Saturday, May 17, 2014

Marking Time In Landmark

What with all the pre-launch frenzy for WildStar and the post-launch angst over TESO, no-one seems to have been paying much attention to Landmark. The stately, some might say funereal, pace of development must also take the blame for some of that loss of focus, of course. It's hard to make much of a song and dance about weekly updates that do little more than tweak the UI, fix bugs and add some props.

Nonetheless, there have been some significant changes of late. Most recently there's been a major revamp to the New Player Experience. As in: now there is one.

Previously, new players were largely left to fend for themselves. That seemed to work well enough for the mix of intrepid alpha-testers and obsessive builders who formed the initial cadre several months ago but that lack of direction, or indeed basic information, didn't sit so comfortably with the less informed and/or committed recipients of one-week closed beta keys.

Now we have a neat and rather elegant series of hints, tips and instructions that appear in series of well-designed pop-up windows. There's a general guide on Getting Started, a schematic outlining the tool progression system, a reference sheet for building commands and controls (several of which were new to me) and a really excellent visual guide to resource gathering.

It's a polite, unobtrusive alternative to a full-on tutorial that brings together a wide range of information that was previously scattered across many forum posts, placing it all where it needs to be - in the game. It's one of the best new player toolsets I've seen. I just hope they don't over-complicate it later on.

It's surprising how much this addition, along with numerous improvements to the UI such as remote access to both claim management and recipes and real-time resource tracking have done to make Landmark feel like a "game" rather than just a disparate set of tools. Quality of life aside, there's now the definite feeling of a framework being assembled upon which something resembling a recognizeable MMO could be built.

Don't get too excited, though. There's evidently still a very long way to go before we have anything that might catch and hold the attention of an averagely curious casual customer. Combat, for example, is still two months away, tentatively blueprinted for "July" but we did at least get to learn something about how it might look in a recent Round Table discussion between Affable Omeed Dariani (as I'm sure Stan Lee would have dubbed him had he worked for Merry Old Marvel back in the day) and Lead Systems Designer Michael Mann.

It's more than a little ironic that this is supposed to be an Everquest Next discussion and yet almost all of it relates directly to Landmark but, putting that aside, there's a lot of interesting detail. I couldn't help but notice that most of the examples seemed to be given an implicit PvP slant. PvP has been pushed right off the end of the four-month blueprint into the vague fog of "after August" but I'm still getting a very strong vibe that someone with significant authority in the Landmark team sees this as a PvP game first and foremost.

Back in the now, the first iteration of water arrived a couple of weeks ago, turning nominal "islands" into actual islands. Actual virtual islands... Whatever... At the moment you can walk on the water, albeit less like Jesus, more like Michael Flatley having a seizure, but the blueprint allows for swimming both above and below the surface. Whether there's any plan to connect the ocean segments so you can swim (or sail, should we ever get boats) from one island to another I don't know but if we could it would go a long way towards making the unnamed Landmark biosphere feel more world-like, something it definitely will need if it is going to offer itself out as a full-feature MMO.

The sea does look great though. It's a gorgeous Mediterraean blue and it swooshes about like someone swirling a bowlful of half-set jelly (look, I may like to use Americanisms and US spellings but I am not going so far as to type "jello" non-ironically, alright?). The big islands also now have a scattering of smaller islands around the coast, which make for very attractive claims. Some people have already relocated and I might well join them after The Wipe, when ever that comes.

Ah, yes. The Wipe. We always new it was coming and it's been something of  drag factor on commitment but until last week there was a safety-net that kept people plugging away at the big, time-consuming projects. The original FAQ made it clear that once we made it out of alpha we would keep all progress, items and resources through any wipe or wipes that might be necessary during beta. Moreover, we would keep everything other than the right to a specific claim location when we transitioned into Open Beta/Soft Launch.

In other words, any time or effort spent during closed beta would not be ephemeral. This was, in my opinion, a not-insignificant part of the offer for which money changed hands when the various Founder's Packs were purchased.

