ATITD: You Can’t Go Home Again?

A Tale in the Desert has been on my mind ever since Wilhelm made a vote post about MMOs he might want to explore in 2018.

At the time, I advised him to wait for the next Telling, as the old one was in its late game stage, having begun more than two years ago in 2015. Having been reluctant to get started figuring out Discord, I wasn’t privy to the actual contents of the chat that the now developer of the game Pluribus was using to have a discussion with the ATITD community.

One thing led to another, and I found myself on the Tale 7 wiki yesterday, where I noticed a link to a transcript of said chat discussion, in the midst of being sorted for more readability by a player volunteer.

Scanning through said chat discussion left a sinking feeling in my heart and gut.

A Tale in the Desert came really close to ending its lifespan right there in 2017.

Pluribus, the active developer that had taken over Teppy, acknowledged that ATITD wasn’t making any significant money whatsoever; stated that it needed significantly more work before it could be introduced to a wider audience (including fixing a technical issue with Windows 10 and really really old code) and announced that he’d have to go out and find a job to make ends meet really really soon.

Over the course of the community discussion, the players persuaded him to reboot Tale 7 into Tale 8 with minimal changes, prolonging the game a little longer while exploring the possibility getting the game passably ready for a Steam release. Familiar names kept showing up through the discussion, really old faithful veteran players of ATITD I’d met from my time in virtual Egypt way back when in Tale 3, Tale 4 and so on.

I realized that Tale 8 might possibly be the last chance for me to finish what I wanted to do with A Tale in the Desert, which was to document its unique crafting/non-combat co-op/compete systems and my experience/memories with its systems and the oldschool community interaction and relationships with individuals and neighbors that formed an unforgettable one-off social experience that led to laying down roots and histories.

Maybe, just maybe, I should see about investing myself into Tale 8, after Tale 7 wound its slow way to a close in Jan-Feb or thereabouts (keeping in mind that Egypt Teppy time might stretch it to a couple months later, but perhaps Pluribus time is a little more punctual.)

I’d do my usual powergamer hermit thing, at my own pace (possibly slower this time due to being unable to invest significant amounts of time into it – but I’ve learned succeeding in Egypt is more about patience and upkeeping a monthly sub longer than your competitors anyway) and document the experience in short daily (ok, well, “regular”) blog posts.

Win-win?

Thinking led to half baked planning led to a wild whim that said, “Well, if you’re going to do this right, why not scout out Egypt now and get reaquainted with the systems and more importantly find some good locales to set down your compound where it’ll feel good and right in Tale 8?”

So I resolved to download the client in the night and give that plan a go.

One and a half hours later, I was having second and third thoughts.

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Welcome to Welcome Island, new players. It will be your prison until you figure out how to escape from it.

Rhaom – Yesterday at 8:28 PM I actually saw a video on youtube that was about mid way through T7, of some people who called atitd the “strangest game ever”.. In the end they quit before they got off newbie island because they couldnt work out what to do… How possible would be to streamline that experience? they couldnt get off… even

Pluribus – Yesterday at 8:29 PM Rhoam, I have been asking for feedback on that since day 1, really read the signs and it tells you everything on how to get off the island…

Pluribus – Yesterday at 8:29 PM I dont know HOW to make it easier to get off the island and still have any idea what to do.

It’s been at least five years since I played ATITD, so I thought I’d go through the tutorial and get a refresher on the basic systems.

It nearly broke me.

First off, movement and camera. I used to be used to the control scheme. No longer. Understandable disorientation problem as my fingers automatically convulsed on the mouse, holding down the button to rotate and not getting any response. Took a couple minutes to get passably reorientated.

In the same space of time, I brought up the massive textual deluge of mouse menu options and choked a little with the complexity of options I didn’t understand and yet could set. I struggled to remember my favorite configuration of old and came up with nothing.

