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Andrew Tepper

Brian Perry Jr. Posted:
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The creator of this non-combat Egyptian MMORPG gives us the goods on Tale III

Andrew Tepper, the one-man army behind A Tale in the Desert gives us the scoop on the soon to re-launch MMORPG. Unlike most games, A Tale in the Desert ends when players complete the story. Recently, the players found the solution to a Tale in the Desert II, sending the game back into beta. Soon, Tale III will launch with new challenges.

The beta for ATITDIII is underway. You can download the client at ATITID.com.

MMORPG.com: What would you say are the major distinguishing features between ATITD3 and ATITD2?
Andrew Tepper:

In ATITD 1 and 2, we had a very good retention rate – 50% - through the point when a player becomes a Citizen. Typically that is 5 or 6 hours. And the game was very good about letting you know a good first goal – the path to Citizenship was laid out as a checklist that could be accomplished in any order.

Once a player became a citizen, the game branched enormously, and provided no “snack-sized” goals. Only the most self-directed, focused players did well in that post-citizenship phase, and that was a huge flaw in the game design.

In ATITD 3, we've introduced the concept of Levels. All the main goals (the Tests) post-citizenship have checklists associated with them. Complete a checklist, and you have completed “Principles of (the Test)”, and advance by one level. So for example, the Test of the Obelisk challenges you to build the tallest Obelisk in your region. Principles of the Obelisk requires you to build a 14 cubit-high Obelisk. While Tests sometimes have goals like “the biggest”, “the most highly rated”, or “the most complete”, Principles all have fixed goals.

MMORPG.com: Will players have as much, or even more input into ATITD3, in terms of creating Tests?
Andrew Tepper:

The framework itself stays the same, but I've been watching the debates in-game about Monument Construction (creating new Tests). I've noticed a sophistication (and maybe that's not the right word) well beyond what I saw for the Tale 1 monument discussions. Some of these proposed Test ideas are really good. There is a genuine debate over which Tests will be inscribed on the monuments, and it appears that in at least one Discipline there may be competing monuments.

MMORPG.com: ATITD is one of the few MMOs to actually have a beginning and an end. How does that actually affect development?
Andrew Tepper:

It forces my development to concentrate on where the story is at the moment. In a way, ATITD is like a huge version of a tabletop game. The game master (me) watches how the players are progressing, and adjusts the content to keep things fresh, to always keep the players on their toes. I'd be interested to see answers to the same question posed to designers of the more traditional MMOs.

MMORPG.com: So many games put the focus on combat, yet you stray from the tried and true model to deliver something completely different. How has this affected you’re your game and playerbase?
Andrew Tepper:

I really think the size of our playerbase is due to the game not providing enough direction early on. All of the numbers seem strongly to indicate that, and solving that one problem has been my highest priority for ATITD 3. If we had combat, I still think that basic flaw would have manifested itself in the same way. I'll know in 6 months if I'm right.

MMORPG.com: The community is an important part of any game. However, in ATITD, the community is the game. Can you tell me why you choose to put the focus so squarely on the players?
Andrew Tepper:

I find that the most interesting game situations are those where even the designers don't know how things will turn out. If our game had as one of it's goals “kill the Flax Dragon”, then I pretty much know that people are going to get the best weapons and armor, and ready all the most powerful spells, and kill foozle. But if the goal is “Build as large a group of friends as you can without anyone stabbing you in the back” (Test of the Bureaucrat) then you're going to have all sorts of weird, unexpected stuff happen.

Human beings are going to be far more complex, subtle, and unpredictable than any system that I could ever design. This gives a far more interesting gameplay experience.

MMORPG.com: Crafting is often the most overlooked part of MMOs, yet there’s always new things being added that you can make. What new technologies can we expect for ATITD3?
Andrew Tepper:

The prospecting and mining systems have been created from scratch for ATITD 3. There's a whole new smelting system, and a separate alloy system unlike anything we've done previously. There's a cool new whittling skill, new ways to get basic resources, and numerous changes to existing skills and technologies.

MMORPG.com: Many people who have played ATITD say it’s a niche game. Do you take offense to that, or is that what you were trying to accomplish?
Andrew Tepper:

I have always chosen “interesting” over “popular” when making game design choices, and will continue to do so. However, providing a more directed gameplay for those that want it – the whole Principles and Levels systems described above – does nothing to make the game less interesting. ATITD veterans will probably ignore them altogether. But for those new to the game, they provide meaningful direction.

MMORPG.com: With ATITD having such a small community is there anything you would like to do differently that would encourage more people join?
Andrew Tepper:

When we run in-game events there is always a surge in new players. A secondary focus after the Principles and Levels is more frequent events, especially ones that are accessible to even beginning players. There's a new Calendar system in ATITD 3 that ties together official (eGenesis-run) events, player-created events, Test schedules, and chats that I host.

MMORPG.com: ATITD2 introduced chariot hubs to speed up travel times between fixed locations. Are you keeping them intact for ATITD3?
Andrew Tepper:

The travel system stays basically the same, with a few enhancements and tweeks.

MMORPG.com: Most MMORPGs have their replayability come from their open-ended gameplay. Considering ATITD has a beginning and an end, how does this affect the replayability?
Andrew Tepper:

It helps avoid ruts where you get into a pattern of doing the same thing all the time. Experienced players may not have tried to coordinate a Vigil (Test of the Vigil), or organized a team to unlock a new technology, or participated in a pyrotechnics exhibition, for many months. A new telling is a chance to use your wisdom, your experience, to accomplish such things in new ways.

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Brian Perry Jr.