Here's the precise text, crossed through by SOE Customer Rep Drexella to indicate that it is no longer valid :

End of Closed Beta Wipe:

  • Timing: Occurs at the end of Closed Beta testing
  • Character: Your character and all progression will be retained
  • Claims: Your claim(s) will be wiped. All claims will be templated so that you have blueprints of what you built.
  • Resources and Collected Objects: All resources and collected objects will be retained.

All that is the past. The new FAQ reads

End of Closed Beta Wipe

  • Timing: Occurs at the end of Closed Beta testing (date TBA).
  • You retain everything purchased from SOE during Alpha and Closed Beta (Founder’s Pack and Showcase items), plus any templates you created during Alpha and Closed Beta. Everything else will be reset during the wipe.
This has generated a 48-page threadnaught on the Forums, a lot of anger and argument and many claims that Landmark is now a ghost town. It's certainly killed any desire I had to do more than mess around and even Mrs Bhagpuss has ceased to do much on her amazing tromp l'oeil project, although there may be other factors in that (cough *WvW Tourney* cough).

I logged in this week for the first time in a while, mostly to pay my rent so my Claim wouldn't vaporize like it already has, twice. The Island I'm on has never been busy but currently there are only about a dozen active claims, mostly clustered around the Spires in the center, and when I say "active" I really just mean "rent paid". Whether anyone's still building is hard to tell but there's certainly no sign of any of the spectacular constructions so loved by the PR department.

That's just one island, though. I took some time to hop around using the Gallery system, currently showing 141 pages of visitable claims, albeit many of them by the same people, and the "ghost town" theory seems a tad overblown. Several islands were showing "Medium" load and active claims on those looked pretty densely packed. The sky may not be falling after all.

That's roughly how things stand at the moment. I'm probably going to keep my powder dry until Combat arrives in July, just logging in once or twice a week to check out updates and pay my rent. It's been and continues to be an interesting experience but whether I'd repeat it  by joining another MMO at such a very early stage I'm not sure. I'm definitely going to hold off until Open Beta for ArcheAge.


  1. If you want to use an Americanism for "jelly", you can call it "gelatin". Jell-o is the trademark for their brand of flavored gelatin products. They even call it "Jell-o brand gelatin" in those silly old U.S. commercials.

    1. Heh! Gelatin always makes me think of that clear gel you get in pork pies for some reason. I kind of thought jello (wihtout the hyphen) had become a generic like biro and hoover. What do you call non Jell-o brand jelly then? I can't imagine it's just plain "gelatin". Or isn't there any?

    2. Many people use "jello" as a generic term, like kleenex or hoover. But, Jell-o is still very particular about guarding its trademark. They sued the band "Green Jellö" which promptly changed its named to "Green Jellÿ" (pronounced the same as the original). (Careful looking for those videos, some are cheesy, others are not safe for work. But, I liked them back in the day. :)

      Gelatin was traditionally made from animal skin and tendons, particularly from pork, so the gelatin in your pork pies is probably gelatin. Gelatin in Jell-o is mostly from pig skins, IIRC. You can also get unflavored gelatin to add to recipes; I'm most familiar with the brand "Knox". It's usually added as a thickener to recipes.

      But, gelatin is the usual generic term for it here in the U.S. You can specified "flavored gelatin" if you want it distinguish it from unflavored stuff, or the gel in your pork pies. :)

      "Jelly" is almost exclusively used to refer to fruit spread for breakfast breads in the U.S. So, it's a bit odd to hear it used to reference gelatin given that you stick fairly close to American terms and spelling in your blog. :)

  2. I'm not sure about the PvP aspect of Landmark. I would think that SOE would concentrate on the PvE since it will bring in more money. Then again, considering how many SOE employees play or have played EVE Online (including Smed, who I heard at Fanfest is still involved in a big null sec alliance), it is a possiblity.

    1. I think most people are shaking their heads in either disbelief or confusion over PvP in Landmark but the devs will keep harping on about it so I can only assume it's a significant part of their plans at least at this stage. How practical or well-received it will turn out to be very much remains to be seen.


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