ATITD: Factories in the Desert

Woke up with a bad crick in the neck yesterday. Alternated between wandering around pissed off at the pain and lying down whenever possible to try and ease it, and got very little computer time in.

Anyway, let’s continue where we left off, 2200 Clay richer.

Wool Cloth

20 Wool Cloth was easy to soak in clay, since the stock was already sitting in my hand loom. One learns very quickly in ATITD to have extra stocks of everything to hand, else making it all from scratch becomes a righteous pain.

Fer example, Wool Cloth comes from shearing sheep – which you first need to catch roaming about Egypt, then make a sheep pen and feed them onions (which you grow) and shear them to get Wool.  The Wool is then spun into Yarn with a Distaff (see blue circle), and the Yarn output is woven into Wool Cloth on a Loom.

Rhapsodizing about Compounds

Another thing you may note is the amount of stuff crammed into a fairly small space. That’s just me liking to maximize the best possible use of space I can, since I’m lazy to build too many compounds. However, do anticipate that you will essentially need to have a whole bunch of little factories in the desert if one is hoping to produce anything substantial on one’s own.

It’s not terribly ‘immersive’ per se, but then any faithfulness to a realistic Egyptian setting sort of went out the window with airships and automation and steam shovels and the like. ATITD is a producer’s/crafter’s game mixed with a heavy dose of sociology (and math.)

One of the most common things newbies do is build too small. And assume they can get away with making one of everything to just try it out.

I did it too as a newbie. This was my dinky little house, and you can see even then, I already put in three distaffs because I got tired of waiting.

Unfortunately, what happens later is that you find out that economies of scale are everything in this game. Making 400 firebricks in one dinky little kiln that fires 12 at a time is an exercise in masochistic patience.

Then you realize your compound is way too small for all the extra stuff you want to put inside, and that previously putting in equipment willy nilly blocks you from expanding nicely now and it’ll have to be torn down in order to get it out of the way or you’ll have to make a new bigger compound and do it all over again, and suddenly quitting the stupid game is sounding mighty attractive right now.

Plan ahead. Plan in arrays. You don’t have to build them all there and then, but anticipate you may want more later and leave enough room for yourself to build them later.

The other thing people can do is fall in with a big guild and use their facilities. Some of them are a sight to behold, spreading to 10+ compounds, and are good examples for planning out your own compound.

If you’re like me though, communal living and sharing property and goods is nice, but having the capitalist security blanket of owning my own stuff under my control soothes my paranoia. No one can take it away until I stop paying my sub fees. Living in a group guild involves some compromise to get along with other people, working hard and contributing in some way to not look like a leecher, and any resources are never officially ‘yours’ unless you head the guild and can set ownership rights on things. And groups may come with drama – accusations of theft, of unfairness and favoritism, of someone else profiting from somebody else’s expense… It’s the old solo vs group debate in new and interesting form over property rights.

Since ATITD supports  multiple guilds though, nothing stops you from being solo, in a friends-and-family guild with their own compounds, and part of a big uber-productive monster guild (assuming you can get in and stay in) all at the same time. Find your own balance point.

The above advice is not to say you can’t build nice-looking compounds if that’s what floats your boat. Sandbox, after all.

I once ran across a pretty compound way out in the boondocks where the creator had built some decorative sculptures and used them to lean tools like a spade and fishing rod and planks of wood against the walls.

If one peeked inside, one can still see quite a bit of stuff.

Personally, the compound is still a bit on the small side for me, and the owner -had- quit, so who knows if he felt it was sufficient for him?

Back to soaking Wool Cloth in clay. It’s very simple, have enough clay, enough water in jugs, click on the previously-built tub, and select the right option. 4 minutes later, the cloth is done. I have 5 tubs, so in ~16 minutes, I had my 20 Clay-Steeped Wool Cloth.  Note the room for further tub expansion which I haven’t found necessary yet.

The ginormous pile of wood in the background is a Bonfire (unlit.) Folks use it to store wood as it can take a huge amount without clogging up space in chests and warehouses. And it looks awesome as an e-peen. (More on opportunities for building objects on a monumentally excessive scale in later posts, an entire subset of Tests is devoted to that.)

Clay Bricks

Brickmaking is one of my favorite activities in the game. Something about seeing the bricks pop up in the brick racks, looking like cute little white chocolates and drying and turning milk chocolatey just makes me happy.

