Ongoing Uru Review #1: Thoughts from the First Couple of Days

What's Going On?

Uru Live isn't interesting yet, but there are some interesting ideas visible over the horizon. I'm not sure where everything is going to go, but now I want to find out.

For those who haven't been following the game: Uru Live is in a "prologue" state right now. Essentially this means "open beta". No subscription money is being charged. Players are being accepted into the game at a controlled rate. Only a few areas are open. There are a lot of visible (minor) bugs, and the servers are flaky -- I can't always log in. The story hasn't started yet, although some "events" are happening to pique the interest of those of us who have been accepted in.

What do I mean by "events"?

Well, last night I was wandering around the game, and I saw a couple of logged-in players chatting about when more of the city would be open. When the DRC gets the big ventilation fans working, said one. Probably a lot of the air in the cavern is stale. Where are the fan controls? Don't know -- nowhere we can get to. Huh.

(That's my paraphrase, not an exact record. If I'd been thinking, I would have turned on logging in my client, but I didn't.)

The players also tossed around some opinions of how the DRC is treating players, and whether they're being too coy with information.

So this is interesting. We have people, acting in-character, chatting about topics which add to the game world background. Possibly they were regular players like myself, just play-acting for fun, but I rather suspect that they were actors -- NPCs, controlled by the game designers.

Cyan is slowly sifting out hints of political tension in their fictional world. The DRC (D'ni Restoration Council) is the research group which is in charge of re-opening the D'ni underworld and admitting human explorers. There are also non-DRC researchers, such as Douglas Sharper, and Zandi (the guy you meet at the beginning of the single-player game). All of these people seem to have different opinions about how the exploration of D'ni should proceed -- although the differences aren't at all clear yet. Then there's Yeesha, the woman from the single-player game, who is Atrus's daughter. The DRC doesn't seem to acknowledge her existence at all, even though most of us explorers have seen her recordings, or... well, no spoilers...

The opening up of the game world is also a strange mix of in-game and out-of-game constraints. Obviously Cyan is struggling with a lot of technical issues. Only a few areas of the world are accessible. In those areas, most of the exits are blocked by rubble and construction barriers.

On the other hand -- some of the construction barriers have gaps. You can jump over them. That lets you sneak into areas which the DRC (in-game) wants you to stay out of, but which Cyan (out-of-game) obviously doesn't mind you getting a peek at. Just a few extra rooms.

So I got into the Hall of Kings that way. Big round room, with D'ni writing in dozens of columns on the walls. Someone else explained that they were the names of the D'ni kings. Huh, I said, and looked more carefully at the writing. I didn't have a D'ni alphabet, but the pattern looked right for the first few kings in my notes. (Yes, I'm keeping notes.)

One of the names was illuminated. Maybe just luck, one lamp surviving the centuries when the others were burnt out... but I wanted to know anyway. I figured out enough of the alphabet to transcribe: "Nemashan". Added that to my notes. [Update: that's "Lemashal". My mistake.]

I think this means I'm hooked.

What About the Structure?

It is still very unclear what players will spend their time doing in Uru Live.

Most on-line games are essentially based on the currency of the player-minute: you spend time fighting monsters, you get bonus stuff. If you team up with other people, you can fight more efficiently, and everyone gets more stuff per minute expended. In some games, "making clothes" or "growing corn" may be viable alternatives to "clubbing rats", but the principle of the player-minute remains the same.

The only thing we know we'll be doing in Uru is exploring worlds as Cyan reveals them. That's not really a player-minute economy, because (1) everyone explores at their own rate; (2) once you explore an area, you've done it; (3) people will certainly be posting their discoveries online, so you can share in what other people have explored.

It's possible that they'll add time-based things to do, but I don't expect it. The interface doesn't really have room for it. (Unless games of construction-cone soccer become vital to the reconstruction effort...) And Cyan has long said that they don't want to create a game which requires hours of daily work to make progress in.

I can't help thinking, though, that the best way to make these DRC political issues relevant is to have them affected by what players do. And I don't currently see how that can happen.


Oh, yes, I forgot the wackiest thing!

Some players have reported meeting some of these characters, such as Sharper, in the game. Okay, fine. More actors in the game world. I like that.

Recently, someone reported that Sharper had said he was no longer working with the DRC -- he was now "on Yeesha's journey".

In other words, the fictional characters in the multiplayer game are going through the experiences of the single-player game. And reacting to them.

I find that inexpressibly funkilicious. :)

Last updated December 11, 2003.

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