EQ Next Landmark still exists apparently

Tell me can I be your honey be, be strong...
Tell me can I be your honey be, be strong…

Every few years, I wonder whatever became of EQ Next. It was going to change the face of MMO gaming. Mobs that reacted to over-hunting or being left alone to become a bigger problem. Emergent events. A fully destructible world. All the old lore tossed away for bright shiny new lore. Simple control scheme for console play, but depth for PC players.

You know, the game with everything.

Landmark was the tech demo, a construction set where the developers could try out new stuff before putting it in the game. A place where the players could use the same tools the developer used to create anything they could imagine. If it was good enough, it could be sold to other players, or even find its way into the main game.

The last Producer’s Letter from June said they were shifting focus from Landmark to EQ Next, but it’s been radio silence since then.

To find out more about how EQ Next might be coming along… I headed into Landmark. I paid over a hundred bucks for beta access back in the day. Not the best money I ever spent.

I’d heard combat had been added. Itching for a fight, I ran around the ruined world looking for monsters. Ruined in the sense that all I came across were old, lifeless structures. The last time I’d checked into Landmark, there were still people running around, actively building things. This time it was just the odd castle here and there, occasionally a sculpture. My old builds had been stored as blueprints when my plot inevitably got repossessed, but I felt no real need to haul them out again. I hadn’t ever mastered the weird stuff you have to do to get intricate detail in builds, so everything I ever made was essentially Minecraft, smoothed out a bit.

I jumped down a hill and got the message that my armor was now ruined. Darn it! Fortunately, I had a bunch of other outfits in my inventory. I would have to be more careful, going forward. A couple joyful leaps off a ridge and I could be down to my undies. Not cool.

With nothing dangerous around in the overworld, the only direction remaining was straight down. I couldn’t find the building tools so I couldn’t build UP, you see. They used to be in the inventory but they must have moved and I could not find them. However, the PICK was right where I left it. I targeted the ground at my feet and started swinging.

After about twenty minutes I broke into a little fairy garden (video above). The map said, though, that I was still in the overworld level, and would have to dig even deeper to see the mysterious lower layers of Neo-Norrath.

So, I kept digging. Eventually I did reach the second layer, an ice realm, but continued digging failed to break through the ceiling into this second world. I wondered if the teleport spires could make this transition a little easier. Abandoning my journey to the center of Norrath, I returned to the spire and chose a local teleport to the second layer, and then the third.

The third looked promising. Reminded me a little of the fairy cave. I ran around and some fungus exploded at me and dropped a little loot. I saw movement in the distance, and ran over to see what it was…

Combat, in Landmark, is a swing attack and a dash attack. I guess my armor wasn’t up to snuff (maybe it had been destroyed somehow). I didn’t use any health potions because where would I get more? So I swung and dashed and died. I doubt I’ll go looking for any more combat in Landmark.

Landmark is a very beautiful, if empty, game. The animations are great. The creative tools very much reward those who spend the time to learn to use them in the unconventional ways that have become standard.

But… it doesn’t feel like EverQuest at all. Not one bit. No moss snake has ever kicked someone to death in THIS world. And half elves are not 49.99999% elves now, they don’t even exist. You are human, or you are a LARGE human….

I’ll check in again in another few months. See if the plots that had castles on them now are still there.

OMG, R U STILL AROUND?

Trapped in a world without color
Trapped in a world without color

I don’t actually talk, or type, like that texty speak. I don’t know what came over me.

Well, I kinda know. There was a bunch of bloggish commentary a few months back on the kind of random ranting bloggers do. You know, bloggers don’t have any deeper insight than anyone else on anything, by and large, but we do have our blogs. It makes us feel more important, gives us a louder voice. But everyone shouts on the internet. It gets tiring. I realized that I really don’t have anything to say about the current state of MMOs. I’ve stopped trying to follow the crowd to every new game; Sim City 5 cured me of that. Wow, way to buy into the hype, right?

I’m trying not to be caught up in the EverQuest Next hype. It’s such a blank slate at this point that people feel free to read anything into the various teases. People in the public chat channels in EverQuest 2 speak with absolute certainty about things that contradict what some other certain person believes. As far me, I haven’t seen any evidence of any gameplay, some thread through the game that keeps people logging in. I fear it’s just going to take the usual sandbox route of being PvP focused — “the players are the content!”. In which case, they fail, because almost nobody plays the various EverQuests because they are astoundingly awesome PvP platforms. SOE may feel that PlanetSide 2’s success has given them a good feel on how to make a successful PvP MMO, but — EverQuest is not PlanetSide 2.

See, ranting again. It’s an easy trap.

