There’s trouble brewing in the capital city of Qetesh the Pharaoh.
Leather production has dropped precipitously in the city of the Tempest, fuelled by a supply shortage and a sudden demand for sandals, which use copious quantities of the material.
“Leather!” cries the harried Pharaoh in a message to his trading partner, the Pharaoh Meridian*. “I want my leather! I’m down to 50 units and I lose 32 an hour!”
“Dude,” says Meridian, rather out of character. “The ships are en route. Twenty-two hours, they’ll be there.”
Mod happy: Drift City needs external plug-ins installed on your browser.
“Damn it to hell,” grunts Pharaoh Qetesh in reply.
Qetesh and Meridian aren’t characters in some post-modern alternate history drama, but players—gamers—in a new online multiplayer game called Nile Online. Sometimes playing for minutes a day, or hours at a stretch, the two, along with 2,500 others, pretend to be ancient Egyptian rulers. They juggle trade deals, economic policy and urban planning in their virtual empires along the Nile.
The catch? They do all this within the comforts of their Web browser.
The browser has recently become the platform du jour for large, community-based online games. They are usually called MMOs, or Massively Multiplayer Online, games—the most popular?of?which is World Of Warcraft, with at least 11 million players. But browser-based community games are a slightly different breed—they’re mostly free, easy to pick up, and a boon for the time-starved office-goer—and can be played in convenient, broken-up sessions.
All you need to do is browse to the game site and register for an account. Almost all of them have strong communities and helpful forums, where wizened players will answer all doubts and queries. While they’ve been around in some form or the other since 2002, browser games are starting to become more complex, more social and better-looking.
Also Read Pharaohs in Browserland
“Browser games have kind of filled in a significant gap,” says Alok Kejriwal, the CEO of Games2win.com, a flash game portal. “The big game titles have alienated a lot of gamers, needing very high system requirements. People are willing to spend a lot of time playing browser-based games instead, and you’re bound to see them becoming more and more sophisticated.”
The most popular browser-based MMOs have user bases exceeding 100,000 players, and apart from handling the complexities of such a huge number of dynamic players in a virtual world, they’re also breaking new ground—making games look more attractive, accessible and creating opportunities for players to work together in completing game objectives.
“Browser games are moving away from boring text and becoming better-looking,” says Jeremiah Freyholtz, game designer at Tilted Mill, which runs Nile Online. The title is currently in “open beta”, a stage in game development where the designers invite players to try out the game and point out bugs and inconsistencies. “We (the Nile Online team) are also exploring the idea of server events (e.g., droughts, invasions by raiders or even quests) and larger-scale projects that players can cooperatively work on together, things you’d normally expect to see only in full-scale MMOs.”
The sheer variety is also staggering.
For the traditional swords-and-sorcery fans, there’s the irreverent and hilarious Kingdom of Loathing (www. kingdomofloathing.com) which, while poking fun at everything under the sun, is also a surprisingly deep and long-lasting role-playing game. Its hand-drawn stick-figure visuals are crude but cute, and there’s a huge world to explore, tonnes of items to collect, monsters to defeat and quests to complete. Also look out for the 28-pound accordion-playing mariachis and the cymbal-clanging monkeys.
Empire builders and megalomaniacs should look no further than the aforementioned Egyptian-themed Nile Online (www.playnileonline.com ) or the exotic island setting of Ikariam ( www.ikariam.org ). For more modern realpolitik, t here’s Cyber Nations ( www.cybernations.net ) and Nation States ( www. nationstates.net )—be warned though, both have steep learning curves.
No Internet gaming story is complete without mentioning zombies—and thankfully, there’s one based around the lovable, brain nibbling, undead beasts as well— the 32,000-user strong Urban Dead (www.urbandead.com)
For the more esoteric, there’s Zon (www.enterzon.com)—a MMO that promises to teach you Mandarin Chinese, and Drift City ( http://drift.ijji.com ), a Korean-based MMO that allows you to race in customized cars around a large city.
Most of the MMOs are run by small, independent developers or looser groups of dedicated programmers, and support themselves either through advertising (such as Nile Online ), subscriptions or through paying customers who get access to “premium” content not given away free.
Browser crashes are rare, but still possible—so make sure you lose nothing work-related when chasing fez -wearing rabbits through a cursed forest, or negotiating trade agreements with a nearby libertarian state.
*Pharaoh names have been changed to protect identity.
Don’t bother—there are worlds aplenty within the comforts of your browser