ATITD Launches Player-Run Shard

Intriguing (and now in its fourth run) combat-free MMO A Tale In The Desert is launching an experimental second server to see how much of a “telling” can be generated by player actions, rather than by the dev-tweaked game. They explain:

This will be the first time A Tale in the Desert has run a second shard while another telling is currently ongoing. A Tale in the Desert has always been a great sociological experiment, asking questions like “What will happen if players can completely control the world through the use of laws?” and “Will players work together in a project when working against each other could potentially have more benefit to one of them?” This experiment continues with the launching of a new server, to see what will happen when players have no limitations but themselves.

Sounds interesting, but I have to admit having less than an hour’s experience with this game. Any vets want to chime in on the significance of this? A free trial of the game is currently available for others wanting to investigate.


  1. Heliocentric says:

    Oh my god, so lame. I don’t play stupid mmo elf-fests. I can’t wait til the gold spammers show up.

  2. Conlaen says:

    I never actually played it but watched a friend play it. When I started watching she was “running to her house”. Half an hour later I got bored when she was stil had not reached it.

    • Frosty says:

      Being said friend, I must add that although I agree with Conlaen that the game can be slow and tedious, (best played while listening to an audio-book) it’s also rewarding, unique and not like anything else I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. :)

      Forget about “Cities XL”, if there was ever an online game that let players create a community together, this is the one.

      I’ll definite be trying out the new server. My in-game nick is “Maevre”. Any of you trying the game and needing some help (Things can be quite complicated. In fact, learning how stuff works is part of the game), feel free to contact me there.

  3. Bhazor says:

    This is the one MMO I’ve always really wanted to get into. But a lack of a decent free trial has always put me off.

    • Cvnk says:

      You can play for 24 hours for free. And that’s a total of 24 hours (i.e. it doesn’t end 1 day from when you start). For me that was plenty of time to get the flavor of the game and to sink my teeth into some of the tests (or whatever they’re called).

  4. Jadan says:

    As a former player of ATITD I can say it’s definitely unique. Mix one half crafting chat-room and one half sociology experiment, shake vigorously and watch how the players react. Sounds like Tepper is up to his old tricks. Andrew Tepper, the developer, likes to cause chaos to see how the denizens of Egypt deal with it. Tale 3 this involved a contagious plague which would harm your stats and therefore made socializing with other characters a huge risk. Don’t get me wrong, Tepper is very personable and makes a point of routinely conversing with the player base to see what works and what doesn’t and ensure they enjoy themselves. I remember have an in-game chat room conversation with Tepper about how he had recently read one of Robert Cialdini’s books (On the topic of persuasion and influence) and was trying to apply the ideas on the design of the game.

    And yes what Conlaen said about the 30 minutes spent “running to her house” is by no means an exaggeration. Doing anything in the game is a huge time investment. Rather than considering macroing an anathema, the Dev and GMs actually suggest macroing the more mundane tasks, as long as you follow rules. While the graphics are nothing to write home about, ATITD’s sheer amount of content and complexity even put Eve Online to shame. Unfortunately this can be daunting to new players. Tepper has a niche gem, and with the added player control offers something very interesting. I definitely recommend giving it more than a few hours to sink in before deciding it’s not for you.

    • Jockie says:

      Sounds like another in a long line of games that sounds interesting, but is simply too time-consuming to be worth investing in. Like Eve or the other sandbox MMOs.

    • solipsistnation says:

      If you haven’t looked at Tale 4 recently, they’ve upgraded the graphics pretty drastically, and the interface has had some serious overhauls (by people who actually play and use it).

      This isn’t to say that it looks modern or anything, but now it looks more, say, 2005 than 2001.

  5. GibletHead2000 says:

    +1 for what Jadan said.

    I sunk an *awful* lot of time into this game, back when I wasn’t very well for a long time, and couldn’t work. It’s a huge timesink, but was actually very rewarding. One of the things that’s interesting is that the playerbase tends to be quite a bit older than average. Generally the conversation is at a fairly high standard, and there is a huge spirit of cooperation.

    Having said that, due to the small size of the playerbase it’s a bit like living in a village. IIRC there are/were usually about ~1000 active players at any one time, and you probably spoke to most of the people who played in your timezone at some point or other. There was quite often some drama going on between various parts of the playerbase. Teppy encouraged this with tests designed to encourage you to screw each other over (I’m thinking the Test of the Covered Cartouche as an example) which would cause people to get wound up with each other – guaranteed.

