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EverQuest Next Lore in a Minute October 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, YouTube.
2 comments

Because we’re on a roll… plus I have totally ignored any EverQuest Next lore discussions up until now.

(Direct Link)

Though they also have the EverQuest Next franchise lore in a minute as well.

SOE Live – The Norrathian Front August 19, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: ,
11 comments

SOE Live went off this past weekend in Las Vegas and, in my typical hope in the face of reality sort of way, I tuned in to watch several of the live streams with the idea that SOE might have some magic potion that would tempt me back to one of their games… or would tell me something about the one I was looking forward to.

SOE Live 2014

SOE Live 2014

So the keynotes for EverQuest, EverQuest II, and EverQuest Next were on my list, as well as a couple of the follow up panels and the main keynote.  Norrath is clearly what draws me to SOE.

However, the one thing I did not do was take notes while watching the streams.  Why would I?  Any normal company doing big announcements for various products which they had been working on for weeks, and which obviously had time to get press briefing packs complete with graphics and what not together, surely would have all of that information posted on their web site shortly after the respective keynotes.  Right?  I mean Blizzard had everything from their Thursday morning live stream up for the world to see on their main page by early afternoon the same day.  SOE had all the information together.  It should have been tee’d up so that after each keynote, somebody pressed a button to update the respective site so that all of your user facing media is delivering the same message.

But no, this is SOE.

As of my writing this, there is none of the information from SOE Live on the respective sites or forums as though none of this had happened.  So I had to thrash around looking for what other people wrote to get details that I would have written down had I not forgotten yet again how SOE runs their railroad.

EverQuest – A Return to Pirates

The EverQuest announcement focused on the upcoming expansion, as one would expect.  This time around SOE is returning to the nautical theme last visited with The Buried Sea expansion.  This time it is The Darkened Sea, which will launch on October 26 for All Access Pass members and on November 11 for the unwashed free to play masses.

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

Firiona Vie wet armor contest!

The level cap goes up from 100 to 105 with this expansion.  There are more zones, access to the bazaar from outside of the bazaar, and a few other goodies.  As essentially an outsider to EverQuest content after… well… The Planes of Power really, though I have gone back for a couple of runs since… it is tough to find something to get excited about here.  Even Bhagpuss seems relatively calm in his words, tucked in at the end of a long post about SOE LiveEverQuest is catering to the installed base, we have long known that.  But even then, I don’t recall The Buried Sea being a fan favorite back in the day.  The blog review of it over at the past version of Mobhunter, when Loral was writing it (internet archive for the win, I miss Loral) seemed to be lukewarm at best.

But there it is.

EverQuest II – And Malice Towards None

Is EverQuest II the current standard bearer for Norrath?  I cannot tell if it is more popular than EverQuest or not.

Anyway, there was a small disturbance in the community force a few weeks back as the EQII forum dwellers started getting a bit testy about SOE’s trend towards social media and streaming and what not, to the point that information that would normally be in the forums first was falling all over the place.  I have long complained that SOE has favored their forums and used them as their primary method of information distribution as opposed to the web site they allegedly maintain for that purpose, and which is the first point of contact for any new player.  But at least with their forum bias they were concentrating in one spot, so at a minimum I knew I had to dive into the forums if I wanted current information.  Now I am not sure where to find things.

Or I wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for Feldon over at EQ2 Wire.  He keeps on top of that game like no other.  So it was a bit disappointing to see that SOE left him off the list of sites to be fed information in advance of Altar of Malice expansion announcement at SOE Live.  The embargo on that news dropped five hours before the EverQuest II keynote, so anybody paying attention knew all the details before the presentation.

So, yes, a new expansion, the Altar of Malice.

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

A surprisingly well clad dark elf female

The expansion brings in a new race… the Aerakyn, another one with built-in wings that can fly, though unlike that vampire race from a few years back, you won’t have to pay $80 to unlock all of its abilities… new dungeons, new raids, new overland zones, and a boost to 100 for most flavors of levels. (adventure, trade skill, guild)

The interesting bit for me are the level agnostic dungeons.  These run from level 20 to 89 and are suppose to make the process of leveling up to the more recent content… and the main mass of the player base… more fulfilling or some such.  I think the phrase was “not wasted.”  Currently, with the the state of abilities, both alternate advancement related and otherwise, jumping up through the first 60 or so levels tends to be challenging mostly in the form of figuring out what some of the outdated quest text really means.  So I gather that this is suppose to be more of a challenge so as to make game play fun.

Sounds good to me.  A pity that our past run in with EverQuest II with the instance group ended up with it on the banned list, as that sounds kind of like what we needed back then.

And, on the sea theme from EverQuest, there are also some islands involved, including the long lost Isle of Refuge, where we all used to start back in the day via the shipwrecked survivor video game trope.  There is also an island with dinosaurs.

