That EQNext Update and whether we should be excited

So EQNext is officially more than that green picture ever since the big Las Vegas SOE reveal this August 2nd. TAGN made a nice round-up of MMO blogosphere reactions in case you’re still catching up like I do. Wilhelm calls himself cautiously optimistic which is all I’ve ever been in regards to this title. Much is riding on the big name; very bold has been the sandbox boasting in the past. I’m not a fan of developers who talk more than they’re showing, so at least now we’ve finally got some facts and videos to add to that grand idea that is EQNext. So let’s have another brief look while I’m trying to reign in the MMO summer-malaise sarcasm.

The “sandbox”
As a Minecraft fan I am mildly excited by the Landmark feature, especially in regards to real world implementation. Player created goods and services are always healthy for virtual worlds, although I am not sure how much I care for the destructibility of the environment. It sounds like a gimmick given it’s restorative nature.

Classes and combat
As much as SOE try to be innovative, the combat and class system of EQNext sound like a perfect hybrid between Final Fantasy XI and Guild Wars 2 (which is not a bad thing). Tons of classes and cross-class combinations have existed in Vana’diel since 2002, while active combat with a very limited set of weapon- and class related active skills is one of the reasons why I like Guild Wars 2 as much as I do. Means, no complaints here from my end; I am all for class freedom and fast paced, minimal UI combat!

Levels and progression
Sadly the one big oversight in Guild Wars 2, I am happy to hear EQN will do away with leveled progression. As far as alternatives go, we have yet to hear how exactly player progression is to be paced in this game. Personally I’d like to know how grouping / group setup will be balanced and what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department.

The look
Maybe the biggest disappointment for me personally was the overall look of EQNext, combined with the action scenes shown during Part 2 of the presentation. Nobody was more surprised than myself to see SOE go for the cartoony Disney aesthetic that comes dangerously close to the butterfly in my MMO venn diagram, rather than opting for a more traditional medieval / high fantasy style that so many Everquest veterans no doubt expected. While I’m no veteran myself, I had high hopes for EQNext to put a modern touch and polish on what I associate with the olde D&D vibe. Instead, SOE presented us with Belle and the Beast (who looks strangely like World of Warcraft’s alliance crest come alive) jumping, hovering and rolling their way through a dirt parcours in platformy fashion.

Oh God…whyyy?

egn02

“…both a little scared, neither one prepared..”

I’m having a hard time recovering from this blow. While graphics aren’t everything in MMOs, the chosen style dictates a lot of the feel and atmosphere of the world. As far as cartoony graphics go, there is almost always a level of slapstick, popculture referencing and general lack of seriousness involved. That is one WoW legacy I could really do without – although SOE might have more reasons for this move than trying to follow World of Warcraft’s wide appeal and “longevity factor”. I think one can greatly over-credit WoW’s graphics style in this context. People still play WoW because it’s consistently managing to be a polished package that has a great deal to offer. That’s why players are willing to overlook its by now dated, cartoon graphics – not vice versa.

eqnfaces

Phooey!

In general, the emphasis on things like facial expressions and clothes movement seems strangely overstated in Georgeson’s speech. While it’s nice to have detailed character customization or flowing fabrics in MMOs, I found myself cringing at the above selection of comic faces. This level of detail supposedly adds to our characters “coming to life” – I guess that’s where the presenter lost me. I always treat my MMO characters like alter egos and I’d like to think that it’s me, my personality and way of playing them that adds life to them. Heck, players have breathed life into 8bit pixel avatars since the beginning of video gaming. So no, I don’t like these EQNext characters at all. As for how they move around terrain, I hope combat won’t be quite as platformy as it looks like. I am of course blown away by yet another mage with blink…

Emergent AI and NPCs
If there was any mention of AI and the role NPCs are to play in EQNext during this reveal, I missed it. Either way, this feature is still my biggest draw for the title (see this great article on US Gamer for some more recent info). I’ve been excited for Storybricks ever since Namaste went more public with the concept and I can’t wait to read all about questing and NPC relations in EQNext. That might be the one thing winning back some of my sympathies. Having greatly enjoyed Animal Crossing New Leaf for the last couple of weeks on my 3DS, I am once more amazed at the mightiness of complex AI in video games. If SOE are really looking to innovate, this is one of the great untapped goldmines in MMO gaming. Fingers crossed!

