Monday, December 31, 2018

Another Raft: Atlas First Impressions, Take Two.

It all started so well. As soon as I hit Publish on yesterday's post I logged back into Atlas. This time I'd get out of Freeport and sail the wild ocean wide. I'd see such wonders, make my fortune, forge my legend. At the dam' least I'd make a frickin' raft and get it over the zone line.

And I did, too. First I went to the guy at the end of the dock who sells the rafts. It's a peculiar fudge of a deal. Instead of money he wants what are clearly the necessary materials to craft the thing. When you give him those a window pops up, asking you to name your raft. A raft of that name then appears at the end of the row already bobbing up and down in front of you. Why you can't just craft it yourself , who knows?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When we left her, Buzzcut Bette, the scourge of the Southwest Shoreline, had lost everything, not least her own corpse. Before she was ready to set sail for the horizon she'd need to start all over again.

It's always easier second time around. In what felt like a matter of minutes I had her fully dressed, with a waterskin and a campfire in her bags. Atlas is an odd mixture of the realistic and the ridiculous. Resources come from predictable sources - meat and hides from animals, wood from trees, flint from rocks (Yes, I finally worked that one out) but somehow you can carry a fully-functional campfire in your backpack and, as I later discovered, set light to it on the wooden boards of a flat raft without the obvious consequences.

Soon, I had all the hides, wood and sundries on my list. I didn't have the recommended stores of meat and I was short the wherewithal to make a bed but other than that I felt pretty well set. I was also becoming increasingly paranoid about a second death leading to another do-over. Night was beginning to fall. Best get on with it.

Campfire nights. Or freeze to death. Your choice.

Atlas seems to be one of those games that, having fronted-ended an encyclopedia of instructions into an opening-scene info-dump, feels perfectly justified in never explaining anything ever again. Fortunately I've sailed imaginary boats before. I figured if I hopped across the bobbing raftway to the one at the end, sporting the name I'd given it, some kind of control panel would pop up.

And it nearly did. I had to work the camera angle a little and hit the ubiqutous "E" key but standing facing the one feature a raft has other than planking, namely the mast, I managed to open a radial menu.

Atlas likes radial menus. I don't. Fortunately, for once these are huge and not at all fiddly. What they are not, however, is intuitive. I looked at the thing for a while. I even pressed a couple of segments, cautiously, to see what they did. Whatever it was wasn't obvious.

I was getting paranoid again. It was dark and I was worried I might wreck my raft, or scuttle it, or otherwise do something I'd regret. I decided to ask a friend and since I don't have any friends playing Atlas I asked Google instead.

If anyone reading this is thinking of trying Atlas I can do no better than suggest they watch Zueljin Gaming's fifteen-minute Beginner's Guide on YouTube. It is, as one of the comments has it, "a beginners guide that's actually helpful". I flipped through to the part where he explains how to sail a raft and it was so clearly and cheerfully explained I went back to the begining and watched the whole thing. And learned stuff I hadn't worked out for myself.

I'd be just as happy with WASD.

Confident in my newfound knowledge I let down my sail, turned my raft to catch the prevailing wind and off I went. At some considerable speed. So fast, in fact, that I began to worry about runing into rocks and smashing the whole thing to matchwood.

That didn't happen. I managed to skirt the only rocky promontory between me and the horizon by a sliver and then it was ho! for the open sea!

There turned out to be a lot of open sea. After a while I started rifling through my packs to pass the time. I'd read someone, somewhere, talking about having a campfire on his raft so I thought I'd give it a go. I set my campfire up, lit it and waited for the sail to burst into flames.

Nothing happened. I was pretty sure it wouldn't or I would never have taken the risk but if I'd been wrong I'd at least have gotten a funny story out of it.

With a roaring fire and the journey still ongoing I taught myself how to roast a chicken. There's a whole controversial and complicated nutritional system in Atlas that I'd been ignoring until I watched the video but now I understood roughly how it worked I figured I probably ought to do something about keeping myself healthy.

Fire on board ship. The thing a sailor fears most. Or not.

I'd just had time to cook and eat my chicken when the zone line finally arrived. Free of Freeport and never going back! (That's ironic foreshadowing, in case you missed it).

The sun was coming up and the scenery was verging on the spectacular. I've always been a sucker for lens flare. Far in the distance I could just about make out some faint shimmer that might be land so I pulled the sail round and headed in thst direction.

I'll say one thing for Wildcard: they absolutely weren't kidding when they said this thing was going to be big. The timescales for crossing the distances in question are going to be immense. Presumably bigger boats go faster, but even so exploring the whole of this watery world is going to be a major timesink.

Opening the map is a daunting prospect. It works just fine and it looks splendid. The problem is scale. It makes you realize just how insignificant you are and how little the ocean cares about your existence.