Then there are all the other details.  Rabbit mounts.  A revamp of the extraneous deity system.  Another rank or two for spell/skill quality.  And a cross-server dungeon finder.  I am curious as to how dungeon finder works for EverQuest II, though not curious enough to actually go ruin somebody elses’ day by logging in a queuing up myself.

This all goes live on November 11, which is going to make for a busy week.  The EverQuest expansion above goes live for everybody that same day and just two days later, Warlords of Draenor launches.  (And then Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire come out less than two weeks after that.  Where will I find the time?)

As noted, all the details, live blog of the keynote, slides from the game mechanics presentation, and more are over at EQ2 Wire.  Check it out.

EverQuest Next – Dark Elf Disco

 EverQuest Next is where my hopes truly lie.  The idea that SOE could miracle their way into something that would tempt me back to the two remaining members of the Norrathian franchise (out of what, a dozen total EverQuest games according to Georgeons?) has always been a forlorn hope.

But EverQuest Next is the future.  The lack of news on that front has banked the flames of passion for that title, they remain aglow, waiting for the day when we get something tangible.  This was the keynote to which I paid the most attention, and which was both the most interesting and the least satisfying at the same time.

We got a look at some architecture, especially some of the dark elf stuff in its moody, pointed glory, some of which came from the fan base via Landmark.  SOE’s crowdsourcing/exploitation pays off.  They also showed some examples of the dark elf character models.  Dark elves are apparently the most popular race in both EverQuest and EverQuest II at this point, so it is important to get them right. (Screen grabs from the stream.)

The art all looked very good and very much made me want to go there… wherever “there” was… and explore.

Then the devs introduced the wizard, warrior, and cleric classes and went through some combat situations with them.  This was by far the most impressive bit.  Each was a quick run through of some combat encounters, followed by a step by step replay where he described what was going on at each point.  The combat looked fluid and dynamic and exciting.  Various moves flashed or blurred or exploded in very satisfying ways and there were no little damage numbers popping up, which helped with the visceral feel of the combat.  The little kid inside of me was shouting, “Oooh! Oooh! Let me try that! I want to do that!”

I recommend watching the replay of the keynote, which is available on YouTube.  The combat segment picks up at about the 29 minute mark and runs for about 20 minutes.

Of course, the downside to all of this was that there is no date in sight for EverQuest Next.  Speculation is that a launch is at least two years away.  Certainly they have to get all of Landmark nailed down first, as it represents the foundation on which EverQuest Next will be built.  So until Landmark is solid and stable and fully featured and live there can be no EverQuest Next.

Bummer.

David Georgeson invited us all to go read the ebooks that are being used to build up the lore for the game to tide us over… which I was honestly tempted to do after the combat stuff… but publicly SOE still seems most focused on Landmark and likely will remain so for some time.

Return to Norrath?

So while I found bits and pieces of all of the presentations interesting, is there anything that would make me focus on EverQuest or EverQuest II as my primary game?

Probably not.

I am in the odd duck position of having been away too long for both titles at this point, so the new stuff being piled on top of the level curve is so far away as to be effectively unreachable given my reserve of patience, but the old stuff I would have to work through… well, it didn’t interested me enough when it was new stuff to work through it.   The 20-89 level agnostic dungeons in EverQuest II are interesting, though I probably wouldn’t bother with them until level 40 or so, as the 1-40 game is the heart of my nostalgia for the game.

But who knows.

With the autumn I always seem to be hit with a bout of video game nostalgia.  Maybe I will heed Norrath’s call yet again?  Though unless Warlords of Draenor slips, it seems unlikely.

How about you?  Is Norrath in your future?

SOE Live 2014 – What Are You Wishing For? August 12, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , ,
8 comments

Currently I am not very invested in any SOE games.  I pay some attention to changes in EverQuest, with occasional glaces towards EverQuest II, based mostly on nostalgia for the “good old days,” but otherwise there isn’t much in their current lineup that thrills me.  Landmark has some potential once it gets closer to being feature complete.  EverQuest Next has raised some enthusiasm, but exists only as a blur on the horizon at this point.  And the other remaining titles aren’t really my thing.

But here it is, the week of SOE Live, the time for announcements big and small.  Yes, whatever Smed says during the Thursday night keynote will likely be overwhelmed in the news cycle by Blizzard’s big Warlords of Draenor announcement planned for earlier in the day… I think the timing was more to head off the subscription numbers news than to stick it to SOE, but they seem to have gotten a threefer on that one if you include the SWTOR hit as well… plus there is Gamescom this week as well… but some of us will still be paying attention to SOE.

SOELiveLogo

And because it is that time, I am asking myself what I would like to see and what I expect come out of the event.  SOE Live can bring with it some very big news.  Last year had a lot of people talking about EverQuest Next.  What will we get year?

