Tag Archives: Rambling Reminiscences

Return to the Land of the Ten Dollar Horse

In my fantasy MMORPG malaise I have been sifting through various options looking for something that might interest me.  The usual round of options all seem worn out for me for now and I have been reluctant to dive into anything new that requires some money up front as I have sought something to spark some interest.

And then the other day one of my co-workers was talking about how he and his wife had gone back to playing Runes of Magic and I started thinking about that.

Runes of Magic was kind of a big deal when it launched eight years back.

Happy Anniversary

The game was an Asian MMORPG title built in the style of the then current and popular Western model.  Up until then there had been a pretty solid divide between East and West when it came to MMORPG design.  Asian games were were pretty but very grindy while the West favored… well… the theme park aesthetic where quests led you through the game.

The basic plan was to make an Asian WoW.

But just to throw a twist into things, it was also going to be a free to play in a sea of subscription model MMORPGs.  At the time free to play wasn’t a big deal, and the selection of titles in that zone tended to be kids games like Toontown Online, Club Pengiun, or Habbo Hotel, browser games like Maple Story or RuneScape, or Asian titles that failed to crack the western market.  The big story for free to play was probably Anarchy Online, which converted to that model back in 2004, something that likely saved the game.

The Runes of Magic launch pre-dates a lot of what we now sort of assume as general knowledge about the who free to play business model.  The conversion and subsequent success of Dungeons & Dragons Online was still in the future.  Zynga hadn’t yet finished ripping off Happy Farm to launch FarmVille, a game that opened the discussion about things like cash shops, whales, exploitative design, and dubious business practices.

Anyway, Runes of Magic hove into view a little over eight years back and I was there to witness the launch.  It really felt an Asian fueled World of Warcraft knock-off back then, which I took to be a good thing.  As the Alganon development team would later claim after nicking the WoW UI almost pixel for pixel, if you’re going to copy WoW, you might as well not be shy about it.  That was a plus or a minus, depending on your point of view.

And then there was the cash shop, from which the ten dollar horse controversy arose.  That got our corner of the web buzzing for a bit about what should be store bought and what should be earned in something of the opening shot of the cash shop rage wars to come.  And then about a year later Blizzard put out the $25 greed steed and RoM didn’t look so bad.  Today just about everybody is selling mounts.

As for playing Runes of Magic, I tinkered a bit with it at launch, then got the instance group to come try it for a couple weeks, after which it sort of faded.  I remember seeing the publishers at at GDC in San Francisco one year, where they were talking about a web client version of the game, something that I don’t recall ever going anywhere, but otherwise my interest in the game didn’t stick and I removed it from the list of games I keep track of about five years back.

And there things stayed until my co-worker mentioned the game, which set off something of the reverie in my brain which I just disgorged above into the text editor.  So I asked him how the game was going these days and he said that not a lot had changed.  The developers, Frogstar, adds new content now and then, but for the most part have left the game itself coast as it was back in 2009.

This piqued my interest.  Ever the nostalgia buff… I still hold out hope against hope that some day Blizzard will see its way to rolling up a retro vanilla WoW experience… I decided to go give it a try.

Thanks to the fact that I still use pretty much the same set of email addresses I did back then, I was even able to recover my account.  I did that, reset the password, then reset the cash shop password, and set about getting things downloaded.  The main packages wants 15GB, which would have seemed like a lot back in the day, but which barely merits consideration now that I have multiple terabytes of hard drive space and a 75Mbit internet connection. (Remember back when having a T1 connection was a big deal?  Now I have the effective equivalent of 48 T1s piped into our home.  We live in the future.)

Select to download

The system requirements still list Windows XP.  After the install ran, the game had to patch.  My co-worker was starting to seem spot on about nothing changing, as the patcher for the game is still the remorseless always on top of every damn thing window it was back at launch.

Reading something? Let me just get in the way!

Fortunately, the current install package seemed to be reasonably up to date, so there was just a couple minutes of patcher intrusion before it wrapped up.

Once downloaded and installed I… had to figure out how to launch the game.  It didn’t bother installing a short cut on the start menu, preferring to put something on the desktop in the old school fashion.  It was a short cut to a launcher, which in turn let you launch another launcher, which finally let you launch the game.  After launching and logging in I hit the server select menu and was surprised to see the game still listed two characters for me.

