Sunday, 10 September 2017

It'll Be Nice When It's Finished. If! I Meant If...: Sacrament

This morning I found myself flicking through MassivelyOP's list of MMOs in development. My attention was initially drawn by this unfortunate and unpleasant headline. It was the first thing I saw in my Feedly feed after sitting down at the PC fresh from a lively breakfast discussion chez Bhagpuss concerning the normalization of scatology in entertainment intended for the under-10s.

I can't say I've ever felt that what's been holding the MMO genre back all these years was the shocking lack of attention paid by developers and game designers to the excretory functions of player characters, but what do I know? To me it's just one more reason not to pay any attention to Star Citizen but then I was already paying about as little attention as I can spare. I'm not sure there's much more Chris Roberts can do to make the "game" any less appealing to me, although he and his team certainly do keep trying.

It's been a good while since I looked at what used to be Massively's forthcoming attractions list. Indeed, Massively was probably still called Massively when I followed it regularly. The whole trend towards buy-in Early Access, much though I found it exciting when it began and even though I still, on the whole, approve of it, had the unexpected and unintended effect of weaning me away from participating in alphas and betas of games that interest me.

Nowadays I mostly prefer to follow them at a distance. I'll Kickstart the occasional likely prospect but mostly as a kind of quasi-pre-order or with the specific intention of getting a few blog posts out of the initial flurry of interest when the game hits beta. My days of actually playing MMOs in beta (let alone alpha) as though they were already Live are, I think, over.

There could be exceptions and if there were they would almost certainly be those MMOs that seek to revive and revitalize the glory days of EverQuest. I may be a big exponent of the fun, accessibility and sheer entertainment value packed into modern MMOs but I do hanker after some of what was lost along the way.


Plucky Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen has been the standard-bearer for updated old-school for a while now. By dint of sheer persistence and some convincing evidence of actual content, finished work and solid gameplay, Brad McQuaid's small and stubborn team have shifted perceptions on this ultra-niche title from derisive disbelief through grudging admiration to cautious optimism.

Pantheon is by no means the only potential spiritual successor to EverQuest to have raised a flag these past few years but it's the only one I'm aware of that appears to have made significant progress. As I was glancing down M:OP's extraordinarily long list, clicking on the many names I had forgotten about or never even heard of, I came upon Sacrament.

It's a new one on me. It had a quite spectacular Kickstarter fail in 2016, when it managed to attract just over $3000 in pledges against a goal of $250k. The elevator pitch was absolutely to the point: "An evolution of EverQuest meets today’s game engines and systems" and I might have backed it on that alone - had I ever heard of it.

Like many would-be Kickstarter-funded projects, evidence of extreme lack of interest from the games-playing public did little to dissuade the creators that their idea still had merit. Funding moved to Patreon, where the goal is a rather more modest $850 a month. At time of writing that pitch has attracted five people to donate $117, which seems unlikely to go very far towards the salary bill for the 25 "experienced" staff listed in the breakdown of responsibilities.

I wouldn't be mentioning this at all if it wasn't for the extraordinarily detailed information laid out on the solid and encouragingly retro website for the game itself. Whereas most as-yet unreleased MMOs suffer from a surfeit of vagueness, hand-waving and wishful-thinking, Ferocity Unbound's strength seems to be in writing detailed, coherent, convincing design documents.

I'm not sure I've ever read so much hard information about a game that doesn't exist. It's not merely the traditional wishlist of features plucked out of thin air that we've seen in so many MMO pitches from Horizons onwards. There are reasons for the more unusual design choices and explanations for what's in and what's out. A surprising number even make sense!

The point at which I decided to bookmark Sacrament for further attention was when I came upon a specific entry for Inventory Management. Seriously, any developer who thinks it's worth explaining how bags work before their game is even in pre-alpha is someone I want making my MMOs. Plus they plan on having twenty classes and more than twenty playable races...

Sadly, I suspect Sacrement's footnote in the history of MMORPGs will be a link to the website at the Internet Archive. If that. The ambition here seems monumentally out of sync with both the market interest and the available funding.

I really hope I'm wrong. If they could pull this off it would be one heck of an MMO. I'm not saying I'd go so far as to throw a few dollars into the Patreon hat. That would be crazy. If they ever get a playable build running, though, I would absolutely play it. I'd even buy an alpha pack.

Seeing Star Citizen and Sacrament together on the same "in development" list, it's more than a little depressing to compare the relative attention and concomitant funding enjoyed (or not) by the two, especially set against my own preference as to which might actually get made.

Still, I guess Sacrament  could make it to the finishing line. Stranger things have happened. I just can't seem to think of any right now.

7 comments:

  1. I notice with interest that Star Citizen has now reached the point where the comments about it on MassivelyOP are now 100% mockery and cynicism, with zero defenders of the faith. Certainly didn't used to be that way.

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    1. It seems to have reached the point now where there doesn't even need to be a game. I'm surprised no-one's come up with the idea of just selling virtual items with no game attached. All you need is a communal space for people to show them off to each other. SC is proof of concept.

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  2. The eternal problem with software development is that there are always far more ideas than there is time or talent. Chris Roberts seems to have never met a feature idea he didn't like... or he's afraid if he doesn't keep adding new stuff to the ominous piles of features people will stop giving him money. I think he has entered the forever-funding zone, as asking for the money up front means never having to worry about reviews or somebody buying your product... should it ever be finished.

    Then there is the problem of turning those ideas into reality. Sacrement's feature page looks details, but only in comparison to the vague nonsense we're used to. I hope it is just a summary page, because as a design document it has enough holes to pass for Swiss cheese.

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    1. The Sacrament website reminded me very much of the handbook you'd expect to find in a tabletop RPG. It's very detailed compared to anything I've seen for any unreleased MMO for a long time, let alone one that barely even exists. (Camelot Unlimited is the obvious exception - the amount of detail on offer there is positively disturbing...)

      It is, however, as you say no more than a summary. In a pen and paper RPG it would be the introduction, the overview. We used to expect that much information up front from MMOs, though. Nowadays you can generally flip through the entire world/class/lore/combat/craft/economy information as given on the official website for most MMOs in a matter of seconds. I had to stop reading the Sacrament site after a while because there was too much there for a casual visit.

      Whether any of it is practical or workable is another matter entirely, of course. Even if it was, another 2-3 years of development, minimum, is going to turn out something barely recognizable from that outline. If, that is, it turns out anything at all, which I doubt.

      Still, at least they have a plan. It's a start!

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  3. At least the website is still updating, as recent as end of June. I predict a 2025 release.

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    1. That'll still be ahead of Star Citizen!

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  4. Seems to be some nice variation among the priest class options. Does EQ1 have an equivalent of the "heal when you are hit" Shaman presented here? What about the priest tank class, the Zealot? Shame there's no detail of the Gun Priest as yet...

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