Saturday, 25 July 2015

Set Adrift : EQ2

Returning to The Isle of Refuge has given me a timely reminder of one of my personal touchstones for life: the unreliability of memory.  These days it's reasonably widely known and even grudgingly accepted by the set of people who browse the "Smart Thinking" section in bookshops and watch TED lectures on their iPads that memory is in great part a fictionalized, narrative construct. Knowing that you don't know what you know doesn't always help you to know what you do know, though.

Trying to remember the past with any accuracy at all, even the past you experienced personally, directly and physically, is already next-to-impossible. When it comes to the return of the Isle, add another layer of diffusion for virtual experiences. And another for the post-hoc recreation of the intangible environment in which they took place. Oh, and another for an admittedly inaccurate and approximate recreation, at that. It's a wonder anybody can recognize the place at all.

I used to remember things clearly. Then I took an arrow in the head.

Many of the players stepping down from The Far Journey onto the dock at The Overlord's Outpost or The Queen's Colony haven't seen those wooden planks for a decade or so. In a way you might think I have the advantage of them there, in that I saw the EQ2 starting experience through a number of iterations, probably all of them, from beta in September 2004 to earlier this year.

It turns out that having a deeper, more nuanced relationship with the Isle of Refuge is far from an advantage when it comes to trying to remember what happened when. I can't even recall the basic structure of the starting experience with any accuracy. For example, as Wilhelm reminded me, there was always a shared bank on the island. I could have sworn it was added later but no, it was there from the start. In the very month the game launched people were even complaining it was an exploit.

Wait, do I know you?
As my ratonga SK slashed and clubbed his way to level eight last night I was repeatedly surprised. Sometimes it was wonderment at things that appeared to me to be completely new, like the named ranger and his two named hawks I couldn't recall ever seeing before (although the more I think about it the more I seem to remember camping him in a group once upon a time...) More often it was nagging memories, things turning out to be different from how I remembered them, or going missing altogether.

In the way these things do, recollections began to reassemble, pieces began to fall into place. A picture began to appear of how things might have been. But how closely does that picture represent reality? To establish that I'd have to do some research. Do I really have time for that?

Now That's What I Call An Upgrade Vol 1.
I didn't think so. For the while I believed I was content enough to let a fuzzy image of the past coalesce. It would be interesting, to me at least, to compare it one day to the recorded history, available from many sources but probably most coherently and comprehensively here at the EQ2 Wiki but do I want to do that when I could be playing?

Well, apparently so, because here I am on a Saturday morning, doing it.

My first thought was that my personal version of the Isle of Refuge, the one I've been carrying around in my head, must be a later version. I'd forgotten there were ever two islands, one for Good characters and one for Evil. The one I remember was a single island where two Ambassadors, one representing Freeport, one Qeynos, competed for your character's attention.

There was a sequence of quests to perform for each of them that gave you an idea of the philosophy and culture of the two competing city-states. When you had made your decision and wished to leave you would give your decision to one of the Ambassadors and he would authorize your passage.

Here's a Ring Event I'd forgotten all about.

According to a comment from 2008 on this EQ2Wire thread, however, that version was the original: "There is no more Isle of Refuge. Today there are two islands, the Queen's Colony (13 quests) and the Outpost of the Overlord (13 quests)" The two islands we have back on the TLE servers would seem to be a later refinement after all.

I'm so confused. I probably need to make a Good character and run through the Queen's Colony questline to see how much of what appears to be missing is in fact over there. Perhaps the original content was largely split into two and parceled out accordingly? There's one quest I was never able to complete that I'd like to finish some day. Oh, hang on...didn't I finally complete that one with Milo?

And with that it occurred to me to log Milo in and check the Completed Quest list in his journal. He's the King of the Isle, after all. He even bought his own Isle and set up home there, although he still hasn't decorated. But looking at his Journal really doesn't help much at all.

Milo was born on February 11 2005. I wanted some peace and quiet from the guild I was in at the time so I made a new character on a different server and played him for one session on a Sunday. In that session he completed several quests, most of which appear in the Isle Of Refuge category when the Journal is sorted by zone (the rest, including the start of the old Archetype Selection series, are recorded under Hallmark Quests).

He was woken up again March, then again almost a year later in February 2006, by which time the quests appear under a different zone, Outpost of the Overlord. Milo then took a very long nap, not re-appearing until 2012, when he completed the sequence and retired until his unexpected resurrection at the gates of Freeport in 2013. (This, by the by, is a very representative example of how I play many of my characters -  I may not log them in often but they are always "in play").

All of which would seem like conclusive evidence that the original IoR disappeared sometime between 2005-2006, if it wasn't for the fact that Milo's journal shows one quest in the Outpost zone record on the same day as it shows another in the Isle of Refuge! In the end I just gave up trying to make sense of it and looked at the wiki, where it's all explained neatly and succinctly thus:

"Originally, all new players started on the same island, Isle of Refuge, but depending on which city you chose to start in the Isle would appear differently. Later they made two distinct islands...The original starting quests remain in the completed section of the journal for players who completed them. Those quests which were moved to Queen's Colony or Outpost of the Overlord also moved journal sections, and are listed on those pages".

I swear this used to be a longer sequence, not just the one quest.
So I could have saved myself the bother all along and just googled it, but then what would I have learned? Just the bare facts. Nothing about how memory and perception of memory warps and flows, adapting itself to new information without reference to any objective verification, creating a whole skein of inaccurate, misleading supposed personal experiences that are as subjectively real as, well, anything we can know.

The version of The Isle of Refuge that remains most firmly embedded in my mind seems to be the true original, the one where all the refugees arrived together and were sent on varying quests according to their alignment. Although I must have played through the later, discrete versions more often and certainly more recently it's the original that pertains.

What that means, if it means anything, I couldn't say. Other than never trust your memory even if your absolutely certain it's right. It won't be. But I knew that already.

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