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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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…


…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.


This World Ain’t Big Enough for the ____ of Us!

Over at Healing The Masses, J3w3l (or Eri, as I’m going to use from now on because it’s a lot easier to type!) has been singing the praises of multiplayer Terraria and what this may imply for sandbox MMO worlds, such as EQNext Landmark.

I’m here to give you the other perspective and the potential pitfalls, in a semi-serious, semi-tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Insufficient Lebensraum / Resources

Of all the things that could plague a sandbox MMO, I worry about this one the most.

The first pioneers get the best locations.

In A Tale in the Desert, areas near the chariot stops for convenient travel later get taken up very quickly. In fact, the crowd is so great that veterans tend to stay a little further away because they know they won’t have space to expand later when all the beginners are off squeezing in their little buildings near each other to form a sort of ghetto.

In my brief time with Wurm Online, anything near the spawn point was over-worked to the point of ludicrousness from the horde of new players zoning in, and I walked for miles and miles finding settlements all over (many seemingly abandoned) and I wouldn’t even dream about peak waterfront property along the coast. This was, of course, on the free server so overpopulation woes would be expected.

Over in Terraria, as the first players, Eri and her friend Grish have taken up the spot that most people in single-player games will build on. On the surface right near the spawn location. (The game’s design encourages this as the guide needs to be housed in a building, and between hostile mobs and his pathfinding AI… let’s just say we want a roof over his head pretty quick.)

They built themselves a massively grand castle.


(And it just underwent a recent renovation to make it even grander. It’s lovely to behold.)

Now, being that I’m a guest and don’t want to be rude, it makes little sense to try and settle in the same space they’re using. So I looked around, found some real estate near them but off to the west a little and decided to go mostly underground.

If you’re a new settler coming by to the server at this time, your only other option nearby at this point is probably a base in the sky overhead. (The east side is over-taken by corruption.)

Or you’ll have to move a little further off to the west – though you’ll have to contend with a small lake and our sky bridge highway in the vicinity.

I did find two fairly creative buildings – a treehouse and a small obsidian underground lair – in my explorations, but I’m not sure if they were made by the starting pair or natural spawns or by well-equipped visitors popping by.

As for resources, well, suffice to say that you’ll be picking up after our leavings.

I had to do a much deeper and expansive exploration to find copper and lead (iron equivalent) as I’d started a new character. Fortunately, I like exploring and the other two seem more in favor of long highways and tunnels, so I managed to sneak into a niche of going around all the naturally formed caves, breaking vases and grabbing the abandoned ore that the two were no longer interested in after a while via progression.

For anyone coming in now, my suggestion would be to travel along the well-lit areas and venture further out. Just like the other two, I’ve now stopped digging out every last copper and lead ore I see, I only stop for gold and higher.

Chests with equipment in them? Haha. I didn’t see any for a while, until I started venturing into the unexplored caverns.

Luckily, like a number of players, underwater does not seem to be a hit with the two.

I wandered over to the East Ocean, struggled with trying to learn the new changes to the biome, made a makeshift survival elevator down into the water to get easier access to the bottom without drowning by being too gung-ho, and discovered it doubled up rather nicely as a shark trap. Rampant OCD farming for a while yielded a Diving Helmet and Jellyfish Necklace. (Fortunately, mob spawned resources are forever.)

Eventually, I made it over to the West Ocean to find that there were still two water chests left there – one with a Breathing Reed and one with Flippers inside! So now I have Diving Gear. New niche: Underwater Warrior Extraordinaire.

If you’re looking for those items, you’re now outta luck when it comes to the oceans. Maybe you’ll find a water chest randomly while digging underground.

As for the dungeon, I’m sure a good part of it has been picked over, as I dared (screamingly underleveled) into the place with them for a time until I got insta-gibbed.

World Progresses At Speed of Fastest Player

Which brings me right to my next point. Both of them had 400hp and were decked out in many shiny objects. I was waffling at around 140hp and had lead items then.

