Sunday, July 7, 2019

Imperfect Is The New Perfect: Secondhand Lands

I thought I'd post a few screenshots of Secondhand Lands today. Last time I wrote about the game, Jeromai described the visuals in a comment as "the blob graphics of yesteryear". A reviewer on Steam, one who was otherwise very positive, went much further: "Its graphics were not impressive in 2008 or 2009, and time hasn't made it look any better. So if graphics matter very heavily to you, I will honestly suggest you don't try this game".

I really can't see it. Or, rather I can. I can see something rather charming and quite delightful.

Starting with the lighting, someone clearly has the same love for supersaturation as I do. When I'm posting screenshots here I often tweak the saturation a few notches to make the colors pop. Not going to need to do that for this game.

Sunsets and sunrises are spectacularly colorful. I've had to stop playing just to watch the sky change. At night it gets very dark. The stars come out in a glorious wash of distant nebulae. The moon is vast and ghostly.

Trees tower above the tiny characters. They seem lost in an enormous forest, as they should. It's a fairy tale. Ferns and grasses cover the forest floor. Half-forgotten tracks lead into the depths.

The limited field of view only adds to the sense of enclosure, mirroring that odd sense of outdoor claustrophobia so familiar from early EverQuest. It's by no means the only similarity between the two games. I'm well aware that much of my affection for Secondhand Lands derives from emotional connections to experiences I've had and cherished elsewhere but plenty of games have tried to stike those chimes and failed.

There's such character in these graphics. They pulse with personality. The animations on my Scrapper are joyous and yet his foxy features often ache with melancholy. He's so filled with life it makes me smile to watch him. I want to create one of every creature a Scrapper can be just to see if they're all the same or whether each has an internal life of their own.

I particularly love the way his idling animations include a cheery wave to the camera. In every other MMORPG I've ever played this would be an emote triggered by the player. Here it's the character, waving at me. Somehow that makes me feel included and him seem real.

Then there are the clothes. I love the clothes. So far I've found a hat, a back item and some shoes. I like all of them more than just about anything I own in Guild Wars 2, supposedly the apogee of dress-up in the entire genre.

The shoes are easy to see in the shot above. The game describes them as "claws" but they display as metal flip-flops with spikes. They suit my Scrapper well. Spikes are a bit of a theme for him right now. The back item he found comes in the shape of porcupine quills. They look so much better than a cape.

On his head in the picture above is the baseball cap he was given in the starter pack. I figured out how to use a kit to dye items so now it's red and blue with a plaid pattern. It looks jaunty in contrast to his wistful expression. This is a fox with issues he's doing his best to hide.

The makeover and dye kits you start with have a rubric that says they're single use but a tip elsewhere in game tells you they can be used over and over again, which is true. I played around with mine for a while. The options are many and varied. Now I just need  more clothes.

Yesterday I finished up the final quest in Cat Village and Puss in Boots sent me to see Mother Goose with a delivery of mittens. Mother Goose has her own eponymous village at the end of the cobbled road. I ran all the way, excited about what I might find. I wasn't disappointed.

Mother Goose Village, according to the wiki, is Secondhand Lands hub city. Some people call it the game's capital. It's the place to go to craft or just to hang out. It even has a stage and a dance floor for Catgirls to provide buffs that last much longer than usual, reminiscent of the way, I believe, cantinas worked in the original Star Wars Galaxies.

The entire place was deserted. It made my fox sad. You can see it in his face. The tragedy of Secondhand Lands is that no-one plays. One reviewer on Steam said "Its a decent game with a major problem, especially for a MMORPG and that is population. Over the last week or so I have logged in for a couple hours, even left the game idle and rechecking /who commands to see how many are online. I did some in the morning, afternoon and night time as well. The pop never went over 3 people. The only burst of activity was on a saturday where I seen 10".

That made me think. Firstly about how much work Reese Lansangan still has to do, then about the /who command. Those used to be common in MMORPGs. You could tell how busy things were with a few key-presses. It's so long since I've played a game that allowed it I'd almost forgotten. I just logged in to test it in Secondhand Lands and the result was dispiriting: "There is one player in this reality".

It makes me feel I shouold play as much of the game as I can right now. Who knows how much longer I have? It already closed down once. It's been back for two years and still no-one's playing. No time to lose....

It shouldn't be too hard. I'm enjoying the gameplay more as I go along. I'll get to that in detail in another post but before then I need to push on and see how things develop. For now, I'm just happy to be there, enjoying the beauty all around me.

Jeromai, who once opend my eyes to the beauty of Orr, was entranced by GW2's latest map, Dragonfall. I found it over-familiar and a little dull. For me, Secondhand Land's blurry, aging, lo-fi graphics snap synapses ANet's top-of-the-line art team no longer seem able to access.

We all see what we want to see. The important thing is to keep on looking.


  1. On MMO ghost towns, there seems to be some critical mass of hype or accessibility past which you will at least have a few hundred players on all the time, and below which literally almost no-one plays. There are a lot of MMOs that we tend to think of as dead like AoC and FFXI that actually have plenty of players on the more popular servers. However a game that crashes below that level of interest will seemingly never recover.

    You can see both of those situations in DAoC. The PvP server is fairly busy at all hours, even if the total player population is likely less than 5000. However on the PvE server, Gaheris, it's not uncommon for "/who all" to bring up less than five players at odd hours.

    1. I can think of several MMORPGs off the top of my head that have been running for years without any obvious sign that anyone plays them. On my desktop I have icons for Auteria and The Hammers End, which I would bet see single figure log-ins on a good week. Others, like Istaria and Ryzom, have very small but dedicated playerbases. All of them have been going for years as have plenty of others.

      When the City of Heroes thing blew up recently there were some interesting hard numbers on how many players a server could hold and how much hosting cost. It looked as though you needed to hit a good few thousand simultaneously logins before someone had to start spending serious money so maybe these tiny games can run for next to nothing - even so someone has to administer them.

      As you say, though, there's a critical mass below which it's almost impossible to recover. After that the game is living on goodwill.

  2. I admire your dedication to checking out so many MMO's. This one has a certain charm and I'd play it if I could find a few hours. Too many games, not enough time! (And too many alts!)

    1. My enforced time at home this summer has contributed hugely to my search for new things to play - and write about. That said, I can always find a few hours here and there for something as odd as this.


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