Saturday, April 15, 2017

Irons In The Fire

At the very end of my "What I'm Playing" post the other day I threw in a line about how I wasn't even mentioning the mobile and non-mmo stuff. And, in doing so, mentioned it. So, here it is.

There isn't a lot because, well, I don't really play any video games that aren't MMOs, not for a long while now, but I do have three non-MMOs bookmarked so I can keep track of them in a desultorily obsessive fashion. None of them is officially released yet although two are getting close.

Furthest along by far is We Happy Few, which also happens to be the least MMOish of the three. I came across this one when Keen's jaw dropped at the E3 reveal. "WTF…Creepy. Skipping.!" was all he had to say but it was enough to make me go check out the trailer and I've been following it ever since.

WHF went into Early Access via Steam in July last year. I briefly considered buying in then but equally swiftly decided that would be a bad idea. While I can very much understand the attraction of watching an MMO grow up around me as I play it, it would make very little sense to do the same with a game built on narrative.

It's only now, pushing towards a year later, that Compulsion Games are getting around to patching in the 1.0 version of the full story. This does seem to be a case where Early Access has worked very well both for company and players. We Happy Few currently has a Very Positive Steam rating and when they say "very positive" they really mean it: 83% all time, rising to 90% over the last month.

Running your narrative-driven game successfully for nine months without actually having the narrative in place is quite a feat in itself but such acceptance comes at a risk. Compulsion Games are well aware of this and they're understandably nervous about the big switch. "It seems like a lot of people who haven’t played the game think our game is just a sandbox survival game with zero story", they say in the latest of their admirably frequent and detailed progress reports.

To that end there's going to be a series of videos (starting with this one) explaining what current players can expect the game to become, while encouraging people who don't start salivating when they hear the words "survival sandbox" not to pass by on the other side. The video features Alex Epstein, the game's narrative director, who has an interesting blog of his own, which you can find in the blog roll to the right. I was tipped to it by Tyler Sanchez in the comments last time I mentioned the game and I've been following it ever since.

We Happy Few looks set to be a success. Whether Early Access really does a game like this any favors is less certain. At current pace of development I'd guess the full launch won't come this year and by the time it does this kind of publicity may be hard to find. Then again, you can't time every game launch to coincide precisely with a once-in-a-lifetime lurch in the zeitgeist.

Next up on the assembly line is Tanzia. This colorful online RPG has been in closed testing for a long time. It missed its intended late 2016 EA launch date but not by too much. A few days ago developers Arcanity Inc. finally announced a firm date for Early Access via Steam: April 27th.

There are a couple of reasons I've been paying attention to Tanzia, which I first heard of through a brief piece on Massively OP.  Justin "Syp" Olivetti who wrote that squib caught my interest with the tagline: "Tanzia gives you the MMO experience without the ‘MMO’. I've long believed that it's as much the actual mechanics of MMORPGs that bind me to the genre as it is any of the multiplayer or social aspects, something that certainly seemed to hold true when I played Ninelives.

Ninelives is a moody, surreal work of art whereas Tanzia looks to be more of a sugar-overload romp but it's the gameplay rather than the graphics that intrigue me. Official descriptions make repeated references to the importance of kiting, which is something I don't think I have ever seen bigged up as a PR win before. I purely love kiting so it's a hook for me.

The other reason I'm paying attention to Tanzia is the pedigree of the team behind the game. The full skinny includes a whole load of prestigious studios and games but my eye was immediately caught by mention of SOE, Vanguard, EverQuest and Free Realms.

Whether Tanzia can live up to the rep of the games that underpin its design brief remains to be seen but this time I'll most likely buy in to Early Access, depending on the cost, which I don't believe has yet been confirmed. If there are packages announced already I couldn't find them.

On the other hand, Early Access for Tanzia is slated to last for just eight weeks. If they're going to hit full launch two months after EA then maybe I'll just wait. It sounds optimistic!

Bringing up the rear, a very long way behind both in familiarity and progress, but right at the front when it comes to MMO credentials, comes Antilia. Antilia was going to be an MMO but that turned out to be too much for the developer, Right Brain Games. There was a failed Kickstarter for the MMO version back in 2014 and since then the focus has been on making something smaller.

RBG describes itself as "a small team of developers dedicated to creating unique video games for the online game market" but as far as I can tell they haven't released any games. They have made a number of tools designed to aid in the creation of games but they aren't currently licensing or selling any of those for commercial use either.

What they do have is a website with some very nice screenshots and concept art and a trickle of detail about a virtual world that I find rather appealing. The game, if it ever appears, is set to be "a sandbox-style fantasy RPG, featuring a dynamic world simulation and anthropomorphic characters", which is pretty much a nailed-on "I'd play that" as far as I'm concerned.

First I have to live long enough. Whoever is behind Right Brain Games certainly isn't in a hurry. Last year the website was barely updated at all but this year has seen a relative flurry of activity with three posts so far.

The year began with an outline of project goals for 2017. The approach is very open and honest, full of self-deprecating statements and explanations:
"Progress in 2016 was very limited. This is just something that needs to be acknowledged. There wasn't really much in the way of 'secret progress' that I'm not showing. For most of the year my time on Antilia was limited to a few evenings and maybe one day each weekend...Let's face it, the development team behind Antilia is very small. While I am grateful that a good many people have expressed interest in helping the project in any way they can, these offers are from enthusiastic gamers and community members rather than seasoned game developers. Including more people on the project means more communication and coordination, as well as an investment of my time getting people set up and training them in our development tools. Doing this one-on-one has not led to much success."

It might not be what anyone wants to hear but at least they're telling it like it is!

Those are the only three non-MMO projects I'm keeping an eye on right now. Naturally the one I'm most interested in playing is the one I seem destined least likely ever to get my hands on. And I still didn't get round to mobile games. Maybe another time.


  1. BTW, did you see that news that We Happy Few got a film deal. It was the gaming press, but here's the Variety article:

    - Simon

    1. Oh, yes I forgot to mention that - thanks! I saw something about it somewhere - maybe on Compulsion Games' own website I think but I wasn't sure how likely to happen it was. Things get optioned all the time but never get made, after all. Looks pretty legit with the people involved, though.


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