I still game, every night. My favorite nights, though, are when I game with friends. With Team Spode on Sundays, and with Kasul in Neverwinter on Mondays. I hope against hope for a regular group in EverQuest 2, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. The guild was going really well, lots of people were logging in and leveling and ready to go, but some key people left for a raid guild and that had a devastating effect. Maybe it’s partly because of summer. But irregardless, I’ve been looking for a new obsession for awhile.

Not Candy Crush Saga. What is it about Match 3 games, anyway? I haven’t found even one that I can play more than once. There’s this huge, endless genre of games where you win by letting your mind wander as your fingers do some kind of complicated meditation that sends ever more flashing lights and loud sounds straight through your optic and auditory nerves into your brain. The resulting trance-like state must bring people close to some sort of nirvana.

Wikipedia says of nirvana (the religious concept, not the band):

The word literally means “blown out” (as in a candle) and refers, in the Buddhist context, to the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished.

That… is what I assume playing Candy Crush Saga is like, for adherents. A stillness of mind without the cares of the physical realm. The MMOs I play are a step removed from the pure stuff. I have never understood how calling a game “addicting” would be a positive selling point. Maybe CCS is the pathway to enlightenment. A prayer wheel for the 21st century. Children, trained on CCS, will be able to fall into a trance state instantly, shuffling colors around in their mind, every match sending jolts of endorphins deep into their cortex.

Indie developer Dave Toulouse challenged people on Google+ to try his Match 3 game, Bret Airborne, which (he thought) would appeal even to people who insisted they hated Match 3 games. Steampunk! Airships! Mad science! I bought it, played it as long as I could, haven’t touched it since. The developer wanted feedback, but I was so depressed by my failure that I just stayed mum and moved on.

I just can’t enjoy life.

Raiding in DCUO
Raiding in DCUO

I mentioned awhile back that we were going to give raiding a shot in DC Universe Online — strictly random raid stuff. We — meaning only me, at this point, I guess. I need so many Marks of Triumph for gear (several thousand per piece, about a hundred per Tier 3 group mission at a time) that it will take me months and months to get even one piece at our current rate. Everyone else has managed to earn enough marks and farm enough exobits that they are playing at a much higher level. Me, those solo missions take me hours to do with lots of dying and aren’t any sort of fun at all. So I stopped doing them. I have this idea that I would stop playing a game where I wasn’t having a good time.

I also have this weird hangup about joining random groups. I’m paranoid that people will call me out for being a crappy player. This is because people regularly call me out for being a crappy player. We were working through a raid a couple weeks back and someone said they should start a vote to boot the crappy controller. Me, being the only controller in the raid, agreed, and said we should boot her right away. Nervous laughter — wondering, maybe, if I understood they were talking about me. The vote was taken, I was kicked. I spent the rest of the night flying around cities alone, listening for the hum of exobits and wondering why I just didn’t log off and delete the game. The other guys successfully completed the raid.

Last Sunday, we raided again. I chose the “damage” role that every class can choose so that I wouldn’t be tapped to be a controller. Though I intended to play that role anyway. Entering as “damage” would just ensure there being a real controller along as well. Instead of trying to use crowd control powers, though, I just fed mana continuously the entire raid. Nobody tried to kick me, and we eventually succeeded. 200 Marks. Only about three thousand more to go for my first piece of Tier 3 gear.

Neverwinter Gateway
Neverwinter Gateway

I really enjoy my Neverwinter nights. Kasul and I alternate between doing Foundries one week and blasting through all the quests in a zone the next. Monday we explored The Chasm, a deep canyon full og toxic spell energy that warps the people and creatures within with the Spellplague. The zone’s story ties neatly in to one of the first quest arcs you encounter in the game, a knight’s desperate love for his spellplagued wife. There are twists and turns, and their story ends here.

Outside of game nights, we try not to gain too much experience (though the pig herding minigame in the Midsummer Festival zone is now my new addiction. I can’t enjoy Match 3 games, but pig herding…. SOOOOO-WEEEEE.) Kasul and I are both inveterate _crafters_, though. Cryptic offers their entire crafting and auction house interfaces via their Neverwinter Gateway. So crafting can continue outside the game; it’s always as close as my phone. As of the most recent update, the one that brought Weaponsmithing into the game, I’ve been making our weapons, while Kasul handles the armor for both our characters.

Naturally, with Neverwinter being a free-to-play game, the best results come only as a result of spending a significant amount of in-game currency in order to buy the exponentially expensive tools to get even a chance at a good result.I’ve spent all my in-game cash and a significant amount of real world money to get part of the way; Kasul has worked harder and gotten even better tools, some of which he’s lent me as I try to make the weapons that will bring us to max level.

Not sure what happens at max level. The looking for group channel only seems to want people with astounding gear who can demonstrate a deep knowledge of every end game zone. This is almost always my cue to find another game. We’re in a dead guild and won’t be able to meet the requirements for groups or for experience with zones we’ve never seen.

