Monday, April 16, 2018

What Does Lisa Like? First Impressions: Auteria

There was a time when I would regularly trawl the dustier corners of the interwebs, looking for MMOs I hadn't tried. I was on a mission to play them all - or at least download them all. Mostly what I'd do would be make a character, walk around the starting area, log off and never return.

I made a list a few years back of all the ones I'd "played" and it came to over a hundred. It's probably over a hundred and fifty now. Even so, there are some major gaps. I've never played EVE, Age of Conan, SWtoR...

While my enthusiasm for the genre continues to burn as brightly as it ever has, my obsessive desire to collect every MMO as though it was a Pokemon (never played Pokemon either...any version) has dimmed considerably. For many years there weren't enough MMOs to satisfy my curiosity but those days are long gone, drowned in an ocean of WoW clones and cheap imported knock-offs.

Only, here's the thing; even those days of plenty are in the past. The tide peaked a while back and now it's receding. As has often been discussed around this corner of the blogosphere, shrunken and withered as it is, the prospects on the horizon are both few and poor.

All of which makes it particularly surprising whenever I happen on an MMORPG I've never even heard of. Yet more so when that MMO turns out to have been up and running for more than a decade.

The MMO in question is Auteria. According to the History section on its website it began development in April 2007. At some point between then and now it entered Open Beta, where, as far as I can tell, it remains. The last time it got an update, according again to the history on the website, was in June 2010 but it's still there and you can still play it.

I ran across Auteria entirely by chance when I was reading a Reddit thread about obscure MMOs. I'd found myself on reddit because I'd been googling "Mimesis", another obscure MMO that never made it out of beta. I was googling that because I'd just found an old log-in and password for it and I couldn't recall whether I'd ever actually played the game.

Most of the obscure MMOs the redditors came up with I'd played at some point, or at least heard of, but there were a few that were new to me. I checked them out and they were either long gone or those 2D sprite things that look like someone knocked them up on a ZX Spectrum in 1985. I don't count those as MMOs.

Auteria, however, had a proper, functioning website and the screenshots showed a genuine 3D MMO. One that looked quite interesting. The in-game shots looked not unattractive and the captions were...odd.

I downloaded and installed it, which took about thirty seconds. Then I let it patch itself up to date, which took maybe another five minutes. I hit Play and found myself at Character Creation, which was where I made a crucial error.

In most MMOs I've ever played the process of making your account is separate from that of making your character. Not so in Auteria. I filled in my email address (well, an email address...), made up a User Name and password and hit Enter.

Next thing I knew I was standing in the world, looking at the back of my head. The "User Name" turned out to be my character name, which is a shame because the name really doesn't fit the default character from the character creation screen, which unusually happens to be female.

It matters less than it might because I couldn't find any way to move the camera so as to see my character from the front. That trope, where it doesn't matter how long you spend getting your character to look just so because you'll spend the entirety of your game time staring at the back of their head? It's literally true here.

When I arrived in Tergratia (that's the name of the country where you begin) it was nighttime. Night in Auteria is dark. Very, very dark. And long. I ran around a little before realizing I was going to get lost pretty fast in the darkness. 

I stood next to the fire where I could see at least a little way and spent ten or fifteen minutes familiarizing myself with the controls. They are, shall we say, non-standard. Movement is WASD but almost everything else is not what you'd expect. Hitting "M", for example, doesn't open a map. It opens the crafting interface.

Hitting "I" doesn't open your inventory and nor does "B". That's because you don't have one. Yep, this may be the first MMO I have ever played where your character has no bag-type inventory at all. She does, however, have Storage in a hut. And things she loots (by running over a bag that drops on the ground - took me a while to figure that out) go straight onto one of the ten slots on her hot bar.

I futzed around for a while with all that then I set out to explore - darkness be darned! I found a big bridge and crossed it. There was a boat on the far side marked "Teleport" so I clicked on that and ported myself to the nearby town. It was still dark although they had some nice streetlights. In fact, the lighting effects were the best part of the game so far.

At this point I decided to log off and come back when it got light. While I appreciate the attraction of having recognizeable "Night" and "Day" in your MMO, I have always thought that making night so awkward that players log off to avoid it is a design error.

When I logged in again a few hours later it was 9am in game. I knew because there's a handy on-screen clock. I could see what I was doing at last, so I set about the life's work of the newbie - talking to anyone who'll talk back and doing anything they ask you to do.

