What was EQ?
- 3d mud. Why is this special? Lore, depth, real world
- remember feelings of playing zork or major mud
- simulated world, not just a vehicle for a video game
How is it different?
- world simulation
- social dynamic
Why did these differences make it special?
- Bottom line: things mattered
- Not watered down, low inflation
- Greater than sum of parts
- People CARED
Why have games gone away from what made EQ special?
- No attention span
- Instant gratification
- WOW clones and economic risk vs reward.
Warning: there is some reminiscing in this post. I will attempt to limit the nostalgia for the utilization of making points.
What was EQ?
Remember your first time playing zork? Standing there at that mailbox, making your way into the house, finding your way into the darkness, getting killed by a troll? No graphics, but you were there. You were sucked in. And then the muds. Your mind was taken into them, you were immersed in the world, the lore, the descriptions, and the gameplay. It was like a fantasy novel or choose your own adventure book that you got to PLAY with your FRIENDS! How awesome is that?!? Need a map? Break out your graphing paper. Lose your gear? Um...got friends? And then came games like UO and EQ. EQ was truly revolutionary in the gaming industry. It was a 3D choose your own adventure novel that emphasized less is more, and it was the best game ever made.
Today what do we have?
- Skill/Spell inflation
- Fast travel
- Micro transactions
- Item/Loot spam
- Social Isolation
- Mini maps
We get mass produced games engineered to improve the bottom line, games with paper thin worlds and nothing but a graphics engine and marketing budget to support them.
How was EQ different and why were those things special?
Pace: Higher time requirements to level/explore, increased severity of consequences, loot being rare all go into making what you do in the game MORE VALUABLE. This goes back to not watering things down. Slow the pace, slow inflation, make the game amazing fun without throwing loot and levels at players.
Leveling was an entire game in and of itself. Because it was slow, players did not simply race to the end game and sit there. Was the end game of EQ at times a cluster anyway? Yeah. But it wasn't week 2. It took 4-5 months for most servers to start killing Nag and Vox and raiding Fear, and then Kunark was out and a new game was on. There were multiple stages of the gameplay, from leveling, to gearing up, keying up guilds, and then all the day to day gameplay of duoing and small groups.
No instances and the impact on server wide society:
Did the squating on Trak suck? And the competition for sleepers keys? Yeah, for sure. But think of the amazing social dynamic that EQ created. They created a world, we got sucked in, and things were created beyond your normal video game(see: Eve Online). Should we go back to entire guilds camping out for the cleric epic? No, try to strike a balance. But neither is the answer spinning up a new instance of whatever zone or mob everybody wants so everybody can have whatever they want when they want it. When that happens immersion goes out, and what makes a game meaningful disappears. It's hard, it's life, it's unfair, and when you succeed it's pure joy. Remember when the tier2 guilds would sneak into fear after you'd cleared the zone to garbage collect the respawn? That crap ticked me off. But you know what, it was because I cared so much. Don't ruin that amazing social dynamic.
No game has ever approached EQ's level of class/role differentiation. I know some would argue this, but I feel very strongly that EQs classes are the best in any game ever. The whole concept and design of casters/priests/pure melee/hybrids was amazing. Don't pollute or water down the classes(EQ2). They were so special and so different in EQ. Were there balance issues? Yeah. Was the holy trinity a PITA at times? Yeah. But there's no gameplay in any other game like an SK fear kiting, a bard doing anything a bard does, an enchanter charming and CCing, wizards quad kiting, monks pulling, etc, etc, etc.
Is this is a real world or is this an arcade game?
Too many games, basically all of them, have forgone the true roleplaying and simulation aspects that made EQ so great. EQ wasn't just an RPG, it was in many ways a SIM game. You needed food. You need water. You need LIGHT!!! You crossed large bodies of water in a BOAT. Anybody ever play a human? Good grief. Getting that greater lightstone was amazing. Dying and having to make your way back through that cave in traks teeth(?) you are blind as a bat! It sucked! And then you pop out and breathe a sigh of relief. What games these days give that kind of immersive experience? All because of some little thing like night vision. Again, like a real world. Not a pretty facade, but an attempt at realism.
