Friday, February 27, 2009

EverQuest, WoW and Gaming Addiction (Part 2 of 3)

Part 1 is here.

Not to sound like a broken record, but everything in EverQuest was so manual. From a perspective of World of Warcraft, EQ is like DOS command line and WoW is Mac OS GUI. This can be best exemplified by the questing system and other anecdotes.

Questing
To do any kind of questing (even for a small piece of equipment), you have to chat with an NPC. Picture yourself "hailing" a bot named Conium Darkblade and gleaning information out of him like he was a real person. So you're reading all this babble and looking for [words with brackets around them] to figure out how to type a response to Mr. Darkblade. Then, you type the matching words and... nothing happens. You realize you misspelled "the" and re-type the whole thing to finally get to more babble and more [word searching]. It was ridiculous and not fun. But that's not all...

Now picture yourself finally finding the quest piece that you need to turn in to Conium Darkblade (to complete the quest and receive your rewards). Imagine grabbing the quest item from inventory and clicking on the NPC to open trade. Then, when you press the Trade button, nothing happens...... The NPC just ate your item. Well, tough luck. Time to start all over again. No time to think about why, just keep playing for 8 more hours.

Bugs
Which brings me to in-game bugs, exploits and patches. EverQuest was taken down a lot for hotfixes. It was (and still is) rife with bugs and glitches. "You pay to be the bug tester." I remember hearing people losing their characters after a teleportation went totally wrong. Falling through the world was commonplace. Practically every week you had to download updates from Verant and stare at a progress bar. And, some of the servers had different patch problems than others. All the modern MMO's have learned from this, and really haven't topped the EQ clusterfuck of patches breaking more stuff. Blizzard and Warcraft are an absolute joy compared to the quality of SOE.

Epic Quests
The first EQ expansion (Kunark) added epic weapons (also known as particle weapons, because they glowed and sometimes had cool graphics like translucent leaves emanating from them). The rogue's was called the Ragebringer (pictured). All class epics had a "proc" (process) that would trigger something to help defeat or prevent defeat from an enemy. Like the priest's epic (Water Sprinkler) could resurrect a player without any mana cost.

One part of my epic quest was in a place called the Plane of Hate. You had to steal a book from a table, and then give that book to a questgiver. Most people brought dozens of people to raid the area and kill everything, but as a rogue I decided to do it solo. I wasn't playing when my character got the book. I was at work, and over the phone I told my friends how to sneak to the book. By the will of the gods, they somehow avoided disaster and got out of there. I never went back to PoH.

I was extremely scared when I was near the end of my epic quest that I would lose everything and have to start over. The multiple zone, many NPC quest chain involved lots of work, and in the end trading with a high-level mob in a log cabin full of enemies. I was an excellent sneak, but failure was a fact of life for EverQuest. The quest triggers all worked, and I won the Ragebringer.

Items and loot
EverQuest had lots of cool little items that really didn't help you kill enemies, but were just awesome to have. One of those was the Mask of Deception. One of the cool things about EQ player (unless you were on the short end of the stick) is that races like Barbarians and Erudites could see differently. Some could see in the dark better. The Mask changed your race to Dark Elf for 29 minutes. As a bonus, sometimes you could infiltrate an "evil" city as a dark elf instead of a good race. There were other racial masks (including the Holy Grail of the Guise of the Coercer that was impossible to get), and there were other novelty items. I used to carry around Tuuak's Fishing Pole (that did nothing) in one hand and a real fishing rod in the other, because it looked uber to dual-wield them in town.

Ninja looting
Ninja looting was rampant throughout the game. If a decent item dropped for a group of 6 players, the first player who looted the corpse could easily just take it instead of being honest. There was no safety net, there was no automatic dice roll. The only punishment for a ninja looter was social blacklisting and possibly a short ban from the game by a GM. But too many got away with it. I cannot tell you how many times someone looted a group item and then went "LD" (link dead), to never return. I'll admit, I once or twice went LD because I didn't want to be in a dumb group or had to leave the computer, but I never ninja'd.

