As with many of the games I choose for this column, I am a bit lost as to how long the game has been in existence, what sort of time has passed since the game first began to allow players into its world, and what the exact state of the game currently is. With PlaneShift, a game that seems to have existed since I was 12 years old and has remained in some sort of testing or beta phase since then, I am even more unclear. Really, it shouldn't matter, but I can see the importance of knowing whether the game you are about to play is in testing or has even been released yet.
Without those key words, a player can become confused. Is this quest broken, missing parts, or just poorly designed? Is the game world empty because it's midnight or because the testing crowd is on at different times? I've heard from developers who keep their games in a beta state for years and years, and it usually means that they simply want a sort of explanation as to why the game feels incomplete. I say release it already and perhaps you'd attract more players anyway.
So without quite knowing what the developers of the game consider PlaneShift, I just had to weigh my time in the game as if it were "normal." I have heard the game is more of a public project, a collaboration between the community and a couple of amateur developers who all want to see the project come out at some point. But that doesn't seem to matter to any of the players I met while in game. They all seemed to be playing happily and went about their business just as you would in World of Warcraft or Free Realms.
The graphics are the first thing that you will notice when you log into the game. They are very primitive. Fortunately I have found that if you find yourself struck with how unusual or ugly a game is, a bit of time in the world can do wonders. Your eye simply has to get used to the new sights and color palettes. After a while, I sort of enjoyed the look of PlaneShift. It is odd-looking, true, but it has a sort of solidity to it. It feels like an old-school experience.
Of course, feeling "old" can be a good and bad thing. On one hand, the game evokes old-school romps through digital landscapes. PlaneShift reminds me of a combination of Asheron's Call and EverQuest, but with fewer people around and emptier landscapes. I like that feeling, in a way, because it makes me feel as though I am bound to stumble onto some grand adventure or will spend the evening hanging out with a group of adventurers whom I would have never met if I hadn't taken that last turn. I think most MMO players have some sort of memories like that. We neglect to remember just how annoying it was to actually find our way out into the wilderness and how tedious it was dying over and over only to log out in frustration, but the past seems more glorious because of it.
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The thing is that PlaneShift doesn't feel as though it's attempting to go for some older game feeling. It's not some representation that allows players to romp through old-school adventure or to connect with more mature players who fancy enforced roleplay. PlaneShift is simply old and underdeveloped. Given a million dollars, would the underpaid (if paid at all) developers continue down the path that the game is on now? Of course not. They would add more modern features and would smooth all of the rough corners of the game. Who wouldn't? We're a different playerbase now. While there are those times you might find yourself sitting in your car in the garage, listening to the last great parts of some story on This American Life, you don't go in and sit around a radio at night listening to Little Orphan Annie. We watch television now, and even that is starting to hurt thanks to the entertainment value of the internet.
"But when you consider the unstable development state, unusual graphics, bugs, missing content, empty landscapes and tiny playerbase, you really just find yourself thinking, Didn't EverQuest just go free-to-play?"
The point is that I appreciate the idea that PlaneShift is based on. It's a free and open attempt at making a game. It has enforced roleplay and a nice community. There seems to be an emphasis on crafting and helping out other players. These are all good things. But when you consider the unstable development state, unusual graphics, bugs, missing content, empty landscapes, and tiny playerbase, you really just find yourself thinking, "Didn't EverQuest just go free-to-play?"
I'd like to spend some more time with the game. The idea of this column is to constantly move from one title to the next, introducing players to only the first several hours of the games I find. Sometimes you come across a game that has, at least, a great community that makes you want to stick around for a while longer. Really, the community was the only thing I really enjoyed about PlaneShift. The combat was standard, the crafting was interesting in my short time with it, and I got lost way, way too many times. It just wasn't that fun. Even still, I can imagine some sort of cool player-run events or group outings -- old-school ones, the kind that take all night and are remembered for years to come. Maybe I'll check back in with the title in the future.
Next week I am going to be switching to a game called Cloud Nine, a random Anime-inspired MMO that I found in one of my usual search-for-games-all-night nights. In fact, if you have any games in mind that you would like to see me check out for Rise and Shiny, please feel free to send them my way. I have played everything that exists in the universe right now, so I could use the help!
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!