By Brad Cook
Ive returned to Egypt, where my guide, known simply as Kaaryu, waits. Thanks to the power of digital magic, he transports us to Builder Island, where we meet other A Tale in the Desert (ATITD) players and learn more about whats new in the game. As in previous versions or Tellings, as theyre known in ATITD parlance time has passed since the end of the last game, and Egypt has changed a bit.
In the fourth Telling, the Pharaoh died and his sons, Sami and Wahim, competed to succeed him. Where previous Tellings had a mysterious Stranger who gave the citizens of Egypt various Tests to pass, culminating in seven massive monuments, Wahim assumed that role. The conflict between the brothers eventually came down to a player vote.
If Sami won, players would be able to vote on the technologies used in the next Telling, but any constructed monuments would be considered false, and the final Tests used to build them would not pass on. If Wahim won, the monuments and their Tests would be handed to the next generation of Egyptians, but all new skills and technologies wouldnt. Sami emerged victorious, and as the fifth Telling opens, his grandson presides over Egypt. Kaaryu notes that the storyline is shrouded in mystery this time; much is left to be revealed.
A Life of its Own
We will have events that will tie into the storyline, and the outcome of those events will affect the direction of the storyline a bit, explains player RosieRazor, who has joined us to watch another summon some of the fifth Tellings new buildings and objects. Yet another player, TheMazeEcho, chimes in to recall past incidents, such as the crates that washed ashore during the third Telling and unleashed a plague when players opened them.
Creativity itself is a skill that can be developed, just like woodworking or martial arts. Theres all sorts of stuff in ATITD where players are challenged to create something for their peers, and if their peers like it, they advance.- Andrew Tepperson, ATITD creator
Such events typically act as gentle nudges for the players, who greatly influence the way each Telling unfolds. ATITD creator Andrew Tepperson notes that many events and Tests take on a life of their own: Im always surprised at how politics plays off content that was never intended to be political. For instance, a fairly recent development has been Obelisk Queues. The Test of the Obelisk has been around in various forms since Tale 1 its one of the original Tests. And while its gotten more sophisticated over the years, it still amounts to Build a bigger Obelisk than anyone else, and have it remain the biggest for a certain amount of time.
Now suppose its near the start of the Tale, and competition is brisk. You might expect a frantic race to build a really big obelisk one that could not be topped for the requisite amount of time. But thats not always what we see: players put social pressure on each other not to build such a big obelisk they negotiate to be the one allowed to build one foot higher than the last, and then everyone else waits.
Of course, the strategy isnt foolproof: sometimes a player will ignore the rules and build one much bigger anyway, so theres always a tension to the politics, but when I first designed the Test, I never imagined a political component at all. The Test of the Obelisk remains in the fifth Telling, as part of the Architecture discipline.
From the Ground Up
The communal aspect is something that continues to attract many players to ATITD. Rosie, for example, had never played an online game before joining this one. She notes: I hear a lot of players say they play because they like the crafting system, the sense of community, and the lack of violence. When I first started, I thought it was great how picking up a couple pieces of slate and wood would eventually turn into a compound and buildings.
The fact that you build instead of destroy is a very nice change, TheMazeEcho chimes in.
Kaayru adds: Another thing I like is that the developer doesnt explain anything about a new system at first. You have to figure it out, like the new fishing system: I couldnt catch a single fish at first.
On that subject, Tepperson says: It had long bugged me that ATITD, with probably the most sophisticated crafting system of any MMO, had a fishing system that sucked. So I set out to design something that really has lots of depth, lots of subtlety. So now the system takes into account different types and qualities of lure. Species of fish have certain seasons and times of day that they bite. They have geographical distribution, innate rarity, difficulties that tie into your character stats, and a bunch of other complexities to discover.
Unearthing the New
That sense of discovery is what prompts players to return for one Telling after another. For example, Tepperson expects the fifth Tellings revamped mining system to keep players literally digging for more: Its a straight-up puzzle, presented in versions that are very easy to very difficult. So, mining copper and iron is quite easy, but mining gold is hard.
With four Tellings under his belt and the fifth beginning to dole out small doses of storyline intrigue, Tepperson muses on what hes learned about human nature: Ive realized that creativity itself is a skill that can be developed, just like woodworking or martial arts. This is still counter to conventional wisdom, but I predict that that will change within 10 years. Theres all sorts of stuff in ATITD where players are challenged to create something for their peers, and if their peers like it, they advance.
In Tale IV, players created new technologies for Tale V players to unlock. (Weve just introduced the first of these, Advanced Foraging.) They came up with stuff that I hadnt considered in seven years of Tales. They were forced to be creative, and they rose to the challenge.
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If you liked this game, check out:
- A Tale in the Desert II
- A Tale in the Desert III
- A Tale in the Desert IV
- Ankh: Battle of the Gods
- Ankh: Heart of Osiris
- Jack Keane
- Jade Empire: Special Edition
- The Journey to Wild Devine
- Neverwinter Nights 2
- Prince of Persia
- Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
- Riddle of the Sphinx II: The Omega Stone
- Second Life
- World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
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