Category Archives: Landmark

At Daybreak you shall know their True Colors

It took no more than 10 days for Columbus Nova, new owners of the late SOE, to announce their first layoffs at Daybreak consisting of former MMO staff members from Austin and San Diego studios, including figureheads such as director of development Dave Georgeson, lore expert Steve Danuser or CM Linda “Brasse” Carlson.

I am perplexed. There go knowledge authorities and community figures that have steered the hype train for this next generation of Everquest games and especially Landmark, for months and months. And sure, it takes many excellent people to develop MMOs but let’s not kid ourselves – when you remove the lead singer, drummer and lead guitarist of a band your fans have come to love and follow, you are basically leaving that audience with a corpse. And you don’t care.

If there was any trust left in me when I wrote about my EQN misgivings yesterday, it has been shattered with the layoffs of Dave G. and team, people who tirelessly engaged with the community on the forums and signalboosted Landmark builds on twitter ever since alpha. They all deserved so much better than this.

This is another dark day for MMO players. Anyone who believes this could be a potentially positive thing for Landmark and EQN’s development (because the guys calling the shots behind Daybreak have all these “awesome and fresh MMO ideas”?) will sadly come to regret it, I fear. Nobody who has earnest plans to continue a project and legacy like Everquest and gives a damn about the community would just lay off the know-how and trust owners of the franchise. Re-asses strategy? – Okay. Re-organize management level? – Okay. But the fact that core team members are not kept around to consult on further development is all you need to know.

I’ve been an unwilling herald of bad news lately and so be it: I foresee no future in which the EQN that we’ve got presented at SOE Live 2014 will come to completion. Daybreak will cut their losses and either really release EQN status whatever “in the near future” as announced, or this project will be shelved Titan style within another three to six months, maybe to be disemboweled and re-purposed. And by the gods of Norrath, I hope I am wrong!

[Landmark] The Endless Beta

Two nights ago I logged back into Landmark for the first time in months, after what seemed to be the world’s slowest patch. I left Landmark towards the end of the closed beta, for lack of things to do and being fed up with the claim upkeep system and continuously losing my Inn of the Last Home. Much has been added since April: the crafting system and building tools have been overhauled completely, water and caves were added as well as fall damage and arena-based PvP.

Logging back into the game and hearing Jeremy Soule’s beautiful music made me painfully aware of the feeling and atmosphere this title is still able to create, its world’s beautiful potential. Yet, Landmark to me is a changed game, as I also mentioned to Belghast a few nights ago over at Bel Folks Stuff (Bel’s awesome new podcast for merry blogosphere banter, check it out!) – so overwhelming have been the changes that I might as well learn everything from scratch and start over. Ugh.

Thus my re-visit was short-lived. Frustrated with all the controls I couldn’t remember and the still pretty poor mailbox overflow system, I took a tour around some shards/islands only to find most of them empty. The few that still had builds on them were so large and bursting with detail that my PC got very unhappy every time I got too close. I’ve no clue what optimization SOE are still planning to do for Landmark but at this rate, it’s just as well that islands aren’t crowded. Of course that also makes Landmark a game of ghost towns and, few die-hard community builders aside, a game of non-existent player interaction. To quote an earlier Syl: “Landmark needs a purpose for all the housing, needs trade, quests, guilds and cooperative content if it‚Äôs meant to last down the road.”

Vast empty space.

Vast empty space.

To be fair, SOE never promised anything in terms of traditional PvE that exceeds hunting and gathering for resources as well as crafting. According to the latest blueprint, monsters and achievements are incoming this November and December. Beyond that, in lieu of server-based player markets / auction houses or any need thereof, Landmark remains a solo experience. All the while the beta testing stretches on with more and more players leaving to “return at a later date”.

Maybe.

The Endless Beta

Landmark’s alpha started in January 2014, followed by closed beta two months later. The game is yet to enter open beta and launch officially at an undisclosed time in 2015. Until then, every last person who’s been into Landmark at some point will be completely fed-up with all the pre-release play (some players don’t even realize anymore that it’s actually still in beta right now) and those that haven’t joined over the course of an entire year most likely won’t ever. That just makes me wonder if SOE haven’t done Landmark a tiny bit of disservice for having it out there in the open for so long, including players every step of the way and through so and so many rollbacks and revamps. Who wants to still play a game with such limited content after a year of beta? Who’s dying of excitement for such a launch?

