Category Archives: Daybreak Game Company

EverQuest II at Fifteen and the Memories of What Could Have Been

I am sure I’ve told this tale before… probably several times… but playing EverQuest II back at launch was really a last minute decision for me.  Meclin… or Gaff… or Rarik…  or whatever I call him these days… Tim I guess… with whom I had played Sojourn/TorilMUD on and off for the previous decade, was suddenly taken with the idea of playing EverQuest II.

An ad for EQII from the August 2004 issue of Computer Gaming World

I hadn’t really been paying attention.  I’d stopped playing EverQuest for a variety of reasons, gave my account to a friend who still played and was doing some multi-boxing (they never changed the password, so I checked back on that account and found all my chars deleted), and basically played single player games or online match-based games like Delta Force and Battlefield 1942.  I knew some people who played EQ or DAoC, but I wasn’t interested.  I had neither the time nor the inclination.

TorilMUD revived itself, after having gone missing for a stretch, in early 2003 which got some of the people I knew back together.  I dove back into that and for one last stretch it became my main game.  But after getting to level cap and getting into a guild and doing zones regularly, word started to get around about EverQuest II.

There was a strong tie between TorilMUD and EQ, with TorilMUD having been the home of a number of EQ devs, including Brad McQuaid, and having served as the basic template for EQ.  A lot of early EQ, from classes to the death mechanics, were rooted in TorilMUD.

So with an new EverQuest coming, it was natural for people to be looking into it.  Not me however, I wasn’t feeling any sort of itch.  Tim though, he was listening to the reports on the new game.  He even passed me a write up somebody had done in beta.  He wanted to get in on the new game, and all the more so since he missed out on early EverQuest.  So a bunch of people from our guild… him and Chandigar and Pril and Oteb and a few others… got on board with playing EverQuest II at launch.

Or almost at launch.

We didn’t get there for the first round of servers.  But the team at SOE had a plan for launch that included bringing new servers online as the current ones filled up.  So we joined in with the launch of the Crushbone server on November 13, 2004, fifteen years ago today.

My earliest screen shot of EQ2 – Nov. 14, 2004

We got in, got through the Isle of Refuge, made it to town, and eventually formed a guild the next day.

Our guild on Crushbone

The guild was a mix of TorilMUD players and some EverQuest players that included a friend of Tim’s.  We all joined together and became the Knights of the Cataclysm.

The EverQuest II lore is based on a cataclysm, the breaking of the moon that rained down debris on Norrath, sundered the lands, broke up continents, reworked the landscape, and basically provided a way to start from scratch to a certain extent.

The game, heir to EverQuest, the reigning champion of the fantasy MMORPG genre with more than 550K subscribers, was expected to carry on the tradition of the original.  The headline of the review by Jeff Green in CGW was The Once and Future King!

Unfortunately, cataclysm proved to be something of an apt metaphor for the game.  There was a lot wrong with it at launch.  For openers, the systems requirements were way too high, something that prevented much of the EQ base from even considering migrating to the new game.  And that migration was clearly central to the plan at SOE.

There were also a myriad of bad assumptions, bad features, and last minute changes… the game was already a year or so “late” so the need to launch seemed to be driving much of the process at that point… that hamstrung the game.

Some of it was self-inflicted.  There has long been the tale about how the EQII team felt they had to steer away from the original game and create their own lore.  Crafting, which had been its own class during the beta, because a sub-class for players, though retained the same advancement structure.  What it also retained was an overburden of complexity and interdependence between the professions.

Adventuring classes had the odd archetype system, where you chose fighter, rogue, cleric, or mage up front, then specialized at level 10, then again at level 20, at which point you were finally at your final class.  But there were really too many classes and too many races and not enough character slots (just 4).

Grouping was pretty much required if you wanted any sort of smooth ride while leveling.  Some zones were locked behind group quests, though only if you wanted to go there before a given level.  Afterwards you could just walk in.  And somebody at SOE had given too much ear to people complaining about twinking in the forums, so a lot of spells could only be cast on groups members, others had pitifully short duration, and some spells combined both.  Gone were the days of casting Spirit of the Wolf on grateful lowbies.

