Tag Archive for EQ

The Greatest Thing About EverQuest…

… was that at the time I only knew a couple of people who played it.  So I played on their server and with them, and everyone else, the dozens – even hundreds – of people I met and played with were new.

When I look at new games, I now go to my dozens – even hundreds – of friends and can’t get them all to agree on the same server to play on.  Largely, this is because all of us at one time or another played other games and made new circles of friends that weren’t part of the EQ crowd.  Or even if they were part of the EQ crowd, they weren’t part of the E’ci server crowd.  Maybe they were on Bertoxxulous or The Nameless or Tunare or one of the many other servers, and they have a circle of friends just like we do, and they’d like to play with them and their new friends, only we want their new friends, who are our old friends, to play with us, and we can’t all play on the same server because most of us would just end up in the queue for a few hours.  And so we go to new servers in these new games, and we make new friends, and making the next new game even harder to play with our friends in.

A lot of people (not an alot made of people) make the claims that your first MMO colors your vision of the mechanics of later MMOs.  And while I can’t completely dismiss that, I fully believe that what matters most about your first MMO is that it marks the only time that all your MMO playing friends were all on the same server at the same time.  It’s kind of like High School that way.  People look fondly back on High School not because High School was so great, but because of the people, for good or bad, that High School contained.  Once they leave High School and go off to College and get Jobs and have Kids and join Clubs and all the other things that life brings, it gets hard to reconcile your friends into one group where you can do awesome stuff with all of them, you don’t have to choose and you don’t have to leave anyone out.

When I was playing EQ, the fact is, despite there being many servers to play on, as far as I was concerned, there was only one server.  My server.  As such, it’s no surprise why I advocate so much the single server design philosophy, so that I have the most control possible over playing with who I want when I want and not having arbitrary divisions between us.

The Single Shard

One of the people from over at CCP, the people who brought us EVE Online, has written up An Argument for Single-Sharded Architecture in MMOs.  I fully support this idea.

The main reason I like it is the one thing that irritates me most of most MMOs is when I meet a new person in real life, realize we both play the same game and then realize that we can’t play together unless we a) start over/start new characters or b) one of us pays to move servers and leaves all our other friends behind.  Even the people with whom I played EQ with for many years can’t seem to get themselves on the same server when a new game starts, mostly because thanks to other games they have a couple of different circles of friends, and they want to play with all of them, but when twenty of their friends from WoW want to play on LotRO server X, and twenty of their EQ friends want to play on LotRO server Y, they have to choose.  And that sucks.

On the other hand, in a game like EVE, it is impossible for me to run into another EVE player that I technologically cannot play with (unless they play only on the test server).  All I need to do is warp to them and we play.  Even in Wizard 101 and Free Realms, which technically have multiple play shards, you can switch shards whenever you want and play with anyone you want.

Another reason for my like of a single shard comes to light every time I talk about EQ for very long to other people.  During my time in EQ I played on 4 servers.  My main server was E’Ci and I spent the bulk of my time there.  But I also piddled around on one of the PvP servers (one of the team ones, not the free for all) and one of the RP servers (were I spent most of my time in the bars of Neriak spinning tales for those who would listen – which surprisingly was more than I expected going into it, but unsurprisingly didn’t last long as power gamers flooded the RP server since RPers are much easier to push around and less likely to race to max level thus leaving high end content more available).  I also did time as a guide.  Each server had a distinct personality.  As a guide I was called in to deal with situations that didn’t happen on my main server, E’Ci.  E’Ci had a strong public grouping/raiding system, where other servers were entirely guild controlled.  E’Ci had, at the upper levels, guilds that, for the most part, maintained relations and raid schedules to give everyone a shot rather than fight, where other servers had guilds training each other and swiping raid mobs from each other and camping entire zones for days/weeks on end to monopolize spawns.  When I talk about the game of EverQuest, I’ve come to realize that not everyone played the same game that I did.  But a game like EVE or Wizard 101 or Free Realms or any other unified player base game, my stories are their stories.  If I talk about getting ganked in some system in EVE, I can bet another EVE player will know what I mean.  But when I talk about hanging out in the East Commons tunnel looking for deals back in the day, some people will say, “Don’t you mean Greater Faydark?” or “You mean the North Freeport bank, right?” or “North Karana was better.” because not every server evolved exactly the same locations for community gatherings.  But in EVE, the best place for you to go to buy stuff is the best place that everyone goes to buy stuff.

