Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Monday, December 19, 2005

PvP is Being Served

The latest producer's letter describes two new directions for EQ2 that are coming, PVP servers and a revamp of the class tree. In this post, I'll be discussing my take on PVP, and I'll save comments on the new class tree ideas for a later post.

Rather than quoting at length, let me summarize.

  • PvP will be server-wide on designated servers and Freeport v. Qeynos.

  • Enemy PC's will highlight just like KOS NPC's.

  • Grouping between realms will not be permitted.

  • Some, but not all, servers will be Exchange enabled

  • Combat victories will be classified as Honorable, Neutral, or Dishonorable. Rewards come from Honorable victories.

  • Rewards will be in the form of status and standing with a faction.

  • Enough standing will allow the purchase of good quality gear, that is useful in combat.

  • If the problems can be worked out, experience will be awarded, too.

They also claim that nothing in PvE will be nerfed for the sake of PvP, that there are separate controls. I'll address this first. The EQ2 development team, from the perspective of a total outsider, has managed to get a reasonably decent development process in place over the last 6 months or so. Most changes are bundled into a Live Update, most of which come off with only minor glitches, which usually are addressed quickly. There are some problems with the game which I would like to see addressed, but typically they fall in the realm of game design, not simple bugs.

So, the claim is that somehow they've managed a clean separation between PvP and PvE combat, and don't have to change one for the sake of the other. Putting on my software developer hat, how well this is going to work depends a great deal on the details of how this looks in the source. If there is completely separate code for dealing with each, then you won't have the sort of problem where one influences the other, but you've doubled the amount of work you need to do to keep everything running when you make some change that affects both sides. So, then, where will SOE put its efforts?

On the other hand, if the code has too much common code, the workload is less, but the opportunity for one side to pollute the other has greatly increased. Bear in mind that the testing requirement has doubled now. On the other hand, they already took on that workload when they introduced Arena PvP. So this is nothing new, in that sense.

With Everquest 1 (which supported PvP servers, by the way) the claim of total separation was laughable. There was no separation of control, and certain classes were terribly nerfed because of their PvP consequences. With Everquest 2, which has a fresh codebase, and a stronger release process behind it, it's at least credible. But worrisome.

The sort of PvP experience engendered by such a server is one of creeping paranoia, and pure adrenaline rush. With the abolition of shards, the consequences of death will likely be purely emotional. Imagine finishing a tough fight with a zombie in TS to find yourself backstabbed by that Freeport assasin you didn't know was there. Or having a higher-level Qeynos group chase your group out of RoV, so you can't work on your Heritage Quests. That's the experience. But only on the PvP servers.

Scott said, "While it's true that we wanted to focus purely on PvE for the launch of EverQuest II, PvP has always been a direction that we've wanted to expand into when the time was right."

I find this comment to be, well, "marketing-speak". The statements about PvP were much stronger than that of "focus". I seem to recall words more along the line of "No, no, no, never, uh-uh!". This being one of several stakes in the ground that have had to be walked back. Tradeskill interdependency, guild status decay, encounter locking, and the entire combat system are just a few things that have been changed or done away with in the past year.

As good businesses should do, SOE is responding to market forces. While it's doing ok, EQ2 has surely taken its lumps from World of Warcraft, which has PvP. And there has been incessant whining for PvP on the forums for all of the last year. So, as a business, you say, "how can I serve these customer's needs, and make a profit doing it?"

The success of this will lie entirely with the extent to which they do not disturb the PvE experience. In fact, the changes may work in their favor. I see EQ2 as being a strong "couples" game. Sometimes, the female is a strong player in her own right, and some of them even are the driving force of the couple. But more typically, the wife is newer to MMORPG games, and less comitted. By getting her to play, it allows more men to continue to play the game since it doesn't actually take them away from the couple.

The play environment in Everquest 2 at this point is much more women-friendly than in WoW. There were some problems with sexual harrassment earlier on, which I wrote about, but those folks are gone now. Based on the experiences of some women I know, they have all gone to WoW. I'm not sure why this is, but there's some possibilities.

Visual avatars, while still being attractive, are generally less sexually fetishized in EQ2 than in WoW. The game has lower system requirements, which makes it more likely to be played by young men, who are hormonally stupid at age 14. I've known many honorable and good people who like PvP, but it's also true that it seems to attract the same hormonally stupid youngsters.

So, perhaps the PvP servers will draw off some of the more obnoxious types from the PvE servers (though I'm sure it will draw some folks that I will miss, too). And some of them from WoW, too. Here's hoping.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Run, Don't Walk

The most obvious changes in the latest live update were the increase in run speed and the elimination of shards. Both of the changes caught me by surprise, since they didn't seem like parts of the game that were broken. The addition of the griffon towers in Thundering Steppes and Nektulos Forest seem related as well, though they came a bit earlier.

SOE made it fairly easy to get to the zone of your choice even before these changes. You can buy a ticket from the docks to Thundering Steppes and Nektulos Forest, and one more click will get you to Enchanted Lands, Zek, Everfrost, and Lavastorm.

Within these zones, you might well be in for a trek, and the design team did a marvelous job of making the world seem expansive and large. A journey to the Thexian Camp always seemed like a very long trek, even though it took perhaps 8 minutes.

And I don't know that I've heard a lot of complaining about the death penalty as it stood two weeks ago. For those rare occasions that I've left a shard that's hard to recover, I have played other characters for the three days it takes for the shard to reabsorb and the debt to disappear. And we had just received wands of debt cancellation as the birthday thank-you gift, so that makes this change seem a bit spur-of-the-moment.

I've come up with two possibilities. First, perhaps they want to speed up the rate at which people level. Maybe they feel that people are falling behind, and want to get them to a level where they will be interested in purchasing expansions. Less time traveling and recovering shards means more time adventuring, after all. That's a fairly cynical view, but Everquest, after all, is a business.

Second, it may be that they feel that the remote areas and zones are being played too little. There are very few people to be found in Runnyeye, Ruins of Varsoon, or Nektropos Castle these days. Maybe they would like to spread the population around more, since that means fewer servers will support more players.

I guess it's possible that they are simply trying to make the game more appealing to those with a low tolerance for frustration. Was this really a problem for people?