I Built A Giant Ice Cream In EverQuest Next: Landmark

By Nathan Grayson on November 11th, 2013 at 4:05 pm.

When I was but a wee young’un, I played the original EverQuest until I felt more lizard person than socially confused middle-schooler, until I could fearlessly face down even the most mildly irritated of dogs because they weren’t Sand Giants. If you had asked me back then, “Gee Nathan, where do you think this series will end up in 13 or so years,” I would’ve been way off the (land) mark. And then I would’ve said something stupid and obnoxious and I would totally understand if you just hauled off and punched teenage me in the mouth. He had it coming. Point being, EverQuest Next: Landmark is more hyper-advanced Minecraft evolution than massively multiplayer role-playing game, but it’s a foundation on which we’ll be able to build infinite MMO worlds, quests, storylines, and dreams. SOE’s EQN is just a single twinkling star in its gigantic galaxy. So of course, I used it to build a giant ice cream cone.

I am nervous.

EverQuest Next: Landmark’s lead developers are telling me about all the cool stuff other journos and dev team members have breathed virtual life into throughout the day, and I’m coming up blank on ideas of my own. Director of development Dave Georgeson points out gothic castles, structures with buttresses flying so high that they’d nearly left the atmosphere, and – standing next to that majestic fantasy kingdom – a hulking, gun-coated mech. Because of course. Given infinite resources and a bottomless well of influences, man will invariably build a really big robot. There is actual science that backs this up.

But what mark do I want to leave on these boundless green plains? I scroll through my available tools as Georgeson explains them. I can drag shapes – for instance, blocks or spheres – into any size I want, from molehill to mountain. I can also spawn all sorts of premade props (trees, boulders, etc), apply a huge library of premade textures to them with a simple painting interface, or – perhaps most usefully – stretch a straight/angled line structure for inches or miles.

On top of that, I can opt to delete anything – whether I built it or not – by simply selecting an area (using the same sort of drag-and-select box tool used for growing and shrinking blocks) and making it go poof. I can select anything, really. Create, destroy, texture-ize, whatever. Conversely, I’m shown a heal brush, which returns any area or object to its original form. Lastly, if I’m going for a more natural look, there’s a smoothing tool that grinds away sharp edges until they’re soft as a baby porcupine’s adorable widdle tummy. (Note: you may replace this with a simile that’s less indicative of the fact that I’ve been browsing r/aww on Reddit for the past, um… what day is it?) Anything I make can be saved as a template for future usage or even sale on SOE’s Player Studio.

Georgeson notes that I won’t have such a pants-sagging utility belt at my disposal right off the bat in the final game. Textures and other such materials will have to be mined from various places in the world, and certain tools will be locked until I accomplish objectives or defeat monsters in order to open them up. The idea is to slowly build from basic to wildly complex – from pitiable cardboard box fort to Death Star carousel castle in the clouds. SOE thinks that, this way, new players won’t be overwhelmed and they’ll get a sense for what it’s possible to build in the process.

That said, wrapping my brain around my architectural arsenal proves mostly simple and intuitive, with many tools simply functioning the way you’d expect. Don’t like the last thing you did? Just hit CTRL + Z and, sure enough, it’s gone. That kind of thing. I can copy/paste as well. I feel like I’m toying around with a fusion of Photoshop and Minecraft’s creative mode, but turned up to 11 and with voxels that don’t look like they never left the year 1995.

I still don’t know what to build.

Another SOE employee literally runs circles around me while carving out something that I feel is halfway between a castle and a slab of melted butter. It looks kind of like a series of slanted steps, oddly angled but very aesthetically pleasing. He does this in maybe seven or eight minutes. I’m impressed, but I realize I have no idea how he did it.

I decide to burrow underground in fear, presumably because a great great great great grandparent of mine married a vole at some point. And then it comes to me: I will tunnel to the bottom of the Earth. Aha, improvisation! Here is my great project. I use the destroy tool over and over and over on the ground until I find… the sky. The game is still quite early, you see, so there underside of the world is simply the same as its topside. I realize at this point that movement also feels pretty janky, and I briefly gnaw my lip in worry.

