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SOE On Why EQN Landmark Is Its *Real* Next Big Thing

Leaving A Mark

EverQuest Next sounds marvelous. Maybe, finally, it will be the fountain of youthful innovation that this creaky, stuck-in-its-ways genre so desperately needs. A lot of jaded players are pinning their hopes on it, so fingers crossed. Here's the thing, though: SOE's EverQuest Next is actually only a very small part of the bigger picture. EverQuest Next: Landmark is the game that SOE thinks should *really* have everybody talking. It's a tool that, in theory, will allow anyone to construct their own MMO world. EverQuest, SOE hopes, is done being a single game. Instead, it's destined to become a player-generated universe, a rainbow sea of crisscrossing themes, settings, and goals. I spoke with director of development David Georgeson about specifics of things like classes, emergent AI, and combat, as well as trolling and why SOE is actually happy that player created content could entirely overshadow their own. It's all below. 

RPS: You said Landmark is "effectively" a build-your-own MMO tool, but will players be able to do anything beyond building environments and structures? What about NPCs and quests?

Georgeson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Almost everything that we can do, we're going to let the players do. There might be a few tricks that are just too grognard to put out to the players, but very, very few. We have every intent to make sure that players can do everything we can, because we really want to see what kinds of stuff they come up with. We also want to allow them to help us build EverQuest Next.

By the time we launch EverQuest Next, Landmark players will have all those tools, and they'll have had them for months.

RPS: How robust will those tools be?

Georgeson: Very. We have to be able to do it too. The tools that we have to create quests, players will also have.

Other SOE Dev Whose Name I Shamefully Did Not Get: And we'll be able to be more specific about this stuff in the future. Right now you're playing with the building tools, so there's a huge amount of concrete information there. But we'll talk more about how the game works specifically over time.

RPS: What sorts of quests are you aiming to create on the SOE side? Are you breaking free from traditional disguise-the-grind MMO stuff?

Georgeson: Yeah, it definitely won't be traditional quest stuff. Our emergent AI system is pretty cool, but I really can't tell you about a lot of that stuff. We're still making it up. But the idea is that its a big sumo match. So the orcs want something, the pillagers want something else, the goblins want something else, and they're constantly ebbing and flowing. If the goblins don't get what they want, they end up pushed into other areas. There's all this kind of push-shove back-and-forth of the ecosystem of the world.

The quests are designed in a similar fashion using that as a foundation. So procedural quests and stuff like that can be generated on the fly, and in Landmark, players can use the same tools as us to craft opportunities of their own. It's a very dynamic, very organic-feeling process. You don't just type out a long story and have players click through dialogue. You don't have the guy with the exclamation point over his head. We're just not doing that anymore. It's a different kind of game. But the end result should still feel very consistent and tight, because you still develop all kinds of lore and story in dialogue that characters can say. They just do it situationally.

Other Dev: But a lot of that is a bit further out. The launch version is mostly focused on building.

RPS: Landmark also has combat and objectives and whatnot, though? How will the combat work?

Georgeson: In old MMOs, when monsters started to attack, dice rolls had already determined if they was going to hit you or not. We're not doing that. We're allowing you to move out of the way and do stuff that way. With positioning of your abilities versus what the monster is doing, it's a very fluid situation. There's no lather, rinse, repeat mechanic that works all the time.

Other Dev: One very important distinction of it that we're beginning to clarify is, in EverQuest Next, you will go out and collect all of these classes. We'll have 40 different classes from launch. Landmark has only one class, but we've talked about finding items that give you abilities that - in another game - might be associated with different classes. So if you find or make a sword, then you could do melee, for instance.

RPS: 40 classes? That's a lot. More so than even post-decade-of-expansion EverQuest. How do you justify having so many? What's the point?

Georgeson: Well, we have 20 in EQ, and those classes are gigantic. They have 40, 50 skills. What we're talking about here is making classes that have eight to twelve skills. That way, the differentiation between those classes can be much more significant. We can make somebody that's really good at melee but they need to be stealthy to do it. We can have magicians that teleport versus magicians that summon pets and so on and so forth. All those things are different classes. So it's easy for us to get out 40 classes that feel significantly different from each other because we're minimizing the overlap between classes.

RPS: Whereas in EQN: Landmark, you're basically multi-classing, right?

Georgeson: It's kind of like multi-classing lite. Whereas in EQN, you'd go out and find those classes, then settle on abilities you want. In Landmark, what you're really doing is sticking with the same class and allowing you to craft different weapons that bring different abilities to your hotbar when you use them.

RPS: Why do it differently between the two games?

Georgeson: We didn't want Landmark to be about character progression in the same way we're doing it in EQN. What we really wanted to do is ensure that Landmark is oriented around creation and being able to survive in a world of creation. We just didn't want to go down that road. We wanted to keep it simple in Landmark.

RPS: Is Landmark going to be on multiple player-powered servers ala Minecraft, or is SOE going to function as the backend for all of it?

