Monday, September 19, 2022

Works In Progress

This morning I thought I might do a quick catch-up on the handful of obscure mmo-related games and projects I've been keeping tabs on for a while. Not the big ticket events like Ashes of Creation, Pantheon or Camelot Unchained, none of which ever seem any closer to a genuine public unveiling, nor even the more recent buzz titles like Nightingale or Palia, both of which I'm keen to get my hands on as soon as possible.

The titles and developers I have bookmarked are much lower-profile than any of those and there are only five of them that ever show any signs of life. They are, in alphabetical order...

  • Antilia
  • FHX Restoration
  • FRSunrise
  • Project: Return Home
  • SmokymonkeyS

    Antilia is an odd one. In a former life it was briefly an mmorpg that went into open alpha but it's currently being re-tooled as a "sandbox-style RPG" with "an open world, single and multiplayer modes". There's a fairly extensive entry about it on "WikiFur, the Furry Encyclopedia", but it's somewhat out of date.

    From there, I learned that Antilia is pretty much the life's work of a single developer, Jeff Leigh, who's been at it in one form or another since 2002. The wiki mentions a second developer, a visual artist by the name of Kathryn Crownover, but the IndieDB entry for Right Brain Games, the company credited with developing both Antilia and the TOI game engine it uses, lists no employees other than Jeff.

    I ge the feeling Jeff is always very busy on Antilia but of late he's also been very communicative. He's moved away from posting lengthy but sporadic videos on YouTube to giving weekly updates on the website. They're very specific, with a level of detail that would probably be of more interest to another developer than the ultimate intended audience of furry-friendly gamers. 

    This week he's been telling us all about the "Network Refactor" he's been working on, which is something to do with the way players will eventually log in to the game. Probably of more interest to the prospective Antilia player is the section on World Building, in which he shows off "A variety of decorative temporary weapons." 

    Combat is presumably a significant part of the game. I hope so, anyway, because there seems to be one heck of an armory: "So far I've added 18 bows, 40 swords, 17 axes, and some arrows. I have a variety of hammers and maces, polearms, shields, daggers, and staves currently in the works".

    All of this and much, much more is leading up to an alpha at some unspecified date. I've been following development for several years now and it's always winter and never Christmas, as Mr Beaver might say. I'm pretty sure other games have gone into Early Access in a less-ready state but Jeff's clearly something of a perfectionist. I just hope he feels the world he's building is fit to accept visitors someday.

    FHX Restoration is a very different story. This is the emulator project dedicated to bringing back a cadre of mmorpgs that even most dedicated fans of the genre probably never heard of, including a game I played in beta, when it was known as Ferentus

    I last wrote about the project back in December 2020, when I played in several of the limited-duration test events. I bookmarked the game and promptly forgot about it for a quite a while, until one day I checked back to find a bold headline on the front page of the website claiming "We come here to announce that finally the world of FHX is going to open its doors for everyone".

    Below there was a detailed table of exact opening times across the world including an early start for anyone who'd managed to get a character to level 35 during the test events. The full, global launch was scheduled for 28 January 2022.

    I meant to log in for that but, discouragingly and predictably, I forgot about it all over again. Turns out I'm not quite so keen to go back the unrestructured pleasures of pre-WoW mmorpg gameplay as I used to think, especially when it comes in the wrapper of a minor also-ran.

    Ever since then I've had the occasional urge to see how things are going but when it comes to doing anything about it I somehow think of other things I'd rather be doing instead. Until today, that is, when I thought I ought to do some due diligence for this post and check the game really is up and running. 

    It's not. Well, it might be but as I write this the login screen shows a message reading "Log in is currently disabled". I tried it anyway and indeed it is. 

    So, is the game running or isn't it? The website is contradictory, with the FAQ still referring to the January 2022 launch date as something yet to happen and the front page talking about the game "only being playable during recurring events", which is the text from before the launch was announced. The Reddit thread about the launch has precisely one reply but the Discord server is not only alive but very active, with much discussion of PvP tournaments and updates going right up to this morning.

    I guess I just happened to try to log in at a time when the login server was down. Either that or there's some other portal these days. Whatever the reason, chances are I won't try again. I think I satiated my nostalgia last time around. Good luck and best wishes to all those enjoying the old game but I believe I may finally have moved on from hardcore diku-MUD gameplay...

    ... although not as far on as all that.

    FRSunrise is the reason I started writing this post. I signed up for open beta, oh, must be about two years ago now but so far I've heard nothing. This is another emulator project and like just about all the ones I've seen, it has a website that pretty much never changes. 

    All of the real activity happens on Discord servers these days, which is fine in theory but in practice that one extra step is enough to put me off. This morning, for some reason, I pushed through. I think I was just frustrated enough by the perpetual procrastination to want to find out what the heck was going on over there.

    It seems I'm not the only one. The Discord itself is still up and running but in a move eerily reminiscent of the Great EverQuest Forum Disaster I was reminiscing about the other day, the FRSunrise team have had to pull the plug on most of the public discussion channels due to bad behavior by the increasingly unruly crowd on the other side of the velvet rope.

    In a lengthy statement the team explains the scope and necessity of their action: "the public discussion channels (#free-realms-sunrise, #lore-discussion, #off-topic, and #art) have been temporarily closed. This decision was made last night by the Enforcement Team as a whole following an influx of disruptive and blatantly disrespectful behavior." 