Out of pure screaming survival, I rapidly revised my goals (which were originally to explore and progress up the tiers and slowly read the wiki to catch up on changes) and did not protest when they found Muramasa in a chest and chucked it at me, because OMG, a sword that can kill things in here! (A nice sword at that.)

After which, it was an easy slippery slope to accepting the extra life crystals that were thrown at me, then picking over what seemed to be the ‘donation room’ chests to grab a better pickaxe, the first hit of demonite ore, and spare shadow armor, which immediately catapulted me several tiers ahead and expanded my exploration range much more rapidly.


If you’re coming in now, help yourself to the stuff in the chests here. We three have been overloading it with things. I now keep finding life crystals, which I no longer need!

Last night, I got another free upgrade courtesy of Grish, who threw Palladium stuff at me. (Palladium, what the hell is palladium? Some wiki-ing later revealed it to be hardmode stuff, apparently.)

That promptly extended my range downward and I ventured into Hell to find it pretty darned survivable, as long as one didn’t try to take a bath in lava. So now I’m amusing myself collecting hellstone… for fun, I guess.


It’s not like we have a shortage of hellforges here.

(Also in the background, two obsidian generators that off the scale for anything I would ever make, and a large sign pointing out the west highway.)

This is something a lot of sandbox MMO players are going to have to come to terms with. There is very little point reinventing the wheel.

In A Tale in the Desert, the first pioneers suffer through some exceedingly tedious grind with primitive technology, and proceed to unlock much better technology for all players to come.

The bottlenecks that are designed in place can be quickly overcome by making use of communal public resources, or becoming friends with a veteran player, who will usually not mind chucking resources like leather, papyrus seeds, better flax seeds to get a new player coming in late to the Telling started with a much easier time.

If you try to solo it all, you’ll probably drop out after a month or two, tops.

Obnoxious people will now proceed to throw the ‘this is a -multiplayer- game, after all’ line in your face.

As a solo-preferring player, I’d just say that one needs to be open to social interaction and opportunities that arise and adjust your niche accordingly, and use the presence of other players and communal resources as desired to get over humps that are designed into the experience.

You’re never going to come in cold and be just as good as the vet player who’s played since Day 1. Be patient with yourself, adjust your expectations, work your way through the wiki in sections, learning one aspect of the game at a time.

I started one Telling as a complete noob, and ended up sharing the resources of a nice guild that befriended a newbie. With that experience, I began another Telling solo and worked my way through that, learning additional aspects of the game. Which made the Telling after that a very easy powergamer start – I was now an intermediate-level player and probably could claim some vet-hood (but not as much as the players who had been around for all the time.)

Player Creativity May Affect Experience

Back in Terraria, I have to confess that I would never build the structures I’m seeing the pair create. They’re of a scale that is quite beyond me.

I tend to just build ugly functional rectangles.


(Underground farm experiment in perpetual state of under construction)

In a single-player game of Terraria once, the most creative thing I probably did was to balance my wood tower on top of a single door. Because the idea struck me on a whim and looked highly amusing.

In Minecraft, if I manage to make a two or three floor rectangular cottage with corresponding mine shafts and a rail line highway, that’s already a big accomplishment for me. I tend to just tunnel into a stone wall and set up operations there. Decorative architecture? Large bases? Expansive castles? Not at all likely to happen.

In a multiplayer world, -I- benefit from seeing the structures other players create. They’re a lot more beautiful than I would be able to make, I get to wander and explore and get creative inspirational ideas that I would never have come up with on my own.

Other players, however, would have to contend with my corresponding lower aesthetic sense impacting on their designs.

Differing Player Goals

Which brings us to how player goals may end up clashing in a sandbox MMO and lead to either compromises or drama.

Eri’s friend, Grish, is a veteran Terraria player. He runs around being very familiar with everything, and his goal appears to be to finally beat the hardmode bosses with the benefit of extra hands in multiplayer. Progress is dizzyingly rapid as a result. Goals clash: I compromise by inwardly shrugging and saying thank you whenever the next set of equipment I don’t even recognize is thrown at me. I can always learn at my own pace in a single-player world another time.

