For its thirteenth birthday EverQuest has gone Free-to-Play. Given that no game since has been able to grab me like EQ, in large part because no game since has had a class like the monk, I reinstalled.
I know going in that this isn’t the game I used to play. That game does exist, over on EQMac, but I don’t have a Mac to play it. It’s going to be different, but hopefully in a good way. I’m dusting off Ishiro, and the wife is bringing Lochie out of storage, the monk/rogue duo is back! I’ve heard we get mercenaries, so the monk and rogue will likely have warrior and cleric pets.
I’m actually looking forward to messing around in EQ again, and I hope to be able to drag some of my old friends (and maybe some new friends) in as well.
I really do like the Free-to-Play model for games. I expect if I stick with the game, I’ll pony up a little cash for extra bag or bank slots. Though I doubt they’ll get me for extra characters or many of the other bits. And they definitely won’t be getting a full $15 a month out of me.
Anyway, if you care to look me up, I’m on the Tunare server. I was originally on E’Ci, but that server is long gone, merged with others. I’ll be playing either Ishiro (the monk, level 66, when I group up), Orihsi (the druid, level 59, when I mess around solo), or Jhaer (the random character I’ve created to check something out).
My pleading had finally been answered and a 1200 baud modem had been purchased. I sat in front of the computer, the card was installed and the software was waiting. There was a copy of MicroCenter’s weekly ad in my lap, and on the back page the list of BBSs had a few circled. I dialed up a place called Safehaven and created a new account. In the earliest of days, I was Jason Blood (though sometimes I was Etrigan). When I moved away from dialing up BBSs and instead calling up my ISP, I became Logan5. In 1999, I logged into EverQuest for the first time, and while I played around with a few names, I settled on Ishiro (later Ishiro Takagi). These days on Xbox and in a number of other places, you’ll find me as Jhaer (the “h” is pronounced, so it sounds like “hard” but without the “d” and with a “j” sound crammed on the front of it, one syllable).
In each form, I was always me, though I’ll admit to a bit (or a lot) of role play under various guises. But in 1998 I started putting my thoughts on the Internet, and while I was deep into Logan5 (though sometimes J) at the time, I decided to post as simply “Jason” (though often as “jason” – I used to have a long diatribe on why the lack of capitalization mattered, but for the life of me I can’t remember any of it except something about the importance of the self over the collective… yeah, like most kids in college, I went through one of those “I know everything better than everyone” phases too). As part of this, over the years, my social circles have all known about my interests, and I’ve never kept them from my employers. In fact, there are a couple of jobs over the years that I didn’t take and plenty more that probably didn’t bother to make me offers based entirely on their apparent stance on games as a frivolous hobby. So when it came time to enter a social network, like Friendster or MySpace or Facebook, it never occurred to me to not use my “real” name. I am me. Even when I wear another name.
Back in June of last year, there was a kerfuffle surrounding Blizzard’s new Real ID. It was totally and completely out-of-place there, and to this day I’ve only linked my Real ID with maybe five other people (my wife, my best friend, my best friend’s wife, and two other long time “real life” friends). This year, both Facebook and Google+ have taken a much firmer stance on real names, going so far as to ban accounts that don’t use real names.
Now, personally, for myself, I could not care any less. I use my real name on the Internet, and I deter identity theft by maintaining an identity not worth stealing (though if you wish to steal my identity and then pay off my debts, feel free). However, I do understand that some people want to maintain two identities. Even I did at the beginning. In the BBS days I was extremely protective of who I was, if only because in my real life I was kind of a dorky nerd (this was junior high and high school). It wasn’t until I was in the 11th grade that I broke down that wall and actually started meeting the people I’d only known online face-to-face.
– as a brief aside, let me take a moment to let that sink in and allow you to realize how different the world of 1989 is from today. I was a 15-year-old boy whose parents let him, actually encouraged him, to go meet complete strangers he’d met on the Internet. –
And I don’t mean to denigrate people who maintain multiple identities as something I’ve outgrown. My online journey after the age of 15 simply didn’t have much separation. The bulk of my friends we the people I met online, and we took those online friendships offline whenever possible with outings to movies, parties, etc. It was a conscious decision on my part.
Anyway… Facebook and Google+ have been taking a fairly hard-line on all of this, and while they manage social networks, I don’t feel like this is an area they should be so adamant about. Occasionally, the use of real names on the Internet will temper what people say, but not often. Despite posting with a real name, plenty of people are going to continue to be asshats simply because, real names or not, they just don’t consider the feelings of the people on the other side of the screen. Honestly, they are in the business of providing traffic and demographic data. As free services to us, the users, we aren’t the customer, we are the product. Should they care if I’m on their site socializing with the people from work or socializing with people who play a common game with me? I don’t think they should. They should only care that I’m on the site, and into which column they can put me down for selling my eyeballs for ads.
