Saturday, March 31, 2018

All Steamed Up : Project: Gorgon

My Project Gorgon Steam key finally came through yesterday. My fault I didn't get one in the first place. Seems there was a "Survey"I didn't take any notice of right after the successful Kickstarter. A couple of reminders followed. Ignored those too.

Turns out, the survey doubled as the information-gathering process Elder Games used to build a record of who was entitled to keys. That's why I wasn't among the 90% of Kickstarter backers who got in on launch day.

After that, though, faultlines look a little less clear. I filled out the survey a couple of weeks ago. Emailed Support with full details of my Kickstarter eligibility. Got a reply in a day or two, saying I'd get a key in the next batch they sent out.

I waited until yesterday. Nothing came. I sent a follow-up email. Got a reply the same day, from Eric Heimburg himself, with my Steam Key. I was quite impressed by that part, particularly with it being a holiday.

I plugged the key into Steam, downloaded the game, synced the old account to the new. Tested it to check I could log in; I could. Thanks, Eric. My characters were both there ready to go but it was gone midnight. I logged out and went to bed.

This morning I went back to take a look around. I have to say they've done the old place up nicely. Everything seems much clearer and sharper than last time I played in alpha. The textures seem less gritty, the UI is much larger. Easier to follow. The font defaults to a point size I can easily read sitting back in my chair, which definitely wasn't the case before.

I took a while, went through all the interface elements - Persona, Inventory, Quest Journal, the rest. Every one had improved. The whole thing felt more user-friendly, more comfortable, better than any stage in that long, long alpha.

Much has been said about the graphics, most of it negative. My feelings are mixed. On the one hand it does have the feel of a game from the EverQuest era. On the other, I'm playing EQ at the moment and Project: Gorgon doesn't really look much like it. If anything it reminds me more of LotRO, with the rich fields of flowers and the relatively realistic late-medieaval buildings.

It's always puzzled me that P:G looked its best way back at the very start of pre-alpha. When I posted about it in 2013 I commented "the walled, medieval village is one of the best I've seen in a game". The screenshots I took back then are very plainly more visually sumptuous, not to say photo-realistic, than even the High Definition shots I took today. If they could have kept to that standard I doubt anyone would have been criticizing the game now for how it looked.

In alpha P:G tried on a number of appearances. The Steam version is better than any I remember. The mountains and clouds look a little off but the trees, fields, foliage and water all look perfect for a pleasant country stroll.

The character models and the animations are still barely functional by 2018 standards but they're better than they were. My female rakshasa's running animation has improved significantly - all the way from ludicrous to bearable. Mobs are still clunky. So is combat. None of that really detracts from the pleasure of playing.

Project: Gorgon is probably best-known for its wacky humor, its unconventional approach, its extensive, freewheeling skill system. That's not an unalloyed recommendation. I've commented before that a little of Eric's humor might go a long way. More than a sniff of the amateur dramatic society hangs over the whole enterprise and as a sandbox it's even less structured than most.

Despite all that, though, there's never any doubting the sheer personality evident in every aspect of the game. The enthusiasm and good-nature of the tiny development team sweeps all cynicism away. Project: Gorgon is an MMO to fall in love with, a game whose shortcomings many will be willing to overlook in favor of its manifold novelties and wonders.

To play it regularly you're going to need a lot of time. Time and patience. Not only are there all those skills to level up with no specific schedule or formula to follow, there are also plenty of old-school time-sinks, some not seen in mainstream MMOs for many a year.

Whether you find that refreshing or frustrating may depend on whether you've encountered such things before or how much you liked them last time if you did. Personally, I never enjoyed having to speak to every NPC to see if they might have something for me. I don't relish having to make notes about where I met a questgiver just so I can find my way back to do the hand in, particularly when it might be days or weeks or even months later by the time I finally complete the quest.

Neither do I like having to hunt down a particular NPC to sell a particular type of loot. Yes, it's much more realistic to have to sell your pig and deer meat to the woman who teaches you to cook it, but do you really want to walk right across town past half a dozen other vendors when all you want to do is clear your bags? As for the banking system that has you storing different kinds of items on different NPCs all over town, that might be unique to P:G. I dearly hope it stays there.

Then again, the Player Work Order noticeboard that fills much the same purpose as the EverQuest barter system I was praising only yesterday is beautifully integrated into the infrastructure of the world. It's an elegant solution, as is the Trading Hall where player vendors stand in a convincing and above all visually appealing approximation of a country trade fair.

I'm still not certain I'll ever dedicate the time and energy to this game that it demands and very possibly deserves. I fear that, as a casual potterer, dipping in and out for short sessions as and when the mood takes me, I'll never get to know the best of it, or even experience much of what makes it different.

I imagine I'll mostly end up doing what I've been doing for the past five years: wander out of the gates of Serbule, take pot-shots with my bow at any passing pig or deer or brain bug, catch a few fish, pick a few mushrooms, watch random skills go up. It makes Project: Gorgon feel like a less satisfying version of old-school EverQuest. After an hour or two I tend to want to log out and go play EQ instead.

That, though, says more about me and my MMO history than it does about Project: Gorgon. For those who find modern MMOs too cookie-cutter bland and old-school games that have been running for decades too cluttered and forbidding, this might just be the half-way house they've been looking for.

Me, I'll keep dropping in and pottering around. I'm not expecting to get very far but I don't feel P:G is a game that cares very much about how far you get. It has always felt very comfortable and I'm glad it's there.


  1. I'm having some similar feelings about Shroud of the Avatar. I loaded that back up on Steam with the launch this past week and started to wander about. It feels very much like it was built in the pre-WoW era, before the tyranny of standards really took hold. The pace is very different, and it is skill based, so you improve your character by doing things rather than by levels.

    1. I patched SotA up today but I haven't logged in. I would only be on the Free Trial but like most free trials these days it pretty much covers me for everything I'm likely to want to do. I don't think I'm up for two "find your own way" MMOs at the same time, though. The more I play the current Live version of EQ, the more certain I am that I prefer knowing exactly who to talk to and where to go and being able to sell my stuff to anyone at any time.

  2. Visually I imagine it's the "Start really optimistic, optimize downward for performance" step that FFXIV 1.0 never got around to. Screenshots of that era of the game look lovely, but video reveals it was a clunky frame-skipping mess as PCs of the time struggled with the graphics.

    1. Yeah, I figured that was probably the reason, although it ran perfectly smoothly on my PC of the time. Then again, I barely saw a handful of other players. The current version looks not too shabby but I get some screen lag in town - not too much but noticeable. Apparently they've barely begun to optimize for performance yet so it should improve.

  3. Since you left the comments on my blog about EQ, I need to fire it up and check it out again. I last played two years or so ago and had an almost violent reaction trying to go back to that user interface. Gorgon though so far seems to split a sort of happy middle for me of being EQ-like but still feeling modern enough for me not to reject it.

    1. Almost missed this comment! I wondered when I read your post about startign on Vox if my comments had nudged you into doing it. Your post plus several others recently nudged me into writing today's compilation of links. I love how this blogospher goes around and around.


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