ATITD: The Sticky Problem of Clay

Clay is an interesting resource in A Tale in the Desert, seemingly simple at first glance, but with a lot of hidden depth and interlinked relationships that can be talked about.

Basic Steps for Obtaining Clay

1) Find an area with clay. It looks like dried cracked earth, often near water.

When standing on top of clay, a red clay icon will appear in the upper left corner.

2) Have Water in Jugs in your inventory (created by going to water and filling a clay Jug)

3) Click on the red clay icon. Voila, 1 Clay gathered! (and perhaps a piece of Flint if you’re lucky.)

Simple, right?

Did you spot the chicken and egg problem yet?

.

.

.

You need a jug made of clay to get clay.

A Virtual History of Clay

To make things even more interesting, at the start of every new Telling in Egypt, all players start with a blank slate. No skills, no technologies, no property, nothing.

In order for players to create clay Jugs, most crucially, they need to be able to build a Pottery Wheel to spin Clay into Wet Clay Jugs.

One can learn to make Pottery Wheels by learning the Pottery skill from a School in Egypt, who will request a payment of 10 Clay to teach it to you.

(…but but…)

Once your head stops reeling from the paradox, rest assured there is a way out of this. If you try to learn the Pottery skill without 10 Clay in your possession, the School will take pity on you and give you a single clay Jug. (My precious!)

This only happens once for each character.

There is no fooling the game by getting rid of your Jug and asking again. There is no such thing as making lots of throwaway alts to accumulate multiple free Jugs because the rules of ATITD state that you can only have one free trial account ever. I suppose you -could- pay $14 a month for each paid alt you decide to have, but that would be a really silly way to get Jugs.

With this single Jug, you can patiently accumulate 10 Clay by walking to water, filling the jug, walking to clay, collecting 1 clay, and walking back to water to refill the jug and repeat.

And then you can build Pottery Wheels!

In theory. Because what they neglect to tell you is that the materials list for Pottery Wheels is as follows:

Most of the materials are not inconceivably hard to get, though leather is a comparative rare resource in the early game. Leather is a bottleneck for the individual, limiting the number of pottery wheels they might want to make then.

But there is one more hidden bottleneck for the entirety of Egypt. Flystones are made on Rock Saws, which in turn can only be created when the Technology of Stonecutting is available.

(Quick terminology explanation: Skills are paid for and learnt by individuals. You bring the fee, pay it, get the Skill from a School. Technologies are meant to be paid for by groups and by the community of Egypt as a whole. Once it is paid for, it is unlocked for any individual to freely request from the University where it was unlocked.)

Since Technologies are a global unlock, the payment sum is often exorbitant when looked at from an individual’s perspective. Therein lies one of the major conflicts in a so-called combat-less game. The Good for the Self versus the Good of All. Work to benefit yourself, or work for the community’s improvement?

In the case of Stonecutting, among other things, 200 Flint is required.

But but…Flint has only a ~10% chance of dropping when clay is collected!

With a single clay Jug, let me assure you, trying to obtain Flint is not at all fun. One has to continually stop to get water per clay you dig up, and you probably won’t even strike Flint most of the time.

Of course, there is no requirement that 200 Flint must be collected by a single person. Ideally, if 200 people just took the effort to dig up 1 Flint and contribute it to the same University, the agony would be spread out through division of labor.

Anyone who’s ever tried to organize a raid or even a pick-up group in MMOs can probably see the futility of that line of thinking a mile away. Cat herding, anyone?

Well… maybe if 20 people took the effort to dig up 10 Flint and contribute it, we might get somewhere!

Pretty much something like that happens. The slider between Self and Public Good hovers back and forth, trying to come to some sort of balance point, some equilibrium – if less people contribute as a whole, then more dedicated players end up working harder to get the Technologies unlocked. Which may lead to drama – implosions by people who feel put upon, tantrums by those who feel left out or locked away from a resource, etc.

Things are further complicated because each local region in Egypt has their own University. Region pride, as well as selfish convenience in having less distance to run, means that people would much rather have the Technology unlocked at THEIR local University. So effort overlaps, and inefficiencies abound, and lots of entertaining chatter happens on public channels.

Player Ingenuity

But never underestimate player creativity. There is another social solution to the thorny Flint problem. It’s the single jug that makes it a pain, right? So we’ll go get multiple jugs!

Hang on, isn’t that why we wanted Pottery Wheels in the first place? Where ever can you find more jugs?

Remember, each player has a single jug.

So can you convince another player to give (loan) you their one and only jug?

(In order to get Flint more easily, so ultimately down the road, everyone can get jugs more easily.)

Conversely, what if he logs off and -never comes back?- Your jug (your only present means to get clay and flint for yourself) would be GONE.

No one said this was an easy solution, mind you.

Different players try this with varying degrees of success. If you’re in an established guild with members that all know and trust each other, then you’d most likely be able to pool your jugs together without fear of loss. Name recognition, charisma and dependable reputation becomes important in building up to folks being willing to loan the stuff out. In general, it ends up possible for a few people to get 5 to 8 or so  jugs together, while taking down names so as to reunite singular jug with owner later.

And they end up being the ones to still painfully, if less so, dig out the Flint required for Stonecutting, required for Rock Saws, required for Flystones, required for Pottery Wheels, required for Jugs of clay.

Public Works for the Public Good

Another example of player ingenuity stems from the leather bottleneck of Pottery Wheels.

1 Pottery Wheel takes 1 minute to spin 1 Jug from 1 Clay.

In the early game, normal non-fanatically-hardcore individuals can realistically afford to make zero or one or two Pottery Wheels. Give or take a couple.

It’s going to take a really long time to spin 100 Jugs from two dinky little wheels. It’s simple economies of scale.

This arrangement would be much better:

And if you were really ambitious, this:

Pottery wheels don’t break from overuse. And you aren’t going to need to spin jugs 24/7 either. So what if we put the first few Pottery Wheels together and made them a public shared resource?

Thus were various regional Public Works born – a group of individuals deciding to come together and altruistically create equipment and machines for anyone to use.

Mind you, the balance between self and public interest is happening all the time, and reaches equilibrium differently in different individuals. Some prefer their own fleet of wheels which is always available when they need it, instead of having to wait their turn if the wheels are in use. Some will contribute some materials for the public wheels, and keep back some materials for their own private personal ones. Some will give all they own to the creation of public facilities. There is no one right answer for all, just the right answer for yourself.

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