What I Expect

  • Some firming up of the Landmark timeline, with some more details about specific features, but no real “go live” information
  • Expansion announcements around EverQuest and EverQuest II, though as the F2P years roll along I am not sure expansions have all that much impact any more unless they raise the level cap or add new AA features
  • An open/paid beta plan for H1Z1 with an estimated date for access that will be off by at least a month
  • Something about fixing whatever woes are currently afflicting PlanetSide 2
  • Some more screenshots and in-game video from EverQuest Next, but nothing playable and no concrete details

Things I Would Like to See

  • A date for Landmark to be feature complete and generally available for those who didn’t pony up for a pay-to-test package. (Even if it is off by 3-6 months.)
  • Something solid, tangible, and new about EverQuest Next
  • Or just something that ignites some hope that EverQuest Next will be a game I want to play

Things I Fear Might Be Communicated

  • Closing down PlanetSide… well, that might not be a fear for me, but I do wonder how it is still running
  • Little or nothing about EverQuest Next
  • A draw down of content for EverQuest, no more expansions, limited content updates on a vaguely expressed timeline
  • That some new game is dedicated to the dispossessed players of another SOE title that has been shut down (e.g. The planned science fiction biome in Landmark is really dedicated to former players of Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures)
  • Some new technological dead end like SOEmote or SOE Launcher to eat up dev cycles for no real benefit or follow through (cue Sony Olfactory Enhancements or some such)

Dreams Likely to be Unfulfilled

  • Something about the next EverQuest nostalgia focused server, progression, classic, or otherwise
  • An announcement that an EverQuest II nostalgia focused server… original content, steeper leveling curve, more difficult mobs, or whatever… is in the offing
  • Something that might otherwise revive my interest in either EverQuest or EverQuest II… but I don’t know what… what is the “fix these games for Wilhelm” plan?
  • An open/paid beta plan for EverQuest Next with an estimated date for access… this I might pay for… maybe
  • Something about hats… no… wait…

From Left Field on Bizarro World Unlikely

  • The Agency being revived on the PlanetSide 2 platform ala H1Z1
  • The return of any dead SOE game
  • A new game announcement
  • The EverQuest Next plan being completely revised from last year’s announcement
  • EverQuest Next being cancelled
  • A ship date for EverQuest Next

So those are my various lists.  What do you want to see, expect to see, or fear might come from this year’s SOE Live?

 

Landmark and the Price of a Badly Defined Beta July 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next.
Tags: ,
10 comments

There has been an argument over what “beta” means when it comes to software for as long as I have been part of the industry, which is pushing on 25 years now.

The baseline definition for me has always been that your software is feature complete and you feel it is ready to ship, but now you are going to take some time to get people outside the development group to look at things.  This can be surprisingly important and an eye opening experience, as when you have worked with a piece of software for months at a stretch, your brain becomes adjusted to the way it works.  You stop seeing the flaws and you become invested in the project vision.

And then you hand it to some fresh eyes who will, often almost immediately, tell if what you have been slaving over makes a lick of sense.  It can be a sobering moment when somebody, after five minutes with your product, makes a suggestion for a fundamental change that, upon reflection, seems obvious.  Plus they tend to catch all those quirks that the team has simply learned to work around to the point of developing a blind spot, those bugs that “everybody” knows about yet somehow never quite made it to the bug tracking database.

That is the idea in my book.  I have fought for that ideal now and then.  But I have been through the wringer enough times to know that fight can be futile.  So I have been through internal betas (where we learn how little the rest of the company cares) schedule betas (the schedule says we’re beta as of today so we are) political betas (we’re going beta today because if we don’t, somebody in senior management will look bad) survival betas (we’re going beta because if we don’t they’ll cancel the project and lay us all off) and the occasional investor beta (I gave your company money so install your product on my son’s laptop… and put more RAM in there as well… I don’t care, strip your lab machines if you have to).

But in all of that there is still a certain level feature availability before we hand the software over to fresh eyes, if for no other reason that a fresh perspective is a perishable commodity and you don’t want to waste it on things you should have caught yourself.  Once people have been in your beta a bit they will become fixated on things that are important to them and tend to not notice anything else.  Long betas introduce beta fatigue, as I am going to guess SOE is finding out with Landmark.

Landmark was in alpha for a stretch and then went into “closed beta” a few months back, which meant “paid beta” so far as I could tell.  I was invited in for a couple of seven day runs at the product and, as the joke goes, there wasn’t much “there” there.  I suspect that SOE is feeling interest wain as the software goes on and on with small but important changes but no real end in sight.  So while they fleeced convinced some people to pay money to get into the software early, I am going to guess that even the most hard core fan has some limit and really need more people online and active to test.

Which is why I suspect we got this sale today over at Steam.

LandmarkSteamSale

Yes, Landmark has been marked down to Steam Summer Sale levels of discount.  That is the basic Settler Pack, but the other tiers are available too, including upgrades if you are already invested.

