Gaming Made Me: EverQuest

By RPS on June 18th, 2011 at 11:01 am.

This week in our series of highly personal retrospectives on landmark computer games, videogames PhD researcher and independent games developer Mitu Khandaker looks back to the wonder, exploration and lofty world-building of what might well be the most defining entry in the history of MMOs: EverQuest.

Everquest was like magic.

I feel like I’m cheating a bit writing this; after all, this isn’t about one of the games that I played when I was the tiniest, my perception of the world at its most plastic. The games I played then – illicitly, on a Commodore 64 that wasn’t mine; and later, on a series of hand-me-down consoles – certainly defined a lot about the person I would become. However, not all of our most formative experiences happen when we are tiny, young, and impressionable. Instead, many happen when we’re at our most vulnerable, our most confused, our most lost: during our mid-teen years. When I was 16 years old, EverQuest made me.

The thing is, I don’t know quite how to tell you about this. Lots of clever people have said lots of clever things about what games could mean, what they could be. It seems trite, almost, to speak of an experience which was, essentially, about a simple sort of escapism. There are, after all, so many anecdotes about just that. My life was in a complicated sort of situation then. You can blame being a first-generation British-Asian girl. There are probably a few less anecdotes about that. If only there were more. But anyway, this, I guess, is simply mine.

I got into EverQuest about a year after its 1999 release. I’d taken a break from PC gaming for a number of years, all my gaming experiences at the time happening instead on the N64. And so, when a friend intro-duced me to the concept of EverQuest, I was entranced. By that time, the game was already into the first of its many myriad expansions, The Ruins of Kunark, adding yet another vast continent to its already incon-ceivable, breathtaking sense of scope. I had little concept of what might even be possible in this bizarre, new type of game; this massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. A pervasive world. A world that pervades me, my actions, or anything I might do. A world that is, quite frankly, huge. Which has oceans to cross by boat. It blew my mind. I re-read the box and the manual, over and over, as I waited to install it for the first time.

(I wish I still had that original box. As it happens, I only have the Gold Edition box I’d bought to replace it a few years later, when the original CDs had become too scratched, too well-worn, from all the times it had laid about on my teenage desk from all the re-installs. That game went with me on every machine I owned.)

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, goes the infamous Arthur C. Clarke aphorism. To me, that’s exactly how EverQuest seemed. Magic. Past the triumphant fanfare of the loading screen, what awaited me was a world teeming with possibility. Having never played anything of the sort before, I simply didn’t know where the limits could lie. And that part of it was so important: I couldn’t see the seams. (Well, okay, there were the LOADING, PLEASE WAIT… notices when zoning. But, for the rest of its magic, I forgave that.)

These days, with being a more experienced programmer, and with my design sensibilities more attuned, I can see through the curtain. Now when I love a game, it is often in a very different sort of way; in the way that we find beauty in the skill and achievement of others. For the most part now, my appreciation of games lies within the cleverness and mastery it took to create it. To me, EverQuest marks the last bastion of my innocence and naivety, which made it seem truly, and irrevocably magical.

After all, in my previous experience, most other games had revolved exclusively around the player; my own success determined the story’s success. A game world was a dead thing; brought to life only in the places I inhabited and encountered. Other games would exist exclusively around – and for – the player; an uncanny solipsism. EverQuest seemed the opposite; a world that lived and breathed, independent of, and even de-spite the player. It would grow, and change, and things would happen, whether or not I was there. That was beautiful.

From this magic, I felt anything could arise, and I loved it all, from the beautiful nonsense of the never-ending plague of giant-rats-who-carry-copper-coins at the gates of West Freeport, to, quite literally, Luclin (the moon) and back. The deserts of Ro, punctuated by an oasis, ripe for hunting low-level, mysteriously oversized sand beetles and spiders – but where, at any time, Cazel the sand giant could pop up and wreak destruction. The inevitable shouts of “Train to zone!” The ensuing corpse runs. This was a massive, hostile world, full of unknown danger. During boat journeys across the Ocean of Tears, I sat pensively, watching for some imagined Kraken. Yet, it was so very tranquil too. Sometimes, I would sit on the dock, half-heartedly fishing, watching that boat pull into the harbour, and away again. Really, I just loved the music there.

In Norrath, each zone felt so different, and so huge. With each area of the world so vast in its own right, the whole seemed more than the sum of its parts; a patchwork of tiny realities. My favourite memories are from my earliest days of the game, when the sense of wonder at the breadth of the world was at its most potent. Of course, it was a sense of wonder that never really went away, either.

EverQuest was a game that got under your skin. There was a reason, I suppose, that it was so widely referred to as EverCrack back in the day. EverQuest gave me a place to be. I mean Be. Sometimes, I would run across the length of one of Norrath’s then-five continents – just to travel. A kind of virtual dromomania. It seemed impossibly huge, the trek from Freeport, across the Commonlands, through the haunted-at-night Kithicor woods, through High Keep, and Highpass Hold into the twisty gorges of East Karana, and then across the vast plains of the Karanas, North and West. It seemed to take forever, and that was okay. Even that arduous-seeming journey was only just a small section of the world, and that was just brilliant.

Yet, exploration is not always simply about distances – often, it is about detail. I remember when, as a still-relatively-new player, I stumbled across a little gap in a wall in East Freeport, and, eventually, found myself in the city’s sewers, which I didn’t even realize existed. That too felt like magic. There were empty houses in North Freeport, with beds upstairs. When I could, I would ‘camp’ in one of those, to pretend I was actually boarding there (even though, of course, I didn’t need to).

The curious cultural differences between the races and their habitats made the world seem all the more alive. The wood elves, with their arboreal city of Kelethin, perched at dizzyingly treacherous heights. Halflings, with their little under-hill homes, and warm fanfare whenever you’d enter their town. The Erudites, mysterious, haughty and exotic, somewhere on a distant island. The intrigue in their dealings with one another. This was a world where even the gods held grudges. To gain faction with one race, may reduce your faction with another. Politics is difficult. A Qeynos guard regards you dubiously.