I will admit, I’ve criticized other developers for not creating enough of a hype around their games as opposed to SOE. The fact that they’ve included their player base as much as they have is commendable. All too often do we see MMO betas that aren’t so much betas as they are two-week stress tests. And yet, how long is too long for a public beta? Maybe I really don’t know what I want but a year of playing early access is an awfully long time to get bored or burned out in my book!

Off the Chest – Landmark Edition: Shelving Landmark, Wanna-be Devs and my Trouble with Votes

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Having enjoyed Landmark’s closed beta for several weeks now, I am putting the game on hold for the time being. I am in fact not even sure I’ll bother with claim upkeep until launch. This by no means comes as a shock: I’ve predicted and talked about building fatigue in sandbox games in the past and I’ve been through the same stages of declining enthusiasm with Minecraft. Landmark has some powerful building tools and beats Mojang’s giant in every cosmetic respect, which is great, but for now the game isn’t offering any content besides building or the more recent tool grind introduced in last week’s patch. Since I see no reason whatsoever to painstakingly upgrade tools or crafting stations for no better reason than because I can, nor wish to build anything else for now, that’s it for me and Landmark until SOE implement social features.

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The new, ugly tech forge.

The game isn‚Äôt very enjoyable right now when it comes to social interaction; I‚Äôm not sure what the alpha players were gushing about because ingame community to me is not people posting fancy pictures on forums or re-tweeting them on twitter (which I do too). Don‚Äôt get me wrong, player organized swap meets and building contests are nice and so are SOE‚Äôs regular dev streams where they interact with fans ‚Äď it just doesn‚Äôt make the actual game any more social than it is and it doesn‚Äôt make your neighborhood any less dead. The majority of any MMO’s playerbase are not on message boards¬†or twitch and¬†the server landscape ain’t lying:¬†no matter what island you jump on, the place feels pretty empty and themes are all over the place. (Yeah, I know they said¬†theme servers are¬†coming.)

Landmark needs a purpose for all the housing, needs trade, quests, guilds and cooperative content if it’s meant to last down the road. Unlike Minecraft it won’t have the myriads of differently themed, self-hosted server modes nor the leagues of addons that have given that game such longevity. Landmark is a restricted sandbox and while most of the social features I mentioned are announced in the¬†blueprint, I am not convinced it’s ever going to be more than ‚Äúbuilding with your guild (maybe) and a few quests and achievements‚ÄĚ. From that¬†point of view, I worry about its self-proclaimed endgame-free future the way anyone should who has watched GW2‚Äôs identity crisis. But hey, Landmark really is beautiful and atmospheric and if EQN becomes all the better for it, you’ll hear no complaints from me. More power to die-hard builders, may you stick with the game for years!

On wanna-be devs and rabid fanbases

After some brief brushes with Landmark‚Äôs official forums, it strikes me how rabid a yes-(wo)men community the game has inspired, as far as vocal minorities go anyway. Every half-reasonable topic on game design or even innocent list of personal preferences / wishes for the future, is getting derailed by righteous defenders of the blueprint. Clearly labeled player <suggestions> are¬†often shot down because someone has learned each and every single line by heart ever uttered by Dave Georgeson (clearly not his fault, he’s awesome). I have already experienced some of that defensiveness myself on twitter and as a design-oriented, critical¬†blogger, it‚Äôs not something I am used to. This is not my type of community and frankly, if you’re already in aggro-mode during alphas and betas, maybe you shouldn’t be a play-tester. MMOs change all the time.

I’ve wondered a little about this particular hype for peaceful building-MMO Landmark and have come up with a few possible explanations:
a) The Landmark community consists of a very broad demographic with very different interests (builders only, PVErs, PVPers) many of which may not be overly familiar with level-headed design debates. Richt now, everyone thinks the game is just for them.
b) Publishing blueprints way in advance and telling your playerbase that they’re your co-developers isn’t good for people’s egos and for keeping an open mind towards deviant player suggestions.
c) Games with a strong focus on individual “claims” make everyone more entitled and aggressive than usual.
d) I clearly need to stop bothering with anything public forum.
e) Also: EQ/SOE-evangelism.

If you have any other theories to add, I’d love to hear them!

The trouble with voting systems

My Inn of the Last Home has received a bit of love since the global voting system was introduced last week, via the ingame gallery feature. For those unfamiliar with this recent addition: players can now showcase and tag their claim with one screenshot in a global database that others can view and instantly up-vote (without having to visit). The new tool is wonderful insofar as it easily allows you to discover other claims and themes on any island and seek them out because coordinates. Yet, the voting system in particular has left me unfulfilled just the way it always does on webpages, blogs and elsewhere.

