In my university days (and still now...), I was a serious hard core nerd... with nerdy interests (waaaayyyyy before it got cool....) like computer games and online multiplayer gaming. I remember fondly this game called Utopia which I would regularly log in to whilst passing a computer lab or whilst checking my email (this was before the days of easy mobile internet access....).
Utopia was a hardcore strategy game that incorporated a bit of RPG, real-life clanning and diplomacy and some serious number crunching and spread-sheeting. It was a game that I played waaay back in the '90s and I was expecting that it had died a long time ago... seeing as it was pretty much numbers and text based, with nothing to interest the short attention span of today's "gamers"!
Launched in January 1999 by a university student (Mehul Patel) under the umbrella of the company Solaria Games, Utopia was an evolution from the BBS and MUD games that were the rage of the online communities at the time. At it's peak, Utopia had around 100,000 active players in it's world, however now it stands at around 3000. Interestingly enough, it was recently (in 2017) bought by a new company that has hopes of reviving the game...
It's pretty hard to describe Utopia... think of the current day online games... and then think of how simplistic they really are, most of them are just based off some sort of endless reward mechanism a sort of Skinner box model. This is NOT Utopia...
Each game seasons was named an Age, which lasted on the order of 3-4 months. Each player was randomly dropped into a kingdom (which consisted of 25 player provinces, with 50 (?) kingdoms per island)... and so each age everyone started from scratch. Your survival and success in the age would be highly dependent on the other provinces in your kingdom. From the first day, there was the inevitable real time politics and diplomacy as you all jostled for the position of King (or Queen) of the kingdom... with the bonuses that incurred, plus the responsibility of directing the direction of the kingdom. Inevitably, there would be disgruntled provinces... which would have to be exiled (by vote...) or destroyed via a civil war.
Each province would have a particular race (player chosen) which would determine the strengths and weaknesses of each... I would often be playing the Faerie race, which would give me insane defensive bonuses and a decent magic ability... but weak economy and weak offense. This was where you team strategy would have to start kicking in... those who played more offensive races (orcs, dwarves) would have to lead assaults on other kingdoms... whilst others would have to resort to darker arts like thievery, sabotage and magic.... meanwhile, others would need to provide the economic backbone to keep the kingdom running.
Now, if you have ever tried to herd 25 different players with different interests... well, let's say that it is both an exercise in frustration and diplomacy. I guess the times that I was in charge of a kingdom started me on the path of learning a diplomatic nature. The King (Queen) had additional powers to declare war and peace and various other kingdom wide projects... all of which would provide bonuses and negatives to the provinces in the kingdom which would help herd the cats with a bit of a velvet glove encasing an iron fist.
The different relations between kingdoms (5 levels) would be managed by the King/Queen of the Kingdom... and would unlock various offensive and defensive abilities on both sides. It was a way to focus the efforts of the kingdom whilst unlocking bonuses for actions against the opposing kingdom.
As you see in the screenshot above... it's heavily text and numbers based, with many interlocking systems. It was a STEEP STEEP learning curve (which is why I'm not sure if I want to return back to it...) which would also require real time communication and co-ordination for a good kingdom. Interestingly enough, things seem much more pretty than when I last played it!
The game was played out in real time... with 1 Utopian day being one hour of real-time. So, there would be a time cost to sending out troops during which you would be vulnerable. Likewise, economic developments would need to be planned out in advance, as building times would mean that you wouldn't be able to react instantly to shortages (unless you were able to procure help from your kingdom mates).
Each played age was epic... (several months of invested time) during which you made great friends in the kingdom whilst working as a tight unit to stomp on all contenders... alternatively, each played age could be a disaster and an exercise in frustrating. If you landed in an incompetent kingdom, you would exile yourself to roll the dice again... but there was no telling which kingdom you would end up in.... Either way, after the close of the age, there would be a server wide reset... and a complete random allocation of players again.
Utopia is one hard-core game... and likewise, the community was (and still is!) hard core and dedicated. There is a YouTube channel that talks about the meta of the game... and there are various dedicated tools and histories that can be accessed via the Dragon Portal.
Unofficial alliances (which were not really supposed to exist in the original vision of the game... but, well... humans) exist in the metagame in a similar way that meta-game alliances exist in every other online game. However, in the case of Utopia (and like Eve)... it lends a huge depth to the game... as long scale factions survive the age resets and add a flavour of high level political and empire wide intrigue to the game that would otherwise be impossible to code into the rules.
Like every other online game, there were cases of bullying and online harassment... it was quite interesting to see, and it was up to the individual kingdom leaders to stamp out antisocial behavior on their kingdoms... not from any political correctness ideas, but mainly because arseholes make bad team players... and in the end, you were playing in a team of 25 people.
This was a game that I would be ducking into a university lab to quickly line up some orders and check in on the health of the kingdom... whilst juggling the personalities and petty squabbles of the fellow kingdom provinces... it was a game that really demanded not just the ability to deal with the number crunching complexity of the interlocking economic/strategy systems... but also the ability to deal with the humans that would be forming the backbone of your "team". Each with their own conflicting agendas... whilst also dealing with the politics of staying in power. Really, this was the ultimate game of thrones... way before that got popular!
I loved this game... it was an incredibly steep learning curve to get halfway decent at it... and then you had to combine the real time element and the real life diplomacy to really get the best out of your kingdom. It was the perfect game for a student... the pull of the game is still quite strong, but I'm afraid that these days, I just don't have the time to commit to the game and thus, I'm resisting the urge to create an account again!
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