Eri seems to be a big decorator. The castle is her baby. A very lovely looking place it is too. Her appreciation of aesthetics is evident. Also, expansive highways tunnels for convenience. She’s taming the wilderness one straight line at a time. Goals clash: I’m just guessing, but she probably winces every time she walks past the eyesore that is my permanently-under-construction no-time-for-decorating-yet base, or the many torches I dot around the place because I’m blind as a bat and prefer all the places I go to be clearly lit up. 🙂


The problem with turtles is that they can’t see worth beans.

In this case, I’m a guest. I just try not to be too annoying and go with the flow of whatever the plan seems to be.

In a sandbox MMO, what this has a tendency to promote is each person (or group of players) spreading out far enough away from another to develop their own homestead the way they like it and do their best to live and let live. Until some idiot builds too close to them – whereupon the drama starts.

Take home message: Remember plenty of lebensraum. If you’re a designer, try to make the world large enough for many players to settle in with sufficient resources not to end up fighting over them (unless that’s what you want players to do.)

Property and land ownership and access rights are going to be very important to get right, including what players are able to do with aesthetic eyesores (especially those that are abandoned.) In A Tale in the Desert, the player-arrived solution is to allow other players to remove them after a certain number of days have passed if the owner has quit the game. In Wurm Online, they appear to be left to rot slowly, I’m not sure. In Terraria, anyone can modify anything apparently, which involves a fair amount of trust and compromise.

If you’re a player, try to settle sufficiently far from other players if at all possible. One potential problem, of course, is that one’s idea of ‘sufficiently far’ is never really accurate when one is new to a game. The room needed for expansion can always end up surprisingly large.

And finally, let us not forget the griefers.

I am sure there are worlds in Terraria where friendships have been broken because some guy’s idea of fun is to go around being destructive and troll-y. Even while not trying to, we run into opportunities for potential problems.

In the earlier days of starting out, I had a bad habit of finding uneven holes to fall into, or wooden platforms that weren’t level and thus inadvertently cause a precipitous encounter with gravity and the ground. It’s not hard to extrapolate to intentional pitfall traps from there.


There’s always the risk that each others’ aesthetic designs overwrite or annoy one’s fellow players, and from there, it’s an easy step to intentionally trying to be offensive via trying to destroy another player’s creations or create an ugly eyesore.

In Terraria (and presumably Minecraft), the host can always boot with extreme prejudice someone being a pain.

In an MMO, rules are going to have to be built into the design as to how players can end up affecting each other, and what recourse players have if they feel someone is griefing or harassing them. Be it griefing them back or killing them (a la Eve Online and other FFA PvP MMOs of that ilk), or clear and strong land claim and property ownership rights, or being able to vote out a non-cooperating player, or having a few people with the power of enforcement and authority to turn to, etc. And when the final stage of taking it to the GMs is appropriate.

Emergent Properties and the Right Attitude

After all that, you may ask, why would anyone bother playing a sandbox in multiplayer?

I’d suggest that one should play it for what you can’t get in a singleplayer game. The opportunity for emergence that arises between player interactions and the opportunity to be social..

You can get emergence from NPCs in a single player sandbox, and you can talk to them if you want to, but they’re unlikely to return meaningful conversation 🙂

When two self-interested parties interact, one has the opportunity to choose cooperative, selfish, altruistic or indifferent behaviors.

Depending on one’s viewpoint and goals, this can lead to welcome or unwelcome results. (Someone acting in altruistic fashion may not always be welcome by someone wanting to be left alone. Someone being indifferent can be taken as a massive affront by someone with the expectation of more friendly behavior. It’s not always easy to cooperate at a skill level that matches the other and having a shared goal is often a prerequisite. Selfish behavior can benefit oneself at the expense of others, which may be the primary goal of the individual in question.)

