still around?”
Today we’re going to look at 10 such titles — not to demean them or laugh at some misfortune but to call attention to MMOs that are still humming along even though they’re not headlining news or ripping up Steam charts.
World of Warcraft: Legion and Blizzard’s recent decisions were at the forefront of a couple of recent MMO blog posts as of late, their authors noting how the studio cannot easily react to community objections or bad development choices.
Alternative Chat used the issue of Rogues protesting the lack of Ravenholdt as their class base to show that the studio can’t adjust on the fly: “What’s abundantly apparent however is that Blizzard isn’t for turning. This is not up for discussion. The problem here is that this makes [the] objection seem completely redundant, and that’s just wrong.”
Gamer By Design followed that post up by talking about why Blizzard lacks the ability to turn quickly: “Having a deep pipeline means less downtime due to waiting on others; you’re almost always busy, which is good from a financial and throughput perspective. But having a deep pipeline also means you’re very much not agile.”
Marching on with today’s round-up of community blog posts, we have a loving retrospective of Lord of the Rings Online, a debate about factions, a look at in-game holidays, and more!
We’ve known for a little while that A Tale in the Desert’s next “telling” was on its way, but now we have firmer details as to how and when that will happen.
The sandbox’s lead developer Pluribus took a poll of the community as to a start date, with the community electing to reboot into Tale 7 on September 11th. This will allow for players to wrap up projects and goals between now and then. Pluribus said that the servers will go offline on September 8th to get ready for the next telling and that he’s looking into ways for players to reserve their character names, skip levels, and preorder subscription time for Tale 7.
We’ve got a partial transcript of the dev chat for you to read after the jump!
A Tale in the Desert’s current “telling” — Tale 6 — has been running a long time, ever since its debut in 2011. Since then, the game has transitioned to new management and gone extremely quiet. Fortunately it looks as though the Egyptian sandbox’s famous reset button will be hit in the near future.
Several sources are reporting that Tale 6 is heading for an end while Tale 7 is currently in testing. A Tale in the Desert boasts a fairly unique mechanism in which the entire game will periodically restart with new rules and challenges. With Tale 7, the team is bringing back conflict tests and adding things like stone hatchets and (yes) sheep pox.
If there’s one thing that always, always goes with MMOs, it’s combat. I mean, we can’t be a hero without killing something, right? We can’t explore a virtual world of wonder without needing to murder a small chunk of it, no?
And as exciting and replayable and institutional as combat is, sometimes… sometimes I get a little tired of it. Being in games where everything revolves around supporting combat in some way or directly fighting can be mentally exhausting. So the Massively OP team and I sat around one afternoon trying to name MMOs where combat is not just rare but absent entirely.
We thought we could name only a small handful, but we quickly stormed our way past 10, and that’s not even counting sports MMOs, text-based MUSHes, and the iffy status of Puzzle Pirates. So if you’re looking for an online game that isn’t about stabbing, punching, or fireballing goblins to death, here are attempts by the industry to provide alternatives!