As it happens, though, this post is at a tangent to the main argument. It's more a thank-you to Wilhelm and his commenteers for nudging me, at last, to do something I've wanted to do for years. Something I've started to do several times only to lose my nerve and back away. Something that, if it hadn't been for Wilhelm's post and the comment it received from someone called "Great Sword", I might never have gotten around to doing.
Here's Great Sword's comment in full:
Interesting to see news regarding EQ. I recently discovered something very relevant to this post — Project 2002. They are similar to P99 and host their files in an easy download ( all files no searching), right to the PoP expansion. It’s a wonderful server, a lot like returning to EQ after you left back in 2004…There is a strict no 3rd party software and a manual 3 box limit with a focus on grouping.
I had very vaguely heard of P2002 somewhere, somewhen, but for whatever reason I'd never investigated further. I am, of course, hugely more familiar with P99, the quasi-legal archival enterprise, sanctioned by John Smedley before his fall from power. As Wilhelm points out, though, even with the legal issues pushed into the background, P99 requires a retail box purchase of the EQ Titanium compilation, currently retailing for $140 and up on Amazon. That presents a very high bar.
Also, I am not particularly keen to revisit the original, 1999, version of EverQuest. I played it and I loved it at the time but I'm one of the least bitter of veterans. To my eyes, EQ has improved continually and markedly throughout its lengthy lifespan. Even if I could go home I'm not sure I'd want to.
|The mysterious "pile" - it's still there...|
If I did have an EQ time machine I don't think I'd set it for 1999 anyway. We all have our favorite periods or time-spans within the MMOs we favor but I look back with enormous fondness on several epochs of EQ. Early Velious was magical and I absolutely adored the Luclin era. The reign of Lost Dungeons of Norrath was one of the most intense and involving six months I ever spent in any MMO. I could even make a case on behalf of Depths of Darkhollow, The Serpent's Spine or Secrets of Faydwer.
Truth is, I love EQ in all its forms and faces. I don't feel a sense of loss or betrayal when I look at what the game has become - just a deep satisfaction that I've been lucky enough to be there all along to see it change.
With one exception. Freeport.
What SOE did to Freeport, one of the most emblematic of all MMO cities, was a crime. Specifically, it was vandalism. They tore down a work of art and a piece of history and replaced it with an ugly, confusing mess. Everyone hated it. Everyone avoided it. Now everyone ignores it.
|One big difference - I can read the signs. In 2002 on a 14" CRT monitor this was just a blur.|
So, I'd long had it in mind to visit Project 1999 purely to see Freeport again. The real Freeport. I looked into the possibilities a few times but the cost of that genuine copy of Titanium was always too high and the alternatives looked too shady. And other than seeing Freeport not much appealed. 1999 was setting the dial just that bit too far back.
I googled it. It did indeed appear to be just as easy and straightforward as Great Sword claimed. This morning I made an account, downloaded and installed the files and guess what? It was.
Seriously, the entire process was easier than installing and patching many commercial MMOs. It took about half an hour including all the downloads. Other than some fiddling with screen resolutions when I logged in the entire process was just about automatic.
|Whose sweat? Not Lucan's, that;s for sure.|
So, there I was at character creation. I made a human ranger only to be reminded rangers can't start in Freeport. Yes, it's been a long time...
My second attempt was a human Paladin following Mithaniel Marr. There was a brief FFS! moment when "You are entering The Mines of Gloomingdeep" flashed across the screen but when loading completed (very much more quickly than it ever did back in the actual 2002) there I was outside the Cleric Guild - in Freeport!
What followed was both a huge nostalgia trip, an emotional welcome home and a reminder of just how very, very unforgiving EverQuest can be for a newcomer. Starting out in Freeport there's a total absence of any suggestions on what to do or where to go. If this is a theme park it's one with all the rides powered down. No wonder they created Gloomingdeep.
It's not only that all - and I mean all - of the expected lifelines are entirely absent - no feathered quest-givers, no sparkly trails, no encouraging voice-overs... It's not even that the designers seem content just abandoning you to your own resources. It does sometimes appear they've set out, willfully, to confound and confuse you.
|There's something not quite right here...|
Why, for example, does a new Paladin appear outside the Temple of Marr? The one and only starter quest that Paladin gets requires she present herself to her guild leader - who isn't in the Temple of Marr. He is, unsurprisingly yet now obscurely, in the Halls of Truth, an entirely separate building, across the river.
