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MMO Trailblazers

MMO TrailblazersI mentioned in an earlier post about the “guys who knew the dungeons” and how I wanted to talk about it later. Well this is it. I wanted to call them MMO Rangers, but that would probably just confuse people and make them think of the class and not the type of guy I was going for. So anyways, let’s get into it.

Do you remember back in school that one kid who seemed to know EVERYTHING game related? Of course this was all pre-internet (Or maybe not, depending on your age) so the only info we got was spread around. If you needed to know how to get to a secret world in Mario or how to perform a fatality in Mortal Kombat then this was your guy. Or maybe it was the dude at the arcade who had this seemingly arcane knowledge of everything about the game and could give you mind-blowing tips. Regardless, these sages of early gaming wisdom guided us and imparted sacred knowledge unto us and had a huge impact on our gaming lives. In reality these were the kids with the right magazine subscriptions but still… I try not to look behind the curtain.

Back in the days of early and more difficult MMOs we had similar players. These guys were digital missionaries who spread their gospel of world geography, dungeon pathways, and so on. Keen has recounted his tale about his first experience in EQ and migrating from the frigid north to the scorching deserts of Freeport. The player who took him there was one such person, whom to my recollection appeared out of the mists with out-streched hand and whispered, “Lo, let me safely guide you unto the promised land of North Ro.” Or something like that at least. I was 10-year-old kid who gnawed on wooden countertops; maybe I don’t have the best memory.

I had similar experiences with a person who taught me the safe path from Rivervale to Qeynos, which I can still mentally picture today. In the early days before you could easily be ported around people needed help getting to these locations and guys like this, and eventually me, could help you with this. I can’t even count the amount of people I must have led all across the continents in EverQuest. Even Keen sometimes needed to consult me when it came to navigating the likes of Faydwer and dungeons like Guk, which leads me to my next point…

Dungeons, like I mentioned in a previous post, were scary and dangerous places. You needed somebody in your group who knew what was what. When it was your first time in a dungeon you didn’t know what to expect, other than probably dying a few times, and had to rely solely on the advice of those who had previously trekked these deathtraps. The trailblazers of these dungeons passed down their knowledge and it eventually spread so that you yourself could instruct the next crop of adventurers. This still exists today, to an extent, but pretty much only in a boss fight mechanic sort of way. Somebody will ask if there’s anything they need to know and they can get rattled off a list of fight mechanics or they can go watch a video online. In general I don’t find it to be as satisfying an experience as guiding a group through a dungeon.

So really what does this have to do with anything? I suppose nothing, really, but it’s a fond memory of a bygone era when players had to essentially blaze trails and tame the frontiers. Unfortunately today all corners of the map are already filled in.

  • So true. When LDoN came out and we were deluged with a whole slew of new dungeons, knowledge of layouts and dangers was vital currency. I went from nervous acolyte to fearless leader to burned-out vet in six months. And as for Gates of Discord…that was like roleplaying Heart of Darkness.

    (By the way, since the recent K&G site revamp I get 404 errors if I try to come here from my Feedly feed. Works fine if I come in from my blogroll).

  • So many of these memories in EQ, DAoC, and other MMOs… I’ve recounted the Qeynos to Freeport trip a dozen times, but there are at least 10 of those epic stories burned into my memory. Do you think it’s even possible to get this type of experience again? I tell myself that I’m personally capable of experiencing it, and I certainly do when I go back and play older games (like going back to EQ1) but I juts don’t get that anymore in new titles.

    @Bhagpuss: Can you try it again? I switched something. If you’re still 404ing can you tell me the URL that’s erroring out please.

  • Games these days are so telegraphed. Look at WoW. Remember back when quest items didn’t sparkle, flight plans where not auto-unlocked. Everything gets so dumb down to the lowest common denominator that many games just don’t require any thought at all. I doubt we will really see any real hardcore games like yesteryear. Companies are not interested in having niche games these days. They want games that sell to anybody regardless of skill level, or interest in exploring.

  • Yea I think EQ is the best example of this. I too played back then and remember my first time leaving the starting continent of Faydwer, Kelethin to be exact as a wood elf, and heading to the Oasis. I had just gotten used to Faydwer, knew my town in the trees, knew my exp spots, knew where the POD’s (priest of discord, uber guard basically) were in case I needed to get mobs or pk’s off me, etc. I had my crew of a real life friend of mine and a few random people that we grouped with. I was content.

    Then one day one of them, our healer, decided it was time to travel. Keep in mind leveling took awhile in the beginning so we had been in a handful of areas for a few months or so. Also since you could only bind in one spot and you had to recover your body if you died to get your items back, traveling long distances was a risk everytime. We were on a pvp server as well so risk of pvp or npc death was always a presence. I remember discussing it with my friend and being freaked out about the journey we had propositioned to us. He was our healer and a good one, which was our main concern, plus his rogue friend was going too so we would lose half of our party. My friend being a wizard and myself being a warrior, we couldn’t do much on our own and finding a solid replacement was something we didn’t want to try. In the end we decided to travel and I remember it going smoothly.

    That sense of risk vs reward is really the key that almost all games don’t present. I’m sure many people quit EQ due to the harsh penalties over the years, but at the same time it does something to you when you know what’s on the line and if that something is meaningful to you. I can only really compare it to sports. Pressure situations I have personally experienced, time running out and you have the last shot, win or lose. I remember vividly still a time in baseball when I made a diving stop at second base knowing ahead of time if it went past me the runner on third base would score and we would lose. It makes you feel an emotion basically that is very hard to replicate. Slight tangent there but this is what the entire experience in EQ brought, but it was done by multiple elements.

    Mainly the unknown and risk vs reward combined with solid and mechanically sound gameplay. The lack of information in the beginning was priceless and something again that cannot be replicated easily, especially with betas and fansites these days. Not knowing what was around the corner keeps you at wits end in a game with risk vs reward. Anyways wall of text must end and I need to pay more attention to this E3 live coverage lol. Good post though as I’m sure anyone who played EQ back then has many of the same experiences you had and this brought a little nostalgia back.

  • The guy that did those EQAtlas maps was just insane. He did some amazing work given there were no tools in game to help him other than the /loc command to get your coordinates. The really cool thing was that so far as I know he never did get his character, a bard, into the 40’s. He just spent all his time exploring and making maps.

  • The wife and I didn’t do EQ, but we had much the same experience back in classic WoW. I was the guy that had to know how each zone fit together, find every path, locate every skill trainer who lived out in the wilds. There’s lots of talk about what WoW has lost, but that sense of “exploration” is the big loss for me.

    After WoW’s Cataclysm dropped, I was talking with my guild leader about the changes in the game. I was stunned to hear one of the things she liked about Cata was that you couldn’t get lost or miss anything anymore — “Now I know that if I just follow the arrows I’ll see everything, no having to hunt down stuff” she said. That’s when I knew that WoW wasn’t a game for me anymore. They had, in fact, cut out an entire form of gameplay.

    Now I see Wildstar come on the scene. They have a “path” called Explorer. What is the focus? Jumping puzzles. Mario platforming can be fun, but exploration it isn’t. I dunno, maybe this whole “virtual world” thing just is a relic of a time that’s past. I’m glad I got to experience at least some of it.