All packages marked down

All packages marked down

I was a tad miffed that people were getting Planetary Annihilation for three bucks less than my Kickstarter pledge back during the Steam Summer Sale.  How would I feel if I was in for a hundred for the top tier Trailblazer Pack and then, still during closed beta, they offered up the same deal for $33.99?  I wonder if any of those early adopters will pipe up?

And given the caveats, I am not sure that $33.99 is a good deal from where I sit.  The warning on Steam as part of their Early Access disclaimer:

ATTENTION: Landmark is in Closed Beta. That means we are still adding core feature sets and that updates are happening weekly. Everything in the game is currently subject to change, which includes the possibility of wipes.

Please make sure to read the Landmark Blueprint, which provides a list of planned feature updates and timing estimates.

We are using an Open Development process to create this game, which means that you are encouraged to interact directly with the development team via the Steam Community, Twitter, Reddit, Twitch and our Forums. If you are interested in helping to create a game from the ground up, Landmark offers that opportunity.

For more information on the Landmark development process, click here.

The Landmark blueprint forum thread shows a list of features and says that they will be unveiling some new things at SOE Live in a couple of weeks.  But there is a long list of features, including almost everything that might turn Landmark into a game as opposed to a wanna-be Minecraft prototype, waiting to be implemented. (But they got the Station Cash store running muy pronto!)  There is certainly no obvious “okay, it is worth my time” point on their blueprint as yet.

While I am sure that for the devs actually working on the project, these changes are coming as fast as they can manage them, from the outside the pace can feel very different.  If you’ve been playing around with Landmark for six months or more at this point there is probably a good chance that your interest has faded somewhat, or that your focus has narrowed to a few things.  There certainly haven’t been a lot of blog posts about Landmark lately, and bloggers as a group tend to be more enthusiastic about their games than the average play.  SOE has gotten a mention here and there due to handing out seven day passes, but people who were on fire early on have been pretty quiet these days.

So, while I am not ready to claim that Landmark is DOA, it could be easily inferred that SOE needs some more people actually coming in to play, to start from scratch, to get involved, and to be enthusiastic about the game.  And for just under seven bucks I am slightly tempted.  But there still doesn’t seem to be enough there yet, and the game is going to be free to play eventually anyway.  So I will probably pass.

SOE has a chance to revive interest at SOE Live, though that can be a double edged sword as well.  They got a lot of people interested in EverQuest Next at the last SOE Live but haven’t said much about it since, and SOE has something of a history of sporadically building up enthusiasm with their customer base only to go silent for long stretches.

The Seven Day Landmark April 8, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next.
Tags:
6 comments

This dropped into my in box on Friday afternoon,

Subject: Your Access to the Landmark Closed Beta is Ready!

YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN ACTIVATED

Congratulations,

You’ve got seven days of access to the Landmark Closed Beta, beginning now! If you redeem an additional Time-Limited Closed Beta key, that seven days will be added to your total. There is no limit to the number of Time-Limited Closed Beta keys you can consume. See below for information on how to download the client and begin playing

This came from the “EverQuest Franchise Team,” which amused me a bit because Landmark just had the E-word removed from its name, so is technically not an EverQuest anything at this time.

The email message was scrupulous in not using the E-word anywhere besides the “from” address.  But I know the full flavor of pain that comes with changing project names.  I have heard, “The product is named Y, but you have a sub-directory named X which contains a file named Z.config. Why is that?” or its like many times in my career.  Such is life.

My first bit of confusion was about being invited at all.

I have not been interested in Landmark at all, except in a “what does this say about SOE and its future directions” sort of way.  I certainly did not sign up to be in the beta.  I wouldn’t have bothered, if only not to waste SOE’s time as well as my own.

But I quickly realized that I probably had signed up for a beta.  Back in the heady days just after Fan Fest SOE Live last year, when EverQuest Next was the big announcement and something called Landmark was just a bullet point on the list of possible features (and a confusing one at that), and people were excited, I am pretty sure I ran off and signed up to be in beta.  I just meant EverQuest Next, not Landmark.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

THIS! This is what I wanted!

However, that was then and this is now.  And in the now EverQuest Next is just the promise of a sighting of a blurry vision on the horizon that might just be a mirage… or it might be if SOE was talking about it at all.  They have gone nearly The Agency level of quiet on it.  Landmark is what SOE is busy talking about to the point that it seems like they only have the bandwidth that topic alone.

Or so it seems in my little world, where EverQuest is pretty much what SOE does, the rest being games destined to be closed or handed back to their creators… and PlanetSide something or other.

And it was in that spirit that I decided to take up SOE’s offer.  I figured that Landmark started off being a part of the engine that would drive EverQuest Next, even as it has become the all- consuming passion for SOE, so that playing it might give me a little insight into the game I want.

So I grabbed the installer and went off to see what I could see.

(more…)

Quote of the Day – Never Shutting Down EverQuest April 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Quote of the Day, Sony Online Entertainment.
7 comments

EverQuest and EverQuest II? We hope they never die. We have no intention of ever shutting those games down.

