It takes a bit longer for me to mull MMO news over now. As exciting as some breaking developments can be, I guess there is so much now that the barrier-to-entry (to-blogging?) is higher. EverQuest Next is of course a very worthy subject, but I needed some time to step away from those that chugged that Kool-Aid without pause or dumped it out on the floor for no particular homey.
There’s plenty of things to get excited for. Putting Minecraft in an MMO was a hindsight-obvious move especially since that crumbling tower Mr. Hikikomori took 40 hours to perfect is about a magnitude higher than the time budgeted for an in-house artist. Destructible environments are an interesting, albeit concerning, prospect. And, action-oriented combat in this day and age is pretty much required.
What I really care about in MMOs is how content affects players and their communities. It’s why I was chugging Guild Wars 2 Kool-Aid from the start because I believed how they were designing content would make player interactions more organic.
Whereas the changes in Guild Wars 2 were more easily envisioned, especially with Rift and Warhammer Online’s versions of public quests already in play, the ideas of EverQuest Next have pitfalls on all sides. Developers are by no means dumb. I know that a good designer with any MMO experience is worth way more than me and my armchair put together. It’s just that what they describe is hard to play in my head using all the MMO evidence I have.
Take their nomadic orc bandits example. These bandits take stock of the guard situations, the “mark” situations, hideability, etc., and decide to plunk down a good ol’ bandit camp where they can easily take down NPCs and PCs alike for gold. If a posse of players decides to change one of the variables, “forcing” the orc bandits to move, what then? Will all that remains be a quiet, peacefully-patrolled road? In a game genre where loot-drop efficiency is a thing, players usually want a constant stream of content.
Guild Wars 2 fixes that by having non-dynamic enemies and strongholds scattered around the zones. A dredge (mole people) operation might have a few events, like assassinating the foreman or blowing up rock crushers, but by and large the mine remains filled. The reason for this is because to ensure that content would always be available, there had to be portions of static content. Having static content takes huge chunks off that feeling of a dynamic world.
So, is EverQuest Next going to place a safety net in that regards, turning much of their procedural change in to an artificial whack-a-mole (yeah, you can’t move those orc bandits) or are they going to allow players to create virtually content-free safe zones? Of course, they can make the environment push back harder and harder, and then there is the danger of placing players in an “unfair” or “unbeatable” situation, which also isn’t fun. How will the extremes react at launch?
Don’t get me wrong. A procedural PvE sandbox sounds amazing. I want to play it, but it does not sound very easy. It’s one thing to be within the boundaries of scripted events found in Rift and Guild Wars 2, but it’s another to have players really push at the sometimes non-apparent boundaries of procedural content.
The other thing I want to rope in to this post is the rallying calls. Rallying calls are basically EverQuest Next’s take on a (to steal a Guild Wars 2 term) living world painted by dynamic events, where there is a problem and stories and of course plenty of procedural happenings surrounding this event. The example is the starting of a tent city, which can become a small village with a palisade, and then local goblins attack, people mine too deep, and ultimately at the end of 2-3 months this rallying call will conclude with permanent world change, perhaps the end of this rallying call is the new, fortified town eternally at war with the local goblins who have allied with cave trolls.
First, I applaud EverQuest Next for promoting the idea of rallying calls. There is quite a backlash with the temporary content in Guild Wars 2, and while Guild Wars 2 is on a much shorter two-week cycle, the idea is “you had to be there, man”. I think that this type of content is going to become normal in MMOs. The first worry in EverQuest Next is that the rallying call is 2-3 months without players understanding the stages that advance the rallying call. (By comparison Guild Wars 2 has a very easy to understand 2 week window-in-time.)
Let’s assume that they are on the “goblins attack outlying villages”-stage. Players are defending those villages, rebuilding the villages with supplies, and even attacking goblin outposts. For how long? I know if I spend a whole night on goblin genocide, I would want to know progress has been made. If on a Sunday night my server rallies to the degree where goblins are crying and hiding, but the next stage doesn’t advance because the rallying call needs to be 2-3 months long… it’s not going to feel fun. In other words, it feels like rallying calls could feel like running in place if players don’t have immediate feedback on their contributions.
The idea of rallying calls is awesome. The idea of a player-advanced living world as opposed to a developer-controlled window-in-time is a yummy one, but it is filled with unhappy extremes just like the procedural content. If the rallying call advancement is not clear, players are going to feel like they are running in place. Players want to see where they are going, especially if a rallying call is intended to be around 2-3 months. Right now I can’t imagine a happy medium between clouded progression of the rallying call and a combination of stages that have to last 2-3 months. I hope SOE finds this happy medium, and I am rooting for them.
All told, I am really on board the EverQuest Next train of interest. I like that they are designing to advance player/content interaction. For me, those are the most exciting MMOs to look forward to. I definitely have worries about the way they presented procedurally-generated content, but they are a bunch of trailblazing MMO veterans. I’ll be following their path through the jungle.