I think it’s important to have the right attitude and expectations that all this can and will happen at different times, between different players when one plays a multiplayer sandbox, so that one isn’t surprised or disappointed when it does. It’s never paradise or utopia. It’s humans, and they bring with them heaven, hell and ordinary earth wherever they go.


If this is heaven, there are many holes in it now.

(Aka the effect of player depredation on a limited resource. Most of the building was gone by the time I arrived. I took apart a few more bricks to find out what they were. And added the tunnel to hide from harpies and collect both cloud and rain blocks. I also mined out the gold. Still silver left!)

The actions of one may also randomly impact on the landscape and others around them, which leads to unpredictable occurrences.

One can look upon them as problems / crises or opportunities to take advantage of or tell stories or laugh about.

The recent castle renovations in Terraria have necessitated a moving of the combat arena over to the west. Right on top of my house, in fact, which has now been dubbed ‘the hobbit hole.’


Did I mention that I would never build something so expansive on my own? They took the opportunity to enlarge and prettify it, which is very awesome because I get to use it without expending any effort at all.

It is also really conveniently nearby. I am a very lazy person and hate walking, so all amenities close by is great. I’m big on functionality.

In the process, a water tank/reservoir was set up on top of it to create a waterfall effect. Except… there was a leak.

I was fairly deep underground digging out my glowing mushroom farm at the time, when I saw water cascade into the tunnel just a few blocks away from the farm. (Thankfully, it wasn’t connected.)

Mildly amused and relieved at the close call, I call out: Hey, there’s a leak.

Oops, comes the reply. Will fix it.

Turns out one side was a block shorter than the other.

Chuckling to myself that this exchange was something that wouldn’t happen if not in multiplayer, I finish the farm and in truly lazy fashion, use my magic mirror to port back home, barely one screen away…

Whereupon I discover that I am effectively ‘snowed in.’


It’s around this point where I just crack up and die laughing because the juxtaposition of the turtle looking at his front door with that expression is priceless.

The back door was also ankle-deep in water, so opening either door would not have been the wisest maneuver. (I did, of course, eventually open the back and have to bail out some water. They came in handy for watering waterleafs later, Silver lining, laziness to walk and all that.)

This would so not totally happen when playing alone.

A Guild Odyssey – Part 3 (NBI Talkback Challenge)

“The universe is driven by the complex interaction between three ingredients: matter, energy, and enlightened self-interest.”

— G’Kar, Babylon 5

I believe Dunbar was on to something when he proposed that there is a limit to the number of people a single person can maintain social relationships with.

I don’t know if he got that number exactly correct, but certainly, it’s easier to remember 10-20 familiar names in a guild (my memory is very very bad) and the games in which I felt the strongest connections were games where less than 300 people tended to be online at any one time.

A Tale in the Desert is notable for being one of the few MMOs that allow people to be in multiple guilds at one time.

In my opinion, it’s pioneered a number of innovative guild features that other MMOs would benefit from adopting. The game also highlights the interesting push-and-pull between public community interest and self-interest for personal benefit via many design aspects.

Guilds, first and foremost, in ATITD are a means to control ownership and access rights to the property and items that players build.

If you’re a solo player on a single character, you might be able to get away with just having all the stuff you build be in your name and accessed via those, but if you play two or more characters, it becomes convenient to create a guild and give all your characters equivalent high access to everything.

Also, spouses or best friends that play one or two characters each will also favor creating their own guild so that they can share access rights that way.

Evolving up from there, we have the friends and family guilds where groups of friends may want to share communal resources, or come together to build big ticket items that are infrequently used but expensive for a lone player to build.

The nice thing about being allowed to join multiple guild is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can have a personal guild for yourself to keep your personal items safe, while being part of a larger guild, possibly with more limited access privileges, but still contribute to that community and benefit from the shared resources.

Veteran players tend to develop close relationships with each other and naturally want to stay in contact with each other and chat, so such clique guilds are common. Depending on the group, they may be open and inclusive to newbies joining them as some don’t mind or enjoy teaching newbies, and more players contributing resources tend to make the guild stronger as well.