The extremely loud Egyptian intro music kept booming through my speakers while I searched for an in-game way to shut it off / lower the volume and failed. (Eventually, after a lot of accidental switching back and forth between screens and alt-clicking, it mercifully silenced itself. I believe juggling between maximizing and restoring size on the client window may have done the trick.)

Man, I used to play this game.

I used to play it extremely well.

Bolstered only by that memory and the hope of making it to the mainland to see the good stuff, I dug deep into my persistence reserves and tweaked just a few settings – enough to get by, leave the rest for later – then set off to go through Welcome Island like a newbie.

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Oh, there were signs.

There was a lot of tutorial text at the top, which I clicked Next to skip through on a bunch of times before I realized it was probably supposed to stay up as one progressed through the mini-project of attaining Citizenship and getting a ferry off this damn island.

Then I clicked Next a bunch more times to simulate the impatient newbie who doesn’t read much. Then I gave up as the number of Nexts overwhelmed me and proceeded on my merry way.

There were a number of totem pole things you could click on as signs to explain what to do for newbies who might have skipped the tutorial text.

I wasn’t a newbie, not really, so I just used the Citizenship guidelines as a prompt to do things.

Like pick up slate. *Sigh* I immediately missed my slate macro.

Nevermind, I’m not playing this seriously yet, I’m just simulating a newbie and I just want to get to Egypt and run around a bit. Just get through the tutorial, we’ll manually pick up slate for a bit, how hard can it be?

Oh. But how much slate do I need again?

I didn’t know. Without knowing, without a plan, without solid numbers, I was essentially fated to fall afoul of the common ATITD newbie trap of not having enough resources and having to retrace one’s steps all over again in repeated cycles until one finally accumulated enough.

Shit.

I picked up slate.

I bought stone blade fabrication.

I made stone blades.

I ran out of slate.

I picked up slate.

I made enough stone blades to get a wood plane going to get boards (and discovered I’d half forgotten how to use a wood plane efficiently – close Main, hold cursor over it and hold down P iirc; build more later and wave cursor around for increased efficiency, I think.)

I ran out of stone blades before I got enough boards.

I picked up more slate.

Crap. Where was my solid “get this much slate to begin with” number?

Lost in the midsts of time and on aging guides on an aging wiki which I neglected to reread, no doubt, instead of front-and-center presented to the new player in game.

Note to self: Tale 8 Prep – find out that number.

Then it was time for flax.

I used to be bloody good at flax.

I had a half-manual half-automated clicker routine that let me cycle through 4 rows of 5 easily.

Obviously, I used none of it, having promptly forgotten everything but the faint memory of flaxing in 4 rows of 5.

I planted the three flax seeds the School building gave me proudly, checking the beds with concern and weeding when prompted, and harvesting the 1 flax each. Oh, let us sigh nostalgically for the advanced tech of player created seeds with more yield.

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Do not do this. Do not be like this daft returning player proudly standing by their flax beds.

Then I tried to plant more.

Wait, no more seeds?

Oh yes, this isn’t modded Minecraft when harvesting crops comes with seeds attached!

SHIT.

Having proudly stumbled headlong into newbie trap #2, I sat by the School stewing for the five minutes it would take for it to deign to give me more, while calculating that I needed 40 flax in total for the payment costs I could see for the School skills, but not including whatever would be needed for learning to use flax equipment and ferry building costs.

40 beds of flax, to be planted manually by hand.

Add in the waiting time for the seeds. It didn’t look like I was getting off Welcome Island in one night’s gameplay session.

This made me grumpy. Now I’m a returning player who already accepted ATITD timescales once upon a time; I’m not your regular newbie who expects to be done with a tutorial in minutes… but I was kinda thinking hours, not days.

Actually getting the flax was a struggle as I tried to work out my lost art of farming 20 beds at a time, failing miserably.

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This seemed like such a good idea at the time. I was so happy that I remembered the double F8 keypress to bring up top down view.

Apparently, there might have been some tweak to Tale 7 that introduced more running animations to flax farming, which meant more lag time and beds going to seed before one can weed them.

