The world of MMOGs is dominated by the same few big names, stoically doing their thing and backed by big money. So when one comes along that's a complete breath of fresh air and is self-published (and surviving that way), it makes a refreshing change. That's just what happened with the original A Tale In The Desert, the non-combat online adventure based entirely in ancient Egypt.
As a premise, I admit it sounds slightly insane - and if I hadn't spent many nights happily experimenting with scarab beetle breeding, weaving flax and worrying whether my camels were getting enough to eat, I'd be concerned that this was some kind of Myst-style adventure with a few pyramids thrown in. But instead, it turned out to be an incredibly original experience, with many innovative ideas - not to mention being an interesting experiment in virtual social anthropology.
Unlike other online games, ATITD was never meant to go on and on. Right from the start, it was thought that the game was a proper 'game', with a very definite beginning, middle and end, perpetuated by the challenges that eGenesis would reveal to its players. A year-and-a-half later, the original game is wrapping up
and players are preparing to face new challenges in the Second Telling, ATITD2.
Same But Different
Although you're still in the same game world, with many of the same building materials around and basic creation systems, the main difference in Tale 2 is that there's much more of a town-and-country feel. This is achieved in two remarkably simple but hugely effective ways. The first is by making players build their various implements for doing things (like flax weaving, brick-making or carpentry) inside compounds, which you can also customise.
The second way is by creating a new travel system for the game, done by allowing players to run twice as fast on roads and locations called chariot stops. These depart every ten minutes or so and mean you can instantaneously travel to other parts of Egypt for free. You can see compounds springing up all around these chariot stops already in the beta, creating a more town-like feel, which is just what eGenesis intended.
Of course, there's still going to be the vast wide open areas that characterised the first game, where you could run through the quiet depths of an ancient land with the setting sun on your back, a pocket full of mushrooms and not see a soul. And when you did see someone, you'd greet each other cheerfully, exchange acrobatic moves and petition signatures and carry on running. No elves, no goblins. It was incredibly peaceful.
The developer has implemented a new vegetation system in the game too, which gives players 200,000 unique trees and plants to experiment with. You can chop them up, use them to build with or make interesting lotions, potions and tasty stews.
What's more, as well as new colours and textures that help bring the landscape to life, ATITD2 also boasts new sound elements, which means that this time around, all your actions have accompanying sound. This is a real bonus and enlivens the game no end.
One of the most interesting challenges in this new incarnation is the new mining system. Previously, you had to earn the skills that would allow you to dowse for certain types of ores - iron being the easiest to find and ores like zinc being much harder. Once you'd located some ore, you had to build a mine and start digging the ore up.
This time around, there are no ore seams and you can build mines wherever you want. Instead of digging up ore, you dig up ore stones, which are covered in coloured and patterned crystals. When melted down, different combinations of these crystals give you metal. After that, you have the dubious experimental fun
of finding out which combinations produce what. It may sound rather complicated, but ATITD players tend to relish challenges - you can bet that corners of the Web will be filling up with tables and charts in no time.