But then an SOE employee coins the term “groundsky,” and I am pleased. I begin tunneling forward, until I’ve created a trail of gleaming sky in the Earth’s deepest, darkest bowls. It’s really, really dumb, and I am entirely certain that all three SOE devs in the room have decided I’m either an idiot or a crazy person. Probably both. “That’s, um, neat,” they offer. “Now why don’t you try building, like, a castle or something?”

(An aside: super-confined press events like this can be reaaaaally awkward. To SOE’s credit, they let me do whatever I wanted within the game’s confines. However, crammed in these tiny hotel suites, there’s always an odd pressure when all eyes are on you and you’re learning the ropes of a game you’ve never played before. Expectation, like you should be inherently competent, at least (“Don’t you play games for a living?” etc). But developers and publishers absolutely do not want you to feel uncomfortable, so they stand around and pander. “Oh, that was really good! You’re great at this,” they’ll grin with feigned enthusiasm. I don’t think this cycle necessarily renders previews useless, but it does make them strange. For the record, I try my hardest to play as I would while alone in these situations – which is to say, usually stupidly.)

I refuse.

Now, I decide, I will make a sun for the groundsky. It looks so bare, after all. So thin and wispy and naked. I drop the biggest orb I can in the middle of nowhere and apply a lava texture. Boom. Groundsun. Satisfied with my underground edge-of-the-universe lair, I decide to play with orbs and textures. First up, a blue one with a divoted metallic texture. I place it on the groundsky, only to realize that something’s off. It looks like… ice cream.

Ice cream.

Ice. Cream.

I scream.

You scream.

We all scream.

For.

Ice cream.

THE SIZE OF A MOUNTAIN.

Demo time is running short, but I have to do it. It is my Sistine Chapel, my white whale, my EverQuest Everest. I ask Georgeson and co if it’s possible. Their response? “Yeah, um, sure. I don’t really see why not.” They recommend building the cone upside-down first, using a bunch of slanted line structures all connecting at a single point. Georgeson points out that he recently built a volcano this way, and conceptually what is an ice cream cone if not a really cold, delicious volcano?

The process is, admittedly, a bit awkward. There’s no real way to measure relative distance from the midpoint of the massive structure, except to manually use the square shaped cursor to count spaces. So essentially, I’m eyeballing it. I recommend that SOE should just let us have the option to toggle a grid on-and-off, and they seem pretty open to the idea. Eventually, I lay down a decent framework. It looks like a teepee haphazardly assembled from woodgrain planks. I have a smoothing tool. It’ll do. I copy my initial structure, rotate it so that the point is on the ground, and then paste a new one. Tada! A cone.

At this point, one SOE developer realizes the sheer artistic genius of my idea and decides to make one of his own. As I plop spheres of gooey, chewy goodness into my cone – to the point where it looks like a sunny day sundae disaster – my construction compatriot rolls out a much improved take on the same concept. His cone actually looks like a cone. His ice cream comes in multiple flavors. My mountain-sized ice cream cone might’ve been the first, but his is the best. I concede defeat, hands calloused and stomach very, very grumbly.

I’m impressed, though. For all of Landmark’s early kinks, it demonstrates fantastic versatility. Tools also do a good job of using control schemes and interfaces that most people already find intuitive. Basically, if you understand the very basics of an image editing tool like Photoshop (or even MS Paint), the game’s options shouldn’t be foreign to you in the slightest. They do feel a bit slippery in a 3D space, but there’s room to accomplish a whole, whole lot with relatively little.

Also, the tools that birthed what may well be the biggest ice cream cone in gaming history are only the beginning. The ultimate goal for EverQuest Next: Landmark – its purpose, really – is to spawn entire worlds. These are essentially the tools SOE is using to create EverQuest Next, so the idea is that EQN proper is only a single shard of a much larger universe that will probably include robots, dinosaurs, and well-dressed secret agent sharks galore. Generic high fantasy? Who needs it.

