EverQuest Next Revealed and Why You Should Pay Attention

It seemed to me that with all the EQNext news and excitement that I should do a video. So here it is. This is something different from my usual style of video where I just sit and play and ramble. Much more work, what with scripting and editing and all that. But I think it turned out fairly well.

EverQuest Next Impressions So Far

Image3Now that the dust from SOELive has settled and there’s been time to digest the EverQuest Next announcement as well as the content of the panels, FAQs and follow-up interviews, and we kind of have some idea of what sort of game EQN is supposed to be, I’m ready to talk about some overall impressions. Read all this with an implicit disclaimer in mind, information being subject to change and/or blogger misunderstanding.

Artistically I think EQN looks very strong. ForgeLight has a wonderful lighting engine that I hope SOE takes advantage of, as the devs say they will. EQ2 has all kinds of cool racial vision abilities that are of no use because ambient light is basically the same everywhere and night isn’t much darker than day; I’d love to need a torch or to have an actual use for infravision. The landscapes look great, but some folks are complaining about the “cartoony” character models. Personally I have no objection to what I’ve seen so far. The look is stylized but distinctive without being anime-esque, which in my book is a good thing. It should also age very well, avoiding the issue of too much photorealism.

Wizard-in-a-magma-chamber

Right now EQN multiclassing sounds a lot like the professions system from pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies. There are a limited number of available classes for new characters, a whole bunch more that can be unlocked, and a small number of “tiers” for each that you can advance through separately. This sounds terrific to me at a glance. Some people are saying that crafting will also resemble that of SWG, but I don’t see where that’s coming from, aside from various devs having expressed admiration for the earlier game and the one or two broadly compatible dribblets of info that we have (like copper being of use for all crafters rather than becoming useless after you hit some tier line.) Certainly there are worse models, but the fact is that we know very, very little about how crafting will work. If it gets a minigame I hope that it’s more engaging than the mind-numbing excuse for one in EQ2.

Combat looks a lot like Guild Wars 2 combat, with AoEs painted on the ground, dodging, and a limited action bar that depends on your classes and weapons. I’m of mixed feelings on this; on the one hand I like GW2 combat well enough out in the world, although I think it suffers from a lack of variety and flexibility. In dungeons it’s not very interesting at all, with everyone just hammering on mobs until they die. Smokejumper has said that we’re going to find that the resemblance to GW2 combat is superficial, but right now this is what it looks like. I’m not terribly enthused about being limited to eight abilities, although I certainly agree with trying to eliminate the profusion of hotbars a laEQ2. I’m not sure just how strict that will be, though — might there be non-combat (like a mount summons, for example) abilities on a separate bar?

Iron-Golem-approaching-a-fortress

I don’t have the impression that EQN is going to abandon the “holy Trinity” as such, but many people have the idea that the trinity is rooted in class or ability design rather than in primitive mob AI. GW2 failed to replace the trinity with something at least as effective because it fixed the symptom rather than the disease. In EQN, multiclassing will allow characters to fill multiple roles, and exactly what those roles will turn out to be depends on how the mob AI functions. We simply do not have any details about that, nor do we know how narrow the classes will be. It may be that there won’t be well-defined roles at all, which I am okay with in principle but leery of how it will work in practice especially if characters have a very low number of abilities available at any one time. This is a big wait and see.

“Heroic movement” looks cool and fluid but seems like a minor feature. It could end up significantly impacting how characters get around in the world, but based on what we have now it doesn’t look like it’ll do anything that mounts of various kinds wouldn’t provide. Unless there’s another page taken from GW2 and there’s no mounts. Which would be lame but not game-busting in my opinion.

Norrath

Of the four “holy grails,” emergent AI is, I think, the most interesting, the most ambitious and the most difficult. Ultima Online flirted with “virtual ecosystems” before launch only to remove the feature after players genocided every critter in the world and broke the whole mechanism. The EQN idea as stated is roughly similar but not identical; mobs and NPCs will spawn but will behave naturalistically upon release into the world. This will be tricky to balance without having some undesirable equilibrium develop even before players try to break things. This is in my view the biggest potential pitfall with the concept — that it will fall apart upon contact with players. But I don’t think it’s an insoluble problem despite the failure of UO to conquer it 16 years ago. Having enough space in the world should help mitigate issues as well, and the EQN world is said to be big. If SOE makes this work it will be a huge leap for the virtual world genre.

