It Matters : EQ P1999

As it sometimes does (on a good day) my post about Nostalgia and being stuck in a frozen moment of Everquest spawned a couple of responses. And this is why I like blogging – I read them, thought about them, learned some new things, and gained a bit of clarity on the subject. Oh, not absolute, conclusive clarity but another angle on it all.

The first post, at Time To Loot, is here

This quote is important to me:

” A good example of this is the ol’ Sierra adventure games. I played and loved the ever-loving heck out of the Quest for Glory series.1 There was a time when I was playing through these every year or two. Yet I never played the King’s Quest or Space Quest games when they were current. I once thought to try them out but I bounced off them almost immediately. My love for QFG remained untarnished, but there was no getting on board with KQ and SQ. “

And it will feed my point soon. But first I want to link to Bhagpuss’ article and also dig up a quote from his:

” These aren’t living worlds. They’re instruction sets. Always providing someone can recover the code (easier said than done but being done more and more – and more and more effectively – year by year) your past can live again. If you call that living. “

Both are interesting points (and both write ups are great reads) but I had a moment while gaming last night where I think I figured out that it is not just Nostalgia – which is of course a part of it – and it is not just the mechanics – which of course is ALSO a part of it – but it is the non-throwaway nature of the game.

Things matter in P1999. In our age of disposable, repetitive grind for upgrades gaming worlds it is a point in time where things matter.

Loot matters. Because you can sell it. RE-sell it when you are done. Give to to alts. Lend it to friends. Your items are truly yours, and not just destroyed or vendored when you get the next upgrade. They are not bound to you or only exist on you – they are things that can be passed around and shared. And items might last you 50 or 60 levels. That’s right, all of your levels. And while that may not sound interesting to you, the permanence of such items makes them special. More real, if you will.

Your reputation also matters. There is one server. No name changes. No transfers. Levelling takes such time and energy that you don’t want to be making enemies in a small community after getting to level 15, 20, or 30.

Buffs matter. My Enchanter loves hitting random people with flyby Clarity buffs. Those buffs, depending on level, can make that persons time up to 100% easier. People genuinely appreciate it. There is excitement when you get hit with a Clarity, or a SOW, or a haste. It matters.

I’ll finish with a story that the modern day WoW player will never be able to understand (if they only have WoW as a backdrop). There are three parts to the same story, each different, but no less important.

I was camping the Nybright Sisters in Lesser Faydark on my level 16 Shadowknight. She is well geared, with items I have farmed with my higher level enchanter as well as a kick ass main weapon I bought at the EC tunnels. It is a common, usually busy camp. I can handle all the mobs quickly and easily there at my level and gear and the XP is good. The Platinum is even better as they drop frequent bronze weapons.

A Cleric comes by. He knows it’s a solo camp. XP, money, everything is better there as a solo camp. He “hails” me, I wave, and I invite him.

Story 1 : “Isn’t this a solo camp?” he asks. I say yes, but that company is always welcome. And especially that of a cleric, who tends to struggle soloing if it isn’t an undead opponent. Happy to share in the spoils. We played for an hour before he had to log. He asked if I would add him to my friends list and hopes we can adventure again in the future. I was NOT maximizing my play time, or xp per hour by inviting him – quite the opposite – but I did make his night better and I also had someone to chat with. And who knows, I might need a rez in the future and it never hurts to have Cleric friends for that.

Story 2: Same camp. Thirty minutes later. A Druid comes by. Same old story – these people are checking if the camp is free. Since there is no instancing, it’s either free or it’s taken. I invite him. We get tons of bronze weapons. Here is my issue: I can’t sell them in zone. I am a Shadowknight, and the only vendor I know of in Lfay is a Ranger outpost who will kill me on sight. In fact, I spent 4 hours killing Minotaur Slavers in Steamfont that made Gnomes “dubious” to me meaning I can access the bank there, vendors, and even spell vendors for my class. I had to do a bit of work there. Anyway – the mobs are easy and several times he mentions he feels useless. I let him know his most important job is telling jokes. They are bad. His second most important job is to loot ALL the weapons and go sell them, and give me half of the spoils. We found mutual need for each other.

