In essence, I like creators who trust me to work things out for myself. In that context, if in no other, I prefer not to take the easiest path. And, of course, for me it's not that hard a path anyway. I've read a lot of stories; I've seen a lot of films; I already have a rough map to the territory, coming in.
|I feel a plot coming on.|
When I step into a new MMO, then, I really don't need to be told which keys to press for forward or back, how to open my inventory (let alone that I have one and what it's for) nor all the rest of that crucial stuff (although some indication of which arcane combination of keys you expect me to press to hide the UI and take a screenshot? That would be nice...) but I understand that other people do. Every MMO is someone's first and, by many accounts, where most fail is in those opening minutes.
While you and I are tutting and head-shaking and feeling patronized, all around us new players are throwing up their hands in frustration, logging out and uninstalling. Or so the story goes.
|Anyone got a torch?|
Well, that's not a narrative that fits any more. In the lost days of Big Budget MMORPGs chasing the WoW dollar every launch hoped to open the floodgates to a fresh demographic. Or at least grab a chunk of the one that believed the genre started and ended in Azeroth.
Old school, Kickstarted MMOs like Project Gorgon don't need to worry so much about things like that. No-one's going to be uninstalling after the first session there because the game didn't explain how to get a quest or click a hotbar. We hope...
And yet, first impressions still matter. Just because you can trust your customers to work out which end of the sword is pointy all by themselves doesn't mean they won't still be making snap decisions based on what there is to see and do in the first few minutes. Which is why Project Gorgon's original opening in a dark, claustrophobic cave was always going to be a problem.
|Head towards the light...|
It seems odd that the experienced Elder Game team needed this pointing out to them but they did. As Eric explains in the latest Kickstarter update, " we've created an all new tutorial area, because lots of people told us that our old tutorial cave was distractingly ugly". Well, duh...
Now it's gone and good riddance. "The new tutorial is outdoors, on an island. The island is in-game now, so if you're interested in seeing it, just hop in and make a new character" says Eric. Which is just what I did.
Eric and the team have plumped for the genre-traditional "You wake up on a beach with no memory of who you are or how you got there" opening. It may not be original - okay, it may be the oldest cliche in the RPG book - but it's a classic for good reason. Starting as an amnesiac on an island simultaneously provides motivation, structure, boundaries and freedom of expression. You'll want to explore but you won't want to stay. You'll know what you need to do but be free to make your own choices.
|I'll just hang around here until the sun comes up if that's okay with you.|
To a degree, that is. There's a narrative structure rumbling, reassuringly, along in the background. There probably always was although I don't remember it from my previous and only run through character creation almost exactly two years ago. There's even a hint that the much-derided title, "Project:Gorgon" (something else Eric must have heard plenty of criticism about, criticism that he has, so far at least, chosen to ignore) might actually mean something.
I won't go over the entire starting experience. It will be familiar to anyone who's ever played an MMORPG before. Kill skeleton, loot skeleton, wear skeleton's pants, repeat until fully dressed. See NPC, talk to NPC, follow simple instructions, profit, progress. It's an MMORPG starting zone after all.
|Okay, now you're just taking the mick.|
It's also compulsive, entertaining and paced just right. There's a straightforward questline that needs to be completed before you earn the ability to leave the island for the great, wide world. Again, it's not in the least original but it's smart, fun and satisfying. I'm not quite convinced that Eric's as funny as he thinks he is and there may be tonal issues down the line if this is all heading where it looks as though it could be, but those are small problems, easily overlooked, when the gameplay itself is so satisfying.
The game as a whole seems to be progressing furiously even without the great, unwashed hordes from Steam. The general chat channel was scrolling too fast to follow at times. The starter island was heaving with badly-dressed, confused adventurers picking their way between the hundreds of tombstones of their fallen comrades. The channels echoed to the eternal, plaintive question, repeated so often it rarely received a reply: "How do I get off this island"?
|Can't imagine why but I just get the feeling there's something significant about this place...|
It wasn't that hard. It took me about an hour and a half, most of which was exploring and getting lost. The map's not much help. The island looks great, at least in terms of art design, which is one P:G's many strengths. We may be back in the early 2000s when it comes to graphical quality but good art design is timeless.
Overall, the new island starting area is a vast improvement on the old cave. Some of the more interesting content has been retained, transplanted whole to a fresh home in the open air. A lot more is brand new.
|Hope you like pink|
The one barrier I used to worry would put people off - starting in the cave - has been removed and along with it any slight hesitation I ever had in recommending curious parties try it for themselves. Just be aware that P:G does have something Syp will approve of: a relativedly convincing day/night cycle. If you happen to log in for the first time at around midnight game-time, as I did, you might think you're still in a cave after all!
|School's out. Forever.|
That's not going to last forever. The New Player Experience is part of the final polish push to get the game up to Early Access specs that will satisfy even the Jesse Rapczaks of this world, or so it's hoped. As Eric explains, "The Steam early access launch is probably our last major opportunity to earn money to improve our art. (The Kickstarter money is more than enough to get the game to the finish line, but $75k can only buy so much art, no matter how cleverly we spend it. So the Steam launch will help determine how good the game can look.)"
Which begs one question: how come, visually, the game looks so much less spiffy now than it did when I first saw it, two years ago? Look back at those screenshots in the linked post above from 2013. It doesn't even begin to look like the same game. The textures seem far more detailed, the colors deeper and richer. And that's not all.
The town of Serbule, as I observed back then, looked so convincing I felt someone might be using photo-reference. "The walled, medieval village is one of the best I've seen in a game as far as spurious authenticity goes. I've been in that village several times, in France, in Spain, in Portugal" I said. It doesn't look like that now. It doesn't look anything like that. What happened?
|And so we say farewell to the island. Anagoge. |
Wait.. is that its name or is that the day of the week?
No matter how well it turns out, how good it looks and how well it plays, I guess, being realistic, it isn't all that likely that Project: Gorgon will ever end up being my main MMO. That said, I think it has a very good chance of remaining one of the MMOs I play, for a long time to come. It's quirky, fun, satisfying and full of potential.
I still don't want to play as a cow though. Even if they do get their own town.