Rallying Calls as I’m understanding them seem very dependent on this emergent AI to generate day-to-day player activities without having devs hand-script the content. To make this work as advertised, especially with different events on each server, each event will need to be comprised of some manageable amount of code that will then be interpreted procedurally over time by the world. It seems to me that the world’s ability to react to individual stimuli needs to be very robust for this to work. This is another announced feature where I really don’t see how it’s going to function with the information we have today. This is the other reason that Emergent AI is the single biggest question mark for EQN as far as I’m concerned.

Feerott

I am very excited about the largely procedural world itself, however, which should in principle face no serious technical hurdles (look what one-man indie operations can do with a game like Minecraft.) For one thing it should — potentially, and I’ll be very disappointed if it’s not so — give us the kind of very, very big world that all MMORPGs ought to have at least in theory. It may need to be big to fit in player structures without getting cluttered, and to absorb the kind of player misbehavior that scuttled UO’s virtual ecosystems.

I am mildly concerned about the performance impact of the voxel-based world, and I’m unclear on how the destructable world will “heal,” as it was phrased in the world-building panel. After a player digs a tunnel or blows the top off a building or whatever, does the world revert to its procedural state on its own, or do the changes stay until something specific happens, like a Druid casts “Heal the Land,” or the city’s residents repair the damage? The latter scenarios are much cooler, but I think the answer is the former.

I’m very interested in seeing Landmark. Some folks are saying that they expect to spend more time there than in EQN, and if it’s as addictive as the devs say, that’s a real possibility. Even if it’s not, it should also give us a good look at a couple of the points mentioned above and help clarify a number of things about EQN proper. A great deal will on how much and how quickly EQNL is embraced by the community, which in turn will be affected by the power and ease of use of the tools.

All in all I have cooled slightly on EQNext. There’s a ton of question marks and a lot of gray areas, and ambitious talk won’t carry a game that can’t deliver. But as of Friday EQN leapfrogged Star Citizen as the super-ambitious MMORPGish title I’m looking forward to most, and right now it’s still there. If it can deliver it’s going to blow up the whole stagnant genre. I now have my ear very close to this project.

EverQuest Next Q&A Session, Part 1

Embedded below is Part 1 of the EverQuest Next Q&A panel from SOELive. But I watched so you won’t have to; the breakdown of answers of everything significant that was said is also below. Part 2 soon.

  • Smokejumper will not commit to whether there will be one or many starting areas at this time.
  • Users in the EU will be able to participate in the betas.
  • The decision to use the title EverQuest Next Landmark was a business decision to clearly link EQNL to EQN.
  • Lots of lore will be trickling about on the website. The Q&A panel didn’t want to get into this.
  • There will be transparency regarding numbers and mechanics. Folks can of course ignore this if they wish, but there won’t be any effort to obfuscate the way things work to try to cull min-maxing.
  • Expect to see inventory items show up as actual 3D items in the world. Maybe this will just be inside housing. SWG specifically is a target they’re shooting for.
  • By “tiers”, the devs are predominantly talking about the levels above or under ground. How this ties into advancement is unclear; I’m getting the impression of some backing away from Smokejumper’s earlier statement that progression would be predominantly horizontal rather than vertical. There is talk of advancing classes once you unlock them.
  • There will not be true darkness in the classic EQ sense, but lighting will be a major factor and there will be deep darkness possibly extending to total darkness in some areas. Characters will sometimes need or want light sources. Butler specifically says that going underground without a light source should be scary. NPCs will also react intelligently to the day/night cycle.
  • EU players may or may not be able to play on US servers. Notable is that Smokejumper did not commit to saying that EU players would be forced onto ProSiebenSat-run servers.
  • Mob AI is good enough that they can learn from what’s happening within a combat and react accordingly. This probably isn’t something that we’ll see in every encounter, but encounters intended to me more difficult will be characterized by smarter AI.
  • No launch date has been announced for EQN in part so that player reaction to some game elements can be measured in EQNL. No doubt a certain amount of testing of the procedural generation will happen there as well.
  • No comment on death penalties just yet. This seems like a softball question, so I wonder if the quick “no comment” conceals a wrinkle that folks might not expect. Maybe a permadeath server?
  • World-affecting changes re: Rallying Cries will happen in real time when the server is up, not just on patch days. When new events are rolled in the plan is that they’ll trigger in the future.
  • The devs want environmental damage to be in the game, for example from a destroyed bridge falling on someone.
  • No comment on loot mechanics yet, re: how classes can be mixed and matched. Also no comment on group and/or raid sizes and configurations, but Smokejumper says we’ll like the answers when they’re revealed.
  • The six announced races (dark elf, ogre, human, dwarf, kerra, and whatever kind of elf Firiona Vie is) are not the full list of planned character races.
  • Players will be able to disrupt a Rallying Cry via various means, but the intention is not to allow it to the point of serious griefing.
  • Feldon is approximately 13 feet tall.
  • No comment on whether EQN will be included in the All Acces Pass… but that’s really a business question rather than a design question, and Smokejumper says he’ll be surprised if EQN isn’t part of All Access somehow.
  • The game’s ‘faction’ standings, for lack of a better term, will be locak rather than global. The example given is that if you steal a muffin, but no one seens you do it, your standings with NPCs are not affected, but the baker may react to his muffins being stolen in some way.

