We built this village
I never cared about EverQuest. When I was first introduced to the series, it was at a point early in the life of MMORPGs, long before I their appeal became apparent to me. A world comprised of rough graphics and barren lands, where human players run around with one another solely to enter combat that amounted to little more than a series of mouse clicks? Not really my bag.
By the time my eyes had been open to why I would (and should) care, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft already had me under its spell. In stark contrast to EverQuest, WoW had a fun, colorful, stylized look to it—one that I found far more appealing than Sony Online Entertainment’s efforts at realism. Unlike EQ, Warcraft offered quests that were robust, diverse, and delivered gameplay that amounted to more than endless grinding.
Plus, once Burning Crusade hit, the world of Warcraft had Russian-accented blue space goats. Did EverQuest have that? I don’t think so!
In the fourteen years since the launch of the original EverQuest, I lived under the assumption that my disinterest in the series was something that would never, ever change. What could SOE possibly do to make me interested in playing? I have World of Warcraft to go back to. I have newer titles like Final Fantasy XIV, should the need for something different come up. And, barring those choices, the market has provided me countless free-to-play role-playing experiences if the idea of a monthly subscription fee is just too much to bear.
And yet, not only will I say that I was wrong, but I take a large amount of glee in being able to do so.
EverQuest Next caught my eye from the moment I saw it. Gone was the quest for overly-detailed, pseudo-realistic characters and towns, replaced by a gorgeous, unique art style. The game was crafted to be free-to-play right from the start, meaning that my uncertainty over how much potential enjoyment I’d receive from adventuring in an EverQuest world could potentially be eased without a single cent of investment. Most of all, from the tech demoes and gameplay design decisions they revealed, it seemed the team at SOE were legitimately interested in doing something revolutionary in MMORPGs—not just evolutionary.
For me, one of the biggest points of interest in that regard is the world building options the EverQuest team has come up with. Just as there used to be a stigma surrounding free-to-play games—they were the titles that weren’t good enough to cost anything—a similar one existed for games that encouraged players to help build content. What fun is it to buy a game that then forces us to create all of the fun for ourselves?
Of course, then Minecraft happened. Sure, it wasn’t the first game to come up with the idea of letting the player drastically shape or affect the world, but it built upon those ideas in a way that sparked the fires of creativity and imagination in all of us.
EverQuest Next Landmark—the companion experience to EverQuest Next that is focused around putting players in charge of making the world—isn’t ashamed to have itself compared to Notch’s breakout smash. Materials can be mined, harvested, discovered; players can use their power over the landscape to create or destroy.
My time with Landmark was meant to be but a small introduction to those very elements. First, I learned the basic commands: adding or removing material shapes, using the healing brush or the smoothing tool, and selecting sections of the world.
Adding or deleting materials is easy—just pick the voxel shape, one of a number of pre-set sizes, and then point and click. I started by just getting the hang of placing squares of dirt into the world. Soon, before me stood a bizarre lump of angles and flat edges that looked like something from the era of Cubism. I had no real intentions in mind when I was randomly placing those squares of varying size—nothing beyond seeing how positioning and placement work.
Next, I switched to the smoothing tool, which softens and rounds sharp edges on whatever you run the tool’s pointer over. The cubes I had placed started looking less like perfect boxes, and more like lumps of dirt as I worked to blend them together through smoothing. I went back to the voxel shapes, but this time chose to delete instead of add. Now, with the sphere, I cut a hole into one of the tallest mounds of earth I had placed, and with some extra removal of materials, soon I had what looked like a crude arch.
That arch gave me an idea. Using smaller shapes, I added or removed as needed, until—just past the arch—I had a small flight of stairs. The landing they took me to was the far edge of what I had built, so I doubled the stairs back toward the arch, up to the flat top of the structure.
I then tried out another menu option, one that I’d love to see added to Minecraft at some point: the ability to paint over materials with another material, changing the make-up of what you’ve built without having to tear it down first. Painting across my dirt structure, it quickly became stone—a change that happens not just on the surface, but down to the very core of the voxels you choose to change. I hadn’t gotten the hang of doing this just yet, so I accidentally also turned some of the ground to stone. That’s where the healing brush came in, which can return any segment of the landscape to what it originally was when that particular world was first generated.
When I was done, I had—well, something. My explanation for the crudely crafted little structure that stood before me was that it was all that remained of a once great castle, one that had fallen hundreds of years ago to unknown causes. While not much to look at, I had taken a random jumble of squares and turned them into something that could actually have looked at home in the game in about 10 minute’s time.
That, for me, was a hugely important point. Games that ask us to craft live or die by how easy (or hard) that crafting is. While simple in visuals and concept, the power of an experience like Minecraft is that it makes it ridiculously easy to do the basics of building. Now sure, creating fantastic structures still takes time, effort, patience, and creativity—but, thankfully, the engine tries to avoid getting in the way of those things as much as possible.
When you’re given a virtual world as elaborate as EverQuest Next, the potential for complexity when trying to achieve similar goals is huge. At this point, Landmark still needs some polish to get everything just right when it comes to placing, deleting, or modifying materials (which is not surprising, since the game is still in pre-alpha), but already it’s showing both power and promise. Doing what I did was much easier than I expected, and there seems to be a concerted effort in finding the right balance between giving players too many or too few options for creation.
Even more exciting? The world won’t be the only thing players will be able to craft in EverQuest Landmark. While the team members I talked to seemed to receive a sadistic amount of glee from being cryptic about how everything will work in the final game, I was told that players will be able to bring to life other portions of the game, such as custom quests, adventures, or enemy encounters. Landmark will be a huge playground for those who love the idea of seeing what their fellow citizens come up with—and it will serve as the testing ground for what is brought over to the bigger world of EverQuest Next.
There was a time when the concept of a free-to-play online RPG focused on the work of its community would have sounded like a crazy (and chaotic) idea. Now that I’ve both come to appreciate MMORPGs, and seen some of the amazing work that people have put into Minecraft, I have faith. EverQuest Next Landmark could be the revolution that I’ve been looking for in the genre—and it will be by our own hands that the brave new future is built.