Being anonymous
That brings me to another WoW vs. EQ comparison: anonymity. In EverQuest, a simple "/anonymous" command could make your level, race and location unsearchable. In essence, you could be alone in peace and quiet. With Blizzard, there is no such thing. How many WoW healers out there would kill for this feature on their downtime? And to boot, everyone can see your WoW gear online... It's a privacy issue, and Blizzard needs to think about protecting individuals from other individuals. I mean, you are paying to play a fantasy game, where you are already mostly anonymous. There is no PATRIOT Act in the online world...

Factions
One of the cool undertones about the game was factions. This concept of "good standing" with a group of people was not a new concept. To gain access to some areas, you had to gain a reputation with the monsters or people in a certain zone. So, if you wanted to walk through an ogre town, you had to kill their enemies (lots of them), in essence.

I remember killing goblins in the Nurga/Droga area for a solid 2 or 3 weeks. Their sworn enemy are the Sarnaks, and the Brood of Di'Zok faction was what I was after. There was a certain (epic) quest for a dungeon key that required running all over. And, in pure EverQuest fashion, one of the quest givers was in the middle of a remote dungeon. To be able to walk through to him, you needed good standing with the Brood. As a rogue, you would think I could just sneak in and waltz out, or maybe use an invisibility potion. Well, the mobs wouldn't be fooled. I could have also just brought a group with me, but it was an unpopular zone. I had no idea why I wanted the key, probably for bragging rights. I never finished the final quest piece, either...

Kunark
That dungeon key quest was just a sliver of what the Kunark continent offered. I absolutely loved the art and the zones there. It was just so jungle crazy, and death was stalking you everywhere. Think of anything that was scary, and it was there.

The first real zone for any newbie was the Lake of Ill Omen. To access the Lake zone, you had to leave the city outpost and run like hell to the zone line. There were giant spider women that you had to outrun to reach the area. If you made it, you were home free because it was a busy, and well-inhabited zone.

In the LOIO, /OOC chat was ridiculous. Because it was level 20-30, it was a proving ground that eventually divides the serious gamers from the tools. And, the chat reflected the absurd and the argumentative features of the internet. Whether it be "/ooc ding 23!" or "/ooc 23 ranger LFG" or "/ooc hepl", it was just major spammage. But the main pull of the area was the experience. The sarnaks there were abundant and fairly easy. There were dozens of camping spots for groups.

I know another Kunark zone that would bring a smile to any seasoned veteran's face: The Overthere. Like LOIO, it had its charm because it was just... odd. It was a huge open field were each "pull" (term for luring mobs to a party) was unique. At any time you could be killing a sarnak, a cockatrice, a golem, a rhinoceros, a sabertooth tiger, a scorpikis or walking cactus. And the experience was good enough to stay there for an entire ten levels. But, one of the charming aspects that kept you on your toes (much like the Fire Swamp), was the Dragoons. If you were a good race, you had to keep an eye out for these guys. Every hour or so, they would patrol the whole zone. If you were close enough to aggro General V'Deer, you had at least 5 Goons whipping your whole group's ass in a matter of seconds. And a corpse run was never fun... TO BE CONTINUED!

[There is still more, including death and beating your addiction....]

PART 3 is here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Will phone numbers matter in 10 years?

I have an invention idea. It's really more like an innovation, because it is already used in the scientific world. It's an RFID tag for your phone! It's like those PIT tags you can get for dogs to track them. A magnetic swipe is all you need... but that's not what I'm exactly thinking.

I'm thinking about trading numbers with some girl I met at a club. Instead of mashing through "Add to Contacts", I want this consenting adult to "brush" against my phone to get my digits. Cool eh?

