Your Next: Subversive Elements

The world is such an unfathomable place, and people populate the heart of its endless mystery. In my country, a political party that represents the interests of less than ten percent of the people got about a third of us to vote for them and now they’re running the show. Never underestimate the importance of selling an idea

In the brutal political landscape of MMO forum PvP we are known for flapping our gums about the need for new approaches and ideas in the medium, and we also know anything that deviates from established models is met with major resistance. It’s a fascinating quirk of the human brain that we seem to be able to hold these two positions simultaneously.

Yes, 1984 is one of my favorite books, why do you ask?

While innovation is important to keep things fresh, keeping design and presentation within a cultural context that players can understand is equally important. If you go too far off the script, the product can be too unconventional to appeal to the established market. I’m not advocating that everything stay the same, but while it’s certainly not impossible to break through with something unique there’s an upper limit of ‘uniqueness’, after which it loses attractiveness.

With a new game, it seems that shooting for different but still recognizable is the best bet. If you’re setting out to create something that feels very different, such as EverQuest Next, how can this be reconciled?

EQN is positioned as a reaction to the entrenched norms of MMORPGs; the desire for the game to be different has been put front and centre from day one. So how does it balance this desire with the need to be approachable and culturally resonant?

If you wanted to make a subversive MMO, what would it look like? 

Your Next: Creative Mode

As I write this, my country is finishing sorting out who gets to form a government, the Landmark servers are still down, it’s the 70th anniversary of VE Day and I’m less than an hour away from playing Black Desert for the first time. It’s been a real rollercoaster of emotions already and I haven’t finished my first cup of tea.

Maybe it’s the raw emotion of the situation, the fact I’m still getting over a stomach bug or some manner of delirium caused by lack of tea, but as I sit here in my dressing gown a feeling is creeping over me, a thought I never believed I would entertain.

Your Next: Highly Achievable

For purists, the joy of the sandbox is having no path laid before you, to know that any goal we may set for ourselves is as good as any other, and that whatever mountaintop we aim for is achievable if we have what it takes. This level of freedom doesn’t work for others, being able to track our success with shorter term and layered milestones keeps us motivated to achieve our overall goal. There’s often a certain snobbery attached when this is discussed amongst MMO enthusiasts, but I see it as just another example of how diverse we are as players and people.

In a game like Landmark, we’re presented with what is essentially a blank canvas and the offer to fill it. Some players will relish being let off the leash, but judging by reactions to other games it’s safe to assume they will be the minority.

So far, the various competitions and the Workshop in particular have offered effective shorter term goals, at least for those who have already mastered the game. This cycle has been invaluable for player motivation and retention, while creating a focal point for the community and a platform for players to to show off their skills and creativity. The results are incredible and continue to improve, I really can’t say enough good things about it.

Your Next: Just a Building Game

If you’ve read this column before, you probably know I prefer to be optimistic, to look on the bright side when it comes to the future and deal with problems as they arise. I’d rather not waste energy worrying about things I can’t change. You may have even worked out this column is meant to be about EverQuest Next and Landmark, though I hide it well sometimes.

So it takes a lot for me to say that for my personal relationship with Landmark as a player, this is a low point, and I can’t see it swinging back in the near future.

As people who write about these things are so fond of saying—Big Changes are coming to Landmark. If you haven’t heard, you can catch up with the official forum post.

The changes have been presented as dialing back the overlap with EverQuest Next to make room for something that works better for Landmark. Personally, I don’t buy this at all; these changes show a marked change in direction when it comes to how Landmark operates as a multiplayer experience.

Here’s a quick list of what I’m specifically referring to:

  • Making basic building resources free and removing some higher tier crafting materials entirely
  • Allowing all resources to be harvested with any tier of equipment
  • Streamlining or removing most material refining and processing
  • Decoupling weapon and armor crafting from tool crafting
  • Removal of the Ether Stone, and Ether Shards for most recipes
  • Removal of Salvaging
  • Removal of variation on crafted items, upgrading and relics

The way I see it, this is a change designed to bring in those people interested in the building aspects of the game when the game soft launches into open beta, they are currently the game’s core audience, so it makes sense to build on that foundation (puns everywhere). However, this is at the expense of any feature that ‘gets in the way’ of the building systems.

Your Next: Can't Design Won't Design

This week, I have discovered the true horror of being a grown up. While I have the means to purchase a PlayStation 4 and Bloodborne, I’m not going to because it would be irresponsible. It is with a single, dignified tear rolling down my cheek I type this, a stoic icon of duty.

That has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to share it with you to demonstrate how brave and remarkable I am.

Bloodborne, like Dark Souls before it, knows exactly what kind of game it is and every element of it is a cog in an elegant machine. The games aren’t for everyone, but in terms of design they are masterful, and have probably redefined the RPG for the next generation.