EverQuest Next Unveiled

I like to be wary of upcoming games. They might fail to deliver on their promises. They might fail to materialize at all. I might start taking the marketing spin uncritically or buying into fan overexpectations, or projecting the things I want into the gaps in what I know about the game that’s coming. Sometimes all the signs seem to be pointing in the right direction, the early play experience is great and you’re swept along in the tide of hype, but after launch everything falls apart. Some folks have gone through this dozens of times, and I’ve done it myself more than once.

All that said, EverQuest Next, as revealed at this weekend’s SOELive, sounds jaw-droppingly impressive. Embedded below are the videos of the debut presentation, including a fair amount of what is clearly very early gameplay footage.

Kerra warrior in a subterranean crystal cave-noscale

The basic gist of the reveal is this: EverQuest Next is actually two games. One is EverQuest Next, the MMO, with no announced release date yet. The second game is the awkwardly titled EverQuest Next Landmark, due out before the end of the year. This is what Smed was talking about when he said we’d see something — but not a beta — playable this year. EQNL will be a construction and exploration game, using some of the content creation tools developed for EQN, set atop an MMO-like framework of a massive persistent world that’s procedurally generated using the same tools that will be used in EQN. There will be crafting and character building of some kind in EQNL, but no combat, at least at first. You will need to find the stuff to build things out in the world with, and be able to claim plots that are yours to develop exclusively. It sounds a great deal like Survival Mode Minecraft built on an MMO skeleton and with modern graphics. Some stuff created by players in EQNL will be in EQN, even right at launch, and in turn some but likely not all of the world-affecting features of EQNL will be present in EQN.

SOE says that EQN will be the “biggest sandbox ever.” Evidently at launch the playable land area of EQN will exceed that of what’s currently in EQ and EQ2 combined. That’s… big. In part this will be procedurally generated, not just the surface world but at least two layers of underworld as well, with lore built in. Environments will be destructible, and you’ll not only be able to discover underworld locations by excavation, but you can affect combat by doing things like blowing up bridges.

Perhaps most interesting is a wholy new UI system powered by Storybricks. It’s the kind of thing only a few games have tried to do, and never successfully. Essentially each NPC or mob has its own motivations, so while a band of brigands might spawn somewhere, they aren’t tied to their static spawn point. Instead they will behave as their motivations direct them to do, finding a suitable place to camp where they can raid villages or molest travelers. Player action can affect this behavior, for example driving the bandits off into some other territory… where they might intrude on other monsters and in turn affect their behavior. UO tried to do roughly this kind of thing, before its launch, but couldn’t make it work so it was quietly deleted in favor of the same kind of static spawn system that we’ve seen in almost every other MMO since. I’m not sure SOE will pull it off, either, but even talk about it is exciting.

There will be races along traditional lines, but no levels. You pick one of eight base classes when you start playing, and then through play unlock other classes, with over 40 in all. You can then mix and match abilities from all of your classes as you like. There will be a single hotbar with eight slots, some of which will come from your classes and some from your weapon, in what sounds like a setup similar to Guild Wars 2. Combat, from what we’ve seen of it (a couple of clearly staged fights set up to show off the graphics,) looks akin to GW2 as well.

