Interview: A Tale in the Desert II, the First Month

  • October 13, 2004
  • by: Ophelea
  • available on: PC

A Tale in the Desert II

Developer: eGenesis
Publisher: eGenesis

Release Date: 09/06/2004

ESRB: E

Genre: rpg
Setting: fantasy
Unique in the world of Massive Online Gaming is A Tale in the Desert, the Second Telling. The title should give you some hint - this is its "second" go around. No, the game didn't restart - well, not exactly.

As in The First Telling, a Stranger comes to Egypt and tasks the people to create the perfect society. Players work to develop this society through technology, leadership, socialism - no combat in this game. However, with each telling the peoples of Egypt gain new tools, new technologies and new tests of their abilities.

The Second Telling has brought enormous changes in technologie and a gorgeous improvement in graphics and sound. There is a newly designed website and both Macintosh and Linux clients!

As each telling is only 6-months long, we'll speak to Pharaoh each month to see how Civilization is progressing - and whether the Stranger is correct.

Ophelea: Wow, look at all these people and all of this art! There's tons of it along both sides of the road. There's a big Peace! sign and a building with some lips? and some sheep that are fighting over something to eat....

Kipeo: I have no idea where I am but there's tons of art here, too. I'm at a place with silver scarabs.

Ophelea: There's Pharaoh!

Andrew Tepper: I've never been here before. Actually, a lot of this stuff is very Egyptian looking. This does have this primitive Egyptian art look.

Ophelea: You notice how much of there is!

Peasants and citizens now start bowing to Pharaoh
Ophelea: Andrew, how have things been going for your first month. The sheer volume of structures makes it very obvious that they are building!

Andrew Tepper: Great! We peaked at about 2500 subscriptions. We're above 2400 right now. It's the same pattern from Tale 1, you rise approximately a month and then taper off slightly.

In Tale 1 our peak was 2100. And here we've peaked at 2500 but I'm not counting our German players due to a delay in subscriptions numbers so we've certainly topped 2500!

Ophelea: If you were to add your German players into that total what would you guesstimate your subscriber base to be at?

Andrew Tepper: *laughs* I'm actually not at liberty to say.

I'm very pleased. This is without the Mac client yet released [it was released on the 8th of Oct - ED.] and without beginning a full advertising campaign or the website redesign due any day now.

Kipeo: How many Tests have been introduced to date?

Andrew Tepper: If you count initiations - the tests necessary to attain Citizenship (without which you cannot advance in the game) - we've opened 6 of the Initiation tests because the technology level in Egypt isn't high enough for the players to have reached the seventh.

Ophelea: Meaning the players haven't advanced far enough in the basic skills to actually complete the Test yet?

Andrew Tepper: Once each initiation is completed it opens up one test. In Architecture, there's one test released; in Art there are zero; in Body there is one; Conflict has one; Leadership currently has two; Worship has one; and Thought is the one where the technology isn't high enough to reach the initiation yet.

What we've tried to do is ensure that we release a new technology or Test or "something" everyday, but to release a "major" content interaction no less often than every 2 days. Yesterday we released Rhythmic Strength yesterday [Grants the ability to use a bronze scythe to gather more deben of grass per click of the action icon, similar to the use of hatchets on trees. The quality of the scythe determines the amount extra that is collected - ED.]

At this point the players have discovered that Pharaoh is in the land and are repeatedly bowing to him, calling him "mighty Pharaoh" and the like.
Andrew Tepper: The Test of the Demi Pharaoh was released yesterday. [A new Demi-Pharaoh is elected approximately once every month (Pharaoh-triggered election). Each Demi-Pharaoh has the ability to permanently ban up to seven people from Egypt. The ban applies to the character, not to the player; a banned player may create a new character. Demi-Pharaohs are elected for life; there is no way to remove a Demi-Pharaoh from office. Demi-Pharaohs may not use their power to ban each other, although a Demi Pharaoh may be banned through the legal system. The legal system may not, however, be used to limit the powers of a Demi-Pharaoh or interfere with the election process. - ED.]