What is a vote on content? It doesn’t tell you whether the content was examined/read fully, why it was voted on or by whom. It’s impersonal numbers with no way to interpret or to create social interaction. Give me one personal blog comment I can reply to over 100 up-votes any day of the week.

lmvoters

Thanks (but I really wish I knew who you were!)

For social games, the feature strikes me as even less suitable. Sure, I¬†absolutely get the wish to highlight great claims and make them more accessible for everybody. At the same time, it makes being discovered for newcomers a lot harder once you have 50 or more ‚Äútop claims‚ÄĚ that everyone will seek out before bothering with the lower ladders. And claims receive votes for all kinds of reasons: wonderful castles of 100 hours of work will be awarded the same or less votes than chaotic swap meets somebody put up for the community to contribute to. That’s a problem, as well as going by a single screenshot for multi-claims is. Votes don’t differentiate.

For me personally, it simply takes the fun away not knowing who visited the Inn or if they even did. So really Рhere’s my suggestion on what to implement instead, SOE: a guestbook. Give visitors / voters of claims the option to fill in a guestbook on site where they can leave a notice and name, so creators actually feel like there’s real people out there enjoying their work. That would be quite awesome (just a suggestion, don’t shoot!).

[Landmark] Losing your Claim and how to Avoid it

So¬†it finally happened to me this last weekend: after patching Landmark for half an hour, I logged into the game to be met¬†by¬†a gaping¬†void where I had grown accustomed to seeing a tall tree reach for the blue sky and the Inn of the Last home, my little Dragonlance homage I’ve spent a lot of time on since closed beta launch, had disappeared entirely. I had been¬†under the impression that there was still¬†1 more day left¬†on my upkeep but not so – my claim was gone including the landscaping work around the tall mountain I had made my own. Beta or not, backup copies or not, this made for¬†a suprisingly distressing experience that gave me some pause.

inn02

Where did it all go?

I’m with Tobold in that SoE will¬†need to work out a decent and forgiving¬†upkeep¬†system for Landmark come official launch. I’m¬†hoping they will look into a payment plan that doesn’t just consider “European holiday schedules” but acknowledges real-life commitments and obstacles in general. My stomach turns when thinking back to Ultima Online where players had to log into the game so frequently to¬†maintain claims¬†that it required them to organize for a substitute if they were ever away for a few weeks. When my brother went off to obligatory military service, I had the honor of “refreshing his towers” in Britannia.

I don’t expect a free-to-play title like Landmark to guard player claims forever but monthly upkeep payments from the very¬†beginning should be a given in a game that inspires building effort and¬†home base¬†commitment to such degree. Once SoE have figured out their chat functions and other notifications, it would also be useful to install an alert-system outside of the game, sending an email to your account before¬†claims expire.

It isn’t always disinterest that keeps players from an MMO and coming back to an empty claim is a sad affair, even if the spot is still free for¬†the re-claiming (which it might not be if you’re very unlucky so there goes your neighbourhood too). That much I can confirm after this weekend: it’s remarkable how quickly we grow attached to our personalized spot in a game which is of course an open MMO design secret. Player housing in games, any and all forms of personalization and customization are the¬†real longterm pulls¬†of our¬†vitual worlds. So here’s¬†some friendly advice¬†in case you’re new to Landmark and have recently managed to stake a claim:

  • Press that ‘U’-key¬†frequently and make sure to pay your claim upkeep to the maximum (copper is cheap and all over Tier 1 biomes)!
  • If you’re uncertain of your weekly workload or RL commitments, have your phone or calendar remind you when your claims expire.
  • Stay away from attached claims. Your upkeep costs will double and triple if you expand, so unless you have lots of time to farm copper, sticking to a single claim is the way to go for a while.
  • Make a blueprint frequently. While there’s an automatic backup feature¬†when you lose your claim, you never know and better safe than sorry.
  • In case you lost your claim: give¬†the new claim a different name than before. Re-naming to the same¬†as¬†the backup copy¬†might result in an overwrite should you ever fail to pay upkeep again in the future.