It was a world teeming in lore, and intrigue. One that I threw myself into wholeheartedly, carefully compiling a folder full of backstories, and of maps. But of course, this tiny reality, re-skinned with fantastical races and drenched in magic, reminds us that our own is just as rich, just as complex.

Looking back, there were these small touches of meaning I couldn’t quite discern at the time. The way the persistence of the world mirrors our own reality – the world goes on, while we’re here for a fleeting amount of time. Only our experiences, and our interactions with one another matter. The world is shaped by the people who inhabit it. It was not the intention of the game designers that the East Commonland tunnels be such a bustling, exotic marketplace; it was the players. It just sort of happened, from the confluence of all these different players.

The implications of all this for me were profound. Getting to know a game this intimately means learning its context and its history. EverQuest grew, of course, out of the tradition of MUDs; I hadn’t even heard of these before, but, once hooked on the latter, I went back to investigate the former. I even created and ran my own MUD, at one point – a derivative of DikuMUD. From there, I went to pen-and-paper roleplaying. I think that devolutionary journey, too, made me.

(Funnily enough, I also ran an EQ pen-and-paper campaign too, a few years later. The books, still in my possession, are gorgeous. Essentially, a reskinned D&D – though, with EverQuest owing its roots to there, that seems wholly appropriate.)

Eventually, time in the real world wore on, and everyone began to move onto new MMOs, and so did I. Of course, by then, I knew how these things worked, and although I certainly enjoyed them, somehow, the obli-vious wonder that had been so key to my love of EverQuest could never be recaptured. It had changed me. That’s not to say I didn’t try again. I dabbled in running an emulated ‘classic’ EverQuest server, to explore the ‘old’ Norrath (which, by that time, had been altered by many more expansions), but it wasn’t ever the same. The zeitgeist moved on. I had moved on. Sometimes games are not just games, they are events, and they just can’t happen in the same way a second time.

And so nothing ever recaptured that feeling that EverQuest gave me. The beauty, the wonder, and the pas-sive companionship I shared with everyone else who lived in Norrath back then; those who made it what it was. To those people: A dark elf enchantress regards you warmly.

__________________

« | »

, , .

76 Comments »

  1. Jumwa says:

    Such a beautiful and singularly special thing, one’s first MMO.

    Nothing ever compares to that time period when we first set foot in that massive, virtual world that completely blew away what we thought was possible in a video game. Worlds bigger than we imagined possible, swarms of people–real people!–all about you, inhabiting the cities, exploring the countryside, just like you.

    That magical time when it all first starts and you’re clueless, but it’s okay because nobody else really knows a lot better than you anyhow. It’s a period of awe, discovery and amazement. Whether you got it in Ultima Online, EverQuest or World of Warcraft, it seems to be a common experience. And sadly, a common experience so many of us struggle to regain but never seem capable of doing.

    I’ve seen so many players of these games rage and struggle, complaining to the developers about one thing or another, yearning for how the game “used to be” even though things are clearly better and improved. It’s their futile struggle to recapture the glory of how it was, they just don’t realize it’s not feasible like that.

    I often hope that a new generation of MMOs that leaves behind the Everquest/WoW model might rekindle some of that magic in me all over again. Truth be told, however, I doubt it. I think it was a one-shot event for each of us, and it’d require something truly different on every level to bring us back to an even similar feeling.

    • Wulf says:

      I hate to bring this up here, but… the point about cities is especially poignant to me. I love a good city in an MMORPG and most of them absolutely stink. They’re either overly generic or they’re tiny, or in some cases they’re both. Everquest II was the first time I stepped into a city and thought this is a city. It really was. No matter which side you picked, the ‘good’ or ‘evil’ aligned side didn’t matter, as both of those cities were ridiculously humongous.

      It’s hard to have a sense of bewilderment in a small city, I never had it in Ultima Online and I remember that. Due to experience with Ultima VII, I found my way around fairly easily, and didn’t break much of a sweat learning it all. But Everquest II was my first ‘what is going on?‘ moments in regards to cities in games, it was so large that I was genuinely bewildered. I felt that I could keep going through doors forever and finding new things. And even more surprising to me was how NPC shoppers dropped by to chat with the merchants and buy things. This caught me off guard the first time it happened, whilst shopping and I heard the door open behind me, I expected another player but no, it was an NPC!

      I was so impressed with the cities of Everquest II that I can remember them all, I have them all ingrained into my mind, I remember the little back streets I walked down, how there were uneven pathways and quaint little back alleys, and then there was that shire area which was truly hilarious. Not to mention the bizarre and mildly otherworldly nature of the Ratonga district of the evil city. And there was stuff going on inside the cities, too! Inside them! As I recall there was even a small forest inside the good city with an ent present. And this was all before first leaving the city.

      What I want isn’t so much my first MMORPG experience back, but I want a city that’s so large I find it bewildering. I want to walk around and go into doors to see what I can find, I want it to be big, overpoweringly huge, and I want stuff to be happening around me. The only hope I have of seeing this again is Guild Wars 2, one of the ten billion reasons I’m interested in that game. Apparently it takes ten minutes to run from one side of their cities to the other, and that’s very promising, the NPCs are apparently chatty and they do stuff, and it’s said that districts of the cities can look very different from each other.

      If they can recapture that sense of a truly alive, massive city that Everquest II had, I’ll be happy.

      And now I want to go and wander around the cities of EQ II again. Blargh.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      I, on the other hand, want to demolish an entire city with my giant robot.
      I’m still undecided whether my giant mech should have have double-jointed legs to crush buildings with, or caterpillar tracks to level the entire city. Decisions, decisions…

      Say, isn’t it about about time we have a King of Monsters sequel? An MMO King of Monsters sequel?

      The F2P model will have free players acting as citizens inhabiting the ginormous city, and premium members acting as the Godzillas. I know, it’s a terrible idea. :D

    • Jumwa says:

      A large city would hopefully mean lots of vacant buildings and meeting places ideal for roleplay get-togethers, which is definitely something I support. WoW’s streamlining–the elimination of so many vacant buildings by walling them off or filling them full of NPCs–gutted the RP potential and made so many of us crabby, I recall.

