You’ve ruined your own lands! You’ll not ruin mine!

EverQuest Ruins of Kunark Art

My hopes for a fast-moving Daybreak Games Company (DGC) might actually not be completely insane. My last entry was Daybreak alluding to a new progression-based EverQuest server. Throughout the post and comments I have maintained the position that Daybreak needs to move quickly to show the community that they care about the EQ franchise, they care what players want, and that they aren’t stuck in a rut after layoffs — in other words, they can actually still make games.

Last night a forum post went up on the official forums explaining potential rulesets which are up for vote on the live servers (which I do not have access to since I am not currently a subscriber). Since I can’t actually vote in-game, I’m going to vote here and explain why.

1. Existing rules:

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a two-month countdown timer starts. There is a three-month timer before Kunark and Velious can unlock.
  • When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts that will enable the next expansion. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • This progression can continue until the server is no longer able to defeat raid targets or until it catches up with live servers.

This is Fippy, the current server’s ruleset. Meh. I don’t like the voting.  I think players can actually crank this out quickly and progress this kind of server at lightning speed.

2. Slower progression

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a three-plus month countdown timer starts. When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • This progression can continue until the server is no longer able to defeat raid targets or until it catches up with live servers.

A little bit better, a little bit slower. Still meh. Not my ideal.

3. Locked progression

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a two-month countdown timer starts. There is a three-month timer before Kunark and Velious can unlock.
  • OPTION: When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts that will enable the next expansion. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • OPTION: Dev determines the unlocked progression based on the player completion rates.
  • At a specific point, determined by Dev, votes are no longer available and progression is complete.

Now we’re talking! I would take this ruleset but add Kunark on a 6-8 month countdown with a vote for Velious. I love the idea that the devs would identify a point in time where progression is complete. A permanent classic server? Yes, please! Maybe lock it around PoP?

4. Seasonal Challenge Server

  • The server starts with only original EverQuest zones active, or with content enabled through a later expansion. Players start at level 1.
  • OPTION: When players kill a set of predefined targets, a vote begins within a week. Each vote lasts two weeks. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • OPTION: Alternatively, Dev may choose to unlock content when progression targets are complete.
  • Players have a set period of time (one season) to complete as much content as they can. The player(s) who get the farthest will receive recognition and a prize (to be determined later).
  • Once the season is complete, the server is reset and the challenge begins anew!

By far the worst idea. It turns EverQuest into a power-gaming level grind for the elitist guilds and doesn’t allow for players like me who love to relax and teleport players around, or camp objectives to earn neat items, to play my way. I may not want to rush to 50 to camp the planes.

Despite clearly favoring the third option, I would play on any of these (except maybe the 4th… even then I’d be tempted). My biggest complaint about all of them is the inclusion of voting, hence the title of this post (name that quote!). I would much rather see a time-locked progression server where the expansions release at the same historical pace (or LIGHTLY accelerated if at all).

The key here, however, isn’t necessarily the ruleset! I want Daybreak to understand this point very, very clearly: Charge a damn subscription! Require All-access! I do not care what you do, but do not screw it up with “Free to Play All the Way” and RAF nonsense.

So could it be? Could DGC actually be doing the smart thing and moving full steam ahead with an EverQuest progression server? My hope is growing once again.

EverQuest Progression Server

EverQuest Progression Server

Last week’s dev Q&A hinted (or actually sorta directly stated) there will be a new EverQuest Progression Server. I’m all about the classic EverQuest experience,  and a chance to relive even an updated version of that piques my interest.

Official progression / classic servers are something I have often championed. If you have an audience begging to play your game in a state it was in decades ago, not asking for any additional development (just maintaining), and they are willing to give you money, doesn’t that sound great?

An EverQuest progression server could be great. I have a few ideas as to how I would like to see it go down. Launch could start with the original version and Kunark. Kunark added enormous value and made the core game experience nearly perfect. I’ve toyed with the idea of launching with Velious as well and think it could work, but I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing it 6 months to a year later.

Later expansions should release at least a year after launch. I am completely against servers unlocking content based upon completion of current content, especially if done only by one or two elitist guilds rushing through the content.  Even a voting system where the players vote can be annoying.

