Saturday, March 19, 2016

Every Picture Tells A Story : Black Desert

There's a small problem with Black Desert. It's too photogenic. It was bad enough while I had my head down, concentrating on learning the systems, running up and down dirt tracks and country lanes between small villages and family farmsteads, picking potatoes or battling goblins.

It was worse when I reached the larger settlements, Velia and Heidel, with their architectural authenticity, their realistic street planning, their curious, colorful citizens. Sailing between islands, arriving at fishing ports just as the sun fell below the horizon, climbing the steep hillside to catch the last of the light among stands of rough brush, it was already becoming clear there were more photo opportunities here than a dozen Cannes Weeks.

Gotta pick a tater or two

But now I'm on an extended road trip things are really getting out of hand. I could, with ease, put up half a dozen narrative posts like the last, each one heavily illustrated with shots I've taken as I travel.

Before I began writing this I was flipping through the folder looking at possibilities. In a couple of minutes I'd pulled out enough for three posts and I had at least twice as many more still to consider.

My float is bigger than the fish

And that's just picking the most appropriate ones to tell the stories. Stories like the way by chance I at last found the road to Calpheon as I stopped to catch my breath at the safe haven of a riverside wharf, where I'd run to escape a cluster of angry orcs.

Or the hill-fort besieged by harpies, where I weaved a path through the screeching, flapping creatures, ignoring the shouts of soldiers and the clash of steel, to leap the wall and run on, high into the mountains.

You got harpies. And you can keep them.

There, finally, I butted against the invisible walls that mark the end of explorable territory and stood, gazing wistfully into the inaccessible valleys that stretched away to  the South. That adventure taught me how to slither and slide down the steepest mountainsides without breaking bones, leaning into the fall and spraying bronze dust from my soft boots.

It also led me to watch my footing closely, which was how I found the deep, deep hole that led to the spider cave.

Cave of the Unfortunately Mistranslated Spiders

That's an experience I choose not to recall too clearly. One blurred shot, taken at a dead run, is all I have to prove I was there. Oh, that and the photograph of the explorers before me; the ones who didn't climb so well or run so fast.

You're going to need some better boots.

A vendor in some village or farm, whose name and location on the map I don't recall and forgot to mark, sold me a pair of shoes that let me jump higher and farther, a bargain at thirty thousand silver. That fortuitous purchase changed the way I moved forever (or at least until they break, which he warned me they very well may should I die while wearing them). Without them I'm not sure I could have escaped the spiders or found a whole new rooftop world in Calpheon.

I could climb that.

When I came to Calpheon, great city of the West, it was of course, late in the evening. It's always "late in the evening" when I arrive anywhere. It seems as though I never get to see anything in full daylight. One moment I was gazing up at the rooftops from the road as wagons thundered by: minutes later I looked down on that same road from the tiles. These days I climb like a goat. And after all this running probably smell like one, too.

Told you!

Much has been said about Calpheon, mostly by Syl. I was ready to be impressed and I was, although the city is smaller than I expected, somewhere between Caceres and Trujillo, perhaps. Again, leaving aside a population leavened with goblins, giants and talking otters, this is a fair representation of a true, southern European medieval town.

Where did I put my Rough Guide?

The churches, markets, parks and public buildings all ring with authority. I spent a good while exploring with the UI switched off and the camera pulled back to first-person view. It felt almost disturbingly real. Once again, as I thought when I took the balloon ride in Ninelives, I could see the possibilities of VR very strongly.

Now That's What I Call Inappropriately Dressed Vol 1.

I called Mrs Bhagpuss in to take a look and she compared it to "Divinity's Reach without the confetti". They are very similar, if only in scale and scope and imagination and detail. The main difference, I think, is that Queen Jennah's capital is a pristine fairy-tale confection while Calpheon is a mostly-successful attempt to render a working city of the high-medieval period, with fantasy trappings.

I always try to get a room with a balcony.

Calpheon was a wonder but I was still restless. In my next session, which again began just as the sun was going down, I took the road west, past the great hulk of Calpheon Castle, whose barred door I tried to beat down without success and in whose moat I fished for dace and notch jaw for a while.

In time I came to the great forests where Treants are lumbered for their wood, a peculiarly disturbing concept, although why it should be more so than butchering boar for their meat I can't quite say.

Um, did I see that plank...twitch?

I spent a while in the busy lumber camps around Trent. Timber production and processing goes on there at an almost industrial scale, drawing in all kinds of new, strange races for the heavy lifting and the silver to be made. I talked with a troll, a people who here are untypically jolly and cheerful, fond of clapping their ham-like hands and laughing. A massive ogre hefting tree trunks was less willing to chat.

Chattiest troll I ever knew.

A catfish-man held a roadside node and a fanged Khuroto another. In the crowds I saw other races I couldn't yet identify. No elves, though, for which small mercy many thanks. Eventually the last of the light left the treetops and full night fell. Not wishing to be lost in the dark forest when the monsters took their strength from darkness I sneaked into a hunting lodge in Behr and settled for the night.

Around these parts they tell of a catfish that walks like a man.

There's been little time to "play" Black Desert this week. By the time I get home from work and do my dailies on three accounts in GW2, it's usually pushing nine o'clock. By chance this has also been a very lively week in World vs World, with Jade Quarry hitting back hard against the domination Yak's Bend has shown for the previous month. There have been calls to arms that I've been happy to answer.

No, but have you got any elf-skin gloves?

Consequently all the Black Desert I've been able to manage has been an hour or so late in the evening. It's been days since I last quested or crafted or traded or did any of the game-like things that usually progress a character. I have, though, seen a lot of the world and it has made me want to see more.

I've often heard it said that sandboxes give players stories to tell that theme parks never can but I've always found that an unconvincing argument. Certainly, there are great tales to be told of the human encounters between players and sandbox gameplay is often designed to encourage human to human interaction, but a good storyteller can make a story out of anything. The better the raw material, however, the easier it is to work.

And so to bed. Never mind whose. Let's just hope he works the night shift.

Black Desert is often touted as a sandbox, or at least a sandpark, and yet all of the stories I have made for myself so far have nothing whatsoever to do with other players. Neither have I, yet, read anyone else's account of their interactions with another person in the game. Everyone is writing about the world, the scenery, the races and the wonder of exploring it all. And the game mechanics and the cash shop, of course.

This is a high-quality piece of world-making we have here. Comparisons that come to mind are The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, The Division, not Ultima Online or Darkfall. Everything  Syl and Alysianah and I are gushing over has been made by creative artists and placed to be discovered, not made by us.

I just bet they leave these flags up all year round.

Then again, perhaps that's the signature of the sandbox: you take what you're given and make of it what you will, be it scars or silver or stories. Only, when it comes to stories, the telling goes so much easier when you come to the fireside with pictures like these.

Edited to add more pictures. Oh yes...


  1. I am rigorously deleting sub-par screenshots as I go, but I'm still filling up my folder so fast it's crazy! I love the light in the game, really really love the dark night too. Reminds me I still must find out what that tent and fireplace stuff is about..

    1. All I know about campfires is that several NPCs warn you about not cooking meat over a campfire because it attracts monsters. Tents I have heard nothing about at all. Everything is even more confusing because there are so many things in the Korean or Russian versions of the game that either aren't yet in the NA/EU version or are not going to be, plus the NA/EU version apparently has stuff that the others don't have too. What with that and the terrible translations it's amazing we can work out how to do anything at all.


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