-David Georgeson, interview at IGN

I was just picking on Georgeson this week because of a quote from a year back about the idea that MMOs should never die.  Of course, this week we saw SOE shut down two of them, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms.

CWA is understandable.  That was a tie-in with a TV show and clearly had an expiration date.  But Free Realms, that was all SOE’s to do with as they pleased.  Ah well.

Still, I am more likely to take him at face value when it comes to talking about the EverQuest franchise, the bedrock on which SOE rests.  SOE without Free Realms is still SOE.  SOE without EverQuest though?  I am not sure that is an actual thing that can survive in our universe.  We’re fifteen years in and the game is still playable and getting new content.

Valmont Mounted

My new char, 15 years into the game

So EverQuest forever and all that.  At least I expect to see EverQuest hit 20.

But I still wonder how things will play out once we have EverQuest Next in the house… probably about when EverQuest hits 20 if we keep getting updates about it at the current rate.

Two EverQuests on the scene I can fathom, but three?

I suppose it depends on what the plan is.  I am pretty sure SOE figured people would move from EverQuest to EverQuest II and they would shut that down in a couple of years.  Instead, people either stayed with EverQuest because they were invested or, as like as not, ended up in WoW.

Is EverQuest Next expected to coexist with its two direct predecessors?  Given recent history, how long can that last?  And who goes into the night first?

Maybe they can recreate EverQuest on the EverQuest Next platform.  You can say that it won’t be the same, but when has EverQuest ever stayed the same for long in the last 15 years?

Small Items for a Cold Friday in March March 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest Next, Hardware, Torchlight II.
Tags: , , , ,
4 comments

It is even a bit chilly here in Silicon Valley.  I put on a jacket last night.  And there has been some rain this week, breaking up the run of warm and sunny days we have been experiencing of late.  Not enough to end the drought, but enough to keep the lawn watered.

It is Friday and I have a bunch of little, half-started posts and other tidbits that I am going to roll up into a single entry.

It Is Just Landmark

SOE, in a good move, decided that their Minecraft-like building game, with a promise of things like science fiction areas, wasn’t Norrathian enough to be considered an EverQuest title.  So it is now just Landmark.

LandmarkChange

This is not only how I have been referring to the game for a while now, but something that was part of my 2014 predictions.  Go me.

Now SOE just has to do something about the whole EverQuest Next name, something I brought up in another Friday post.  That is a cute name for development, but not so good as a shipping title.  Unless it is also going to be EverQuest Last, the name could become an albatross around their neck at some point.  Fortunately, we now have precedent for a name change.

Thank you Landmark! 

The Gamification of Texting

A friend sent this link to the Android version a keyboard addon for mobile devices.  As you master the Fleksy keyboard and its various functions and features, you will earn achievements!

Apple product owners may get a chance to join in as well,  as Fleksy is updating the iOS version for achievements as well.  To use the Fleksy keyboard, your app must be “Fleksy enabled.”

How Old is Your Hardware?

Pasduil wants to know.  He’s taking a survey.  You can find it here.

Bully Bullied by Bullies?

Erotica 1, the pilot behind the EVE Online controversy du jour, the Bonus Round recording (I could not recommend that you follow that link), has chosen to withdraw his name from the Council of Stellar Management elections scheduled for next month.  In his statement, after opening with a paragraph that included the line, “Some people just can’t be reasonable…”, he complained about Goons and “white knight carebear moral highground people” and threats to his physical safety (but no reference to this), then said he was withdrawing because his passport had expired.

This is where we all shout, “Didn’t want that seat on the CSM anyway!”

That CSM Election

It is coming up.  Should you care.

Candy Crush IPO

King, maker of the game everbody loves to hate, Candy Crush Saga, and one-time trademark troll, went public this week.  According to some, the IPO failed.  It failed because the opening price… the price King got for its shares… was $22.50, but afterwards the price dropped down to around $19.

In a way, this seems like a perfectly fitting IPO for the company.  King got the maximum value they could for their stock, filling company coffers, the founders and early investors who were in for a tiny fraction the IPO price still got their big cash-out opportunity, and the people and institutions who jumped on the stock at the IPO price got told they could sell now if they wanted to buy a $3 per share unlock or they could wait until whenever the price went up again.

A Farewell to Runic Games?

I was already wondering what was going to become of Runic Games.  We haven’t heard much from them, except about what they are not going to do.  They are not going to make a Torchlight MMO.  They are not going to work on anything new for Torchlight II.  They are not going to have a Mac OS version of Torchlight II.

So when two key founders leave to form a new studio, one might not seem rash wondering aloud if Runic Games is not going to be shipping anything else ever again.

Did burnout from Torchlight II kill the company, or was it Perfect World Entertainment buying in that did it?