This is one of the activities where it’s much better to use the hotkeys. Click click clicking would get old real fast. The trick is to change the camera view by pressing F8 twice, also known as double-F8 view. (I have no idea what it’s really called in-game.)

Now that the racks are in nice neat rows and columns, simply minimize chat channels to get hotkeys working, hold down the C (or B for normal bricks) key and wave the mouse cursor over the racks like you’re painting the bricks into them.

When they dry, hold down T to take the bricks and repeat.

Note the mud and sand icons in the second picture. Both are necessary materials for brick making, so it is smart to plan ahead and put your brick racks in a position where you don’t have to move to get mud and sand. That way, you can overload yourself with materials and it doesn’t matter if you can’t move until you’re done with the bricks.

Also note the nearby chests and warehouse for easy offloading of huge amounts of bricks once you’re done.

Once Improved Brick Racks are available, they don’t break and disrupt your flow. (Normal brick racks are somewhat aggravating in that one needs to have spare Boards on hand and have to keep laying them out when they break.)

3000 Wet Clay Bricks took much less time to produce than getting my hands on the clay in the first place.

Baking the Bread (er, Bricks)

Unfortunately, the Clay Bricks are still Wet, so they’re not yet entirely done. Now they need to be fired in a kiln. Or ten.

In fact, I didn’t think that I wanted to do so many rounds to finish off 3000 bricks, so I invested a little time in expanding.

Another trick people use is to put a second row of kilns behind the first, but facing away 180 degrees. In this way, one can easily scroll the camera and see if they are all loaded up. I’ve built myself into a corner with this compound as it’s hit the limit of expansion, but until now, I haven’t had the need for an excessive amount of kilns.

I might just end up building a second row in front of the first and deal with a little visual inconvenience in checking if they’re properly loaded.

Either that, or I’ll have to put up with firing the kilns 18 times (3000/12 bricks *14 kilns).

Still better than the 25 times earlier (3000/12 bricks * 10).

ATITD: The Clay “Grind”

And now for Clay on a slightly more personal scale.

I’ll also take the opportunity to talk a bit about economies of scale and macros, which are some things that are decidedly uncommon for many regular MMOs.

More Planning for the Raeli Oven Project

Previously, I shared my hopes for working towards the building of my own personal Raeli Oven. Among other things, I’m going to need 3000 Clay Bricks and 20 Clay-Steeped Wool Cloth for that grand project.

Just how much total clay in raw materials is going to be required?

I already have the Wool Cloth, so I just need to soak it in my tubs. This requires:

1 Wool Cloth
10 Clay
20 Water in Jugs

The Jugs themselves are not consumed, just the water, so it’s no biggy. That’s 20 x 10… 200 Clay for the cloth.

12 Wet Clay Bricks are made from 8 Clay and 4 Sand.

This -is- a desert, so sand is essentially free. Just wander over to an area with sand, and pick up as much as you can carry, any time you like.

That makes 3000 Bricks / 12 * 8 Clay = 2000 Clay

In total, 2200 Clay will be needed.

*gulp*

By the way, as previously mentioned, if not for this blog, I really wouldn’t plan as much. I’m more of a go-with-the-flow kind of person, so I would probably just log on, work on making as many Clay Bricks as I possibly could until I got bored, and then proceed to change up activities or log off. Repeat until one day I count 3000 Clay Bricks sitting in my warehouse. Point is, it doesn’t matter if you lean towards being Type A or Type B, it is still possible to play a sandbox in the manner which you enjoy.

However, if you’re more of an obsessive Type A planning sort, A Tale in the Desert will definitely feed your penchant for plans and to-do lists, and you’d probably get there a lot faster than the laid back Type Bs. (The Type Bs would probably enjoy themselves a bit more though and run less risk of burning out.)

Clay Automation

In the usual paradoxical manner of ATITD, if you have an upgraded Raeli Oven, you can actually set it to automatically dredge up clay for you.

Obviously, we don’t have one yet.

(Grrr.)

The societal shortcut route is always possible in this game. It’s how latecomers to the Tale can catch up. Those that came before had it harder, and their work can make things a lot easier for those coming after. It is always possible to get into a Guild with upgraded Raeli Ovens, earn enough trust to be allowed to operate them, and get your Tiles that way, or Clay, and the guild probably already has a ginormous stockpile of Clay somewhere. Or you could trade for it, etc, etc.

