Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What is hard?

Yesterday's discussion on the EQ progression server made me realize that in the fast-living age of the internet, Everquest is such ancient history, that it is mostly forgotten. Millions of today's MMORPG players never set a foot in that game, and only have hear-say knowledge of it. Particularly the comments revealed a substantial lack of knowledge of why exactly Everquest was considered to be hard. So let me make a list:

Time: The one thing people *did* remember correctly about Everquest was that it took considerably more time than modern games. A survey once estimated the average time to level cap at 2,000 hours, while today a game like WoW can be leveled up to the cap in under 200 hours. It took a full 15 minutes for a mid-level caster who was out of mana to get his mana back to full. And some mobs only spawned every 8 hours, or even only once a week. But the comments yesterday made it clear that people fail to realize that a longer leveling time has a significant consequence: Better players advance faster than less good players. In Everquest a bad player would not only advance slower, he would actually never reach the level cap, which brings us to the second point:

Penalties Everquest was hard because it had severe punishment for failure. When you died, you lost xp, and potentially even levels. The idea of "let's wipe 20 times at this boss to learn how to do him" is completely foreign to EQ, because by that time you would have lost 2 levels and would probably be unable to kill the boss. You had to get things right on the first try, or at least not have too many failures. Furthermore when you died you respawned at your "bind point", not a conveniently located graveyard. And you were naked, with all your equipment being on your corpse. Thus the "naked corpse run", where you would need to run back naked to recover your gear. If you didn't make it in time, your corpse would despawn and your gear would be gone for good.

No crutches: Addons and other programs were not allowed for Everquest. Some people even got banned when somebody wrote an application that allowed to control the Windows Media Player from the game to select background music. Thus there were no Healbot, Decursive, Deadly Boss Mod, Threatmeter, Damagemeter, Gearscore, or any other mods and addons to the game. There wasn't even Skype/Ventrilo/Teamspeak back in 1999. Do you know any guild in WoW that raids without the use of addons and external programs like that? And the standard UI of EQ wasn't very helpful either: No maps, no indications where your quest targets were, no glowing sparkles on anything you could click on.

No instances: Every dungeon and rare mob only existed in one single copy per server. If you wanted to kill the Frenzied Ghoul for the Flowing Black Silk Sash, you had to hope that nobody else was already camping him. If you entered a dungeon you might advance fast because the monsters were already dead, only to have them spawn behind you, blocking your way out. And then you'd hear somebody shout "TRAAAAAAIIIIINNNNN", and see a guy rushing past, fleeing towards the exit, followed by a load of monsters that would attack you if you got into the way. A "raid calendar" in EQ was an agreement between guilds who got to raid what raid boss on what day.

Forced grouping: Apart from a few special character classes, the majority of classes in EQ were unable to solo past the newbie zone. If you wanted to kill a mob that gave you xp, you had to find a group first. And there were no meeting stones, Dungeon Finder, or other fancy tools to help you. You just went to the zone of the appropriate level and shouted to find a group. And then you shouted a "camp check" to see which mobs were already camped.

It is this list of various difficulties that makes me think that the modern "leet" players wouldn't get far in Everquest. But if you don't believe me, I have an extremely simple challenge for you:

Create a character on one of the new EQ progression servers, level him up as much as you want, and then run from Freeport to Qeynos (or vice versa). That's it. Just cross the main continent of EQ on foot. I've done that repeatedly at the time, and with quite low level characters, so I know it is possible. But I believe this to be already too hard for most players who started MMORPGs only in the post-EQ age.

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