I hope more games take the single-shard design route.  Multiple servers were fine back in the EQ days when there wasn’t really much competition, but these days, even if I went back to EQ I’d have to choose which friends to play with since I’ve got friends on two or three different servers.  When I look at new games, my friends and I usually try to get on the same server, but eventually some of them vanish to other servers to play with other groups.  For me, this usually ends up with me losing interest in the game and quitting because I can’t play with all of my friends.

Are you having fun?

The title of this post is often the measure people use to determine if an MMO is doing things right.  But it is a horrible measure.

I could be playing World of Warcraft right now.  And I would be having fun doing it.  I enjoyed playing the game.  I liked running in to town and getting some quests and then running out of town to polish them off.  The wife and I liked playing together, and we built our characters so that we could do so.  However, despite that, I became acutely aware that the one thing I love most about MMOs was missing in my WoW time and that was community.

Having come from loving EQ where chatting was the norm, where I would regularly simultaneously hold conversations in group, guild, shout, ooc, and a handful of private tells, going to a game where chatting was a hurdle, where the game was “active” enough that my hands didn’t have the time to chat unless I stopped playing, and the world advancing to voice chat (which I loathe because I cannot simultaneously chat in as many areas as I can text chat, I get locked in to one server where I can’t just say “Hi!” to a random stranger) lead to a fairly silent gaming experience.  Without community, without other people, WoW, like EQ, is actually a really simple and sort of soulless game.

So, realizing this, I decided to stop paying Blizzard for a game I was enjoying but was lacking features I desired.  And by doing this, I joined the minority.  The fact is, most people would prefer to pay for a game they find moderately satisfying than to save their money, play nothing, and wait for a game that fits better to come along.

11 million people can’t be wrong.

That’s the battle cry of people justifying why WoW is a great game even if it isn’t exactly the game they want to play.  They’ll also tell you that if enough people want change then change will happen.  Only, it’s not that easy.

Would you like to play a classless levelless MMO set in a zombie apocalypse?  I would.  However, I can’t.  I want change, and it is possible that there are 40 million people in the world who would like to play the same game, but we can’t until someone builds it.  No amount of demanding is going to get Blizzard to drop classes or levels from WoW, or to replace all the monsters with zombies.  Nor get Sony to change EQ2, or even to get the Fallen Earth folks to re-envision their game.  Once a game is built, change within that game is limited.

In conjunction with the video I posted on Monday, I’ve come to realize that most MMOs are going through the motions.  They copy WoW and make minor changes in an attempt to lure away people and maybe become the new king of the hill.  Even games that strive to be different from WoW still end up cloning their style of combat (the kind that’s too active for community to exist unless the players stop playing to chat) and becoming a game that I can have fun playing but is still missing what I want most from games.

I don’t think the industry needs to be wiped clean like Wolfshead, but it has become clear that I need to seek out more games, perhaps smaller games, and find designs that aren’t following the WoW path to money hats in order to find the game I really want to play.  I’m open to suggestions…

The Innovation Apocalypse

Everyone these days seems to be talking about innovation (every letter is a link there).  And by innovation they mean games doing something “new”.

I’ve made a few comments around, but there is one thing I want to post about here that I feel is important.  I’ve touched on it before, at the end of this post.  MMOs are a different beast that other forms of games.

Left 4 Dead 2 made some game play changes from the Left 4 Dead model.  They added melee weapons, and the new boss infected shake up how you have to play, and the new “hordes until you turn them off” events instead of just the “hordes for X minutes/waves” ones change everything.  However, if you hate the changes, all you need to do is put your old Left 4 Dead disc and play.  The original game is still there.

When EverQuest launched, it had flaws.  Parts were unfinished and some things just didn’t work.  They released patches to fix those, and over the course of the first few expansions they expanded the game with new races, classes, item slots, abilities, and more.  But, the underlying game, the way in which you played, really didn’t change.  That came later.  If you were to play EverQuest now, you’d find it plays very differently from the original game.  With the new quest/task system that mimics WoW’s abundance of quests as opposed to EQ’s original more in-depth longer quests, mercenaries, more instancing, and other bits and pieces, it just isn’t the same.  The old game still does exist on the EQMac server, but if you are on a PC and want to play the old EverQuest, you can’t.

