At Gamescom in Cologne I sat (on furry benches, I kid you not) in a behind closed doors presentation focused mostly on the upcoming EverQuest Next spinoff, Landmark, held by Director of Development David Georgeson literally on a roll and fighting against the clock (and his PR manager) to squeeze all the info in the allocated timeframe. Guess what? It went overtime and it was worth it.
I’ve always been a big fan of games that allow players to express their creativity freely. The only one that always fails to catch my attention on the long run is Minecraft. Yes, you read it correctly. Please put down your pitchforks. I’m allergic to lynch mobs. I know very well that Minecraft is an extremely solid game, and I don’t dispute its value, but the size of the building blocks and the inability to fine tune my builds to a finer degree of detail always turned me off.
Luckily Sony Online Entertainment has something in store that seems to be designed more to my taste with EverQuest Next Landmark.
The game was conceived in a rather random way, as most good ideas: during the development of the tools used to build the assets of EverQuest Next, the development team discovered that those tools were actually quite cool and fun to play with, and started one-upping each other over nights and weekends to see who could build the best stuff. That’s when they realized that if they were having that much fun, players would probably enjoy it as well.
The game will be made of a series of persistent and dynamically generated worlds, meaning that all the landmasses and their features will be different from server to server, and players will be given that same tools mentioned above, including textures and concept art, and then simply set free to weak havoc and express themselves.
Since everything in EverQuest Next and Landmark is made of small particles called Voxels, we’re freed from the constrictions of the large building blocks, and we can create at a much finer and detailed level, which is exactly what suits me. The best part, though, is that we won’t need to learn complex 3D modeling tools like 3D Studio or Blender (which is seriously the least intuitive program I ever touched in my life), because everything is “drawn” with the use of simple brushes on a three dimensional canvas, somehow akin to more intuitive and organic tools like Zbrush.
Of course the process looks very easy to learn, but like all things that are intuitive but have large room for refining and complexity, it’ll most probably be rather hard to master in order to get the most spectacular results.
At the start of their experience on EverQuest Next Landmark, players will be able to chose a name, a gender, a face, a hairstyle and their clothes. There will even be a tinting system based on in-game resources that will allow for a degree of customization of one’s garments.
There will be only one class, named the Adventurer, but even if we won’t be able to play warriors or paladins, the Adventurer class is structured exactly like the others in EverQuest Next, functioning as a sort of tutorial to learn the game before its release. A quite cool element is that playing Landmark will actually unlock the adventurer class in EverQuest Next, allowing players to multiclass from day one. In addition to that players will be able to transfer their name, appearance and some stats to EverQuest Next upon launch.
After creating their characters, players will appear at a titular Landmark, which is a huge monument with a wizard’s spire that will connect to the Ley Lines that function as a transportation system connecting every location in that server in order to travel long distances quickly. The best part, though, is that at the Landmarks you’ll be able to seamlessly and instantly move between different servers without extra hassle and without paying any of the usual and annoying server transfer fees.
I actually asked Georgeson if this extremely cool server transfer feature will extend to EverQuest Next, but unfortunately he was not able to answer for the moment. Can’t say I wouldn’t be happy to see another MMORPG where the obsolete borders between servers are not as divisive and awkward like in most games nowadays.
After familiarizing himself with the starting area, the player will be able to run out into the world and find an unused area where to plant his claim flag. That land will become his to build on, terraform and do whatever he wants with. Claimed land will be protected from other players, but there will be all kinds of settings to allow friends to help you build if you you so wish.
Players will be able to have multiple claims, and claimed areas can be linked together. I’m actually quite curious to see that happen at launch, as I expect a scene similar to the land claiming race in the movie Far and Away. Maybe it won’t be that spectacular (even if there will be mounts, so maybe we’ll see some horse racing), but I’m quite sure it’ll be fun to see.
Each world will be tiered pretty much like the world of Norrath in EverQuest Next, with explorable areas of different kinds and climates on the surface, and underground areas.
Everything will be built out of resources that players will be able to gather around each world, and actual tools will be needed. Those tools will be obtained in several ways and either found, crafted or upgraded. Crafting will be done via crafting tables that players will be able to build, but more specialized ones will require co-op building to create, and there will even be rare ones that will be placed at static locations in the world, encouraging exploration further.
We were shown some timelapse videos (that you can see for yourself scattered across this preview) featuring two players building up their creations from scratch, turning barren land into beautifully terraformed and decorated environments. We’ll have to see if actual players will manage to match these times (my guess is that some will actually be even faster), but the environment is changed so radically that it’s unrecognizable, and that definitely bodes well for the creations we’ll see once the game will launch. Incidentally, the timelapse recording tool used to make those movies is actually part of the game, so you’ll be able to do the same thing and post it on YouTube featuring your own builds.
Landmark will also include traditional MMO mechanics to favor socialization and collaboratoon, as SOE defines it as a full MMO and not just a set of building tools. There will be friend lists, guilds, text and VoIP chat. SOEmote will also be fully implemented, allowing players to transfer their own facial expressions to their characters via webcam.
There will also be leaderboards with the ability to upvote and downvote builds, ranking them according to specific tags and genres.
One of the cooler features of the whole system is the implementation of Player Studio, that will let player buy and sell creations for real money. This means that the most talented creators will actually be able to make a pretty decent buck out of their creativity.
The Studio will come with full features including achievements, filter and follow options (pretty much like YouTube channels, letting you “subscribe” to the creators you like) and more. Players will also be able to sell whole plots of claimed land with everything on it, and to trade across different worlds.
This is actually something I can appreciate, especially considering how many software houses tend to be overly very rigid in letting players make a revenue on their games. Just think about all the regulatory somersaults about monetizing YouTube videos and livestreams that have surfaced in recent times. With Player Studio SOE shows that it realizes that player-driven creativity is a valuable resource, and that rewarding it with actual cash is not something that should be discouraged.
Further down on that path, every world will have at least one continent dedicated to builds that strictly fit with EverQuest Next‘s lore and style. In those continents players will be able to follow the development team’s guidelines and concept artwork in order to try and create props and structures that will actually be poured into the game at launch and beyond upon selection by the developers themselves. Can’t say I wouldn’t like to stand in front of a beautiful castle in the upcoming MMORPG and tell the passing newbies “Hey, do you like it? I built that one!”
Ultimately, I can’t say I wasn’t very impressed by what I was shown, and not just by what I actually saw with my own eyes, but by the sheer level of ambition at the base of it all. Don’t think I’m not used to MMORPG developers promising the universe and then delivering just a fraction of it, and that’s why after the presentation I simply and very bluntly walked up to Georgeson, looked at him straight in the eye and asked “Can you really deliver on this all?”
His response was confident and it still ringed quite true: “We have a clear idea on how to implement it. In many years in the industry there was no software problem that didn’t have a solution. Some of them didn’t have a cost effective solution, but they all had a solution.” We can only hope that all the solutions needed to create this ambitious project and the even more ambitious EverQuest Next will be cost effective. Georgeson says he can’t wait to see what players will do with his world, and I really can’t wait to show him.