You'll also find that you can follow the events in game by opening the channel /events and follow each new challenge as it's presented. What's different with Tale 2 is that now all of the tests are announced in character - the Stranger issues the challenges. We learned from Tale 1 that the Stranger is not evil, but his approach is confrontational - he doubts that Egypt is worthy of fulfilling the prophecies; his generation did it but this generation cannot because they're all to petty and fighting with each other so he's going to test the Egyptians.

Ophelea: Have any of the Tests that have been placed to date been new tests? I know you'd planned on using both Tests from Tale 1 and creating new Tests for Tale 2.

Andrew Tepper: We've not yet placed any new tests but we've placed a very large number of new technologies. New Tests won't appear until after the player gathering this weekend (gathering has passed). We will start coding those this week - but the Tests will be based upon some of the things we will be doing at the player gathering in Pittsburgh.

Kipeo: You've said you placed new technologies and based upon the Events Calendar I'm reading I see a lot about herblore. Can you talk a little about that?

Andrew Tepper: Here you'll see some of the new rare herbs - there are approximately 150 of them.

Kipeo: This brown plant here has no name...

Andrew Tepper: That is correct. You'll need to learn to identify it. Each one looks different and you'll have about a dozen different ways of obtaining the herb. Once you have the foraging skill you'll have different choices to forage that herb:

  • Cut away the outer stem
  • Harvest the Root pith
  • Trim the Root fibres
  • Snip the leaf stems
  • Peel back the stem base
  • Scrape off the stem pith
  • Remove the Tap Root
  • Pick out the seeds
  • Crush the stems
  • Pluck the leaves
  • Squeeze out the sap
  • Scrape away the leaf hairs

    If you forage the herb incorrectly, you destroy it. Once you do correctly, you'll have identified it and will know from that point on what that herb is. Now, this is not only a character-based skill but also a player-based skill. Once you've correctly foraged and herb your character can recognize it from that point on. However, an astute player will start to notice the way a woody plant sways in the wind or whether the leaves turn in a certain way. The characteristics that plants share in common will help a player to determine the most likely way to forage that herb.

    Ophelea: And the herbs are used for?

    Andrew Tepper: Cooking. Cooking is going to be a large part of Tale 2. Some of these herbs will have a rarity at 500 times of others so identification will become an important player skill.

    Metallurgy has some new improvements to it also. As you can see here, we have a large anvil. What I am actually doing is working to shape the metal into the most perfect blade that I can. This is another player-based skill. As they work at this they will get better and better at producing blades. We've also added what we call Fragile Metallurgy which is taking a more valuable but less available metal and working to shape it - however the number of times you can strike the metal is limited before it becomes irreparably damaged.

    Ophelea: I'm looking at a Glazier's Bench?

    Andrew Tepper: Yes! We've actually worked with the local university to develop our glass-blowing system. This is another player-based skill. The more perfect the bottle the players create the better the wine that will be contained. It will take much practice to develop good glass-blowing skills.

    Kipeo: And what will the containers be used for?

    Andrew Tepper: For cooking and wine-making. Characters will become more proficient over time at wine-tasting and determining what a truly quality wine is. The container in which it's contained will help. They'll go through the series of types of wine - fruity, woody, sweet, etc until they become expert wine-tasters.

    Ophelea: Do you still have the dueling/attacking scarabs I saw in Tale 1?

    Andrew Tepper: **laughs** That was an April Fool's joke for last year! We're known as the game that has no combat so for fun I had the scarabs attack for a day and people had to defend. It was an entire combat system with forgeable weapons.

    Ophelea: Of course! On one of the last days I logged into Tale 1!

    Travel has changed. I'm here at this Chariot Station but when I look at the travel times it tells me a total travel time and a time I have to wait?

    Andrew Tepper: Yes. Rather than have "instant" travel you can gather travel time offline. So, if say Karnak is 5 hours and 12 minutes away you can gather that time while offline so that when you log in you have little or no wait for travel. They aren't "scheduled" chariots but based upon your off-line travel time less whatever you've not yet accumulated.

    Ophelea: When I check offline chores I see more than just "accumulate travel time". There's picking grass, growing barley, etc...

