Sunday, May 14, 2017

Looks Like A Duck: Tanzia

For as long as there have been MMORPGs there have been players who preferred to solo. Over the years I've listened to and joined in with countless discussions, debates and arguments on the merits or otherwise of playing alone in a genre supposedly built around partnership.

There's a belief that MMOs prosper when they encourage the creation and maintenance of social bonds. We play because our friends play. It's a stance that Bartle Socializers fall into easily. Achievers follow along in search of approval and Killers have to have their prey.

Explorers, though, well sometimes they can seem less convinced by the need to share. You can see the view so much better when there's no-one standing in your way, after all.

Dude, where's my board?

The nuanced positions of individual, group and community in gaming would make a better subject for a doctoral thesis than a blog post but one thing I just want to put out there is this: there's more to an MMO than the people who play it.

Classic MMOs use specific mechanics that, in and of themselves, provide sufficient traction to grasp and hold a player's interest. Other people can be either the sugar on top or the sand in the gears but for some of us, when it comes to gameplay, it's the way MMOs set themselves up for business that compels us to keep playing them. In other words, there are people who play MMOs because of what they do there, not who they meet.

This seems to be the thinking behind Tanzia, a self-described "old-style RPG made with modern tech" that "combines elements of favorite classic action-adventure RPGs in an open 3D world". There has to be more to it than that, though, because, were it nothing but another retro-RPG, I wouldn't be writing about it here.

I'm getting deja vu again.

What's more, I certainly wouldn't have paid £10.99 for an Early Access copy on Steam, as I did last night. I was always going to buy the game, I just wasn't planning to buy it yet. I was going to wait until the full launch, supposed to be happening in just a few weeks. I don't really have time to play another game right now, MMO or otherwise, not on top of the ever-lengthening list of titles I'm failing to do justice to already.

Even so, I've been keeping tabs on Tanzia's progress since it went into EA a couple of weeks back and yesterday I took a look at the reviews on Steam. There aren't many as yet, too few to allow for an official rating, but the half-dozen people who'd taken the time to review it so far were all very positive:
"It's fun to play, and feels satisfying..."

"...really enjoying the game so far"

"The art is beautiful and the game play is smooth and reasonably polished."
Why's he casting a fireball then?

But here's the key comment, the one that had me reaching for my wallet:

"Fun little game. Reminds me of the older mmos"

Why wait when I could be having not just fun but that specific kind of fun? And now I've had a couple of hours to try it out for myself I'd have to say it was a good decision.

Parody. It's parody, okay? Oh c'mon, there's no need to call Legal!

Tanzia really does have that older MMO vibe but it's no co-incidence. The developer is Arcanity Inc. " American independent game studio ... founded in 2015 by former inXile, Obsidian and Sigil Games Online employees". A strong RPG pedigree but the part that really got my attention was the name-check for Sigil, along with the inclusion of both EverQuest and Vanguard in the list of games the team has worked on before.

Now it's a team but in the beginning Tanzia was primarily the work of a single developer, Jason Jacobitz. He seems to be more elusive than the average game-maker but I managed to find a revealing interview at an unlikely source, a Nintendo blog called MikeTendo64.

I told you just feel stupid, right?

It's a good read throughout but the most intriguing part comes towards the end, when Jason speculates about where things might go from here, should Tanzia prove as successful as he and the team hope:

"After Tanzia, I’m not sure if we’ll do something else or jump right into a Tanzia 2...We also want our 2nd game to have a strong multiplayer aspect.”

So maybe Tanzia could become an MMO after all. I hope so because if anyone knows what the genre is all about it's a guy who can say this:

"When you’re heading into a new area, I want you to feel the excitement of exploration. You should be thinking, ‘This looks awesome. I want to see more. Is this dangerous? Maybe I’d better stay clear of that thing just in case. OMG a new village! OMG they have new equipment! OMG this equipment rocks and I can almost afford it!"
But hitting people with sticks is such fun!

That's as good a definition of the true MMO experience, as seen from the perspective of the Explorer, as I've ever heard. After playing for a couple of hours last night, I'm very happy to confirm it's also an accurate description of  what it feels like to play Tanzia.

All of which does absolutely nothing to explain why I'd still rather not be playing it alone. I'll ponder on that. If I ever figure it out I'll get back to you.

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