Storybricks Wanted to Buy Everquest

Straight from their “we’re closing the doors email” that went out a few hours ago:

PS.
There is one more story to tell before we part ways.

We fell in love with the EverQuest franchise and we wanted the best possible future for it. We knew Sony Online (300+ employees IIRC) was for sale so Storybricks (barely 10 people) tried to actually buy out the whole division.
We retained an investment banking firm as a proxy and they went directly to Sony Corporate bypassing the local executives. We would have been able to raise the necessary capital, and had interviewed new and existing management ready for a turnover.

Alas, it was not meant to be as the terms offered by Sony Japan were unacceptable to us and to our investors. It is my understanding that other buyers had the same reaction and, in the end, Columbus Nova got a completely different deal that the one we were offered, but by then our investor group had moved on.

Make no mistake the company needed cuts badly, and we would have cut and cut deeply. Possibly as deep as Columbus Nova did but maybe we would have cut more senior management and less game developers instead. It was our intention to try to acquire the 38 Studios assets and made them available to players in EQN. Moreover we would have probably changed the server infrastructure allowing people to run their own servers. It would not have been a very canonical EverQuest but we would have done the best to service our customers with the limited budget of an independent studio who wanted to punch above its weight.

We really did try our best. And our best was not enough.

I’m still gathering my thoughts, but in general I just have a lot of questions. Basically, if I’m reading this right, Sony Japan sold SOE for less than they could have gotten, to a company that didn’t know anything about games. Only way that makes sense is if there is some sort of pre-existing relationship between the people doing the deal at Sony and those at Columbus Nova. Like the Sony Exec’s godson/favorite nepher/golfing buddy is the big cheese/VP/owner of Columbus Nova. Either that or part of the deal was not made public or was done under the table. Either is a likely possibility.

#storybricks, #daybreak, #everquest next

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A Few Words On Exploration

Werit had a solid post on Exploration a couple of weeks ago. The thrust of it was that Exploration in an MMO needed to be Interesting and Persistent, and that as a result, procedural generation was not a good option for it. The backdrop is STO and how to integrate exploration into it after pulling the plug on their previous system.

I have to confess I do not agree with this stance. I loved the Exploration system in STO and spent most of my time doing just that. It *felt* like the most Trekky part of the game. I would load my ship up with supplies and head into the unknown clusters. Each point of interest either spawned a shiny in the form of a crafting node, or a mission. Sometimes a planet to explore, sometimes an asteroid base to defend, sometimes a Borg invasion that I had arrive just in time to quell. And sometimes it was no mission at all, but rather aid and diplomacy – passing out industrial replicators or medical aid to a planet in distress.

At the end of the night, I would warp home, my bay emptied of commodities and filled with trinkets and crafting goodies, to receive a commendation from the Admiral. Even the duty officers had tie ins, with special missions to establish colonies and such and even recruit the rare species of that cluster on to the ship. In other words, it was very interesting, at least to me.

Was it persistent? Not in the sense that I could revisit the same planet twice, but then again, how often did they do that in Trek? How many Encounters were there at Far Point? Every episode was something new, and in that sense STO did it right. The point was not to find a new home base, it was to explore new worlds. And those I liked, I took screenshots of, which are what you see in this post.

I have never again visited the AT&T planet, as I called it. But it is persistent – I have a record of my time there, and I still remember the mission. Which is more than I can say for some of the “featured episodes” and definitely more than I can say for any Foundry mission I have ever done.

So…

To me, the real crime was that the system was simply dropped instead of being tuned and made better. How could they have done that? A couple of things.

The first was further tie in with the duty officer system, and in particular the Diplomacy subsection. Colonization and Diplomacy should have been broken out of the duty officer rotation and into its own reputation mechanic, much as they have done with the special Task Forces and New Romulus and so on. And exploring the planets and points of interest in the clusters should have afforded the commendations necessary for those unlocks. Here is where your Ambassador titles and cross-faction immunity buffs come from, as well as special uniform and item unlocks.

