Monday, January 29, 2018

Known Unknowns : EverQuest

This morning, purely by chance, I happened upon a surprising resource for EverQuest that was entirely new to me. It happened as I was replying to a comment by Shintar on yesterday's post.

I was googling exactly when the Mines of Gloomingdeep tutorial was introduced to EQ. I didn't get the answer I wanted but one of the results pointed me to a website called Almar's Guides.

Now, I admit at this point that it's entirely possible I've mentioned Almar and his guides before. My memory isn't what it was and it was never all that to begin with. I do seem to have some very vague recollection of posting some list of EQ resources but if I did I can't find it. I'm probably thinking of EQ2.

Regardless, it's an astonishingly detailed and useful collection of pages, full of very helpful information, clearly laid out and very well explained. If I mentioned it before I don't apologize for mentioning it again. It includes exceptionally detailed guides on how and where to level dependent on which expansions you have, whether you play solo, on regular or progression servers, with a mercenary or if, as so many do, you multibox.

I dipped into the multiboxing guides, which are extensive and somewhat daunting. Like most EQ players I have at one time or another at least dabbled with playing several characters at once. The complexity of the process has always put me off taking it up as a serious playstyle but if I was ever going to try I'd begin here.

As I browsed Almar's site I was scarcely able to believe that such a well-maintained and current resource could exist for a game fast approaching its nineteenth anniversary. The dedication and enterprise of players like Almar and Yeebo, who recently put up an excellent suite of guides for the almost equally ancient Dark Age of Camelot, deserves the highest praise and respect.

This is a cutaway of the center of my screen in EQ2. The four long hotbars are all in-combat abilities. I use most of them on cooldown in every fight that lasts long enough. To each side are ones I use more rarely along with some auto-populated stuff I haven't removed yet and the Ascended abilities that have very long cooldowns. If I included the full screen it would show three more hotbars for a grand total of ten, which is the maximum allowed. If I could have more I would!

It also inspires another kind of awe. Reading Almar I was struck once again by how ferociously complex and intimidating MMORPGs can be. Those of us who play them regularly and have done for a while hardly have any sense of the vast ocean of mystery that lies below the surface of almost every MMO.

For example, consider the making of Macros in EverQuest. I've know how to do this since somewhere around the turn of the century and I do use a few when I play but it's clear from reading this guide that I have barely begun to scratch the surface of what they can do. Most MMOs have systems and subsystems that are capable of radically restructuring the entire experience and yet how many of us understand them, let alone use them to the fullest?

It's not just the complex machinery under the hood that goes unremarked. Even simple, surface staples of gameplay like spell rotations or the efficient use of consumables go largely unreported. We all write and talk at considerable length about so many aspects of the virtual worlds we inhabit, from the way our characters look to the inconsistencies in the lore that lies behind the narratives they follow, but we rarely discuss in any detail the straightforward mechanics of how we go about playing the "game".

Indeed, as I can attest from just the few entries on Almar's site that I scanned, and as has come up many times in conversation on this and other blogs only in the last few weeks and months, there are often very basic elements that simply pass us by, either ignored or unnoticed. How often does the supposed difficulty, awkwardness or poor design of an MMO mask an unwillingness on the part of the player to engage fully with the mechanics required to make that "difficulty" go away? Do we even take the trouble to find out that such mechanics exist, let alone practice and master them?

Given that few of us are slow in pointing out the problems when they arise, it's all the more surprising that we discuss the fine details of the solutions so rarely. Perhaps, in a fashion, we feel that to do so would detract from the necessary illusion many of us try to maintain; that we live in another world which is, in some sense, true. There's a trick we have perfected of seeing one thing while doing another. No-one wants to draw too much attention the props and wires that make the trick work.

The deceptively simple center screen as seen by my Elementalist in GW2. Compared to EQ or EQ2 there's far less clutter but as the pop-up tool-tip shows there's plenty going on behind the scenes. GW2 relies much more than other MMOs I play on invisible synergies that have to be committed to memory. Or blind luck. Guess which I rely on.

At a meta-level, it's fine to lay out tactics and strategies. Many of us love to examine the greater structures, to elaborate on the design and approach that each game developer takes in making a world. All of that is fair game, along with any number of treatises on the interface between art and commerce.

It's a lot rarer to see posts that elaborate on the fine detail. How, exactly, we control the movement and action of our characters. What marks the precise outline of their capacity to interact with their environment. There aren't a great many people posting instructions on exactly which button to press when. Certainly I'm not about to start doing it.

Perhaps to do so seems to risk breaking the thin bubble that holds back reality. Or maybe it's just not as exciting to write about that when we could be gushing over what our characters are wearing or speculating about the latest industry blow-up.

The information is out there if we search for it. It's the preserve of analytical websites like Icy Veins or MetaBattle, places where all that matters is the "what" and the "how". To step through such a portal is to admit that what happens when we play is at the same time both far more complex and much more codified than we may care to admit.

All of which is just a way of admitting how little I still know. Mostly I think it doesn't matter but how can I be sure? I float along on my little island, enjoying the scenery but sometimes I catch a glimpse of the vast iceberg stretching away beneath me and I get a shiver down my spine.

Finding Almar's Guides gave me the chills.


  1. Ah, I could spend quite a bit of time following those links... and I probably will later. With sites like that, rich in old information, I always go to the Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive to see if they are being backed up there. If not, I try to get them on the list.

    1. I spent quite a while reading the leveling guides and I even logged my level 92 Magician in to use some of the suggestions...until I realized how long it would take her to get to the zone and set up. Lots of good info there on where to set up camp, what's good to solo, which nameds path by and so on. I'll come back to it when I have time for a decent session. He's also still updating the guide, which is the most surprising thing about it.

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  3. Great post (and thanks for the bump!). I think that the absurd depth is part of what draws me into MMOs. Especially in one that's been around for a while, it seems like there is always something new to figure out. This is the first time I've heard of Almar's guides. I think my record in EQ is around level 22, and I never figured out the crafting at all. Just reading these guides has me tempted to give it another go.


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