A Tale in the Desert (ATITD) is a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) set in Ancient Egypt, run by the independent company eGenesis. Most notably, the central focus of the game is, unlike most other MMORPGs, society rather than combat: in fact, this game is one of very few in the genre to boast no combat system whatsoever, although there is some equivalent in board games. Instead, the meat of the game is economic development. The initial software download and all new content are free, but there is a monthly fee of US$13.95 to continue playing after 24 hours in-game.
The playerbase, based mostly in the U.S. and Europe, is small (a few thousand players), but many of them are fairly dedicated to the game. In fact, Andrew Tepper, the president of eGenesis, takes a very active stance in the game, participating with players as the 'Pharaoh', which tends to result in a great deal of interaction between developers and players, as well as a closer-knit community.
ATitD also has a unique outlook in that the game itself has a global foregame, midgame, and endgame: on average so far, every year and a half the game ends, achievements are tabulated, and a new 'Telling' begins, with certain modifications requested by the player base. Within a Telling, players can write, introduce, and pass laws (including player bans), and make feature requests. Compared to other online games, many have noted a closer to equal ratio of male to female players, and a high level of civility and generosity, potentially as a result of the difference in focus.
While there is very little in-game documentation, or indeed official documentation for the most part, the player base has constructed a wiki by which knowledge can be distributed, running on the third-party fansite ATITD.net Furthermore, because of that lack of documentation, a recurring theme is a 'newbie island' which established players can enter at any time: this allows them to train new players at their own leisure, and introduce them to the specifics of the game. After completing a series of tasks given to them, players may make their way to the mainland and begin the real game. When a new player exits the welcoming island, they may immediately begin trekking around to look for a suitable settlement location or community; the variety in different groups can be confusing, but due to the aforementioned training system (Mentorship), many new players already have some idea of where to go. Upon reaching the mainland, the first goal of most players is to begin the central challenges of the game (Tests), find public resources, and expand upon what knowledge they have while integrating themselves into the community at large.
Because the land is constantly changing, communities are too, giving the feel of a living, breathing civilization; a guild might relocate itself so as to be closer to a new mineral vein, or a lake. ATITD's strong sense of community is an acclaimed accomplishment, as the whole game revolves around this. While the vast majority of MMORPGs have a larger active playerbase, ATITD puts its community before everything, resulting generally in friendliness throughout.
One of the foremost attractions of ATITD is the legal system, a controlled variant on Nomic which is generally restricted by what the developers can code, as well as the nature of such a system. With the legal system, players have the option to create petitions of various types, from the redistribution of expired accounts' materials, the direct ban of a player, or even a change in an avatar's sex. The legal system as currently defined can only restrict players' options, alter ownership rights, or change a minor portion of a challenge; however, within those options, the possibilities have not been exhausted. Finally, the legal system also requires a great deal of cooperation between players, as a petition must be spread, signed, and returned with a certain threshold of signatures.
Because many of the Tests in several disciplines above have a very limited rate of completion (passing), ATITD is ironically considered to be a PvP game by many: For example, only the highest ranked player can complete most tests in the disciplines of Thought and Art each week. This leads to substantial arguments over what is and is not acceptable within the limits of the game, and violations of these standards is colloquially known as 'gaming'.
Upon completing a Test, a player advances in rank for that discipline: the various ranks range from Initiate to Oracle, and determine one's proficiency in the discipline. At the Oracle rank, where the player has completed all seven Tests, they may build a Monument to celebrate that discipline: if 127 disciples are found to take part in it, the players may create a challenge for the next Telling, to replace one of those used before.
The ultimate goal of the game, therefore, can be summed up as 'having enough players cooperate and complete the Tests for every discipline that seven Monuments can be built before the end'.
The First Telling was released on February 15, 2003, after approximately three years of open testing. While considered to have more bugs than the others, it also had an extremely tight-knit community, formed in part by the crossover of various guilds during the beta. So far, this is the only Telling to have 'won' the game, by completing the main challenges; it lasted approximately one and a half years, and ended on September 2, 2004.
Kemet was a German server running concurrently with the first Telling, although released on February 1, 2003: while the international version was produced solely by eGenesis, much of the work on Kemet was done by MDO Games, an overseas publisher. Ultimately, due to the extremely low population of the version, it was dropped for the second incarnation, but the result carried over into the next international version. Additionally, the majority of MDO's translations from English to German were kept. Kemet ended at the same time as the first international Telling.
The Second Telling began on September 3, 2004, with a host of changes: one new challenge was released for each discipline to replace an old one, over the course of the game, as well as a second test for the discipline of Worship. This Telling implemented a host of changes to various technologies from the first, as well as an overhaul of the GUI; a different tutorial for newcomers replaced the old midway through. The players did not manage to complete the challenges in the second Telling, but did finish Monuments for the disciplines of Architecture, Body, Leadership, and Worship. The Telling ended on May 24, 2006, roughly 627 days after its inception.
The Third Telling, released on approximately May 30, 2006, has seen some drastic changes over the previous two tales. A relatively loose leveling system has been added, as a means to connect with gamers who are more familiar with mainstream MMORPG design. The Discipline of Conflict has been dropped for a new discipline, the Discipline of Harmony. Mining has returned to something more like the first tale, but with its own mysterious workings. The Test of Mentorship has been modified to fix an issue that made it more challenging for those who began to play late in the tale. Additionally, an in-game event calendar has been added, so that developers and players may more easily communicate events without the need for a third party website.
However, owing in part to the restrictions placed on players who have no interest in various Tests, the level system is also one of the most widely-criticized features of the new Telling. The primary complaint in most cases is that players feel forced to take part in something they have no interest in, for the sake of doing something they do - a substantial change from the prior Telling.
Other changes in the third Telling include the implementation of an in-game Calendar system for events, small modifications to many existing Tests, new systems for basic materials such as firepits, mines, and glass, and a regional chat channel for anyone visiting that area of the game. Many of these have been lauded as excellent, where others have been considered to be pointless by long-term players.