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3rd April 2009

EverQuest is 10 Years Old

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Alex Holt @ 7:30 pm

With the 10 year anniversary of the original EverQuest coming up on 16th March 2009, I was looking back with a fair bit of nostagia at the game effectionally referred to as EverCrack.

Of late, I’ve had a few discussions with a friend of mine about what the MMORPGs of today have to offer, or maybe more specifcally, what they don’t offer. Most of our conversations were us designing the greatest MMORPG into thin air, discussing and arguing our various points of opinion. What we found by doing this was that we both agreed on a lot of things, things we would have expected to have to put up a good argument for. But probably most surprisingly, we found ourselves looking back fondly over some of the features that were maybe considered unneeded or disadvantageous to the user experience. It’s quite a lot of these points that I’ll be going over during the next few articles.

  1. Transportation – Boats, Running, Wizards & Druids, Spires, Knowledge Tomes
  2. Economy – Bizarre, Trade Channel, Twinking, Char2Char trades, Quest Hand-ins.
  3. Death – XP Loss, Finding Corpse, Corpse Retrieval, Naked Corpse runs, Zone-In Deaths
  4. Killing – 8 Spell Slots, Hell Levels, Spawn Tables, Spawn Timers, Trains

Portals, Spires and OMG, I need SoW!

Back when EverQuest was first released, there were a few options for transportation. You walked (ran) there, or you got a teleport from a Druid or Wizard to somewhere close and then walked the rest. If you chose to walk, then good on ya! You got to walk through a plethora of zones that were beautiful at the time, but sometimes, dangerously scary. Infact, sometimes it was even dependant upon what time in the EQ day it was – nighttime was a bad time to walk near the Halfling town as some mean ass skellies would appear and whip you into shape if you were unlucky. One way to help yourself avoid death was to be able to run faster than the enemy (a top-tip if I ever could suggest one!) and for this, Druids/Shaman/Rangers got a lot of love for their “SOW” spell, namely Spirit Of Wolf which increased your run speed by something like 50% – which was fab and almost a must have for those long treks!

Crossing oceans was sometimes quite problematic too. Obviously, you could swim wherever you wanted to – however, sometimes the sea life was less than friendly so it was normally worth waiting for the boat to appear. Boats were regular as clockwork. Unfortunately, this clockwork was slow and took around 15-30 minutes before you could catch another boat if you happened to miss the boat by a second or two. Many people took fishing up for this very reason.

If you chose the quicker option of having a Druid or Wizard port you to a wizard spire or druid ring near-by to your location – you could then of course, just walk the rest. This proved to be the best method most of the time, but sometimes they weren’t exactly close – nor safe! You see, unlike some games – they could only port into the middle of zones and not cities or safe havens – so you still had a fair amount of danger and time before you got to your destination!

Over time though, Verant (the company that ran EQ) implemented a number of ways of getting around which to some people (including myself and my friend) helped ruin some of the charm and brilliant to the transportation in the game. They first introduced Spires, automatic portals which via the use of the Nexus (a hub of spires) meant that you could get anywhere in the world in about 15 minutes (and for most of that, you were just waiting for the spire to activate).

They later made it even easier by introducing little books. If you clicked these books, you could teleport to any one of the other books throughout the land as long as you had been there before. And these books were everywhere! Some zones even had two – so getting around was almost a non-thought now and you needn’t worry about how long things would take to do anything.

I guess this was something that the community was crying out for – but personally, I liked it as it was. It was more believeable, more realistic. (Yep, I see the irony about saying a game with Elves, Giants and Dragons is realistic if you walk everywhere is ironic :P ).

If I Had A Billion Platinum

One of the things I’ve always loved about MMORPGs is the economy models and how self sustainable they are. Maybe that’s part of my number crunching geekiness coming out – but it something that always intregues me because a lot of people are learning the hard facts of financial income via a computer game. Some bad decisions they make in online gaming they may learn from and provide them with better standing when they perform transactions within the real world.

When EQ first started, there was only the Trade Channel if you wanted to flog your awesome new sword you looted for a bit of cash – either that or sell it to some NPC who would give you a few copper for your epic and unique ring of power. This resulted in massively spammy zones where people congregated to flog their goods – Greater Faydark being one of them zones as it was easy to get to and contained two main cities in close proximity. A lot of the time, players would simply disable chat for that specific channel – but should they be feeling especially rich for whatever reason, a little monging out infront of the scrolling-text which was the chat channel, normally provided suitable means of lightening their pockets. At which point, they would wander off to meet the person whom they would be trading with. :)

Eventually they released the glorious Bizarre, which allowed a totally new way of buying goods. Players would wander over to this specially created zone and buy themselves some special vendor bags, stand on a specific spot and they were set. They would then simply add items to these backpacks and set prices, then go away and do whatever they wanted to. They had to leave their characters logged in though. However, with no character timeout kicks that are common in more recent games, the only thing that disconnected a character was your internet connection (an issue back in the days of 56k modems, taking up the phone line and ISP auto-kicks). If you wanted to buy something, you would wander up to a specific NPC who would allow you to search for an item. You’d then have to try and find the ventor that was selling your item in the mounds of players in the zone. A fun experience, even with some of the helpful ‘point-you-in-the-right-direction’ tools they provided.

