So what kind of game is A Tale In The Desert? Well according to the FAQ, which says it better than I ever could, “It’s a radically different massively multiplayer role-playing game. It contains no combat: no monsters, no player-killers, no swords or armor. Your character advances by completing, participating in, or leading large projects. Negotiation and politics play a very large role. The game has a plot that unfolds in response to player actions, and when the story is over, the game ends.”

The FAQ goes on to outline some of the types of projects you might be expected to complete. Those of you missing the virtues of the original Ultimas will find this little tidbit interesting: “Leadership: The challenge of Trust. As in Know who to trust. To complete this challenge, a player must bury a significant amount of gold in the deep desert, and then get 1 mile away from it. Next, he must reveal the location to ten trusted friends, and allow 24 hours to pass. After the time has passed, he can retrieve the treasure. If the treasure has been stolen, the player loses the gold and fails the test. There is no penalty for the thief.”

That particular quest sounded impossible to me at first glance. My initial reaction was “no way will anyone ever be able to complete that quest.” But after giving it a bit of thought I think these guys might be on to something. Imagine the feeling of satisfaction of actually being able to complete this one. Whoa. Not every project is predicated on trust however, which is good considering how little there is to be found on the internet.

The graphics are not state-of-the-art — or even 3d. They don’t have to be. Frankly I’m quite glad they aren’t. A game predicated on gameplay rather than graphics — wow what a concept. I’m floored that someone actually has the guts to make this game given how consumed today’s developers seem to be with having lots of eye candy and so little content. These people are bringing a badly-needed breath of fresh air to this industry.

If you go over to the website let me encourage you to take a look at the boards. You’ll find the developers discussing the graphics engine, which they wrote themselves based on OpenGL and after doing research into what was currently being used. They have no prior game development experience but have been designing and playing games for fun for quite a while. Normally my warning bells would go off on seeing that but the fact that these guys have been quietly designing their game for three years and the sheer originality of the idea has quieted my warning signals. That and the fact that they only plan on running the game for a year and a half. Then they plan to quit.

I doubt this game will get the numbers required for it to be considered massive. The developers say they have a European publisher but I can’t see a publisher being willing to fund the server farm necessary for massive numbers and also being willing to have the servers wiped in a year and a half. But maybe these guys have a trick or two up their sleeve I don’t know about. Nonetheless, the originality of what they are doing is something I welcome with open arms. It won’t be a game for everyone. I doubt this will appeal to the Shadowbane crowd and the opportunities for grief players to ruin this are, of course, numerous. They seem to have thought of that though. Josh Yelon, (one of the developers), states on their message boards, “Effectively, we’ve written the entire plot assuming that around 60% of the players will act in selfish ways, and around 10% will be outright psychotic/destructive. A lot of the plot twists we have planned use these “bad” players as vehicles.”

I’ve written them and asked for an interview so hopefully we will be able to hear more about this game in the near future.