The Deep City

I don't mention it here much, but I'm a big fan of the Myst games, including its latest incarnation, the online multiplayer environment of Uru. For those who are not familiar with it, Uru allows players to experience and take part live in the restoration and repopulation of the city of D'ni, the culture behind all the events in the Myst series. Uru is unique among MMORPGs in that it represents not a fantasy world of swordplay and magical exploits, but an alternate version of reality, set in the present day, where explorers are encouraged to play themselves and suspension of disbelief is maintained at a high level for maximum immersiveness; players (called not players but "explorers") are expected to stay IC ("in-character" or, as explorers perfer to say, "in-Cavern") in all their interactions, and even all the official and promotional material is written from an IC perspective, referring not to an online computer game run by Cyan, but to the restoration of D'ni and the gathering of the "Called" in an underground cavern deep below the New Mexico desert, carried out under the auspices of the DRC, the D'ni Restoration Council.

Despite some funding and development issues at Cyan which have repeatedly hindered and delayed the release of the game, making its future existence constantly in doubt (for a time the game existed only as a single-player game with its online capabilities disabled, then in limited form on player-run shards independent of official support), and the resultant compromises in content and interface that resulted from these setbacks, the game is still worth playing for this unique immersive experience alone. The Cavern, which houses the ancient and majestic city of D'ni (but rigged up with floodlights, generators, canvas sheeting, equipment crates, orange hazard cones, and other trappings of ongoing work), is populated with a mix of other explorers in modern dress, exploring, chatting, and sometimes performing various tasks to aid in the restoration efforts, and NPCs (non-player characters) played by Cyan staffers, who represent various characters involved in the restoration. These NPCs are DRC members and employees primarily, as well as Cyan employees (in the world of the game, D'ni is real and Cyan is the game developer that created a series of fictionalized games based on the real D'ni -- and Cyan notables such as head honcho Rand Miller will often pay D'ni a visit), and others. Whenever they appear, these characters interactively advance the storyline through their conversations, debates, announcements, and Q&A sessions with explorers.

There are two official sites for Uru: there's the Gametap site, which is a basic promotional site with game specs and features and subscription information, then there's the DRC website, which is written IC like everything else, and is a natural extension of events in-Cavern. Explorers and DRC members gather on the DRC forums to discuss the events and politics of the day. There is only one sub-forum for OOC discussion of issues like game bugs, etc., but everything else is as if the explorers retired from the Cavern at the end of the day and went home to log on and catch up on recent events there. In addition to the DRC site, there is a whole slew of explorer-run forums, news sites, podcasts, interest groups and organizations out there, and the blend of in-game, web, and even real-life content (like the cryptic billboards that appeared in New Mexico and other puzzle clues connected to Uru) has led some to describe Uru as more of an ARG than a traditional MMORPG.

I don't usually pump commercial products here, so why am I going into all of this? There are a few reasons -- one, there is more out there than just the free games and other web content I usually promote, and if I like something, the fact that you have to plunk some money down to enjoy it doesn't mean I shouldn't mention it. Two, as I've described, Uru's concept, with its ARG elements and stringent IC-ethos, and the idea that you play yourself in this fantastic setting, is something unique and fascinating, and I think it's worth discussing. Three, due to the rocky financial situation I mentioned, Uru really is in need of players to support it at this point in time, so if I pique someone's interest and maybe even entice a subscriber or two, all the better. (Uru is now hosted on the Gametap subscription service, and there are promotions in place that allow you to try out Uru and enter as a visitor for free, so if you're curious, please, give it a try.)

Four, the real reason -- I just came across this very nicely-done explorer-made documentary series that (as always, IC) sets out to explore the origins of the D'ni society and describe the restoration efforts and the current influx of the Called into D'ni. It's called "The Deep City", whence the title of this post, and this is only the first episode, with more to come. I thought it made a lovely intro to the whole Uru phenomenon, and so I would like to share.

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