      Ten minutes to cross an entire city sounds like it’d be something so large as to hinder and annoy a lot of people though, and therefore not likely to make it into a final build.

    • PoulWrist says:

      Indeed. I started out in MMOs with Anarchy Online in late summer 2001, and still play it to this day (Mastablasta on RK1, if anyone’s wondering) and while I’ve tried so many other MMOs since then, the sense of wonder and amazement that accompanied the first months in AO have never taken place again. Been playing Rift recently, and while it’s an amusing game, it’s just too transparent as a game. The functioning world design of the old MMOs has died out, largely it seems, to be replaced by something apparently designed to keep the attention of people with a severe case of ADHD.
      As I’m approaching my 30th birthday, I can’t spend as much time playing these games as I once did, and my time in AO is sparse, but due to more modern design being involved, it’s still possible to log on and do something meaningful towards the progression of my maincharacter. My only max lvl character after 10 years. It’ sfunny how I am unable to attach myself to more than one character in any MMO…
      I would’ve loved to have gone to the 10th anniversary in Canada this year, but sadly my economy just didn’t allow it. Maybe for the 11th?

      Speaking of AO, then later this year it’ll get a new rendering engine, a lot of updated resources and a total rebalance patch, that will try to bring things up to a more modern perspective, gameplay wise, while holding the world in its normal, old-school lots of empty space style.

    • Jumwa says:

      I hadn’t heard of Anarchy Online in so long, I had completely forget it existed. Frankly, I had never even knew what kind of game it was. Though at your post and the news that they’re updating it with the Conan level graphics, I’m tempted to want to give it a go.

    • It's not me it's you says:

      Strangest thing – I -hate- cities in RPGs. Every time the storyline brings me into a city, I have to struggle not to quit the game. I think it’s a sense of being overwhelmed with too much stuff. I’ve often wondered if anyone else has this same issue.

    • Jumwa says:

      Oh, I do indeed sympathize with that feeling on the overwhelming nature of cities. When I start a new MMO I HATE being flung into the massive cities, forced to try and scrabble around and find my way. It’s turned me off from more than one new MMO.

      However, once I become familiar with the game I usually end up enjoying them. But getting to that point… yeah, I prefer to stick to the wilds when I start a new MMO.

    • Koozer says:

      The best MMO cities I ever saw were also in my first: Star Wars Galaxies.

      All of them built by players, no pointlessly large cities built by devs inhabited by robot NPCs. To build in a city you required deeds to a plot from the city architect (another player of course), which inevitibly cost more money the more popular the city. I remember one big one on Tatooine, all neat streets and expensive shops in the middle, and surrounded by a hodge-podge of buildings, built just outside of the city limits, where I got a lot of good deals on robotics equipment.

      Ah, good times.

    • Some_Guy says:

      For me i started out with runescape, totally entranced by the idea of crafting the items i used for a good year before i hit around lvl 50 for everything. Game that taught me a lot, including how to recognize scams, and what happened when you were got.

    • Jumwa says:

      @Wulf

      I don’t think one needs that kind of attitude to be overwhelmed by cities. I’m the type of gamer who likes to prod around, see and do it all, and I find large MMO cities overwhelming, quite often. In fact, I think that’s WHY I find the cities so overwhelming. I’m not willing to just gloss over or rush through, so wanting to see it all overwhelms me terribly.

      Edit: Oh, seems the post I was responding to was deleted.

    • Valvarexart says:

      It started with RuneScape for me as well. How wonderful it was that first time I got membership and just went in a random direction and found new things. I remember my journey over a mountain and talking to some knights and getting involved in an epic quest to save Merlin, I think. It’s just that feeling of total freedom that makes it worth it. Another thing that I think is very important is: DON’T MAKE IT EASIER and DON’T STREAMLINE IT. Adding flying and quick ways to travel is something I strongly disagree with. There needs to be things that keep you in your location, and not have you jumping between locations. A journey should be an adventure, not a tedious chore or a few quick clicks.

    • J-snukk says:

      I second SWG, that was the MMO for me, I really don’t want to get into discussing all the brilliant nuances though, as then I’ll just get sad that it was taken so barbarously from me :(

    • Davee says:

      @ Wulf, PoulWrist: I am very tired of the themepark-style MMO games as well. But there is hope!

      In the last years, there have been more and more sandbox-style MMOs in the making, mostly worked on by small independent developers. Some of them have tried and failed, but most of them are slowly evolving and working out the kinks. I think this is the future of MMOs when the technology is sufficient and people have started to tire of the same, rather meaningless grind. These games actually have a greater purpose to your actions:

      Take Mortal Online (http://www.mortalonline.com/ ) for example. It’s very much based on what the devs (StarVault) liked about Anarchy Online. Go where you want, claim what land you want, fight whoever you want – and all on a single-shard server and with a very advanced combat system (momentum, relative speed, hitboxes). And no silly “go to X kill Y pick up Z” -quests (but soon there will be player-created ones, much like the ‘Contacts’ of Eve Online). It just needs a bit more sand in the box, so to speak – and hopefully StarVault will be able to recover from the cost of licensing the UE3 engine etc.

      There’s also Wurm Online (http://www.wurmonline.com/ ). Yes, it’s somewhat broken as a game, with lots of strange and some downright bad gameplay decisions. And due to this, it also suffers from low player numbers. However, it’s slowly rising from what I can hear. But it has full player control of the world and some really interesting social features. You can terraform, cut down trees, build houses from the wood, dig kilometre-long tunnels or canals, forts and almost anything else in the way of world-shaping you can think of. And you can do it anywhere. It has that pure, settler-feeling that just makes you want to get out into the deep forests and build something magnificent (RPS has covered Wurm a few times: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/tag/wurm-online/ ). Sounds familiar? Notch of Minecraft worked on Wurm Online a few years back, together with his friend Rolf who is the main developer of Wurm. You could see this as the ‘hardcore MMO’ version of Minecraft. The game is very reliant on free community contributions due to the small devteam. But back to gameplay! The three warring kingdoms on the Wild server are all run by player-elected kings, leading to some with actual diplomacy political activity. Deserters, turncoats and other intrigues happen quite often.