Server selection

However, that number was just the ghost of same ancient data in a database table, because when I got to the character selection menu there were no characters there.  I would have to start from scratch… which was probably a good thing after at least seven years away from the game.  So on to new character creation and all of its sliders.

New character creation

Character creation lets you select from three races and a series of classes, some of which are race specific.  Only humans can be knights or priests, only elves can be druids or wardens, and only dwarves can be so damn ugly… erm… only dwarves can be warlocks and champions… oh, and they can be priests too, so forget what I said about humans only being priests.  Anyway, there is a matrix of race class combinations.

Customization is available through the many sliders which mostly control how thick a given body part looks.  Of note is the “breasts” slider, which does nothing for males but which controls cup size for females.  Probably the most distinctive thing you is choose a hair style and color.  That is about all that stands out so far as I can tell.  I considered going with a warrior modeled somewhat on that guy from the Diet Dr. Pepper commercial.

Lil’ Sweet says Hello!

I decided that maybe pink wasn’t the right hair color.  But there is a whole CMYK color wheel there of choices if you want a specific shade.  I decided to go back to blonde, though I left him otherwise the same.

And then it was in to the game.  But that is the topic of the next post.

A Decade on the Road to Mordor

Ten years ago today Lord of the Rings Online officially went live.

Happy Anniversary

LOTRO was one of the first MMORPGs to go through beta and launch while I was blogging, and certainly the first one I jumped into at launch during the reign of the blog. (I was watching Vanguard during beta as well, but was dissuaded by my experiences there.)  One of my earliest posts was a response to the idea of such a game trying to tell the story of the books.

Yahoo Headline 2007, before Yahoo became malware

The path for LOTRO from beta through launch and to today has been somewhat symbolic of the post-World of Warcraft era for MMORPGs.  It was driven along initially on the wave of WoW-subscription number induced euphoria, where the sky seemed to be the limit.

Then there was launch and the rush to play and the problem of the game simultaneously being too much and not enough like WoW.  There were some fun little quirky features, like titles you could earn for actions… though the fact that those were secret (or at least not documented or traceable anywhere in the UI) meant most players never knew about them.  It is hard to sell yourself as different when you hide things I suppose, and a decade later I don’t think I have a single one of those special titles yet.

Meanwhile, for those who rushed ahead, there was bemusement as content fell off a good ten levels before the cap.  Subscriptions fell off, complaints mounted, changes and updates went in, and Turbine went forward with plans for an expansion; The Mines of Moria.  That was an amazing and ambitious expansion.  I pre-ordered that as well back in 2008, though I did not actually get into the content for a few years and it was several years after that before I was out of the far side of those caverns.

LOTRO was also a leader in the conversion to a free to play model citing a huge boost in players and revenue to accompany the change.  They were also ahead of the curve when it came to the grim reality of such conversions.  Player expectations as to what “free” really means can be harsh, that initial surge of new players never lasts, and once you start down the cash shop path, forever will it dominate your destiny and development time.

More expansions came and again Turbine was in the lead with pre-orders and special editions with cosmetic fluff thrown in to entice more money out of players.  But eventually expansions stopped and all revenue focus went into the cash shop and new items and new currencies showed up.

Then they began to fall behind the curve of the industry.  They were not too late to the game with insta-level boosts, but they failed to grasp that people want such boost to get to the latest content, the NEW stuff.  Turbine thought boosting people to the first expansion and level 50 was enough.  That was a worst of all possibilities idea for me.  Moria was nowhere near the current content and the first 50 levels that get you there are some of the best, most charming, most memorable content in the game.  Skipping The Shire and Bree and the Forsaken Inn and Weathertop and Rivendell and the beautiful scenery of Middle-earth to head down into a cave for ten levels seems like insanity.

Eventually they figured that out and now you get jumped to Rohan with your insta-level boost, but I remain dubious about the idea as a general plan.  A seasoned player advancing an alt might take full advantage of the jump, but a new player is likely to be out of their depth.

And then there was the spin-off, where LOTRO and its sister, Dungeons & Dragons Online were folded into their own company by Warner.  Spinning of MMORPG divisions has been a thing, from Daybreak Games and its Norrathian legacy to Broadsword Games which keeps Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot going.

