Will EverQuest Next Save Us All?

It’s been fun watching the EverQuest Next news and reactions at SOE this year; after several development reboots, Sony finally showed off the latest direction of the venerable MMO title.  For those who are not completely up to speed where EverQuest (EQ) fits into MMORPG history, it was the big MMO on the block after Ultima Online, but before World of Warcraft (WoW).  It was known as EverCrack in its early days due to the addicting lure of a vast world with lots of stuff to do in-game.  Later days brought EverQuest 2, but that wilted before the might of WOW polish and popularity.  EQ and EQ2 have hung in there quietly all these years, while WoW has gone on to become the MMO standard.  But Sony has been working on this new version for awhile now, and last year they announced they were going back to the drawing board with the game, with SOE president John Smedley basically saying it was too much of the “same old, same old.”  Sony wanted to do something revolutionary with the next version of EverQuest, not a simply polish of old engines and ideas.

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Choosing an MMO

Not too long ago, there were only a few MMORPGs on the landscape; the genre was relatively new.  The big names started with Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, then EverQuest  and EverQuest 2, and finally, the ultimate behemoth, World of Warcraft (yep, I know your other favorite was in there somewhere as well, but those are the biggies).  Since that time, the genre has literally exploded; currently, there are almost 600 active MMORPG’s available, from every genre imaginable, with emphasis on one feature over another, browser-based, to mobile, and even some targeting consoles.  How the heck do you choose?  I say this because to many folks, an MMO is a long-term commitment; many are looking for a game home that will provide off-hours recreation for a good many years; many solid friendships and even marriages have come from people met in-game, so finding that right mix is essential.  Keep in mind that as you ask yourselves these questions, there is no right or wrong answer; everyone has their own preferences for play, just be honest with yourself.

It pays to narrow down the options, so let’s start with…

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Is it Possible to Build a Combat-Optional MMO?

The whole Newtown tragedy got me thinking a bit recently regarding the combat-centric emphasis of most video games.  I won’t get into a discussion here about whether combat should be eliminated from games or not – I think it’s probably unrealistic at worst, and undesirable at best.  There have been many articles about violence in games before as well; just Google it and you’ll come up with plenty.

Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed are the games people first scrutinize (or blame) when these tragedies arise, but combat in games go back to very aborignal games – you could say RiskGalaga, or even PacMan had something of a “combat” focus – you were certainly fighting an adversary, and conflict is certainly necessary in any form of literature, and even art in general.  Combat versus monsters or dragons is a bit more acceptable, since they aren’t “real” in the sense that other people are—again, more reasons why Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto are the ones that get the most attention.

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What is Horizontal Progression, Really?

Last time, I talked quite a bit about endgame, and how games might be designed to avoid “grinding” for progressively more powerful gear once the character has reached “max level:”

Use a skill-based, horizontal progression system rather than a level-based, gear grind system.  Give us a huge pool of options and gear to buy, but let players find their own right combination of skills and gear.  Place an upper limit on the most powerful gear in the game, but provide lots of it—variety of abilities and gear should be the progression for players who play for epic achievement.

More players than ever are starting to demand horizontal over vertical progression in their games.  Recent dust-ups around Guild Wars 2’s introduction of a new gear tier brought to light how much emotion there is on the issue – thousands of posts protesting the decision on the forums after the announcement.

But what does horizontal progression really mean, and how does vertical progression conflict with it?

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The Endgame Dilemma

One of the most criticized and praised elements in more recent “themepark” MMORPGs is the concept of “endgame.”  A themepark MMO is a static world that remains largely unaffected by player actions.  It can be described as a backdrop where players are “led” through quests (with many pointers and hints making it difficult to fail at the task.)  Players critical of themeparks joke about games being “on rails” like a rollercoaster ride at a themepark.   Eventually—the time varies depending how frequently the person plays—the character completes most of the quests and reaches “max level” or “level cap,” and endgame.    This is simplified, of course; there are often additional ways to reach max-level besides questing, including player-vs-player (PVP) battlegrounds, crafting, and instanced dungeons.

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