In this case there's not much choice: you can talk to Lisa, a young woman who looks like she's about to go for a nice dinner at a fashionable beach-side restaurant sometime in 1986, or to her pet, a talking bear cub called Little Paw. Little Paw wants you to announce yourself to all and sundry in General Chat.

You might think that, in an eleven year old, semi-abandoned MMO so obscure that Massively OP doesn't even have an entry for it, speaking in chat would be safe enough. No-one's going to hear you, are they? Oh yes they are! There was a lively conversation going on when I logged in and during the time I played I must have seen half a dozen players speak. Someone plays this game.

I kept my own counsel and declined the bear's attempts to get me to socialize. Instead I completed a series of tasks for Lisa, every one of which required me to run somewhere then run back to her. I ran to three signposts, her garden, the nearby town, two of her friends and a dragon.

The dragon let me ride on his back for a sightseeing tour of the area. I don't generally suffer from motion sickness in games but this was one of the most emetic experiences I have ever had in an MMO. I was reduced to looking away from the screen, glancing back occasionally to see if it had stopped.

On the way to the second signpost I encountered an ant, which attacked me. It was a big ant. There's a joke there but I'm ignoring it. I couldn't work out how to fight back and the ant killed me. Death by ant is an ignominious beginning (or end) to any would-be adventurer's career. I respawned in the starting village, the appropriately named "Hometown", where I had to stand for a moment in the Healing Hut to recover.

That seems to be how you get your hit points back. A bit like going to an Altar in Neverwinter, if I'm remembering that correctly. I did find out later that mobs drop Healing Potions so there's a way to keep going without having to run to the hut every other fight but I didn't kill the ant so no potions for me.

I'd already been to the town when I found the teleport boat in the night so when Lisa told me to run there I cheated. Then, naturally, I needed to go back and tell her I'd done what she asked (even though I really hadn't), which meant running back - only I didn't know the way - because I'd cheated. Cheaters never prosper.

I got around that by cheating again. I ran into the countryside until I found something to kill me. Ranger Gate we used to call it, back in EQ. In Hometown once more, Lisa sent me to see her pal in a little hut outside the village and he finally - after about an hour of entirely non-combat gameplay - gave me my first combat quest: kill ten "little beasts". Why? For two very good reasons; they're "annoying" and "Lisa doesn't like them".

So I  did that. It took me a long time. Combat in Auteria is basic to say the least. The controls are very odd for an MMO from 2007. Attack is entirely by use of the left mouse button. You have to press "Q" to go in and out of combat mode, then either keep pressing LMB or hit "F", which autoattacks.

After the first couple of little beasts (pretty sure they were spiders) I took to tabbing out and reading the website. When my character's squeals and the beast's grunts stopped I tabbed back in, checked if I needed to use a potion or visit the Healing Hut, targetted another beast and did the same again.

By the time I'd killed ten and gone back to Lisa's friend I'd had enough excitement for one evening. I'm not sure whether I'll be visiting Lisa again. There are surely better ways I could be spending my time.

That said, like a few less-celebrated MMORPGs I could name, Auteria has...something. Graphically it looks like a game from much further back than the late 2000s. Visually, it reminded me quite a lot of Istaria (nee Horizons), which launched in 2003.

The scenery is sparse but not unappealing; the skybox is striking and attractive and as I said the lighting effects are delightful. The interiors of some of the buildings are bizarre. One room I saw looked as though actual fabric designs from a homeware catalogue had been overlayed onto some basic furniture shapes.

The way the characters are dressed in smart casuals that wouldn't look out of place at a suburban dinner party is weirdly endearing, too. According to the useful Help section on the website there are armor quests but I have no clue how you woiuld even equip armor and in any case I quite like the idea of fighting evil in blue jeans and a skintight blouse.

The whole game has the sweetly idiosyncratic sense of being someone's passion project. It wasn't much of a surprise, digging into the depths of the web page, to find that, like Project: Gorgon, Auteria is the result of the hard work of a real-life couple, Thomas and Elke. As they put it, "We both like to play computer games, and Tom to develop software especially games, thats how Auteria was born."

I doubt that Auteria would have changed anyone's life even ten years ago and it certainly won't now, when development on it has long ceased, but I'm glad I found it and I hope it hangs around a while longer.

I may well be back, if only for some sweet Ant Revenge.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I just read your article and enjoyed it. As a long time player, I'd like to inform you that Auteria had a massive update last year. Lots of new things.

    As you level, more maps will be available to you. The M button now opens a map, btw.


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