inspired by Chestnut, posted about starting over in MMOs, saying "I’m an altaholic but usually stick to one server in a given MMO". That made me think about just how much my own habits have changed over the years. Not, I suspect, always for the better, either.
When I started out in EverQuest one of the very first things I had to learn was what a server was and why I should care. Before the game would allow itself to be played it wanted me to pick a name from a very bizarre list.
Almost everything looked as like a scattering of random letters from a Scrabble bag - Xev, Xegony, Bertoxxolous... Maybe not so random, come to think of it. Someone was clearly fond of the letter "X". Maybe they were working on a high score...
There was a smattering of semi-coherent options - The Rathe, The Nameless - but even those seemed alienating. What was a "Rathe" anyway and why couldn't anyone come up with a name for "The Nameless"? In the end I went for one I thought I might be able to remember - Prexus. Another "X" now I come to think about it.
It soon transpired that I might as well just have flipped a coin because I didn't last very long at all on Prexus. I tried Brell Serillis and Test before two new servers, Luclin and Lanys T'Vyl, popped up on the same day as SOE attempted to accommodate EQ's ever-increasing population, something that would be repeated many more times over the next four or five years until the arrival of WoW shattered the paradigm, along with Smed's hopes and dreams of never-ending fortune and fame. Or not.
During that now almost unimaginable period of continual expansion I developed the habit of making new characters on every fresh server as it opened. On their opening days and mostly for a few weeks more I played on The Seventh Hammer, Antonius Bayle, Stromm, Maelin Starpyre, Tholuxe Paells, Mordern Rasp, Morrell Thule, Sullon Zek and probably a few more I've forgotten.
All of which meant that I took "starting over" as the norm for MMOs. How was I to know that it wasn't meant to be that way? Let's not forget that those were also the days when "twinking" was almost as dirty as it sounds, when people genuinely agonized over whether passing a Shiny Brass Shield from an old character to a new one meant they'd lost their moral compass.
When Mrs Bhagpuss and I moved, fairly briefly, to Dark Age of Camelot, an MMO with a tri-partite structure that forbade anyone to play characters of different Realms on the same server, what was the first thing we did? Made characters on three different servers so we could play them all, of course.
As the years rolled by and with them more and more MMOs, the pattern repeated itself over and over again. If a game chose to segment itself by race or alignment or region then I'd do my utmost to make sure I rolled and re-rolled until I'd seen it all. Well, all the starting areas, at least.
For the most part that meant more than just playing through the same levels a few more times with a different backdrop. It meant starting completely from scratch, without hand-me-downs or pre-acquired skills or a bank account groaning with gold.
The one thing that could always be ported was knowledge. Even with the best role-playing intentions it's hardly feasible to unlearn your understanding of how the UI works or where one zone lies in relation to another. Even so, in those days before Free to Play gave us all more worlds to play with than we could ever find time to explore, Starting Over allowed anyone to experience something of that New Game rush at will and at no extra cost.
Trends changed. Convenience took over. Exclusivity began to be seen as an impediment instead of a selling point. While many MMOs continued to pay lip services to RPG tropes like alignment and race it became commercially expedient to separate lore from practice.
Good guys and bad guys joined the same guilds, battled the same enemies, used the same banks. Player characters from races who'd been at war for millennia cheerfully traded magic items with each other while characters owned by the same account used shared facilities that meant they could help each other out even though, since they could never be online at the same time, they could never meet.
By the time we got to Guild Wars 2 the unit of participation had become The Account. Well, mostly. At the beginning there was still an inelegant melange of Character and Account Based play, something that persists to some degree even today in aspects such as Map Completion or Personal Story.
For the most part, though, every character is part of a team, whether they choose to be or not. All the myriad currencies go into a single wallet no matter who earned them and the achievements of one are the achievements of all.
There are no servers, or "Worlds", any more, other than for the competitive game mode of World vs World, which is in terminal decline, most likely to be replaced one day by a less archaic format. As far as PvE is concerned, we're all one big, happy family. Megaserver technology sees to that, as it or something much like it does in most MMOs these days.
Incremental change is insidious. The world alters around us and we barely notice. As I think about it now, though, I would hesitate to say it's all been change for the better.
Like Telwyn, if I step off the treadmill and begin afresh I find myself missing all the benefits that having established, integrated teams of characters brings. It makes it a lot harder to stick at it, when I begin in a new game or even on a new character. That feeling almost everyone must have, when they can't keep from noticing how much time they're spending doing things their other characters, whether in the same game or another, could do so much faster and more easily, it wears at my resolve.
And yet, when I start over, almost every time, I feel light, released, free. Everything that was old is new again. Life is simple on the up. All those dopamine hits the MMO leveling process was designed to provide come raining down just like they used to and it feels good.
That's the way I once played most of the time. Even when I had two level 60s, then two level 65s, when 60 then 65 was the cap, when my friends list bristled with names willing to go dungeoning at the drop of a tell, I spent time playing on other servers, among strangers, unknown and at the bottom of the curve.
I really don't do enough of that any more. Every time I do, mostly in unfamiliar games I'm trying on for size or on special purpose servers in MMOs I know, I find myself drawn in, pulled under, breaking the surface tension of the best-in-slot, meta, fractional upgrade path, sinking into the deep comfort that we call immersion.
You can forget what these games are for, sometimes. You float so long at the top of the tide you misremember all that lies beneath, the vast undertow, the waters that are never still. There's a lot more to MMOs than hitting cap and settling for the end game. I used to know that but I forgot, somehow.
It's never too late to start over. Let's go round again.
The Joy of Pugging
33 minutes ago