And then there were the core issues, like zones.  The market was moving towards the seamless world idea, but EQII still had you zoning.  And there wasn’t even the illusion of a single world as with EQ.  The place was chopped up into disconnected areas that you visited via a portal or a bell.  I am sure that some problems were solved with this approach, but it left the game feeling less like a world.

Add in the graphics, which were not bad if you had a rig that could display them, though the color scheme tended towards muddy, but when you did crank them up went a little too far into the uncanny valley when it came to characters, and the seeds of discontent had been sown.

Meanwhile the gaming market itself had changed.  When EverQuest launched in March of 1999 there were other MMORPGs, but they were pretty different.  Ultima Online had its isometric 3rd person perspective.  Meridian 59 was all about PvP.  When Asheron’s Call showed up it had a different advancement philosophy.  These were all distinctively different titles.

By late 2004 more games had appeared in the genre.  Dark Age of Camelot talked about being like EverQuest with PVP but without the “suck.”  There was already news coverage for other competing titles.  Guild Wars was in the offing.  Brad McQuaid had already left SOE with some of the original EverQuest crew and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was vying for the successor to Norrath title.  And, of course, there was that title from Blizzard that was getting lots of coverage.

And so the cataclysm metaphor seemed apt.

Not that it was all bad.  The game’s housing system, and how well integrated it was to the game, including a trade profession dedicated to building furniture, still stands apart from any other MMORPG I have played.  Its free form decorating and the ability to hang trophies from your adventures on your wall, as well as being your in-game store front, worked very well.

As a group, as a guild, we stayed mostly pretty dedicated to the game for almost a year.  But we were something of the exception rather than the rule.  People who did not feel at home in the new world often went back to EverQuest.

But in a couple of weeks after we first logged in World of Warcraft launched, and a lot of people who didn’t go back to EverQuest moved on to WoW instead.

SOE knew they were in trouble pretty quickly after WoW launched, and the game started changing to adapt.  We got little quills and books over quest givers, the EQII version of the big yellow exclamation mark and question mark in Azeroth.  Trade skills got revamped.  We got offline selling.  The emphasis on grouping being a requirement after level 20 or so was relaxed somewhat.  A lot of those group encounters in the Thundering Steppes were made solo encounters.  Buffs got saner timers.  Travel was tinkered with.

Meanwhile, the SOE mania with more content lest we all leave… EQ was well into its “two expansions a year” era… meant that an expansion popped up before some of us were at level cap.

Within a few months people started to fade away.  On guild coms people were pining for Vanguard, which they were now sure would be the real EQ successor.  I went off and tried WoW. came back for a while, then a large portion of the TorilMUD faction in our guild went to WoW together, settling on the Eldre’Thalas server where I still play some of the characters I rolled up back then.

And now here we are, fifteen years down the road, and the game is still there.

As their splash screen proudly declares… though that is the original EverQuest box art

It has been updated, changed, and re-arranged over the years often, but not always, improving the game.  It still gets a new expansion every year, which is a lot more than many games in the genre get.  People still pine for an alternate universe where WoW never launched, but I don’t think that would have made the game any more popular.  It was a mess at launch, but has matured over time, so that the game today plays differently than it did way back when… though there are too many damn skills still.

Oddly, I think the fact that the game has changed so much, mostly for the better, is one of the reasons that the whole progression server idea isn’t nearly as popular for EQII as it is for EQ.

In EQ the old locations mostly look about the same.  Okay, they updated Freeport, but Qeynos and Faydwer still look as crappy as they did back in 1999.  Even if the progression server isn’t a pure 1999 experience, you can squint your eyes and pretend and mostly feel the nostalgia burn.

But EQII?  How the hell does Daybreak even begin to simulate the chaos and dysfunction that was early EQII?  So much has changed that there is no going back to 2004.  There simply aren’t enough free resources at Daybreak to re-create the original game.

Daybreak Ready to Launch Special Servers for EverQuest II Anniversary

We are into November and it is time for EverQuest II to start kicking off its 15th anniversary.  First up on the list are new special rules servers!

