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Now, for those of you who are new to the scene, let me recap. Back in the early 90's a small company named Cyan developed a game for the Mac called Myst. While Zork may have defined the Adventure Game, Myst reinvented it and turned the genre from sophomoric cartoon to mature entertainment. For years Myst held the record as the best selling game of all time (Three years after launch it was still selling for retail). Over the years four sequels and three novels followed. Its fans were legion.
Several years back Cyan, now Cyan Worlds, decided to sink all of its resources into the game which it always wanted to make – a multi-player on-line version of Myst which people could play not just alone, but in community. It took everything they had plus the financial backing of publisher UbiSoft. They designed about eight months worth of content, but could not get the servers to run right – only a dozen or so players could log in before the system would come grinding to a halt. Cyan thought it was close to a solution, but UbiSoft feared good money would be thrown out after bad and pulled out.
Cyan Worlds had only one option and that was to repackage all the material they had developed into a single-player game and sell it. That became Uru Chronicles and while it did appear on store shelves, it did not sell well enough to save the company. It looked like Cyan Worlds was about to close its doors (they had already laid off the entire staff leaving only CEO and founder Rand Miller) when a deal was struck just in time with GameTap and its backers, Turner Entertainment. Rand quickly rehired everyone and the conversion to working servers was continued.
So, just what has happened?
First of all, let me just say that I have poured more hours into this game than any other I can remember. This is the third review I am writing for it, the second time I have been a beta tester for it and the unmentionable-numbered time I have played it. In the interest of not having to repeat myself, please go check out the review I wrote of Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. It is still basically the same game and my opinion has not changed much.
So, what is different? In a nutshell, Cyan Worlds has successfully converted the server code over to a language capable of much faster speed and you can now get up to 40 people in the cavern at one time. That may not sound like much, but they have also modified the game play so that you don't need more that 40 people in one age.
Why the limit of only 40 people when all the other MMORPG's can handle thousands? Cyan Worlds has taken the next step in creating a realistic environment. In all those other games you can run around in the world but you cant do anything to the world. In MOUL, the worlds have objects like stones and traffic cones which the player can kick around. If you kick a stone over to the wall, that stone goes to the wall for every player in that age. As new players log in they will see that stone against the wall. If you log out and nobody else touches that stone, it will still be right where you left it when you log back in. This means that every time someone logs in every player must be updated for all the new particulars. That amounts to a bout a six megabyte download every time someone links in. Any more than 40 players and the lag would make the game unplayable.
Fortunately, you can play most of the game all by yourself with no lag issues whatsoever. Every player has their own “instance” of every age including the main cavern which used to be public only. You can invite friends into your instances if you wish, but they can't go there without you. The only time you would need to go to a public place would be to join a group of fellow explorers to go solve a multi-player puzzle. You can do that in the public cavern or any of the many public neighborhoods. There is no need to sit around with hundreds of others.
Every player starts the game in their personal age called Relto. Relto starts off with two linking books. The one book takes to to your neighborhood, or Bevin, and from there you can link to the public places. The other book takes to to the Cleft where you can work on all your personal ages. The more you explore, the more linking books you accumulate and the more you learn of the story of the D'ni.
The Online portion of the game actually started Last December. Cyan Worlds decided to open the beta testing up to all GameTap subscribers. There is a little bit of role playing going on. Cyan Worlds is represented as an organization called the DRC (D'ni Restoration Counsel). It is a group of people dedicated to restoring the D'ni Cavern and as many ages as they can find. They do not appear to be archaeologists or scientists of any sort. They mostly act like bureaucrats more interested in in-fighting than in getting any work done. But they do appear to be in charge. At least, when they put up a barrier it is not possible for a player to get past. They claim that they will only open up areas once they are determined (by them) to be safe. They make their presence known through their web site (http://www.drcsite.org/) and by visits to the Cavern and different public neighborhoods.
“On December 19, 2006 the explorers met with the DRC. During the meeting Dr. Kodama received a message. He said "What the..." and suddenly loud Bahro screams were heard everywhere. All explorers were transported to their Reltos where a new adventure awaited them.” That was taken from the Cavern Today forum of the Uru Obsession web site (http://www.uruobsession.com/), an excellent site for keeping up on news as well as a repository of everything known about Uru and the D'ni.
Once back at their Reltos, people found that they couldn't get back into the Cavern, at least not beyond their neighborhoods. The DRC claimed that something mysterious had happened and they had closed everything down so that they could inspect it for safety.
As the days went by, the DRC opened up the Cavern bit by bit until opening day when almost everything which was available before was again open. The only thing left closed was the museum, which didn't have a lot to begin with. But we are told that exciting things are happening there as well.
Also, two new worlds never seen before were opened up. They are small gardens, or Eder, and contain a single multi-player puzzle each. The linking books to them can be found in the Bevin.
Well, right off the bat you have all the material from Uru: Ages Beyond Myst and Uru to D'ni. That should keep most people occupied while new ages are developed. They also have the Uru: Path of the Shell ages ready to convert. And there are plenty of places left to open up in the Cavern.
Rand Miller once said in an interview that they hoped to add a little something new each week, something important each month and a new full age every three months. That's not too bad for something you get for free along with your GameTap subscription.
To be honest, I still don't like how the game play seems to be getting more real-time and physical. And I still don't like the interface. But I must admit that it is overall well written and professionally done.
Cyan Worlds have brought two innovations to this game. One is the changeable world already mentioned. The other is an on-line multi-player game which actually changes with time. Put that all together and I must award an “A-” for the effort.Watch for me in the Cavern. I'll be wearing the “Cautiously Optimistic” tee shirt.