Steampowered Sunday #4
This morning I have scarfed my tasty oatmeal and downed my huge skull mug full of coffee. Now I am ready to break some of my own rules. Namely I am writing this morning what I had intended to write last week. At the point of last Sunday I had Everquest Next Landmark in my hands for roughly 48 hours, so that in itself was a bit rule breaking since previously my Steampowered Sunday posts were literally me playing the game and then writing my impression of it. However since the Landmark servers spent most of Sunday down, and I could not gather up the screenshots I wanted, I ended up writing a different post and skipping Steampowered Sunday all together. This week, I am picking up where I intended. Next week we will return to my normal slapshod impression posts of a game from my steam list, but this week is devoted to Landmark.
Everquest Next Landmark
Firstly before digging into this post, you have to understand something. Everquest was my first real MMO. While I had played quite a bit of Phantasy Star Online over on the Dreamcast, EQ was the game that got me hooked on the genre. As a result I have this massive soft spot in my heard for all things Norrath. I love the setting, the pantheon of gods, the racial tension… and while I just cannot bring myself to go back to the original Everquest, I always keep EQ2 installed and at the ready for when I need a nostalgic binge. So back in August during SOE Live 2013 when they announced Everquest Next, the game they had kept pretty well under wraps until that point… to say the least I was extremely interested. While I had deep concerns about the class design for Next I was absolutely pumped at the prospect of this new thing they called Landmark.
I believe it was Jesse Cox that called Everquest Next Landmark, Minecraft on Crack… but in truth that is neither fair to Minecraft nor Landmark. It is very much the case that a game like this simply would not exist were it not for Notch and his vision to create a fully destructable cube world in Minecraft. Landmark is more akin to Minecraft Evolved or to use the codemonkey term… Minecraft++. The world feels completely different at first, but as you dig into it, the same kinds of logic that we adapted to while branch mining for diamonds in Minecraft mostly apply here to. The difference is, that with Landmark it feels like they are only scratching the surface of what they can do with the engine. They have grand plans to use Landmark as a testbed for ideas that will eventually work their way into the eventual Everquest Next product.
The world of Landmark is arranged as a group of “Islands” assigned to a specific server that are connected by a network of the Combine Spires. First I have to say how pumped I am to see the Combine Spire concept visualized so wonderfully in this world. It just wouldn’t feel like a EQ game without the spire travel network. My only desire would be for them to eventually give us a hearthstone type construct that lets us fast travel to our claim. For those of us who were not lucky enough to get claims near the spires, it becomes a trek each time we want to get to our claim to do work.
Your Claim in the World
Right now the claims system works pretty well, but each of the worlds is so full that it become a crapshoot to try and find anyplace to set down roots. Every grey colored flag represents some players claim on Liberation/Pingo where I set down roots. The blue flag represents my home, and it is a fair clip from the teleport spires. When I managed to get into game the Saturday after release, all of the tier 1 and tier 2 zones were essentially full, and there was nothing at all even vaguely close to one of the spires. Right now the game allows you to plunk down a claim in a freeform fashion so long as it is a certain amount of space away from any nearby claims. The problem with this is it allows for some inefficient use of space.
What I would love to see is a system more like Trove with fixed claim points that you just walk up to and take over. This does two things that are really important. Firstly it allows for the space to be divided up for maximum efficiency letting a fixed number of players inhabit each and every map. Secondly… and this is huge… it allows for a “No Vacancy” sign of sorts to be placed on the islands that simply have no room left at all. Right now a brand new player has to teleport from island to island until they find one that looks like it has a bit of free space… sometimes running out there only to find that a new claim cannot be placed. My friend Rae went through this process yesterday and I have to say it sounded extremely frustrating.
Your Pick and A Dream
You are dropped into this world with only the most basic of supplies. Currently everyone playing the game has the founders pick, which is a combination of the lowest pick axe and a pretty high tier axe allowing them to mine copper, stone and dirt and chop down all but the largest trees. Once this goes beta however, most players will enter the game with the Stone Pick and Stone Axe, much slower versions of the founders pick. In order to progress you have to gather a seriously large number of resources. Currently the conversion rate is generally 100 raw resources to 1 finished resource. To make your first upgrade, the copper pick you need to gather 1000 copper, be lucky enough to get 10 elemental copper a rare drop, and gather up 1000 plain wood logs. Then on top of that… not all Copper Picks are created equal. They range from very slow green quality picks to truly amazing legendary quality picks that cut through stone like butter.
At this point I feel like a lot of the resource costs need to be balanced but they do give a player something to shoot for. For example my next tier upgrade of pick requires me to gather up 6,000 plain wood, 90 sapphire, 30 extremely rare elemental cobalt, 500 also rare burled wood, and 3000 cobalt ore. To make it worse… to even craft this I need to upgrade my crafting machines to the next tier. You start off with access to a basic forge at the combine spires, and then after that you need to craft your own machines… or find a very kind member that has all of the crafting machines out in the open on their own claim. This is one of the things I am loving the most about Landmark so far… it is building a little community.