    Andrew Tepper: Correct. There are some time-consuming chores that can be done offline but you have to have those skills before you complete them which is why you see your only option as accumulating travel time.

    Ophelea: I'm noticing a few of the older avatars that were transferred for existing players from Tale 1, it makes for nice variety. And your shadows are fabulous. I'm standing behind a taller avatar and seeing my shadow on top of his and the delineation between the two. Very nice, it's made a tremendous difference in how the game looks. Also the improvements in bump-mapping really shows.

    Andrew Tepper: Thank you. Our artists have gotten better at this :)

    I'd like to show you the Test of the Acrobat.

    Ophelea: That's the test that Heavy Melody Music added all of the sounds in for the various moves?

    Andrew Tepper: Yes. You have moves such as Jumping Jacks, Lunging, Headstands, etc.

    Here we see some interesting acrobatic moves
    We then all head to the University of Conflict to initiate ourselves...
    Andrew Tepper: A better test than the first Test of Conflict is the Conflict Initiation...let's head to the Reflecting Pools.

    Ophelea: "This is a Reflecting Pool. The ante is 10 wood. Play reflection". Now?

    Andrew Tepper: To play the Game of Relection you'll click on three bubbles to complete a triangle between the three. Now I will do the same thing to place my own triangle. The point is to be the last one to move and the triangles can't intersect each other. This is definately a player-skill game. It will tell you how many bubbles are left unconnected...and you'll notice that any triangle that is red means it intersects and is an illegal move.

    Ophelea: So other players can see us playing...I've got to actually move around to see this. You know math is not my strong point - spatial relations!

    Kipeo: Wow, yes I can see it. It's in full 3-D.

    Ophelea beats Pharaoh.
    Ophelea beats Kipeo.
    Ophelea grins.
    Andrew Tepper: Now, that's the Test of Reflection, the introduction Test of Conflict so the scoring is much simpler than in the real Tests of Conflict. All you need is 7 wins. You don't even need to win against different people.

    So, technically you could "cheat" it. And in Tale 1 people did "game" tests, but the scoring is much more intricate in the higher tests. And Pharaoh told them if you "game" the lower tests it's going to come back at you later in the game. The monument construction teams were lead by Oracles and even though you could cheat your way through a few levels but as the higher you went the anti-gaming system kicks in. It's really a tournament system - to get really high you'd have to monopolize the tournament and as long as half of the people don't cheat you couldn't guarantee your win.

    The Oracles knew who'd cheated their way up to Monument Construction and they'd kept track of their scoring and when the End Game came those people weren't allowed to participate. I was really proud that the players took it seriously and didn't allow those people who cheated their way up to participate. It was true highlight for me.

    The players actually organized tournaments and made sure there was no cheating going on. It was wonderful.

    Ophelea: I also remember that some of the tests you were competing against yourself - so to even cheat your way up would be difficult.

    Kipeo: Ophelea keeps telling me about the Law System...

    Andrew Tepper: Oh yes! We removed all of the laws from Tale 1 except for those that made more sense as features. The Guild system was a law because at first we allowed feature requets to be done through the legal system. A big problem in Tale 1 was that anyone could start a petition with either 25 or 40 signatures based upon their proficiency in Leadership. It simply didn't work - it was too much. There were over 800 approved laws but I simply couldn't get to them.

    We've already has laws created based upon the new compounds and what noobies can do with them.

    But, more interesting is how the laws are created. You gather signatures and those laws that have the most signatures are the ones that get my attention - and that's formalized. The 7 proposed laws that have the most signatures are on the ballot (we do ballots every 4-7 days). So, now you have to gather a lot of signatures to get a law on the ballot.

    You can gather signatures yourself or friends can help you gather signatures now. Up to 21 people can carry copies of a petition. But, you can only carry one petition at a time. IF you become a Student of Leadership you can then carry two petitions; an Apprentice of Leadership can carry three. That is one of the main rewards in progressing in the Leadership discipline - you can have more of an impact on affecting the land. Ultimately, if you become an Oracle of Leadership you could carry 8 petitions at once!