Story 3: A level 20 Druid sends me a tell: “Can you locate my corpse in the zone?” – corpses and all of your gear remain. You have to find and loot them. You have 7 days or they disappear – including all of your loot. It’s important. Shadowknights have a spell “Locate Corpse” which points me in the direction of the corpse. I respond “sure – just meet me at Nybright camp” and we continued killing the sisters. He arrives, I cast the spell, and off I go. I find it in the centre of the zone and get consent to “drag” it back to him. Lfay is a very dangerous zone, I am being careful. OF course, not careful enough and I aggro a Brownie which is a VERY fast, and I know I can’t outrun him – but hopefully my pet slows him down and I can make the zoneline. I tell the Druid to zone as well, as we are grouped and if I die near him the aggro might transfer. I think I am going to make it, but the Brownie roots me, and I die.

The druid is so upset about all of this. “I Am so fucking sorry! Dammit, I feel terrible!”

“Hey, it’s ok. Bad luck, those guys are hard to see and it’s part of the zone”.

I neglect to mention that I lost a level.

So now I have to run back to the zone, find MY corpse, AND his corpse, and be really careful for that roaming Brownie. I am cautious and I manage to do just that. I bring him his body and he loots it. The whole time he is worried about me dying again, and apologizing for the death. I just get the job done.

After he tries to tip me with 15 platinum – he is only level 20 and that is a lot of money. I decline. He insists. I decline. He asks why – and I respond “Someday I may need a port from a friendly druid on a corpse run. Making allies is more important than money”. He sends me a tell saying “Add me as a friend. You get free ports for life. Thank you for being so friendly and kind”.

It’s not just nostalgia that makes me enjoy playing there, its the fact that everything you do, and how you treat everyone you meet, actually has an impact on their gaming day. It matters. And in this disposable gaming world, if I can enjoy gaming and have some sort of a positive impact, that matters to me.

7 comments / Add your comment below

  1. That’s a great set of stories. They say so much about EverQuest and why some people still play it twenty years on. The thing is, they also say just as much about why others don’t and why some who do think the current Live game is a better iteration than older snapshots.

    The reputation thing is very interesting. The importance of your rep gets quoted often as a given in a “one server” environment. I never found it to be remotely true. For the first year, year-and-a-half I played EQ I really didn’t know anyone. I met a fair few people and had similar experiences to the ones you describe but I never put anyone on my friends list because I didn’t have one. They were all one-and-done deals. Later, when I did have an extensive friends list and an active guild and a chat channel crew, I was able to call in favors from clerics or druids or enchanters (and provide same) but the entire roster of people I knew must have represented less than 1% of the server population. Most people didn’t know me from a hole in the ground and I didn’t know anyone outside my own social circle. What you’d have had to do to gain a server-wide reputation I can’t imagine (actually, I could – you’d have had to be Fansy or Furor).

    What’s more, it was the possibility of the kind of ad hoc social encounter that you describe, meeting a single other player at a camp and spending an hour with them, that kept me either soloing or playing in full groups. I was very happy, comfortable and chatty in a group with two or more other people, but duoing with anyone other than close friends made me feel claustrophobic and anxious. It still does, really. It’s too intimate a thing to do with people you only just met.

    As for needing to make relationships with other players because you might need their services at some unspecified future date, I now see that as bad game design, plain and simple. If those services are so vital it’s unreasonable to farm them out to other players. They should be integrated in the game design, not contracted out. As they have been in virtually all MMORPGs since about 2006.