As their anniversary splash screen proudly declares

On the EverQuest II side of the house, the Rivervale server, set to launch today.  Rivervale was the home town of the halflings back in the original EverQuest and a strange sub-zone in the Enchanted Lands in EverQuest II.  It still houses halflings, and the old Fool’s Gold, but it is also home to a lot of demons as well as hosting the bee and bixie dungeon, the Tower of Drafling.  I remember spending a lot of time in a group with Rarik in that zone.

The Fool’s Gold still stands… somebody scrubbed off the sign I guess

The new Rivervale server will be a “Live Heroic Server,” which is an all new name, so I’ll just quote Daybreak from the FAQ as to what that means:

Any new character on a heroic server is granted a level boost bauble that will enable them to jump directly into some of the more recent content, boosting to level 95 with a gear set that will set you on your path in the Phantom Seas (released in 2014’s Altar of Malice expansion).

So it sounds like if you join in you’ll be able to jump straight into the content that went live around the game’s 10th anniversary.  I wonder if that was planned?

Otherwise content on the server will be the same as on a live server, which means if you own the latest expansion, last year’s Chaos Descending expansion, you will be able to play right through into that.

As with other such special servers, you will not be able to transfer on or off of the server and, of course, you will need to have a Daybreak All Access subscription in order to play on it.

Also, as a bit of a late update yesterday, it was announced that the Rivervale server would be a “free trade” server.  The FAQ was poor about indicating what that actually means, but fortunately they did a such a server previously.  The Isle of Refuge server, launched back in 2016, was also a free trade server.  You can read what I wrote about it back then, but the upshot is in this quote:

Isle of Refuge is what we call a “Free Trade Server.” This means that almost all items can be traded freely between players. There are a few exceptions – Heirloom items purchased via a merchant or in the marketplace, granted from repeatable quests, or received via /claims will remain Heirloom.

So that will be it.  Most everything that you might think of as “bind on pick up” on this server will be “bind on equip” and tradeable, to sully this conversation by using WoW terminology.

Meanwhile, older sibling EverQuest, which turned 20 back in March, is also opening up a special server today to help celebrate the EverQuest II anniversary.

The Miragul server, named for the lich of Everfrost, is billed as a “Heroic Progression Server.”

According to the FAQ that means that new characters will start at level 85 with gear, spells, and AA points.  Content will be unlocked up through the 2010 House of Thule expansion, after which later expansions will be unlocked based on whether or not they include an increase in the level cap.  Expansions that do will be held for three months, while those without an increase will be active for two months.

It is also a “true box” server, which means that the client will try to keep you from multi-boxing your way through things.  And, as always, a Daybreak All Access subscription is required to roll up a character on the server and you cannot transfer characters from other servers to this server.

And so the anniversary celebration begins.

Both servers are slated to go live at noon Pacific Time today, but we know how that goes.  Still, they will probably be up and running before you’re done with dinner this evening.

Addendum:

PlanetSide Arena Just a Stepping Stone to PlanetSide 3

We envision PlanetSide Arena as a way to allow us to link present day PlanetSide 2 and PlanetSide 3 story lines, as well as providing an opportunity to try out new features, styles of play, etc.

Producer’s Letter on the PlanetSide franchise

Down but not out?

Just over a week ago we heard about another layoff at Daybreak, with the brunt of the cuts alleged to have landed on the PlanetSide team.

But on Friday afternoon at 5:44pm… what is it with Daybreak and after hours on Friday press releases… seriously, what are they thinking… a Producer’s Letter was posted indicating that the PlanetSide franchise, soon to turn 17, saw the poorly performing PlanetSide Arena, recently arrived in early access, as a stepping stone to their goal of bringing PlanetSide 3 to life at some future date.

At this point it is hard to tell where the franchise will end up.  There was a mention that Daybreak was restructuring and another possible studio name was registered, though what that means at this point I couldn’t tell you.

And of course there were the leaked rumors from back in May of last year which mentioned a PlanetSide 3.   PlanetSide Arena sounded like the fruit of that, but now maybe there was something else going on.