    Ophelea: How many laws per week are you passing and/or coding?

    Andrew Tepper: 5 have been passed and 4 coded - approximately 1 per week. Let me create a Voting Booth so you can see...

    Ophelea: These are interesting:

  • Driftwood Recycling Act - Peasants are required to build a Wood Plane and A Brick Rack to achieve Citizenship, but do not yet have enough experience to realize that it's also possible to remove such items. As a consequence, new member areas are awash with Driftwood. This act will reduce the inadvertant clutter in new member areas, will establish that Egypt DOES care about recycling, and will improve the new member's first impression of Egypt.
  • Removal of Public Buildings Act - This law would allow any public building within a compound, able to be torn down by the person or guild it was donated by. This would only cover buildings created with the compound project menu (in other words, it would not cover buildings built via construction site). This allows, for example, a guild who donated a student's loom to the public, in their compound to tear it down if they wanted to build a hand loom in its place.
  • Full ban of Machiavelli - For information concerning the reason for this petition see any of the numerous forum threads, www.atitd.net/forum. This law will: 1) Banish Machiavelli from this telling 2) Banish any IP that he has used for game, forum, e-mail and billing. 3) Banish any temp account started from these IP addresses 4) Banish his existence within the Credit Card billing system. He prides himself on being banned from Telling 1. Lets give him a good send off.
  • Trial Account Compound Law - To prevent misuse and littering of compounds, players with trial accounts are prohibited from expanding a compound they own to span more than 6 floor segments in either direction or creating a compound while already owning one
  • Andrew Tepper: If you look at the results of the last election you'll find them to be different. The ballots will always have 7 or fewer laws. You vote yea or nay on each one. If a proposed law gets less than 2/3rds of the vote, it is removed and is considered dead. If it is 6th or 7th on the list, regardless of the % vote, it is also removed - the two with the least support will always be removed. The top one law gets implemented. The remaining laws, assuming they still have among the most signatures, will remain on the ballot.

    Kipeo: So, it would behoove those who started proposed those laws to continue to gather signatures. Can you re-propose a law that did not garner enough votes?

    Andrew Tepper: That's correct. Those are popular ballot measures and therefore should remain. But those laws that did not pass are dead and removed. Someone could propose something similar but they'd have to garner enough signatures.

    Ophelea: I have to say I find all these pieces of art to be really impressive.

    Andrew Tepper: Yes and each of these pieces of art are built using actual resources from the game. Some of these are very expensive when you consider how disparate the resources are. For example this sculpture with the sheep, they actually had to raise the sheep! Some mushrooms are incredibly rare and really prized by people trying to do cooking and it just drives the cooks crazy when its in a sculpture. Here you can find a piece of art with stone blades that they actually shaped to make this face...

    Kipeo: This game is so large, trying to take it in is just...

    Andrew Tepper: I don't know how you communicate that you can't do everything. We have so much and I worry that people would come in and expect that they can do everything. Our average player hours is about 28 hours/week...it seems like they're trying!

    Ophelea: There is no game where you can do everything. Some games are limited by the level you are at - you don't have that but you have the skill you've achieved in any given discipline - but in most games you have no way to STOP progressing beyond levels and so you lose the ability to experience content. There are time limits imposed upon content, life, the simple fact that you may just not like something. I've noticed from previous walkthroughs with you that some of your tests are based upon spatial awareness, an ability to create art and there will be players that simply don't possess those skills. They'll find the content that interests them.

    You don't have an "ego-based" game. You don't have an "I can show you my biggest, best whatever the coolest item currently is" game. You have a social game that you come in and affect the space you are in the way that you, the player, wants.

    I don't think you need to worry about the "expectation" that I can do everything. This is a persistent world, it changes daily. You'd have to be here all day every day to experience it all.

  • Other Articles By This Author

    About the Author, Kelly Heckman (A.K.A Ophelea)

    I'm a mother of two boys, ages 11 and 13 and live in the chaos that ensues. I've a permanent disability that keeps me homebound, so books, kids, games and books are my constant companions. Oh, and books, too. *grins*

    My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.

    I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.

    I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.