    The gear issues are very interesting. We often talk about EQ as a game where improving your gear was very much part of gameplay but it was very different from the “gear ladders” we now think of when we say something like that. There were upgrade paths of a sort but they weren’t always clear and anyway many items had unique properties you wouldn’t want to give up just for a few more AC. The tradeability of items was contentious even in 1999, of course, with “Twink” being one of the worst things someone could call you, short of suggesting you’d bought your character on EBay. People sometimes act as though the move to Bind On Equip was imposed against the wil of the players but I remember there being a strong lobby in favor of it as way to reduce twinking, or “cheating” as a lot of us thought of it.

    Anyway, I could clearly write another post on this but I’m not going to – or not yet, anyway. Great discussion though. if there’s one thing you can rely on EQ for it’s a feisty debate over things that happened twenty years ago!

    1. Please do! (write that post).

      Co-dependency isn’t bad, it forms the core basis of community building. If I didn’t make friends with those people I could always pay for their services when / if needed. Being kind just tends to work in your (my favor) with such things. They weren’t (still aren’t) “vital” per se, but they do provide fancy shortcuts. Which is nice to have, but not the end of the world if you don’t. (There is a boat across the ocean if you really need to get there and can’t get a port…)

      I mean, in P1999 you are in Unrest for 5 levels or so, along with everyone else in the same range – so yeah, you get a reputation with that group. I was playing my Enchanter so well in a specific group that outlevelled me when I was away – when I was back they invited me to the basement group – which I was WAY too low for. They told me just to keep them buffed, don’t I dare cast on any mob or they will one shot me.

      That’s another direct example of my reputation making life / the game easier for me. I did my best to be a brilliant conversationalist as I kept a careful buff timer and watched the XP flow.

      I still think gear I earn should be mine to do what I would with it. I found the “twink” claims hilarious in a PVE group – that just means that it helps the WHOLE group move along better, and safer. Who doesn’t want that in a primarily PVE game?

      Those things that happened 20 years ago are also happening now – just with a much more mature and seasoned group of people who realize that the way this genre went isn’t necessarily for the better.

      1. I remember my first encounter with gear that bound that wasn’t the outcome of a special quest in WoW to be incredibly jarring.

        Sounds like AC was similar to EQ in that respect, where by and large loot was tradeable between players. There was quite a vibrant trade economy as a result.

        Weapons did have skill tiers, where a certain threshold of proficiency was required — but this was something you could hit by level 50 (in AC terms quite a moderate level, nothing too excessive at all) for your specialised weapon.

        That these could be traded, and indeed dropped on death and (in PvP deaths, at least) be looted was part of the ‘system’.

        Getting a bound weapon was really quite something special. The Sword of Lost Light, or the Sifili of Crimson Stars, or crafting your Atlan Weapon(s), these were remarkable milestones to be proud of.

        So as I say, finding a green weapon off a low level enemy in WoW, and then seeing this foreign ‘Bind on Equip’ modifier was incredibly jarring. It went against everything I knew about MMOs at that point in time and it took me a long time to really ‘get over it’ fully. I suppose now it has something I’ve just accepted as part of the landscape, but I’d take back the old way in a heartbeat.

        …One of the few old systems I actually do believe to be superior to those of today, in fact.

  2. I love the stories but like Bhagpuss I’m kind of thinking of the drawbacks for me personally.

    When I played EQ 1 I don’t think I ever made it past level 15. I had a guild and had good fun with them when we were all online, but even back then I was an adult and so were they and having the gang together didn’t happen often because of real-life responsibilities (and time zones, our guild was spread out all over the world). So then I’d try to solo, get careless and die and lose a level.

    And the time required… oof.

    It was fine at the time because it was all there was (well EQ and UO) but I was happy when MMOs started moving a little more rapidly and I’ve never really missed the heartache of losing levels. Though oddly I DO kind of miss the heartache of losing stuff. Side-tracking to Diablo 2 (I think?) where you’d die at the bottom of a dungeon and spend the next hour trying to do corpse runs to get your stuff back. Those nights wound up being the most fun. Of course lots of people loved when Diablo 3 came out and you didn’t lose all your stuff when you died.

