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A Tale In The Desert is a massively multiplayer game, developed by a company called eGenesis. It has several interesting twists on the currently crowded genre that sets it ahead of the curve.

First and foremost, it is not being developed by a humongous development house with millions to throw around and enough marketing muscle to shove down the collective throats of every gamer with a keyboard. In fact, it's being made by about 7 guys total, from a company that has yet to release anything else other than this game.

Secondly, the game completely does away with any sort of physical combat. Rather, the game is set more around resource gathering, economy, and political maneuvering than traditional combat systems. In other words, you have to outwit your opponent, not PK him :)

Third, the game eschews an in-box cost (that is, a box you buy at your local computer store with the cd and manual), letting you download the game completely free and play for either 1 entire month or 24 hours of gameplay, whichever comes first (subscription is 12.95 a month).

Last but certainly not least is the ability for the playerbase to propose, write, debate, pass, and implement laws. For the first time, players have the ability to change the gameworld, for better or for worse, as long as it doesn't change the laws of game physics (for instance, a law requesting the ability to fly will be ignored.)

The game is set in ancient Egypt. The plot is that a Mysterious Stranger has come to the land, challenging the Pharoah (played by Teppy, the lead coder for ATITD) and his followers to achieve the "perfect society". To do this, players must advance in 7 areas called Disciplines; Art, Thought, Conflict, Leadership, Architecture, Religion, and Body.

Each Discipline challenges the player, not the avatar. For instance, in one of the first tests of Leadership, you must convince 20 citizens of Egypt to sign a petition, allowing you to become part of the ruling class, letting you draw up laws for debate and voting. Another example is the initiation into Art; to succeed, one must create a sculpture that at least 20 people deem to be interesting. Beware, though; people can also proclaim your creation to be an eyesore! If you get 100 positive votes, your sculpture becomes a Great Monument in Egypt, showering you with praise from all corners of the country.

For the majority of the game, players create items within the ridiculously complex economic system. Everything relies on everything else, and then some.

As an example: One of the most sought-after items in the game is Canvas. It is created from a Loom. The ingredients to make it are thread and twine. Both come from the flax plant. You must first separate the flax plant and process the twine to a useable format. Before that, you have to let the flax rot in the water for about a half hour. Prior to that, you have to grow the flax, water it, weed it, and finally harvest it. That's not counting the buildings you use, either! The example above requires a loom, distaff, and a flax comb. Each of these must first be discovered at the regional university (by people donating their hard-earned resources for research), learned by the player, and then built with the available resources.

As the game progresses and the players discover more complex buildings, the economy changes drastically. Things that were amazingly scarce at the beginning of the game, like medium stones (don't ask; just know that they were almost as precious as gold at the launch of the game :), become so commonplace as to be near worthless later on. Not totally worthless, though... someone somewhere always has a need for what you store away in your chests :)

Also, things discovered have a way of changing the very dynamics of the entire game world. One of the things recently discovered was the printing press. Taking papyrus, you can print up pamphlets, books.... even your own money. Now the question with this money is, can you make it worth anything to your fellow players? By doing so, you would change the entire economy, from bartering to currency. You would have to keep inflation in check, make sure it isn't devalued, and a gamut of other problems. Plus, you'd have to convince people to use your money in the first place... maybe you could pass a law declaring it the only legal tender in Egypt.... better practice those speech-making skills :)

Perhaps the best part of this game, in my opinion, is the players and the game designers. The playerbase isn't huge, which is a good thing; old friends are easier to spot, you know who your neighbors are and keep up with them, and everyone is generally not content to be a 12 year old hiding behind an avatar. As a result, the overall maturity of the playerbase is much higher than, say, Everquest, whose players tend to be content calling each other "n00b fagz" as they spawncamp the latest orc village. It's a refreshing change.

The developers themselves are actively involved in the game's day-to-day operations. At any point in the day, you can send any of the developers a message, and expect to get a quick reply, even if it's a silly game question (how do I get an axe, for one... I should know, I asked it :) The main coder even gave out his cell phone number, in case the game servers went down while he wasn't at the office. Not only that, but Teppy plays his role as the Pharoah well, making occasional speeches, letting everyone know how each region is doing and so on.

If you're dying for some sort of fresh air in the MMORPG genre, if you've gotten sick of hacking thousands of orcs and selling their loot on ebay, you should give A Tale In The Desert a try. You'll be glad you did :)

The main website is at http://www.atitd.com/