The producer’s letter says that Daybreak is 100% committed to this vision of a bigger, longer, and possibly uncut future for the PlanetSide franchise.  But is this reality or a just a morale booster while they figure out what they can actually manage in the post-layoff reality?

Others on the topic:

Daybreak Lays off More Staff

The news from Daybreak is grim again as it came out yesterday that the company was experiencing another layoff.

Oh, Daybreak…

The word began to leak out on social media, which is the usual course of events these days.  The fact that there was a layoff was later confirmed.  The number of people laid off was estimated to be close to 70, though there is no official word on that.

The PlanetSide team was reportedly hit the hardest, while the team responsible for EverQuest and EverQuest II seemed to have been largely spared.  Of course, EverQuest II has a big anniversary coming up next month and both games have expansions slated to come out before the end of the year.

The future of the company remains in question.  PlanetSide Arena, which went into early access last month, has not obtained a strong following, while earlier this year Daybreak registered some new company trademarks and created Twitter accounts that seemed to indicate a possible change in structure or sell off of the company.

Sources:

EverQuest Progression Servers vs WoW Classic

For the last few years one of the key arguments to my mind in support of the idea of something like WoW Classic were the progression servers that SOE and the Daybreak rolled up for the EverQuest community over the years, starting back in 2007 with The Sleeper and The Combine.

A splash screen of many expansion splash screens

There was a lot to be learned from even that first rough run, including the idea that it might be more popular than expected requiring the company to roll out another server.

After running lukewarm-to-cold on the whole special server idea during the SOE years, where they would launch with some fanfare and then never mention the servers again in any official capacity, Daybreak has turned the special server nostalgia thing into a part of their ongoing business plan.  When Holly Longdale says that EQ has more players in 2019 than it did in 2015, it is in part due to the cottage industry for Norrath nostalgia they have created.

So now Blizzard is in the nostalgia business with WoW Classic, and is clearly seeing some success from having done so.  But it is interesting to see the different paths Daybreak and Blizzard took to get to their respective positions, both in how the went after the idea and how their respective games evolved over time.

The Classic Splash Screen

The idea for this post came via a comment from Bhagpuss on the post where we were having trouble finding a definitive answer on the functionality of meeting stones.  He noted that information about mechanics in WoW Classic were not as readily available as they were for Daybreak’s games.  While places like WoW Head have been able to recreate WoW Classic versions of their site with quests and locations pretty well covered, they are not quite complete as we discovered.

Meanwhile, if you start digging up stuff on EverQuest you will find old articles, often not updated for a decade or more, are pretty spot on, both for live and progression servers.

Part of this is, of course, due to how SOE and then Daybreak approached the nostalgia idea.  While Blizzard set out to recreate the 2006 experience running in its own version of the client, an EverQuest progression server runs on the same client as live and draws on the same assets and resources.

This was no doubt due to a few reasons, with a lack of resources being at the top.  Blizzard has the personnel and the budget to create something like WoW Classic while the EverQuest team hasn’t had that sort of opportunity since the early days, at which point it probably seemed like a silly thing to take on.  The team was cranking out two expansions a year for quite a stretch, and expansions made money and kept people subscribed.

There was also something of a lack of commitment to the nostalgia idea.  While I give SOE props for even getting into it back in 2007, just eight years after EverQuest launched, it wasn’t until well into the Daybreak era that the company really took the idea seriously, that resources were dedicated to make the nostalgia server idea a thing and address some of the problems that the fans had been complaining about since the first round of them.

But SOE and then Daybreak were able to get away with their half-assed approach to progression servers largely due to the way the game have developed and evolved over time.

The thing is, if you log into an EverQuest live server today you can wander around a lot of old zones that have remained pretty much untouched since they were launched.  The EQ team has released expansion after expansion, adding zone after zone, while never doing anything to really reform or consolidate the world.

Yes, there is the Plane of Knowledge, the travel hub of Norrath, and SOE updated a few old world zones like Freeport, but a lot of content was just left where it was dropped and rarely looked after again.  Somebody might add a new zone connection for another expansion, and a few places got a Tome of Knowledge added to get people to the Plane of Knowledge, but for the most part if you wander through old zones they look like they did back in the day.