    So, different strokes.

    What’s a little sad to me, is that we can’t have all kinds of different games, but instead developers feel forced to chase the biggest audience and whatever they perceive that audience wants. So you have to go back to 1999 to get the gameplay you want. Wouldn’t it be cool if a 2020 game had the kind of gameplay you loved but with updated graphics?

    1. The whole “it’s the journey, not the destination” line comes to mind. What a waste of a game if you race through trivial levels to get to an endgame that is largely trivial and repetitive! I mean – wait – that’s WoW, isn’t it? 🙂

      1. But the game is meaningless once you get to the end game. I did raids through 3 expansions. The journey to max level had zero bearing (gameplay) except as a time gate. The entire purpose of the social construct was to speed up that process (your post implicitly calls that out).

        Now there’s an argument to be made towards value of an item and the scarcity of said item. That’s why the Boots were so damn important (yay speed!). With very few exceptions, you kept none of that at max level and items were transitory. Also of note how EQ changed the BOP/BOE discussion as it matured…

        EQ’s benefit was 3 fold over predecessors (UO in particular). The lack of PvP, the graphics/realism, and the social interdependencies. The game’s systems were purposefully built to force that last point. It’s fascinating to see people enjoy that model (I really do like this series!).

        And frankly, there’s a really good reason that WoW Vanilla was a hot cake. It kept the social aspects and dramatically reduced/eliminated EQ’s punitive systems. It will be interesting to see how the Classic WoW servers bear the nostalgia hit…

  3. Every time you say “it matters,” I keep wanting to ask, “does it really?”, “for what purpose?” and “for how long?” 😉

    Don’t get me wrong, I kind of get your angle on social consequences and the importance of building networks. I remember my first precursor MMO, a MUD with corpse runs and the absolute importance of a strong reputation.

    I built mine through semi-intentional “mains” on two characters, one female and one male. The female was used a lot for relationship building, for all the subtle things females can get away with in our sexist gendered world (beginner inexperience and keeness to learn, seen as more friendly and welcoming, more of a social network nexus/center) just without taking overt handouts as a point of self pride and respect. The male was used for more masculine “hardcore” player displays of competency and achievement and overt competition. Most people were thoroughly confused as to the real gender of the player behind the pair, but tended to relate to one better than the other and I derived the social network benefits that way.

    Progress and success of the game absolutely was a function of who you knew, I developed a lot of good relationships with hardcore secret-finders and players-in-the-know, or their “spouses” or significant others, which was again “a way in” to inner councils and strong cliques. Granted, you had to offer something in return, and that was usually oodles of free time, a willingness to learn and act in ways that they valued and support their group projects which needed additional manpower.

    A Tale of the Desert encompasses much of the same social network game, really. At the time I played it seriously, I had major callbacks to those days of old.

    But games close, people leave one game for another, and even if you build the strongest game network out there at that point in time, it is only useful and offers returns (be it tangible benefits like free services or access to game secrets few know about, or feel-good experiences that we’re always seeking in gameplay) for that limited time. Eventually people decide they’ve had enough of that one game and move on, and your network crumbles and has to be rebuilt with more transients that have temporarily shared values.

    There’s also a certain degree of artificiality in forced or system “encouraged” social networks as set by game boundaries that I’m personally not 100% comfortable with. It seems like a relationship would be more genuine if a person likes your company for you being you, rather than what you can do for him/her and vice versa. Albeit if the alternative is a hostile relationship, then I’ll definitely prefer face-value friendship than outright trash talking trolls.

    I suppose that’s what we’re seeing in some of these games, and I applaud the theoretical potential to forge deeper connections from those shallower networks… from a distance. Can’t blame a subset of players from no longer wanting to invest the time to play or cultivate such a long social game within a game – there’s other avenues for that sort of thing too, be it other social media, work or real-world organizations.

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