Ongoing Uru Review: Episode 7: "Familiar Voices"

I have failed to get around to reviewing Episode 7. This is not because it was a bad episode. I just didn't have anything tremendously detailed to say about it.

However, for the sake of people reading this site in the future (hi, future!) I will write down some notes.


Uru behaved much better this episode. Some long-standing bugs were fixed. There were no server crashes during the episode week. (I saw one outage before the episode date, right after the software update. And a couple more several days after the episode ended. But the important days, when the Cavern was crowded, were trouble-free.)


I've been describing Uru episodes as monthly, and so has Cyan. In fact, they've been running on a steady five-week cycle (plus a day or so). So Ep5 was late May; Ep6 was late June; Ep7 slipped over the boundary into early August. This is not great, considering that we're paying a monthly subscription fee. Cyan seems to have gotten away with it this time -- I didn't see a lot of grumbling. (Perhaps because the pellet system of Ep6 kept players interested well into July.) But in the long term, it's 10.5 episodes a year instead of 12, and players will take that into account when they judge Uru.

This Month's Experiment

Jalak, a game-board Age. It's a platform, divided into 25 squares, and you can raise or lower each square independently. You can also drop cubes and spheres onto the grid, and kick them around. No puzzles; it's explicitly a sandbox to play in.

This is a cute idea -- several sports and strategy games were posted on the forums, almost immediately. However, I didn't see a big burst of enthusiasm for Jalak. My sense is that some people were disappointed, a lot of people said "That's a cute idea," but not many people really jumped in for more than a few hours. There hasn't been a continuing stream of forum commentary, as there was for the Ercana pellets.

So How About Those Pellets?

The first thing that happened in Ep7 was that Laxman showed up and took away the lake-measuring device.

This is the device that was dropped into the Cavern last month, to the delight of us all. It had a little display panel that flickered between "0" and "1". We all assumed it was a progress meter for the lake illumination project. We watched it raptorially for a month. The display never budged. There was much doubt and wariness among the players; we well recalled the debacle of the Great Zero progress meter back in June.

So Laxman says "Sorry, it's broken" and removes the device entirely. Great. I still don't have a good guess as to what happened there. Either (1) Cyan planned to update the display over time, but ran into intractable bugs, or (2) Cyan never intended it to be a live display at all. Frankly, I hope it was bugs. If they created a non-responsive piece of set decoration, without imagining how the player community would react, they're in deep doo-doo, design-wise.

Episode 7 has seen a steep drop-off in attention to the pellets and the lake. That is, a drop-off in forum attention (discussion, experiments, etc.) I don't know whether there's a corresponding drop-off in pellet creation, in-game. But the subject seems to have slipped out of the community consciousness.

But I can't say the lake device was entirely responsible for that, because this has been the episode of...


Last month we got announcements about a possible guild system. This month we got a dedicated Guild neighborhood, with brief descriptions of the five initial Guilds that Cyan plans to organize. These being: Greeters, Cartographers, Maintainers, Messengers, and Age Writers.

Now, we still don't have any announced system. But there has been a flood of player discussion about how each of these Guilds could, should, or would operate. And another flood about possible future Guilds or other player organizations.

I could spend pages reporting and discussing different currents in this flood. I shall not. The overview:

Cyan has chosen a player (Reteltee) to act as community liaison for the Guild system. He's a guy who showed up back in February on the forums, talking about possible Guild plans. There have been other players who have been interested in organizing a Guild system, but Reteltee got handed the magic button.

(Note: "liaison" is a sore word for a lot of players, because of a community-relations scheme that went horribly wrong during the Until Uru era, a couple of years ago. Fortunately for me, I missed that; and "liaison" describes Reteltee's role. So that's the term I'll use.)

So far Reteltee has been good about community contact. (Mostly through fan-site interviews and in-game chat; not so much on the web forums.) And Cyan seems to be paying attention to his feedback, as much as we can tell. (Their initial list of Guilds differed from Reteltee's suggestions; and they accepted his suggestions.) So that's going as well as I could expect.

If I were Rand Miller, and I wanted to get a flood of player feedback and suggestions about a Guild system, here's what I'd do: I'd say "Guilds are coming!", put up some flashy decorations, and watch the forums for a month. Cyan said and did just that. So I figure the flood is just what they wanted. Yes, they are allowing themselves the freedom to ignore our ideas and do something entirely different. But they're also allowing themselves the freedom to discard their preconceptions, and pick out the best suggestions they see.

The most interesting fact about Guilds is not anything we might deduce from Cyan's announcements. It's that Guilds were the biggest feature of episode 7. Jalak was a bonus track. Cyan's vision for the future includes Guilds as a major part of Uru.

The Plot

Most interesting event: two Bahro linking into the Pub, to wave a Bahro corpse at Doug Sharper. And a lot of other Bahro appearances. Other than that, a lot of talk; and once again, events trump speeches, by a mile.

(Yes, Phil Henderson showed up again -- he vanished years ago, during the Prologue, and was mostly presumed dead. Exciting, but more of a portent than an actual event. Phil, like Yeesha, has always been of the "orate mysteriously and vanish" school of plot development. Uru has never been short of that.)

The other most interesting event wasn't anything Cyan did. A player (BrettM) looked at the word "Bahro," which we've long known comes from the D'ni root words for "beast people." And he said: hang on a minute; that's not right.

He suggested "Vahkro," meaning "linking people." (See thread on forums.) Not because the creatures in question know, or even speak our language; but as a matter of truth and respect. And I like that. Yes, Uru is a game. But it is a game in the (literary) genre of fantasy, in which we visit alien worlds -- frequently, our own -- and try to live in them. Being mindful of racist language is a skill appropriate to fantasy fandom.

I hope this is an area in which Cyan is paying attention to player opinion (both pro and con). I will be saying "Vahkro" in the future.

(Note: if you wish to criticize this notion, please try to state it without using the phrase "political correctness." In my experience, "PC" comes from the English root words meaning "Shut up, and I don't have to tell you why.")

Coming Soon

I left this post so late that Ep8 has already been announced. The blurb refers to an upcoming "Uru Season Finale." (Not that September will be the finale, but that it will lead towards it.)

Much hullabaloo, of course. Will there be a giant Age for the finale? Will there be a break in the episode schedule? Will we visit Myst? Will we finally pick up the beachball? Nobody knows.

If Cyan has any sense at all, they'll underplay, underplay, underplay. "Oh yeah, you might get an Age next month. Probably. We'll see how it goes." Expectation management, people.


As I posted the above, a furious roiling debate was going on in several forums (which included quite a bit of grumbling about the five-week cycle, contra my earlier claim). It was capped by Greydragon posting: "The Season Finale episode will be the final content update of the 2007 calendar year." And then: "The Season Finale for Myst Online: Uru Live, which recently updated its content scheduling to follow Gametap's successful episodic format, is currently scheduled for late October."

So, that answers that. I will write more about the episode break, but not today.

Last updated August 22, 2007.

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