What I’m saying is, I’ll be able to create an ice cream planet. With ice cream quests and ice cream NPCs and ice cream hopes and ice cream dreams.

All of that will be possible sooner rather than later, whether you want to collaborate or work alone. The alpha version – which you’ll be able to play in February if you buy into SOE’s founder program – probably won’t include everything, but there’s already a fair deal to work with even now. The ambition of Landmark is stultifyingly massive, but – assuming SOE can iron out some rather prickly wrinkles – there is reason for optimism. The idea of infinite player-created playgrounds is tremendously thrilling. Yeah, most of them will be worthy of a nice, gentle nuking from orbit, but a few will inevitably bustle with brilliance. Who knows? Maybe SOE’s EverQuest Next world will be overshadowed entirely? If that’s the case, Georgeson tells me, he’ll be just as pleased as he would’ve been if the hatchling of his company’s brain egg grew up to be the biggest and strongest.

I cannot say for sure yet whether the future of EverQuest is bright, but it’s at least looking different. I dream of ice cream that ascends right past the pies in the sky, but perhaps SOE dreams even bigger. I am nervous. Nervous about their chances. But I’m also excited. Hopeful.

Note: Unfortunately, SOE was not able to provide me with an image of my colossal ice cream confection due to something about servers. That is the greatest shame, because you would’ve been really impressed. Oh well. Check back soon for an interview about future prospects for Landmark, how SOE’s defending against trolling, SOE’s version of EverQuest Next, how similar tech might be applied in PlanetSide, and tons more.

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32 Comments »

  1. GameCat says:

    At least, some fresh air in old, dusted, stale MMO genre.

  2. Williz says:

    So basically it’s aiming to be the next Second Life? I can dig it.

    • tormos says:

      Hopefully with less of an emphasis of people dredging up sex acts best left forgotten

  3. Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

    First real voxel game? (arguably, second after Blade Runner) The future is now.

    Also,

    When I was but a wee young’un, I played the original EverQuest until I felt more lizard person than socially confused middle-schooler, until I could fearlessly face down even the most mildly irritated of dogs because they weren’t Sand Giants.

    Sounds like a reference to this: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com.es/2013/10/menace.html

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      Freaking Outcast!

      • Premium User Badge Don Reba says:

        Outcast gets by with a simple heightmap, not actual voxels. The difference is that with a heightmap you can only change the topology of the terrain, where voxels let you sculpt arbitrary 3D objects, like Minecraft.

        There is a whole bunch of games like this that claim to be voxel-based. Blade Runner is the only one I know that actually had voxel graphics, but in a limited way.

      • Sam says:

        As Don Reba says, Outcast’s graphics use a different meaning for the term “voxel” than we tend to use today.
        It referred to a particular way to process and render a height map based terrain that didn’t bring olden days computer to their knees. It was also used in Commanche, and some kind of first person shooty game, Raven Shield maybe?
        It’s all very clever, but bares basically no similarity to the voxel worlds of Minecraft, Everquest Next or the Atomontage engine. It’s just a nice way to render a height map, so you can’t have overhangs, caves, or buildings with roofs as part of the “voxel” terrain. They have to be added as separate, usually polygonal, entities.

        • fish99 says:

          Also Delta Force 1,2 and 3 and Looking Glass’s awesome but often forgotten ‘Terra Nova’.

          And yes as you say voxel engine meant something different back then. There’s no way you could do detailed terrain like Outcast had with polys and get decent framerates in those days.

  4. 2late2die says:

    Disregard my broken link comment…

    EQ Landmark is looking fascinating. Not sure if it’ll revolutionize MMOs but I’m glad to see it’s trying.

  5. Scurra says:

    It’s still making the mistake of assuming that average people are actually capable of doing this stuff, which I think this article does sort of demonstrate quite well. One of the reasons Minecraft works is that the “moderate” level of the graphics means that one’s inability to draw is disguised by virtue of most of everything looking similar. As soon as you improve the systems, inadequacy becomes the order of the day again. (I mean, sure, I know people have made astounding things in Minecraft, but they are effectively professionals. However, it’s clear that they are the professionals so it doesn’t feel anything like as intimidating. And even then, when you find something extraordinary, it skates on the borders of “I’m giving up because I can’t do that” rather than “wow, I wish I could have done that”.)