19 comments

  1. Incidentally, I think that the visuals in WoW are more about dodging the Uncanny Valley and keeping the tech specs low. That’s way easier with stylized art direction. I, for one, am quite happy that EQN isn’t trying to chase the cutting edge of quasirealism.

    …that said, the “boob window” is facepalm-worthy, and the expressions do nothing for me. I prefer my avatars to be relatively undetailed, since it allows me to fill that space more with my own mental processes. It’s the same sort of concerns we talked about a while back, just writ visually.

    http://tishtoshtesh.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/filling-in-the-gaps/

      1. Now I get what you meant with boob window lol….yep, it’s sad. apparently we can’t expect the next gen of MMOs to overcome that trope.

        @Tesh
        I get that stylized and simplified graphics work better with the cube world concept and it’s a good point. on the other hand, that’s no reason to go full-out Disney with the style, either. I’m not looking for cutting edge, just a bit more mature/grownup would work better for me personally. I’m not sure why cartoony is the only answer to simplistic.

  2. I think the art design and style they’ve gone for looks fantastic. I’ve loved cartoons all my life and I’ve been an unashamed Disney supporter when even mentioning their name without spitting could get you into a shouting argument in the circles I moved in. I’d take cartoon graphics over “realism” any day.

    As an EQ fan of very longstanding indeed, I’d also argue that a cartoon look is completely in keeping with the tradition of the franchise. Most of the races in the original version of the game were extremely cartoon-like, especially ogres, trolls and gnomes. Moreover, when the Velious expansion arrived the cartoon factor increased still further. The original Velious Wolf model (later sadly changed) which is my all-time favorite EQ mob model looked like Tex Avery had drawn it. Even now, many of the EQ mob models are reminiscent of 1940s cartoons.

    They made a big mistake with EQ2 when they pitched for what then passed for “realism” and they’ve suffered badly for it ever since. Thankfully they seem to have learned their lesson and gone back to their roots this time round.

    As for the facial animations I thought that was one of the most attractive parts of the presentation. I absolutely do not see my characters as representations of me – indeed I see that as a an anathema. My character are just that: characters, like the characters in a novel or a movie. That’s not why I relish the thought of the facial expressions, though. Its the vast possibilities those open up for screenshots with captions or, better still, speech bubbles. I already use those a lot in GW2 and I’d use them more still if I could control the expressions better. Imagine the potential!

    1. I’m with Tesh on the facial features, for me it’s too much information (a bit like too much narrative). I want to add to a more blank space when it comes to my characters. also, I would never make faces like that IRL =P it really depends what your relationship with your toons is though.

      I’ve no problem with Disney movies, I just prefer my MMOs to appeal to an above PG-rated audience, hehe. ;) I love the realism of Skyrim and it works very well immersion-wise because it actually looks like an authentic setting. I’m also not sure that cartoon style does much for me in games that are essentially about monsters, killing, raiding, looting etc. – there’s a thematic clash for me. I’m not looking for gore or the likes, but yeah I prefer mature here.

      It’s interesting that you consider EQ2 not cartoony; a lot of people on twitter told me that EQN is basically following up on EQ2 rather than EQ. there seems quite a difference in perception concerning the original style of Everquest. personally I didn’t like EQ2 at all and would call it a goofy, borderline cartoony style.

  3. I’m not sure that cartoony graphics HAVE to equate to “slapstick, pop-culture referencing and general lack of seriousness” – it’s more a case that those words sum up WoW, which is the first game you think of when cartoony MMO graphics are mentioned. And of course you then have Wildstar, which looks to be slavishly copying WoW in both graphic style and knowing, wrecking-ball-through-the-fourth-wall demeanour. Personally, I think the cartoon style fits well with Everquest, which to me has always had a cosy, light fantasy feel to it, and it makes a clear differentiation from The Elder Scrolls Online, which looks more grimdark and ‘realistic’. On the other hand, there’s no point every arguing over personal taste – when it comes to graphic styles, a person either likes them or they don’t.

