Senior Producer Terry Michaels talks about how players can shape the world.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Gamescom lurked something that could completely change the landscape of online gaming. Since its debut at SOE Live earlier this month, EverQuest Next has grabbed our attention with promises of destructible terrain, intricate AI and new gameplay.
Some news from the week-long German festival has already emerged, such as the time-lapse videos and Adventurer class. Digging deeper, I spoke with senior producer Terry Michaels during a roundtable session about some of the finer details surrounding that announcement. We also went a little further into Rallying Calls and how it’ll feel to take part in them.
Due out this winter, EverQuest Next Landmark aims to get the ball rolling by inviting players to explore and build in procedurally generated, multi-layered worlds. Getting a suitable setting for your construction project should be straightforward, with a mix of environments including forest, desert, snow-capped mountains and so on. Once you’ve found that perfect place, you’ll be able to stake a claim and get to work.
You won’t need to be a master sculptor to get started either, as Michaels assured me. “We had people competing at work – and I’m not just talking about artists – to create cool and awesome things”
Michaels also told me that we’ll be able to build whatever we like, “as long as Customer Service doesn’t object.” That freedom includes buildings that wouldn’t fit in the EverQuest universe, such as modern skyscrapers, sci-fi spaceports and historical buildings. For bigger projects, we’ll be able to link claims together and get even more room to build. And, if the location turns out to be a bad choice, we can always pick up the building and move it somewhere else.
For those bigger projects, we’ll be able to give our friends trustee status so that they can lend a hand. Guilds will also have a role to play in organizing teams and resources. But it was Michaels’ mention of a looser, informal group mechanism that really grabbed my interest.
“We have a new structure for co-op build-outs that will allow people to come together in a temporary fashion, communicate easily and share resources and divvy up the work for the projects that are a bit bigger than one person.”
To fuel builds large and small, we’ll need resources. Michaels told me that each environment will offer a different blend of common and uncommon materials, with rarer materials requiring rarer tools to yank them out. Once obtained, resources can be used as basic building blocks, or taken to a crafting table for further work. We’ll be able to set up a simple crafting table almost anywhere, but some of the larger ones will need a team to put together.
In order to build some of the really complex stuff, Michaels said that we’ll probably need to head out into remote or difficult to reach places and use a pre-built crafting table there.
Getting around the continents of EverQuest Next Landmark should also be a cinch, with Wizard Spires providing ley-line teleportation around the world, and to other worlds if desired. Each spot on the map will be represented by a landmark, equivalent to the Colossus of Rhodes or Great Pyramids, making it easy to arrange meet-ups. We’ll also be able to ride around the world on mounts, making finding that perfect plot of land a little easier. The goal is to let us play with friends regardless of which server or continent they’re on.
With any building works on this scale, the demand for resources will be huge. Understanding that some players just want to get their heads down and build, while others prefer to explore or bake bricks, market stalls will exist to trade goods and crafted parts. We’ll even be able to put real estate up for sale, allowing us to prospect on that lucrative beachfront property.
No game is complete without a little friendly competition, and Michaels agrees. To start with, we’ll be able to tag buildings with particular keywords for others to upvote and downvote on leaderboards. Nothing quite like a bit of Property versus Property, eh?
SOE’s Player Studio will also be appearing in EverQuest Next Landmark, but with a twist: achievements. By participating in this showcase of player talent, we’ll be able to earn titles and more. The Landmark Player Studio will also contain filtering to find item types we care about, and a follow feature will throw us a notification any time something new gets added to a filter, or by an individual creator we particularly like.
Player participation will also extend into the fabric of EverQuest Next, with one continent on each Landmark world being themed and styled around SOE’s upcoming MMO. The team will also share all of the concept art, lore and ideas they have, with the specific intention of running competitions.
Michaels gave an example of challenging players to build the coolest Mad Gods Temple they could, and let everyone vote them up and down on the leaderboards. Once the competition has ended, his team will go through the popular entries, pick those that are most relevant and then give players an opportunity for their creations to be a permanent part of Norrath. From the moment the servers are switched on, those edifices will be in EverQuest Next for everyone to see.
I was growing concerned that Michaels expected players to do a fair amount of heavy lifting, but he assured me that wasn’t the case. “We’re not counting on that. We have a professional development team that will make the game of EverQuest Next. But if we can get players to engage in that way, and they’re interested in it, we can make something that’s far greater than we’d be able to make just by ourselves.”
He went on to add why the team isn’t committing to a particular release date yet. “One of the reasons for that is that we really are serious about engaging the community, and if we had a delivery date, we wouldn’t be able to take that feedback and work it into the game.”
While we’re building forts in EverQuest Next Landmark, the Adventurer is the class all characters will have. Once the full EverQuest Next launches it’ll even be possible to transfer the character to the new game. Either way, the Adventurer will be unlocked for all our characters, allowing multiclass experiments to start right away.
Interestingly, Landmark will continue once the parent MMO launches. If you’re content with building and don’t need the heroics, there’s no need to move.
One of the other elements fleshed out during the session was Rallying Calls. These summonses to action feel like they’ll take the place of questing in traditional MMOs, imploring players to take part in long events that will create meaningful change. But whether it’s founding a city or some other objective, Michaels was insistent that these will be one-time-only events.
“People who weren’t there didn’t get to be a part of it, nor can they go and do the quests you did just by going to some other zone and doing exactly what you did. It happens at one time, and then we move on to the next part of the story.
“Once a Rallying Call’s done, we’ll move on and create another one somewhere else in the world. And it’s not all about building a city up. The next one might be about a civil war, or maybe the King gets assassinated and you need to make sure that you protect the royal line so that the succession can happen. There are all kinds of things that we could use to further the story of EverQuest Next.
“Over time, as you progress through these, you’re going to create a series of stories that are unique to your character. Somebody that comes in two years later can ask you ‘What was it like at launch?’ and you can tell them stories that they actually have a reason to care about, because they just can’t go do them themselves. The only way to get that information is from people who participated in it.
I challenged Michaels about being able to recreate that sense of personal adventure that RPGs were known for, just by using the Rallying Call system. By contrast, he reckons it’ll work the other way. “I would argue that being able to participate in something like a Rallying Call actually makes you more a part of the world than you would get to be in the other games that are out there. You don’t get to help in making something in those other games. You don’t actually get to be a hero.
“And remember how I mentioned the world is going to watch what you do and remember all those things? It means that when you participate in it the world’s going to know you did it. You’re going to be recognised for that, and you will be an important figure to the people who live in that town, because they’re going to know that you helped build it.
“You’re going to be more of a hero here than in some other game, where you ground some faction to the point where they recognise you and say something.”
While I remain somewhat sceptical, I have huge admiration for what Michaels and his team are trying to achieve, both with Landmark and EverQuest Next. In spite of my own opinions, I’m itching to give SOE’s creation a try, purely because I want it to work. And if it does, this technology could change the MMO landscape completely.
Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Senior Contributing Editor
Follow me on Twitter @Gazimoff