I do have social ties to some very nice veterans that I can always ask for help, but you know, it wouldn’t be as fun. Often, I find I like having those ties for the company, the community, and just reassuring backup that if all else fails, there’s always the guild option and asking for a loan. Continually begging would wear down on one’s social reputation, diminishing trust (it’s all interrelated in this game) and worse, I would always feel so inferior and needy and never learn and improve. That’s one of the things I love in ATITD, coming up with one’s own personal methods for generating resources.

You see, it’s all about those economies of scale again.

With 1 Jug or 10 Jugs, collecting 2200 clay is going to suck pretty hard. You’d have to repeat the “Get Water into Jugs” step too many times and interrupt the process of clay collection.

Typically, players have already made themselves upwards of 100-500 Jugs, depending on how much you can and feel like carrying.

Rummaging around in my warehouses, I eventually locate my Jugs (haha) and find I have 360 to hand, which isn’t too bad. Remember, it’s that whole finding your personal balance point thing again. It’ll take a much longer time investment to create 1000 Jugs rather than 100 Jugs, and only you can decide when enough is enough, or when it isn’t enough.

I pop over to the nearby water source (this is why many players live by the River Nile, and a nearby water source is something new players should bear in mind when looking for a site to call their own) and fill them up.

Quick recap: With 360 Water in Jugs, position oneself over a clay patch, and click on the red clay icon.

“Clunk” goes the sound effect, and 1 Clay pops into your inventory. The icon disappears.  Now you’ll have to move a few steps until the red clay icon appears again, and click once more. Rinse and repeat until you run out of Water in Jugs.

Moving a few steps can be done in two ways:

  1. Click a spot to move there, aka click-to-move.
  2. Minimizing chat channels, then using the arrow keys (not WASD) to move left, right, up, down.

Pop quiz for the math inclined. How many clicks (and key presses) is it going to take to collect 2200 Clay?

Frankly, I don’t know. I’m really poor at math. And Diablo, this game is not.

But it -is- hardcore, in its own way.

It’s a sandbox. You COULD choose to manually click your way to 2200 Clay. No one will stop you. (Though they may point and laugh.)

(Just kidding.)

On The Care and Feeding of Macros

One of my most favorite things about ATITD besides the nice, welcoming community with a small-town feel reminiscent of MUDs, is that the use of macros are legally allowed.

The only thing that is illegal is UNATTENDED macro’ing. If a GM or staff member catches you unable to respond and your character busy botting away, then you’re looking at a ban. There goes your character, your sub and your everything, permadeath essentially. Who says ATITD isn’t hardcore? Moral of the story: Sit and look at your screen and be able to respond and all will be well.

Macros are something that all players should try giving a go with. It’s like a minigame of its own, sitting there planning out your scripted moves, testing, re-testing, until sweet success, stuff works as desired and all that prior time and effort invested will save you time and make it more convenient for you later on. (Sound like the rest of ATITD to you? Yep.)

I have the fondest, nostalgic memories about doing similar things with the MUD I used to play. Some MUDs ban the use of macros and scripts, but mine was always okay with them. So I’d sit and play around with speedwalks (a quick list of n, e, s, w directions to quickly move from place to place), aliases (shortcut abbreviations expanding out to whole word commands), macros and triggers. I was supremely competitive at the time, and found that all this stuff gave me a significant edge over those who didn’t use such things, and won plenty of contests as a result. These things are not just plug-and-play add-ons though, the user is also important in identifying the things that are best shortcutted, customizing all the inputs so that it becomes second nature and knowing how and when best to use the tools.

In many of those old MUD contests, they’d test your knowledge of the quirks, trivia and lore of the MUD too, and that’s not something macros can help with. You yourself the player must have the knowledge and the skill. The machine, the macros, are your tools. I coined my own term for this interrelationship of human input and macro response to produce results quicker than most people can conceive or attain – I called it “cyborging” and it’s an exceptional experience. For me, it hit a flow state very quickly, and all those expressions of “How the fuck?” “Wow” “Goddamn, you’re good” just added egoistical icing on top. Until the burn out, but that’s another tale.

So, back to ATITD. Can we macro clay?

You betcha. In the community spirit of ATITD, people come together to help each other out, and many exceptionally skilled people (far far better mathematicians and programmers than I) have written things for others to use. Macro scripts and even whole programs or macro engines specifically for ATITD. Convinced that ATITD is hardcore yet?