    1. Indeed. although it is interesting how differently players, EQ vets included, perceive original EQ’s graphics style. I’ve read many shocked reaction by veterans concerning the style of EQN. a good friend of mine who’s been waiting on EQN literally for years now was flabbergasted :P

  4. Looking at those facial expressions, I can’t help thinking, “yeah, they’re quite nice, but what are the odds of me ever having a character front and center and close enough to the camera that will ever see them?”

    1. Yeah that’s a good point. although as Psychochild explains further down, the facial features /emotional reactions will matter a lot for NPCs and realizing Storybricks, so it’s not just about player avatars.

  5. Interesting writeup, and thanks for the Storybricks shout out! :)

    Just one quick comment about the art style: this will also be the art style for the NPCs. If you’re as big a Storybricks supporter as you say, then you’ll understand why having expressive NPC faces is so very exciting.

    The art director Rosie Rappaport (who was also art director on the original EverQuest) went into some detail about the style and why it fits with the art style of the franchise. She also explained that the reason why cartoons have those big faces is so that you can read the emotion easier. Imagine, emotional expression being important in a game! :)

    Anyway, thanks again for the kind words. :)

      1. Ohh good point, I was a bit confused at that but google didn’t help me much – thanks!

        I totally get the point about cartoons and reading emotions and why it’s important for SB. :) on the other hand, I am a bit traumatized by the whole “emotions wheel” stuff that was overdone to death in Fable, especially in the sequels. I love the AI in Animal Crossing, the concept of choices, impact and lasting consequences surrounding NPCs. player-NPC-interaction relying on reading and provoking a whole palette of different facial expressions however is filling me with cautious dread. that said, I can’t speculate about how you guys will implement it all eventually, so I’m excited to hear more.

  6. @Syl
    “Sadly the one big oversight in Guild Wars 2, I am happy to hear EQN will do away with leveled progression. As far as alternatives go, we have yet to hear how exactly player progression is to be paced in this game. Personally I’d like to know how grouping / group setup will be balanced and what type of spin SOE intend to put on traditional questing. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can do much better than ArenaNet in this department.”

    They said that EQN will not have xp and not have skill points (use a sword a lot oof times for be good at it).

    My wild guess is that they are following a path that GW2 opened, but they are going far away with progression: while GW2 substitute the quest log for the achievement log, EQN will susbstitue the xp bar with the achievement log.

    So, for go to tier 3 to tier 4 warrior, a players will need complete diferent achievements: use a full set of t3 armor, kill a x number of mobs using a sword, complete a x number of ralling calls, etc.

    That is my wild guess.

    I will not be surprise if grouping and not-grouping work like GW2: no competition for nodes, everyone gain full xp and loot for mobs, everyone cohoperates for complete the rallying calls.

    [with relation to nodes, I think they can innovate because they are using voxel farm with procedural world: mining operations for extract ore from lodes, cuting real trees from a forest that will be deforested over time – or not if foresters replant trees -, farms with crops and animal husbandry. However, no indication of this path until now.]

    1. “EQN will susbstitue the xp bar with the achievement log.”

      God I hope not :P
      I missed the part where they said there won’t be skill-based progression, it seems.

      And yeah, I’m fairly certain they will take inspiration from GW2 when it comes to public questing, grouping and shared loot/nodes. anything else would be ill-advised at this point…I hope they will come up with more goodness where crafting and stuff like housing is concerned though.

      1. Take note it is only my “wild west” speculation, no facts, only guts.

        But I have a hard time imaginating how they can make players progress “tiers” if they don’t have xp and skill points. And the “use tier 3 full armor for advance to tier 4” is something a dev said in a interview.

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