Fear of the Unknown

MMO Nostalgia

pathfinderonline One of the interesting subtexts this week that we will likely talk about on tonight’s AggroChat is Kodra and Pathfinder Online.  He has begun the descent into this game and been trying to drum up a certain measure of interest from the rest of us to join him.  The problem is that as I listen to him talk about the game I realize that I have already played this.  In fact I gave three years of my life to Everquest, and everything about Pathfinder Online feels like a nostalgic throwback to that era.  I am sure it is a perfectly awesome game, but while I miss the sense of community we had back then there are many things I don’t miss about it.  This is all the more relevant since right now the Ragefire server is open in Everquest and folks are flocking there for their own hit from the nostalgia pipe.

The thing that I don’t miss about that era is the way I felt chained to the computer.  Every time I set foot in the world I had a tangible fear of losing everything that I had worked so hard to attain to that point.  There was always the fear that you might take a death in a place where you could not recover your body.  Over time the items on your body started to decay and disappear, and eventually there was a point where things were simply no longer recoverable.  The problem is when you took a death your entire mission in life became about getting that body back.  I’ve known people that skipped major events in their life all because they were in the middle of trying to get back their virtual items.  I’ve personally gotten calls on the middle of a Sunday afternoon begging me to go home and log in and go find them so that I could resurrect their body and give them back some of the lost experience.

Fear of the Unknown

kithicor-thecrew So while I don’t miss any of that bullshit, I do the constant and tangible sense of fear.  The problem being that the modern games seem to have missed the boat in what exactly caused this fear.  Right now so many of these sandbox games take the cheap route and make every player afraid of every other player.  The problem with this is that it is counter productive to building a community.  You want your players to band together, rather than avoid each other like the plague.  What caused the fear was that the world was this scary and unknown place.  There were no in game maps, there were no mob statistics…  and it was the lack of information that made the world frightening.  We didn’t know what we didn’t know… and often times our imaginations invented a far scarier scenario than the game servers were possible of creating at the time.  We imagined complex plans within plans… and that the server was quite literally out to get us.

There were situations like Kithicor Forest in Everquest, where during the day it was a friendly low level hunting zone, but at night all manner of maximum level undead spawned and started roaming.  The truth of Kithicor is that there were far fewer undead spawning than we realized and that we were never in as much danger as we actually thought we were.  In all the times I ran through the zone at night, I never once died to the undead…  but I was constantly in fear of it.  I “knew” death waited around every corner and because of it I tiptoed my way out into the world constantly aware of my surroundings and constantly afraid that at any moment the server would reach out and smite me for my impudence.  The fact that it never actually happened, didn’t really matter…  because I lacked the data mined information to tell me exactly what the spawn rates were and where the roaming paths were located at.

Players Together, Not Against

watching_sat We are quite literally overloaded with information about the games we play.  Knowing the amount of hit points a given mob has is just expected now, along with knowing every other intimate piece of information about the game.  We know the attacks a creature is capable of making, and how exactly to counter them…  before we even see said creature take a swing.  Where this modern incarnation of Everquest nostalgia falls short is understanding that it was our lack of knowledge that made us afraid to venture into the world.  It was not necessarily the harsh death penalties, and it most definitely was not that we were afraid of other players…  it was that the world was cruel and unknown.  The focus on PVP as a way of providing cheap content always seems to miss the point of why the original games worked.  Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot worked more than anything because it caused players to be willing to look for help from anyone who would offer it.

When you expect the world to strike you down at any moment, you are willing to accept assistance from anyone willing to lend it.  Especially in Everquest it felt like every player in the game was on the same team, that it was us versus the world.  Sure there were territorial squabbles over spawn camps and the like, but more often than not each server had its own hard and fast rules for dealing with this sort of thing.  We the players made order out of the chaos, and there was protection in numbers.  There were many zones that you didn’t go to because you knew there were not likely to be other players to help you out if something went wrong.  By the same token these untouched zones became the perfect place for a group of friends to go off exploring on their own.  This is what we need in the current crop of nostalgic games, a sense of why exactly the first games worked and a certain measure of ignorance to make us all fear the darkness.

13 thoughts on “Fear of the Unknown

  1. Oh, Kithicor. <3

    It was definitely a more hostile world back then, where even in the middle of a city you could get swatted by an NPC that didn't like your race or religion. Sometimes you even had to rely on other people to do your shopping for you (I got two platinum pieces from a dark elf PC who needed food and water from a merchant who wouldn't sell to her).

    I do wonder what kind of design choices could be made to minimize the effects of wikification of gameplay (although I'm just as guilty of the latter as anyone else after years as an admin on lotro-wiki.com…). If the game world can change more quickly and organically than people can document it… is that a good thing?

  2. I so crave that old school experience where community mattered and so did reputation. The problem i find is trying to relive that in an older game.
    It’s impossible when you know everything about it and have experienced most of it already. “Vanilla” servers don’t work for me.

    I’d like to get that experience in a new MMO where everyone is a newbie. That’s why i’m looking forward to Pantheon. For as much drama surrounding that game, it does check off a lot of what i’m looking for. If it ever actually gets anywhere is anyone’s guess.

    Now whether or not i have to time to play something like that today is a different question. I certainly won’t revolve my life around it like was almost mandatory back then. Those days are over for me.

  3. In this world of Google and third-party websites, I question whether it’s even possible to recreate that ignorance and fear of the unknown any longer.

    As you say, mobs have a spawn point and patrol paths – these days, someone is going to map it and then post it online, or make an overlay that shows you each mob’s position or something.

    Someone will catalogue each and every attack it has, how many hp it has, and so on.

    Don’t Starve, Binding of Isaac and Minecraft all start you off with very little information about the world – but these days, our solution is to watch streams, read guides, hunt up wikis rather than cower in fear of the dark.

  4. I agree. It has been an issue for a long, long time now. It has even come full circle where most developers design the game to point out things. There’s no intent to hide or obscure anything from players anymore.

    I hate it.

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