cs_box.jpg[The Game Anthopologist is about gaming communities. This week, Michael Walbridge explores the Culdcept Saga community and its struggles to survive and grow.]

If a game is beloved by its players, but doesn’t have the desired support from the developer or those who control the only networks you can play it on, what happens to the community? If it’s a game on Xbox LIVE, it dies, and you can only play by scouring the Internet for a partner and scheduling a match or co-op.

Most games on LIVE manage to find a replacement: another sports, FPS, or LIVE Arcade game to migrate to. But a few games are so unique that there is no PC equivalent and no foreseeable replacement for the nomadic community designate as the next oasis.

But there is an exception, a species we could put on the endangered list: Culdcept Saga, a game so unique and intensely loved by its few supporters that the community is going to extra effort to prevent its death.

A history: Culdcept Saga was released in February of this year and is a sequel to the cult classic Culcept, released in December of 2003 for the PS2. It combines strategy, cards, and dice rolls on a board and has puzzling game design choices, such as the revealing of each player’s hand when his turn comes.

The game is not built with the Xbox 360’s abilities in mind: it is fairly limited graphic-wise - or at least, not that different from what you see on a PlayStation 2 - and this is the main reason that at release, it only cost 40 dollars. It still has an “Only on Xbox 360” logo on the top, despite not being the system’s proudest game (unless, of course, you play it).

Reviews were highly mixed. Most games have a general consensus, but not here: Metacritic scores have a wide range, and in the February 2008 Game Informer, where the reviews come with a “second opinion” mini-review, the two scores were 7 and 8.5 (they usually come within half a point of each other).

Unlike most other games on LIVE, Culdcept Saga has no option to just look at all the available matches; you must set lots of criteria before looking. Matches usually last more than an hour, and often more than two.

Because of this, most players who play are in game; anyone who is new won’t know what the commonly accepted settings for a match are, will see no one in the lobby and assume no one plays and most will likely leave before it starts.

And if you disconnect…well, that's a major problem in waiting. Any other game would tolerate this, but 90 minutes can be ruined by a disconnection.

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I did mention commonly accepted settings though; where they come from is a small community that has managed to keep the game afloat. Thinking of how competitive the game is and how deck builds were commonly discussed in game, I did a search and found a community fansite named….CuldceptSaga.com. The domain of the game's name wasn’t even reserved by Namco Bandai!

I was late to the scene, but I discovered it had enough of a presence that a couple of Namco Bandai representatives actually answered some questions for this site. I discovered many people visit and read it, and that it’s really the only forum with much of a presence or following.

An alternate GamerTag had been made just to get people access to a list of players who play (you can see friends of your friend), but alas, software limitations struck again: a person can only have 100 friends, and it was quickly maxed out. A second one was made. There was even a small league, all of which was contained in a single thread.

I found out that the host of the site is AWOL, to the most literal use of the term. He doesn’t respond to emails. The forum has no way to message other members. No changes or posts occurred in months and no one else has access. I sensed panic amongst the readers and quickly realized what they already knew: if CuldceptSaga.com goes down, so might the community and so might the opportunity for new players to discover a place to find people to play with.

I saw that one of the posters, Andym4n, was foremost in voicing these concerns. He also is the only person I could find who had one of the most impossible Xbox LIVE achievements: win 100 matches against online (there is also one to win 200, which no one has). I sent him a message on LIVE giving him my email address and asking if we could talk.

True to my suspicion, all the activity is at CuldceptSaga.com. He also said lots of people are still playing. “There’s usually a match or two available,” he told me. He manages to play five matches a week. Sometimes he has to wait, but he doesn’t mind, as he’ll edit books during the wait.

“A few of us at CuldceptSaga.com offered our services as co-admins/moderators; the admin chose three of us, but it's been a month since he last e-mailed and we have no admin access as yet,” he said. “I have a feeling CuldceptSaga.com might just vanish someday.”

“That's the feeling I got too, and I've barely been there,” I told him. “What would happen if it were to just disappear?”

“I'd have to speed up my plan! I'm in the process of creating the go-to Culdcept site.
CuldceptCentral.com if you're curious.”

“Looks like I picked the right guy to talk to,” I said.

He must have nodded. “I just hope CuldceptSaga.com lives long enough to get my site fairly well known, or people will scatter if it goes down.”

According to Andym4n, Culdcept Saga still has an intact community. He says the second season of the league has more than doubled the participants of the first, and that the community is growing more tight-knit, which has advantages and disadvantages.

The scene here is different: it’s almost a PC type of crowd who happens to be using a console. “I will say this: it has by far the friendliest online community of any game I've ever played. It's intelligent, fun conversation. You know why, right? In CS, if you talk smack, your opponents stop focusing on beating each other and gang up on you.”

And so it is that the people, not just the game and Xbox Live, make Culdcept Saga the closest digital version of what it’s like to get people to play a complex board game at your dinner table: difficult, but worth the effort.