What happened to death penalties or the risk of losing a corpse and all your gear poofing? EQ was unforiving in its attempt at reality. EQ was an attempt at simulating a real world. Games don't do that anymore. From instancing, to fast travel, to ridiculous mini maps and pointers and meta stat graphics all over the screen, players are taken out of the world. Lost is the feeling of beign immersed somewhere else. When I died 5 times one day and wanted to rage quit, the reason I was so angry was because it was important to me, because I cared, because the day before I didn't die a single time and gained 7-8 bubbles and was in heaven. And the day after I died 5 times I didn't die at all and it was fantastic. And why was it fantastic? Because I knew the pain of death. I knew the pain of losing a level. I knew the pain of losing 10 hours. Knowing that risk, that pain, those setbacks made all the successes in the game matter EVEN MORE.
When you're scraping up every rat whisker and spiderling eyeball to have money for spells and you've gotta give a necro a plat to find your corpse, it makes that money you're trying to make even more valuable. There's RISK. And that makes rewards oh so sweet. And when you hit that level and you can only afford 2 spells, you pick the 2 most important one and you cherish them. And a few hours later when you can afford another one, you cherish that too.
Rarity of loot:
If something is rare, IT'S MORE VALUABLE. Games today absolutely SPAM items at players. If you don't have a new weapon every single level, you're getting screwed! Right? No! It's the complete opposite. You're getting screwed out of meaningful gameplay when games just throw loot at you. EQ was not watered down. Items had such MEANING. Did KSing suck? Hell yeah. But the reason people did it, and the reason it sucked to have done to you, was because we all cared so much. Things were rare. They were hard to get. They were IMPORTANT. Ooh look, that guy has a bone bladed claymore. Maybe one day I'll have that. Next level I'm going to leave SRO and head to the commonlands so I can be near that zone when the time comes. Today it's: I don't look at anyone or care what anyone has. If I want an item I go solo the quest and click the exclamation point and click my reward. Joy. Items have no status.
Original EQ spell circles are simple example. It's something that players even a few years into EQ never experienced. The game within the game of the power cycle between spell circles was extremely fun. The ebb and flow of your sense(and actual) power between a few levels was an amazing dynamic. Your wizard hits 16. FLAME SHOCK and you pillage 16-19. Suddenly 19 is tougher. You're not as efficient. You hit 20. Force shock SUCKS, everything resists it. You're stuck using your level 16 spell another 4 levels. You're in hell. You feel weak. Then finally, finally level 24 and Frost Shock. ZOMG SO GOOD WHAT A FEELING and you're the biggest badass on the block again. And WHY was it such a good feeling? Because you had to rough it for a few levels. Ebb and flow. It was great.
Games today spoon feed players carrots every time they sign on. The instant gratification no attention span society and the catering of game makers to those people has helped ruin games. A new weapon every level. A new skill or spell every level. All that does is water everything down. It's inflation, nothing matters as much because in the blink of an eye you'll have something new. EQ was not a lowest common denominator game. It was a game for people who wanted something worth suffering, at times, for. It was a game for people who wanted to pay MORE than the monthly cost if it meant getting more from the game.
Keep things hard, keep them slow, keep them meaningful. Don't spam skills and loot at your players, the more you give the less any of it means.
Fire up a game like Fallout 4, or Diablo 3. Play for a few hours. You will go through literally HUNDREDS of items. It's insane. Don't spam garbage loot at us. It's okay to go 6 levels between weapon upgrades. You will remember the 8 levels you had the 2 handed fine steel sword. And the 9 levels you had the BIBs, and the 14 levels you had the mithril 2handed sword. And when you do get that upgrade it will feel even better that it took time and effort to get.
Kill 10 rats.