      There are more sandbox MMOs out there that I haven’t personally played, so I cant say a whole lot about them.

      But now we just need a large games company to get over the risk-thinking and actually invest in something like this. Look at the successes and mistakes of these pioneering indies, and learn from it. Hopefully without destroying the feeling of freedom and greater purpose that these games do so well, in the name of ‘accessibility’ and all that.

      Wow, what a post this turned out to be. Maby I’ll put it up on the forums for more discussion.

      EDIT: Sorry, I’m crap at these tags, will put up the direct links instead…

      EDIT 2: Thread now up on the forums. Go discuss your heart out, I want to hear your thoughts! :D
      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/showthread.php?474-Sandbox-MMOs-the-future

    • Jumwa says:

      On the issue of sandbox MMOs:

      Damn do I ever want a good sandbox MMO, somewhere broad and open with so much potential to do as you like, that’d be such a boon to RP. However, it seems that sandbox MMOs are forever doomed to be saddled with constant PvP and stiff death penalties. Either of those two things is a deal breaker for me.

      I wont go into some long explanation of why I think it’s bad or whatever, there’s room in the market for all sorts of things I’m sure. I’ll say simply instead: I can’t play a game with that kind of tension. It’s stressful. I game to relax away the anxiety of the outside world, and being worried about someone ganking me at any moment or losing all I’ve worked for just isn’t fun or relaxing.

    • thegooseking says:

      (Mastablasta on RK1, if anyone’s wondering)

      I remember you from forum PvP (and posting on Assembly’s forum once or twice iirc). I was Monczeli, if that should happen to mean anything to you.

      Speaking of AO, then later this year it’ll get a new rendering engine

      Finally? It’s been ages since I’ve had time to play, but it was still “Soon (TM)” back then.

    • Atomosk says:

      Everquest was more then just “one’s first MMO”. It was pretty much THE first (3D) MMO.

      Part of what made it so great was that no one was jaded. No one was whining about what games it copied or was a clone of. I remember camping a rare dark elf spawn in the desert of Ro for hours. No complaints. Some people chatted /ooc, some role played, vast majority of players helpful and friendly.

      …never again….

    • jamesgecko says:

      @Atomosk Actually, _the_ first 3D MMORPG was Meridian 59.

    • Carra says:

      Playing WoW for the first time was an awesome experience which captivated me for months and even years. I’ve been trying to recreate the feeling with new mmorpg’s like Conan or WAR and even though these are good games they just miss the magic of playing a genre for the very first time.

      Walking around and seeing other people fight. Being able to save them from death and being helped. A few hours in the game someone was nice enough to create a few bags for me and give me a few gold. It’s a moment that still stays with me.

      Later on I had my first instances. The first ones weren’t all that much fun being carried by a max level character or having our loot stolen. But there were also some great instance runs where our small group conquered dungeons above our level. And of course the first raids. Battling bosses by combining the forces of 40 people felt amazing. After a few kills competitions started to max the damage meters. Topping these was another fun meta game. I’ve never been a sport lover but this is what it must feel like to win a game with your team.

      The first time was great and I’m looking forward to games like TOR even though I already now that it’s not going to be the same. Still, playing WoW for the very first time was awesome and an experience I hope to have again in the future.

    • Atomosk says:

      @jamesgecko True, there was Meridian 59. But EverQuest had the 3D graphics. Like Quake was the first FPS to have 3D graphics. Mouse look and jumping were important additions to the immersion.

    • PoulWrist says:

      @thegooseking , yep, they’re finally getting it ready to ship :p final integration before beta atm. I guess a couple months till beta, dunno how much vacation folks are going to be taking of course, so could be more :p

    • Pani says:

      @Carra Are you me? That’s almost my exact story too. I played an undead warlock in WoW when it first came out and the sense of wonder and magic is still an awesome memory. Preceeding MMOs just haven’t captured me like WoW did back in the day.
      I remember being told about the undercity and not being able to find my way in, then when I eventually did, I was amazed at how beautiful and massive it was. In fact, one guy even led me all the way to Orgrimmar to help me train to use staffs. What a wild ride that was!
      I remember meeting up with a guy (around level 15) who gave me some bags and cloth armour, and I gave him some potions and we played together for the next two RL years.
      Downing Lucifron in MC is probably my favourite video game memory ever.
      I’ll try out TOR but if I renew my subscription past a couple of months, I’ll be surprised.

  2. Arglebargle says:

    Very nice evocation! What a fine testament to your first mmo love….

    It’s a bit funny, watching my friends play EQ, and the events, game dynamics, interpersonal bits, etc, completely turned me off to MMOs. I thought it was not at all worth the effort. It was back to 4x for me. Only when City of Heroes came out, was I personally swept away.

    Amongst wind players, there’s a concept loosely called ‘home instrument bias’. Which generally means the first instrument you learn to play colors your approach to every subsequent instrument you learn. If you start out on flute, your approach to saxophone, clarinet, or further afield, oboe, trumpet, etc, will tend to have the stamp, the influence of your first instrument.

    I think first MMOs have a similiar influence on our views and our approach to the others later on. So EQ is, really, forever riding with you.

    • Grygus says:

      That is a great analogy. A wonderful article, too. I am sitting here overwhelmed with other people’s expressions of my own experiences. Maybe it’s time to smash some rats.

  3. dopefish says:

    I think I love you !
    this is exactly my point of view of the first mmo I ever played, wow.
    It felt like magic, by magic I mean exploring the unknown. The thing that spoiled it
    for me mostly was wowhead.com and other data bases similar to it, it removed the curtain,
    everything that was unknown was revealed. which meant if you didn’t want to be left behind
    the curve you’d have to start reading how to finish quests, which boss drops your loot, strategies etc…
    I miss the feeling of the unknown :(

    • Tanidar says:

      Exactly! Thottbot was around even when wow was first released, so comprehensive datamined databases have been part of the game since day 1. While the ability to look up anything you may need to know is useful, it takes all the exploration out of the game (thought it could also be saving you some time you’d otherwise spend hopelessly stuck) … and like you said, everyone else is using it so you’re unnecessarily handicapping yourself by just ignoring it.