Oh and Liore has posted¬†this simple guide on how to make your first claim if¬†you happen to still be¬†at that step. As for the Inn of the Last Home, it is of course back in the game thanks to backup copies. However, since re-shaping the mountain to fit the scene was too frustrating a second time around, I moved server and set up camp on Satisfaction EU / Kettle this time, where¬†“my” tree can be found just north of the spire. That is for now, anyway.

inn

Back among the living.

Digging Landmark and what we may expect from SOE

So between Wildstar and ESO, Landmark is the new¬†star on the block that everyone‚Äôs talking about – everyone with a closed¬†beta key anyway which seem to be an awful lot of people. It‚Äôs a beautiful game, too beautiful really for voxels which impresses even those among us who are not usually constructionists. Or gatherers for that matter;¬†Landmark is all about the gathering and an admin mode¬†doesn‚Äôt seem likely. I was worried about this before but having sunk several hours into Landmark by now, I am with Liore that the game features by far the most satisfactory gathering experience of them all. Mining and chopping wood has an almost therapeutic,¬†calming¬†quality ‚Äď the motions and sound effects are great and the chunks and splinters come off seemingly at random as you dig down veins to see what gem might lie at the end.

lmsnow

Landmark, for now, is also making things considerably more easy for you than let’s say Minecraft, which features tool decay at pretty irritating speed before you reach higher tier tools and weapons. A single mine or tree in Landmark yields a respectable amount of materials which makes the process feel rewarding.¬†Besides that, Landmark¬†lets you create all the basic and necessary crafting stations for little effort; it may have taken me¬†four hours altogether once I understood where to find the required higher tier materials. It so happens that all you need to do is hop island.

For someone like me who is not into tedious gathering with steep progression nor into complex (aka grindy) crafting systems in MMOs, Landmark is exactly right. Unfortunately therein also lies mild apprehension because SOE still plan to overhaul crafting entirely until launch. Given how easy things are at the moment, I can’t imagine this going any other way than up towards more restriction and difficulty. Alas.

Remember the classes of EQN where you collect a whole bunch of them and you specialize? We’re going to be doing that kind of thing with crafting also.” So players who have learned specializations will be able to craft different and better things than players who haven’t. Additionally, players will have to work together to craft some really great things, as players will have different specializations. [Dave Georgeson]

So quo vadis, Landmark?

Two weeks ago SOE¬†revealed their¬†comprehensive¬†roadmap for Landmark‚Äôs future, inviting players to help¬†shape the development process of the game. MMO players rarely need such invitations ‚Äď the forums and other social media platforms are bursting with wishlists and suggestions for the future. The game feels very playable right now but it’s lacking more practical and intuitive building tools along with¬†many¬†announced features in the roadmap.

What nobody really can say at this point is in which ways Landmark will truly be more than a very pretty and atmospheric building sandbox with a few¬†social features. Even if the community is happy to visit and explore other claims at the moment, the game in itself isn‚Äôt particularly social yet, nor ‚Äėmassively multiplayer‚Äô. SOE have¬†seperated Landmark from Everquest¬†Next¬†with the recent name change but they are still essentially selling an MMO idea here, while presenting EQN as the traditional MMORPG with y’know, character development and group content and endgame. Or whatever developers mean nowadays when they distinguish between MMOs and MMORPGs –

So what will be the state of Landmark at launch? For now, the roadmap plans for the following major closed beta implementations: introducing dangers (damage and death), combat, quests (journal) and achievements, a guild system, the crafting overhaul and PvP along with various additions to the landscape (caves, water etc.). I must say, the addition of PvP strikes me as the most dramatic and somewhat curious of the bunch; what kind of motives could drive players to kill each other in Landmark I can hardly guess. Special loot or resources? Claim rights? A PvP-related currency?

I’m sure that Landmark is also going to feature an economy of sorts before launch along with the Player Studio, which for now is reserved for American players but will add more regions come May 2014. However given the complicated tax situation, I have no hopes that this feature will make it to my place anytime soon.

That seems about it, as long as SOE don‚Äôt have any more undocumented tricks up their sleeves until official launch. One might speculate¬†about the community’s longevity until that time – after all speculation is the province of the MMO blogger. Personally, I‚Äôm not¬†too worried about Landmark¬†but I still believe¬†longterm, it will have to¬†offer a lot¬†more than social platforms¬†and deeper crafting in order to¬†retain¬†a longterm player base. I look forward to see what else¬†SOE come up with. For now, I am quite happy to potter (pot-hole) around.

EQN Landmark First Impressions: Landrush Stress and Location, Location, Location!

