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COMMENTARY: Untìl

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Anonymous
August 14, 2004 11:30:14 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

(If the character encoding gets screwed up, that's supposed to be "Until
Uru", with an accent on the "i". Damn UTF-8 was *never* a good idea....)

(Review copyright 2004, Andrew Plotkin <erkyrath@eblong.com>)


Ever since Uru Live was shovelled into the recycling bin, people have been
asking "Why don't they give out the server code, and let people run their
own servers? And let everyone play for free?"

Which is a superficially reasonable question, but it has a bunch of good
answers. Because the server must be a complicated and fussy piece of code,
and Cyan can't afford to support random gamers trying to get it working.
Because the source code is a Cyan asset, and they aren't likely to give it
away. Because the server probably relies on an industrial-strength database
back end, which most people won't have at home. Because Cyan can't afford to
support client software (which still has unfixed bugs, remember) for a
fan-run system that isn't paying their bills. Because you'd need a hacked
client that knew where these fan-run servers were. Because Cyan wouldn't
want a free version of the Uru content competing with their existing
(single-player) Uru products. Because the cool part of Uru is exploring new
worlds, and we don't see anybody volunteering to create new worlds for free
-- certainly not with the standard of quality which Cyan has set.

I've posted these reasons myself. So I was caught completely off-guard last
week, when Cyan posted an announcement:

-----------------------------
Uru was built for people - a place for people to meet, grow and wonder.
The deep city came alive with the sounds of life - and then it was silent
again.
But the life of Uru is in the people. It will not awaken again *until Uru
has people again*
*...Untìl Uru has people again.*
This is not Uru, or Uru Live. It's only a breath, a spirit of what Uru was.
It's a heartbeat *until Uru can slowly grow again.*
*...Untìl Uru can slowly grow again.*

<http://plasma.cyanworlds.com/&gt;
-----------------------------

And then they neatly box up my objections and send them home.

* It's not Uru Live.
* It's not supported.
* It may be slow, it may be laggy, and it may not work.
* They're not fixing bugs.
* There will be no new content.
* They're providing server binaries, but not source.
* You have to have MySQL (a database system) installed to run a server.
* They're not guaranteeing anything about fan-run servers.
* They're willing to run a central authentication server, but no promises.
They'll try it for a month to see how it goes.
* To play, you need an original _Uru: Ages Beyond Myst_ CD. (The _Uru
Complete Chronicles_ set won't work, since that doesn't come with a CD
registration key number.)
* They're charging a six-dollar fee (per player, not per server or
character) to cover their workload and the authentication server.

(See their Giant Gnarly Disclaimer:
<http://plasma.cyanworlds.com/disclaimer.xml&gt;)

So -- disappointing on almost all fronts. But it's *there*. It's obviously
the best they can do without spending the development capital that Uru no
longer has. And it's made a lot of old Uru players very happy. Including me.

-----------------------------

I have a bunch of different opinions on this at once, and they all lead off
in different directions. So let me take them one at a time.

** The Player's Tale

Wow, it's nice to be back in these places. Even nicer that they're no longer
achingly abandoned. People!

Wow, the voice chat system is active! (At least on some servers.) I don't
think anyone's been able to use it since the closed beta phase. Which I
wasn't in. I can hear people talk! Or, rather, I can hear the German techno
music that they're jukeboxing into the City plaza. Heh.

Wow, I remember how frustrating Uru Live was. Sigh. Linking from one Age to
another is always slow, and occasionally crashy. Teledahn's power system
doesn't work right. You sometimes get stuck trying to walk through a door in
the Neighborhoods, even if the door looks open.

It's considerably worse than when Cyan was running the servers. Cyan had big
hulking server machines. You ran into trouble occasionally, but it mostly
worked. Now servers are whatever machines and whatever bandwidth people can
throw together. And they sometimes have to wipe the server database and
start over, which means you lose your character.

On the other hand, the project has only been going for a week. People are
still figuring out what the system requires, and how to keep it running. I
expect it will improve.

(On some more hand, as more people try Untìl Uru, the servers will be more
heavily loaded. I don't know where the balance will wind up.)

I like hanging out here. But this is a recreation of the Uru Live Prologue.
And as with the Prologue, there isn't a lot to *do* here. I don't expect
I'll be logging on regularly. A few more times for nostalgia's sake, and
then I'll put it away.

** The Reviewer's Tale

Should you try Untìl Uru?

If you were in the Prologue, then I don't need to answer this question. You
know what it was like. It hasn't changed. You get the _ABM_ Ages, plus the
City, Neighborhoods, Nexus, and Great Zero. Ayoheek and climbing wall are
active. Capture-the-Cone games are up to you.