A Tale in the Desert has one interesting spin on guild chat. (All chat tabs, really.) It’s persistent. As in, the guild chat can be set to be time-stamped and left up for hours if no one scrolls it off the screen.

What this means is that in smaller guilds, or even individual whispers to a player, you can essentially leave messages for each other even when both parties aren’t logged on at the same time. You could conduct a conversation message-board style 8 hours apart, and have the benefit of it speeding up to real-time when both of you are logged in together.

ATITD allows for as many chat tabs as you want to be up at once, so depending on the player, they could choose to leave chat tabs for 10 or 20 or 70 player names up at once to always stay in contact with them, or be in multiple guilds and keep track of all the chat going on in each channel.

This gives rise to functional guilds.

Interested in an aspect of ATITD? Say, wine-making? Beer-brewing? Growing thistles? An expert and want to talk shop with other experts? A newbie and want to pick the experts’ brains while asking questions? Join a functional guild and be included in a small community of other enthusiasts, sort of a hobbyist guild within a hobby, where most chat will be related to the subject of interest.

Regional guilds are also commonplace, often doubilng up as either ‘public facilities’ or ‘research’ guilds.

You see, it’s not easy to travel in A Tale in the Desert. The map is LARGE, the runspeed is SLOW, and so people tend to spontaneously clump together in regions and form local communities, with buildings close by that resemble a village.

Again, for big ticket items, people have found it most convenient to construct shared facilities, that are often placed in a central location of a region – next to a chariot stop – and designated as for public-use.

Ditto for research contribution, which are basically Egypt-wide projects to unlock a technology for all, including future players of that Telling, to use. Guilds are used to indicate interest in contributing to those projects, with the bonus of having a separate chat tab to keep track of everything.

One common mistake newbie players make is to simply join one guild, which is often a public or research guild as those have the widest reach and give their all for that guild. The effort is always appreciated, but sometimes the new players expect a reciprocation (such as increased guild rank promotion) that may not arrive. (Depending on the guild’s leader, permissions for various ranks may be set differently, to restrict certain items from being broken by over-use or abuse.)

Often, it is sensible to keep some resources for oneself and one’s individual progress through the game to gain levels, and contribute only what you can spare. Different people arrive at slightly different balances between self-interest and community good, but extremes at either end tend to be rare, and don’t usually end well.

Which brings us back to MMO guilds in general: are they merely comprised of selfish individuals looking out for number 1?

I doubt it.

But I don’t think it is wrong to say that most people are self-interested.

(Not selfish, not self-centered, because those words come loaded with negative connotations. Even self-interest is used in semantically confusing fashion when one does a casual search on the web. I find this man’s take on the words a decently nice way of differentiating them though – Gerhard Adams on individual self-interest that can lead to selfish, cooperative or altruistic behavior on interaction with another.)

It is survival. Self-preservation. Natural selection favors a self-interested mind.

But what we find is that when circumstances dictate that cooperation and/or organization yields bigger or equally decent returns for self-interested individuals working together, they come together.

Zergs spontaneously form. Leaders create guilds. Humans have a long history of coming together.

At least, for a while.

Until going one’s own separate ways benefits the individuals more, and stuff breaks apart. The age-old cycle repeats itself.

P.S. As for Puzzle Pirates, I’ve decided to talk about that another time. Suffice to say that it’s a game that also has guilds designed -into- the game itself, giving players a need to ‘join a crew’ for better privileges and unlock access to some activities, and a way for newbies to flow into and be introduced to various guilds. Suffice to say that it is -also- an aging game that is past its prime in terms of guilds that are still alive rather than historical artifacts that have seen better times.

P.P.S. I’d like to come full circle soon and talk about guilds in my current game of Guild Wars 2, but I’m finding it a little hard to write about at the moment. Suffice to say that a number of guilds I know are… cycling right now and that’s correspondingly getting me a little bit down as well.

Change is inevitable, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to accept while it’s happening.