Projecting on to EverQuest Next

Enough about internet spaceships for the moment and on to a topic that will loom large this week.

We are going to hear a lot about EverQuest Next very shortly.  The clock is running down and SOE Live (formerly SOE Fan Faire) will begin this Thursday.

Freeport Next? I guess not!

I am hoping for new pictures this week

The big news will be whatever John Smedley chooses to reveal about EverQuest Next.  Everything else will pale by comparison.  And the reason it will be big is that just over a year ago it was reported that SOE was throwing out their current plan, which included some very basic lessons learned, and going for a much more dramatic change.  A year ago everything you knew about EQN was declared wrong.

So now we all wonder what we shall see.  And I am sure that we all have some hopes or wishes.  I have teased Keen about investing himself in the idea of the new game, and I see Wolfshead has come out of hibernation to issue a list of demands, which I tend to agree with in spirit if not exactly on a point by point measure.  The heroes bit resonates with me especially.

So I too have been thinking about what is coming, but it is tough to know where to begin.

There is the word “sandbox” that gets thrown about, even by Smed.  Especially by Smed.  That has been his opening.  But “sandbox” can mean so many things in so many circumstances that I am reluctant to hear get invested in that idea until I hear what the SOE definition of “sandbox” is.

And along with that, there are the realities of the SOE business model.  They have completely declared for free to play.

Well, who hasn’t, aside from Blizzard these days?

But free to play brings with it certain requirements.  A high amount of churn is expected.  A lot of people will try the game and for them to become paying customers, the game has to welcome them in and hold their hand for a bit, and presumably not just to guide them to the edge of a cliff so as to be better positioned to push them over into the abyss, ala a certain internet spaceship game I said I was not going to write about.

So EQN cannot be EverQuest of old, letting you create a character then dropping you on the doorstep of Qeynos with a pat on the back and a “have fun!”  There is a certain lowering of bars to be expected for the opening.  In free to play you cannot frustrate people straight off, you do not have their money yet!  You have to get them pointed in the right direction, teach them how to play, how to group, and how to interact. (Who does the last two nowadays?)

And then there is the StoryBricks angle.  StoryBricks announced at one point… and then turned around and denied everything… then got permission from the right people so they could announce it… that they were involved with EQN, which would be ‘the biggest sandbox ever designed.’  There is that word again.

Anyway, StoryBricks, if I can borrow a phrase from somewhere, is about bringing NPCs to life.  So, one might presume that we can expect a more complex relationship with the world of Norrath and its permanent citizens when we get to EQN.  Quests are unlikely to go away or become less common, but one would hope that we might be asked to dine on more than the common staple of ten rats.

I don’t know if we’ll get the salesman of Waterdeep or some sort of crazy Eliza interpretation, but it should be different.

And then, despite the rework of the system, I suspect that what previously seemed to be the lessons learned from previous games will still have influence.  I recounted them as:

  • Single world without the need to load zones
  • Instanced dungeons
  • Low system requirements
  • Stylized character models
  • Fewer classes, relative to EQII
  • PvP from day one and “done right”

A single seamless world sounds so “2004” at this point, but I think it is important and I hope they stick to it.

Instanced dungeons will be controversial.  Some insist that this kills the worldliness of a game.  Frankly, some of my fondest memories at this point are of dungeon crawls with just our group without other people in chat, trying to rush past us, stealing mobs, or otherwise turning a group adventure into a bad trip to the mall.  I think there is clearly a place for instanced content.  It should be special and rare and have a connection to the full world.  The instanced dungeons in World of Warcraft lost their charm for me when they ceased to be part of the world and, with the introduction of Dungeon Finder, became a way to avoid the world.

Low system requirements and stylized character models I think are pretty non-controversial on the surface.  Not that SOE couldn’t screw this up and makes us hate it, but it could be good.  And, with free to play in mind, it is probably a requirement.

Fewer classes relative to EQII.  I have to agree.  24 classes at launch was too much.  Adding a 25th years later was interesting, but not all that helpful.

PvP from day one and “done right” scares me.  PlanetSide 2 hasn’t had a charmed existence in my world.  I hope that “sandbox” doesn’t mean slaughter and fast respawns.  It doesn’t have to.  But SOE and PvP has something of a checkered past to my mind.  I hear it was good in Star Wars Galaxies at launch, but what have they done since?