If you've played through the single-player Uru worlds, but you never got
on-line, then try it. You may get a kick out of Untìl Uru. You're visiting
familiar territory with friends. It's nifty. However -- like I said -- there
isn't a whole lot to do. Once the novelty wears off, it's a very pretty chat
system. (Not that there's anything wrong with chat, or with beauty.)

If you haven't even started Uru yet, I'd say play the single-player game
first. Save Untìl for a post-adventure treat. The multi-playerness is nifty
-- but there are fewer Ages, it's slower, and it's not very reliable. And
you can't export a character from the on-line game to the single-player
game. So even if you explore a lot in Untìl Uru, you'll just have to repeat
it all if you want to progress to the later Uru chapters.

There's also the question of which Uru version to buy. If you want to play
all of the (single-player) Uru adventure, clearly it's best to get _Complete
Chronicles_ (US$40). But then you won't have the _Ages Beyond Myst_ CD,
which is required for Untìl Uru.

Alternatively, find an _ABM_ (probably $30 at this point), plus the _Path of
the Shell_ expansion ($20, and it includes the _To D'ni_ material). Then
you'll be able to play online if you *also* pay the $6 Untìl registration
fee. More expensive? Obviously. Worth it? Beats me. That's why I write these
essays. Read and decide.

** The Newcomer's Tale

When you get Untìl running, you'll see a list of "shards" or servers. At the
moment, there are about eight. The "Guild of Greeters" is the most popular,
but that makes it the most crowded, which leads to more client hangs and
disconnection problems. Like I said, this will evolve over the next few
weeks, as fans get heftier servers set up and figure out the configuration
system.

After you pick a shard and log in, you'll be asked to create a player. This
works the same way as single-player Uru. Note that you have to create a
different player on each server. That's just the way it works -- each server
has its own separate avatar database. (You can have multiple avatars on each
server, in fact.)

Then you get to solve the Desert Cleft level, same as at the beginning of
the single-player Uru game. After that you'll be in your Relto Age, and
you'll have access to the wider world of Uru. Have fun. (Hint: get a KI
device first. It's more important in the on-line game.)

If you have trouble getting started, I humbly proffer my Uru Newcomer's
Guide: <http://eblong.com/zarf/uru/newfaq.html&gt;. I wrote it back during the
Uru Live Prologue days, but most of it applies to Untìl Uru as well.

A warning: the Untìl Uru client requires that you install, or reinstall, a
totally fresh setup from your original _Ages Beyond Myst_ CD. Don't apply
any patches except the Untìl Uru client patch. And *don't* try to import
your (single-player-game) character from a patched Uru installation. Nor
should you import a character from a version of Uru that includes _To D'ni_,
_Path of the Shell_, or _Complete Chronicles_. The changes made by the
expansions will not work with the fan-run Untìl servers. In fact, you may
corrupt the server database, which will annoy a lot of people.

The safest course is to not import characters at all -- start with fresh
ones. Although that's kind of a nuisance. You have to create a new character
for each server, which means going through the whole avatar-creation dance,
as well as solving the Desert Cleft level. I've done that about eight times
in the past three days.

(Apparently there are filled-out, Untìl-safe avatar files which you can
import, to avoid re-solving the Cleft and other Age puzzles. I haven't tried
these. Look around on the Cyan forums:
<http://www.cyanworlds.com/cgi-bin/ubb-cgi/ultimatebb.cg...;. Free forum
registration required, sorry.)

** The Designer's Tale

The first question everyone asked was, "Can we build our own worlds?"

For Uru Live, the answer was "no". For Untìl Uru, the answer is still "no".
That doesn't stop people from asking. And now that the server is available,
I'm sure someone is trying to figure out how to hack it. Many someones.

I'm not optimistic about it. (Warning: entering geek mode.) A new world
would have two components: the server-side data (including world state and
the scripts which define its behavior), and the client-side data (3D models,
textures, sounds, images, and the messages that get sent to the server as
you move around the world).

The server binaries that Cyan has provided contain the server-side data for
the Ages of Untìl Uru. They *don't* contain the client-side data; that comes
from your _ABM_ CD. In Uru Live, the client could download new data from
Cyan. But there's no indication that the new Untìl client can do that -- or
that it can download new data from fan-run servers. Cyan would have to put
all those pieces in place to make it possible.

Really, if you want to create Myst-like worlds, I don't think Uru is your
best bet. There are more easily-customized systems out there. What about an
Unreal Tournament total conversion? It can do Arkanoid; it must be able to
do Myst puzzles.

I figure that the hard part -- to the tune of 95 percent -- is art and 3D
modelling. Maybe I'm biased, being better at coding than at art. But I'm
pretty sure that if the engine was available, people would sit around
staring at it and never create much. Whereas if someone had a great idea for
a world, and actually built it in a 3D modeller... artwork and sounds and
all... then it wouldn't be a vast leap to make it playable.