All this was brought on because I saw that Tobold got banned from Facebook. It’s a shame, because he was one of the few people who played games there and actually participated. With him gone, all my games just got harder and I’m less likely to play them. See… that’s the deal with a social networks: ripples.
One of the things I’ve come to loathe in modern MMOs is the item grind and the lack of attachment that comes with it. In World of Warcraft, I don’t care at all about my items because the chances are pretty high that I’m going to replace them soon. It might be a couple of days, or a few hours, or more often than I would like just a matter of minutes. I recall one day in particular where I upgraded my character’s pants seven times in just two hours of play. I probably could have kept any one of those since each upgrade was just a couple of points, from 120 armor to 122 or 8 strength to 9 or adding a stat bonus the previous pants didn’t have, but I felt no attachment to any of those pants. They’d been so easy to obtain that the stats were all that mattered.
And the appearance, but when the game practically forces you to look like a rodeo clown trying to maintain a cohesive and good look is practically futile.
In my perfect MMO, character stats would be on a smaller scale. No more crazy strength of 874. There would be a cap, 100 is a nice number, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the old table top D&D standard of 25. With a smaller scale, a single point increase from a magic item would have noticeable impact. Magic items would then be more rare. In fact, I’d probably place true magic items only at the end of long quests, coming from incredibly hard boss mobs (assuming the game even had them) or through the arduous labors of master craftsmen. The obtaining of a magic item would be a story you could tell. Rather than “Yeah, I got these gloves from delivering pies from Joe to Stewart.” your story would be more along the lines of “Well, about three weeks ago, I undertook a small task for the local sheriff…” and spiral off into a series of deeds and fights or harrowing escapes. More importantly, those magic gloves would take a long time to replace, if ever.
Over the long haul, your character would become a graphic representation of the stories you could tell, instead of a collection of the best gear you’ve obtained lately.
I think this desire, this design, springs from the years I played EverQuest as a monk. In the early days, a monk could barely wear any gear, and he was 70% effective even naked since his gear was so weak and he fought without weapons. Thus, every item that I wore was something I obtained through playing the game. Some of it from long quest chains, some of it, later, from slaying dragons and other rare and dangerous beasts, from invading the planar homes of the gods, crafted by dear friends using rare materials obtained through adventure. Even as the game changed and the design encouraged monks to wear more gear, and more monk wearable gear became available, I’d been playing one way so long that I continued. Every item I carried was a story. The Treant Fists were a tale of a lost weekend in the Gorge of King Xorbb, the headband of the Ashen Order and the sash of the Silent Fist that eventually lead to the Robe of the Whistling Fists and the Celestial Fists, the Iksar shackles, the Shiverback Hide armor, and so much more.
I’d love to see a game, or perhaps I’ll have to make one, where I actually care about my gear beyond the numbers it increases.
Since I tend to want to approach games with the thought of immersing myself into the world, I tend to do weird stuff. At least, things other people think are weird. Like, while playing the game Red Dead Redemption, I never used the camping method of fast travel until after I’d completed the story and was just chasing achievements. I used the wagons, and I even did the thing there you hit the button, John says “I’m going to sleep” and you skip the travel parts, because, you know, that made sense. But setting up a campfire and a tent, and suddenly being halfway across the game world… immersion breaking.
With that in mind, you can imagine how I feel about logging into an MMO and finding a world where everyone is running, full speed, all the time. The funny things is, back in my days of EverQuest, people were more apt to switch over to walking, at least while in town and perhaps a little more pliable to role-playing as opposed to when they were sitting in a group on a wall whacking mobs for experience and loot. In World of Warcraft, however, I don’t think I ever saw a person walk until I went to the RP labeled servers.
In my perfect MMO, walking would be the norm, and every player would have an endurance bar. There wouldn’t just be walking and running either, there would be varying speeds you could toggle/cycle through. Walking to fast walking to jogging to running to sprinting, each having an increasing effect on endurance drain. And players could get bonuses to endurance recovery, and even reductions in endurance drain for special situations. Like, if you just switch over to sprinting for no reason at all, endurance would drain at X rate, but if you enter into combat and your adrenaline is now pumping, sprinting would drain endurance at, perhaps, X/2 rate, allowing you to sprint longer to flee an overpowered NPC foe.
I’ve yet to decide if this endurance would be used in other places, like fighting for example, but I’m leaning toward not. At least not the same endurance pool anyway.
I have held, and will always hold, that it is the little things that matter most. You can have two items, two stories, that are in large strokes exactly the same, but it is the little details that end up endearing one to a generation while the other winds up mostly forgotten, completely independent of its success. The endearing tale could be one that hardly makes anyone any money but it a cult favorite for decades, and the “forgotten” one could make millions in the short-term and in a few years people barely remember that it existed.