The second was to further flesh out some of the missions. The aid missions boiled down to dropping off supplies and a small pat on the back. Commodities, rather than being bought, could have been (and still should be) a crafted item, much as The Old Republic does with its new conquest system. Get enough commodities to the planet, and good things happen. This could even be a long term missions. Many people don’t realize that while the generation of the planet was in some way temporary, it was tied to your mission log. If you kept the mission open and uncompleted, the client/server was able to return you to the same system again and again. If the mission objectives were changed or made long term, you could keep returning to the same system, unlocking new sub goals (as you would in a regular quest) with each step of aid granted. Or perhaps they could be tied to the project system directly in the Reputation system as it exists today.

With some improvements, you have the PvE version of all the damn Reputation grinds that STO is so enamored with these days, all of which center primarily around PvP or required group content.

Instead, unlike other “useless” aspects of Star Trek (like starship interiors) that developers have realized are actually important to subsets of the community (like Roleplayers), and put a little bit of time and effort into improving and strengthening the tie ins with the rest of the game, it was jsut tossed aside, with nothing to take its place. It is mind boggling that any game would simply throw away content, particularly without having a replacement in development, or at the very least, to have an idea of what they eventually wanted to replace it with. It still ranks high on my list of “worst developer moves in an MMO” category of failures.

Would it work for every game? No. But in this game, with this lore, it was a pretty good emulation of what Star Trek is about. Exploration was not only possible, it was truly, for the first time in an MMO, not limited by the creativity of the dev team or artists, while also leaving room for the player to make his mark on things.

If You Can’t Go Back, Go Back Even Further

Wilhelm has a good piece up right now detailing the ins and outs of doing a progression server for EQ2, and how that probably would not, generally speaking, really be all that fun for anyone. The salient points, for me, were primarily that EQ2 was a very different animal back then, and the changes to the landscape and to the way characters are built have changed significantly since launch. This poses problems with progression mechanics and just what, exactly, you would be enacting.

However, if going back creates problems and lacks interest, maybe you’re just not going far enough back. Don’t turn back the dial to 2004. Turn it back by one thousand years, to Norrath as it was before even the original. Norrath as it was in Everquest Online Adventures.

EverQuest-Online-Adventures-Map

EQOA was in some ways the little brother of EQ2. Launching nearly two full years before, some of the flavor of EQOA resides in EQ2, though whether by accident or design I couldn’t tell you, I assume its by design. Both games at one time featured progression through classes as well as levels. Much as EQ2 simplified some of the controls and difficulties of EQ, EQOA was also catered to a more casual crowd, perhaps because of console limitations at the time. Many of the skills also overlap, or perhaps were tested in EQOA and later used fully in EQ2.

But two hurdles are fairly obvious from the outset: would anyone play, and how much work would it really be?

The first is easier to answer, using polls and other metrics, but I think the answer would be “yes” provided the opportunity was branded correctly. Billed as an opportunity to play your ancestor, perhaps with appropriate tie ins to the main game via account unlocks, it would provide some interest from role players and achievers alike. Not to mention explorers get a whole new world to roam, and raiders have a whole new set of boss mobs and locations to trash. And while EQOA’s fanbase was admittedly small, they were loyal enough to keep a dead PS2 game going for 9 years – including years well after anyone even continued to sell PS2, much less make new games for them.

eqoa

The second question (“how difficult would this be?”) I can’t really answer. SOE was game for the unusual and down to take risks at times. But now that they are not calling the shots, this is probably a pipe dream. Still, if you wanted to do it in an efficient manner, you could. Classes did not really have all that many abilities – taking the same simplification approach that EQ2 has – not giving each level’s identical spell new names, then most classes really had few spells (the toolbar in EQOA was 4 or 5 slots if I remember correctly – a very modern approach). If I remember correctly, my magician had light and heavy versions of cold and fire direct damage spells, a pet, and a couple of utilities available at any given time.

Quests were streamlined and small in nature. After starter quests each level to get you to 5, quests were spread out after that, with several levels passing at a time before a new one would open up. And quests (with few exceptions) were not class or race specific. The world itself had quite a bit of open space, but textures and animations could be reused from EQ2, and some of the locations would probably just need minor editing as opposed to full blown overhauls.

Fayspire

Its a pipe dream, and I know it. But I still think it would be a lot of fun to do. Who among the EQ2 crowd even knows what Fayspire is, much less having ever visited it? To open up even a few zones of recreated, thousand year old Norrath, for current characters would make for great nostalgia of a different sort in the game, and provide opportunities for some interesting quest lines and stories to be told. Its not the first time that an MMO has turned to time travel to explain zone changes, new zones, or expand storylines, am I right?