I get it, it's hard to be different, let alone "revolutionize" anything these days. Even lovers of EQ would have a laugh at the name, considering how few quests there actually were in the game in the beginning. But that system of questing is so superior to the "click an exclamation point/question mark kill 10 rats" quests. THe EQ system of actually having dialogue with NPCs and having to FIGURE OUT what to do was, frustrating, yet rewarding. Where do I go? Who do I talk to? When will they be there? How do I find them? Figure it out. In EQ just being out in the world was the quest. SURVIVING was the quest. Making it to that new zone where you heard an item you want drops was the quest. Questing wasn't contrived, it was just what you did every time you signed in. Playing the game was the quest.
I'm not saying keep everything exactly the same, but please take into account what made EQ great. And it wasn't the constant yo-yo of quest hubs. It was going out into this scary, dangerous as hell world and experiencing it without mini maps and hand holding and fast travel and unlimited inventory etc etc etc. Again, I'm not saying PROTF has to be some spartan draconian gameplay experience, but please remember what made EQ great: that sense of accomplishment because things were HARD. The sense of awe in the world.
How many games have people played in the last decade where they had to remember a landmark? Turn left at the 2nd barbarian hut, go northeast and pass the ogre camp(don't get close) and follow the river to the guard tower and you're almost to the zone. Instead we spend more time staring at a mini map than actually engaging the world around us. Open up your map, click fast travel. Where's the quest mob? Oh it's down the path between the lift to to the tree village and the high elf castle, not marked on your damn map for you to mindlessly auto run to.
Look at the micro economy that port spells in EQ spawned. It made Druids and Wizards extremely important and valued entirely outside of any combat situation! Because not everyone got everything! You had to pay. You had to wait. You had to suffer and take the freakin BOAT. Or you duo'd with a Druid.
When I first played EQ in May of 99, I had a gnome wizard. A few weeks later I quit and started on a new server. I made a human agnostic monk, which meant starting in Qeynos. I knew Faydwer, not West Antonica. I had no idea where to go in the world. WK sucks without tracking. Blackburrow was too dangerous. What to do? I ran my scrared to death level 4 monk through Qeynos Hills, through West Karana, through North Karana(some guard captain even escorted me to the EK bridge) through EK and up to Highhold Pass (where my gnome had adventured before). It was EXHILARATING. I got lucky and met a level 5 druid on a similar quest. He camo'd us up and we ran through HHP. His popped, he died. I made it, somehow, all the way to Butcherblock where I got a bind. I took me the better part of an entire day, but I made it. I traveled almost the entire world, it was an experience I'll never forget. I didn't level up, I didn't gain any loot, but it was an amazing experience that no other game has even come close to reproducing. Let's have that again, please?
I'll pick on Guildwars 2 again. Zones in GW2 have exploration quests where you'll get exp/reward for traveling to all of the landmarks marked on your map. Are you kidding me? What happened to being rewared by the exploration itself? They actually have locations marked on your map for the sole explicit purpose of you visiting "pretty" parts of the zone, at which point you immediately leave because there is NOTHING ELSE TO IT. We have to be told that climbing to the top of that big beautiful waterfall will give us a reward and have it marked on our map? We are led around by our noses, told what do do, where to do it, how long to do it. Everything spelled out and defined before you even dive in. Hell, there is no diving in to something ankle deep. You walk to the top of the waterfall to tick that box and you go away and never come back. Who cares about the beautiful graphics when they don't MEAN anything? It's just another box you're forced to tick.
Another example of something that made me feel so immersed in norath was the consider system. Today we insist on knowing every last little detail about mobs and zones. That goblin is level 9, has 28 AC, 5 resist all, bashes every 12 seconds, is social, and hits for 14-21 unmofidied. Goodbye immersion. A simple little thing like the con told you what you needed to know to make a decision. Was it nifty and sophisticated? Nope. But it was an RPG element that kept immersion intact.
In EQ, you'd learn as you grew with your character, and lessons were HARD. I haven't played EQ in 15 years an I remember the level range of Greater Kobolds vs Solusek Kobolds in Sol B. Of frogloks in Guk. Of every damn mob in Steamfont Mountains and Cazic Thule. You learned if a mob was aggro, or social. You learned what their level range was. You learned what class they were and what abilities they had. You learned if guards would back you up or take you out.