Landmark and a Dire Vision of Things to Come… February 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: ,
11 comments

Rowan Blaze over at I Have Touched the Sky has managed to sum up in one picture what I expect eventually to happen everywhere in SOE’s Landmark.

Freedom's just another name for...

Freedom’s just another name for…

I cropped his screen shot down to the essential message.   Free Donuts.

And therein lies the seeds of destruction.

Not that I object to the sign.  It is just a cute example of what one can do in a sandbox like Landmark.  Innocent fun.  And I am sure if the person with the adjacent claim was trying to build something with a different theme that contrasted with the idea of free donuts… maybe a place where donuts were currency, or perhaps some fantasy setting where donuts aren’t really a thing… Rowan would take down his sign.  Heck, his sign… and his claim… might disappear on their own at this point in development.  But even if it remained, I am sure he wouldn’t prop it up next to his neighbors medieval castle or whatever.

Landmark is in alpha after all, and a pay-to-play alpha at that.  Everybody who is playing in the alpha really wants to be there and, judging from what I have seen, are very quick to let you know you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund the moment you complain about anything in Landmark.

That is pretty common with pre-release communities.  They tend to be the most invested in the game and are always the ones to moan about how the community for a given game went down hill after release.  How often have we heard, “The game/The community/People were much better/nicer in beta?”

So Landmark is in that happy, like-minded, orthodoxy enforced, pre-release community state where everything is new and people seem to care more about the game and the idea of the game than the current state of the game.  If you worry about the current state of the game… well… you can get a full, no-questions-ask refund.  It is a happy time of newness and excitement.

But the game will not remain in alpha… or beta… or pre-release… forever.  The happy pre-release community that cares about the game will, if things go to plan, eventually be dwarfed by the a larger community that will not, in general, hold exactly the same values when it comes to Landmark.

Landmark will be an amusement, a distraction, a toy, a way to pass the time, and a way to express themselves.

One way that people have shown they enjoy expressing themselves in the past is through griefing their fellow players.  And the more freedom you give people the greater the of griefing that will occur and the hard it ends up being to stop it.

Basically, the proposition I am putting forward is that the more sandbox-like an online game is, the more there will be griefing.  And, with that in mind, I made a little chart.

Continuum_450That is my “pulled straight from my posterior end” assessment of the sandbox nature of some online games that came to mind given a few minutes thought.  Feel free to object or suggest a re-ordering or inject where other games may sit on the continuum of sandboxiness.  I am already reconsidering my placements, but I am too lazy to edit the picture.

At one end is Webkinz, in which your ability to do anything is pretty well constrained and interactions with other players is severely  limited.  This is a game for small children and their mothers.  Your ability to touch the game is limited to decorating your own house, which only a select few individuals… if anybody at all… will ever see.  Arrange your furniture in a swastika or penis shape and nobody will likely know or care.

I put League of Legends down the line towards Club Penguin because, despite its reputation, it seems to me that your freedom of action is pretty limited, and saying bad words in either game will get you banned eventually.

I put EVE Online in the middle, trending a bit towards the pure sandbox end of things.  The thing is, for all of its sandbox reputation, it really isn’t all as much of a sandbox as you might think.  The game is quite constrained by its mechanics.  What gives it the air of sandbox is more about the lack of central narrative… there is so little “game” in the game… the range of potential career paths, and the tolerance by CCP for what one might consider griefing in another game.  A sandbox attitude in a universe constrained by some occasionally strange mechanics.

I compare this to Wurm Online, about which I only know by what Stargrace has written.  She had a number of tales of people clear cutting her trees or stealing her livestock, or making pests of themselves, or just general drama.  That all sounded much more sandbox-like and much more grief prone… at least relative to the rules of the respective games… than EVE.

At the sandbox end of my little list I put Second Life.  This is the bugbear, the thing that should scare you about sandbox freedom, as things sometimes end up looking like this.

Second Soviet Life

Second Soviet Life

I actually find that picture amusing.  But then, I don’t have to look at it every day.

That picture is from a tale of an ongoing attempt to grief a player in Second Life, which including buying up adjacent properties and filling them with things meant to annoy the player.  The tale of that is over at Broken Toys, from where I swiped the screen shot.  So there is that, flying penises, and… well… you have to visit the place to see the range of things.  Griefing… like porn… isn’t everywhere in Second Life, but it can be brought to a level of art that would surprise you.

Just down the line from Second Life I put Landmark.  Again, my own gut call, and you can argue where it really belongs on the line.  But given the sandbox claims and Rowan’s sign, I have to think that it is far closer Second Life than any traditional MMO.

And while I do not think SOE is going to allow anywhere close to the amount of freedom to do… whatever… that Second Life has allowed, there is going to be a line somewhere.  The sign that says “Free Donuts” might be okay, but what if it gets changed to “Free Penises?”  What if Rowan builds a tower that happens to look like a penis?  What if he reconstructs St. Basil’s Cathedral, only with the onion-shaped domes looking suspiciously penis-like?  What is with Rowan and his obsession with phallic imagery?  (Do I need to say “just kidding” here?  I will, just in case.)