And you can add to that the fact that the team didn’t go hog wild on revamping classes with every expansion.  If you roll up a warrior on a live server or a progression server, they still start with the same old skills from back whenever.  Spells got a bit of a revamp, losing the every five level aspect at some point, but otherwise you still get Spirit of the Wolf at about the same point you got it in 1999 or 2007 or 2011 or 2018.

In that environment where you haven’t really added a bunch of new stuff to the old zones, where classes are about the same now at level 1 though 20 or 50 as they were back in 1999, where content has been delivered in nice little stand-alone silos, a company can get away with a low effort, same client nostalgia experience.  Fippy Darkpaw is still running at the 1999 gates of Qeynos. delivering his line, over and over again.  So they can fiddle with some toggles about which zones you can access and play with the experience slider and call it a day.

Yes, there is Project 1999 and the purist attempt to really recreate every little detail of the original game. (They have a new server coming too.)  I admire the effort, but it does feel a bit like a niche of a niche, the desire to get back the entire experience.  Daybreak delivers about 80% of the experience already in a… I was going to wite “modern client” but let’s not be silly… supported client that gets updates on servers that get a lot of traffic.

Compare this with Blizzard’s lot.

The elephant in the room is the Cataclysm expansion, which redid the old content, updated the old world to allow flying, and added zones that adjoined to classic zones, and basically stirred the pot radically.  This is ground zero of the “missing old content” movement.

But that is only the most stark example of change.  Blizzard stirs the pot with every expansion.  Occasionally I see a call for “WoW 2.0″ and I laugh, because we’ve been there already.  The Burning Crusade was literally WoW 2.0, and while its changes were not as sweeping as Cataclysm, the game changed the day it dropped, as it did with Wrath of the Lich King and Mists of Panaria and so on and so forth.  And while Blizz gives us a new city to hang out in each expansion, it also pushed to keep us in Stormwind and Orgrimmar as well, with portals to ease getting back and the auction house to serve as a draw.

I have written about how the hunter in WoW Classic is so different that retail, but even the simple classes have seen change.  Compared to rolling a warrior in EverQuest today, rolling one in retail WoW is nothing like the 2004 or 2006 experience.  You go through different content with skills that work differently up a different skill path to unlock different talents on a different talent tree.

In that environment there is no cheap way out to create anything like a vanilla WoW experience.  You cannot half-ass an attempt to test the water, you cannot just roll out a new server with only the level 1-60 content unlocked, because that 1-60 looks different, plays different, and for the most part is different.

I think this is why, as Bhagpuss noted, that some info is just difficult to find about WoW Classic.  With Blizzard shaking up the game and every class with each expansion, there hasn’t been the sort of static, almost sedimentary, layers of development the way there was with EverQuest over the years.  Fifteen year old articles at Allakazam are still relevant because SOE and Daybreak laid down some content and moved on.  Blizz doesn’t play that way.  Blizz changes the whole world, touches most everything, in a regular ~24 month cycle.  There was no simple path back to vanilla because it was so well and thoroughly gone.

And so we got Blizzard pushing off the idea of vanilla WoW and things like J. Allen Brack’s now infamous line for at least a decade.  I was already referencing calls for “classic” Azeroth servers back in August 2009.  Private servers offering a vanilla experience were already pretty common seven years back when I dabbledwith the Emerald Dream server.  But for Blizzard to get there required such a commitment that it was only after retail kept sagging that they decided to play the nostalgia card.

Daybreak got their imperfect nostalgia merely due to their rather silo focused content delivery.  Blizzard got more perfect nostalgia but had to rebuild it as a new client due to their propensity to change the world.

I suppose the lesson to take out of this is to plan for nostalgia… at least if you think your game is going to run 15 or 20 years.

PlanetSide Arena Arrives at Early Access

PlanetSide Arena is up on Steam today and available to download as its Early Access launch begins.

This is the first stage of Daybreak’s announced path forward with the game, which was first revealed to the public late last year with an initial goal of a beta in late January of this year.

That was scrapped and pre-orders were refunded as the whole project was pushed out until summer, with the desire for a simultaneous console launch given as the reason for the delay.