Almost every MMO these days uses some form of the color con system. Red often means that it is going to be hard or impossible to beat, some form of grey or green often indicates an easy kill, with shades of blue, yellow and more in between to let you know your chances if you decide to fight it. And yet, beyond the color or number or whatever other indicator they use, there is nothing more. We are, at this point, expected to know what that means.
A giant diseased rat scowls at you, ready to attack. What would you like your tombstone to say?
Sometimes, however, I think we’ve lost something by moving entirely to numbers and UI indicators. EverQuest added flavor to the consideration system by spelling it our for you, giving you your faction relationship and a difficulty assessment all in one quick message. But the most important part of it was that while some information might be readily available in your targeting window, you had to actually /con the target to get the message. It lent just a little push toward the RP in MMORPG, that your character, that you, had to stop and look the target over, reading his demeanor and body language, that your character was a hero who kept abreast of clan markings and signs of madness, that the hero you controlled, that you embodied, would be able to look at a monster and say, “Not only does that thing probably hate my guts, I’m pretty sure he’ll beat the crap out of me too.”
To me, it’s the words that made that happen, and it is the lack of words, the purely UI based blinkies and numbers that make my brain flip immediately to math and calculations and I wind up saying, “The level disparity will reduce my effectiveness to the point that I don’t believe my DPS is enough to bring his hit points to zero before he does to mine.”
It’s just one more things that brings me again to my conclusion that I seem to be out of sorts with so many MMOs because they’ve reduced themselves to being just games instead of being more than games.
You might have noticed a lack of my Sneakin’ Around and other WoW related posts. I’ve cancelled World of Warcraft again. The truth is that I absolutely loved playing in a strange way, but not enough to feel like a $15 a month charge is money well spent. But what really drove the nail into the coffin was the constant feeling like the game was broken.
It isn’t broken. Not really. But I play MMOs for two things: community and immersion. The enemy of both of those things is leveling.
It was almost impossible to play without leveling at an absurd rate. The experience rewards for quests are so out of whack that I can’t finish a line of quests, finish a story, without being horribly overpowered by the time I read the final mission. That boss who is supposed to be hard to fight isn’t when I’m now three to five levels higher than him. My other option is to chase quests that have the most challenge and ignore the story. Abandoning quests just because they go green made me feel bad. ”Hey guys, I know was helping you with your problem, but, ah, I’m gonna move on to the next area now. Hope things work out!”
And lets not forget that unless my friends and I played dozens of alts, we could almost never play together because missing a single gaming session could leave you five or more levels behind your friends. Slow leveling of old games never felt like work to me, but constantly playing catch-up in an attempt to just be able to effectively group with my friends did. I supposed I could do what most other people do and just accept the fact that we’ll even out at max level, but the prospect of playing for 85 levels as filler until I get to the real game doesn’t entice me to want to log in.
The reality here is that Blizzard has seen that people are generally happier when they are “progressing” and rather than allow people to actually work for and earn things, they just lowered the bar so that you practically can’t log into the game without gaining something. And most people seem to want that. They’ve become reward junkies, the constant dinging of achievements and levels and other random things bringing them joy. But to me, it’s all empty. I’ve got over 50 levels and dozens of achievements on one character, but I look at him in the armory and don’t feel any attachment to any of it. I didn’t really earn it.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t hard earned achievements in WoW, there are plenty, at the high end. However, the 85 level escalator to get there is full of Fool’s Gold and cubic zirconia. And I think escalator is the right word to describe the ride. You get on and it is pushing you forward and if you’d like to stop, you can’t, but you can stay relatively still if you run backwards, working against the flow.
Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I really don’t. I only know that playing World of Warcraft simply doesn’t get me what I want from an MMO, and I don’t think any of the offerings coming down the pipe will either. I want a game, where I’m playing the “real game” from the moment I exit the tutorial, and I want that real game to have as few restrictions as possible, to let people make their own rules. A guild should be a guild because the people want to be a guild, not because raids require X number of people with Y number of tanks and Z number of healers and a DPS output of greater than N.
Back in my EverQuest days, I used to tell people all the time that it’s “not just a game”. And maybe that’s what I want most, to feel like it’s more than a game, and WoW, with its flashing lights and rapid rewards feels very much like just a game.
I'm not stealing. I'm discovering.
For some reason, and I don’t know why, I keep thinking that you need level 30 in order to take up archaeology in Azeroth. But it’s level 20. So, basically, I needlessly scraped my way through 10 levels on daily quests, random non-violent tasks, and mining/herbalism when I could have been scouring the world for artifacts.