So given all of that, what dare I wish for?  What would I like to see come to pass with EQN?

I would like to see a a lot less emphasis on levels and content that goes obsolete when you out level it.  We have had Band-Aids applied to that problem in the form of various mentoring and leveling down schemes, but they have all been unsatisfactory to my mind.  Yes, you have to have some sort of progression and character advancement.  That is part of what drives many of us in MMOs.  But our addiction to levels has to stop.  They start off great, but always betray us in the end.  They are a dead end street.

I couldn’t tell you how to replace levels, or even de-emphasize them sufficiently, but I hope that SOE has come up with something.

I want long, multi-stage quests like the heritage quests in EverQuest II.  I realize that WoW does similar things with long chains of quests, but the start and stop breaks the concentration for me.  Heritage quests are long term commitments, things you do not get done in a day, and which often require a group a various stages.  I want that again.

While we’re on quests, and as a nod to my gripe about levels, I also wouldn’t mind seeing quests get out of the experience delivery business.  They ought to reward items or equipment.

I want live, open world group content. I do not want to be able to solo every mob in the world.  I do not want to have to go into an instance for every group experience.

And while we’re at it, I do not want to get punished for grouping.  EverQuest had this about right.  WoW did not.  EQII started down the right path and then screwed up open world grouping completely. Trying to run our instance group through New Halas was an exercise in frustration because the whole thing expected you to solo.

I want my weapon choice to mean something.  If I choose a sword over a dagger or an axe, I want that to mean I gain some benefit at the cost of something else.  The damage per second calculation should not be my only factor in weapon choice.  Lord of the Rings Online tried this, but I do not think they went far enough.

I want weapon skills back.  I do not think I should spend ages swinging a sword and then suddenly pick up a spear and find myself equally adapt.

I would like to see crafting materials handled more in line with how EVE Online does things (sorry, internet spaceship reference again), where the materials do not change every ten levels.  I want to be done with this sort of thing.

LOTRO Ore - Most Wanted

LOTRO Ore Variety

I want some staples that are in high demand and which anybody can harvest.  And these should be good for making basic things.  Then I want some rare items to mix in that can be used to create special things.  And when I say rare, I mean rare.  Special things should be special.

I want crafting to be a bit more… I don’t know… organic?  Is that the word I want?  Organic to the game as opposed to being something of a side effort where you make 38 blue silk hoods to level up your tailoring skill and then just vendor them because nobody wants them because the auction house is full of them being sold at under cost.

Speaking of the auction house, if you give me buy orders as part of things, you will probably exceed all my expectations.  My view of such things is pretty low in the fantasy MMORPG realm.

And… and… and… well… a lot of things.  I could ramble on ad nauseum about the minute and trivial.  Basically SOE, make this all fit together with UI conventions that make sense.  And what Keen said about stories.  Mostly.  You can tell me stories.  You can make me part of stories.  But just remember that my own stories about what happened to me and my friends, those are the ones that really matter.

So I am waiting to hear what Smed has to say.  I realize that there are going to be compromises.  They have a business to run and we live in the world of free to play where fantasy MMORPGs are over abundant.  And I am going to hate some of the things he says this week.  You watch.  I know it will be true.

But I will be happy if I hear something new or different or exciting.  It doesn’t have to be from my alternately vague and oddly specific and somewhat emotional list above.  SOE is full of smart people.  Hell, SOE has brought back some people who made EverQuest lately.  They get it.  They played TorilMUD and decided to bring that sort of experience into a 3D world.  Find some of that essence for me.  Combine the mundane into something beyond the sum of its parts, into something magical.

Make me believe again.

Is that too much to ask?

I will be watching EQ Next Wire for news about the game.

How about you?  What do you want to see?

17 responses to “Projecting on to EverQuest Next

  1. Don’t worry about the internet spaceship references. Once you started referring to a guy (Smed) who was in Eve University (and hired the CEO to work on PS2) and flew in the CFC (probably TEST) it was a lost cause on that front.

  2. Geez. I could write a reply longer than your post and still not begin to scratch the surface of what I want from this. I’ll try to be brief.

    Wolfshead is going be disappointed. Very, very disappointed. His opening paragraphs are a very good summary of what EQ was but his point-by-point of what EQNext should be is a disaster. Like most nostalgists he ignores the most important part of that history: ALL the changes he despises came about because players demanded them.