There’s more, including a Jeremy Soule soundtrack, Rallying calls that can change the world dynamically such that different servers can have physically different worlds, parkour-esque “heroic movement,” selling one’s creations via Player Studio… it’s really too much to try to encapsulate in one go. Just watch the videos, which include footage of characters, gameplay and environments, and a lot of information.

It seems obvious that EQN won’t be out in the next six months… and I’m not even sure about 2014, which would be the obvious time to release it. But we should get a good look at some of the underlying principles with EQNL, late this year. I was hopeful and optimistic but cautious before the announcement, but what SOE laid on the table yesterday wildly exceeded any expectations I had. It remains to be seen whether such ambition can be delivered upon, but frankly if any two of the four points talked about in the presentation comes through, it would be a big shakeup for a segment of the market mired in conformity. A big player trying something different and really leveraging the talent and ambition of their team is something worth paying attention to.

Looking Forward at EverQuest Next

I made the error of taking a look at the MMORPG.com EverQuest Next forum. As usual, it’s mostly vitriol from know-nothing vermin. I’ve come to the conclusion that people who post on MMORPG forums don’t play MMORPGs much, because my actual in-game experience is generally more positive.

Typical fanboy dumbfuckery aside, EQNext is one of the games I’m most looking forward to in the virtual world space. But we really have relatively little information about it at this point. Here’s what we know about EverQuest Next, along with some commentary and speculation from me:

  • EverQuest Next was the working title; now it’s confirmed to be the actual title.
  • There will be a reveal at SOELive on August 2nd. Live streams from the event will be available.
  • Based on stuff Smed has said, it’s supposed to be sandboxy. To what degree we don’t know. But SOE has a strong sandbox pedigree from SWG, and even their average (in-house) game is sandboxier than the current industry average. This is, as far as I’m concerned, the biggest unknown variable about the game at this time.
  • The game was well into development but was then substantially rebooted. Exactly how much was redone is unknown, but it sounds like a significant overhaul. I kind of doubt that it was a 100% scrap and restart, though.
  • EQNext will use the ForgeLight engine. This is the same engine used for Planetside 2, but don’t make the mistake of assuming this means that the graphical style of EQNext will be similar to that of PS2.
  • Since there’s a classes panel at SOELive, it’s a good bet the game will have classes. These might be tight rigid, classes or open, loose classes, but it won’t be 100% skill-based like EVE or anything.
  • It’s a good bet that Kerrans will be a playable race. I’m lukewarm about that personally, although if they look more like the cool tiger-guy in the promo artwork and less like domestic shorthairs that’d be great.
  • It would be stunning if EQNext were anything other than free to play with some kind of subscription option. Don’t be shocked to find that there’s a new twist or two, however minor, to the formula for EQNext. Certainly, expect some kind of preorder bundle, and perhaps a retail box, but it won’t be required to play.
  • Something is supposed to be playable this year. This might mean some kind of testing, or it might mean playable demos at SOELive. It might mean launch, and in fact that’s my guess. In general companies are more willing to launch f2p games light on content than was the case for games under the sub model. It’s hard to see what the long-term ramifications of this are, but for a game with substantial emergent gameplay, which I think is what SOE is aiming at, it should not be an insurmountable issue. Planetside 2 launched quite soon after we started to get the first substantial details about it. End of year is awfully quick, but it is not, I judge, impossible.

I personally will be unplugged the weekend of SOELive, but plan to catch up afterwards. It may be that my opinion will change completely after the reveal, but that’s as it should be. I cannot foresee not playing it at all, though, even if I become less excited about it.

Retro Servers and A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Some folks are talking about how MMORPG blogging is dying. While there are indisputably more platforms these days on which to spread your word, and many of the old blogging folks have migrated at least some of their material to those platforms, the problem isn’t that blogging is dying. Blogs, in fact, are as popular as ever. The issue in our little corner of the internet is that MMORPGs are dying.

Or, at least, MMORPGs as they have in the past been considered. The immersive virtual world, instead of being pushed forward, has been pushed to the sidelines by big companies chasing big money. Such worlds aren’t dead, but they’re now doomed to become a niche within the much broader definition of “MMORPGs,” which these days includes anything that is either multiplayer or vaguely an RPG. When League of Legends falls into the same category as EVE Online, I’m afraid that the category has lost any meaningful utility.

