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How EverQuest Next hopes to break the traditional MMO mold Exclusive
How  EverQuest Next  hopes to break the traditional MMO mold
October 3, 2013 | By Mike Rose

October 3, 2013 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Design, Exclusive

For all the MMOs released in the past several years, the genre hasn't exactly changed a great deal. The studios behind these behemoth titles still put plenty of focus on the same old elements that they believe will bring in players -- massive worlds, expansive leveling systems, hundreds of quests to complete and the like. Of course, if a player wasn't interested in MMOs 10 years ago, none of these features are likely to pull them in now.

Dave Georgeson, director of development on the upcoming EverQuest Next and Landmark MMO pairing, is hoping to break this cycle.

He recognizes that many MMOs focus on monsters respawning over and over again in the same areas; game mechanics that are barely dynamic and skill-orientated; gameplay that's repetitive and derivative.

"We hate all that stuff too!" he laughs. "That's exactly what we're trying to change. That's why we've put in this emergent AI system, and I think that this is the real crux point - in a normal MMO, we usually use state tables, where monsters go through the exact same logic trigger every time they want to attack you."

"So there tends to be lather, rinse, repeat sorts of ways to defeat those monsters," he continues. "In addition, all the quests that are like that are very linear in nature. There's a quest, you go out into the world, you kill 10 rats or whatever it is, you get your loot, and you move on to the next quest. There's not very much attention paid to the world around you, and the world isn't very dynamic, and doesn't change to whatever tactics you want to adopt."

Learn and adapt

It's this emergent AI system that Sony Online Entertainment has been talking up for EverQuest Next -- the ability for the enemies to not just attack you in waves, but actually read how you play, and react in such a way that they have a better chance of survival.

Says Georgeson, "Let's say you're in combat, and you use a fireball followed by a cold spell, and it happens to kill the monsters really well. You think 'Well, that seems like a really good idea, I'm going to do that a lot!' Then you go in and start using it against different types of monsters, and you realize that they start reacting to you in different ways, depending upon how smart the monster is."

everquest 1.jpgEnemies have different levels of brain power, and the smarter they are, the less likely the same tactics can simply be used over and over again.

"They start using different dynamic situational modifiers," Georgeson adds. "It's not like an aggro bar, where you're basically just trying to keep a monster's attention by going 'nee-ner nee-ner' at him. They are assessing the threat constantly. So as you move around on the battlefield, your physical location in relation to all the other monsters is being assessed by all the monsters. The tactics you were, which defensive abilities you have up - all these things affect the monster's decision making."

The hope is that this will mean every combat situation is different, no matter where you are and who you are battling against. Of course, when you bring another of EverQuest Next's big selling points into the situation -- the voxel-based world destruction -- things can that little bit more interesting.

"When you start using destructability on top of that, to be able to use the environment around you in a tactical kind of situation so that you're blowing a tree down to block a doorway to keep monsters from coming in, or building a pit under some monsters so they fall in temporarily," says Georgeson. "All of these things are different ways to interact with the game."

"Our intent is that you'll be able to play the game for two years, and if one of your friends joins in, you will be able to group together and play together."

Another way in which EverQuest Next is attempting to break the mold is by nixing the leveling system.

"In a regular MMO, you pick a class, and then if you want a different kind of game experience, you have to ditch that character, and form a new one that's a different class," Georgeson reasons. "What we're doing instead is, as you move through the world and you learn more things, what you do is you pick up other classes. You can not only play any of those classes at any time, but you can actually mix and match their character abilities, to be able to create classes that you've never seen before."

The idea is to provide players with a feeling of moving forward through vertical progression, upgrading gears and items within each class. By removing a leveling system, SOE hopes that players will be able to join their friends at any point, no matter how many hours a person has already put into the game.

"Our intent is that you'll be able to play the game for two years, and if one of your friends joins in, you will be able to group together and play together," he explains. "You'll clearly still be the vet - it just won't be as dramatic as it is with a traditional leveling system, where's there's no way you can group with each other. What we do is give you lots of ways to progress, and essentially customize each one of these classes to be the way you want them to be."

"So there's a lot of verticality depending upon what way you want to play," Georgeson adds. "But there's definitely not the same game as a traditional leveling RPG, and you have to kind of look at it in a slightly different way."

Steam Workshop, but better

SOE has said before that the future of MMOs is user-generated content, and EverQuest Next is no different. The game will feature the Player Studio, an online store where players can upload their own creations, and potentially sell them to other players -- much like Valve's own Steam Workshop.

"Steam Workshop is a great model, and Gabe [Newell, Valve co-founder] is a very smart guy," says Georgeson. "It's obviously been hugely successful for them. But we have a venue that they don't have - we're building a virtual world. We're building an online community that is helping to shape their own world."

"So this is a lot different than, say, making hats for Team Fortress 2," he adds. "I don't want to sound like I'm belittling that at all - it's been a huge business for them, and I admire it. But we have social dynamics that can be applied to this Player Studio model that other people can only dream about."

everquest 2.jpgOne of the ways in which Georgeson plans to better the user-generated competition is through bringing players together who can benefit one-another.

Explains the EverQuest director, "There are mechanisms that we can do to get the people who are prolific creators within our game, to be about to marry in with the people that want to support them in a big way - the people that like to spend money."