I feel like Indiana Jones. Not because of archaeology itself, which is quite possibly the worst designed trade skill/crafting ever put into an MMO. On my other characters, the ones who fight, archaeology is boring and stupid. You wander around in a zigzag path hitting the survey key until you get an artifact, which you then pick up. Repeat. On the rogue, however, it reminds me fondly of my days in EverQuest as a monk, feigning my way around zones, checking out cool stuff. Kaens has to carefully make his way though the dig sites and wait for just the right moment to perform a survey. Luckily, with sneak and vanish, I can avoid most of the dangerous creatures roaming the land.
While previously playing the rogue felt like a fun job, with archaeology in the mix is finally feels like an adventure. Now I just need a hat and a whip.
The single best part about archaeology is that I don’t have to interact with any NPCs at all except for when I need training. Otherwise, I just go to the places on my map and I am able to craft my own stories and my own adventures. This might be the most fun I’ve had playing an MMO in a long time.
Level 32 and surveying…
… 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.
With the new EverQuest Progression server opening this week, the gaming blog-o-sphere is all atwitter about it. Some are praising it, some are just enjoying it, some are coming to terms with their inability to play it anymore, and some downright hate it claiming that it ruined its own lands and it won’t ruin theirs.
The funny thing though is that very little about the game is actually broken in such a fashion that everyone agrees. Except the boats. They’ve been broken in some form or another since the original 1999 launch of the game. Everything else though is subject to opinion and preference.
Take combat for example. Some people are complaining about how slow it is. The fights are long and players don’t actually do a whole lot. Spells have long cast times and abilities take anywhere from six to ten seconds to pop back up. Of course, I’ve been complaining for a long time now about how combat in new games is too fast. They are over very quickly and I’ve always got another button to hit, another ability to use, another spell to cast. I don’t have enough time to be social unless I stop playing. The old slow combat, however, allowed me to talk to my group, my guild, the zone, and hold private conversations with several friends.
There are no maps and no floating quest indicators, which some people say makes the game too hard to play since you don’t know where you are going or what you are doing… unless you explore and read and, you know, remember stuff. I actually don’t plan on playing on the new EQ Progression server because I’m actually enjoying playing WoW for the moment (of course, I’m playing WoW in a manner completely alien to many folks), but also because most of the people I enjoyed playing EQ with aren’t going to be there either, and it’s the people who made EQ worth playing. However, I did drop into game and rolled up a monk in Qeynos, just like the old days, and you know what? I still knew the world like the back of my hand. I knew where the vendors were and where to find quests, and more importantly when I didn’t remember, I remembered how to find out: you target NPCs and hail them to speak to them and find quest text, and then you just do what they want. No indicators, no tracking, you write down on a piece of paper on your computer desk what they are looking for and who they are and when you find the stuff, you bring it back. Even better… you don’t have to actually be on a quest to get quest items. In WoW and other new games, if there is a quest for gnoll teeth, you have to get the quest first and then go kill gnolls. In EverQuest, you can go kill gnolls and get the teeth (which are NO DROP) and then find a quest guy who wants them. How cool is that? Imagine if in WoW you could be hunting raptors and some other player says, “Hey, there is a guy in the Wetlands who wants ten of their hides and he’ll give you some coin for it.” You say, “Cool!” and collect the hides, then go find the guy in the Wetlands. To me, that is much more awesome than killing a bunch of raptors and getting no loot, then finding a guy who wants hides, so you go back and kill raptors in the exact same spot you were before, but now they magically have hides they didn’t have before! What?
Another example that comes up in the “I can’t believe we played like this” side of the discussion is trains. The act of someone dragging mobs on you, either by intent or by accident, that then stop to fight you while the other guy gets away. Yep, trains suck. Nothing in the game is worse than having your day ruined and your group wiped by some idiot’s train to the zone line. But you want to know what is totally awesome? Surviving trains. Your group already had a mob to fight and now you have three, or five… the enchanter start mezzing, the monk snags one to off tank, the ranger pulls one out and roots it, and the cleric is screaming for everyone to stop getting hit because he’s running out of mana… then… one mob dies, and there is this clear moment when you realize that everyone did their jobs without being told, they worked as a team and your group is surrounded by mobs just waiting to die and you are more than happy to oblige. I spent entire Saturdays in zones with a buddy or two breaking trains. Be it out on the lawn in Unrest or after Kunark down in Sebilis, trains were thrilling and exciting, and they just don’t happen in new games anymore.
Trains don’t suck. Not for everyone. Some of us want that game. A game of danger and thrills, of social interaction and interdependence of classes, where quests are things you can do at any time and not just when someone flags you for them, a game where travelling to another part of the game means something more than having to stone home later or riding on a griffin for a couple minutes, but nobody is making it anymore. Are they?