      When Everquest was released there were only a few websites that compiled info about the game (Everlore, Casters Realm and Allakhazam come to mind), but they were updated slowly, so the entire world wasn’t laid bare in an easily searchable database immediately. You had to go out in the world and Discover things!

  4. McDan says:

    Lovely article, I really enjoy these gaming made me articles. Keep them coming!

    • anonymousity says:

      These gaming made me articles are in my mind the best thing about RPS often such personal and imaginative sneak peeks into peoples experiences gaming and almost always beautiful in their own individual way.

  5. MD says:

    I love these. I’ve nothing in particular to add, but thanks for this.

    • westyfield says:

      Same. I don’t think I’ve played any of the games that have been mentioned in Gaming Made Me, but it’s lovely to learn about them through others’ experiences.

  6. Poet says:

    I played for almost a year and spent the majority of time making shit loads of plat in the market and selling it to the gold farmers for real money. Sadly my “job” was outsourced to some kid in china who could play 5 wizards all at the same time and mine plat by the lorry full.

    Ultima Online however was brilliant, filled with real danger at every turn and bosses like no other game since. The only problem was that the bosses were just other people who wanted your shit and weren’t afraid to try and take it. Then EQ came along and “Revolutionized” the process making the Leroy Jenkins of the world the pinnacle of success.

    Hooray?

    • krepno says:

      I loved that game (Ultima Online) and you’re right: I still remember people moving out of town as a group to hunt some of those bastards down (and sometimes failing hard hehehe). Or tamers selling dragons in town as big as the screen, only to see the new owner getting a dragon he can’t handle (since he is no tamer), resulting in a dead (and poor) owner and a mighty dragon on the loose in town….
      I’m affraid i have to agree though, it’s probably only the first MMO that can do this to you (but i hope someone proves me wrong).

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Looking back to UO is depressing. Most of the features that were already there at launch, 15 years ago, would seem like huge improvements / innovations in most if not all actual mmos.
      For most of the mmo players that started in UO, like myself, EQ is the thing that should never have been. It spawned the whole theme park mmo genre which have since then overran the market.

    • MadMatty says:

      @ Wayne

      Very true in a sense.
      Just like Elite 2: Frontier, released around ´93 makes EvE look rubbish.

      If i were you, i´d look into Wurm Online, and possibly Mortal Online in a few weeks -its getting updated right now, but theyre working quite slowly and making lots of errors/bugs as they go along.

    • TenjouUtena says:

      I played UO in my friend apartment with them, and rose-colored glasses off, it was pretty terrible. It was buggy, even after the initial patching and it was ‘stable’ The interface never ran smoothly. I didn’t like mining rocks or iron or whatever for a week straight so that I was confident I would win an encounter with a rabbit.

      I was glad to move on to EQ when it came around.

    • Big Murray says:

      Tenjou, you’re absolutely right … UO was awful, buggy, laggy, baaaad interface, the works.

      But my god, none of that mattered … love is blind, but so so sweet.

  7. MiniMatt says:

    God the trains were legendary :o) Was it Mistmoore? Mist-something? Some graveyardy type zone that had one entrance back onto a foresty zone. Every pull gone wrong ended up entire legions of the damned rushing from the depths back to the surface and right to the zone.

    It was the most “worldly” of MMOs, I have a vague recollection that it took me well over a year to reach level 50, levelling was just a side effect of living in the world rather than a reason in and of itself.

    • iniudan says:

      Yes it was Mistmoore castle, with Kunark out it was Kanor Castle starting taking over that spot in most people mind, cause at least KC was not a mess of pathing bug, just pure homemade high density train.

      The Overthere also had a popular train, mostly the people playing good race who were attacked by dragoon patrol while trying to level up. =p

    • Nick says:

      Yes, Mistmoore could get ugly (bad pathing near the entrance used to cause them to run around the little pond grabbing all their friends.. and the gargoyles.

      Lower Guk was the worst for trains before Kunark, at least in KC there was a side that people usually trained to, the other side was where you went in!

  8. Flameberge says:

    I, too, had a similar experience with the first EQ that I have never been able to re-capture with arguably better, and more technically proficient, recent MMOs.

    A little sentence in the article, that ‘politics is difficult’, sums up why I really loved Everquest: two of my fondest memories come from the religions and politics of the game. My ‘good’ human warrior could never enter the dwarven city safely, as if you are a warrior, you either don’t dedicate yourself to a God, or to the God of death and war – a God the dwarves regarded as evil, so I was attacked on sight. by the dwarven guards outside their city.

    Further, being based in Qeynos, it didn’t take too long to notice that as well as the ‘good’ Qeynos Guards, there was also a corrupt faction. So I worked out who they were, and started attacking and killing these guards. Two brilliant things happened because of this: if an ordinary qeynos guard saw me doing this, I would be attacked, as he didn’t know the other guard was corrupt, and eventually, my reputation with the Corrupt faction dropped so low, the corrupt guards attacked on sight – and if an ordinary guard saw them do it, he’d join in. As such, my vigilantism meant that I had to relocate to Freeport to escape persecution. It was a fantastic little but of emergent narrative that really added to my experience – and has stayed with me as one of my fondest gaming memories for over a decade.

  9. WPUN says:

    Almost word for word what I would say about my EQ experience. Enjoyed it, thanks!

    I loved exploration (and exploitploration) and once I tried a Druid I was hooked sooo bad.

    I _almost_ signed up for the latest progression server, but I’m old enough to know You Just Can’t Go Home Again.

  10. frenz0rz says:

    Wow. And there I was thinking the ‘magic’ I experienced playing WoW in my early teens was something most would struggle to understand. Bookmarking this article for future reading and/or wallowing in nostalgia.

