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.

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.

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