Even World of Warcraft is not immune.  The game as it exists now doesn’t play exactly the same as it did in the past.  The faster leveling, the LFG tool for instance cross-server groups, the changes in raid designs.   If you want to play the old WoW, you can’t, you have to play the WoW that exists now.  The new Cataclysm expansion will put an end to the old game permanently as those zones won’t even exist in their original form anymore.

This is what I mean by the title, The Innovation Apocalypse.  MMOs are expensive to make and expensive to run, and companies don’t want to see their game dwindle to a hardcore fan base and be faced with launching a sequel.  EQ did that with EQII and initially EQII was a flop.  They’ve recovered somewhat, and they have continued evolving EQ (up to expansion number 16 now).  They are looking at EQIII (which might be referred to as EverQuest Next), but don’t expect it to be an iteration of the existing model – it will probably be a complete reinvention.  If you are a fan of EQII, you should be thrilled with the idea of EQIII, because it means that all the new ideas are headed that way and are likely not to be implemented in EQII for a while yet.  But that may just be a matter of time.  Many of EQ’s more drastic elements didn’t come until after WoW and EQII were out.  Someday, the EQII that you love may be gone as well.

Personally, I’m all for innovation in new games.  But please don’t innovate in the game I’m already playing and enjoying.  It is heartbreaking when a game you love ignores you and is ruined in its chase of a new lover.

A Difference In Gaming

Occasionally, the group of us who played on the E’ci server in EverQuest will get to waxing rhapsodic about the “good old days” and how EQ was somehow “better” than more current games.  Usually discussions like these can be dismissed as a “first love” problem, where the game that got you in to MMOs it always remembered better than it was and nothing later can give you that same rush.  But, we’ve had these discussions often enough that most of the first love elements have begun to drift away and we’ve gotten more into specifics of design and approaches to game elements that were “better” back in EQ than the direction that later games went with it.

I’ve often tried to put my finger on exactly what the difference is between EverQuest and World of Warcraft, but I always seem to fall short.  This most recent time around though, I think I have hit upon a comparison that really does encapsulate the differences between the two games and makes clear which game a person might prefer based on their tastes.  So here goes…

EverQuest was like going camping or going on a road trip, while World of Warcraft was like a theme park.

In EQ, you were dropped in the world, there wasn’t much lore or story before that and you wandered around chatting with NPCs and fighting monsters.  There were quests, but often they required some reading and figuring out, and they’d take days, weeks or even months to complete.  You sort of did whatever you wanted.  At first, there was nothing in the way of tiers, that came later, and in the very beginning there wasn’t even any level gating.  When the Plane of Fear first opened there was no level 46 restriction.  I saw my first dragon raid when I was level 30, though I died quick and wasn’t itching to get back until I had more levels under my belt.  And there were people… like when camping there are other sites or on a road trip when you stop at diners and other places… and if you kept going back to the same places, you’d run into the same people, and if you all wanted to do the same stuff at the same time, you had to share.

WoW, on the other hand popped you into the world staring at an NPC with a giant punctuation mark floating over its head.  From that first moment you are following the designated paths, doing the designated tasks, and if you leave the path, you’d often find there is nothing there.  (Not always, sometimes you find some little treasure trove of mini quests or a random NPC in a hut put there on a lark by some developer.)  You have to be this high to ride this ride, and everyone gets a turn.

For me, every time I have ever gone camping or gone on a road trip, they made memories that stuck.  If this were that sort of post, I’d regale you with the story of going camping with the Cub Scouts and a few of us wandered off and found houses, and there was this girl undressing in the upstairs window… There is a lot more to that story than just some boys almost seeing their first real live boob, and maybe I’ll tell it some day, but the point is that I remember it.  And I remember EQ, because all the choices were mine and I went anywhere I wanted, and even when the game did point me in a particular direction it still felt like it was my choice.  When I go to Six Flags or some other theme park, I might remember the people I went with, or a general feeling of how I felt on certain rides, but lots of the details are gone.  WoW feels like this.  I remember the first time I entered the Plane of Knowledge in EQ (and that is years after the game launched) and what I did and who I was with as we explored, but the details of the day I entered the Burning Crusade or started my Blood Elf?  Gone.  Mostly from WoW I remember going from punctuation to punctuation, walking into towns and seeing a sea of punctuation which meant I would be busy, but very few of those punctuations stick out.  But from EQ, I recall details of days sitting in the Plane of Storms or The Overthere, pulling and grinding mobs, and chatting with people, and leading a group into Kaesora or the City of Mist or Kedge Keep, running from Qeynos to Freeport.  I know I led groups into the Scarlet Monastery, but for the life of me I can’t pluck out any details of what we did there beyond “we completed some quests”.  I went to the Deadmines and plenty of other places, but I don’t recall much of what we did.