    They go on to make a number of observations about "entitlement" and to emphasize the community-led, voluntary nature of the project, including the somewhat ominous statement "This project is a not a company. We are not asking anyone to pay for a product or service and we gain nothing from providing FRS to the community."

    I'm sure the FRSunrise team fully intend to open their servers to the public eventually but they are under no obligation to do so. It wouldn't be the first emulator to end up running as a walled garden with entry by invitation only. I just hope it doesn't come to that.

    On the positive side, everything that's been released so far to show how the project is going suggests a technical triumph. I'm in no doubt the observable quality of the experience is fueling frustration at the ongoing lack of access and, as with Antilia, I do worry that the pursuit of excellence may be getting in the way of the achievement of the perfectly acceptable.

    I await my beta invite with entirely unjustified impatience.

    Project: Return Home is one I probably ought to admit I'm never going to play. It's the emulator for the much-missed PS2 version of Norrath, EverQuest Online Adventures, more widely known as EQOA. Given that the download instructions on the website include a requirement for an EverQuest Online Adventures: Frontiers disk to create an ISO file and an original PlayStation 2 from which to copy the bios I can't see it ever happening. It would just be too much effort.

    I guess I could probably get both those down some internet back alley but even that requires more commitment than I'm likely to make these days. I'm loathe to admit it but even the lure of EverQuest variants I've never experienced doesn't have the draw it once did. 

    I think I finally maxed out on EQ nostalgia when I bought and read almost all the tabletop RPG books for both EQ and EQII a few years back. I wouldn't mind playing in a virtual campaign using those, if anyone's thinking of running one...

    As usual, the Project: Return Home website is ever-unchanging but the Discord confirms work on the project is ongoing. Not only that but you could, theoretically, play right now: "Returnhome isn't private, it's an open source server where in theory anyone can throw up their own server based on it in time." Theory isn't practice, though: "We just don't have a public, connectable server we host based off of our open source, public code, as we don't feel like it is ready quite yet."

    If they ever get a public server up and running I'll reconsider whether I want to try and find the files to play. Until then I don't think I'll worry about it all that much.

    And finally SmokymonkeyS.  They're the developers who made 9lives, a wonderfully bleak, elegaic mmorpg I played and wrote about quite a while ago. All development stopped in 2016 but the server remains up even now, as though it was some kind of art installation, something it very easily could be, such is the aesthetic quality. 

    It works, too. I just re-installed it, which took less time than it took me to write the last paragraph. I found my old login details and they work. My character was waiting patiently, where I left her a few years back.

    I'm not really surprised. If there's one thing you can say about SmokymonkeyS it's that they're loyal to their old work. I long ago abandoned any hope of the game returning to development. The team has moved on. only what they've moved on to seem to be games even older than 9lives.

    They have two live games, Triglav and Garage

    Triglav celebrated it's 20th anniversary last June. It was available to play on PC but that version is either now closed or just about to be, following the final expiration of Microsoft's Internet Explorer on which it ran. It's still going strong on iOS and Android.

    Garage aka Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is available both on mobile platforms and via Steam. It's a remake of a game originally released for PC in 1999 in which "the player character enters his inner world through a psychotherapeutic machine".

    I might be mildly interested in either of those but the real reason I had SmokymonkeyS bookmarked  was the new project they said they were going to work on after 9Lives. The screenshots looked stunning and after 9Lives I was excited for anything they might want to show us...

    ... and then they went quiet about it. The last mention seems to have been in 2018. Since then the studio appears to have been concentrating on their mobile titles, both of which are conversions of elderly PC games. It seems like an odd choice to me but clearly these games are making money and they do look gorgeous so I'm sure their creators are finding that work both financially and creatively satisfying.

    I'm still hoping maybe one day they'll either get back to the "not a train game" (An image from it is in the header for website.) or announce something new for PC. I'll keep checking back every month or two.

    And that's really all I can do. Alerts and sign-ups never seem to bring much information my way. It's a curious situation where the customer has to chase the supplier just for the chance to consume but that's what I get for following such niche developers. There's certainly no such obscurantism when it comes to the would-be major players, some of whom send me far more updates on what they're doing than I can find the time to read - or care about.

    At least when I check on things I've bookmarked I want to find out what's happened since I last looked. Or I pretend I do. I probably ought to admit it to myself when I've lost interest but checking in on these games has become something of a ritual, now. 

    I'll probably just keep on clicking until the links die. Or I do.


    1. "From there, I learned that Antilia is pretty much the life's work of a single developer, Jeff Leigh, who's been at it in one form or another since 2002."

      That's arresting to read. Real Foolish Old Man stuff.

      1. I'm very curious to know how the project supports itself. I tried to find out if any other games use the TOI engine but I couldn't find any. I did find the actual Right Brain Games website after I wrote the post and it has a lot of detail about the various games-related software the company produces - all of which is "not currently available for public or commercial use."

        There was a Kickstarter for the mmo version back in 2014 but it failed. According to that, at the time apparently Jeff had "over 15 years of experience in professional software development, and 3 years professional project management experience." Whether he still does that for a living and does Antilia on the side or whether he's got some other funding is unexplained.


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