    Forced grouping, corpse runs, death penalties, slow travel, ALL of those were hated by the majority of the part of the EQ playerbase that expressed an opinion. SOE didn’t change all those things because they got religion and wanted everythig to be nice – they changed them because of relentless, unremitting attacks from their paying customers. The same paying customers who jumped ship en masse as soon as other MMOs that didn’t have those “features” became available.

    Those things will not be coming back. If they did, EQNext would be the niche of the niche, not the Next Big Thing. I do totally agree with him, and you, about the hero thing though, and I do think we might get what we want on that.

    I’d love NPCs that used an Eliza model. That’s not unrealistic, either. Wolfshead is wrong to say that the original EQ didn’t have a lot of quests – it had tons and tons of them and I have the print-outs from Allakhazam in a lever-arch folder to prove it. You had to speak to the NPCs to get them, though, so they were far from obvious and generally they gave no xp so people only did them if they wanted the reward. I am 100% with you on separating questing from xp. Quests should be about the thing the NPC gives you for doing what he wants, not about leveling up.

    On levels, I love them. I don’t see why they have to stop, ever. I’d like EQNext to have infinite levels. No need for my character to get any more powerful or have new abilities each time – that would be silly. Just let the number next to his name change. EQ basically does this now with AAs and GW2 does it with Skill Points. I’d just stick to levels and let us all get to level one million.

    Weapon skills I agree 100% again. All skills should rise on use only and quite slowly at that.

    I loathed EQ1 crafting and still do. Almost every MMO I have ever played had better crafting than that so the bar is set low. I’d steal Vanguard’s but I imagine a lot of people would be very happy if they stole SWG’s.

    Keen is right about story but we do need lore. There is a HUGE difference and its all about Background and Foreground. We, the players, stand in front of the story, which is our backdrop. Get that the wrong way round – disaster.

    The PvP thing worries me. I haven’t been scared of PvP since DAOC changed my perspective and I haven’t even been apprehensive about it since Warhammer. I do a lot of it now, with relish, and have done for years. Still, I am at heart a PvE player and Norrath is, to me, a PvE world. I want the PvP cordoned off in a discrete area where I can have it at a time of my choosing. If EQNext turns out to be open-world forced PvP I will still play it but I think it would be commercial suicide. Surely it can’t happen?

    Long quests I can do without. I never did them in EQ – all those tedious Epics and Shawls. I did do plenty of HQs in EQ2 though. I could stand a few of those.

    Enough. I promised myself I wouldn’t speculate about EQNext until there was something to speculate about. Only a few more days. I, too, will be watching the Livestream, or that part of it that happens before the small hours here. Whatever is revealed, whether I love or hate the sound of it, it’s Norrath. There is no possibility I won’t be playing it, unless I’ve died.

    Oh, and I hadn’t heard that EQNext was in Friends and Family Alpha. That really does confirm the rumors I have heard that it could be in beta in the autumn for a March 2014 launch.

  3. @bahgpuss I too fear that Wolfshead is going be very disappointed

    IMHO, the big thing about EQNext is storybricks and not the sandbox, It is a chance to make the NPC be more dynamic, to be something like Sims Medieval.

    If SOE can make it or not, it is other question…

  4. @Noizy – Nah, Smed was in SMA and fought White Noise and Raiden with us. He might have even deployed to Delve. He certainly went to Fanfest as a participant. What that actually means for EQN… I suppose we shall see soon.

    @Bhagpuss – I started this post to explore what we wouldn’t get and why. As you note, a lot of things on the list got put in for a good reason. Instances solved huge problems in dungeons and raids and they just are not going to go away. And hiring more GMs is not a viable solution.

    But I decided to turn around and think about things I wanted that might fit within the constraints in which SOE clearly has to exist. Not sure what will come to pass, but I decided to put some down. These aren’t even speculations, just wishes.

    And I forgot to put in “I want EQN on as few servers as possible, and if you can manage it on a single server, so much the better. I don’t mind the multiple versions of zones, but I don’t want to be on the short yellow bus server that has low population and a crap market ever again.

  5. @baghpuss I hope Wolfshead is disappointed because what he wants ia a) incompatible with itself and b) would result in a game that no one would want to play. (You can’t ask for the game to have huge penalties and to reward grouping and NOT expect it to get dominated by elite organised groups.)

