It would really have been a shame to have missed Ninelives even though it's not an MMO (yet) because it ticks just about all my boxes, apart from the one that says "Anyone Else Here"? Except for the phrase "single player", the Statement of Intent that introduces the project could have been drafted specifically to match my personal criteria for the perfect RPG:
Ninelives is an open world single player RPG focused on freely searching and adventuring in a unique world and building characters with items and skills. We aim to create a game where players can enjoy the pleasures of simple RPG, such as discovering, collecting, battling, in their own relaxed pace.
Let's start with what it looks like. It's just gorgeous.
Not in any flash, over-pumped, hyperactive, "look at me I'm gorgeous" kind of way. No, Ninelives reminds me of other worlds that clicked for me at first sight - Vanguard, City of Steam, Rubies of Eventide - places that immediately felt like places.
I don't know exactly what it is but I think dust has a lot to do with it. Dust and grit and the patina of age. These are lands that feel used, lived in, worn down. Much though I'm enjoying Blade and Soul, even though I find its world beautiful and involving and its hamlets and villages convincing, everything there looks so clean and new. This does not.
In two sessions last night, amounting to around an hour and a half, I took nearly seventy screenshots. Some were taken with this post in mind but most were just because I was seeing such wonders.
Ninelives has been handcrafted by a small team, with all the graphic design, world-building and modelling carried out by a single person. That pays huge dividends in consistency but that wouldn't be much of a benefit if the single person wasn't also gifted with a striking visual sense. Fortunately he is.
The SmokeymonkeyS duo describe themselves as "a team consisting of two Japanese guys, one a programmer and the other a graphic designer, formed for the purpose of creating games." With delicious modesty they claim "We are not professional game creators...We are just a team of guys that absolutely love games."
Well, I guess Morrissey and Marr were just a team of guys who absolutely loved music. No-one starts out as a professional. You become professional by producing professional quality work. This is professional quality work and then some.
Psychochild goes into some detail on the gameplay. I won't go over that ground again. Suffice it to say it's tailor-made to please me. I took his advice and went with the Blade class. A goblin because of course a goblin!
Within a minute or two of waking up in a stream I was whacking gnolls with an axe and taking their stuff. Could there be a more perfect opening to a game? No, there could not. À propos yesterday's post, Ninelives scores highly on the "How do you get gear" scale. The gnolls wear armor and use axes and bows.
When you kill them they drop axes and bows and armor, along with a few potions and recipes. I'd score it a perfect ten except that the delivery mechanic is a chest rather than looting straight from the body but I can live with that.
A short trip to the back of a mini-dungeon and a battle with a big boss gnoll netted me some nice items but really all I wanted to was explore. From the now empty gnoll camp I could see the towers of a city with airships passing overhead. I headed up the hill in search of adventure. Mostly, what I found was wonder.
The city is convincing. The scale is spot on. The buildings have function and purpose, the streets are laid out as streets would be. There are strange things to see around every corner - a huge statue of a deer, strange riding beasts stabled next to shaggy horses, emporia of mysteries and the mundane side by side.
There are posters in the streets, pictures on the walls, signs in a script I can't decipher. Everywhere there's something new to stare at and wonder. And just listen.
The two-man team got someone else in to do the music. It really would be too much to expect they could do it all. They chose exceptionally well. The music is excellent as is the ambient soundscape. There's even a torch singer in a bar, whose lonely, elegiac throb fills the room with sadness and longing.
The last thing I did before I logged out was stand in the deserted single street of Mistral, The Timeless Town, a forgotten, abandoned settlement right at the end of the map, listening to the haunting score. I'm not a big fan of soundtracks in general or of video game music in particular but this is something else. Here's a messy edit that doesn't do it anything like justice. Second half has the best.
So, clearly I could ramble on for a while, eulogizing about what is essentially a version of a game that may change to the point of unrecognizeablity over the months and years ahead. Which is what happened to City of Steam, of whose pre-alpha and alpha days this strongly reminds me.
Enjoy it while it lasts, that's my advice. It may turn into something really special one day but on the other hand this might turn out to be its Golden Age. It's free, it's a tiny download. All you need is an email address and you're in. I wish I could say I'll see you there but I won't. It's not an MMORPG.
I hope it will be, one day.