Okay, now I *know* I'm being biased. Creating an Uru-style adventure engine
sounds like a fun little project. I'd just have to grab one of the
amateur-licensable cross-platform 3D engines out there -- several exist.
Design a model for the database... shared world components... distributed
servers... versioning... event message system... scriptability...

Okay, it's a fun *large* project. Fine. I admit this. Let me know if you
want to pay me to work on it. The point is, world creation is a larger task
-- particularly if you plan to keep people interested by constantly adding
new worlds.

(And if you're not, how *are* you planning to keep people interested? Cyan
never did answer that question, you know.)

(Of course, getting fans to create new worlds *is* one answer -- a road that
Cyan never planned on taking.)

** The Endless Tale

Where is Uru going?

In just a couple of days of playing Untìl Uru, and reading the forums, I
have heard so many rumors. The *hope* which flows around -- it's
astonishing. Cyan will be adding new content? Cyan has finished Ages ready
which didn't make it into _POTS_? Cyan is using Untìl Uru to gauge interest,
and attract new players, so that Uru Live can make a comeback?

You can believe what you want. Call me the pessimist: I don't believe any of
this... yet. (I didn't believe in fan-run servers until I saw them.) It's
all *possible*, of course.

Certainly Cyan *wants* to bring back Uru Live. (I can say that without ever
having met a Cyan employee. Of course they want it back. We all do.)

The question is, what *can* they do. We can't see their planning -- but we
*can* see that Untìl Uru is a best-value-for-minimum-effort project. It is
not, right now, Cyan's biggest priority. Their next (unnamed) project must
be taking that spotlight, and the majority of their labor.

It's hard to imagine that Untìl Uru will demonstrate more popular interest
than the Prologue did. It's still buggy and there's still nothing new.
Crowding in the City will still cause intolerable lag. Untìl doesn't have
anything the Prologue didn't have.

....Except, I admit, more servers -- which spread out the crowding and allow
more people into City areas. And more time, with no angry investors
breathing down the administrators' necks. "Untìl Uru can slowly grow again"?
It is possible. If I could predict these things, I'd be rich.

What will Uru fans do? I have heard rumors of fanac. There will certainly be
Uru get-togethers and in-game social events. Some server maintainers may
create in-game storylines, using actor-avatars, the way Cyan did in December
2003. One can imagine interactive theater, allowing many players to involve
themselves and advance the story in their own way. Computer-mediated
live-action role-playing?

(LARPs have evolved into a vibrant game form, which has nothing to do with
the rat-whapping and needle-threading of modern computer "role-playing".
Perhaps Uru can provide a venue to import LARP ideas into the on-line gaming
world.)

Can fans satisfy the hunger for more Ages? Create new worlds for each other?
I said above that it can't happen without Cyan's help. But that dodges the
question -- I have no idea if Cyan *will* help.

On the down side, it could be technically difficult, and it *would* be hard
to support. Releasing a pre-built server with a fixed set of Ages is one
thing. Teaching the public to create new Ages -- with all their art and
modelling, scripts and data structures -- is quite something else. Just
coordinating the release of new Ages is a tricky problem, one which Uru was
never intended to solve. (Cyan ran three different server-shards in January
of 2004, but all three had exactly the same Ages in them. Uru clients could
receive updates without worrying about non-parallel servers.)

On the up side, the fan-run servers have gone *nuts* tweaking the Ages that
exist in Untìl Uru. These are minor tweaks -- setting doors to be open or
closed, posting KI messages, turning Neighborhood variations on and off --
nothing that exceeds the limits of the Ages as they were originally
designed. But every available data field has been twiddled. (See the wiki at
<http://uru.outoforder.cc/&gt;.) And it's only been a *week*. I half-believe
that if Age-building software was released, with no documentation
whatsoever, the fans of Uru would strip its secrets bare within a month.

(I only half-believe that, because I've seen badly-documented in-house
software. I've written some of it. It can be a bloody nightmare. Sorry --
sometimes I'm a fan, and sometimes I'm a programmer. The programmer isn't
optimistic about software usability.)

** Conclusions

So I'm not saying no and I'm not saying yes. All I can do is repeat what
everybody else is repeating: the ending is not yet written, and who the heck
knows what will happen.

It is assuredly excellent that Cyan has put forth the effort to keep on-line
Uru alive. They didn't need to do it and it's not making them a profit. It
probably isn't costing them much either... but no-one reasonably expects
them to funnel money down a hole.

I'll say this. Start up any of the commercial Uru products, and you'll see
two splash animations: Ubisoft and Cyan Worlds. Ubi is the publisher --
meaning the wallet. Cyan and Ubi maintained a united front when the Uru Live
cancellation came out, but it's not hard to guess the back-room dynamic:
Cyan didn't want to kill Uru Live, and Ubi didn't want to risk more money.