    I think this is a logical extension of the ATITD philosophy. The idea all along was a player-driven game, as was defined by the law system (players invent laws, they go to the vote, if they pass they get implemented by the devs) — and it’s likely to be a very interesting experience.

    I’m no longer a player, so take with a pinch of salt, but I do forsee problems though. The playerbase is very small at the best of times, and fragmenting it further can’t be a good thing. Also, developer time is limited, and tales evolve at about the pace that Teppy can manage, based on the commitments of adding new code to unlock the next tests and whatnot. With two shards to manage, both of these problems will be compounded.

    Particularly with the playerbase, it’s always been in danger of dropping below a critical mass below which the game is no longer fun to play. This might be the straw that breaks it.

    • solipsistnation says:

      Agreed about splitting the player base.

      ATITD, especially towards the end of a telling, has always had the problem of accessibility. That is, a new player showing up and looking around may be boggled by the sheer masses of information, skills, techniques, and so on and may decide that since they’ll never catch up with the established players they won’t bother. There are mechanics and incentives to encourage established player to mentor noobs, but that depends on the noobs meeting the right people and on the older players being willing to walk the noobs through the early, extra-grindy bits. (There’s a lot of wood-gathering and brick-making before you can build brick machines to do the hard parts for you, or wood planes to make boards more easily…)

      So, a new shard is an interesting idea, but ultimately I think it will discourage new players from even looking at the original T4 server, and thus, through player attrition, the T4 server will fade away. It’s already at 900-some registered players. I logged on for the first time in a year and found nobody active in what was once a pretty busy region. (And I offered up 100k grass and 75k wood for free– gathered through offline chores, and representing quite a lot of work in-game– and nobody responded for almost 20 minutes, and only after I offered it on the global broadcast channel.)

      I dunno. I wish Teppy would just code the whole game to start with, so this “shard” was how it was from the beginning. He needs more skilled staff, and to release a bit of control to them. As it stands, with only a single developer there are too many bugs and issues that hang around for way too long, and too many long delays while he finishes other pieces of the game. Now that his attention is split, I can’t see it getting any better for anyone.

      It’s a pity, because there’s nothing else like it out there.

  6. starclaws says:

    This game is a tight group of players and many have been playing for quite a while. You can know most everyone on this game as you will have to interact with just about everyone eventually though parties and festivals or organized digging together. The server may bring back some of those players that have been leaving. No clue though.

    This game takes tons of time. Lots of running and picking grass and such.

  7. Cvnk says:

    I tried this game twice: once near the end of a telling, and once when a new telling started. I wanted to like it and it does have a certain level of charm but in the end it was too tedious for my tastes.

    I think my biggest problem was that the world was just too big and empty. I prefer a tighter, more interesting landscape to play in (e.g. Wurm). But I realize this is more of a laboratory than a game and Tepper probably has good reasons for spreading his minuscule player base so thin and making them play in such a generally featureless and uninteresting world.

  8. Baf says:

    Another former player here. I was in the first telling. I ran a shop. But I quit when I got a job and found that I didn’t have time for both the job and the game.

    The thing is, ATitD has always been somewhat player-run. One of the core features of the game is that the player base can create new laws. Frequently, these laws required the programmers to make changes to the engine on the players’ behalf. For example, there was a lot of legislation early on about ownership of structures. If I recall correctly, in the default state, if you build a loom or a kiln or something, anyone could come along and dismantle it when you weren’t around. Obviously this was unsatisfactory, so the players voted to make it no longer allowed. (There is no difference between “illegal” and “impossible” in this world.) The immediate result was that all the desirable places to make camp became clogged with structures built by people who tried the game briefly and never logged on again, so refinements to the law were passed, specifying the conditions under which structures were to be considered abandoned and available for salvage. And so on.

  9. Tei says:

    I played the newbie island two times (playing the newbie island is free).
    Good times.
    One time I spawmned the whole isle of wood workshops. It was somewhat like a total deforestation-urbanization thing.
    Once In the continent I was amazed. People made giganteous things everywhere all sort of things, with his bare hands. Think “Dwarf Fortress” but singleplayer. Crazy.

    Soo.. is a crazy game, for crazy cool people. I think is that big, so you have space to build a 1:1 replica of New York, if thats what you want.

  10. Jimbo says:

    Died of thirst. The end.