    I’m still thinking about what I’d want to see in a SOE sandbox. I could care less about PvP, I don’t think it’s helpful to the kind of game he wants to build. Crafting will be though, very very important.

  6. Pingback: Compendium of My EverQuest Articles | Wolfshead Online

  7. I agree with a lot of your points Wilhelm. For me the standout difference is I want to try a proper sandbox game that doesn’t insist on open PVP. I’m sure there’ll be PVP in the game somewhere but don’t expect me to play (& pay) if I can be ganked by organised guilds of bandits/assassins (see the Pathfinder forums for an example of this discussion).

  8. meh. I meant “insist on forced open PVP”. Open world PVP is fine so long as I can choose to avoid it if I want (by not flagging or avoiding the areas marked for it).

  9. I am really just looking/hoping for something different. Right now I am personally in a MMO bleah phase and actually went back and started a fresh character on a new server in wow….

    I think if Smedley can really bring something new and different to the table, heck even an Eve Online in a fantasy world where people will be able to create everything, establishing an economy – creating a 0.0 area where you can create kingdoms etc – that would be something very neat.

    I know Darkfall 2 is out there, but I dont like the way it plays and would prefer a more EQ2 playstyle UI etc than the Darkfall one.

    But waiting to see what will happen!!!

  10. The first sandbox that figures out how to make PVP tolerable to the general population will probably be a massive success. Well actually, I’d have to give it to EVE on that one. Many hardcore PVPers don’t want NPC guards because that limits their freedom, but this is at odds with a “virtual world”, as the real world has guards everywhere. EVE does it the sensible way, by defining areas of civilization where there are guards and generally peace reigns, as well as areas of wilderness and border regions.

    That aside, I agree on levels. The problem with levels is that they lend themselves to the WoWesque “race to cap and then the game really begins” paradigm, where the world is just an irrelevant time trial to get to the good stuff. It’s probably time to get rid of them in favor of another advancement mechanic.

    Agreed on heroes and story, but I wonder if it doesn’t come with the territory and time. You just can’t slay a hundred dragons and still be joe everyman.

  11. Oh, on the AH, I would like to see more options for buying and selling as well as marketplaces not being global.

    Maybe no one should listen to me, as I’m pretty much a solo gamer who doesn’t want to bother with socialization and groups.

  12. Its SOE, so my expectations hover somewhere around zero. Toss in trying to make a sandbox work with F2P, and -1? Hopefully the announcement includes something shockingly dumb so its blogworthy at least; SOE is generally good for that a few times a year.

  13. @SynCaine – Indeed, the potential for the comically bad is pretty high. This could go very wrong for SOE if they end up alienating the wrong audience. No matter what they say, they will piss off somebody. They need to pick the group that will make the game viable. I imagine we will be able to infer who that group is by the end of the week.

    @Matt – You can end up feeling heroic, growing into it by your own work and deeds and the stories that grow from them. But the game should not, at the start, define you and several hundred thousand of your fellow gamers as heroes from the outset and attempt to cast you as the star of the game.

    The antithesis of this is how Curt Schilling was pitching Copernicus back in the day about wanting to “feel heroic on day 1, minute 1, until I am done playing the game,” which we talked about back on Shut Up, We’re Talking #36 about five years back. And this all feeds back into the story thing. I am fine being a part of the story, but it is my story, based on my actions, which end up being important to me, not the overall narrative in which I play.

    One of the things I like about LOTRO is that the game is built around a group performing heroic events… but that isn’t you. You’re part of the unsung free people who helped the main quest along in their own little way… primarily by killing wildlife in batches of 8, 10, or 12.

  14. I think they have been amazingly good at not leaking anything they don’t want to. I have absolutely no idea what they’ll come up with. As a Wurmonline player though, I’m hoping to see some areas of that game done by someone else. I won’t know which things the two games might have in common until SOE says something. I’m a bit niche in that outlook I know, but here’s hoping for, say being able to compare the pve side of the sandbox or persistent seamless world. That kind of thing. Whatever they announce though, I hope it’s a step away from the mainstream.

  15. Pingback: I want to believe in EQ Next | Welcome to Spinksville!

  16. Pingback: In Defense of Nostalgia | In An Age

Voice your opinion... but be nice about it...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s