Of course, not everyone is like me.  There are those who love and remember theme parks the way that I remember camping and road trips.  People for whom EQ was a neverending grindfest of wall sitting that blurs together, while WoW was a carnival of instances with their favorite group of friends and they can tell you stories about every one.  But it boils down, I think, to the difference between camping and theme parks.  When you go camping you have to make your own fun, but when you go to a theme park someone has designed the fun for you.  EQ more easily let you do what you wanted (even if it was boring and sucked), while WoW had its fun laid out for you, and its up to each player to know what sort of experience they are looking for.

I wish more games were like camping.

Niches and Peaks

A few days ago over at Kill Ten Rats, Suzina put up a post about Niche MMOs.  It sparked a bit of discussion, and I even threw in a comment, and I just felt it was an idea I wanted to put here and maybe expand on a little.

The fact is, everything starts as a niche.  The first MUD was a niche to the uses of the Internet that existed at the time (hell, MMOs today are still a niche of the overall gaming market, and games are a niche of the entertainment industry, I’m pretty sure books and movies outsell games – for now).  Every iteration of what we would come to call MMOs evolved, taking what came before and tried to improve it.  From MUDs to UO to EQ to WoW (and before anyone gets angry that I left out their favorite game in there, I’m being short on purpose, I realize there are tons of games that fit), each game wanted to be better than the last, and with a few exceptions the one thing most MMOs had in common was a fantasy setting.  There are lots of companies out there that have seen WoW, seen WoW’s numbers, and decided they’d like to be WoW.  But trying to out-WoW WoW is a losing proposition.  If you spend $100 million on a fantasy game and expect to get millions of subscribers, you are going to be disappointed (and probably broke).  In the post WoW fantasy genre, the best you can really hope for is a niche game that fills a need that WoW doesn’t and hold enough players to make a profit.  If you take a look at Lord of the Rings Online, they aren’t trying to beat WoW, but they did take a number of lessons from WoW and then said “What if we built a fantasy game on a well known intellectual property and kept the story content high?”  If you’d like to play a fantasy MMO with heavy story, LotRO is your game.  EQ2 is over in their corner nurturing their niche too.  Even EQ is holding on.  WAR is in the process of recovering, slapped with the realization they didn’t out-WoW WoW on launch.  AoC is in the same boat with WAR.  And since WoW is still climbing, still putting out expansions that expand the player base, its not yet time for someone to take over the crown yet.  WoW, being as successful as it is, needs to falter before that.  In the meantime, the fantasy genre is dead except in the niches.

But fantasy isn’t the only game in town.  EVE Online has been trucking along in the Science Fiction arena for a while, growing slowly and steadily.  If I had to define EVE I’d classify it as the “UO of the Ship-based Sci-Fi genre”.  Right now there are a few new Ship-based Sci-Fi games set to hit the market.  Black Prophecy and Jumpgate Evolution are the two big ones, with Star Trek Online taking a middle ground with both ships and ground game (hopefully they won’t fall into the same pit that Pirates of the Burning Sea did), and I suspect Star Wars: The Old Republic might have some space ships in it (but I also suspect the game will heavily favor the ground based side).  Assuming none of these games screw up too badly, one of them might be the EQ of the genre, breaking open the market.  If that happens, in about five years we’ll probably have a WoW-sized success in the Sci-Fi MMO market (maybe Stargate Worlds will recover enough to make a showing, but I think that might be just wishful thinking on my part), at which point Sci-Fi will be in the same boat that fantasy is currently: one clear “winner” with everyone else either failing or nurturing their niche of the genre.

