Saturday, 9 January 2016

Full Steam Ahead: Project:Gorgon

As I may have mentioned about a thousand times before, I don't much like tutorials in my MMOs. I've always been a big in media res fan. I like stories that begin with a conversation between people you don't know talking about things you don't understand and movies that start in the middle of the plot and don't go back to explain what happened before you arrived.

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 key indicator that this revamp has worked exceptionally well is that, having made a new character and got him off the island, that's now the character I feel motivated to progress. Somehow I feel more connected to him after just these two, short sessions than I do to my original catgirl, even though she's racked up many more hours in game and has history (not to mention much better gear and skills...hmm, maybe I need to rethink this).

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.
With that in mind, if anyone's still on the fence about Project: Gorgon, now would be a good time to jump down and kick the wheels. Eric had said they were going to close the doors after the successful Kickstarter, when the whole affair moved to Steam, but for a while yet it's still in open alpha and free to all-comers.

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.
Keyword: gorgon.

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?
Put it down to another of those "better in beta" things, I guess. Or, in this case," better in pre-alpha". I'm not expecting any amount of Steam money to put things back to how they were. I'm just grateful I was able to see Serbule in its glory days and take some photos to remember it by.

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.

3 comments:

  1. Now I have to try this again! I played it back in the cave days!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I actually got back into the game last night to see the new starter area. Better than the cave for sure. On the other hand, I changed my video settings and the UI stopped responding and I got slain by a spider while unable to move/respond. Still some work to go methinks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is my review of the MMO Project Gorgon.

    I don't see why this game is all the rage right now because
    I tried it and it really isn't anything special at all.

    First off just to run this game you need a 64 bit
    Operating system because the client is so horribly
    unoptomized that you need over 1 Gig of ram just to
    run their crappy client therefore limiting the number of
    people who can play this game.

    So I did have a chance to try this game, this game is built
    off of the Unity Engine. The graphics on this game are
    old and outdated and the developer should have selected
    a way better engine to build this game off of.
    The developer has made a gross error right from the start
    with the selection of the unity engine.

    Once you get into the game itself the user interface itself
    is horribly clunky and you can't reposition a lot of the bars
    in this game.

    The camera movement is horrible on this game the camera will
    just swing backwards sometimes on you when you are in a dungeon
    and the camera doesn't properly follow your character.
    The whole way the camera follows your character in this game
    is horribly done.

    The game at points is very laggy as well and I believe that
    a lot of the time the server which is running this game
    can't handle the load it is being put under.

    Soon as they put this game on Steam as well it is just going
    to get worse.

    So lets move onto the people that are playing this game over
    all a lot of the people who are playing this game are just
    eltist jerks who won't help new players and are extremely
    unfriendly and rude. I found that it is best to keep off
    of the Global channel and avoid these people all together.

    so what do you do in this game? Basically the answer to that
    is grind. You are either grinding favor with certain NPCs or
    grinding for councils which is the money on Project Gorgon.
    Or grinding up skills.

    This game is extremely grindy and lacks a lot of other things
    to do that don't require grinding. The game gets very repetitious
    and borning very fast with all the grinding which you have to do.

    A lot of the time in dungeons as well on this game the monsters
    respawn way too fast and can call other monsters who are in
    other rooms and calls them though the walls once again this just
    shows how buggy and poorly designed that this game is.

    Also when you first start this game they have set this game up
    in such a way that the NPC merchants in town only have a limited
    amount of money so it limits the amount of money you can make
    because when you sell them something the total is deducted from
    the amount of money available from that NPC and the only way to
    make it so that NPC has more money available is to grind favor
    with that NPC to get to the next higher favor level. Which makes
    making councils in this game a real pain.

    Skills in this game are quite broken right now as well such
    as Necromancy and a lot of the animal skills as well.

    The game also seems to lack any kind of PVP as well with only one
    dungeon area where you can PVP. There is no open world PVP in
    this game.

    Even for this game being Alpha it is poorly designed and being
    poorly developed and it isn't really worth your time.

    ReplyDelete

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