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‘EverQuest Next Landmark’ brings user-created content into an MMO world

Sony Online Entertainment knows a thing or two about encouraging players to engage with user-generated content. EverQuest‘s Player Studio, revealed back in late-2012, allows users of the aging MMO and its sequel to craft custom items that can then be sold in the game’s marketplace… for real money. Make a cool enough item that people want to buy, and you can generate actual income.

EverQuest Next Landmark is a logical step in the evolution of a maverick MMO that hooks players with the lure of a world that they can reshape however they wish using a robust set of tools. If you’re reading this and immediately think Minecraft, then you’re on the right track. The difference in Landmark, other than its reliance on the EverQuest series’ Norrath setting, is that you’re working in a space filled with more than just right angles. EverQuest Next Landmark’s aesthetics fall closer to a traditional video game fantasy world; a stark contrast to the blocky presentation of Mojang’s indie sensation.

Story/Concept

Build your own MMO. Don’t confuse EverQuest Next with EverQuest Next Landmark though. The former is SOE’s next official massively multiplayer role-playing game set in Norrath proper. Little has been revealed so far, but you can expect to find the usual trappings in Next that you’d spot in other MMOs. Landmark is focused entirely on user created content, from the objects and structures that dot the landscape to the actual stories you participate in.

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Our particular demo focused solely on the world creation features, but users will have access to AI, NPC, and scenario creation tools when Landmark is released. Not only will you be able to build a dungeon (or gigantic shoe filled with dungeon-like objects, if you prefer); you’ll also have the option of filling it with baddies and giving players a reason to go there. In place of a traditional story, you’ll have any number of player-created narratives to explore.

Help SOE help you. While a few debug features will be stripped out, players will be using virtually the same tools that the developers are using to build both EQ Next and EQ Next Landmark. The thinking here is simple: why put a gate in front of these tools when some of the most creative ideas have a tendency to bubble out of the mod community? There’s a system of resources in Landmark that players will have to abide by. In short, while you can’t build with a material that you don’t already possess, beyond that, there’s no limit on what you can create. All of these efforts will, in turn, inform SOE’s own work on building EQ Next proper.

Gameplay

Actions speak louder. Of the two content creation components in Landmark, basic Actions, visible in a hotbar-style spread at the bottom of the display, let you make the world of Everquest in your own image. All of the tools here should be familiar to anyone that uses computers, even on a semi-regular basis. The selection tool allows you to highlight bits of the environment for tweaking, complete with pull tabs in each corner of the selected space that allow you to change its size. You’re able to delete these sections, effectively carving an empty space out of solid matter in the world.

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The heal tool restores a destroyed bit of the world to its earlier state and a smooth tool rounds out sharp edges. You can also “paint” an area; say, if you want to turn rocky ground into a hardwood floor. Lastly, the line tool allows you to create angled bits of landscape by drawing a point between two locations at different levels of elevation. You can change the width of the line and the starting/ending points as well, which makes it easy to create a beveled surface.

All the pieces matter. Supporting the Actions bar is a Materials interface located on the left side of the display. This is where you go to spawn physical objects in the world that you can then mold and shape however you like. This could be anything from a cube of pure rock (or dirt or wood or whatever you have the materials to make) to physical objects like barrels, building materials, tapestries, and light sources. We know that you’ll need to gather materials out in the open world in order to build most of this stuff, but we’re not clear yet on how the economy actually works.

The act of placing whatever material you’ve chosen to spawn is simple, and should be second nature to PC users. You can place or move any object by clicking and dragging it with the mouse. Want to resize the object? Just use the mouse wheel. Everything in the Materials menu is categorized for easy navigation too. Want to browse through the selection of stone? How about wood? It’s a simple interface to navigate, with clear markings for each piece and sensible keyboard shortcuts – ctrl-C to copy, ctrl-X to cut, ctrl-V to paste, ctrl-Z to undo for duplicating objects and correcting mistakes. By the way, those keyboard shortcuts should be familiar to many PC owners, as they can be used in programs like Microsoft Office and other commonly used applications.

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Building for the future. While there’s a lot of freedom in EQ Next Landmark, players will have to submit to a few rules. In order to erect a structure in the world, you’ll need to place a claim on an unowned plot of land. Claims are roughly the size of a small castle, though you have considerably more space to build up into the sky and down below the ground than you do on actual land. You’re can  shove multiple claims up against one another, and you can also share one (or more) that you own among friends. While anyone can potentially traipse on your land, no one can use any of Landmark‘s building tools in an owned space unless they’ve been white-listed by the owner.

Claims will be sold via micro-transactions, but players will also have ways to earn more than the starting claim (everybody gets one) in-game. As with materials and building costs, the actual details here remain unclear. The dev team expects to sort much of this out before the beta starts in 2014, and the rest as more and more players jump in.

If there’s one thing that’s clear though, it’s that Landmark won’t be embracing a pay-to-win philosophy. You may be able to invest money rather than time on claims, materials, and the like, but the actual act of creation is left entirely in the hands of the player. There are also plans for a special zone where the most popular creators and most lavish spenders will be able to build freely, without any of the main game’s material constraints.

Presentation

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Move over Minecraft. While all of these bits and pieces sound similar to Minecraft, the look of EQ Next Landmark is a key differentiating factor. There’s nothing especially eyeball-searing about the game’s graphics. It’s being built to be scalable, and while you’ll need at least a dual-core CPU to handle the processing, the visual execution needs to be designed in such a way that it can cater to an array of PC builds. 

All that said, Landmark is a good-looking game. The expansive world goes heavy on the greens, browns, and greys, with many a rolling hill and towering mountain scattered across the landscape. Of course, the space isn’t exactly empty; it’s populated by player creations of every size and shape. You might see a low-lying castle, or a towering minaret… or a cobbled-together statue of a mech. Things get weird, in the same beautiful way that things get weird in Mojang’s game. Success here will hinge on the community stepping up to participate, but SOE doesn’t see an issue there, not with the robust communities that still exist around EverQuest and EverQuest II that are going on strong for 10 years.

Takeaway

While we’ve yet to see how any playable content will look in EQ Next Landmark, the world creation elements are powerful, extremely flexible, and simple to use. There’s a tremendous amount of promise here in SOE’s Norrath-inspired, player-created world. We’ll have a better sense when more of these tools are built and ready to play with, and of course the beta, set to launch in early 2014, will address a lot of those questions as well. Our first hands-on demo left us very encouraged for what is to come. Stay tuned for more when we hear it.