There’s plenty to pick and choose from. As these blog posts progress, I’ll show you the ones I like to use. Who knows, maybe it’ll be helpful for a new player looking for tips, because a lot of this stuff is NOT obvious at all. When I first started playing ATITD as a newbie, I remember feeling absolutely amazed, out of my league, and unable to conceive just how other players were so gosh-darned productive. Even now, I observe a lot of people logging in, trying out the game, encountering stuck points, and then giving up and disappearing for good without making the leap to a level they can be comfortable at and contribute to the community.

I had the good fortune of meeting some very nice veterans every Telling I played and joining guilds where I could observe how better players play. Plenty of wiki reading, people watching and experimentation paved the way for me to talk about this. Fair warning: I am by no means as skilled as most of the veterans in this game, I’m probably not as efficient as it’s possible to be, but I’d like to share all the same.

Do bear in mind the central theme of ATITD – “finding your own balance point,” what works for me may not work for you or someone else, but it’s nice to see what other people are doing and learn from them and find what works for you.

Sorry. Clay now, I promise. I’m fond of the first program I used way back in Tale 4. Rogarian’s R-Cubed. (Yes, you can truly attain fame in this game, this sandbox gives plenty of opportunities for people to specialize, shine, and put their names on things. Like programs. Are you tired of me saying this word yet? Hardcore.)

It’s very simple to use. Still gives you plenty of control – I’m not fond of full automation, I find it either has a tendency to break or you get so bored of watching the program play the game for you that you either ask yourself what’s the point of me being in the picture, or you walk away from the computer… don’t come crying to me later if you get banned then.

And R-Cubed will stop the moment you alt-tab away from the active window, so it has honesty built into its very core. You -will- be looking at the screen and at the game (unless you walk off AFK, but see above.)

It’s fun to see how ingenious players can get, by analyzing how each macro or program works. R-Cubed looks for the clay icon (or grass, or slate) by periodically checking the color of a pixel on your screen, location and color selected by the player. When you start the macro, hit ctrl and your mouse cursor turns into a cross and acts as a color picker.

Move the mouse cursor over to the red clay icon, check the eye to make sure the pixel color is something unique to the clay icon, and not the surroundings, and release ctrl. That’s it.

R-Cubed checks, and whenever it sees dark red (in this case), it moves your mouse cursor over the icon and left-clicks for you. Clunk, 1 Clay collected.

What it doesn’t do, is move your character for you. But it’s good, in this way, you have more options!

  1. You can opt to move yourself. Just click to run to the start of the clay patch, and your character will move slowly to that spot, picking up clay thanks to R-Cubed as they move.
  2. If you’re like me and crave a bit of twitch every now and then, or want fine control over the way you move, you can minimize your chat channels and use the arrow keys to move up and down, left and around, in circles and in stripes on your clay patch amusing yourself while R-Cubed does all the grunt work of getting clay.
  3. Or you can layer a second macro program with R-Cubed that will actually move your character about.

There’s nothing as boring as repetition, so I actually use all three options for the sake of variety.

In the case of the third option, I make use of my Logitech G25 keyboard because it’s quick and easy and I need an excuse to use it).

But one can always find another macro program that will press up (or left) for a set number of seconds, and then down (or right) for a set number of seconds, and repeat X times, or a program that clicks a location on the screen for you, or whatever. Personal choice and all. It often isn’t worth the trouble unless you really think you need to spend hours on obtaining Clay.

I actively regulate the amount of interactivity I have with ATITD tasks. I believe it’s part of the efficiency/finding your own balance point game. Fully automating it takes away the fun for me because I like some twitch and some input every now and then. For others, they may enjoy looking at the end result of their work in scripting the macro, but I still think it gets boring after just passively watching your character pick up the 300th piece of clay.

So I went back to clicking with the mouse every 5 seconds or so to indicate where my character should run and meditatively listening to the *chunk* *chunk* *chunk* of Clay being picked up and reading public chatter on various chat channels. (And taking screenshots and composing this blog post in my head while my hands were occupied.)

40 minutes of idle clicking later, I have my 2200 Clay.

Again, if I weren’t blog posting, I’d would honestly break gathering up into chunks so that it doesn’t feel too much like a marathon. 5-10 minutes of one activity, do something else, putter about, switch up the variety, and then go back to it.

It just makes it really hard to organize or write a blog post about how you’ve partially done 8 different things. 🙂

On “Grinding”

I believe there is no such thing as “grind” as long as you are aware of your own feelings and reactions and honest with yourself.