What happens when we get this?

Happy FarmVille Memories

Happy FarmVille Memories

At some point SOE is going to draw a line, and then there will be a group of people who will push right up to that line and dare SOE to do something about it.  And people will complain about those within the letter but perhaps not the spirit of the rules and there will be arguments and rage and rule lawyering and all the fun stuff we expect from online games, only magnified by the freedom allowed by Landmark.  Is it any wonder that SOE canned that other sandbox title before launch?  They were not ready for it then and I am not sure they are ready for it now.

Sure, SOE might believe they can police the internet.  But will they be able to handle the conflicting visions and personalities that will eventually flock to Landmark?  Has SOE articulated a plan for this?  Is my vision too dire, or not dire enough?  And how much enforcement can they impose and still keep things happy and sandboxy?

Anyway, I’m still waiting for EverQuest Next, which may or may not be as sandbox-ish in nature, but about which SOE has been very quiet.

Quote of the Day – For Specific Definitions of “Next” January 22, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, Quote of the Day, Sony Online Entertainment.
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5 comments

EverQuest Next — which is a totally different beast — has no current timetable. It could release in 2015 or 2025 for all we know right now.

Massively, Leaderboard: EQN vs. EQN Landmark

Therein lies the rub.

Last August, when SOE Live was done, I was quite excited about EverQuest Next.  It was the big announcement out of the event.  I wrote ~2,500 words about EQN, less than 100 of which were about Landmark, which was a Minecraft-esque tool set pseudo-game that I did not quite understand.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

The EverQuest Next Vision

I did not really care about Landmark.  I wanted the core game that was described at SOE Live.  The one that was… well… a freakin’ EverQuest MMORPG, with emergent AI and a new class system and all the things they presented.

I worried that, after the huge splash the EQN announcement made at SOE Live, that SOE would follow past patterns and let the excitement die off through neglect.

And, I guess if I am speaking strictly of of EQN, my worries were well founded.  EQN has been relegated to a series of banal survey questions that the same few people debate on their forums.  Such is the Round Table.  It apparently only seats about a dozen.

However, if we just follow from SOE Live, then excitement has been maintained to a certain extent… only occasionally interrupted by the usual SOE foibles… if we include Landmark in the picture.  Since SOE Live, Landmark has grown to take up almost the whole of the SOE marketing and community interaction effort.  At this point somebody stumbling onto the scene might justifiably conclude that EQN is just shorthand for EverQuest Next Landmark.

So I am… well… “frustrated” or “annoyed” are too strong… bemused, I guess, that SOE led with EQN at SOE Live, talking that up a great deal, only to let it fall by the wayside while all focus was devoted to Landmark, which looked like an adjunct product at the time of the announcement.

Yes, I understand that SOE ought to focus their marketing on the project shipping soonest… these days we ship at alpha and charge people for the privileged… and that there is an audience for Landmark… but dammit, they talked about this other thing I wanted and now barely acknowledge its existence.  Validate my selfish needs, damn you!

I guess I just fear another outcome like The Agency.

My MMO Outlook for 2014 January 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest Next, polls, The Elder Scrolls Online, WildStar, World of Warcraft.
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There are three posts I have done around this time of year for most of the last few years.  There is the looking back post, which I did for 2013 a ways back.  There is the predictions/questions/whatever sort of bigger picture post which I posted on the first of the year.

And then there is a look at what might launch in the coming year that could be of interest to me.  I usually do that one first because it is usually the easiest.  The other two, theoretically, take some thought, while that post is mostly about emotion.  What upcoming game speaks to me?  What will I have to buy on day one just to play it?

This year though, I am just not feeling much of that emotional tingle, the burning desire to stomp around on some new world.  The list of potential contenders did not spring immediately to mind.  Still, I march forward out of habit if nothing else.  Here is what I have.

5 – EverQuest Next Landmark

On the list because… I felt I needed five titles… sort of.

Ars Technica Reports...

For specific definitions of “MMO”

I am mostly uninterested in Landmark because it is billed as a tool not a game.  Not that tools can’t be fun.  I’ve spent the last 15 years working on development environments of one sort or another… tools, in essence… and have had more than my share of fun in doing so.  But for gaming time, I am not sure I am in the tool zone any more.  Somewhere between Pinball Construction Set (or Adventure Construction Set) and the level editor in StarCraft, I fell out of the desire to build levels and such.  I am pretty much just a consumer of content now, at least when it comes to me leisure time.

That said, SOE seems to be on something of an “It’s a dessert topping! No, it’s a floor wax!” riff when it comes to Landmark, so my lack of interest could change when the people who paid to get into the early user guinea pig test cycles start reporting back on what it really is.  Until then though, it is a very unlikely candidate for me in 2014.