We’re talking about restarting, but I was hoping for some new classes to make the trip up more interesting. Neverwinter is all about ratcheting up the grind (literally) exponentially. Every step up is four times the difficulty of the one before, or requires four times as many resources. It takes sixteen tier 1 crafter hirelings to make one tier 3 crafter hireling, at a minimum time of (16 + 4 + 1) x 18 hours. 376 hours total? Minimum? You can speed this up with cash, of course. It takes 4 to the 7th power tier 1 enchantments to make even one of the tier 8 enchantments required in each piece of gear at end game. And here, Cryptic has given the “fuse” ability that takes four enchantments of one tier and produces one enchantment of the next tier, a chance of failure that increases to near certain failure as you move further up. Unless you spend cash.

I fear we’re nearing the F2P cliff with Neverwinter. People are always saying that for MMOs, the game really begins at max level. But that just means it isn’t the game that kept us logging in for all the levels before max level.

Cryptic’s thought — the thought of all F2P game companies — is to hook them, then make them pay to continue. I get that, these games need to make money in order to stay running. I’ve spent quite a lot of real money in Neverwinter. They’ve gotten paid. But this exponential grind thing — that’s just paying for punishment. If I had a living guild or some more friends who wanted to group and play — but that’s not a thing that will happen. The GOGOGO mentality is alive and well in Neverwinter, and there’s the gear checks and the aversion to new people and everything that drove me away from WoW.

So whenever I hit one of these F2P pitfalls in Neverwinter or some other game, I wonder how SOE is planning to punish me with EverQuest Next. They’re going to start setting the hook with EverQuest Next Landmarks this winter, where players can create content for SOE to put into the main EQ Next. It sounds like we’ll be charged to use this player-created content in the live game.

Just kinda worries me when I start hearing details about the monetization when I’ve heard nothing about how this game plans on being a game.

Plus, they seem to be setting the game in an alternate past, giving them no connection to the lore or locations from the current games, stomping on the number one request from current EverQuest and EverQuest 2 players. Bring back the world of EverQuest that we love, but with the latest technology.

Not gonna happen.

All they have to do, the only thing left for them to do, is announce a PvP focus for the game, to completely separate themselves from anything EQ players wanted from the game… er, sandbox.

EQ Next: Storybricks to provide AI to SOE’s next game

This is NOT EQ Next. Obviously.
This is NOT EQ Next. Obviously.

Soooooo…. after a lot of hinting that something great was on the Storybricks horizon by Namaste’s Brian “Psychochild” Green, the news broke last night that Namaste is partnering with Sony Online Entertainment to bring their AI technology to EverQuest Next.

We saw last year how this tech worked in Namaste’s “Kingdom of Default” demo, where players could interactively create NPCs with complex, rules-based logic that could dynamically change NPC behavior based on any number of factors — and changeable in game. After an unsuccessful Kickstarter, Storybricks’ fate was uncertain. But, now it’s going to be part of my next gaming obsession.

Very, very few details have been leaked about EQ Next, but given the Storybricks involvement, we can be pretty sure that player-generated missions, NPCs and other content will feature prominently. In this, EQN will be following in the footsteps of Cryptic’s Foundry tech, and SOE’s own Dungeon Maker concept.

Here’s the official announcement, and Psychochild’s blurb about it on G+:

Hello world,

We just wanted to share another update this month. (Nothing for a while and then two updates in a month, this feels like Lithe and Whacking Day rolled into one!) But we really did not want to wait another week for this exciting news.

After several months of working together with Sony Online, we can finally reveal that we are collaborating on EverQuest Next. EQN is “the biggest sandbox ever designed” and we are extremely happy to be working on the most innovative MMORPG under development.

This is just a tiny announcement as we can’t give any specifics about what we are doing on EQN yet. But we want to thank all our supporters for your patience and let you know that we are doing remarkable things.

On a related note, we are still hiring software engineers in San Diego, CA. Come and help us build something truly amazing. Apply here or respond to this newsletter for more information.

We look forward to entertaining you.

– The Storybricks Team

Semi-Annual Blogroll: Sheep may safely graze edition

The SOE sheep live in danger

I work a full day in the office, then strap my laptop to my back, pedal home and work a full night as well. It’s called crunch time, this is the third month of it, and work people pay me to do is taking priority over writing which nobody pays me anything to do. If I were working on a game, I could excitedly drop hints about it, but the only way you’ll see what I’m writing is if you need to be bonded. Or you happened to be a bond agent. BUT! If you ARE, well, we’ve got something pretty amazing for you this summer :)

On the plus side, that picture is part of my commute. One of the bennies about biking to work is that it’s more acceptable to just stop by the side of the road, outside someone’s house, and start taking pictures. If someone popped out of a CAR and started snapping shots, well, people would stare.