There was rarely ever an item in EverQuest that was ‘bound’ to a player. This generally means that once a player has used an item, it is only useable by them and no one else. In EQ, you could pass items around as you wanted, selling it as you out-grew it or whatever else the reason might be. Similarly, the items would never degrade – leaving you with some pretty neat items and a constant flow of cash as you levelled as you simply sold all your old gear to some n00b that was slightly lower level than you. Groovy! This however lead another thing to become apparent, because actually, there were at the start of the game and for years afterwards – very little in the way of level restrictions on items. This lead to the very common practice of ‘twinking’ – giving a character items that are for people much higher level than himself. This could give those characters an almost invincible air as they would heal for more than the mobs could hit them for with some very carefully chosen armour.

However, life wasn’t easy for the twinkers. There lay a big issue with getting the items from your main, high-level character, to your fledgeling level 1. There was no way of mailing items to yourself, nor was there (initially) an ‘account’ bank to which all your characters had access to. This meant there were only two ways of transferring equipment. Trading with a friend and hoping they don’t nick your stuff (which lead you to really consider those online friends you had) was the common one, and believe it or not – the safest. The less fortunate who didn’t trust or didn’t want others to know what items they were transferring would have to place their items on the ground, log out of their main and log on to their lower level. This worked well some of the time – but there were two flaws: the time it took to log in and out could be enough for someone to walk past and pick up your stuff – and if the server died – so did your stuff with it. Oh the glory days!

And oh, don’t even get me started on Summoned Backpacks which, when you logged out for more than 15 minutes (maybe because your parents or better half needed the phone), would disappear along with everything inside it. There were so many people that learnt that lesson the hard way!

Death In EverQuest

This topic is always very surprising to the new-age MMORPG players, those who came about with the World Of Warcraft. They are generally surprised at the great penalties imposed by the death of your online character – death was a big deal in EverQuest, no doubt about it.

In most modern MMORPGs, character death is an inconvenience – something to be avoided because it puts you back a few minutes upwards, depending on how many of you there were and what you were doing at the time. You generally re-spawn a designated spawn area with maybe a debuff and some repairs to make to your equipment. Bummer!

In EverQuest, you see, it wasn’t that simple! Death in EverQuest was a catastrophic event, causing you not minutes of recovery time, but potentially hours – if it was even possible!

The guess the starting point is to explain that when your character dies, a little bit of you dies with you. Namely, your experience. This amount was significant in so much as it was between 10-20% of your level and could if you were unlucky, cause you to de-level. With the complexity and the difficulty it took to level in the first place, this made for a harsh kick in the teeth. But help is at hand! Your favourite Cleric would be able to resurrect you for some experience regain upto 90% of that which you lost. If you could find a cleric to come to your dead body that is.

If you were unlucky and you had no cleric friends or guildmembers who were able to help, then you had the problematic option of recovering your body. You see, when you die, much like all the other newer games, you respawn at a designated area (your “bind location”, chosen by you and set by an ability). The kicker with this is that you are naked. Yep, starkers as you were when you spawned at level 1 back in Kelethin or wherever. All your gear is on the corpse of your body. For anyone who has not realised what this means, I’d better just glance over it. You now have to make your way to your corpse with no weapons, survirely depleated stats and no armour. You’ve got to navigate your way from wherever in the world your most recent bind location is, through zones that are dangerous enough that they killed you when you were fully armoured and prepared.

“Hmmm. I know I died somewhere around here. Has anyone seen my corpse?”

Oh the immortal words of almost every player ever to logon to EverQuest. The world is vast and there are lots of zones. While most players knew what zone they were in when they croaked it, it wasn’t quite as common to know exactly where it was in that zone that they died. So, (naked) they would begin their hunt through a wilderness of trees and shrubs that all looked the same, full of mobs that threatened to ask you what ephigy you would like, just to find this corpse. Without the help of maps, players had to use the brilliantly un-intuitive /loc command and compass. That is, if anyone had seen their corpse and was kind enough to stop by and find out the /loc of where they were standing.

Imagine your excitement when you found your corpse and it was buried 30 mobs deep off the side of that cliff you fell off. That could be a pickle. They are all con’ing red to you, meaning that you didn’t stand a chance of killing them when you weren’t bare-butt toting nothing but your knuckle-sandwich. You now have 7 days in which to gain enough friends to help you fight your way to your body, or if really desperate – finding a friendly necromancer (Mmm, maybe an Oxymoron? ;) ) who can, when provided with a rather expensive Coffin reagent, summon your body to his/her’s location for you to loot in relative safety.

