Saturday, 22 October 2011

An Everquest Journey

One of the most famous and influential online multiplayer games of all time was Everquest (EQ), released in early 1999. I started playing in mid 1999, and I was there for the first invasion of Qeynos by Varsoon the Undying over the Halloween weekend of '99. EQ was a ground-breaker, it was huge, it was great fun, although part of the fun came in the form of over-coming bugs, and problems and weaknesses of all sorts. The first time a lion chased me, I found a hut close by, and made it inside safely - but the lion simply came straight through the wall and killed me. Aargh.

Indeed the difficulty (and frustration) level of EQ was extremely high - e.g. the famous corpse runs which were required after you died and re-spawned back at your home base without your items - they remained on our dead corpse, so you had to go back to your corpse and loot it to get all your money and items back. If you died in a really bad place, e.g. the bottom of 'The Hole', the difficulty of getting to the corpse was such that on some occasions players would simply abandon the character and start another. Permadeath. But also friendly aid - one day I died when lost deep in the Minotaur cave, and feared I'd lost everything. But a friendly wolf druid offered to help, so I gave him loot rights to my corpse. I didn't log on for some days - when I did, he found me and gave me my stuff, and some extra cash besides. I made sure to say a good word for him out loud - reputation mattered in EQ.

There were no instances, just one copy of each monster, so the ones who dropped important items were camped continuously - and typically a 'list' would be held by some player - the list of whose turn it was to fight that monster. That was the key to Everquest's success - it was SO hard, that people banded together against the common enemy. People really did help one another because it was so impossible otherwise. And the sheer emotional investment in your character was huge - sometimes you had to camp a monster for 2 or 3 days. No joke - for the really important items, players stayed at the keyboard for days on end, with occasional breaks at best. But by Karana, when you finally GOT that damned sword, it had extremely high emotional value and the happy character would sometimes stand outside the town gate just to show off his new sword, and a crowd of admirers would form and tell horror stories about their failed camps. Days! Can you imagine players now spending 3 days at the keyboard?

But it really was so much fun - e.g. October 1999 saw the invasion of Qeynos by a huge skeleton called Varsoon. He was a very high level monster in a newbie zone, and would simply one-shot any lowbies. The safe place was just inside the 'zone-line', the change from one zone to the next that EQ was in-famous for. As Varsoon rampaged outside, a group of characters huddled inside the zone line, swapping stories and food, while contacting any high levels to come and help. Every time someone came through the zone-line from outside, we'd ask for the latest news - "where is Varsoon now?", "can I make it to Qeynos safely?". As the heroes of the land started to arrive to deal with Varsoon, I snuck outside and climbed way up above the gate to Surefall Glade, and found a safe spot from where I could see Varsoon stomping around, with corpses littering the landscape, and occasional groups of heroes attacking, and mostly dying. I spent my time shouting out curses and abuse to Varsoon. Some of the best fun I've had in a game, so much so that I posted a poem "There was movement at the zone-line for the word had passed around / that the need at Surefall Glade was very dire...". Indeed I even received an email one day from Brad McQuaid thanking me for my comments about EQ. Fun times.

In the early days, there were few teleports, it was mostly about running. And jumping. It turned out that jumping while running gave a small leap forward, getting you further from the chasing monster. So it became standard to run and jump over and over to evade a chase. So they added stamina loss when jumping so that tactic didn't last. One oddity that was never nerfed was the odd sideways running bug. When running foward, you get a certain speed, but if you also run sideways at the same time, the speed vectors ADD together, so your actual speed becomes maybe 1/3 faster. I've spent many an hour running across the Karanas in a sideways run, because EQ was huge, and there were few easy travel options, especially in the early days.

One of the strengths of EQ was it's 'sense-of-place' - the feeling of being somewhere, of places connected together in certain ways - High Pass is up in the mountains, Freeport is by the sea. EQ often required a journey for important quests, and EQ journeys could be hard, and take much time. I recall early one when a friend joined us in EQ, and he had a dwarf from Kaladim, far from my home town of Qeynos. We agreed to meet in Freeport, and my perilous journey from Qeynos to Freeport was an adventure of a whole day. At tough spots, I had to wait for heroes passing by to clear the way of monsters, and rush through to safety of the zone-line. In EQ it's all about the zone-lines - because passing through from one zone to t'other, although taking some time (minutes on a slow PC,) it shook off any monsters who were 'agro' on you (attacking you.) Monsters in EQ, once agro on you, would follow you all the way across a zone, until you crossed the zone-line.

When travelling through a particularly nasty zone such as the famous Kithicor Forest, the safest strategy was to hug the edge of the zone, in this case it was a mountainous edge, so you would run along the literal edge of the zone, pushing against the invisible wall.  The edges and corners of EQ zones were like highways, everyone knew them and used them, and most zones were rectangles.

Finally I made it to the commons - but it was night-time, too dangerous for me and my hobbit friend I'd joined up with. So we camped way up high in the far corner of the zone and munched on Thunderhoof Mushrooms while waiting for dawn for the worst monsters to go to bed. Meanwhile, my Dwarven friend had made it to the other end of the zone from our corner, and we shouted out greetings and chatted in text as we waited for the sun to rise, eventually meeting at the Toll Gate for a round of /salutes and more adventure.

A great EQ journey.

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