The Great Sony Hack of 2011

Big news these last couple of months has been the hack attack upon Sony’s PlayStation Network as well as Sony Online Entertainment’s customer data servers. This was a crime, perpetrated upon Sony and SOE by criminals, and they have essentially turned my PS3 into a brick, made them the object of a million rants and they are costing themselves and their partners thousands of dollars each minute the service is unavailable. It’s just a tragedy.

I feel Sony, though, is drawing this out needlessly. Sony has the best engineers in the world. I can’t believe that they couldn’t have saved their forensic data and plugged whatever security holes were used to break in in more than a couple of days. I don’t think anyone on the outside has any idea why Sony has floated May 31st as a “go live” date. I just don’t know.

But I worry. I worry about SOE and their games. SOE just recently had some pretty massive layoffs. After a strong start, their latest MMO, DC Universe Online, tanked on the PC. That can’t be good with such an expensive IP. Now that game is looking at a month and a half of nobody being able to play it. PC players have already abandoned it, and PS3 players will be playing some other game. So, DCUO is likely dead now. Vanguard’s handful of players can’t be expected to stick around, so that game is dead. SWG only had until SWTOR came out to live, anyway; ironically, pre-NGE SWG might have been different enough from SWTOR to co-exist. Anyway, SWG – dead.

Free Realms — unknown. I played it for awhile, but the constant money grubbing turned me off. I think kids will be happy to return to it after a delay, where adults might find something better to do. Plus, it had only barely launched on the PS3, so it’s ripe for a relaunch. Clone Wars Adventures – minigame portals like CWA can survive global thermonuclear war. They are the cockroaches of gaming.

Anyone who plays EQ is there because of all the games available to them, EQ is the one they want. It will survive. EQ2… and its F2P cousin, EQ2X… will survive, but look for massive server mergers; perhaps EQ2 will finally fold into EQ2X.

For the games in development, Planetside Next and EverQuest Next… I can’t imagine SOE will have enough revenue to continue serious work on these games. They have to focus on rebuilding their money properties right now. I feel SOE’s best hope is to separate from Sony, lose the mandate to put their MMOs on the PS3, and focus their efforts on a couple of really high performing games. I think it’s long past time for SOE to become Verant once again.

Skype is Microsoft’s new MMO!

The US Navy, via a program at the Naval Postgraduate School which I have totally visited (yay Monterey!), is soon to launch an online, collaborative brainstorming tool called MMOWGLI, which stands for “I Bet I Can Come Up With A Silly Acronym, Leveraging the Internet”. Anyway, “players” will be presented with some real world scenarios and will be able to collaborate with others on possible solutions using a graphical tool. Which is great; all the armchair admirals will finally be able to make their voices heard. Someone at work, when I mentioned this, said in response to the initial scenario of dealing with the Somali pirates that are harassing shipping off the coast of Africa, “shoot them all”. That could be an option!

I think it’s a great idea. I just hate that the term “MMO”, which we’ve come to use as shorthand for MMORPG – massively multiplayer online role playing game – being applied to any online activity involving more than two people. And what I hate more is the professional gaming press jumping on that same bandwagon, when they should really know better.

The worst are those places which try and explain that MMOs are games like WoW, except for this one. Kudos to that writer for also trying to compare it to a MUD, which it isn’t.

My old WoW guild

WoW loses half a million players, attributes it to a rounding error

So, news comes that WoW has lost a small percentage of their user-base, a marginal number of players that would total more than the active base of any other subscription MMO in the world.

Upshot is, their two year expansion cycle just isn’t working for them any more. People chew through all the new content in a few months (if that), and then drift off to other games, like Rift.

All these years, Blizzard has told us that this is how long it takes to come up with an expansion’s worth of quality content. It can’t be rushed, hurried or scheduled. It’s done when it’s done. But, now Blizz feels it actually could churn the stuff out a lot faster than that if it wanted to. It’s vowed to push Diablo 3 out the door sometime this year, instead of somewhere in this decade, their previous estimate. There’s a new sense of urgency coming out of Irvine, and I feel it’s long overdue. World of Warcraft IS the elder game now, and it has to move fast to keep relevant.

It’s not about the money — they have record profits, and if they ever feel they need more cash, they can add some more mounts to the cash shop and make an achievement for buying them all. For Blizzard, it’s about remaining the game that people think of when they think “MMO”.

We Heart Lucent Heart!

Masively Multiplayer dating sim Lucent Heart’s latest North American beta, “B.F.F.”, starts today. So here’s your chance to find your best guy or girl online, team up and kick some bully butt. I can’t say enough about this game. Everyone should play it. WoW-killer.

A fan who won a contest will be cosplaying at E3. So if you’re there, get a picture taken with her. Remember, if you’re lucky enough, you too could someday grow up to be a booth babe. It can happen!

Argh, so soon?

Time to hit the road and go to work. I miss blogging :(