    I find it very difficult to put down in words quite how that game affected me when I was growing up, or just how sublime and perfect the first few months of playing it were. It seems virtually indescribable – a love of a world with infinite possibilities, where anything I could imagine might happen, a world with no limits populated by thousands of others like me. I was just one tiny cog in the machine, one speck of dust amongst millions.

    Now, when I look at new MMOs coming out, they’re just games to me. To many, thats exactly how WoW was. But if those games bring even an ounce of that magic to young gamers growing up in 2011, then they’ve done their job. For me, it seems I’ll never recapture such feelings of wonder and awe. Games are games – I know how they work, how they’re designed, and I know their limits. So much of that magic was due to timing – of age, of situation, and of how the young mind works. I know I’ll never quite recapture that. As someone said above, the only chance of rekindling any such magic lies in a new generation of MMOs and persistant worlds – perhaps Planetside Next, or the next evolution of EVE Online. But even if I do experience a tiny shred of that awe, that utter bewilderment, it depresses me a little to think that I’ll never have that experience of a 14 year old playing WoW ever again.

  11. Jubaal says:

    Very interesting article Mitu and nicely written.

    There is definitely something special about your first foray into an MMO. Mine was Anarchy Online and I can still remember with clarity meeting up with my friends in Rome for the first time. I stared in wonder at them all lined up with their individual characters waving at me. It sent an excited little shiver up my spine. They were there, but not there and the possibilities for adventure seemed endless!

    The music in the Rome district was beautifully haunting, reminiscent of Vangellis. I could spend hours just roaming (No pun intended!) the city with a transient smile on my face. I was tempted to go back when it went free to play, but I fear it will sully the memories. I want to keep my old adventures untainted like our first exploration beyond the city, running in abject fear from Roller-rats, my first PvP encounter and of course getting stuck in the treacle lag trap in the entrance to Baboons!

  12. Wulf says:

    @Jumwa

    It’s definitely making it into the final build because it’s something ArenaNet wants, the cities are so big in fact that there are multiple teleport destinations within cities, the cities are big enough to warrant that, and fast travel within a city is how you mitigate any annoyance that might be caused to impatient players by its size.

    @i-n-m-i-y

    I think that many do, which is why people rely on fast travel systems so much. Myself I kind of like being overwhelmed now and then, a little bafflement and bewilderment are components of wonder, it’s not at all a false dichotomy to say that they’re necessary components, along with a degree of mystery. I like cities that re wondrous and awe-inspiring, but it’s not for everyone. Some people just want to get on with things.

    You’re like a friend I had in Guild Wars 1 and Neverwinter Nights 2. I was stopping to look at everything, I was apparently a master at finding “The most beautiful dead-ends ever.”, and most of the time my friend just wanted to boost ahead and get everything done now-now-now(!), but I stopped to smell the virtual flowers, look around, and appreciate all the artistic effort that went into my surroundings. Perhaps it’s because I’m artistically inclined myself, but I like to stop and look at everything.

    On the other hand, maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but then I must also have been getting old around the time of Everquest II, since I was just the same there. If I feel overwhelmed by something, I just stop and take my time, step by step, and parse everything a little bit at a time, taking it all in slowly and thoroughly enjoying the process.

    @Koozer

    I can’t agree. Saying that would be like saying that Ultima VII would be better sans NPCs – without the NPCs that turned the lamps off at night, without the cooks, or the tailors, or the shipwrights, or the blacksmiths, all doing things that largely the players either won’t be doing, or won’t be doing in an animated way. I’ve walked around player cities in a number of games, including Star Wars: Galaxies, and often they lack this living element that I’m talking about here. They feel like ghost towns. I don’t feel at all like I’m walking around a city, but rather 3,000 year old ruins of a city.

    When I walk around a player city in an MMORPG, I can’t avoid feeling like I’m an archaeologist, and that’s what the rare other person I’ll see is too, just turning over the pots and pans that are never used, scouting through vacant houses, and listening to the dead wind blowing through the empty homes.

    Leaving this as is for now. Spam. Going to try and make a new post with the rest of it.

    • Wulf says:

      I realise that a lot of this is going to sound like ‘no appreciation for artistic talent I tells ya,’ and that’s exactly what I want it to sound like. It takes time to create a beautiful, living city, with details that make it look lived in, with NPCs that act out really complex schedules, like in Gothic or Everquest II, and generally the feeling that the city wasn’t just knocked together by a city-making machine just the other day.

      This isn’t a colony, after all. It’s not Mars. And this is a point I’ve often made – it’s all about art direction. I can accept the whole ‘just been knocked together out by a city-making machine’ for a colony, but for a supposedly well inhabited world that’s been that way for a number of generations, and has architecture that suggests that, having it be all dead and/or without finer details is a huge deal-breaker for me.

      I appreciate a city being a beautifully designed and living thing. Even the industrial ones. And this is something that some games can do well and others can’t. But for me it’s about the art direction, I enjoy looking at things, but with a player city there’s never anything to look at, and I find it hard to believe. With Everquest II’s cities, yeah, they were overwhelming but they were also thoroughly alive. Every inch of them was alive. Alive in a way that a player city never could be.

      And it’s my opinion that it takes an artist’s touch to breathe life into something, again, being artistically inclined. I don’t think that a bunch of random, empty houses connected by a few paths and li-ved in occ-asionally by pla-yers who are only some-times there has any artis-tic va-lue of its own. You literally have to have someone who’s placing every rock, who’s looking at the position of flowers, and even algae on the walls, and litter, and the way NPCs move, when they move, what they say and how they say it.

      Looking at a city as a whole is, when done well, a work of art that I appreciate taking in.

    • Wulf says:

      Sorry about the random hyphens. One of the hyphenated words was causing the spam filter to go ballistic.

      Spam filter broken? Answer: Yes. Very yes.

    • frenz0rz says:

      As an aside, did you ever play Wurm Online? I was part of the PC Gamer village a while ago for about 6 months, and it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Our settlement, and the 20 or so people who regularly inhabited it, was alive in ways I’d never imagined.

