Saturday, September 9, 2023

Is There Anybody There?

I thought I might just pop up a few screenshots of this little oddity in case I don't get around to doing a full First Impressions post for a while. In case anyone missed it on MassivelyOP, which was the only place I saw it reported, Burgee Media, developer of Erenshor, the "single player MMORPG"  has very bravely made a free pre-alpha demo available through Steam.

I downloaded it yesterday and played for about half an hour. It was a very weird experience.

Not because of the gameplay, which will be extremely familiar to anyone who's ever made a character in EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot or any MMOPRG from around the turn of the millenium. Nor for the very basic graphics, which ressemble those of many a pre-alpha.

No, the disconcerting thing about Erenshor is that even though you know you're the only one there, chat is filled with people trying to sell stuff, asking questions, having arguments and giving their ill-informed opinions on the game. Just like in every MMORPG ever.

It's freakishly convincing. In the half hour I played I didn't notice much, if any repetition, other than the sales pitches, which of course you'd expect to hear over and over again. 

It reminded me of the Heroes Festival instance in EverQuest II that lets you recreate the classic EverQuest rite of passage that was camping the Ancient Cyclops. That had simulated player chat but only as a set routine. In Erenshore it seems to go on and on. 

As if the disembodied voices weren't strange enough, the whole thing reaches another level when you spot the characters who are yelling in /shout, running around town. I hailed one of them and she answered me, which was surreal.

Even harder to process was the time I got killed trying to solo a young wolf. I resurrected and ran back, only to find two of the "players" about to pull the same mob. I joined in and the three of us finished it off, after which I was able to loot it. Well, I would have been if it had had any loot.

The idea for the game is that eventually you'll be able to party up, join guilds and even raid, all with your not-so-imaginary friends. You can apparently already form groups and trade even in the demo although I haven't tried it yet.

As proof of concept for a "single player MMORPG" it works but the thing that interests me most is that if you were looking for a test case for the valid use of generative AI in gaming, this would absolutely fit the bill. Imagine the endless chatter in general, guild, group...

I might elaborate on that thought another time but for now I'll just leave it there to settle a while. As far as I can tell, the demo is going to stay up until there's a newer, improved version of the game available, so if you want to try it out it'll be waiting. Whether Erenshor it turns out to be no more than a novelty or a harbinger of things to come, I guess we won't know for a year or two.

I kind of hope it's the second but then I also kind of believe my toys come alive at night so probably best not to listen to me...

7 comments:

  1. So, it's a single player MMO with simulated player chat? No other players but NPCs act like companions of some sort? Not just interactive but AI driven? Atheren

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    1. Yes to all the above except for the AI part. As far as I know, all the simulated chat they use at the moment has been scripted. It just seems to me like it would be a great opportunity to use AI to produce the kind of background burble that fills general chat in a regular MMORPG.

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  2. Hey, developer of Erenshor here! Thanks for the fantastic piece!

    -Burgee

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    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment - and for making what looks like it could turn into a fascinating and very original game. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

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  3. I've heard of the .Hack series but I don't really know anything about it. Sounds interesting though. I thought of another game I've played that uses the NPC-player idea and that's Otherland, the MMORPG based on Tad Williams' trilogy of the same name. I bet there are a few more out there but this looks like it wants to be the most complex recreation of the multiplayer experience without involving any other actual players.

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  4. The Goat Simulator MMO did something very similar...

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    1. Wow! I just watched a Goat Sim MMO gameplay video on YouTube and it does indeed have full simulated chat running all the time. I can't tell if you can actually interact with the "players" talking in chat in any way though. I'm guessing not.

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