Monday, November 1, 2021

If A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words, Why Can't I Shut Up?

On the opening day of IntPiPoMo I thought it would be nice to do an all screenshot post. Also, it saves me having to write a whole lot of words, which means more time to play New World. As you'll see, even though I did my damnedest to keep it short, things didn't go entirely to plan.

But first, what pictures? I take an unconscionable number of screenshots so finding half a dozen I haven't used before was never likely to be a problem. Choosing which might be.

The first thing that caught my eye as I opened my jumbled directory of images was the folder named "New World Alpha". I took a lot of shots back in those very early days but the strict NDA made it hard to use any of them. Impossible, actually.

It would be very interesting to compare what I saw then with what I'm seeing now. Looking at the old screens, there are more differences than I remembered. Some of the images are striking in ways I'd fogotten the game could be.

I toyed with the idea of a post based around that but the NDA never ended. It's still in force. I'm probably breaking it just by alluding to it. And the screenshots are all very thoroughly stamped with the ID of the account that took them. I could crop around some of that but it wouldn't leave much of an image and anyway I'm paranoid enough to wonder if there's some other tag there that can't be seen.

Yeah. No one cares. I know. I probably read too much science fiction. No coincidence the book I'm reading right now revolves around the use and abuse of just this kind of invasive monitoring tech by global megacorps and amoral billionaires. This how paranoia begins. (It's not.)

Next I looked through a folder I'd helpfully named Fraps Screenshots. There's all sorts in there, mostly from games where I'd had issues using the screenshot function provided or where I couldn't find one at all.

The filename Fraps creates for each game varies wildly but mostly there's a strong clue to what it would have been. Some have the full name of the game - Istaria, Nine Lives, The Crew, Villagers and Heroes, Wildstar - and some have an abbreviated version of it - AO (for Allods Online), VGClient (for Vanguard).

Some, though, have completely opaque labels like WindowsPlayer (That's Project: Gorgon) or javaw (which turns out to be Dinostorm). And then there's the astonishingly uninformative plugin-container. Care to take a guess what that is?

Okay, it's a trick question. I've been using pictures taken from plugin-container all through this post. It's one of the handful of sunset mmorpgs I truly wish could return from video game heaven the way Fallen Earth just did. It's City of Steam, of course.

I'm not going to write yet another mournful post eulogizing just how good this game was and how no-one, least of all me, appreciated it when it was around. I'm not going whine about how much I wished I'd paid attention to the story while I was playing or how it's the exception that proves the rule about story mattering in an mmorpg. I'm not even going to rehash what an exemplary job the developers did with everything from class and race to setting and theme.

I will repeat how City of Steam has the best soundtrack of any mmorpg I've ever played and how it's the only one with music I've ever wanted to own and listen to separately from the game itself. I'll also take this opportunity to wonder what happened to Mechanist Games, the company behind CoS.

The second game they produced, Heroes of SkyRealm, was fun but shallow by comparison. It was a mobile game and although it looked great it had little of the gritty charm of its predecessor. It closed down some time ago and it's been a while since I last did a search to see what, if anything, might be coming next. So as I was drafting this I thought I'd better check.

It didn't go the way I imagined. The old City of Steam website still exists although all that's there is an epitaph with the promise that CoS is "Resting, Not Retiring." The page concludes with a confident assurance: "So as we look toward whatever the future brings, we give you Heroes of SkyRealm and say "see you soon" to our dear City of Steam." but the link to the new game now goes to a completely unrelated site that has nothing to do with gaming at all, or indeed Mechanist Games. The same link on the Steam page for City of Steam brings up a malware warning and it looks very much as though whatever address it once used has been reacquired and repurposed by a bad actor of some kind.

Mechanist Games, however, very much still exists. They have their own web page on which you can find details of the five games they operate, which apparently include Heroes of SkyRealm still. I imagine it's running in some territory or other, most likely China, where Mechanist games are and always were based, even though the origins of City of Steam itself are here in the United Kingdom.

None of the games on offer are mmorpgs of any kind. The graphics, always one of Mechanist Games strengths, do look gorgeous but the games themselves look like fairly standard takes on various mobile gaming staples. Nothing I'd be interested in playing. 

If you scroll to the bottom of the Timeline section on the About page, though, you eventually come to a panoramic picture of races and classes from City of Steam, here badged as the latterday "Arkadia" revamp. Whoever runs Mechanist Games now still remembers their roots: "May 2013, Mechanist launched its first 3D web browser-based game, City of Steam. It featured in Forbes as one of 2013's most-anticipated games and placed in the Top 10 for the first ever Unity Game Design Competition."

Not much of a brag, is it? I wonder who owns the IP rights these days. If it's Mechanist Games ("Established in the city of Xiamen April 2011 Xiamen, China") I wouldn't hold out much hope of ever seeing the promised return of this flawed gem.

If it's whoever's maintaining that tenuous, single-page web presence at, though, there still may just be a chance.

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