Daily Archives: July 30, 2013

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?

Fountain – The Fighting Goes On

The war in Fountain has been declared over.

Boodabooda has said that TEST is leaving the region.  The CFC is busy picking up systems and knocking down the remaining TEST towers.  The latter seem to be all empty of strontium and conveniently labeled.  We hit one last night with the name “TEST R16 reimbursement fund moon.”

Who needs scanning?

Who needs scanning?

Systems are going our way.

Fountain - July 30, 2013

Fountain – July 30, 2013

The map is slowly turning our color.

Fountain turns yellow... eew...

Fountain turns yellow… eew…

What will happen beyond Fountain seems in doubt however.

Boodabooda is saying that the CFC will “almost definitely attack Delve.”  And certainly, in terms of chance, Goons attacking Delves seems only slightly less likely than there being a maintenance downtime on any given day.  It is almost habitual at this point.  They all have supplies and stuff sitting in stations from the last few ventures.  Even I still have stuff in Delve from last summer’s expedition.  So it is practically the natural order of things to head to Delve.

Arguing against an invasion of Delve are several factors.  It will be at least a month until sovereignty rises high enough in Fountain for a jump bridge network to be established to create a pipe into Delve.  It was a big deal for us to get the jump bridge from J5A to 4-EP, as it meant holding those systems for 35 days straight.  Now we have to wait that same 35 days after taking systems before a full jump bridge network can be established.

There is also the nature of the war from the CFC point of view.  The stated reason for taking Fountain was to possess the moons.  You may ascribe whatever additional sinister motives you like, but the moons are still important.  They are a source of income and they need to be protected.  We cannot all go back to Deklein and Branch and Tribute and expect these moons to remain unmolested.  Which means somebody needs to live in Fountain.  I expect that in a couple of weeks there will some realignment of sovereignty to cover the Fountain front, and a lot of people will be moving into new homes.  It is difficult to do that in the midst of a war.

And then there is the question of what happens if we do invade Delve.  Best case scenario is that TEST rolls over and dies, leaving us Delve in their will.  We march in and then face Northern Coalition in Querious and Tribal Band down in Period Basis.

The Delve Neighborhood

The Delve Neighborhood

Last summer when Delve was taken, the war moved immediately to Querious and would likely do so again, what with a competent foe holding a grudge and in possession of a lot of support sitting right there.  That means war with just about everybody from Cobalt Edge to Querious.  And while the most deluded conspiracy theories see total null sec domination as part of the vast Goon conspiracy, the idea of a great Goon donut strikes me a implausible.  Even if it were manageable militarily… and I wouldn’t grant that one… and could be held against all comers… and there would be many… I am not sure they could find enough competent and trustworthy satraps to administer and empire without them coveting each others possessions, fighting amongst themselves, or attempting to break with the empire altogether.  I think a Goon null sec Caliphate would be a very brittle entity before long.

And, finally, there is the fact that the war isn’t over.  Did I say that it was?  Yeah, I was clearly full of VF day enthusiasm when I wrote that headline.

Sure, TEST is pulling out of Fountain.  And they are not contesting timers any more.  Sovereignty is rolling over to us.  But there is no agreement in place, no peace plan in process.  Boodabooda is digging trenches in Delve waiting for the Goon onslaught.  We’re busy camping 6VDT station trying to keep TEST from evacuating anything valuable.  Gates are camped.  TEST is still red.

And just last night Northern Coalition and friends… and they let TEST tag along this time… attempted to pick off another CFC titan.  This time they dropped right into 4-EP to try and get it.  An observant CFC member noticed NC dreads in the system while a Baltec fleet that had been forming  for a structure shoot was able to jump right into the fight.  The siren went off on Jabber and a big battle ensued, with the NC fleet losing more than 20 capital ships.  And while they took down a few in return, no titans were killed.  Titans did, however, drop on the field and got to doomsday the hostiles.  See my current site banner (which I stole) or this NC video of the fight.   Here is the battle report.  (A write up at The Mittani as well.)

CFC kills in blue

CFC kills in blue

I missed that fight by just five minutes, but got into fleet in time to chase people all over Fountain and then go shoot some structures.

Titans were still hanging around when I got there

Titans were still hanging around when I got there

So fighting continues and seems likely to carry on for some time.  Grinding out sovereignty… even when uncontested… goes much faster with capital ships, and when capital ships are flying somebody will inevitably seek to blow them up.

Last night in comms, somebody said that TEST is the new Intrepid Crossing, an alliance that used to be on our border in Cobalt Edge and which we used to raid for fights, but which we never sought to conquer. (That is until Razor pushed the joke too far one day and IRC’s house fell over.  And now Razor owns Cobalt Edge.  Nice going.)  And that seems like an apt enough analogy.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of “win” in attempting to exterminate TEST, but having a hostile neighbor we can tangle with has value.  If nothing else, it gives us something to do and someone to fight on a regular basis.  That might not be something you would want in real life but, in a game like EVE, that could be the best possible situation for now.

Or such is the way things look to me.  But I am just a CFC grunt and the most exalted position I have ever aspired to is that of squad commander in a fleet. (I trained Leadership V somewhere along the way.)  I have no special insight into alliance politics.  I go where they tell me and shoot who the FC calls out.

So feel free to correct my assumptions and tell me where you think this whole situation is headed.