My thoughts on this aren’t completely pulled out of thin air… just look at other entertainment sectors.  In movies, the out of left field blockbuster doesn’t really happen often.  Usually a blockbluster is preceded by several failed attempts, minor and moderate successes before landing the perfect storm of funding, story, directing and acting to blow the lid off.  After a blockbuster explodes, movies and games experience the same effect: attraction.  Once the market showed that people would pay to see a well done movie about comic book superheroes, all the sudden you had all the big name directors, writers, actors and movie producers looking to cash in.  The difference is that movies leave the theater, they last anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours, and its easy to watch a bunch of movies, a different one every weekend.  In MMOs, every game is like an extended run film of 50 or 60 years ago.  Nowadays, new movies open at the multiplex every weekend, and there are 24 screens, but “back in the day” people went to see Gone With The Wind over and over, and the theaters (which often had only 1 screen, maybe 2) kept it because it made money.  A new movie had to prove it was worth getting rid of a money maker.  That’s what the MMO market is like.  You can’t just release a game and expect people to come running.  The majority of people will only subscribe to one game at a time over the long term, with two subscriptions overlapping as they decide which one to keep.  They might buy your box and use your first “free” month, but you have 30 days to convince them not to go back to their other game, the one they’ve already invested time into, the one they’ve already had fun playing.  In 30 days you have to prove to them that they need to subscribe to your game, and you need to prove to them that if it comes down to a choice they should cancel their other accounts and not your game.

The Free-to-Play model is working to change this.  With a F2P MMO, you only need to convince people to keep your game installed and come back from time to time, and maybe throw a few bucks your way every now and then.  Sure, you’d like for them to dump money in, but (hopefully) your budget and business model is actually designed around a minority of players doing that, with the majority spending nothing or spending rarely.  It remains to be seen if this model with be a success and if it will have a profound effect on the subscription based gaming sector, or just another niche outside of tween-based casual game social spaces.

Anyway, at this point I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop.

Encouraged Grouping

There was an article over on Massively, and then Cuppy wrote about it, and it got me to thinking, so I figured I’d chime in…

The first thing to deal with is that games, especially MMOs, are a business just like any other.  And like every business they are very trend driven.  If one company has success with something, expect other companies to follow it, because, in their thinking, that way lies success.  You see it in movies fairly clearly.  One superhero movie does well and suddenly the market is flooded with superhero movies.  If next year a gritty noir cop film were to rake in a $60 million opening weekend, you could expect to see a few more of them the year after.  Books are another place this is obvious.  How many young adult targeted books about child/teen heroes battling evil existed prior to the success of Harry Potter?  How many after?  Bookstores practically have entire aisles of them.

EQ encouraged grouping.  I like to say encouraged rather than forced because despite what some people will tell you every single class in EQ could solo… many of them were just horrible at it.  Grouping, then, felt forced because a bunch of people who couldn’t solo effectively could overcome that and gain much better advancement by grouping together.  Because grouping was so much better than solo for the majority of classes, people say it is “forced”.  Semantics.  In any event, it worked well for EQ.  Grouping, forced or encouraged, fostered communities.  Players built friends lists and joined guilds, they frequented the same zones to be with the same people, they followed those people to new zones.  Because of this, the games that came shortly after all tried to encourage grouping.  EQ was successful, and that way lies success.

WoW came along and said people didn’t need to group.  Every class can solo, and often times they solo more effectively than grouping (because solo you don’t have to worry about stupid people invading your group and messing you up).  And it was more successful.  So, that way now lies success.  Most of the games since, and most of the ones coming down the pipe all allow for rewarding solo play.  In fact, many of these games, through experience split and bonus structures, and loot sharing actually discourages grouping.  Why split exp and loot with random strangers when you can just solo the content and keep it all yourself?  Of course, they still do encourage some grouping, in instances for groups and raids, but the game leading up to the “end game” doesn’t need, and plays more efficiently without, grouping.

This too will change.

The problem I have with this is that MMOs are not quite like other businesses.  If Nike were to decide to change the way they make shoes and I didn’t like the new shoes, I could still find the old kind, through eBay or even through Nike as they are likely to rebrand the old shoes as “classics” and keep selling them until they become unprofitable.  But when it comes to MMOs, if the new trend moves away from your game model, you only have two options: 1) change your game to follow the new trend, or 2) accept that your game might diminish, plan for that, and begin building a new game.

As I touched on in my post about quests, with EQ they chose option 1.  After the launch of WoW (and some even before, the benefit of being a running game while another game runs an open beta and media blitz) they began implementing changes in their game to capitalize on the new buzz of new success.  At this point, EQ plays more like a WoW skin draped over an EQ bone structure with a bit of reconstructive surgery.  The old EQ is lost (unless you want to play the Mac version, which I would, if I didn’t need a Mac to do it), and that is the game I want to play.

I want a game with encouraged grouping throughout, with quests you have to discover, without maps built in to the game, but no one is developing that game anymore, and even the games that were that game aren’t that game anymore.  I am a niche that is not being serviced.  When people ask what MMOs I play, that is the answer I give them.