In retrospect it almost seems that Blizzard and its cash cow have been followers here rather than leaders. How many companies produced MMOs that superficially copied WoW, but only the elements that they thought were marketable to the masses, while leaving out the virtual world that made WoW so seductive in the first place? Meanwhile Blizzard was doing the same thing to their own game. Of course, EverQuest came first, laying much groundwork for the genre, which turned out to be part of the problem — by producing a game whose defining feature was “like EverQuest, but easier,” Blizzard sold a generation of game developers on the idea that they key to success and popularity was “easier.” Nobody noticed all those other good things that a Blizzard more or less oblivious to the huge pile of money in its future had done before the game launched. The world that you could spend thousands of hours lost in went away and all that was left was “easier,” “better balanced” and “more accessible.”

Maybe that really is the way to success for an MMORPG, but if so nobody’s managed to do it on Blizzard’s coattails. Instead we have a game strangling itself to death slowly and a company seemingly unable to do anything about it, or even to correctly identify the problem. People being simply burned out on a game they’re explored very thoroughly is certainly a factor, but contributing to it is that each expansion has given players less and less world to explore and get lost in. Maybe the amount of physical volume is just as high, maybe there’s even more quests than ever, but all the little avenues of play other than the one that the devs give us have been slowly but surely stripped away or consigned to uselessness. Surely fatigue is important, but it would be less of an issue if WoW hadn’t lost an important element of what made it so popular to begin with.

We, the MMORPG fans who miss that big virtual world, have a couple of options. One is to wait on the chance that one of the next generation of virtual worlds will be what we want. I’ve mentioned my own hopes surrounding Star Citizen and EverQuest Next, and are some other titles as well, like ArcheAge and The Repopulation, that have potential. They’re all (save EQN) from smaller studios, but that’s okay — the market for this type of game needs to contract and developers need to stop chasing WoW money and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in development anyway.

Or we can hope for a throwback server, one that tries to replicate the experience of a younger game. But there are reasons why only one company even tries this, and why its attempts are halfhearted. The big obstacle is that there aren’t just five different versions of (for example) WoW: vanilla, BC, Wrath, Cataclysm and Pandaria. There are in fact hundreds of different versions, one corresponding to each step in the patch/update cycle. and of course you have two pieces of software to be concerned with, the server and the client. Which of the hundreds of versions do you pick? Assuming you even have archived versions of the software from that date? (SOE always maintains that it doesn’t even have that obsolete code, though you’d think that proper design principles would mandate decent version control.) The client today is vastly different from a version of the client from a random date six years ago, so you’d need to either distribute an old client alongside the current one of undertake a major piece of software engineering to make the current client work with both new and old versions of the server-side software.

This last is a dealbreaker, by the way. But let’s assume you even get that far. In that throwback version of the game there are surely cool things that have been lost today, but just as surely there is crufty, broken stuff that you’d want to fix — and it was fixed, one or ten updates down the line. Do you abandon all the good work that went into development of the live game during that time, in an effort to eradicate the bad? Eliminating changes the developers believed in at the time, defended in internal meetings and fought to achieve? Do you fix those things and effectively consign yourself to having a second development team working on a parallel game?

Now, you could theoretically see something like SOE has done in the past, most recently with the Fippy Darkpaw server, which is a fresh server with most of the newer stuff locked down or hidden, but even so there’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes, in the basic mechanics or in the functionality of the UI for example, that can’t be easily changed or rolled back, as indeed SOE does not. This is why you’ve never going to see a real WoW or EQ2 throwback server; because to do it right costs too much money and is too much trouble. The fundamental game mechanics have changed too much; it would be impossible to hide the new game under a visage of the old, as was done with EQ.

That leaves the last option, which is to hop to one of a variety of private servers that try to offer a retro experience. There are selections for vanilla WoW, old-school EQ and pre-CE SWG, offhand, among many other private server options, and if one of those is your thing you may find some happy times there. But these private servers can never really fully replicate the experience that we had “back in the day,” lacking the community and the live dev team that gives an MMORPG part of its dynamism. Private servers are also of, at best, questionable legality; the whole private server scene strikes me as a sleazy underworld awash in shady figures and dubious downloads.