Ugh, that means nerfed yields in a future where I end up playing ATITD.

That’s depressing.

Anyway, I painstakingly got the flax, waited for the rotted flax, bought the skills that would lead to the flax processing portion of the tutorial and then halted in my tracks right there and then.

Wait.

Flax processing means I need a flax comb. I need a distaff to spin stuff. I will need bricks. I will need boards.

That means I need a presently unknown number of slate and a presently unknown number of grass – picked up 1 at a time (oh, how I miss having enough Strength and the tools to grab handfuls at one go) to build some 136 bricks (I sneaked a peek at a too brief guide on the wiki), which means brick racks which means I need to know an optimal number of boards to make, WITHOUT the benefit of any macros.

It was 10.30pm.

Before this bright idea of mine to revisit ATITD, I was in the solo starting stages of the Sky Factory 3 mod of Minecraft, where I could be accumulating resources at a faster pace of progress and relaxing with a Youtube video in the other screen.

Fuck ATITD.

I’m done – for the night, at least.

Maybe tomorrow night. With macros. With a plan. With hard numbers.

Because I’m an old player of ATITD, I know how this goes. I just neglected to do it because re-visiting was on a whim.

So why doesn’t anyone tell the newbies this explicitly?

Instead of beating around the bush saying a lot of text about exploring (yeah, right, in this day and age, even Achiever types are outnumbering the Explorers in GW2) and explicating nothing, let’s have it stated front and center.

Things like:

  • You need to get 136 bricks, 60 thorns, yadda yadda. (I ended up Googling for an old but still more or less good Citizenship guide today)
  • Here’s where you get some macros, if pulling up grass one strand at a time is driving you crazy.
  • Here’s the wiki. Read it and love it.
  • Grab some paper and plan it out before you do anything, look up the resource costs beforehand and so on.

A new player has to have their expectations set appropriately.

Yes, it will take a while to grapple with the controls and the camera views.

No, do not expect to race through a 15min tutorial introduction if you are new with no experience whatsoever. Devote a session or two to make it through Welcome Island and Citizenship.

Yes, do read and consult the wiki endlessly. It is one of those “play with wiki by your side” kind of games.

atitd2018_5

Thing is, if you can patiently put up with some of the more oldschool grindy wait-forever craziness, there are some really awesome crafting/non-combat systems to behold. Like a player-created garden decoration, built from flowers patiently fertilized over days and weeks and months, where their genomes can be altered for different sizes and color and petals and other mindblowing craziness.

 

Postscript: I spent some pre-game time today wiki’ing up all the things, uncovering the handy dandy spelled-out-clearly-for-you guide I link above.

I invested another hour tonight half alt-tabbed between ATITD and GW2 (it’s always been a game where it’s best played alongside doing something else – be it watching a video, playing a second alt in the same game, playing another game, etc. – due to all the wait time in between grind).

I survived the trials of “learning flax processing” mostly due to the guide giving me solid numbers to shoot for, then built my Ferry and shot into Egypt proper (barring a false start where I used the Ferry in an enclosed pond, then decided I should probably try the sea surrounding the island instead).

Then I ran around a bit in one of the more northerly regions of the game (Old Egypt) before deciding I’d start moving down south to check out what remained of the player towns in the more populated regions…

…cue more running to the Chariot Stop…

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…only to find out that the free chariot ride was 7min and 14 seconds away and I had no travel time banked, being a free unsubscribed ‘just visiting’ player account.

Well, fuck that too.

It was close to hitting 8:30pm on the clock, and instead of twiddling my thumbs for nigh 8 minutes and counting, I quit the ATITD client and switched over to do a quick Awakened invasion event in GW2 instead.

Maybe tomorrow night, I’ll get luckier… and actually catch a free chariot into the rest of Egypt proper.

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7 thoughts on “ATITD: You Can’t Go Home Again?

