Sunday, February 25, 2018

It's Not Called Ninelives For Nothing

I was browsing my blog roll after work last night when I came across this post from Chestnut at Gamer Girl Confessions. What a nice surprise, particularly since IntPiPoMo is my favorite of all the annual blogging events.

It's always nice to win something although in this case I can hardly claim I made a special effort. I probably post ninety screenshots most months, which is a fairly small fraction of the number I actually take.

Don't look at me like that. I don't have the key!

One of the great things about IntPiPoMo is that it gives me an excuse to run a few of the shots that I otherwise might not find a good reason to post. Not that I should need an excuse, I guess. Kaozz , who really should enter IntPiPoMo next time, makes a habit of all-picture posts and MassivelyOP has a weekly screenshot feature called One Shots.

Somehow, though, even if I start out meaning to post nothing but pictures I always end up writing a whole bunch of words. Case in point.

Re the recent discussion in the comments here: NineLives has fully functioning underwater environments.

I'm going to use this opportunity as a peg to hang a few pictures I took last week in a game that I've mentioned a few times in the past but which can be a tad hard to justify including on this supposedly MMOcentric blog. It's not an MMO and it's no longer in active development.

It is, however, one of the most aesthetically satisfying, visually subtle and deliciously appealing virtual worlds I have ever encountered and it deserves far more attention than it is ever likely to get. The game in question is Ninelives.

As far as I can tell, if you can see it, you can get to it. I saw that house and I got to it. Died a few times doing it, too.

Why the Smokymonkeys team decided to shelve this wonderful project is puzzling. I think they may just be obsessional perfectionists for whom nothing is ever quite good enough. For whatever reason, they announced the suspension of development over a year ago. As the website states, in terms idiosyncratically translated from the original Japanese, "Currently this game is suspended and has no plan to resuming."

It's still up and running though and occasionally some small update or improvement drifts in. Every so often I check just to see if it's still alive and last week I saw it twitch:

 "We decided to publish remain areas that under development. There are no creatures, no items, and no quests. It's like a walking simulator. There are only terrains and great music. Nothing to get valuable items or so on them. Even we believe it has some impression or some value for some people. It will not intrupt your normal game play. You need to fill some conditions to open the games to reach new areas."
Well, it certainly had some impression or some value for me! The game required a new download and installation, which took just a couple of minutes, then there I was, back in the gorgeous, unnamed world of Ninelives again.

Here I am, half way up the winding path, already into the cloud layer.

According to the update notes the pre-requisite for access to the new zones comes in the form of a quest to "get two climber's medals from the quests at Imera Climbing Cluba in Continental Highlands".  Easier said than done in a game that has so few players, no official support and struggles to populate even a basic wiki.

All of which is part of the appeal. As I was roaming around Continental Highlands, a map I thought I'd opened but actually had barely started exploring, I found myself thinking that I was quite glad Ninelives never followed its original dream to become an MMORPG.

And here's the house, accessed by a very scary almost invisible magic platform.

A significant part of the appeal is the loneliness. It's one of the most bittersweet, elegiac environments I've found in decades of gaming. It's more of an art installation than a game. It definitely wouldn't have the same bleak grandeur if it was filled with other players darting hither and yon, slaughtering the wildlife and complaining in chat about being bored.

I'm very keen to make my way into the new explorable areas because I think that having "no creatures, no items, and no quests" may even enhance the experience. The quests are nothing special and the awkward translations sometimes take you out of the moment rather than drawing you in. Progression is slow and there's a fairly steep curve, which makes exploring beyond the areas you're meant to be leveling in a dangerous affair.

It's so cosy inside! Who else would live here but an elven wizard. Look, he has the ears and the staff and everything!
And, naturally, he's got a quest.

All things taken in to consideration, it may well be that Ninelives will be best appreciated as a walking simulator with great music. But first I have to find the Imera Climbing Club. Easier read than done.

I opened all of the West side of Continental Highlands on the map in a thoroughly enjoyable session the other night. I died a few times doing it and every death costs me gold to respawn. I'm not sure what happens if I run out of money.

I didn't kill them! They were dead when I got here - honest!

I found a load of fascinating and beautiful locations and acquired a bookful of quests I'm not powerful enough to complete but I never found the Climbing Club. I hope it's somewhere in the still-fogged East. If not then I'm stumped.

In any case, I probably should go back to the start of the zone and level up a bit. I don't suppose those climbers are going to hand out their medals for nothing. I'll probably have to kill something at some point, even if it's only to get to the right area.

This is some kind of "research facility". Hence the white leather lab coat and the face mask. Not sinister at all...especially with that motivational poster...

It would be such a shame if NineLives just faded away out of some misguided sense of perfectionism amongst its creators. As someone pointed out on the forum, when  it was suggested the game should go to Steam, "even incomplete as it is, it's much better than most of the games there!" . Which may be true although I haven't exactly played enough Steam games to judge.

For now, though, it's freely available and as I've said before I recommend trying it while you still can. It's not going to set anyone's pulse racing with its gameplay but the visuals, the music and the ambience are superb.

Last time I wrote about Nine Lives I think the only person who mentioned trying it was Syp and he didn't like it much. He would have liked it even less if he'd made it to the Highlands and met this Elf Child.

When I get my medals and climb the wall I'll be back with another report. I'll be sure and take plenty of pictures.


  1. Beautiful shots. I love to see game worlds and characters through other people's eyes. I love it when people post a lot of screenshots.

    I think I downloaded this game, I can't remember if I wanted to or if I did. I remember going to the website. I've been so busy, we just bought a house and I've been focusing on laid back games, this might be something good to check out. Such a shame the development ceased, it looks to have a lot of potential.

    1. It's very much worth exploring if you have time, just for the feel of the thing. There is a good amount of gameplay but that's not the draw - the world is.

      The developers are working on a new game now, which looks good, but I have no clue how they fund themselves. I can't tell whether this is just something they do in their spare time or what. They certainly seem to be better at making games than many people who are doing it for a full-time job, though.

  2. I have a thing for running around dead and half-dead worlds and servers. My greatest gaming hope is that someday everyone will do what Wurm Online did, and just release a version that allows individuals to host their own servers.

    Anyway, nice find!


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