Monday, April 25, 2011

The Sandbox Challenge: Wurm Online Begins

It’s starting to feel like good cop, bad cop here at the Sandbox Challenge. Or at least, good game, bad game. Ultima Online completely defeated me, Ryzom was good fun, A Tale in the Desert didn’t live up to my expectations, and so far I am enjoying Wurm Online.

 Scene: Hard Interview Room #1
Present: Gankalicious, suspect and game addict. Appears nervous and disheveled.
Enter: Officer Ryzom, Officer Ultima

Officer Ryzom: Hello Mr. Gankalicious, can we offer you some coffee?
Officer Ultima: Coffee? Are you crazy? He’s lucky I don’t break every bone in his body after what he’s done. Let me at him!
Officer Ryzom: Calm down Ultima! There’s no need for that.
Officer Ultima: Calm down? I’ll show you calm. Get the phone-book, duct tape, and flashlight. We’ll have that son of a bitch talking in no time.

Or something like that. If Ultima Online was the gaming equivalent of the old taped phone book trick, then A Tale would have been the Chinese water torture technique. Wurm Online I guess, would have been my solicitor coming in and advising: ‘keep quiet, they have nothing on you!’ and securing my release. I would have then left the station, smirking at Officer Ultima, daring him to make move. ‘Come ahead copper’, my steely stare would invite, ‘let’s see just how tough you are after a 20-year career of donuts and cheap booze’.

Right so- back to reality, and more to the point, Wurm Online.

I played Wurm for about four hours prior to coming up with the idea for the Sandbox Challenge. Wurm Online is an indie game and as such (and perhaps due to its age) it’s graphics aren’t what you’d call "triple A". If you need polished, RIFT type beauty in your game Wurm won’t be for you. I don’t think the graphics are bad, per se, but they could best be described as functional.

You don’t get to see your avatar- though sometimes you can glimpse something that you are holding in your had if it’s long enough (oi, mind out of the gutter, that’s gonna get you banged up with Officer Ultima beating on you) such as sword, and planks. There is a brief tutorial that runs you through the basics of the UI and then chucks you out into the world. You can choose between Freedom server which is PVE only, forbids stealing (god knows I’ve tried) in towns and in private residences, and is mandatory for free accounts like mine.

I was somewhat disappointed by not being able to play on the pvp, or more dangerous server and had, prior to the challenge, considered a one-month sub just to check it out. The increased danger would have added to the enjoyment I think, but as it stands I am able to learn the game without fear of being killed and looted. Or so I thought.

My first four hours in-game was pretty much wasted. I wandered around for a good part of it like some kind of lookie-loo and ended up getting trapped in a lake. Don’t ask me how I did it because I’m not entirely sure. The end result was I committed suicide so, in a sense, I was my own pvp kill on a server where I was supposed to be immune from player killing jerks like myself. This is actually what I like about Wurm: from the start there is this feeling that you aren’t quite safe (even on the safe server).

It feels like a frontier. An untamed wilderness. I feel an urgency in this game I haven’t felt in the others so far. I’m starving. I need water. I have very little tools or skills. I have to get busy and the best thing about the game so far is that it encourages you to use your thinking muscles. How the hell am I going to feed myself? My first thought was a fishing rod. I managed to make some shafts, and fishing hooks but couldn’t put together a rod. I still can’t because now I need string. Which comes from cotton. Which I have to plant, weed, and harvest. Or steal.

Ahh theft. Nothing like a good ole fashion “Yoink”! I’ve managed to figure out that crops and items within a settlement zone are off limits (the game simply won’t let me steal it) but some stuff on the outskirts seems yoinkable. And so a-yoinking-we-will-go.

I’m going to interrupt myself to say I’m not only a thief, but I’m a cheat as well. I had to look a few things up on Wiki in direct contravention of my Challenge rules. I know, I know. I expect a referral to the Hague any day now.

After getting lost within my first few hours of the game, and then killing myself I was sent back to the starting area. I then promptly got lost again so when Akaz (my Sandbox Challenge companion) joined Wurm I had the choice: kill myself again or look at the Wiki map and make my way back to him. I chose life, dammit, life! And as an indirect consequence of that decision I was forced, forced I tell you, into breaking one of my commandments. If anyone is to blame, really, it’s life itself for making me want to live it. Or Akaz. But definitely not me.

Wurm Online is hard. The learning curve is proving to me the most difficult yet in the challenge so yes, I have checked the Wiki to find out some basics: like how to not starve. This is how I know that I need cotton to finish the fishing rod, and that I need to make a clay bowl, harden it in a fire, and then bake some food in it to stay alive in the early game. Newbies are given free food for their first 24 hours in-game but we have not wandered so far away from the starter area it isn’t feasible to run back. We are on our own and so far I have actually managed to starve once.

My food level reached 0% and, in what must be another break for noobs, a message appeared which said:

You feel refreshed after your fast. Huzzah!

And I was back up to 100%. Thanks be to god, or whatever deities exist in Wurm (there appear to be several as a matter of fact). I also managed to find a nice little area which someone has kindly built that seems to be usable by anyone passing by. There is a forge, some storage containers, and an already flattened area where I can plant crops with the seeds I stole (borrowed) from my new neighbor. I bet he'll be glad I moved into the neighborhood. Never fear, I’ll make amends by inviting him round for a can of beer which we’ll drink while sitting on the ratty couch I’ve thrown on my front lawn. Or, if you’d prefer a European reference, I’ll have him round to my flat to drink some cider while we watch a car burn in the courtyard from the landing.

I liberated these crops while I was near death (that’s my feeble excuse for stealing cotton) and looking for food. I have yet to see an animal wandering in the wilderness (though I have seen unicorn and lava monster breeding operations) so hunting appears out at the moment. My focus now is to get the fishing rod up and running, make that clay pot, and start cooking some casseroles. In real life I loathe fish pie, and fish soup, but have had to make some exceptions while at my in-laws:

More fishheads, Gank?
Oooooh, yes please Mrs. She Who Will Be Named Later’s Mom. Love them fisheads, yes indeed.

In general chat there has been a few comments about Wurm being a game which will take up a lot of time once you get into it. I can definitely see that happening as it is starting to infringe on my daily World of Tank game-time allocation. In my next post I will talk briefly about the mechanics of the game (UI, crafting, etc) and continue the story of my survival.

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