Copyright 2010 Steve P.!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Random observations (February)

  • With all my heart, I dislike the Grammy Awards the most out of all. It's an awards ceremony that celebrates unoriginality and status-quo music (see the Jethro Tull incident) The thing about them is that no one in the "cool" music media bashes them... why not?
  • The Oscars are coming, and you should care. No other award is more consistent than this one. I mean, Robert Downey, Jr. is nominated for his Australian-playing-an-African-American role in Tropic Thunder.
  • My Oscar prediction for Best Picture this year is Slumdog Millionaire. It is not my favorite. It may not be the best film of the decade or of all time, but I think I know Hollywood, and my last two years' picks were correct. And just so you know, this is a big-budget film that they may portray as a rags-to-riches story. Don't be fooled by the interviews.
  • You may have heard that Christian Bale went crazy or something. I don't know anything, because I don't care, because I already know Bale is a badass.
  • OK, from what I've seen the media is already hating on President Obama. But, you know what? No one is going to care about these nomination scandals and Wall Street cock-blocks in a few years.
  • If your current playlist is wearing on you, wait just a little bit for 2009 releases by Placebo, Melissa Auf der Maur, Sonic Youth, (possibly) Blur and ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.
  • Steam is getting more and more awesome. I mean, since its inception about 6 years ago it hasn't withered away. I just wish more gaming companies would get on board so I can download Thief 1, King's Quest VI and Aces of the Pacific.
  • And for those of you that think MTV cannot become more of an abomination, they're now mentally disabled.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

EverQuest, WoW and Gaming Addiction (Part 1 of 3)

The prologue
My first foray into MMORPG was in February, 2001--my second semester in college. I had acquired a new roommate and made new friends, and these folks were massive gamers--most of them would flunk out of school because of gaming addiction. My grades would be a victim of the same curse, but I overcame and beat my addiction (or so I thought).

The first semester of college, I was addicted to QuakeWorld and Counter-Strike Beta. The dorm I lived in had its own CS server (called "Celery"), and there were about 20-30 players... even football jocks. It was a great time. But, without a computer of my own, I became a computer-hog to my roommate, and he eventually moved out. A new slacker came in, and I had to fill the gameless void with something.

That game was EverQuest. It is the most addictive game I have ever tried. The Great EQ.

EverCrack aka NeverRest
Let me say first that this is not an anti-EverQuest plea. It is one of those games I will always look fondly upon, and share memories with many people ("remember when you camped Raster for 20 hours straight!?") I will try to explain this in a way that a non-gamer will understand.

The game, released in 1999 was one of the first massively multiplayer games (after Ultima Online), and held the title of "most played online game". It was based on the same universe of the Lord of the Rings--it had elves and dwarves and orcs, with a whole ton of magic and lots of dragons. There was a monthly fee of $9.99, plus the cost of each retail release ($29.99). Expansion releases eventually came out (there are 17 expansions now), and would revamp the game every few years. To my knowledge, it is still a profitable game for the company. It has outlasted many of its contemporaries and is still chugging alongside those new shiny MMOG's that were inspired by it.

I believe the reason why it was so addictive is because there was so much to do, and it took hours upon hours to obtain skills, items and the like. Some items were so rare that they would appear only once a day, and that "camping spot" had fierce competition. The trouble with a persistent world is that it never sleeps. That means to be "the best", one must lose sleep (and let a few real-world chores pile up). Going from level 1 to level 60 takes weeks of gameplay and months of sitting in front of a monitor (it took me a year).

Some people attribute recent games like World of Warcraft and Halo to being the "most addictive". To them I say: try a more demanding game. EverQuest is very long; everything is manual, and there is no way you can play solo at a high level. If you have played EverQuest in the early years and quit cold turkey, you should be able to beat crack cocaine addiction.

Gameplay
I started playing the game when Ruins of Kunark (expansion #1) released. I chose to play a half-elf, half-human character. My archetype was a rogue--a thief/assassin--which I have a certain gravitation toward in all games. When you start, you're at level 1, and all of your skills (swimming, stabbing, sneaking, orienteering, pickpocketing) were level 1 (out of 200). This meant killing rats and snakes to level-up...