Yesterday’s EQN Landmark kick-off was a bit of a mixed bag for me and I’m almost hesitant to write about it. As far as the invite, install and intro movie to closed beta were concerned, the staff at Sony under Dave Georgeson couldn’t have done a better job. What a quick and smooth experience, what contagious enthusiasm. If for no other reason, you must believe in Landmark because of the people behind it. What’s currently going on on forums and twitter in terms of community interaction and communication puts everything I’ve experienced in the past to shame. Can’t find the bloody thistle trees in this closed beta? Why, the Director of development is happy to draw you a picture! We should probably not get used to that.

I went for one of the two EU servers called “Satisfaction” mostly because “Understanding” struck me as an odd name and I’m not sure how wise it would be lagwise to go for an US server this stage of beta. That said, you can constantly switch islands or server to gather mats and visit friends around the globe.

Some brilliant building expos and screenshots aside, I haven’t really paid much attention to Landmark’s alpha and so I went into this whole experience the way I always do – like a closed beta player without starting information. It is rather hard to ignore all the guides spam on the internet right now or the sometimes not-so-optional words of advice by passionate alpha players. I understand Landmark has lit a special spark already but the idea of “this is our game, please tread lightly beta players” is a bit much (not to mention territorial) in places. I hate breaking it to any of the early players but Landmark is still going to change. A lot. And the community is bound to change too as more and more of that free-to-play audience are going to join and ask for all kinds of features.

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Anyway, landrush. That was pretty much most of my yesterday afternoon experience and I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. Missing Bel’s cool alpha composure, I eyed the rapidly shrinking landmass with hectic worry as I was scanning for claimable spots that would accommodate both myself and my best friend and Minecraft buddy Val. Navigating both our accounts since he couldn’t be there, I logged on and off the game trying to gather mats on two characters until at some point I realized “wait….same server, NOT the same map?!”. I didn’t manage to friend us by myself so essentially several hours of play went down the drain because it still required him to get online in the evening and join me on my instance….shard…..island.

That could’ve been the end of it until we realized that just because there were no claims around my area, that didn’t mean he could place one next to me because buffer zone. Which makes perfect sense and is likely to get a friend fix soon – still, imagine our frustration when there were no more free claims close to me after all.

Of course that’s the glorious beta experience. I can’t recall how often I’ve had the “what shard are you on, I can’t see you!”-conversation in past games, so by now it’s quite humorous. To be fair, Landmark’s friending and teleport-to-friend feature work perfectly fine already and so we decided on expanding and sharing my claim instead which has the most fabulous location – a criteria I was under pressure to fulfill.

Location, location, location

Every island in Landmark looks different and within the first few hours, you could already tell a majority of players are going for the same thing: mountain tops. I don’t blame them, I want a wide, nice vista as much as the next person in a game that I expect to spend a lot of time in . If we can’t afford that ocean-view condo in real life, or in my case the castle in the sky with thick fog around it, let us at least create our dreams in virtual reality. For now, Landmark is all about your personal home and neighborhood, so understandably the landrush puts strain on some individuals. I’ll admit I don’t like timers and first-come-first-served features in most games even if it can’t be helped in this case. If all fails, you can always build your own mountain.

My claim announced itself with a huge tree in the distance, somewhat off the busy spiral center and yet close enough to easily get there by foot. It’s a small peak between the snowy tundra and old forest biomes which for me is absolutely perfect. I love standing there and looking down into the valley or watching the moon rise. After all the afternoon gripes, it was saintly to just be there and listen to Jeremy Soule dousing the world in his magic.

That’s when I finally remembered why I was here.

mylm

Of course things aren’t gonna stay that way. Now is the time to build and bicker with my buddy because we can’t ever agree on the same style of building. I want a tree house, he wants an entire town in Fable / Harry Potter design. We’ll end up not pleasing either one of us and build another castle the way it happened in Minecraft before. That’s probably why I still feel reluctant about getting back to the game and why I’m not overflowing with ooooohs and aaaaaahs over the awesome building tools; this is my Minecraft experience all over.

Or maybe not. Maybe this time around I’ll manage to be cool and not give a toss about how our claim turns out. After all, Landmark comes with a great copy-paste feature so you can always dump and restart with ease. And else…..well, I can always join the circus like Bel and become a wandering minstrel, visiting other folk in Landmark and marveling at their homes while my own remains the road forever. Maybe I would like that.

(No really, am just gonna have my damn tree house. Sorry Val!)