I am going to draw a comparison that rarely gets drawn in a positive light. The crafter camaraderie reminds me so much of the early days of Horizon. That game was ahead of its time in so many ways, but primarily in the great crafting system that made it a positive thing for crafters and adventurers alike to work together on these massive scale public works projects. I remember spending hours as a Reaver guarding crafters as they brought loads of materials to be applied to one of the big bridges that would then connect up to a brand new untouched island. The crafter gear was not suited for combat, and was needed to be able to carry the maximum amount of materials to the work sight, so an alliance sprung up so that these crafters could be ferried safely from the nearest resource field to the very dangerous work sight.
In a very similar spirit, players are dedicating their claim to becoming a crafting hub for their island. The above claim is just off the spires in Liberation/Hollows and belongs to a player that I don’t even know named Linerra. But she has so graciously opened it up to the public, and every night this place becomes a hub of players crafting up new bits for their own claims. I am not sure she will ever fully know how much I appreciate what she is doing. While I want to make the latest machines, when it comes time for me to craft my cobalt pick I will likely visit her hub, instead of gathering the 80 Elemental Cobalt, 8000 Cobalt Ore, 9000 Tungsten Ore, and 6000 Amaranthine to craft the Amaranthine Forge needed to create it.
I have been surprised that my own claim has become a hub of sorts for my area of Pingo, so I have the motivation to eventually upgrade all of my machines to the highest level. I have since moved the crafting machines from my porch to the undercroft, but I left a note in my claim banner indicating where they can now be found. Awesome thing is, I have struck up a friendship with a few of the players who visit my home regularly to craft. This sense of being neighborly is a really interesting dynamic to me. Yesterday as I was working on the third and fourth floors of my forest temple I was constantly having players swing by and say hello.
Building Tool Progression
One of the things that is drawing mixed reception is the gating of building tool mechanics. When you start the game you are given a package that contains the Add, Remove and Heal tools that can be used to build on your claim. The above image is of me clearing the voxels from my claim with the remove tool. These can be scaled and changed in shape and the material and texture they apply, but represent a very rudimentary “minecraft esc” way of building. Later there are much more powerful tools like the selection tool that allows you to apply a material to a much larger section, or use the really powerful cut and paste functions. There has been a bit of grumbling that it takes so much farming before you get these more advanced tools. I however think this is probably a good idea.
Sticking with the three simplest tools forces you to “learn the basics” before getting into something that can cause issues if you are not careful. Selecting large areas lets you do something really quickly, but at the same time you can also make some pretty big mistakes with it. Most of my building is still done with the add/remove tools, and I tend to use the selection and smooth tools extremely sparingly. I have heard that the line tool is even more powerful when you get it, but similarly if you don’t have a basic understanding of how to get the most of using the fixed tools on and off the grid, it becomes easier for you to make mistakes when handed the really game changing tools later on.
The above video is a really good resource for showing off the basics of crafting with tools on your claim. While I have been piddling with this game for a little over a week now, I still feel like I am constantly picking up tricks. The best thing about the system is that it is so simple and easy to gasp, especially for anyone who has ever played Minecraft. At the same time it is infinitely complex in the number of things you can do with it. People are creating some really crazy things, especially using the smooth tool to even go so far as to create massive sculptures. When they finally open the player studio, it will be interesting to see just what sorts of widgets players have constructed. Right now the only thing of any worth that I have crafted is a prefab staircase that I have used multiple times in my forest temple to move between levels.
Only Scratching the Surface
It really feels like we have only begun to scratch the surface for what Landmark can be. I know they plan on adding in a full combat system with randomly spawned encounters, as well as multiple tiers of exploration to each of the islands. They showed digging down into caverns and lava chambers in the launch video, and from all I have heard that is still very much planned for landmark. Even without all of that the game is extremely addicting and is scratching every builder itch I could possibly have. That is not to say however that it is a finished product in any fashion. The thing I warn players before they plunk down their money to buy their way into the Alpha process… remember that this is an Alpha in every sense of the word. Stuff is broken at times… and that is okay.
I grumbled a bit last week as I had my claim completely wiped five or six times before they got to the bottom of the issues with saving voxel changes to the database. I expect this, I knew what I was getting into… and I have begun building in a really large way knowing that at some point down the road it is all going to get wiped into oblivion. By building and testing I am ultimately helping to make a better finished product. I’ve alpha and beta tested hundreds upon hundreds of games at this point, and this is something that I just take as part of the price for helping to shape the end result. But for players who are used to the “almost finished game being called an alpha” definition of recent years… expect things to go haywire.
After saying all of that, I fully believe that this game is worth investing in. The game that is there is extremely fun, but we will be seeing so much more over the coming months. In the week we have already seen a handful of patches and new featured added in like the ability to hit the down arrow in the crafting window to easily craft the maximum number of items. Each time I log in, I find something new that got patched in when I was not paying attention. I love watching a game get created before my eyes, and the level of transparency the SOE folks have been giving us is phenomenal. I look forward to working together to help craft what eventually ends up being Everquest Next and beginning a epic gaming tradition.