I'm not much of a sailor either in real life or games. I just wanted to get to dry land and start exploring on foot. I knew there was a high likelihood I'd be eaten by a grue at first landfall but I was bouyed by the knowledge that I'd no longer have to start again from nothing. My raft would be my revival point and my corpse would be no harder to recover than in the good old days of EverQuest.

Great. At least I'll know the name of the place where I died.

That's what I thought. I wasn't reckoning with two things: ignorance and early access.

Let's take ignorance first. Yes, you can respawn on your raft. If, that is, you've thought to make a bed and place it there. It's your bed that acts as a respawn point, not the raft. I'd somehow missed that crucial factor in the thread I'd read on the subject of getting your body back.

I had not made my bed and yet, precisely because I had not made it, I did indeed have to lie in it. Isn't language fun? 

Having carefully manouevered my raft to the extreme shallows of the first island I came to, I waded ashore. Another raft was moored further out to sea. There were some rudimentary foundations laid for some kind of structure. The place was obviously claimed so I wandered inland to look for a better spot to set up home, whereupon I was promptly killed by a wolf.

It was a fair fight. He was level 5 and so was I. I got him to half health but I am absolutely not getting to grips with Atlas's hyper-kinetic combat so anything more aggressive than a chicken has a better than fifty-fifty chance of doing for me.

Which would have been fine had I respawned, as I expected, on my raft. Nope. Big nope. What's more, I didn't even have the option of respawning in the same zone. Having died bedless it was back to Freeport or start another character. And naturally my corpse stayed just where the wolf left it and my raft just where I'd moored it.

Maybe I could just steal one...

To say I was miffed would be putting it mildly. I stomped off to do some research into respawning and corpse revovery, which was when I learned that even had I made a bed and put it on my raft I might well have ended up back in Freeport anyway. There's a bug, the paramaters of which don't seem well-understood, that makes respawning on beds something of a lottery. This is Early Access, after all.

And so, as I write my Pathfinder, the peculiar title given to characters in Atlas, is back in Freeport in her skivvies, the whole "make a raft and sail away" thing ahead of her yet again. Rather than get on with it, I used the unexpected return to Freeport as an opportunity to experiment with the respawn system.

I died many times. I took all the available revival options, opening a cluster of tiny vistas on my vast fogged map. I read the aforementioned thread and contemplated my unfortunate situation.

I'm aware this is going to be a relatively hard game to learn, let alone master, especially since I'm alone and the general advice seems to be that you can't get much of anything done with fewer than four. I'm not convinced I'll ever get to grips with the combat. It's hugely more offputting than the ostensibly similar version in the alpha we don't talk about, where I have little or no real trouble managing the controls.

Once more unto the beach, dear friends.

It's not the dying I mind. I can hack dying, even dying a lot, just so long as my character keeps moving forward. There seems to be no penalty for dying other than inconvenience, anyway, although given the current degree of inconvenience, I'd take level-loss any day.

I 'm not much bothered by corpse runs, either. Been there, done that, got the body. Mostly.

What I'm not up for, though, is endless restarts. I need to know that I can at least pick myself up and dust myself off somewhere roughly adjacent to where I fell down, then head off to get my stuff back. I'm okay with having to prep. I belong to the bind generation, after all. I'm just not okay with Groundhog Day gaming.

I'm going to give it one more go. Get another raft. Make a bed this time. Sail to somewhere no-one else has claimed. See what happens. It does look pretty darned amazing out there...

If I die and end up back in Freeport, though, that's it. I'll be shelving Atlas until I see a patch note that says respawning is fixed. We should at least wake up safely, back in our beds, thinking it was all a dream, before the real nightmare - corpse recovery - begins.


  1. Not a criticism, just an observation for reference: You are precisely describing a game of ARK, except for the lack of dinosaurs and you don't get to build a raft until a bit later on.

    1. Yes, that's what all the ARK players say! I haven't played ARK but even I can recognize it from the blog posts I read about ARK a year or two back. That said, some of the same ARK players also say that, once you get past the starter zone, gameplay and systems diverge rapidly from what they experienced in ARK. I have only just arrived at that point and since I wouldn't know what was or wasn't in ARK I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I'm just interested to see if it goes on being fun. It has been so far but I am discovering that I have *very* limited patience with survival mechanics, period. That's probably going to make for a post in itself, soon enough.

    2. If it's the same survival mechanics as ARK, then you won't be able to explore much until you secure a consistent supply of food, water, and shelter. As I recall you're about 15-20 minutes from death at any given moment if you ignore that stuff. (Which was exactly why I liked ARK as a survival game, but in an MMORPG it would be maddening.)

  2. When you are about to die (including at a freeport), go into your inventory screen and "drop all". This creates a brown bag at your feet containing all your possessions. After you die you can reclaim them all, as long as you can remember where you died and no-one else loots the bag before you.

    1. Now that's the kind of information that would be useful to have in the tutorial tips! Thanks! Every time I've died I'd have had plenty of time to do that - particularly the time I died of dehydration which took so long I was on the verge of attacking a bear to get it over with.


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