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Horizons: Empire of Istaria

Horizons: Empire of Istaria

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Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game is a genre of role-playing video games in which a very large number of players interact with one another within a virtual game world....

 (MMORPG) developed by Virtrium and originally released by Artifact Entertainment as Horizons: Empire of Istaria) in Europe on December 5, 2003 and in North America on December 9, 2003. Tulga Games, LLC acquired the game and all related assets on January 25, 2005 and sold them to EI Interactive July 2006. On July 18, 2007 the latest company to own Istaria, Virtrium LLC (Vi) acquired the rights to the game.

Set in a fairly traditional sword and sorcery
Sword and sorcery
Sword and sorcery is a sub-genre of fantasy and historical fantasy, generally characterized by sword-wielding heroes engaged in exciting and violent conflicts. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of magic and the supernatural...

 world, the game allows players to be adventurers, crafters, or both, and features a struggle between the "living races" (including the players), and "the Withered Aegis", an army of the undead
Undead
Undead is a collective name for fictional, mythological, or legendary beings that are deceased and yet behave as if alive. Undead may be incorporeal, such as ghosts, or corporeal, such as vampires and zombies...

 seeking to destroy all life.

Gameplay


Istaria uses the race/class/level paradigm common to many role-playing game
Role-playing game
A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making or character development...

s, as well as similar mechanics as other massively multiplayer online game
Massively multiplayer online game
A massively multiplayer online game is a multiplayer video game which is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously. By necessity, they are played on the Internet, and usually feature at least one persistent world. They are, however, not necessarily games played on...

s. Playable races include Dragon
Dragon
A dragon is a legendary creature, typically with serpentine or reptilian traits, that feature in the myths of many cultures. There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern...

s in addition to the more conventional biped Human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

, Elf
Elf
An elf is a being of Germanic mythology. The elves were originally thought of as a race of divine beings endowed with magical powers, which they use both for the benefit and the injury of mankind...

, Dwarf, Gnome
Gnome
A gnome is a diminutive spirit in Renaissance magic and alchemy, first introduced by Paracelsus and later adopted by more recent authors including those of modern fantasy literature...

, and Half-giant
Giant (mythology)
The mythology and legends of many different cultures include monsters of human appearance but prodigious size and strength. "Giant" is the English word commonly used for such beings, derived from one of the most famed examples: the gigantes of Greek mythology.In various Indo-European mythologies,...

 races. Other races are less familiar, but typical of fantasy games: Dryad
Dryad
Dryads are tree nymphs in Greek mythology. In Greek drys signifies 'oak,' from an Indo-European root *derew- 'tree' or 'wood'. Thus Dryads are specifically the nymphs of oak trees, though the term has come to be used for all tree nymphs in general...

s, Satyr
Satyr
In Greek mythology, satyrs are a troop of male companions of Pan and Dionysus — "satyresses" were a late invention of poets — that roamed the woods and mountains. In myths they are often associated with pipe-playing....

s, Fiends, Saris (a cat-like anthropomorphic humanoid), and Sslik (an asexual
Asexual reproduction
Asexual reproduction is a mode of reproduction by which offspring arise from a single parent, and inherit the genes of that parent only, it is reproduction which does not involve meiosis, ploidy reduction, or fertilization. A more stringent definition is agamogenesis which is reproduction without...

 non-anthropomorphic reptilian
Reptile
Reptiles are members of a class of air-breathing, ectothermic vertebrates which are characterized by laying shelled eggs , and having skin covered in scales and/or scutes. They are tetrapods, either having four limbs or being descended from four-limbed ancestors...

 humanoid).

Development


The core concepts behind Horizons before release were as follows: to create a zoneless, constantly changing environment in which players would cooperate to hold back a seemingly unstoppable enemy: the Withered Aegis. This enemy would consist of a few individuals from the Living Races (races that the Players belong to) in an unholy alliance with groups of Devils and Demons from another existence called the Realm of Blight. The twisted Blighted magic would include necromancy, the ability to create zombies from corpses and even reanimate skeletal remains into fierce warriors. Due to the co-op nature of the game The Aegis would be entirely AI controlled. According to David Bowman in 2002, "Horizons will not ship with player versus player conflict. Rather Artifact has chosen to put its full attention to making the player versus environment gameplay the best it can be."

This enemy was originally supposed to be dynamic in nature, launching automatic attacks on player held positions and blighting (capturing) the ground with its evil magic. This proved to be difficult to implement properly in practice, and the battlefront was eventually scaled back into static regions of Player and Blight held areas. However, in the years after Horizons launched "World Events" would be held that would allow players to make a permanent mark on the world. While not as cost effective to maintain as an automated system, this allowed Artifact, and Tulga, to keep their promise of a changing, interactive world.

Plot events


When first launched the Horizons staff established an event-driven storyline. These events revealed the lore and history of Istaria and occasionally lead to the discovery of new, different events.

Originally the game was slated to have weekly events, but since September 2004 they were drastically reduced in number due to staffing and financial issues at Artifact and, later, Tulga. Some of the events included digging tunnels and building bridges to access new areas, and the freeing of an entire race from magically maintained slavery to the Withered Aegis. Both the Satyr and Dryad races became player accessible through such large scale, server wide events.

Prior to the launch of Horizons and the problems that followed, these events and others like them were intended to be ongoing in a continuous fashion.

Under the current development team, and the new name of "Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted", the Virtrium team released their version of world projects with the release of the content update "Dralnok's Doom" in July 2009,(in this case a public construction project) in Istaria as a crafting supplement to the new high-level adventure dungeon.

As of March 2010, Virtrium has released a new content update "Scourge of the Skulks".

Reception


Istaria suffered from several problems in the first years after launch. Many of these are acknowledged by both the current and former management of the various companies that have owned Istaria. Rick Simmons, the owner of Istaria, has stated that his team is working to rectify these issues as quickly as possible. Issues, both resolved and otherwise, are as follows:
  • Lag: Istaria suffers from a number of performance issues affecting both the client and the servers. These performance problems are often, and sometimes incorrectly, categorized by players as "lag
    Lag
    Lag is a common word meaning to fail to keep up or to fall behind. In real-time applications, the term is used when the application fails to respond in a timely fashion to inputs...

    ". According to David Bowman, former Creative Director of Artifact and President of Tulga Games, "The client combat systems were slow and jerky... while there were many reasons to like the game, most players couldn't get to them past these problems."
  • Lack of land availability: After several years of stagnation, Istaria no longer had land available for new players to purchase. However, a recent "Plot Reclamation" project has made available many areas which had previously been owned by players who are no longer subscribed.
  • Lack of content: Several games currently on the market have many times the number of quests to complete, monsters to fight, items to obtain, and areas to explore than what Istaria can offer. David Bowman: "There was not sufficient enjoyable content for the players, with some promised content systems not making it into the launch."
  • Outdated look: Istaria is now several years old, and it no longer has cutting edge graphics.
  • Slow pace of development: Virtrium, the company that now owns Istaria, is a small development company staffed mostly by part time employees and volunteers. This leads to a slower pace of development than what gamers have come to expect from the market leaders. Rick Simmons: "We have a small team of people involved right now; it's not like we're a huge company, after all." "... even though we have a small team, we've been able to do a lot of things in a very short period of time."

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