As a new Paladin you have no idea of any of this until and unless you decide to open your inventory. Assuming you know how to do that. When you do, you'll find a very bad sword, some food and drink and a candle because back in 1999, although not in 2002, it really did get that dark in Norrath.
There's also something that looks like a small, beige washcloth, which is in fact a note introducing you to your Guild Leader. That's your NPC guild leader, not a player, who might actually care enough to explain this stuff to you. At this point, far from having a guild or friends or possibly any fun, you need to intuit that a) this washcloth is some kind of a note and b) that you read a note by right-clicking it with your mouse. Good luck with that.
|Nope, still not getting it...|
Well I've done all this a hundred times so of course I just sailed through it. Not.
I did remember you need to speak to your guild leader but I forgot all about the note so I barged straight through the first door I saw - the one I spawned right next to - and spent ten minutes (literally) running up and down the stairs of the wrong guild house fruitlessly "hailing" everyone I saw. I won't even go into how you're supposed to know how to "hail"an NPC. Or what "hailing" is.
Eventually it came back to me about the note. I opened my pack, found, clicked and read it. I'd love to say I struck my forehead and said "D'oh!" and ran straight to the Paladin guild but what I actually did was run straight back into Temple of Marr yet again - still not noticing it was the Cleric Guild - for another, equally fruitless, round of stair-climbing and hailing.
So, to cut a long and increasingly frustrating story short, I did finally read the note again, more carefully. Taking in what it said, at last, I went looking for the Halls of Truth, which turned out to be pretty much across the street and round the corner.
Even once I was in the right building it took me another five minutes to find the right NPC because of course he's not in the main hall or near the entrance or anywhere remotely obvious that you might expect to find your first responder quest guy. No, he's out on a terrace at the back of the guild, moodily staring at a pond.
I got my shirt, which is what your Guild Leader gives you on your first day in Norrath, indeed all he gives you, and put it on. Along the way I'd somehow acquired another note from some Knight or other which he wanted me to take to someone at his home in The Commonlands. Seriously, that's all the direction I had. That's like giving someone a letter to deliver and addressing it "Jim, Jim's House, Nebraska".
Mention of The Commonlands did remind me of another very odd design decision taken by the original EQ team. The Paladin and Cleric guilds are both in North Freeport but there is nothing a level 1 Paladin either can or indeed should kill in the entire zone. The nearest practical place to begin using that really crappy sword is the brief strip of desert outside the gates of either East or West Freeport. Nothing tells you this and in a game based almost entirely on killing things that seems like an oversight.
|Now this guy lives where, exactly? Oh never mind, how dangerous can it be?|
If there's ever been an MMO where the question "where do I go to level up?" represents a genuine cry for help rather an indication of severe lack of imagination, EverQuest is that game. You could so easily spend that famous first thirty minutes in which new players decide they've made a terrible mistake and wonder what the refund policy is, just running around North Freeport (or North Qeynos for that matter). You'd never see one rat let alone kill ten. Which no-one is asking you to do anyway. If only!
Goes without saying I had a wonderful time. I visited all the old haunts - the Theater, the gallows, the marketplace, the bank... I took screenshot after screenshot and just rolled in that good old Freeport dust, at least until the thunder started and the badly-animated rain came down in lines.
I killed a decaying skeleton for his rusty halberd, so slow but so much more satisfying than my stupid rubber sword. Then I killed an orc pawn to see if he had any armor, which he did, only it was the wrong size. I'd forgotten armor comes in both different materials (cloth, chain, leather, plate) and sizes (small, medium, large).
|Gimme yer pants!|
It took me an hour to get to Level 2 although a lot of that was exploring. It was still a lot faster than it would have been back in the day. Project 2002 has a 20% xp bonus for a start. It's not the genuine 2002-2004 experience because, guess what? Time travel doesn't exist!
All the same, P2002 might be the closest you're going to get to that lost past and it looks like the easiest way to get there, too. Nevertheless, I won't be settling down and leveling up there. I'll keep paying my All Access sub to DBG and when I want my EQ fix I'll find it on the official servers, most likely trying to edge my Magician closer to three figures. Still, I'm very glad someone's taking the trouble to preserve at least one version of the "Golden Age" and I'm also glad I took the trouble to open that door to the "past", at last.
Even if you can't really go back in time, you can go back to the real Freeport. I recommend it.