In Dinon, you are a caveman (or cavewoman) living in a fantasy prehistoric setting where dinosaurs and humans cohabit, but as a human, you have the unique ability to rein in a dinosaur and develop the creature into a familiar. Dinon comes from Korea, a country known for its fanaticism with online titles. So it comes to no surprise that they are also behind one of the first handheld RPG titles for the Pocket PC, that takes place exclusively online.
Dinon features gameplay that is not unlike other MMORPGs. You have to make money through trading, barter and resource collection, including some fairly repetitive and mundane tasks like tapping a stylus constantly to take down a tree. Those are things that Ultima Online veterans undoubtedly remember. Better resources will feature better combat, which is as simple as clicking on an enemy creature and hoping your health bar will deplete slower than your opponent’s. In the beginning, you’ll have trouble taking down simple creatures like rabbits; homage to Ultima Online, I’m sure. However, as you progress and as you are able to develop a familiar dinosaur to follow you, you’ll be able to tackle prehistoric giants.
Unfortunately, as close to modern MMORPGs as Dinon is, it also suffers from some of their requisite flaws; lessons that PC developers have learnt a long time ago. Dinon’s creators treat their open-ended gameplay with no storyline and no particular objective as a feature. I too think it is a feature, provided it is executed well. When you first start Dinon, you’re unleashed into the wild with no starter quests, guides or anything to suggest you to do something. Some hands-on tutorials on making money, combat and managing your character might help in the accessibility department.
The other big issue that most MMORPGs also tripped over is the issue of death. Just how do you treat death? If developers are too lenient, it could make the online space too easy to succeed in. If the developers are too harsh, only those who basically have no life and devote theirs to the game can succeed. The balance is something tricky and one could argue that even on the PC platform, it has yet to be perfected. Death, unfortunately, is the final end for characters in Dinon. Once you die, you lose all your possessions and for good measure, the game also quits. There are no roving ghosts, resurrection shrines or messiahs coming to save you, which makes the learning curve for Dinon even steeper. No help from the manual either because it appears to only cover the very basic; mostly in Korean.
The visuals in Dinon, however, are pleasant to the eyes. You immediately know what setting you’re in and the flora, fauna, dinosaurs and humans are depicted with a generous color palette. Footprints dot paths as you cross them and dinosaurs feature animations as they rove around, feeding on the vegetation. Unfortunately, the user interface needs some polishing. For example, when you buy or sell items, the screens rely on double-clicking to choose items. Simple to do with a mouse, it’s difficult to do with a stylus, much less using a stylus while you’re in motion.
That said, there’s no denying the production values in Dinon appear to be professional. Dinon synchronizes with the game’s servers online and the developers recommend you use a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection to do so, although I found that anything that enables your handheld to use the net will do. What Dinon actually does on the net and which parts are really online is highly suspect. Regular playing doesn’t require a persistent connection to the server, perhaps to save on batteries and circumvent the issue of lag. From what I can see, no objects are updated from the online world to yours. You can’t see other players either. The only online component I can construe is an online database to keep your player’s stats, inventory and the score, for comparison sake with other players of Dinon. That’s not as groundbreaking as I expected and certainly, the title could do with a few persistent world features to help make Dinon’s world livelier. Yet sometimes, there is a massive (near a hundred files) update that brings out the hope in me. But when I return to the game world with my character, I’m saddened that very little had changed.
Consequently, Dinon suffers from one of the most common flaws of the MMORPG genre: the vacuous feeling that you get, ironically, when playing with others. In Dinon’s case, the latter statement rings quieter because the synchronization appears to do very little other than update your scores, ensure your copy of the game is up to date and save your progress. With a less than persistent world, could Dinon still succeed? I’m reminded of ‘online doors’ back in the days of bulletin board systems, where multiplayer could still be done, without everyone being connected to each other simultaneously. You play a set number of turns and submit it each day. But even then, being connected was always the most enjoyable part. There is potential for Dinon. Vis-à-vis the technical aspect, Dinon looks great, sounds professional and runs on an interesting premise. The developers know it, as they are pitching their online components as the bases for others to develop on. With occasional (hard) lockups, the execution unfortunately falls short. Ultima Online took a good year, with a huge investment of time and effort by the developers, to solve all of its problems. Let’s hope Dinon and the many derivatives after it will shape up quicker. Overall, it’s a tantalizing vision but still mostly a vision.
[07/10] Program Size
[07/15] Learning Curve