I will happily become an all-access subscriber to play on a well-done EverQuest classic era progression server that slowly ages at an appropriate rate. There’s nothing else even on the near horizon that looks good, and I’m not in the mood to play pre-early-alpha-access bs. Daybreak will need to avoid mucking it up with stupid F2P mechanics, and ensure they do not add game-breaking mechanics like RAF (recruit a friend) experience boosts.

Improving Monster AI

We’ve had quite a productive discussion in the comments of this week’s articles. Another great topic came up about improving monster AI. Lately the trend has been more toward highly-scripted encounters resembling ‘intelligence’. We all know that’s a bunch of crap. Public Quests, “Dynamic Events”, etc., are all just scripted events that run, complete, then reset.

One idea from the comments yesterday was: “An orc facing a lone opponent will attack, but if there are three or more people nearby, he runs away. Unless there are other orcs nearby, in which case he calls them over.” This is very similar to the “bring a friend” (BAF) type system we saw in EQ and DAoC. Also the “call for help” some monsters did when they would run away and bring more monsters back with them.

Camping a dangerous area full of really tough mobs (note the 2 words ‘dangerous’ and ‘tough’) back in early EQ days required you to use spells to manipulate mob behavior. I remember needing spells like “Lull” to pull one mob at a time. I remember one person’s job was to snare or root a mob (usually snare since it would slow them enough, and if a mob was rooted it would still attack which increased downtime) so that the mob could not get away and bring back more friends.

Another idea for improving mob AI was more along the lines of unpredictable elements influencing monster behavior. “A long list of random hidden stats would affect how mobs interact. Using the orc example again, one lone orc that spots three players may attack if his strength and bravery stats are high while intelligence is low. A different orc may gather friends.” I love the idea of having visible cues for these traits such as bigger orcs probably having more bravery, and scrawny orcs having more magical abilities or intelligence — intelligence would likely mean getting friends before charging in alone.

One of my favorite ideas was something else brought up: Players taking control of monsters. I remember this being a feature in EverQuest for a short period of time, and a PvP feature in Lord of the Rings Online. I think the idea of letting players take control of monsters from a zone and even level them up is a fun idea worth exploring. The more a player played as a monster, the more powerful their monsters would be the next time they play. This way players are encouraged to be great monster players and not just use them for griefing. Obviously tons of work on a system like that is needed, but it has potential.

All of these ideas are really just getting at the fact that mob ai in today’s MMOs is weak. It’s really predictable, not much of a challenge, or hasn’t changed much in years. There are lots of ways to increase the dynamic nature of PvE without just increasing health, how much damage something does, or making it happen in phases or waves. Players like myself would like to see more variety, and development time spent, in this areas.

Quests Should Enable Players To Tell Their Own Stories

Yesterday’s post about being given the freedom to do what we want in our MMORPGs sparked a good conversation. One of our readers asked:

“If “any story is too much”, as I now believe, then what of quests?” – Amiya

Quests are often the vehicle for story. In today’s modern MMOs we rarely, if ever, see dialogue or story outside of them. If you google “what is a quest” you’ll see a very simple definition from Google: “a long or arduous search for something.” Quests used to be long adventures where the player would have to truly seek out and, unless they used a guide, figure out riddles, locations, or go on an adventure and see the world to accomplish them.

The Journeyman’s Boots quest is a great example. Players were sent across the world and back in search of a shadowed rapier and a ring of the ancients. The shadowed rapier came from shadowed men and the only clue you had was, “Many lands do they walk. Invisible are they, but for the items they wield. Seek them out and return to me a shadowed rapier. Return it with haste before ‘poof’ goes the rapier!! No time to camp have you.'” For the ring your clue was, “Seek the plains, seek the island in tears and search the dunes for there is one who is last. His clan was blown from the sands.'”

EverQuest Seafury Cyclops Jboots Ring Quest

Not the Ancient Cyclops but I remember his ugly face from the Bard Epic and the fact that if you were a caster he would drain all your mana.