Start up the Untìl Uru client, and you'll see one splash: Cyan Worlds.
Ubisoft is not involved in this project. Untìl Uru is run by the fans --
outside *and* inside Cyan.

A fat wallet is nice. It speeds things up and it allows fast growth. But
games have long been made without a big-name publisher, and they will
continue to be made.

(This review, and my reviews of other adventure games, are at
http://www.eblong.com/zarf/gamerev/index.html)

--Z


"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

More about : commentary

Anonymous
August 16, 2004 1:17:53 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

On Sat, 14 Aug 2004 19:30:14 +0000 (UTC), Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> (If the character encoding gets screwed up, that's supposed to be "Until
> Uru", with an accent on the "i". Damn UTF-8 was *never* a good idea....)

FWIW, the accent appeared correctly in Dialog (a Windows newsreader) both
in the subject line and throughout the article. I didn't notice it for a
while because my fonts are so small, though...
Anonymous
August 17, 2004 2:21:07 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

On 2004-08-14, Andrew Plotkin <erkyrath@eblong.com> wrote:
> * They're providing server binaries, but not source.

This seems pretty dumb. Given that...

> I figure that the hard part -- to the tune of 95 percent -- is art and 3D
> modelling. Maybe I'm biased, being better at coding than at art. But I'm
> pretty sure that if the engine was available, people would sit around
> staring at it and never create much. Whereas if someone had a great idea for
> a world, and actually built it in a 3D modeller... artwork and sounds and
> all... then it wouldn't be a vast leap to make it playable.

....and...

> It's hard to imagine that Untìl Uru will demonstrate more popular interest
> than the Prologue did. It's still buggy and there's still nothing new.
> Crowding in the City will still cause intolerable lag. Untìl doesn't have
> anything the Prologue didn't have.

....it seems like a no-brainer to open source this, and let people fix the bugs
that are apparently the biggest problem. Then you'd get fan-made content,
but it really wouldn't be a threat unless backed by a company with resources,
and they could maybe use a restrictive enough license to keep the corporate
competitors at bay.

Joe
Related resources
August 17, 2004 2:21:08 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Joe Mason wrote:

>
>
> ...it seems like a no-brainer to open source this, and let people fix the bugs
> that are apparently the biggest problem. Then you'd get fan-made content,
> but it really wouldn't be a threat unless backed by a company with resources,
> and they could maybe use a restrictive enough license to keep the corporate
> competitors at bay.
>
>

Could one of the main reasons be that faster bandwith is not still prevalent
among the masses out there. Who wants to sit on a server having pushed
your keys and wait interminaable lengths of time before any action occurs
on the screen.
Anonymous
August 17, 2004 8:02:41 PM

Archived from groups: rec.games.int-fiction (More info?)

Here, Joe Mason <jnc@notcharles.ca> wrote:
> On 2004-08-14, Andrew Plotkin <erkyrath@eblong.com> wrote:
> > * They're providing server binaries, but not source.
>
> This seems pretty dumb. Given that...
>
> > I figure that the hard part -- to the tune of 95 percent -- is art and 3D
> > modelling. Maybe I'm biased, being better at coding than at art. But I'm
> > pretty sure that if the engine was available, people would sit around
> > staring at it and never create much. Whereas if someone had a great idea for
> > a world, and actually built it in a 3D modeller... artwork and sounds and
> > all... then it wouldn't be a vast leap to make it playable.
>
> ...and...
>
> > It's hard to imagine that Unt?l Uru will demonstrate more popular interest
> > than the Prologue did. It's still buggy and there's still nothing new.
> > Crowding in the City will still cause intolerable lag. Unt?l doesn't have
> > anything the Prologue didn't have.
>
> ...it seems like a no-brainer to open source this, and let people
> fix the bugs that are apparently the biggest problem. Then you'd get
> fan-made content, but it really wouldn't be a threat unless backed
> by a company with resources, and they could maybe use a restrictive
> enough license to keep the corporate competitors at bay.

Well, for a start, the bugs that are the biggest problem are *client*
bugs. Although there are some bugs in the server, or in server/client
syncing, or the server/client protocol. (Hard to tell without
looking.)

It is possible that Cyan has plans for the technology. (Nobody has yet
hinted whether their next project will be single- or multi-player.)
It seems likely that they have hopes of resurrecting Uru as a
commercial product, though not expectations.

Such future plans are compatible with open-sourcing -- in my view; but
I realize that a corporation doesn't see things the same way. "Maybe
using a restrictive license" pretty much equates to "For god's sake
don't let it get out."

Even open-source-friendly companies usually think in terms of dividing
the codebase into an open part (which they don't expect to have any
control over) and a closed part. Dividing Uru that way is tricky. At
the least, it depends heavily on what you expect to do with it.

--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.
!