It has been a strange trip these last ten years.

But all of that was in the future back in April of 2007.  Ten years ago today I was in Middle-earth playing the game, having pre-ordered it.  That was back when pre-ordering could be done by buying a pre-order box off the shelf at Fry’s.  I still had to follow up and buy a retail box, but the pre-order box got me a head start and kept my account active for a while until I got the real game key.

And then, of course, there was the choice to be made as to which founder’s bonus to take.

Founders Choices

I went with the $199 lifetime subscription over the $9.99 reduced monthly subscription price which, looking back over a decade and more of MMORPG time, was probably the most sound investment I have ever made.  I have received more value for that money than I ever expected.

At the eight year anniversary I mocked the game a bit, pointing out that even by the longest measure… Frodo is warned by Gandalf to leave the Shire through to Bilbo and Frodo departing from the Grey Havens… the events of end of the Third Age in Middle-earth being reproduced in the game only took three and a half years.

At that point Minis Tirith was on the horizon still.  Two years later… again, more time than it took Frodo to get from the Shire to Mount Doom… and Mordor is in sight.  Update 20 brings players to the battle of the Black Gate.

Gandalf blazing in bleached white

I read about that and the tenth anniversary events and such and I feel like I should log in and take a look.  But then I read about the mix of joy and frustration with the anniversary events and remember that I am, as always, stuck behind several layers of content and I pass on to something else.

Look, could you just point me towards Mordor? I’m a bit behind.

This is ever the problem with MMORPGs that evolve through expansions and updates and levels and rigid layers of content.  I think I have patched up a few times since I opted for the Blessing of the Valar level boost, but every time I log in I look in my bags and cannot figure out what half the stuff in there is (the icons haven’t gotten any clearer in ten years while my eyesight has gotten worse) and the legendary weapon that the boost handed me… which isn’t ready to use, you have to find a vendor and go through some gyrations to make it work… and I wonder if I might just be better off rolling up yet another new character and playing through the first 30-40 levels yet again.  I think I must be close to 20 characters past level 30 at this point.

But Middle-earth yet abides, waiting for my return.  Some day that ring will be tossed into Mount Doom.  Of course, then we will have to get back to the Shire.  The tale isn’t done until the Shire has been scoured.

Leaving EVE Vegas

If you follow my Twitter feed at all… and hell, it is there on the side bar down towards the bottom, so no excuse even if you don’t… you probably figured out that I went to EVE Vegas this past weekend.

EVE Vegas Baby!

EVE Vegas Baby!

My wife and I actually flew in Thursday afternoon to have a bit of time for ourselves in Vegas before events started to take their course.  And then, suddenly it was Sunday evening and I was in a cab to the airport and the whole thing was winding down.

So, in order to try and organize my thoughts, possibly for future posts, I am going to go over some highlights of the whole thing.  This is more stream of consciousness than any attempt at a strict summary of things.

Keynote

The EVE Vegas Keynote was the big reveal, the introduction to the upcoming features, some of which had been talked about before, like the upcoming structures, and some new ones, like the capital ship rework.  Both of those appeared to be slated for the Citadel expansion in the spring.

Coming Spring 2016

Coming Spring 2016

There were also some smaller items, coming sooner, such as the new ice mining frigate. the endurance, and new hit effects for ships.  For the latter, some shield hit effects were shown,  and they look really cool. (They start at about 50:30 in the keynote video on YouTube.)

There are also changes coming to the camera.  You will be able to move the camera with being focused on a ship or other in-space object and you’ll be able to focus on things more than 100km away.  There is also a first person mode in the works.

Then there were media and goodies.  CCP had stuff for sale at the convention and announced that some items would be available before Christmas through the site Think Geek.  There was a mention of Andrew Groen’s upcoming Empires of EVE book that so many of us pledged for in the Kickstarter way back when, and a new initiative between The Mittani.com media and the author Jeff Edwards to create a pilot’s view telling of the 2013 war in Fountain. (For those who need a reminder, I have my own timeline of the war.)

Then CCP Seagull finished up by thanking us all for coming, said she would see us at the pub crawl, waved, and walked off stage.  The audience then, almost as one, stood up to leave… at which point somebody came out to remind us that the EVE Valkyrie keynote was up next and we should all leave.  I stayed for that… though I cannot recall a single thing… but most people wandered off.  Sucks to be the poor relation.