Still, some private WoW servers are doing interesting things. Many have additional non-canon features aside from stuff like x100 XP rates, like significant rules changes or even entire custom expansions. Note that I’m reporting this based on stuff like the linked video above; I’ve only ever stuck my head into one private server and an generally very uncomfortable with the idea. Legal or not, though, clearly a lot of attentive work has gone into some of these. It would be nice if something could be worked out with the IP holder to allow legitimately creative modded servers to exist above board.

This is more or less the situation we have today with Minecraft, in fact, although that game’s suitability for both modding and multiplayer is in my judgement subject to debate. In the case of high-profile MMORPG titles like WoW or EQ such a situation would seem pretty unlikely. But Star Citizen promises something effectually very similar, with the ability to create mods and run private servers drawn in from the get-go. This will be a boon for those dissatisfied with some particular version of the game — they can just write a mod to roll the game back to some earlier version, perhaps with other modifications, and run the whole thing on their own private server, without the kind of legal worries that illicit private servers currently have to worry about.

So that’s my proposed solution — I’m pinning my hopes on EverQuest Next and (and maybe a little on Shroud of the Avatar,) with an ear to the ground on a few other projects, but Star Citizen, which hopes to make centralized server control by the publisher an option rather than a mandate, may be the Next Best Hope. I just hope I’ll have a PC able to run it.

What Was Lost

My recent playing experience has me convinced that World of Warcraft is a lot less fun today than it was in its vanilla days. This isn’t nostalgia talking — I wasn’t even playing WoW until after Burning Crusade released. But let’s say I’ve confirmed it and leave it at that.

The real question, though, is why. Without talking in vagaries or throwing down meaningless buzzwords like “sandbox,” why does the vanilla WoW experience seem so much richer than the game today? A lot of what we think about this is annoyingly unspecific; how far can we dig into it?

There’s no question that a lot of changes have happened in WoW over its 8-year lifespan. Many of those have been positive additions to the game — few would quibble with most of the new races, for example, or the fact that new lands have been added. The addition of auction houses in every city instead of just Orgrimmar and Ironforge is probably a good thing. Autoloot saves everyone some hassle.

At the same time, the very process of expanding the game also irreprarably broke some things. Crafting has never recovered, for example — crafted gear at any level other than the current cap is still tuned to a gear level before the current expansion, making it worthless as new drops have been added to the loot tables. The progresion speed within each tradeskill is still tuned to the vanilla leveling speed — meaning that now, you will outlevel your zones long before you’re able to finishing doing the crafting for those same levels, which stalls you one way or the other: either you stop level and grind crafting, or you abandon crafting and maybe get back to it later — whereupon you need to grind independently of leveling. Perhaps the vanilla game wasn’t as well-tuned as it sems today in comparison, but the general trend toward the leveling game just being a time-waster until you get to the top level was much less obvious then.

Too, it’s easy to forget just how nonlinear the questing was pre-Cataclysm. There were quests all over the place, and no particular pointers to them in many cases. Even standard zones like Elwynn Forest had breadcrumb quests between the major hubs, but also a ton of quests off the beaten track that you could find, and lots of intersting locations not directly tied to particular quests. You had chains that you’d pick up at one level and then resume ten levels later. It gave exploration value over and above the pittance in XP you got from unlocking the map sections, and you could find and do things in the order you liked, instead of just giving being given a set progression that you can’t deviate from in any significant way.

WoW was a little more challenging then, partly due to mechanical changes and partly due to even low-level gear being totally busted now. WoW was never really about challenge per se, but who doesn’t have a recollection of of dying a dozen times in the Burning Blade cave or the Fargodeep Mine, or to those fucking robots in Deadmines? In a way it was frustrating, but your forward progress never really stopped, so it could still be fun. even if you were pounding your keyboard in rage.

The world was bigger. This is an illusion, of course, but it’s a powerful one. With no mounts until level 40, no flying mounts at all, and the flight paths few and far between, for a lot of the game you had to hoof it. Which could slow the pace of play dramatically, but it also had an interesting side effect when players left the straight path and tried to find shortcuts. Sometimes they discovered something interesting up there in the hills, tied to somebody else’s questline that they would otherwise never see, or perhaps a relic of some abandoned thread of development from before release. Sometimes it was just something that ate extra time, but even then it was showing the wandering player the texture of a world that didn’t have every iota of content already lined up in order. The expectation was that things would take time, so you felt less inclination to rush and spent more effort on the journey and enriching it.