  1. Wow, a great and detailed post. Not sure if it endears me to the possibility of giving it a try, but that has to be the most I’ve seen written about the game in a long, long time.

    • Jeromai says:

      I’m realizing I last played it in possibly, 2010-2011 and/or 2012-2013. Our expectations of games has changed quite a bit since then.

      I haven’t made up my mind one way or the other about turning up for Tale 8, but I’ve been in the mood for a hit of nostalgia this year and am willing to throw an hour or so at it for a couple nights just to see if the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa.

      We’ll see how things go, it’s definitely a slow burn kind of game.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t ATITD begin as some kind of academic experiment in which the way players approached the mechanics and interacted with each other was being studied? I was never clear on whether it was a game or a psychological experiment framed in the form of a game.

    • Jeromai says:

      Essentially it’s both. A whole lot of little sociological experiments built into the various systems, which I also find interesting to watch how other players react.

      If there’s one thing the passage of time has shown though, it’s that players can find ways to break nearly anything. Latent trust issues in a test like Marriage can be neatly circumvented by having a second account and marrying your alt. Macros, veteran powergamers and large guild cooperation sound like they managed to break the intended pacing of Tale 7, going by the chat transcript.

      It kinda feels like the sociological experiment part has now been more or less solved by the customs and rules and traditions that the players evolved over time. It could be simply the endgame period that ATITD is currently in; the start of a Tale is always a little rougher due to the influx of more people/new players still working things out – as they attrition over time, things fall into a stasis one way or another, instead of being keenly balanced between co-op and compete.

  3. Stropp says:

    I think I played this seriously around the same time as you. Telling 3 or 4. It was around 2004. When I finished then I think I was trying my hand at serious wine-making.

    Like you I thought I’d try it out again mid last year. I got through the tutorial island, but didn’t leave. I just finished my session and didn’t go back.

    As you say, I think there’s a ton of improvements needed to modernise the game. I don’t think they have to change the game mechanics at all, but there are some things that were cumbersome back in 2004 that are downright frustrating now. The UI and menu system being the most obvious.

    I reckon they could probably make it a bit less mousey/clicky too. Harvesting grass is painful on my old wrist joints. Although I didn’t know I could use macros to do that.

    This is the sort of game/mechanics that I’d love to see done in a new game. A sandbox without the PmP (Player-murder-Player) with interesting crafting and cooperative/competitive gameplay.

    • Jeromai says:

      I feel like the game could benefit from a faster pace of progress / lower general costs – players these days are used to smallscale/solo games like ARK or Minecraft or Don’t Starve where individual shards can be customised for faster less time-wasting speeds.

      Unfortunately, it seems like the current developer is of the very oldschool mindset where “significance of accomplishment” is correlated with the amount of time it took to do it, so that’s unlikely to change.

      I seem to recall Wurm Online being hideously slow in progress and pacing, but since they made a sort of Steam standalone where one can ramp up the pace, I grabbed that on sale and -intend- to play it more one day.

      Granted, ATITD is a monthly subscription game, so intentionally wasting a player’s time is baked into its very design pores. I’m having a bit of cognitive dissonance with this at the moment – I wish I could play more with the great ideas this game has, but in a less time-consuming arena.

      Yet it is also with some irony that I note the dev’s complaint in the Discord chat transcript – that certain groups of cooperating veteran players, armed with macros and immense accumulated knowledge of the game, essentially shortcutted and broke the intended pacing of Tale 7.

      In essence, they advanced way faster than most players’ normal and tedious/frustrating pace of progress and dragged the rest of the population through the tech ages due to it being a singular persistent MMO world.

      It’s a rich/poor divide gone horribly wrong. The faster players get bored and quit; the slower players get frustrated and quit.

      I wonder if there are solutions to this?

  4. […] if you want to read about another game from my list, Jeromai has an excellent post up about a return to A Tale in the Desert.  Another game that looks to be still a part of the time from which it […]

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