Remember the first time you conned a YELLOW sand giant? You knew exactly what level it was and you didn't need it spoon fed to you. You knew for 30 levels that red was dead and now that mofo was coming into range. I remember being THRILLED seeing a yellow SG and thinking about the journey my character had been on to get to that point. I didn't NEED to know that they were 33-37 when I was level 12. I just knew they splattered me. When I learned by actually playing the game and finding out for myself as I leveled up, in zone after zone, it made the experience even more valuable. Sense heading is another example. Was it kind of silly and useless? Yeah. But it helped sometimes and there was no immersion ruining, marshmallow puff easy MAP on your screen.
Spending time in an area: As the game became more popular and got crowded, people hated camping. But originally, one of the things that made EQ so damn special was the ties you made to specific areas of the zone, because you weren't just running through them to kill 10 rats. Games these days lead you around by your nose from one mini map quest marker to the next. ESO anyone? Beautiful graphics, and you never stay for more than a few minutes in any one part of the game. All you do in ESO is RUN. Run non stop. I don't give a rats ass about any area in that game because all I've ever done is run in, run around, run out. Stop and smell the roses? Stop and experience content and learn an area? Nope. Just run through.
I used to level for HOURS on the beach in Oasis, I remember the sunsets and the sky.I remember the sound of the the windmill in Steamfont. Again, you LEARNED and evolved as a player because you spent lots of time in a single area without just RACING through. You learned spawn rates and placeholders, you learned mob pathing, you learned rare spawn locations. There was a learning curve and if you applied yourself and spent the time you were rewarded. You learned to not go AFK near the giant cog outside the mino cave. And how did you learn that? By getting destroyed by the Hero. And then you kept your head on swivel. You learned where he'd spawn. You learned how often. And suddendly you'd have this intimate connection with that area because you spent time there growing in it and learning about it. You weren't told when to go to that area. You weren't told when to leave. You weren't alerted to events on your mini map. You could...GET LOST.
You could do this learning and evolution multiple times throughout a single zone. Start at the zone line in cazic and pull warders. Level up. Pull defenders from the maze. Level up. Move your group. Pull sents and then zealots and then fanatics. You learned the zone like reading a book as you played it. Am I saying place bottlenecks where 1000 people all need to kill the ancient crocodile 10 times? No, but find a balance where we aren't just blazing through content, because, again, it WATERS IT DOWN. The more time you spend, the more meaningful it becomes(to a point).
You could attack anything:
Accidently auto attack the banker? That sucks. Bet you didn't do it again. This is a real world. No rails, no off limits. No special rules because you're in a city. I remember wanting to know what the Priest Of Discord hit for. So I tagged him and feigned. It was awesome. 300 something, btw.
No game has come anywhere near the dugneon experience that EQ had. This was to me, arguably the most fun aspect of the game. We spent so much time gearing up our melees with FBSS and yaks and casters with purple robes and manastones that lower guk became a part of me. And CT. And Sol A and B. And Seb and Karnor's and Fear and Hate and Velks and and and and. You could spend 20 levels in one dungeon, starting at the zone with trepidation as you stuck your toe in the water for the first time, peaking around corners and then hustling back to the zone. Then gaining confidence, knowledge, experience, loot, power as you moved deeper and deeper. You could spend a month straight every day experiencing the same zone in EQ, and it was a joy. Can you imagine spending a few hours a day for a week in a single zone in Neverwinter Nights or ESO or GW2? You'd be done with the entirety of the content in a few hours and racing off to the next zone that's just a reskinned version of every other.
There's a ton of things I missed. But the bottom line is that EQ was magical because it made people care about the world and the people in it with them. And it didn't do that by spamming loot and abilities, it didn't do it by giving everything to everyone, it didn't do it by making the game convient and easy to play. It was a hard and it was rewarding. I'm not saying I want an EQ clone. EQ had weaknesses. We need evolution on both the good and the bad. But there are certain aspects of the game that created that magic, and I genuinely hope that the Pantheon team recognizes that and captures the magic again.
YOU'RE IN OUR WORLD NOW was so true. Don't lose that!
Did I mention I hate maps?
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