Then we had one of those long stretches of silence, so familiar to watchers of Daybreak and SOE before them (and maybe of Rogue Planet Games at some future date), until a new set of dates was announced on August 30th.

PlanetSide Arena – August 2019 Schedule

Today the company met the first of their revised dates and, despite having pushed console support out into the future, they did managed to release something still within the months of summer.  Autumn begins on Monday in the northern hemisphere, or so say the calendar makers.

The game is free during early access on Steam, so it only costs the download time to get into it.  There are, of course, starter packs available for a price.  Daybreak has to fund this somehow.  Reviews are currently “mixed,” though there are only 70 as of this writing and the negatives seem to be coming from PlanetSide purists.

Further details about the game are available at the Daybreak web site.  And, of course, there is a trailer:

We shall see how it goes, but Daybreak is off to the races today with their only new game since the SOE era.

The PlanetSide Arena story so far:

 

PlanetSide Arena Resurfaces with a Plan for a Q2 2020 Release

Remember PlanetSide Arena?  It has a new ship date.

But first, a recap of the story so far… the ship date being in the headline and all.

Back in mid-December of 2018 Daybreak’s big new game announcement was a rework of PlanetSide 2, bringing it back to the realm of shooters of old by taking their MMOFPS and turning it into a match based game with a bunch of old school modes… and Battle Royale too, of course.

Meet Battle Modes

Those looking for an actual NEW game went away disappointed, but even cynics like myself had to admit that this seemed like a viable plan of sorts.  After all, what could it take to turn PlanetSide 2 into a Battle Royale game?  H1Z1 was literally built off of PlanetSide 2.

Daybreak was confident too, declaring that season one for the game… because of course it would have seasons and battle passes and whatever, it has to pay for itself… would commence on January 29, 2019.

January 29, 2019

However, nothing in software is as easy as it seems, and people often confuse something being simple to articulate (e.g. PlanetSide 2 Battle Royale) with being easy to do.  They are not.  So a couple days before the 29th, the date for PlanetSide Arena was pushed to March 2019.  Still pretty aggressive, but with a bit more breathing room.

And then come mid-February the whole thing got a moved to “summer” as a release, though this would now include a simultaneous launch on the PlayStation 4.  They also refunded everybody’s Steam purchase, which seemed the decent thing to do.

And then summer came, moved along its merry way, until yesterday, the Thursday before Labor Day, the traditional end of summer in the US, regardless of what the calendar tells you, when we finally got some news about PlanetSide Arena.  There is now a four stage release plan, spanning from Early Access availability this coming September to the actual game release at some point in Q2 2020.

PlanetSide Arena – August 2019 Schedule

There is also a FAQ page, which is good, as the announcement itself is pretty sparse.  Call me a pessimist, but I made sure that FAQ page was saved to the Internet Archive right away in its current state.

The first question is, naturally enough, about what the game actually is.  I’ll quote that one:

PlanetSide Arena is a massive-scale, match-based, scif-fi arena shooter that reintroduces players to the revolutionary PlanetSide Franchise – the record-breaking MMOFPS that redefined all-out planetary warfare. PlanetSide Arena features class-based combat, combined arms gameplay, compelling team tactics, and a deep tech tree with weapon mods and in-game progression.

It is still a match based shooter.  The various modes mentioned back in December 2018 have gone missing, and when you click on the link in the FAQ that mentions modes, it just directs you back to the page with the above graphic.

The graphic itself gives few details, aside from the emphasis on teams (3 people), squads (12 people) and outfits (your space shooter guild).

What is coming in September is Window only… so no more PlayStation 4 simultaneous launch… and in Early Access mode, available via Steam.  Given Daybreak’s Early Access history, that probably means a rough alpha with obvious missing features coming at you.  Pay to help test.

Daybreak will have achieved their “summer” launch window… minus the PlayStation 4 part… rolling in just four days before the calendar maker’s official end of summer in the northern hemisphere, though that assumes you consider Early Access a launch.  I am unconvinced.  But I am sure we’ll hear about it if the game is totally broken.

And the Daybreak story goes on.