I’m hoping that EverQuest Next can capture some of this magic that even Blizzard seems to have lost their grip on. It’s probably the Last Best Hope for virtual worlds on the visible horizon; “sandbox” isn’t really the right term for this, but it’s what we’ve got.

Backwards Yet, Maybe, Forwards

Of late I’ve been spending a bit of very casual time in EverQuest. As long-time readers will know, I missed out of EQ in its heyday and have made only a few abortive attempts to get into it in recent years. This time around, having skipped the upappealing tutorial zone and diving directly into what appears to be the only remaining starter zone, it’s working a little better for me. I’m a bit out of my depth, but presumably time can fix that, if I keep playing.

I’m also futzing with the open beta of Firefall. I like it, although it’s occupying the same slot in my head that Planetside 2 does. I intend to keep fooling with it, although my current interest level (which is not extraordinarily high) inclines me to wait for launch rather than deal with the vicissitudes of beta.

Looking forward, there are two MMOish titles on the horizon that I’m exited about: Star Citizen and EverQuest Next. The former may not be officially an MMO, but a lot of the talk coming out of the Star Citizen group is pretty exciting, and as far as I can see today it’s close enough. I’m particularly interested in how the game is supposed to interact with player activity vis a vis the economy, as discussed in the linked video.

EQNext might be a full-throated return to the sandbox for SOE. We actually know a lot less about it than we do Star Citizen at this point, but hopefully that will change with the game’s formal reveal at SOELive in early August. In a typical stroke of luck, I will be camping at that time, but I’ll catch up when I get back a few days later.

Either or both could disappoint, of course. But they do stand a chance of pushing virtual worlds forward for the first time in years. The “MMORPG” term has basically outlived its usefulness as terminology, and as a category it has ceased evolving in any direction of its own, rather moving closer to other, safer styles of game.

EQNext, Not Next Year

Massively reports, and Wilhelm remarks, that we shan’t be seeing any information on EverQuest Next any time soon. The relevant SmokeJumper quote courtesy of EQ2Wire:

EQ Next is still being built within a black box. The *earliest* we are currently considering that we *might* reveal info is late this year. We’re being very particular about what needs to be in the game before revealing it to folks, so until that stuff is ready, we won’t be showing anything. (Screens you saw from a couple years ago are completely obsolete now and are not pertinent to the current game at all.)

SOE is actually pretty good at trickling information out to the public, if you are paying very close attention. Naturally some individuals took the mention of the project as a sign that release was imminent, leading to the idea in some quarters by 2012 that it was vaporware. Of course, I don’t have to tell my readers these things take a long time to develop and that SOE isn’t the biggest or the richest development house out there. It’s gonna take a while. If we assume that serious discussions started happening in 2009 (as seems reasonable) then given a typical five-year development cycle we should expect to see a launch in 2014.

When SOE said that a new chapter in the EverQuest franchise was being planned back in 2009, it was clearly only in the thinking stages at the time, and when they started to talk about it at FanFaire in 2010, it was still obviously very early in development. So not hearing any details soon is not a surprise. 2013 is clearly going to be the year of Planetside 2 for SOE. They are mounting a big push for it and it’s drawing a lot of very positive buzz. My guess would be that we will not, in fact, see anything substantial on EQNext this year, as Creative Director Dave Georgeson implies is possible in the quote above. By the end of the year, of course, the narrative in certain quarters will be that more info was in fact promised, and that SOE is again the House of Lies. But you can’t unlearn stupid.

We may hear something at FanFaire… er, SOELive this year, or possibly afterward. Maybe even a screenshot or two. But I think we won’t start to see serious information until 2013, and possibly not before SOELive 2013. As for release, I think 2014 is possible, but I’m not holding my breath. I’d say 2015, possibly even 2016 are more likely.

First Look at ForgeLight

This video from the Planetside 2 alpha is a few days old now but I hadn’t seen it until this point. Go ahead and give it a watch.

This is SOE’s new ForgeLight engine in action. Bearing in mind that it’s alpha footage and is sure to get better in any number of ways, I’m struck by how terrific the lighting and environmental effects are. It’s made me more interested in Planetside 2 than I was, and more excited about this very same engine, only tested and matured by its use in the preceding game, used to power EverQuest Next.