Well, in any case, I guy can dream. And if Smed drops by, maybe he can look into making it a reality.

#mmos, #everquest, #2015

Crowfall Will See You Now

The registration restrictions have been lifted from their website, and the vaunted Kickstarter campaign has begun.

Its basically Shadowbane: Game of Thrones Edition. Which is not a bad thing at all, from a marketing or gaming perspective.

Regular server resets with changing rules? Check. Character building with base classes, prestige classes, and disciplines, using a points system? Check. Kingdom building with resource gathering and base attack/defense? Check.

I liked Shadowbane. Its the only time I have really dug into and enjoyed a full on PvP MMO. Unfortunately, the game was shut down just as I was getting warmed up. Well that’s not quite true…I was wrestling with the multiboxing issues that were going on (something that Crowfall will have to address eventually as well). The variety of server rules, the ease of leveling to cap (set up more as a speedbump to curtail day one PvP and ganking), and the impressive array of character builds were all very appealing, as was the very group oriented nature of the PvP.

So I may very well end up contributing. But if I don’t I probably will be playing in some capacity, provided they do a decent job with it.

Crowfall: Not Really Interested In Your Interest.

…unless you are committed to it. These MMO “veterans” apparently deal only with the tangible.

Because if you want to read one of the articles on their website about their MMO, you’re going to have to register first.

Untitled

Apparently whatever the background in massive multiplayer design these guys have didn’t include angles on how to deal with websites and social media in the 21st century. Great start guys. ::thumbs up::

To the Surprise of No One…

Transformers Universe will die before ever leaving Beta testing.

Because all those 30-45 year olds with money and nostalgia are dying to open their wallets for a Transformers game using a continuity of the universe they know nothing about to allow them to play a twitch-based PvP MOBA with no storylines or familiar characters and all those 18-30 year olds who long for twitched based PvP MOBA’s are really into the cartoon series their kid brother is watching.

Told you so.

First Impressions, Again and Again

*Note, this post starts with War Thunder and branches out. IF you play MMO’s in general, this post is still for you…) One of the things that struck me, as I found myself playing War Thunder’s ground forces yet again last week, is how differently the aesthetic of the game is. And you can see it right from the very start. Here is what the beginning of a match in WoT looks like for me:

shot_016

And here is what the beginning of a match in WT Ground Forces looks like for me:

shot 2014.12.11 22.40.38

Do you see it? Granted in the first picture, I’m using a mod, so the names are a little more colorful than normal, but in that picture only three of the fifteen tanks on my team made it beyond prototype/testing. Everything about it, from camera angles to UI screams: this is a game!

But in the second picture, my team of twelve includeas all historical, battle tested vehicles, and in this battle – all from one nation, Germany. Its harder to tell because of the lighting, but the second picture includes my Jagdpanzer IV L/70A, a Jagdpanzer 38t, and a pair of Tiger I’s. And everything about it, from the minimal UI, to the models, screams: this…is…tanks!

And that’s the first impression you get, every time. It definitely sets a different level of expectations in your head as to how this is going to go down and how you should play it. And for me, that’s part of what brings me back. And, also, that is something unique about games – that intro music, that loading screen? Those are very important things for your Dev team to work on. Because they set the stage for everything else in the game.

I still remember the theme music, loading screen, and menu select sounds from EQOA. Same with EQ2. Even SWTOR, with all the baggage I have with that game, stirs something in me when the powering up sound effect tells you the launcher is ready for log in. Its a first impression that keeps giving, over and over again.

Even as Bhagpuss wrestles with the changes that are inherent to a living game over a long period of time, we can say that these first impressions are part of what combats the ennui or the growing distance with a game. They are part of what sets fire to the blood and conjures the ghosts of gaming past.

When I thought last year about where I might want to return to for a visit in 2014, I can tell you its not coincidence that the atmosphere of those games I pondered is what made them my main choice. They were games where I could get a fresh hit of that first impression all over again.

Maybe this is the essence of nostalgia. Or maybe its something everone has known all along and I’ve just now figured out. But whatever it is, it can be a powerful draw for me. And right now, its drawing me into something that, a year ago, I really didn’t think I would be interested in.