"By putting those people together, and making sure that they're socializing together, that they have perks that benefit them, to be able to talk to each other - those sorts of systems push these people together, and all of a sudden these people that are amazing creators can actually know who their audience is, and they're talking to them on a regular basis."

This is the idea behind EverQuest Next Landmark too -- a companion release for EverQuest Next that will release before the main game, and will offer players the ability to claim land and start creating objects, items and building templates for the main spectacle.

"I've said it lots of times, but we're really serious about this whole idea of thousands of players working with us to build this new virtual world," Georgeson notes. "Player Studio is entirely designed right now to get these groups to be able to talk to each other, and to be able to focus on making better and better stuff for their world."

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Chris Clogg
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It will be awesome if they do pull it off... but I guess we should wait and see the final result, because (in gaming) we often hear about "unbelievable tech XYZ" or "dynamic player AI bla bla" which ends up just being meh and turns out the core gameplay isn't fun.

WoW might be old and tired now, but the bottom line is they created an amazing and social experience that ties you into the world. But yeah it is definitely time for something new, and ironically it may be Blizzard's own Titan that ends up doing it lol.

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John Trauger
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Yes, *please*, by all mean break the stifling grip WoW has on the imaginations of MMO designers.

beware the crafty griefer, however. Felling a tree to block a monster means you can block a player too.

Russ Dawson
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I find this very exciting. Glad to see Sony is dropping both a level and a class system (to an extent). Will be interesting to see how well the user generated content implemented.

William Johnson
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@John, well hopefully that means the other player can just bust through the window or something ;)

Jonathan Murphy
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I used to work solely on MMOs in the industry. I was type cast into those jobs. The bulk conversations revolved around copying WoW, following this invisible MMO bible. Lvl cap 50, AA, raids, group size, same stuff every time with a weak twist. I hope SoE succeeds.

Back in 08 I said, "The MMO that crushes WoW won't be like any other game."

Robert Ling
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I'm very excited for what's to come in the next few years, with both crowd sourcing & funding becoming so prevalent in the industry. I agree whole heatedly that player made content will become the life blood of MMO's going forward.

SOE has hit every nail on the head that I had on my concerns board so far, now I just hope it all works out.

I think the thing I'm most excited about is the decision not to use a leveling based system, which I think will truly help foster a deeper community base within the game world, as people will explore more openly instead of following the EXP trail from place to place.

Nicholas Larimer
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EDIT- Didn't hit reply, accidentally made a new comment.

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Michael Joseph
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That's unfortunate. I feel somewhat responsible as I asked him follow up questions. It's also unfortunate that his entire history (years worth?) of posts from all articles/blogs/etc are eradicated.

Kevin Fishburne
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Gamasutra's on the verge of losing me if they continue banning people. Is it hosted from China these days? The fact that I just wondered if this post will get me banhammered should sum up the chilling effect this has on conversation. Lighten up, Gamasutra. And no, I have no idea what was said to get the now unknown person banned (which makes it even worse!).

Maria Jayne
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I'm hopeful for EQ Next and Landmark, at a time when I am incredibly cynical about all mmos, somehow SOE managed to inspire me with positive feelings during their initial reveal.

Being a terrible cynic though, I doubt it will be as great as they imply, or as ground breaking as we hope for. As long as it doesn't feel like I've already played it a dozen times, that will be an achievement.

Robert Barker
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I think dropping the leveling system might be the one feature that can break people away from WoW.

People don't keep playing WoW because they feel it's the "best" MMO. They keep playing it because they've invested so much time into it, and so have their friends. All of that invested time creates inertia. Why would you want to go climb another mountain when you're already sitting on the peak of one?

Reducing the time required to reach "the top" is exactly how WoW killed Everquest. Adding an interesting new feature to your MMO (i.e. removing the concept of class roles, or creating more dynamic worlds) is a good idea, but you need more. You have to make it as easy as possible for players to transition into your MMO.

Patric Mondou
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Looks promising, but I'm not hyped yet ;)

Rift back then was said to "break the MMO mold". Then SWTOR. Then Guild Wars 2. They're good, but they don't quite break the mold.

Jason Henseler
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To be honest, SWTOR didn't claim they were breaking the MMO mold. In fact, Bioware CEO stated quite the opposite - that they would use the tried and true and not try to re-invent the wheel. They did state that they were focusing on the "fourth pillar" of MMOs, story, to a degree no other previous game had done. They accomplished this goal pretty well.

I think the difference between EQN and the previous games that "promised more" was voiced by Dave G during the first few minutes of the reveal (and hence, my interest):

"Enough is enough. It's time we got some new ideas into this genre."

That's far further than the other MMO developers have stated when discussing about the game they are making. That interests me. There's always skepticism present; getting off to a good start with a design philosophy I can get behind is a good start, though.

Jarod Smiley
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as long as it comes to PS4 I'll try it...Hopefully consoles can finally get in on the MMO...

Also heard FF14 relaunch is shaping up nicely...

Wylie Garvin
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Aww, the word "voxel" only appears in this article once! If anyone is interested in the neat Voxel Farm technology that EQ Next is using (at least, I think its the neat part) you can read the blog posts of its author here:
Of course that technology is only a small piece of the overall picture, but its a pretty neat piece.