Daily Archives: August 10, 2010

EverQuest Next and Lessons Learned

The SOE Fan Faire went off this past weekend in Las Vegas.

One of the things that came out of the coverage of Fan Faire was EverQuest Next, the future MMORPG that will be based in the EverQuest universe.  Massively and Complete Heal have decent coverage of the event.

Norrath will live again!  Exciting News!

They even showed some concept art.

Freeport Next?

Kelethin Next?

Remember, concept are is just a vision of what may be.  Your Mileage may vary.

And what I have read so far about EverQuest Next features ends up making something of what I will call a “lessons learned” list.  This list includes:

  • 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”

Not a bad list.

You might remark that, aside from that last item, it sounds a lot like lessons you could learn from looking at World of Warcraft.  That isn’t a bad thing.  Nothing says that those items preclude making a successful MMORPG.

On the other hand, a list of lessons learned can be a deceptive thing.  We need only look back six years and compare the products that SOE and Blizzard shipped that were both heavily influenced by the original EverQuest.  Both EverQuest II and World of Warcraft became things because of EverQuest.  Their very design were obvious responses to the lessons learned from the EverQuest experience.

If we look back at what EverQuest II brought to the table as a “lesson learned” from EverQuest some were pretty much right one the money, some needed some work to be viable, and a few were just wrong.  These are my own recollections of some of the aspects of EverQuest II that seemed to represent in some way, lessons learned from EverQuest:

Zoning is Okay – In EQ when you hit a zone line you had to sit and wait for the next zone to load up.  The world was chopped into zones.  There ended up being dozens of them.  And each time you hit one, you waited at the loading screen.

EQII kept that same idea, changing it only in small details.  For example, the invisible zone line fun in the middle of a places like the Commonlands or the Karanas was done away with.  In EQII you at least knew when you were going to zone.  But you still had to wait at that loading screen.

Who Needs A World – One of the things I most remember about starting off in EQ was that Norrath felt like a big, connected world.  You had to run a long time to get across it, and you could even take different routes as you went from zone to zone.  Travel time though, that became a drag.  If you were in Qeynos and your friends were in Kelethin, just getting to them could blow your whole evening.

EQII seemed to take on the whole travel problem by destroying the world.  That was the theme of the game after all, a planet rending cataclysm. But they also managed to destroy the feeling that Norrath was a single world.  We got the ever shifting system of bells that would teleport you to a new location.  As the game expanded we got ships to carry us from island to island, but post-cataclysm Norrath never had the feel of “place” the way EQ did.

Reduced Death Penalty – The EQ death penalty, coming back naked, often many zones from where your corpse lay with all your equipment, losing a quarter of a level of experience and perhaps even dropping a level, that played okay in MUDs, but in a huge world of Norrath it was, frankly, a royal pain.

EQII removed the naked corpse run.  Rather than losing experience your equipment was damaged and you accrued about a quarter level of “experience debt” that you had to work off and which effectively reduced your experience gains by 50% until they were paid off.  Remember when the whole group shared in the debt when any member of the group died.  That made for some fun, group sundering times!  And even that level of death penalty was toned down until today it is about 2 mobs worth of experience debt.

Group Play – In EQ playing past level 20 really required a group unless you were content to grind at an incredibly slow pace.  It was a group focused game, something it inherited from its DikuMUD roots.

EQII started out with the idea that there ought to be a solo play path, but it was clearly not the primary path.  When you got out to the Thundering Steppes or Nek Forest, solo time was tough.  That all changed later, but for a while you really needed a group to get along in the game.

Quests Needed – Quests in EQ?  There were some.  They were not as arcane as the Diku MUD days of questing, but they were not a big focus either.  You spent most of your time grinding mobs, hoping for a decent drop.  Sometimes you would have a quest for a really nice piece of gear and you would spend a huge amount of time camped, waiting for a critical mob to spawn.

EQII was all about quests on day one.  There were lots of quests.  Those of us from MUD or EQ backgrounds still tended to go find a corner of the world with big mobs and just grind.  But the days of those groups being the main path for advancement were over.

Twinking Is Bad – In EQ, you could bum a high level buff or three from a friend, spirit of the wolf from somebody else, some really good gear from your main character, and run out and solo huge mobs to speed up the level grind.  If you were in luck, a healer friend would sit around and keep you healthy while you tore though the Aviak village in South Karana.  Twinking at its best.  Get things going right and you could take out that wandering cyclops while you were at it.  Good times.

This seemed to annoy the devs (and certain forum dwellers) quite a bit, because when EQII came out, it felt like SOE had spent more time coming up with ways to stop twinking than they on, say,  travel or how to sell via the broker.  We ended up with buffs you could only cast on group members, buffs with very, very short duration, equipment with level restrictions, and equipment that changed stats depending on your level.  Do you remember that last one?  Do you remember equipment with stats that were tied to your level?

And then there were locked encounters, a system where by once you started a fight with a mob, nobody outside of your group could damage that mob or cast beneficial buffs on you.  Cumbersome is the only way I can describe this.  Sure, it defeated kill stealing as well, but you could have fixed that with a “who hit it first gets the exp” system. (In EQ, it was the person or group who got the killing blow who got the exp and the loot, which lead to… abuses.) This was all clearly designed to thwart easy leveling with the help of high level friends.  Gone were the random buffs of kindness.

Player Housing Is ImportantEQ is finally getting player housing in the upcoming expansion, House of Thule.  17 expansions after launch and you can finally get a place of your own.

EQII had player housing.  Guild halls took ages to arrive, but you could have your own home on day one.  It is an important part of the game to a lot of people.  And while there is some debate as to whether it pulls people off the streets and makes the game feel less populated, it is really part of the EQII experience.

Crafting Should Be Really Complicated – In EQ crafting was… difficult yet simple.  You bought your components from an NPC vendor (unless you were cooking, in which case you could use some drops from mobs… rat meat, yum!), put them in the crafting station, pressed the button, and you either got something or you lost all your stuff.  There was no recipe, so it could go either way.  They changed that later on.  And they changed it so that you could make useful items.  But initially crafting could be a money wasting crap shoot.  But it was simple and quick.

SOE took that lesson to heart.  In EQII you could craft useful items.  Very useful.  But the crafting game was much more complex.  There was harvesting, of course.  Lots of harvesting.  And then the actual manufacture, which was set up so that which ever trade skill you chose, you likely needed pieces and parts from other professions.  The idea was an integrated economy.  It was a disaster, unless you were an alchemist.  I made stuff everybody needed.  A chunk of my modest fortune was made through chemicals.

Three major revamps later, the crafting system is now manageable and, I must say, more fulfilling than the WoW model, though I am still not fond of playing whack-a-mole, which is what production of items ends up simulating.

So What?

Where am I going with this?  Do I have some point I want to make or is this just a rambling Grandpa Simpson post?

A little bit of both, I suppose.

But mostly to bring up a list of things that probably like good ideas… or at least reasonable plans… some of which were and some of which were not just to illustrate my statement early on in this piece that you do not always learn the right lesson from things.

And to ask a question.

What so you think SOE should take away as lessons learned from EverQuest II and apply to EverQuest Next?