      I’d log on in the mornings as the sun rose above the sea, and pick berries and tree cuttings on the outskirts of the village. As the morning passed, more people would log on, and I’d return to the village to see smoke billowing from chimneys as people cooked their breakfast. In the afternoon I’d wander around the village planting trees and shrubs, as a couple of people flattened the land with shovels in preparation for our latest resident’s new house. I’d also hear the distant sound of chopping wood, as a couple of people felled trees and cut the lumber to assist in construction of the new village boat. If I wandered down to the coast to do a little fishing, I might stumble across someone sitting outside the village mine carving stone statues to display outside their home, or hammering rivets for the aforementioned boat.

      It was a marvelous experience, and one that I’d definately repeat given the time. I’ve never felt such belonging to a game environment, particularly one that felt so alive.

    • Wulf says:

      So, what was triggering the spam filter?

      This:

      li-ved in occ-asionally

      Try it without the hyphens for yourself!

    • Wulf says:

      @frenz0rz
      I have, and I’ve seen Minecraft have more artistic worth. The thing is is that there’s a difference between romantic, artistic worth, and graphically impressive. Now Wurm Online is graphically impressive, and you can be romantically inclined toward it because it’s stuff you’ve built, but it still has no artistic individuality of its own. Its not something you could actually take a shot of and admire it for what the artists have done.

      That’s my point about cities, cities are an artistic expression, but only if there were artists creating them.

      I guess what I’m trying to say here is that player-run cities are indeed an entity, but they’re not an artistic entity because there’s no art involved in their creation or running. It’s just still a bunch of houses and paths no matter how graphically impressive it is.

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      M-M-Multi-Post!!

  13. Antsy says:

    Gaming made me, Everquest destroyed me.

    One thing I do remember fondly was running around using a pickpocket emote. Antsy picks your pocket. You have lost 4 platinum. This used to induce RAGE in people.

    Something else that made EQ players furious was inspecting them. Because it used to say Antsy is inspecting you people would just go mental about it. If one was so disposed you could just run around West Commons inspecting people and driving them loopy. Or creating agro train’s of creatures and dumping them all on some poor unsuspecting individual, also annoying. But hilarious to see someone legging it towards the East Commons zoneline with a line of skeletons and orcs chasing after them. Queue the Benny Hill soundtrack!

    Also, corpse runs. Oh God, the corpse runs. Trying to explain to my girlfriend why I didn’t get to bed till 4 in the morning because I had to get my corpse back never went down well.

    “COULD SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE ME SPIRIT OF THE WOLF!”

    Edit: I see a lot of discussion about EQ2 here for some reason. I really didn’t like EQ2. It was so ugly and in my opinion that fed into the immediate success of World of Warcraft when it was released a couple of months later. I was always going to try WoW but my goodness, it was beautiful by comparison.

  14. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Everquest was my first as well. The only game to capture my imagination and wonder since then is Vanguard.

    I’ve enjoyed WoW, EQ2, AO, about two weeks of Rift and Conan, and a couple others I can’t think of. Some of those have great mechanics and communities. Vanguard, however, is still the only one that has produced the “EQ feeling.”

  15. Alexander Norris says:

    Of course, by then, I knew how these things worked, and although I certainly enjoyed them, somehow, the obli-vious wonder that had been so key to my love of EverQuest could never be recaptured.

    Going to use this opportunity to take things in a slightly tangential diretion (sorry Mitu!): how much material has been written on this theme alone? Because I don’t know if it’s just something that resonates with me specifically, but it seems there’s quite a bit of exploration to do in the direction of this loss of innocence in games.

  16. Ezhar says:

    Great article! This reflects my experience with EQ as my first MMO rather well, and the fondness I still have for it. Although I got sucked into it a little more than was good for me, but looking back to those years, it was definitely the most fun I’ve had in any game. And the classic server I’ve tried recently did also show me that I was better off with my memories than with another attempt at playing – I’m spoiled by modern games now. Although it was nice getting lost in the darkness of Toxxulia forest once again.
    You have no idea what direction you are facing.

  17. mcol says:

    Great article, captures is perfectly. I’ll never forget those days, logging in the for the first time in 1999. I was a dwarf, starting in Kaladim, not a clue what I was doing. A passing elf befriended me for the next hour, we went outside, I killed my first goblin, and then in a puff of magic he said goodbye and disappeared. I was gobsmacked by the world I had found myself in.That moment was so amazing it is permanently etched in my memory and one of my most significant gaming moments.

    From then on it was an adventure like no other I’ve experienced since in gaming. Whole afternoons were lost on impromptu adventures to recover lost corpses. Or chance encounters of hidden zones (the first time finding myself in Kithicor at nightfall!).

    I often sit back and listen to the music (and what a great soundtrack)…the memories come flooding back.

  18. nullward says:

    “Sometimes games are not just games, they are events, and they just can’t happen in the same way a second time.”

    Well said. This captures the original EQ experience for me quite well. I never really had that kind of experience again with a game, although I found that WoW was far more enjoyable when treated as an actual system of reward, i.e. a functional game.

    This article also made me go and look up the original EQ loading music, and also the Freeport intro. Do yourself a favor, relive the magic…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKj36GJj_i8

  19. BeamSplashX says:

    This article reminds me of theory/history classes I took in film studies where students who came for production would ask “What’s the point?” It’s important for new artists, critics, and audiences of art to all look back at the evolutionary tree and consider what other branches could’ve been formed had newer minds pulled from the same sources.

    MMOs that burst out of the gate talking about PvP balance are really focused too much on what MMOs have become than what they could be. If more people looked at a subjective experience like this one and tried to build a game that engendered the same feelings, I’m certain it would show in the end product. I think Wulf has the Guild Wars 2 parading covered, but in time even that model could become outmoded and replaced by something innovative that will seem equally obvious.

  20. MiniMatt says:

    Just remembered – Everquest resulted in my first, and last, MMO to real life meet. UK residents of Quellious server descended on Totty Court Rd, I met up with a couple of people I knew in meat-space prior to our EQ addiction and entered the pub….