Georgeson: We're going to run all the servers because it's an MMO. But we don't lock people into worlds. We want people to be able to freely move between millions of players, not thousands. Because let's say you like building sci-fi stuff, but the world you pick ends up being heroic fantasy oriented. What we do is we allow players to package up all their stuff and move it somewhere else - even to another world/server.

So let's say I'm pissed off because someone built a sci-fi robot right next to my medieval castle. So I package up my castle and go looking for an area that has lots of medieval stuff in it. And then when I set my stuff down there, what I've effectively done is set myself up with a community of like-minded people. I think over time, that's going to become the de facto thing. People will naturally gravitate toward where the things they like are set up.

RPS: What about trolling? It seems like it'd be pretty easy to wreck someone's Landmark creation or, say, cover their meticulously crafted fantasy kingdom in robots and dinosaurs and zompires. You just follow the person to wherever they go next. Yeah, you've got a bunch of like-minded people together, but one rotten egg can still ruin it.

Georgeson: That's pretty savvy. I'm not going to cotton around it: that is possible. But you can protect yourself against it by using multiple claims. As you collect extra claims - either by buying them or earning them inside the game - and you start associating with other people, you can essentially lock down an area so that other people can't mess with it.

Plus, the worlds are huge. There's no reason to troll, other than to troll. You're absolutely right, though: some people will do that. But there are mechanisms to protect yourself.

RPS: How will actually playing in player-created worlds work? Like, will we be able to switch into EQN's progression in order to experience places? Will people still be running around and building while I'm trying to quest and inhabit this environment? Because I could see that being kind of distracting if someone, say, floated by and built a volcano. It'd be tough to believe I was in a fantasy or sci-fi world if the whole thing just felt like it was under construction. 

Georgeson: A lot of the content that people create will probably be in instance pockets. So you might have a portal that says, "This leads to labyrinthine portal of blah blah blah," and you click on that and it loads you into an instance. That way, it's not part of the big over-land world. So for instance, you wouldn't want the podracers from Star Wars to be next to your medieval castles and all that. So a lot of those activities will be inside of instances.

RPS: Podracing, you say? Are there systems in Landmark that let me build propulsion and physics?

Georgeson: Actually, that's a bad example. No, we don't have that kind of stuff in the game yet. One of the beauties of Landmark is that it's not gonna stop growing. And that's one of the reasons why we're releasing it in a modular fashion. Because as players tell us what they like and don't like, we're going to be adjusting our design. That's why we're not announcing dates for EQN. We want to hear what players think and have time to adapt.

Other Dev: Landmark will be a very different game a year from now too.

RPS: How much influence will players have? How concrete is your vision for both EQN and Landmark? Where do you draw the line in terms of player suggestions or complaints?

Georgeson: Well, it's basically based on experience. I mean, I've been making games for 25 years. And so, sometimes players will propose something that's just ridiculous. That won't work. That's why we have the roundtable feature on our website. Sometimes we ask questions that we know can only go one way. But the players are constantly having debates over stuff, so then we can go in and explain why we're doing things a certain way. Because the more we can work with our players so they can understand why games need to be built a certain way, the better the suggestions will be.

It's like when I talk to programmers. They say, "Well, the code will be able to do this, that, and the other thing." Then I have to fit my design within those fences. This is a whole process of getting players to understand how games are put together. In a way. It's mostly just playing a game, but as a side benefit of playing the game, they're also going to learn a lot about the game creation process.

That's not going to stop the wild-and-woolly craziness, but we do that too!

RPS: Do you have any concrete plans for PVP yet? Anything on how players will interact beyond creating stuff?

Georgeson: Yes. That's all I can say right now. You can imagine, though. You can break up the world and stuff. So the PVP can be really wild. We also have a really cool housing system, but not in the traditional sense. These are PVP houses, like schools of thought behind... it's hard to describe right now.

But there's all kinds of stuff we can do. Obviously in Landmark, people can build their own areas. When we roll over the PVP systems, then they can build battlefields and actually play against each other. That's where we're going.

RPS: Due to all of this, your version of EQN is just one of potentially thousands of worlds players can go inhabit under these systems. 

Georgeson: Yep. Ours is just a professionally developed alternative.

RPS: If your version is totally overshadowed, will you be disappointed? What will you do if people play EverQuest Next and say, "Eh, this is kinda boring. I'm just going to stick to user-created worlds"?

Georgeson: It will only be because Landmark is a success, and I refuse to cry in my beer over that.

RPS: Will this approach and mentality roll over into other games you've made or are making? For instance, something like PlanetSide 2? 

Georgeson: Not existing ones. Newer ones, we could talk.

Well, OK, it's not hard to think of this happening. SOE doesn't have plans for what I'm about to say yet, but you can imagine a PlanetSide world where you can actually blow stuff up. Or a superhero world where you can blow stuff up and be able to throw things and stuff like that. Obviously, those are attractive ideas. But those are just thoughts.

[PR motions that we've run over our allotted time slot]

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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