Shadowmen were fairly common across zones, but the Ancient Cyclops could only be found as a rare spawn in one of a few locations. The main location I camped him was on the Island of Tears where his spawn ranged from 24 hours to weeks at a time since he was a rare spawn shared across multiple zones. ‘Arduous’ is an understatement. When finally all of the pieces of the quest were obtained, and the money gathered, turning in the quest yielded a pair of boots that, when clicked, would grant a speed boost almost as good as Spirit of the Wolf — awesome!

This long, long QUEST — in every sense of the word — created a story. The fact that I remember this quest fifteen years later, and I could tell you easily 2-3 hours of stories about how I helped others complete it, is a testament to the powerful stories and adventures a true quest can tell without having to lead you anywhere.

Quests can be simpler. Much simpler. In my adventure hunting orcs as a young player I could collect belts from orcs and turn them in for a reward. This was a repeatable quest that allowed you to collect as many belts as you please. These belts yielded amazing faction (reputation) and decent rewards for low level players. The faction was huge for everyone, and since players wanted to kill the orcs anyway it was a great asset to the economy and interaction between higher and lower level players. While little story is being told from a lore perspective, the world is having life breathed into it through player interaction.

The moral of the story here is that quests can and should exist. They should be long, arduous, epic adventures where players end up creating memories they later share around the virtual campfire. Quests should be rewarding and momentous occasions, and truly rewarding without having to be something players must follow in order to ‘play the game’ or ‘consume’ content. Simpler quests, when woven into the game’s economy or assisting in giving a purpose for going out and slaying monsters, can be just as affective.

Don’t Tell Me What To Do!

Don’t tell me to kill 10 orcs. Build me a world where I will want to.

That’s the overall theme for this morning’s blog entry. I started thinking about this yesterday while reading the great replies I received in my discussion of ‘How much story is too much?‘ One reply in particular resonated with me.

Early EQ had perfect story pieces and lore scattered about without hitting you over the head with it in text boxes and shiny quest markers. You knew that the elves in the Faydark were at war with the orcs in their own backyard and those orcs were bold enough to venture into elven territory just by what was going on in the zone. – Gringar

That got me thinking about why I went out and killed monsters in EverQuest, and the type of ‘hunting’ I like(d) to do in MMORPGs. Orcs in Faydark are a great example. As Gringar pointed out, it felt like the orcs were at war with the elves as there was the general feel of conflict. Since monsters, particular orcs in the Crushbone area, could be quite difficult for newer players, they were always ‘training’ or running them back to the guards for protection. This created a general overall sense of there being orcs in the zone to kill, but it wasn’t my personal reason.

I killed orcs because they were a great source of experience. Killing orcs was incredibly efficient. They spawned in camps regularly, dropped decent loot, and had a great modifier if you managed to kill them inside of Crushbone. Finding a group to kill orcs was usually reliable, and as a result I always felt like I could see the progress I made while playing when I killed orcs.

No one had to tell me to go kill orcs. I didn’t receive a quest (though later I did find a question to turn in their belts for increased experience) and no one had to tell me the story about why the orcs hate the elves (to this day I still do not know). All I knew was there were orcs, they were a good challenge and yielded lots of experience.

It’s really that simple. I killed orcs because I wanted to. I had the choice of killing any number of things. I could have gone to several other zones and killed other kinds of monsters but these were located close to a  city and provided the experience I was looking for while leveling up from levels 5-12.

Opportunity and means are huge in MMORPGs. We so often rely on quest dialog to say, “go kill me some orcs and bring back 10 of their axes.” When completed we move on. What if we wanted to keep killing orcs? What if the process of hunting orcs was something more enjoyable — a process increased over multiple days or even weeks if we so choose. What if people could form groups to continually hunt orcs? That kind of free thinking puts us right back in 1999 — and it worked.

So I return to my original statement. Build me a world where I will want to go kill orcs and spiders and skeletons. Don’t build me a world where I have to be told every second of every day what to do and where or how to do it. Let me explore and find a graveyard with skeletons, start killing them, and realize the experience is amazing and their bone chips can be traded to other players. Let me have the freedom to come back tomorrow and pick up where I left off. Give me the opportunity to do so by setting me free instead of pigeonholing me into following an arrow to the quest objective.