    It was immediately apparent the corner hosting the EQ meetup – and not in a good way. Sorry to say we decided to drink up sharpish and pretend not to know what was going on. So, sorry London-ish Quellious folks, but you were all a little too freaky in real life :o)

    • Temple says:

      My sig quote in the forums is one of yours :)
      Now I want to add this one…

      I’m more worried that when I meet RPS folk they look normal which means I’m going to be the weird one.

  21. Torgen says:

    EQ was really something else, but was also the first MMO where all my friends outleveled me and we couldn’t adventure together ( a theme that was to play out repeatedly in many other level-based MMOs.)

    My first MMO was Ultima Online, and while I have many memories of it, the memories of EQ are just as vivid and treasured. Perhaps because UO was not only what I thought MMOs all would be like (and pine for more to follow in its steps,) but because EQ was the first of its kind as well.

    I probably tried all the MMOs that came out, up to Anarchy Online (just the beta) and a few afterwords, but still hunt for the next game that will build on UO: open world, usage-based skill system, and maybe even get the functioning ecosystem working this time. While EQ had a lot of fun (“corpse runs,” different locations/environments, “THREE D!”) there was a Wild West/brave new world feeling to UO: “Great Lord Day”, “GM in a Day Day,” “The Great Reagent Shortage”, player-built towns (Kazola’s Tavern) etc. The devs were pushing the boundaries of what could be done, and we were along for the ride.

  22. Zaboomafoozarg says:

    EQ paled in comparison to the lore and gameplay of Asheron’s Call.

    • The Great Wayne says:

      Abso-fuckin-lutely. I miss the good ol’ darktide days.

  23. roethle says:

    EQ really was just magical when your 15 your first girlfriend just left you and your parents are getting a divorce. It was just as much about the time you played it as it was the game it self.

  24. Comradebluesky says:

    This really is a fantastic article – it encapsulates a lot of how I felt about EQ, too. It’s a shame, as one commentator put it, that You Can’t Go Home Again.

  25. Mac says:

    Even after all these years I still remember the loading music, quad kiting with my wizzy, exploring the expansions, seeing my first dragon, being on my first raid to Hate … fantastic game …

  26. protorp says:

    Excellent article, and all the more striking due to the fact that even though I’ve never once booted up an MMO in all my years of gaming, this lit a little spark of desire in me…

    So what would an absolute MMO n00b be best advised to turn to these days for an experience close to that described here?

    • Nick says:

      wait for a new one to launch so only the beta players know whats going on, captures the best feeling when everyone is starting from the beginning imo. So, uh.. wait for GW2 or TOR..

    • Telke says:

      No MMO today is going to be as hard-nosed as EQ1; and EQ1 definitely wasn’t all roses, tempers could flare terribly. it was also absolutely, terribly glitchy.

      What would you start on, as an absolute MMO noob?
      If you were looking for the “traditional” mmo, like EQ was – I’d suggest waiting for TOR to release. then you can start anew with others – all the mmos out there now, aren’t terribly newbie-friendly, just because they’ve been around for a while.

      or, wait for Guild Wars 2. it’s definitely a mmo but it’s doing things we haven’t seen in this genre before; it’ll be simpler to learn, have a nice control system, etc. And it differs enough from GW1 that prior knowledge won’t really help – only the world is the same, and even then, 250 years have passed.

      It comes down to: do you like star wars? do you like Bioware titles? if so, try TOR.
      or if you want a game that plays a little different from most MMOs…try GW2.

    • protorp says:

      Thank you… nothing Star Wars has never done that much for me, except for the first Dark Forces which I remember grabbing me pretty hard. Just had a quick reskim of articles on Guild Wars 2 here on RPS, and it sounds interesting, and epic in a way that could grab me. Will be keeing eyes peeled when that comes out.

    • malkav11 says:

      To be honest, the game I would recommend for the new MMO player is World of Warcraft. I know it has its share of detractors, and it’s definitely not a new frontier in gaming anymore, but it is the top dog in the MMO space, and the one by which most other MMOs are judged these days. If you don’t wind up enjoying it, at least you have a basis for trying to find another MMO you would like. And while there are disadvantages to playing in an established community, there’s also the certain knowledge that this game has lasted and will continue to last, while most new MMOs these days experience a brief surge of interest and then rapidly lose steam. And while many of the MMOs that still exist from 2004 are lugging the early content along with them like an anchor, WoW just revamped the entirety of their launch content.

  27. Uglycat says:

    An EQ story but no Fansy? For shame!
    http://www.notaddicted.com/fansythefamous.php

  28. MeatgrinderSA says:

    Thanks for this. Your story captures my own experience and thoughts very well: starting out just when Kunark came out, enticed into it by a friend, though reluctantly at first – my first character was a woodelf that I drove off those damned treebridges, after which I was completely at a loss how to retrieve my corpse – but when he asked me to look after his level 3 Erudite enchanter, who had just been bound at the gates of Qeynos, while he went out for a bit, I was lost for seven years in that incredibly captivating world.

  29. Baa says:

    Currently waiting for the AC to spawn in OOT as I read this.

    Log onto Project1999.org for some free classic eq fun!

  30. Temple says:

    I increasingly wonder if I was ever a game player.
    Nowadays Instead of playing I read RPS, but even in the time of Evercrack instead of playing (no way I could afford a subscription) I would read about people’s experiences and then read other articles on those people’s experiences describing the whole new world that was going to be created with us all living in anonymous cyberspace where you could be what you wanted to be.
    Instead we live in a Facebook world where OTHER people post your real life online.

    Anyway, like some here, for me it was Runescape. I had played quite a bit of the free content when I ended up on holiday at my girlfriend’s in Romania. She was piped into the backbone of the internet there and is still the fastest connection I have ever seen.

    I subscribed while she was otherwise occupied, so soon I was passing the member’s moutain for the first time and then just walked and walked as the brand new world opened up at my feet. Awesome.
    Never had the same feeling since.

  31. VeritableHero says:

    Thank you for writing this. It sounds like we had the exact same feelings and amazement with the game. I’ve never been able to explain this to my wife very well. So, I sent her a link to your article to understand me a little better. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was perfect for me at that mid-teenage stage in my life.