Uru Live returns

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It is hardly World of Warcraft in scale, but as an attempt to push forwards what gaming can be about, this is highly significant.

The 'Myst' franchise is one of the biggest of all time- in fact, it was the top selling game franchise of the 90s, and the original spawned an entire genre. Basically puzzle/adventure games set in exceptionally attractive environments (the original Myst was a major contributor to CDs becoming a gaming medium), they involved players involving themselves in the legacy of a race that once lived benath the Earth who had the neat trick of being able to write books about worlds, and then those worlds would become real, and you could use the books to travel to them.

'Myst' has had an interesting split over time between criticial acclaim and drubbing. When as their best, the games have been intellectual, well designed, emotional and exceptionally immersive. At their worst, they have known to be confusing, arbitrary and utterly counter-intuitive.

But one thing they have never been is badly produced, and always they have tried to push the boundaries of intellectual gaming.

Two years ago, an off-shoot from the Mysat universe named 'Uru' was released. Though a perfectly playable single player game- very similar to Myst, but played in the present day with a personal customisable avatar,. rather than the generic and unseen 'Stranger' you played in the main games- the idea behind Uru was to launch Myst into the realm of the MMO. They wanted to create a huge immersive alternative universe, a community of explorers sith within the continuity of Myst, where the great city in the cavern under the Earth was there for players to explore, and libraries of books leading to other worlds would be there too. Players could explore these 'Ages' (the names for the other worlds) co-operatively, combat puzzles, solve mysteries, and join in the on-going effort of rebuilding the lost civilisation- and ultimately moving towards creating AGes of your own.

The game was innovative, as ever, and the ambition was amazing; it's actually hard to get across how far it stretched. Here was an MMO, with all the community things that go along with MMOs, but without weapons, monsters, combat or even what we normally recognise as an economy. An MMO meant to be held together entirely by storyline, community, and a kind of dvelopment not rated by stats or money, but by persopnal satisifcation, and the physical changing of your home in the world, which morphed and altered according to what you did. Not only did you have a personal home, but also group homws to share with others- like the Guild systems in other MMOs- which would also change to reflect your success. And at the centre of it all would be the quest to rebuild the city, a vast in-game level that would change as the community itself affected the Restoration project. From the darkness of the abandoned city, the various Ages could represent just about any setting imagainable- ages of stone and steel, or ones of complete wild nature. They had one Age which was actually an enormous treasure vault, designed purely to keep someones fortune safe. There were 'trick' Ages, like the one which was a cunningly built mechanical deception meant to trick people into believing time travel was possible. All of this interlinked by the storyline and background.

Trouble is, where they got the setting and idea right, they got the execution totally wrong.

First problem was, Uru was only an average game. A lot of it was superb- the customisation, and some very good puzzles. But as with the old Myst curse, bits of it were rubbish. Furhtermore, the control system was obscene.

Secondly... they thought they could treat Uru like any other subscription game, and pull in the money. They didn't even come close to succeeding. First of all, Uru's player dynamic- often older, less action orientated players- were less likely to be the type of net nerds who played on-line games.

But more importantly, Uru was just hard to get into. World of Warcraft is one of the most accessible games ever made, and games like Guild Wars follow the ease of access model. Uru, if anything, was hostile to new gamers. Aside from the controls, it was obscure (if you had not played Myst before), unclear... you never knew what the bloody hell you were doing... all the scope of what it could be was hidden behind the sheer obtuseness of the experience when you tried to srart playing. Were people really going to pay a subscription fee for that? Doubtful.

And indeed they did not, and the whole thing got canned.


Anyway, why am I telling you this now? Well, I am a massive Myst/Uru fan- for all their faults- and two years later, there is good news.

The code for Uru Live was released two yeasrs back for private use, and people set up private servers to run the (unfinished and unsupported) on-line game with friends. This was called 'Until Uru'.

A few months ago, following the sudden acquisition of new funding, an official 'Until Uru' server was set up by the game makers, to judge interest of a possible revival. Play was free, but by invite only. I managed to get myself one, and invited others (like our esteemed mod lana) to play also.

News released at E3 is... Until Uru has been successful.

A deal with the Turnet netowrk- who run Gametap- mean that Uru Live is now returning. It will be beta tested this summer and released at the end of the year.

The game is gotten by download for free, but plays with a monthly fee- but if you are a Gametap member (US only, irritatingly), you can play as part of that, no more fee required. Either way, the cost is $10 a month, which is good value.

The vibe is, they have learned from their previous mistakes. The new marketting model is much better, a promise has been given that the introduction into the game is far less obscure, and of course there will be a newe graphics engine and physics model and so on and so forth to make everything much more sophisticated.

As to whether they've dumped the crappy puzzles in favour of the good oens- well, I hope so....

Anyway. I want to spread the word, because in a gaming world now dominated by World of Warcraft, I think it is good that other innovative ideas like this are getting a chance they deserve, Not that I have anything against WoW, but it is only on facet of the many things that gaming can be.

Uru is smart, measured, innovative and immersive gaming. That being the case, it's not for everyone, and it can hardly be described as an action game, but it is very much worth checking out for a lot of people.

Here is the new site:


I do urge people to check it out.

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