    As a side note: I like pencil-and-paper RPGs precisely because the only requirement is an ability to talk. You don’t even need to be that good at imagination. Try to transfer your epic campaign adventure into some sort of PC graphic toolkit and it suddenly all turns crap because unless you are an expert with the toolkit you won’t be able to make it work. I want somebody who is an expert with the toolkit to create those worlds because I am all too aware that I am not capable of doing that.

    • goettel says:

      That’s a bit toffee-nosed, no? As long as I can side-step out of someone’s shit (to me) dream, I’m all for letting peeps do their thing. It’s not like art anno 2013 has standards.

  6. biggergun says:

    I wonder if this will be the case for the finished game. As in, will we end with a landscape littered with mad, obnoxious things of epic proportions instead of a believable user-generated world with castles and stuff?

    It’s not like I don’t dig giant ice-cream cones, I do. It’s just something that really annoys me in mmos – most of the time “user generated” means “deliberately silly and immersion-breaking”. I mean, take EVE – you’d think all these big alliances and corps would spend fifteen minutes and invent themselves a nice lore-friendly backstory. More fun that way, right? Instead it resembles a giant counter-strike tournament with spaceships and teams appropriately named -=l33tMurder666=- and such. Feels almost like people are shy to commit, like showing that you don’t take the game seriously somehow confirms your adulthood. All this fooling around really looks like a way to deal with the insecurity of the whole situation.

    I’m sorry, I’m rambling now (and not in my native language). But it’s a sad thing about mmos, really – people play them and at the same time they don’t really play them. So much potential wasted.

    Good thinking with the ice-cream cone, though.

    • goettel says:

      As I read it the main world will have many shards / copies, and I’m guessing the main one will be limited to conform to ‘believable’ stuff.

      Me, I’ll be roaming those mad, obnoxious things of epic proportions, endlesly, picking fights with giant ice cones.

      • biggergun says:

        Hey, me too.
        Just saying.

        • goettel says:

          Oh I agree, to be honest, the second part of “MMO-RPG” never seems to have caught on big. Someday we’ll have (MMO) RPG’s that easily allow a community to exclude players who don’t conform to the the limits on imagination set by that community.

          Which maybe isn’t so scary as it sounds.

          • biggergun says:

            It probably isn’t. I’d imagine the hardest part would be actually agreeing on said limits – it’s hard enough already with four-people tabletop roleplaying groups – narrative-based systems help to solve this to an extent, but we’re not quite there yet. Still, I hope one day we come up with something, because it’s just a shame to watch all this potential for massively collaborative storytelling go to waste.
            That said, I’m perfectly fine with living amongst gargantuan ice-cream cones until then.

  7. I Got Pineapples says:

    It’s going to be a veritable landscape of dicks.

    Dicks as far as the eye can see.

    Ascending Wang Mountain to gaze down upon the majestic city of Bellend, protected by the mighty fortress Penisa.

    • irongamer says:

      “At the time SOE confirmed that inappropriate content would be removed. That means, rather than spending their time crafting mighty penis towers, players can focus on accumulating tools and resources for building other things.”
      http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-11/07/everquest-next-landmark

      If they can really pull off the filtering.

      • I Got Pineapples says:

        Then what is even the point in this game, I ask you?

        • Pockets says:

          I suspect it will become a warzone where the most powerful form of attack will be editing others’ possessions into penis shapes so they automatically get wiped.

      • Nate says:

        The city of surreptitious cock and balls sounds even more fun.

      • Shodex says:

        I’m sure some people will be able to subtly slip a massive rock cock into the game.
        Sorry, I just really wanted to say that sentence.

    • LionsPhil says:

      My god.

      It’s magnificent.

  8. irongamer says:

    I never thought I’d be interested in another SoE title after spending a few months in EQ1. That adventure ended in selling a dark elf wizard on ebay only to have it used to kill steal Rubicite Armor in Cazic-Thule and then resold at a $400 loss. But that was a different time and a different story.