Anyway, unlike Noizy, I came out of the keynote quite upbeat.  Yes, that was in part because nearly every game related item they spoke of involved null sec, though I would point out that capital ships are a thing in low and WH space, while citadels will be everywhere… except Thera… which is where Noizy lives, so I guess I can see his point of view.

Social

A mistake on my part was to arrive in Vegas without any plan to meet up with anybody.  Going to a convention where I know nobody personally and, thus, have little or no chance of actually recognizing anybody and being somebody who can find it difficult to approach and start speaking to strangers, especially if they are already in a group and talking… well, not an optimum scenario.

Still, I muddled through, largely thanks to my wife, who was a sales rep for years and is the type who makes lifelong friends in the line at the grocery store.  Of course, there were some false starts.

In line for badge pickup… because a couple hundred of us decided that we needed to pick up our badges right at 11am when registration opened… I resolved to speak to the people around me in line.  So I turned to the two guys behind me who were chatting and said that we were all obviously EVE players and asked what part of the game they played in.

And they said that no, they did not actually play EVE.  Their boss plays EVE and he had sent them down to collect his pass.  This is who I end up standing next to.

Though it wasn’t too bad.  They were game devs and they had both tried EVE at some point.  They worked on the game Gray Goo, which is available on Steam.  So we talked about video game industry stuff, the price of living in Vegas, and where to find alcohol cheaper than the cash bar that was setup near the registration desk.  My wife had them covered on that front. a conversation that spilled over to the people in front of us.

An extra shot is just $2.00 more, making them reasonably potent

An extra shot is just $2.00 more, making them reasonably potent

Soon several people had very large beverages in tow.

I did end up talking to some other people in line, including fellow Reaver Victor Fel.  But I was not particularly social.  I spent a lot of time at sessions and such sitting by myself.

Dinner Friends

I did however, manage to find some people to hang out with.  Thanks to the fact that Gabby uses an actual picture of herself for her Twitter profile, so I was able to spot her at breakfast in the PBR Rock Bar. (Which, by the way, serves the most excellent tater tots as a side with many of their breakfast items.  This was the only place we ate at twice.)  Later we caught up with her and some of her fellow corp mates from Signal Cartel, the people who run the EVE-Scout site that is so near and dear to the hearts of many space travelers.

Rather than go on the pub crawl, which was sold out in addition to likely being beyond my ability to handle, my wife and I joined Signal Cartel for a bit of Las Vegas exploration.  We were headed to Lotus of Siam, a place alleged to be the best Thai restaurant in the US.  I am not sure who says this, but that was the story and we were willing to run with it.

There were nine of us with a vague idea as to were the place might be at the cab stand.  But we figured how could a Vegas cab drive NOT know where the best Thai restaurant is.

We ended up split across three cabs.  The guy at the cab stand knew where we were headed and gave the driver the cross streets to head to, but before we got to the street in front of the hotel, the driver had lost all of that and was asking where we were going.

Pro tip: Short term memory is a very important trait for a cab driver.

We told him what the guy at the cab stand said and he started off in what we assumed to be the right direction, burning down the road in that little cab like he had an extremely lucrative fare to pick up after he dropped us off.  At one point, when he was weaving in and out of lanes and thrashing that poor little motor for a bit more speed, my wife dryly asked what sort of race car he was driving.  The driver, bereft of both short term memory and a sense of irony explained that it was a Scion xB and a very reliable car.

We did manage to arrive at the destination, though not before the drive had to pull out his Android phone, get Google maps running, and have my wife say the name of the restaurant so that he could get directions again.  I was a bit worried, as from the street side the place looked like it might be abandoned.  But the parking lot side of the building showed it to be open for business.  Gabby paid for the cab and, though I bought her a beer, I still owe her some money from that ride.  Next Vegas?

Of course, with nine of us showing up on a Friday night, there was something of a wait.  Fortunately they had a huge bar area… large enough that one might wonder which that wasn’t a dining area… where we were able to push some tables together and sit around and talk for a bit.  In a stroke of luck, Johnny Splunk brought along his wife Jamie who, like my wife, doesn’t play EVE, so they were able to have a non-video game conversation at one end of the table while the rest of us recounted tales of internet spaceships.

