183776 is a quasi-random number.

A Tale in the Desert, Tale 2: First Impressions

November 9, 2004 review

(Note: this was written quite early in the game’s life. It’s now about two-and-a-half months old and I’ll be — in theory — putting up a follow-up soon. If not tonight.)

If anyone here’s played (and enjoyed) Animal Crossing, then you’ll understand what starting out in A Tale in the Desert is like.

The beginning is quite task-oriented. In AC, completing a series of tasks gets you a house to live in as well as serving as a tutorial; in Desert, you acquire citizenship and start understanding the tech tree scenario ahead of you. But I can’t say that once I had citizenship, I was ready to jump headfirst into the whole game.

In AC you really start getting the sense that there is a “living”, organic community around you, as well as an interesting (if small) little burg for you to explore. You’re eager to try things out, and acquire new tools so you can accomplish more things.

Again, many similarities in Desert. Egypt is much larger than your animal village, of course, and you’re just as interested in seeing what most of it is about. And you’re still eager to acquire new tools, both to further yourself and to further your guild, if you’re in one. (And, by extension, further all of Egypt.) The difference in the community, of course, is that it is living and organic; there is no fear that after two months of play, you’ll have all of your neighbors’ dialogue memorized.

Some differences abound, naturally. Because Egypt is so large, travel is somewhat cumbersome. There are a few ways to speed up travel — and some I may not know about — but overall your avatar will travel an impressive 1/1,050,000 miles per hour. And because there’s a good chance you’ll find nothing in your exploration, it could be a lot of time lost.

Another important difference is the evolving state of the game itself; over time, Egypt becomes wiser and has more technology open to it. At the “end” of AC (which is, of course, when you stop playing), you will still be fishing, bug-hunting, and pulling weeds. But the future of Egypt promises that you’ll be learning new skills and putting them to use. I don’t know what those skills are yet.

This brings up the issue of the tech tree; you either know it or you don’t. The only resource of knowledge you have are the other players, whether by asking in-game or by reading resources online. People who have played Tale 1 and Beta will know quite a bit about the technologies coming up and what will be necessary to prepare for them; you, as a novice, have zero understanding of any of this. You end up thinking “Wow, charcoal!?” or “Wow, camels!?” Half of me feels like knowing about it is a spoiler; half feels that knowing about upcoming techs is necessary to properly plan ahead.

A rather unpleasant feature the games share is that there are periods of monotony. In AC, you typically run out of things to do on a given day. In Desert, you may find yourself spending a half hour on one thing. Click, click, wait a moment. Click, click, wait a moment.

But ultimately, Animal Crossing and A Tale in the Desert seem to share one thing in common in their early days of play: I’m compelled to go back to it again — for just a few minutes, you know — just to see what else is going on right now. And then, well, maybe after I eat I’ll run around for a few more minutes, too… And, oh, just before bed I’ll stop by that School of Thought…

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