4 – WildStar

A step ahead of Landmark by virtue of it being solidly in the “it’s a game!” category.

Wildstar_logo

WildStar is also the latest attempt to break out of the stock MMORPG template with some change-ups to combat and movement and special development paths that you can select for your character. The latter are supposed to represent the different Bartle types,  though I recall Bartle himself writing a bit about such an implementation representing a misunderstanding of what he meant with his types.  Explorer types will want to try all options, as an example, not just the explorer path.  It’s what makes them explorers.  Or something.

Otherwise, it looks to be very much a product of the last decade of MMO development.  Will its “different” bits be different enough to make it stand out while its “same” bits remain familiar enough to not scare people off?  And can it struggle out from the massive shadow cast by World of Warcraft?  And will NCSOFT race to put a bullet in its head if it turns out to be a “3 monther?”

WildStar is a title where I have no real desire yet to be in-game on day one, but I wouldn’t discount it as a title I try eventually.

3 – The Elder Scrolls Online

Now we’re getting into more likely territory.

I'm skeptical about that date...

I’m skeptical about that date…

Despite the reports of boring sameness, seeming to be another MMO in the post-WoW mold, and the annoying official acronym change from TESO to ESO, I actually feel like I might want to play this one.  Maybe even on day one despite… or maybe because of… my prediction about it.  I am guessing it will be a disaster on launch day… well, more so than your typical MMO launch.  But sometimes being part of the disaster can endear a game to you.

Anyway, why am I even looking at this, give the combo of alleged sameness and the potential for day one catastrophe?

I guess that the key here is that I cannot imagine that the developers of this MMO could be so daft as to create a game based on the Elder Scrolls franchise without looking deep within themselves to ask the most important question: Does it capture even a bit of the essence of the series?  Because that is the vital ingredient here, the winning proposition, the thing that would make people knock over their grandmother to grab a copy of the game.  If they can come up with something that feels just enough like Skyrim, but lets me play with my friends, then they will prevail . The only issue I have with Skyrim is that I cannot play with my friends.  Solve that, profit.

Of course, if they fail to do that, they are toast.

2 – EverQuest Next

On the list because, as of a date in early August of last year, this has been the official “next game” for me.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Will Firiona Vie make it to 2014?

Even after several months of SOE trying to beat any enthusiasm out of me by almost exclusively talking up Landmark while relegating the actual freaking game to inane roundtable discussions on topics like whether or not female dwarves should have beards and what color barbarian toe jam should be rendered in, this is still the only upcoming MMO I am actually really looking forward to at this time.

Of course, part of that is no doubt the stunning lack of tangible information available about the game.  Between the inane, like the beards, and the broad stroke terms, like “sandbox,” and the promise of Storybricks technology and voxels and what not, there are huge gaps in which one can build castles in the sky founded on hopes, dreams, and aspirations that might not enter into the reality of the game when it ships.

But, even now, knowing all the gaps, it is still the game I lust for.

Which is a pity, because I cannot imagine it being in any sort of playable state in 2014.  Still, if it shows up, I am there.

1 – Warlords of Draenor

This one, this is the gimme.  The default choice.  The Meryl Streep nomination.

The New Expansion

The New Expansion

Unless something radical happens, this is the one game… well, expansion to a game, because frankly I couldn’t even come up with five NEW MMOs I would consider… that I know I will be picking up this year.  Maybe even the collector’s edition this time around.

Yes, I know, for every new feature in Warlords of Draenor there is going to be a dozen re-skinned or re-used items and that they are pulling out the time travel gimmick yet again and that we’ll be fighting a bunch of orcs… the same thing we do every night, Pinky.  I’m not even bursting at the seams, “gotta have it now!” excited about this expansion.  I’m content to let show up in good time.

But I didn’t end up back playing the 9 year old fantasy MMORPG (along side the 10 year old internet spaceships game) because they don’t know how to make a smooth, comfortable, playable game with plenty of attractive rides/treadmills for me to while away the hours on with my friends.  Yes, it isn’t the early days any more, or even the 2006 heyday of classic WoW, but I am back and have found I like it.  And I expect that I will like Warlords of Draenor as much if not more.  Go boring old me.

And Into 2014…

The new year is upon us, and what I say at the start of a year doesn’t always come to pass by the end.  At the beginning of 2013, where I lumped my predictions and outlook into a single post… hey I was in Hawaii at the time… I said I would “finish” Rift and and make it to tier 8 in World of Tanks.  Didn’t happen.  In past years I have also declared myself for such titles as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Neverwinter, neither of which ever gained a lot of traction with me.  So this is just the usual stake in the ground, declaring the lay of the land as I see it today, not knowing what tomorrow might bring.

And since, in looking back on these sorts of posts, I always seem to end them with a poll, I will keep with tradition, adding in a couple more titles that did not make my list.  Which of these will you likely play in 2014?