Eventually we were dragged from our reverie and had some dinner.  It was decent Thai food, but no better than the Thai place I go to near our house, so it seems like there is a very fine line separating “best” and “runner up” in the whole Thai restaurant category.

Sitting at Dinner

Sitting at Dinner

I like this picture because due to the way we present ourselves and my own short term memory issues (I could never be a cab driver or a waiter, I forgot stuff in two seconds) this is the only common baseline I have for everybody’s name.  I know some of their real names, I know some of their in-game names, for those who blog I know their blogger handles, but Twitter is the only place where I can identify almost everybody.

Anyway, a great time was had and a few of us decided to walk over to the Las Vegas monorail for the trip back to the hotel.  This involved a stretch through a pretty sketchy neighborhood… and, as always, everything in Vegas seems closer than it actually is… but we arrived safely and took a ride on the rail.

The Party

The party at the Chateau club at the Paris Hotel was quite a thing.  We were running late but felt we had best eat BEFORE starting in on the drinking.  As there were no snacks or hors d’oeuvres at the party, just free alcohol, that turned out to be a good plan.  My wife and I hung out with the Signal Cartel team for a bit and then circulated some.

EVE Vegas Party Time

EVE Vegas Party Time

We ended up talking to some smaller groups of people around the edge of the party.  The stratification seemed to be large groups of null sec players clumped about and smaller packs of low sec and wormhole pilots a bit further out.  I am sure this says something about the social structure of EVE Online.

We sat with a couple of low sec pilots from Edmonton for a bit, and my wife got to show her hockey chops as the Oilers now have Todd McClellan as their coach after he was cut by our local team, the Sharks.  We also hung out for a bit with a Provi bloc pilot who, when he found out I was in TNT, wanted to know where the hell we went during the Provi invasion.  He lives in one of the constellation that TNT was supposed to attack, but then we got called back to defend UMI-KK against MOA.

We also saw this guy

We also saw this guy

We stayed past the 11pm mark, at which point the EVE players got pushed over into a roped off section of the club to keep us away from the high rollers.  I suspect we did not stay long enough for such high rollers to show up however, as I didn’t see anybody ordering thousand dollar magnums of champagne from the menus they laid out.

Eventually we decided to call it a night, at which point we were faced with the trial of getting out of the club.  There are stairs, but that is an emergency exit only.  You have to line up for an elevator… and then walk a ways to line up for another elevator… before you are back in the casino.  This may have been the only club I have ever seen that had a line as long to get out as to get in.

EVE Valkyrie

During a lull I spotted a short line for the demo and queued up for a try.

I was happy to find that the VR headset would fit on my own fat head, something that is more of a problem than you might think.  When the game came up I immediately started moving my head around to test the whole VR aspect, which prompted the person from CCP to ask if things were okay.

Fortunately I was given a pretty good briefing on the controls.  How missiles work was explained correctly, which I gather from talking to some other people, was not always the case, so I was able to blow some stuff up.  The Gatling gun was more problematic.  I *think* I hit some things with it, but aiming was odd.

Mostly I was just impressed with being in the VR space environment and seeing the big ships.  I could see CCP giving their new first person camera view a VR option.  But I didn’t walk away dying to get a VR headset.  15 year old me would have had to be dragged away from the game, but current me is a bit more jaded.  At least I didn’t feel any motion sickness.

Cosplay

My wife made an Interbus Jacket for me, which is the official Reavers jacket.

Jacketpals unite

Jacketpals unite

It was crafted from the finest materials the Minmatar Republic could provide… which is to say that it was done up largely with duct tape.  Not quite my in-game avatar come to life, but what can you do?

Wilhelm Arcturus in game

Wilhelm Arcturus in game

However, Reavers were not heavily represented at EVE Vegas, so far as I could tell.  I ran into Viktor Fel, but that was about it.  And not many people outside of Reavers know that we wear this jacket, so I while I got a few compliments, though the comment “We don’t see many Interbus Cosplayers” probably sums up the average reaction.