Subscription versus RMT

Search around the gaming blogs and you’ll probably find out the opinions of everyone weighing in on SOE putting RMT in the form of their new Station Cash into EQ and EQII.  There have also been announcements that the new Star Wars MMO from Bioware might be a free-to-play/RMT model game.  And SOE does have FreeRealms and The Agency coming.

To be honest… I really don’t care overly much.  About the only problem I have with the whole thing is that I find it weird when a game offers both on the same server.  EQ and EQII both still have a monthly fee that you have to pay to play the game, and now on top of that there is the Station Cash which allows you to buy weapons and armor (nothing great, but definitely a leg up from starting with nothing if you are willing to pay the $10 for it rather than get gear as you play), and experience point bonus potions (where you get use it and for the next 4 or 2 hours you get a 10%, 25% or 50% bonus to your exp earning, again nothing great, but would help you out if you’d rather spend the cash than the time it would take to grind out that exp on your own).  It will be interesting to see where they take it, how much of what kind of items they end up putting on the market, and how much profit they derive from it.  And of course, if they release an expansion that increases the level cap, now that they sell exp bonus potions for cash, will they be inclined to increase the experience curve in new levels making people desire the potions more?  If that is the route they end up going, that’s where I find the problem of using both payments in one game.  So now I am paying my $15 a month to get a game designed to make me want to pay more money…  seems underhanded, if that is the direction this goes.  But for now, its all a “wait and see”.

Another reason I don’t care about which payment model they follow is that neither subscriptions nor microtransactions address the problems that I have with most MMOs.  Let’s take Warhammer Online for example.  I really wanted to play this game, and on some level I still do.  I haven’t played it since beta because my contract job ended and I am out of work.  Its hard to justify paying for a game box and then a monthly fee when I need to be saving every penny until I find work again.  (I am just about the unluckiest person when it comes to unemployment… contract ends right as the economy goes to shit… the last time I was unemployed was in 2001… you remember 2001, right?  That was when the tech field kinda collapsed a bit and then terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center… so, I’m unemployed, sell your stocks and don’t visit any targets of opportunity.)  If I were to play Warhammer Online, sadly, I could only play with half of the people I want to play with.  A bunch of gaming bloggers and readers made up a group called the Casualties of War and picked one server.  I tried to steer my old EQ friends on to the same server, but they ended up somewhere else.  Unfortunately, these two servers were not merged.  So, if I did buy the game, I’d have to pick one group of friends over the other.  This has pretty much been true of every MMO to come out since EQ.  Even with EQ, while I started out on E’Ci with my local friends when I started a new job and found out a couple of people there played EQ too, they were on another server.  Sure, we could still share stories about the game and talk about stuff, but we could never play together… and even more odd, the two servers in question had totally different communities: for example, on E’Ci, player item auctioning was done in the East Commonlands tunnel; on the other server, Greater Faydark.  One server was fairly decent about setting up a raid calendar and people trying not to close people out of content, the other was totally free-for-all.  And while it was interesting to be able to talk about and compare how two groups of people played the same game completely differently, it was overshadowed by not being able to play together without paying fees, leaving behind friends, or playing on two servers (which given the “effort” required to level and raid in EQ, playing on two servers was kind of insane unless you were only serious about one of them).

These days, when a new MMO is launching, I don’t even bother to ask if its a subscription game or a micro transaction game… the first question I always ask is “How many servers do they have?”

Breadcrumbs

As previously mentioned, I’m back in the world of Norrath.  In addition to picking up the reins on Ishiro, I decided to also start up a new character so I could run through the new tutorial and see some of the changes to the game.  So Jhaer the Drakken cleric was born.  At the same time, since I did sign up for the Station Access, I started up EverQuest II to see how the game had changed since I later played.

In EQ, the new tutorial is fairly fantastic.  It does a great job of introducing you to the features of the game, even grouping.  EQ2 is pretty much the same… in fact after going into game I realized how much Sony cribbed the new EQ design off EQ2.  The default UI layout, the quest logs featuring step by step goals.  They are very similar.

After playing both for a couple of days, I came face to face with one of the reasons I tired of World of Warcraft but had not noticed until now: Breadcrumbs.