As you may be aware, I am a massive nerd for game design; it colors my thinking toward certain games to the extent that I need to be aware of it to be genuinely critical of the experience as a whole. It’s a little silly, but so is being a massive nerd for anything, so I find it’s best to just like what you like.

Your Next: Incredible Blandness of Being

In the past I’ve made no secret of my personal dislike of The Elder Scrolls Online, so it was only as a product of some misplaced sense of duty I found myself downloading the newly dubbed Tamriel Unlimited this week. I actually let out an involuntary sarcastic chuckle at the thirty gigabyte download size, as if the game was somehow insisting upon my valuable time. It was my intention to give the game a fair shot, but apparently my self-righteous subconscious was having none of it.

With that in mind, I went in to the game determined to notice improvement, and happily I did. The new player experience has been subtly reworked into a shape less bloated, and the characters now move like they’re held together with organic matter. These are two things I always pay attention to at the start of a game, and while their value is subjective, it’s usually an indication of quality throughout.

It’s a pity then, that these features were fixed after the fact. To me, it’s a demonstration of the problem with ESO—massive amounts of effort spent creating the entertainment equivalent of beige paint: functional precisely because it’s so unremarkable. Or maybe something like artisanal porridge would be a better analogy, because no matter the skill and love that went into it, the outcome was never going to carry that passion with it.

Your Next: Acropocalypse

This week I’ve mostly felt like a kid with a bag of candy in one hand and a Mountain Dew in the other. There’s been so much going on it feels impossible to sift through it all and be left with a coherent thought on the other side.

With that in mind, we’re going to play a game I like to call ‘Talk About Many Disparate Subjects Then Try To Link Them Together With A Pretentious Conclusion’. Or TADSTTTLTTWAPC, since I know how much MMORPG players dig those acronyms.

Half Life 3 Confirmed at GDC! The joke that never gets old could finally get its punchline. Using Half Life as a flagship for a new kind of gaming experience would fit Valve’s MO. While my personal experience with VR (specifically Oculus Rift) has been awesome, I’m still skeptical that creating a critical mass with this kind of expensive peripheral is possible. Luckily for all of us, there’s a metric ton of money being bet against me, so fingers crossed it works and we’re all living in the nightmare dystopian future of Ready Player One by 2020. Or, put another way, within the natural lifetime of MMOs currently in development.

Your Next: New Scope

After a masterful marketing push, Crowfall met its Kickstarter target in about three days. The ideas look fresh and solid, and there’s some seriously hefty industry talent backing it up, so best of luck to them and check it out if you haven’t already. The goal of 800k was relatively modest, and I’ve got my hopes pinned on the $1.3M stretch goal.

All the attention on Crowfall has actually turned a few new people onto Camelot Unchained, and while I expect the games will play very differently, it looks like they’ll be fishing from the same pool. Camelot Unchained is aiming for an alpha launch some time in the next month, so expect to hear a bit about that as well.

As someone looking forward to both of these games, it’s an exciting time for me (hooray for me!), and with a few recent gems like Darkest Dungeon, LISA, Sunless Sea and Hand of Fate being Kickstarted, I’m feeling as optimistic as ever.

Your Next: Proving Negatives

For a while there I was thinking I wouldn’t have much to talk about; be careful what you wish for, I guess.

When news started to come out about the layoffs at Daybreak Game Company, players were understandably skeptical about the prospects of EverQuest Next and Landmark. With high profile names being let go, it’s easy to feel like the foundation is falling away.

It’s been wonderful to see the support from the community for the people who were let go, the tribute card in Landmark is a sight to behold, and a fitting tribute to the legacy of those people that made it possible.

It’s also a tribute to the players who made it possible and the strength of the Landmark community, which seems to have redoubled its efforts to be the most welcoming and supportive in gaming.

The message from Daybreak over the last week has been that the games remain a team effort, and while adjustments have to be made and priorities shifted, the guiding principles and foundational principles remain the same. Which is exactly what you’d expect to hear.

In times gone by, that would have been the end of it. We would have had a press release, some clarifications on an official forum, an approved interview or two, and that would be that. It’s happened many times before and shows no signs of slowing down. However, in this brave new world of open development and increased transparency, we were treated to a Q&A session with senior members of the team, using questions submitted by players.

Your Next: About People

I suppose there’s only one thing to talk about this week.

Sony Online Entertainment broke away from its parent company to become Daybreak Game Company, thanks to investment from Columbus Nova.

As is the all too common and incredibly unfortunate nature of deals like these, the company had to let some people go. When costs are too high for projected revenue, tough decisions have to be made. The important thing to remember in times like these is that it’s people making these decisions, and these decisions affect people.

For all that we care about the games (which is less than the current and former employees of Daybreak, by the way), what this means to us as players is insignificant compared to what it means to the people whose lives were affected.

I want to take a moment to state that I am in full support of the talented, passionate people still at Daybreak, their amazing work continues to inspire me, and I have complete faith they will continue to blow us away.