I was a bit nervous about wearing the jacket.  There is a pretty large impulse to not draw attention in my psyche.  But for the most part people didn’t seem to notice.  When it wouldn’t fit in the luggage for home, I just wore it through the rest of the last day, in the cab, and through both Las Vegas and San Jose airports.  Nobody looked twice.

Still, I did get my moment in this sun, a pose with Maximilian Singularity VI.

Looking into a bright future...

Looking into a bright future…

And, having dressed up as such, I then HAD to buy the Interbus luggage tag that they had for sale.

That yellow matches my duct tape!

That yellow matches my duct tape!

The only other cosplay I can recall seeing was this guy.

Chicken guy

Chicken guy

I had to explain to my wife what a chicken had to do with EVE, though honestly I was stumped for a bit until he let his Fweddit flag fly.  I hear they are recruiting, if you want some fun in Cloud Ring.

Vegas Itself

Las Vegas feels like a very appropriate place to hold an EVE Online convention.  For practical reasons alone it is pretty reasonable.  It is setup for these sorts of events.  It has many distractions.  It has a large and pretty well run airport that handles direct flights from a lot of locations.  People can get there, stay there, and find things to do.

But for all the lights and excitement, it can be as hard of an environment as New Eden.  If you forget for a moment that the place exists to separate you from your money, it will quickly remind you.  I ordered a Jack & Coke and a Vodka Cranberry for myself and my wife at the Heart Bar down in the casino and would have done a spit-take if I had had a drink in my mouth when the bartender laid out the drinks and said it would be $23.50 for the pair.  Plus a tip, you know.

Over at Bellagio I got two scoops of mint chip ice cream and goggled a bit when that came up as $7.50.  That seemed extreme until I ordered a single scoop from a place across the street and it rang up as $6.25.  The Bellagio serving had about four times as much ice cream and seemed like a deal after the other place! (Also, it was very good ice cream.)

And let’s talk about cigarette smoke.  It is always bizarro world odd going to Vegas from California.  It is a short flight, but we’ve been in the process of banning smoking for 30 years.  I don’t think people have been allowed to smoke indoors for the last 20.  So to be in a place where smoking is fine in most every public venue is strange… and painful.  Smoke in the eyes, smoke in your face, the burn in the back of your throat from being around it for a while.  That was why I was buying ice cream, to sooth my throat.

Then there is the reality of Vegas, which includes a lot of people working there… look at all those people in the casino… who are likely priced out of the glamour of the whole thing and live off the strip in a place that was essentially carved out of a desert.

I think Vegas was best summed up by a scene that took place outside of Planet Hollywood on our first day.  A person working for tips… and they are all over the strip… dressed up in a somewhat worn and dirty Hello Kitty costume accosting a pair of tourists who had taken a picture with her (or him, who knows) but hadn’t left a tip.  It was like a Sanrio version of Goodfellas, with Hello Kitty ready to get all, “Fuck you, pay me!”  Put Joe Pesci in that suit and let the camera roll.

Other Bits

I am sure I am forgetting half a hundred other things, but a few items that spring to mind that I want to call out.

Andrew Groen’s presentation about his book The Empires of EVE.  He has a great voice and stage presence and now I want to back the Kickstarter for him reading the audio book version.  He only had 30 minutes on stage, but could have kept us all interested for two hours if he had been given the time.  Really cannot wait for that book to arrive.

CCP Quant’s presentation and the return of the EVE economic newsletter, coming again in November.  Numbers!  We love numbers!

Max Singularity’s NASA session.  The man is passionate about far more than New Eden and gave a moving presentation.

The Broadcast 4 Reps video.  Help your fellow capsuleers when they need it.

A lot of being able to sit down and talk about the game with other EVE Online players.  Noizy and I sat at a table in a quiet area between sessions to talk about the CCP Quant presentation which itself sprawled into other topics.  As interesting as the presentations were and as much fun as the party was, I want more of that.

I’ll mention Signal Cartel again! It was great to meet you guys.  Mynxee was back in the original EVE Blog Pack with her old Life in Low Sec blog back in the day.

And, finally, I have to give a huge shout out to my wife who pretty much made the trip possible.

My wife and I at the party

My wife and I at the party

She put up with the internet spaceship stuff, and still managed to have fun… enough fun that she was already talking about next year.

Now to get back to playing video games.  The irony of such a convention is that I was away from games for four days.

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?