  11. Goldfish says:

    My 2 cents – if it’s combat free, it needs to be threat free more or less as well. Not to engage in a ninety hour debate about the semiotics of struggle and violence, but if the environment can “wage war” on you eg previous comment about dying of thirst then that is a form of violence or at least hostile consequence; as such the player needs to be engaged to solve that problem the same way that in the mindless money harvesting (for the developers, or at least that’s the plan :) ) games better weapons -> bigger threats -> better armour -> better weapons etc.

    If thirst is a factor, I hope that irrigation is, too. And water bottles. I’ll give it a go. :)

    • solipsistnation says:

      The environment doesn’t wage war on you. There’s no “died of thirst,” and, with a couple of special-event exceptions, no combat, no dying, no weapons, and so on.

      There are, however, limited resources and the inevitable struggles over location and building rights that implies.

      It’s a really fascinating game. It’s clearly not designed to be popular– it’s the most nichey of niche games I’ve ever seen, and the attempts to make it more mainstream in order to attract more players have been mostly a wash. (Levels, for example. This shard thing, I’m guessing, will be another.)

      Also, irrigation IS a factor, but not in the way you’re probably thinking: link to

  12. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    After first playing the trial for a few hours (a couple of years ago), I never think about grass the same way. Or mud, sand and slates, for that matter. It’s just too cool making bricks for your bigger kiln, to make more bricks and other stuff, for your random house.

    And the sound was great. I just can’t see myself paying a monthly fee for it. I’d rather play on a listen server.

  13. Jethro says:

    And this survived where Myst Online failed….HOWWWW?!

    I mean, it’s sand! Myst Online had mushroom forests, and lots of other stuff. O.o

    • solipsistnation says:

      This survives because it’s super cheap to run and is sustainable on the income generated by under 1000 paid accounts.

      eGenesis is, for most purposes, a 1-man shop, supported by some interns and an (overworked) assistant (hired out of the player community). There are a couple of servers (literally– 2, I think) in a data center and that’s basically it. At $14/player/month, do that math.

  14. Jeromai says:

    Time investment was really a big factor in why I stopped. That and somewhat wonky midgame progression. The beginning part of the Telling was rather exciting, with everyone on the same level playing field, competing and cooperating and making new discoveries.

    But there comes a number of stopping points in the midgame. One of which is hitting the wall of where you can go as a solo player. The player-run trading enterprise of the Goods did help to supply some of the resources which are obtainable as a duo (couples playing together or someone hardcore enough to run two characters) but there’s always a bit of a discouraging factor there.

    The other was the “NOW what?” factor. I’d gone through most of the short term activities. The very long term activities (like making wine) could literally stretch for RL months. Many of the middle-term activities had some sort of time critical factor – had to log in every 4 hours, or 8 hours spaced apart, to tend to something or other. This grew ridiculous very shortly as I can’t tolerate being slaved to a game and an alarm clock for too long. Abandoning those activities meant I had pretty much nothing else to do but burn out on too many repetitive short term chores while waiting for the long ones to come to fruition.

    In fact, I ended up winding up with the trust of an established guild with more resources than they knew what to do with – and having every machine open to my use. Tried them. Played a bit with ’em. NOW what again?

    I wasn’t going to get grey hairs competing with the already established vets with plenty of time on their hands in the game. The vets win all the Tests first because they know what to go for, and they’re a lot more devoted.

    Tests were also unlocked and opened by the devs manually, which really throttled the pace of change in gameplay – after two months of the same old chores in the same old desert, I completely lost the will to log in.

    It’ll be interesting to see how fast the new player-driven shard goes. I’ll admit, I’m tempted to poke my head in and see what’s up for a couple months. In the short term, Teppy stands to gain quite a bunch of monthly subs.

    In the long term though, he might end up shooting himself in the foot if his playerbase splits too much or burns out having experienced and found the midgame hopelessly boring. Especially if he follows through on his plan of opening new shards every 3 months – that sounds somewhat dodgy, like he wants to make profit off the startgame and not clean up the mid and end after himself.

  15. yyyz says:

    So now what is the significance of every test being already available at the start of the game?

    Any progress in the game comes painfully, excruciatingly slow and almost exclusively by performing stupid repetitive tasks — i. e. gathering resources like grass, ore, wood, mushrooms, fish and whatnot — over and over again. The further a player progresses, the more resources he has to waste on the tests.

    Walking to your house for only 1/2 hour is nothing. Since improvements to the client have been mentioned here: Can you finally set a destination to walk to, like your house, and come back a few hours or a day later to continue playing when you’ve arrived?