There were a few odd stories you heard about a friend of a friend, where they had bound themselves where they were hunting – a decidedly unsafe location. Then upon death, had been respawning only to be killed again – and again, and again. Bind locations – choose them carefully :D

But at least it was your stupidity that killed you in the first place. Well. Kinda. You see, EverQuest was broken up into zones in such a deep way that everytime you changed zones, you got a loading screen. You never could see what was on the other side of this “zone wall” and what could seem a peaceful valley, could result in your death before you even finish loading! This is all because as I’ve maybe got across – people don’t like dying. So, when having pulled way too many mobs to kill, they flee for the nearest zone boundary. If they get there in time, all the mobs don’t instantly reset – they ponder around aimlessly for a few minutes and then skip back to a more appropriate location. However – for this few minutes, if you happen to wander in – depending on how tough the mobs are, they could have killed you even before your screen has finished loading! You could hear yourself being killed, unable to do anything at all to fix it. Ahhh, the fun!

Oooh! A Bat! I think I might kill that….

The general basis that EverQuest used for killing things is still being used today. There are buttons, you press them, things happen and you kill a mob. Wooo & loot and off you go again! However, there are a few things that are different – you learnt skills and spells as you gained levels, but it didn’t matter how good you got – you only ever could ‘med’ eight at any one time. This basically means you have a standard action bar with just eight slots – you generally built your action bar around your role (so if I was a healer, I’d have the buttons right for that, but if I was to do a bit of solo-ing I’d have my damage spells or a mixture of the two). If you had the wrong spells ‘medded’, there was nothing you could do to fix this if you were in combat – which proved to be the death of people at least once or twice. ;)

Leveling was slow. No, I mean *REALLY* slow! Gaining a level was a BIG deal and mounds of people didn’t make the top level because of this. Some people took days / weeks just to gain a single level, not because they were rubbish, but because the experience took so long to get – only for you to die at crucial points. People basically found groups and if it worked and the kills were fast and efficient – they did their best to stick to this party. A good group was always (as in all games) hard to come by if you were just getting together a bunch of people.

To make leveling really tricky as you got near the end – they accidentally (apparently) miscalculated the experience needed for some of the top levels, meaning they needed extortionately large amounts more experience just to level. These became known as Hell Levels. And they were. While moving along levels with considerable ease, you hit 51 and it was if killing had no effect. You could hunt for hours none stop and gain maybe 1-2% of your level.

There were times when you would want to kill a specific mob – usually for an item, rather than to complete a quest. Mobs spawned in what appeared to be two different ways: Spawn Timer or Spawn Table. A mob on a spawn timer would spawn every xx minutes or xx hours. Some even spawned after days! Some on the other hand, spawned as part of a table of mobs. Basically meaning that if no one killed the mobs in its spawn table – it would never spawn. This meant if you were hunting a specific mob, you had to kill all the mobs that shared the spawn table and hope that when Mr Evilmob spawned – you were the nearest player to be able to kill – or maybe more specifically – you were the player closest and most powerful enough to be able to do the most amount of damage to it before it dies so that you get the loot. There were some mobs of course, that were both and could only appear on the spawn table xx hours after last being killed.

17th November 2008

Making things easier. It’s a great thing!… isn’t it?

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Alex Holt @ 12:08 am

You know, I’m not quite so sure.

Yes. Somethings are tricky and require some modifications to make it more user friendly, sometimes just to even make it possible! However, I’ve been thinking back and you know what I realised, I do actually quite like a challenge. To first explain this, I’m going to use the example of flying a helicopter in the modification for a popular PC game Battlefield 1942, called Desert Combat. Invariably, whenever anyone came to the mod, they would see a helicopter and think “Oh wow! Cool, I’ll fly that!”. They would then get in, take off and do a rainbow shape before landing on the propellers. It was almost an initiation. However, though time and practice it became possible to become extremely good, a very tricky adversary to eliminate. There was this gap between those that had practiced and become good, and those that hadn’t.

Then Battlefield 2 came out. Taking its lead from the popularity of the mod, it based itself in modern day combat, stole a few of the developers and introduced helicopters. It was quite exciting, until you played it. There were praises and problems as with all games, but my (and a few others) personal gripe with the game is that they appeared to have made things easy. As a decent helicopter pilot from DC, you could jump in and fly with relative ease in these new choppas – so all’s good? Nope. They were a lot less maneuverable meaning dog fights of the speed and insanity of the old DC days were gone. Why did it go? Some suggest it would be to make it more realistic, but I don’t buy that. I believe it is about making it easier, for the average Joe to dive in and play.

Great news! Now everyone can fly! True, true. But the sacrifice seems so rich to make it seem a good idea. Why lose the speed and manoeuvreability, the fun and the skill out of such an individual aircraft? … when the answer is to ‘make it easy’ – was it really worth it then?

I say no. I say screw the people who don’t want to practice at something to be good! This problem goes deeper than just helicopters in computer games though, it’s throughout our everyday lives. We are making things easier without thought for the intangible side-effects. Don’t misunderstand this point, ‘intangibable’ is the key word here. Inventing the car made things easier for people, but it was a tangible benefit in not just time, but in economics also. What I’m meaning should be thought about better is where things are changed to ‘make things easier’ when actually, they’re not broken.

It’s that old saying, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, I guess. Endless tweaking, if you don’t know where to stop, can lead to the road of mediocrity. (So I’m told ;) ).

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