In game design, this is the idea of quests, tasks and objects that slowly lead a character through content.  In WoW as a human you start in the newbie area and after a few quests you get one to take a note to Goldshire, where you find your next few quests, which eventually lead you to the lumber mill, and then you get lead to Westfall, and so on.  In WoW though, quests are some of the best source of experience and loot in the game.  The quests are the game.  EQ, being that at its core it is still the same game that came out in 1999, is based largely on killing monsters with quests being secondary.  The two don’t always mix together well.

For World of Warcraft and even EverQuest II, since the game was made for these sorts of quests and the quest log design, if you need to collect gnoll scalps, gnolls scalps don’t drop unless you have the quest.  In EverQuest, gnoll scalps drop even if you don’t have the quest, but while under the old style quest system (no quest log, no stage tracker) if you got 10 scalps before being given the quest, you could turn them in anyway, however, under the new system it only counts the scalps if you loot them AFTER getting the quest, so if you have 10 scalps and get a quest to collect 10 scalps, you have to get 10 more.

Over in EverQuest II, I ran into a different problem.  One of my quests asked me to find evidence of the missing soldiers.  After getting fed up looking for this evidence, I went to a spoiler site and they explained I just needed to go to one spot and find the dead soldier body, which would then spawn a defiled soldier that I would have to kill.  So I went back into game and went to the spot, but there was no dead soldier.  I ran around the area for a couple hours killing everything, but no dead soldier.  The problem here is that this quest is the second quest in a series of six or so breadcrumb quests that are supposed to lead me around the island.  This tutorial area is built with two lines of quests, and if you complete both sets before leaving you end up with a basic set of armor and weapons to carry you into the game.  I fully completed one line, but the second is halted because of this dead soldier who doesn’t seem to exist.  To make things worse, there are usually eight or more of us waiting around for this dead soldier.

In addition to a single broken quest halting an entire line, breadcrumbs quest lines also funnel the players through areas without exploration, and in fact since quests are where the real rewards are in newer games, you are often passively penalized for getting off the path and looking around as progression of your character virtually halts if you don’t play the game the way they want you to play.

I don’t know if there is any solution to this, or if it even needs a solution, its just something I felt like rambling about.

Going Home Again

A time or two I’ve threatened to return to Norrath. Not the shiny new Norrath of EverQuest II, but the original Norrath of EverQuest. The thing that was always holding me back was that when I left there was little to do but raiding. Sure, there was some group capable stuff, but the two most recent expansions (Gates of Discord and Omens of War) seemed to focus so heavily on raid and trial content that the future seemed to be filled only with grinding and gear and raiding. When I left, I left for City of Heroes and to join the World of Warcraft beta. Since then a number of games have come and gone, but recently a bunch of people from my old stomping grounds decided to start back up in the original MMO marketplace monster.

It was fairly easy to reinstall and patch up, even bought the latest box that unlocked the seven or eight expansions I’d missed and started up my 21 days of free play.

Just a quick side here… if a game is going to sell a boxed expansion and offer 30 days free to new players, I think they should offer that 30 days free to existing/returning players too. Would it really kill them to do that? If they really believe their game doesn’t suck, I’d have to hope that retaining returning players after a free month would more than make up for the loss than trying to convince people who quit to buy the expansion AND resubscribe. Anyway, maybe I’ll do another post on that later…

Its really amazing how different games are. To anyone who has the attitude of “they’re all the same” I would really suggest playing WoW for a month, then playing EQ for a month. Its not just the look and feel of graphics and art… the game controls are different. WoW has quest indicators and an accept/decline interface, while EQ still retains the “spoken” quests, keywords, and passive acceptance where technically you are “on” any quest you read about, in game or out, with no limit to how many you can be working on beyond your ability to cart around sacks of quest items. And as I’ve mentioned before, EQ tends to be a more player-lively game. In groups, people actually talk to each other. WoW is so quest focused that people grouped together are usually doing exactly the same thing and often there is little reason to talk, not to mention that the gameplay requires more clicking and button pressing, and combat moves more rapidly, there’s just no time to talk in WoW until you get back to town.

So far, I haven’t gone adventuring into all the new lands, Ishiro Takagi is still just 65 (ding! 66!) after all, and been living in the Silent Fist Retirement Home for Monks for nearly four years. But it feels good to be back… as a bonus, I think I’m going to subscribe to the Station Access which will let me play EQ, EQII, Vanguard, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Star Wars Galaxies, and even The Matrix Online (which I doubt I’ll go back to unless someone can convince me its improved greatly beyond the trash I saw in beta). The future looks to be full of MMO gaming…