    It appears that SoE will be the first giant to stand on the shoulders of the indies this time around. Apparently enough small studios have had success in the sandbox / build type games that it has prompted SoE to try a different cash cow.

    As much as I dislike SoE, Landmark and EQ Next appear to finally be moving toward something different. I appreciate the focus on exploration and creativity rather than mindless tier ladders and raid line dancing. As an added bonus EQ Next is attempting a dynamic world with AI that will supposedly adjust to the environment and situation. GW 2 tried this and it didn’t turn out all that great, but at least another giant is going to give it a shot.

    If SoE hits the exploration and creatively mark this will be a huge success. If they also come near their dynamic world and reactive AI goals; EQ:Next will be the title that redefines the genre. Admittedly, even a success in the first two qualities will have a profound effect on the genre.

    Big shout out to Miguel Cepero, the Procedural World blog, and the VoxelFarm Engine. Amazing to see all that work come to fruition.

    • biggergun says:

      I’m curious, did the GW2 AI thing work out in the end? Never actually tried the game, but the dynamic AI always sounded interesting.

      • irongamer says:

        It ended up with more like 30 – 60 minute zone wide quest timeline cycles. During this time an overall quest line is preceding through a static timeline. There are some quests that will fail and you may not see something further in the timeline. Instead of a short 2-5 minute quest event that spawns in most other titles, GW 2 just lengthened it to longer timelines with potential to see further events on the timeline. The effects of the event only last as long as the overall cycle or less. Once the zone wide event ends it resets to a default state.

        • biggergun says:

          Sounds rather boring and not dynamic at all. Thanks for clarification.

          • irongamer says:

            I think they were being conservative, in that they didn’t want the world “messed up” by dynamic results they could not predict or not easily control. I think that basically killed any dynamics and created the revolving timeline.

  9. acu says:

    The link to the founders pack is broken (for me), it somehow redirects me to a URL with a missing slash.

    That said, it looks like I could sink many hours into building crazy stuff. Hopefully the rest of the game doesn’t suck.

    • irongamer says:

      It would be amazing to build content and then see it EQ:Next. Currently, I’m not willing to fork out money for another alpha/beta. Digital flare has never been an interest of mine, although I know a lot of people like it (success of all those f2p titles). Hopefully they will get around to showing how exploration and harvesting works. Are there critters to be wary of while harvesting and exploring? Or are critters and conflict limited to EQ: Next?

      https://www.eqnlandmark.com/founders-pack

  10. fish99 says:

    Is Landmark just gathering and building? To me that aspect of Minecraft is kinda dull. Without the adventure, exploration, enemies, danger and risk of losing stuff when you die (or lose your world on hardcore), I wouldn’t really enjoy it much.

    • irongamer says:

      The other RPS article is more revealing and same with a Massively article. It appears that Landmark will be more down the road. It is like a creative tool with game elements for making … more game? See the quote below.

      From Massively:

      “Before Georgeson let me have at the game (he knew he’d lose my attention at that point), we talked a bit about what players can expect in Landmark. And one thing that he emphasized is that the game will ultimately be quite literally a “build your own MMO” experience. Pointing out that developers said from the start that Landmark will have all the tools that were used to make EQ Next, Georgeson reiterated that the game will be about more than just construction, and players will have more than just those building tools at their disposal. He explained,

      “When we do the AI editor, when we do the scenario builder, and the NPC editor, and all that other stuff, we’re going to be putting it in Landmark. So as we develop for EQN, we’re putting stuff in Landmark… You’ll be able to do everything we can do. All of it.

      That’s right, folks: Not only will players be able to terraform their claims and build to their hearts’ content, but they’ll actually be able to introduce mobs and story arcs to their creations. Anyone who wants to ride the player-generated-content train non-stop will definitely want to hop into Landmark.”

      http://massively.joystiq.com/2013/11/11/hands-on-with-eq-next-landmark-building-my-castle-of-dreams/