1) Are you taking any pleasure in the -present- activity you are doing? (Not looking forward to what you’ll feel when you reach the end, but actively, what you’re doing, do you like it?)

If you’re neutral, or just tolerating it, that’s a warning sign. Do ask yourself if the long-term gain will be worth it or if you might regret it later. And be on the lookout for emotional progress to…

Actively loathing is bad. Stop, stop now, before it’s too late and you ruin the activity for yourself for good. Take a break, go do something else. Come back only when you can honestly answer yes to the question, being neutral isn’t good enough once you’ve ever started hating the activity before.

2) Whenever you start feeling bored with the repetition, even though you do think the activity still has its positive sides, stop and do something else. Don’t ever try to ‘work’ through it or push yourself through a bad spot. It doesn’t work. Burnout lurks behind that self-rationalizing corner. It’s a game, it’s not meant to be a chore or an obligation.

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.

Runescape: Quest For Bread

Recently, Runescape lit up my radar in a big way.

I always had the vague intention of giving it a try but never found the time till now. It was probably for the best, as I am given to understand they recently did a graphical update in the last two years (I was never really impressed with Runescape pics previously, but now they have a very decent cartoony polygonal cuteness to them) and just in February 2012, redid their new player experience.

Well, it worked. After a bloodstirring soundtrack while the client updated (absolutely classic, reminded me of Guild Wars 2 and Skyrim gets you into the mood for adventure), my new character was given a 14-day free “members” trial, then thrown into a town under siege by rock-like trolls, and some conversation and story later, introduced to the basics of combat, and step by step walked through the process of how to level most of the skills in a helpful twin town setting of Bunthorpe and Taverley. One nice touch, the storekeepers had freebie samples which were more than sufficient for a new player to learn the ropes, but not enough to go crazy grinding with.

Take note, this is how to sell a game. Give the player a taste of the good stuff, explain clearly what is for members and what is not, show ’em all the nice skills members have, get them used to having them, let them have a good time, and then show them EVEN MORE loyalty rewards you could stand to accrue if you continued with a membership, and then OFFER them a ludicrous 75% off your first month subscription then and there.

Whoever Runescape has for a marketing director, he is an evil genius. The barrier for entry was so low it eroded away any resistance I could put up. So I put down the equivalent of a buck ninety five in USD and am now subscribed for a month to Runescape.

One of the most common critiques I hear about this game is that it is an awful grind to “skill up.” I can see the potential for it to become such if getting to the end of the progress bar was all a person cared about, because it involves considerable repetitive clicking action.

But then again, through a browse of the Runescape wiki, I see the game as more of a long-term sandbox. Yes, I said sandbox. There seem to be a million and one different minigames and activities that you could be doing in Runescape. Choose what you want to do, develop laterally as you do that activity, and swap activities when you’re bored, seem to be way to play Runescape, similar to how one might attempt Guild Wars or A Tale in the Desert. Certain crafting activities are meant to take time and involve repetitive action, because in that way, lazy people can pay crafters to do it, and voila, you have an economy.

One of the things that attracts me most to Runescape is the quest content. It is oldschool. As in, slightly more Everquest or MUD inspired than the WoW sort. You talk to the NPC, you have a conversation that doesn’t comprise of two summary sentences, there is some humorous banter back and forth, and horror of horrors, you may even need to check a map to plan your path because there’s no automatic waypoint arrow. 🙂 That said, the new tutorial DID have waypoint arrows, and was very helpful in explaining to a Runescape newbie that other quests may not be so simple.

And did I mention the humorous banter? It reminds me of Quest For Glory and its ilk. I found a Thieves’ Guild in the older tutorial town of Lumbridge, and had many flashbacks to the old Sierra game while I helped the Guildmaster “procure” a treasure chalice. Afterward, I was laughing with great amusement as my character ribbed the Guildmaster, “Are you sure you have a buyer for the chalice?” “Sure, why wouldn’t I have?” “Well, the chalice wasn’t where you said it would be, and wasn’t with who you said had it, so maybe you don’t have a buyer either.” So far, many of the conversations with the NPCs go like that, fairly lighthearted, not taking themselves very seriously and occasionally gently poking at the fourth wall. It’s good fun.