Most people begin their journey in town of North Freeport. I can remember it like it was yesterday. This is where all the commerce occurred on my server. Before automatic auctions and the like, you had to sell the item by hand, by advertising in /OOC (out of character) chat. It was a pain. While players watched the sale item text scroll by, they either dueled, practiced tradeskills or killed guards. Unlike in World of Warcraft, you are able to attack any NPC (non-playing character). Guards would shout medieval profanity.

The good thing about beginning in Freeport is that guards do protect you. So, if you're on the outskirts of town and a pack of rats gang up on you, the guards will rescue you with some crippling blows to the rodents. In World of Warcraft, you would die if you ran to a guard for help. But, then again, the rats didn't chase you forever, like in EQ. Nothing breaks off an attack unless it is killed or you are killed.

When you've adjusted to the game and the rats are no longer putting up a fight, wanderlust grabs you. You want to see the world you paid for and maybe move up to rattlesnake killing. Unfortunately, there's zoning about every 5 mins. Every different area was a zone that had to load separately. So, if you planned on journeying, you planned on seeing LOADING... on your temporarily frozen chat screen countless times. Don't get me started on boat travel. Jesus, talk about waiting. You Warcraft players have NO IDEA what waiting 30 min for a boat and then a 20 min boat ride through bug-infested waters.

Rare loot
The next few zones: the Commonlands and the Ro desert, were pretty typical. They had spiders and cougars and skeletons (EQ has a lot of skeletons). To boot, just about every zone in the whole game had rare spawns. These were "mobs" (basically monsters) that would drop gear or weapons that were above average. (Warcraft has rares, but they have average loot and few and far between.) The catch with EQ's rare mobs is that killing them does not guarantee loot. This is a critical part of why EverQuest was so (love it, hate it) addictive. Let me give an example.

During those first months, I leveled up and learned my class skill-set and fared well. My friends were about the same level, and one of the hot items for any player was the "FBSS": the Flowing Black Silk Sash. This was a belt item that gave "haste" (rumored 40% increased attack speed at the time). It was looted from a frenzied ghoul in the frog city of Lower Guk. Now, normally all mobs in the game took 20 minutes to respawn after they were killed. The "frenzy room" where this undead frog lurked would have placeholders. That means the ghoul would not spawn every 20 min--it was more like every 4 hours. To boot, the mob would only drop the FBSS at random. To boot--if and when it dropped--it had to be /rolled on (using the game's dice) by each group member, because the "frenzy" was too hard for just one person. So, it could be weeks of playtime before you had your own sash. Let me give you another example of stingy loot:

"An ancient cyclops" (pictured with a sand giant and another player). This giant in the southern Ro desert dropped an even hotter item: a quest piece for the Journeyman's Boots. In my opinion, this was the most important piece of a equipment in the game. These boots were able to instantaneously cast a "buff" that improved your running speed to be faster than any mob. It was marvelous for anyone, because running away and surviving was a big deal (explained later in the Death section).

The problem was that the cyclops could spawn anywhere in the zone, and it became a searching competition. I once ran a circular search for about 4 hours, only to see the ancient cyclops die within a matter of seconds by someone else's hand. I eventually got my JBoots, but I took the easy way out and paid 3000 platinum (pp) for a multiquest. TO BE CONTINUED!

[There is still lots to talk about and compare, including the quest system, bugs, guilds, ninja looting, "trains" and corpse runs. And, the final solution to overcoming addiction...]

Part 2 is here.

Here is a decent YouTube video with a demonstration of one of the EQ GUI's.

MST3k Return thoughts

There used to be two camps when it comes to MSTies: Team Joel or Team Mike. I'm in the Michael J. Nelson camp (the 1997 Sci-Fi Channel ...