Also impressive are the crafting options in Runescape. They are pretty deep. A piece of bronze armor involves mining copper and tin, finding a forge to smelt it into bars, finding an anvil to hammer it into shape. So far, not too dissimilar from regular MMOs. But then while mining copper and tin, lapis lazuli ore pops out, and you can craft and cut it into a polished gem. And then you need to chop down trees, which may yield a knot of wood, which then gets worked into a brooch setting, which you can pop the polished gem into. And speaking of those trees you cut down, the logs can be lit on fire, which you can then cook with, or turned into wooden materials to craft with further, including arrow shafts… which then need to be fitted with bronze arrowheads (see mining and smithing) and feathers (enter hunting for swifts by laying traps and chicken slaughtering). And those dead chickens? Well you can cook them. And those bones that all mobs drop? Buryable for piety skill increases.

Two main differences I can detect from most normal MMOs. One, you can do it all. Yes, no artificial “choose two professions, now make more alts to get the other crafting professions.” It’s just going to take you a really long time to grind up to very good in all of the skills if you really choose to do it all, I guess.

And two, I really like the “Use X on Y” ability command. This is an adventure game thing. The sense of immersion goes way up if you can opt to creatively combine or use verbs on various items.

Here’s me attempting to make bread:

Step 1 – Open gate to wheat field. Pick wheat. Each stalk is an interactable object.

Step 2 – Proceed to flour mill. One of the nice things about having less taxing graphics is that we can have buildings that cutaway to reveal interiors without needing to zone to a new instance.

Step 3 – In the ground floor of the mill, there is the receptacle the flour will eventually end up, a convenient empty pot for picking up the flour with, and an optional miller NPC you can talk to and exchange pleasantries as well as ask how to grind flour. Yes, you can find things out from NPCs, not just a third-party wiki!

Step 4 – Climb the ladder and head two stories up. Use wheat on hopper. (Did I mention I love that “Use X on Y” command?) Operate hopper lever controls. *grind grind*

Climb back down ladder.

Step 5 – Take empty pot. Use empty pot on flour bin. Hooray, you have obtained FLOUR!

Here’s another nice thing about Runescape and their introductory experience. There’s a ding practically every step. There are seemingly a thousand and one simple tasks, that you can either follow and do via the task list, or even just wander the world talking to people and doing random stuff, and voila, a Task Complete pops up to surprise you and give you that warm fuzzy feeling of virtual achievement.

Every tiny increase in skill is made a big deal of by treating it as separate levels and giving it the whole level fireworks shebang. This is such a contrast to say, something like Wurm Online, where you are told in no uncertain terms that your skill is something like 6.7% and you’re going to fail repeatedly at making misshapen lumpy objects while you increment it to 7% and then 8%. You’re left feeling inadequate, and wondering if it’s worth the time, especially since each attempt takes up several boring tens of seconds watching an identical progress bar move.

In Runescape, let’s face it. Going from level 1 to level 99 is mathematically still the same thing as trying to get from 1% skill to 99% skill. But the semantics is different, and the way it’s dealt with is different. Most actions you attempt will succeed. If you fail, you either automatically keep attempting it, or you can repeat the action. Each successful action gives you a visible XP popup, indicating your gradual progress. And when you cross from midway through level 6 to level 7, wow, does the game celebrate your teeny tiny achievement. Hurrah, you are one level higher! It does make a difference.

Ok, back to bread. After flour, one goes looking for a source of water like a well to wet the flour and turn it into bread dough. I got lost, couldn’t find a well, eventually stumbled into a spooky little town called Draynor Village which was all shadowy and looked way too high level for me, found a water pump, successfully got bread dough, couldn’t find a working oven range to bake said bread dough into bread, wussed out and teleported back to the newb village of Lumbridge, where I couldn’t find a working oven range either because the cook at the castle had me traipsing off on another half-completed quest, and got totally distracted with the Thieves’ Guild questline instead.

I ended up wandering through a swamp where I decided to kill not ten, but a few, evil-looking giant rats for the fun of it, picked some nettles from outside a hermit’s cottage (swiping his leather gloves in order not to get stung by the nettles), and lighting fires outside the poor man’s hut in order to distract him, pickpocket the key he was carrying, in order to get at the treasure the Thieves’ Guild wanted.

There will be other days for breadmaking. Adventure calls!

You know, if only more people would try stuff outside their comfort zone (and click to walk with no WASD movement is probably Runescape’s biggest hurdle to regular MMO players), they’d find that sandboxes are already out there.