Saturday, February 29, 2020

My Future And My Past Are Presently Disarranged

As Wilhelm explained yesterday, the Overseer system introduced to EverQuest II with the Blood of Luclin expansion is coming to EverQuest as part of the elder game's twenty-first anniversary celebrations. Holly "Windstalker" Longdale's Producer's Letter describes the new feature as "a passion project".

Really? I mean, I'm quite a fan of the Overseer mechanic but a passion project? When it comes to the EverQuest franchise that's a phrase I associate with the kind of half-baked, hand-waving, hit-it-and-hope mentality of the Smed/Smokejumper years. It's the sort of thinking that brought us EQEmote and, god save us, EQNext.

The Overseer system isn't anything like those "passion projects" at all. For one thing it works. Sure, it had a few teething problems but so do most new systems when they're first introduced. It's working beautifully now.

Unlike most of the innovations of SOE's later, dark years it's also useful. Arguably too useful. I've seen Overseer Missions compared, not always unfavorably, to World of Warcraft's Garrisons, a system that had its detractors but which seemed to be fairly well-used and accepted by the majority of players during its window of activity.

Never having used Garrisons myself, my only knowledge of them comes from what I've read in blog posts. I was under the impression it was a great way to make money but I'm uncertain whether it was a direct source of gear and upgrades, let alone a primary source.

The Overseer system is very much that. Almost all of my best gear has come from the ten hour Missions. So have all of my upscale crafting books, from which I've been able to make Expert spells and combat arts, top quality adornments and a good deal of money.

This is where I start to look slightly askance at the new feature. As a casual, solo player it has a very definite, positive impact on my characters' upgrade paths but it also takes them out of the normal progression loop almost entirely. I have, quite literally, not adventured with any of my max level characters for weeks, even though I play EQII for several hours every day.

Indeed, as I mentioned recently, EQII has now drifted so far from being an adventure-driven experience for me I've had to go looking for another MMORPG to scratch that itch. My typical gaming day during the working week now runs something like this:
  1. Get up
  2. Log into EQII on my Berserker
  3. Collect any completed Missions
  4. Set new missions
  5. Pick up and complete the Zone Gathering Mission in The Blinding
  6. Use my Shadow Staff to gather Shadow Materials
  7. Log in my Necromancer, repeat Steps 3 and 4 until I have no Missions left
  8. Log out, have breakfast, go to work.
  9. Get home, log into EQII, repeat Step 3, 5 and 6.
  10. Log out
  11. Log into Guild Wars 2
  12. Complete Dailies on two accounts
  13. Log out
  14. Log into Neverwinter and actually play a damn game for an hour or two!
The recent update to the Overseer system means we can now choose whichever Missions we want from all those we've collected. They are now also color-coded by quality. That means, inevitably, doing all the available purple ten hour missions every time they're off cooldown, then all the three hour yellow ones, followed by as many one and two hour blues as it takes to hit the daily cap of ten.

As my stable of Missionaries... er, sorry, Agents... grows and the range and mix of traits widens and deepens, the choice of who to send where becomes a little more complicated. There's also the issue of varying cooldowns to consider. I wouldn't call it difficult, not by any means, but it is time-consuming and, while I enjoy it, I would be very wary of doubling up on a whole new set of Missions and match-making in a second EQ game.

Fortunately, Darkpaw seem to be helping me out there with their determination to set 85 as the entrance level for new and returning players. When the Overseer system comes to EverQuest it will require a Level 85 character to initiate and use it. If you don't have one they'll give you one for free.

Sounds good, doesn't it? A free Heroic character. I'll take one. Why not?

Only, remind me again, what's the level cap in EQ these days? Oh yes, that's right - a hundred and fifteen! Having a Level 85 in EQ is about like having a Level 40 in WoW Classic. You might, charitably, think of it as half-way.

Probably not quite that far, to be realistic. With a Mercenary, the first sixty or seventy levels in EverQuest can be something of a romp these days. It starts to slow down somewhere around the mid-70s and by the time you hit that level 85 benchmark the brakes are most definitely on. Maybe that's why they picked it. Can't have people joyriding over the hard miles or those all-important dues won't have been paid when you hit the finishing tape.

Yes, well, maybe. Or perhaps, as I'm beginning to suspect, it would take more resources to produce a complete set of new, free Level 100 or 105 gear and associated kit for all classes than Darkpaw has to spare. It might not be a lack of will so much as a lack of ability that keeps the Heroic needle pegged at 85.

Which brings us back to the Overseer system and why it might be a a "passion project" for the team. I wonder if that passion might be for a much simpler, faster process to bring new content into the game.

It has to be faster to write and code an Overseer Mission than a quest line, doesn't it? Maybe orders of magnitude quicker. Once the kinks and wrinkles have been hammered out of the underlying systems, which seems to have happened now, adding new Missions and agents and rewards has to be on a par with the Collection system, or so it would appear from the outside.

Collects are the one thing SOE/DBG/DP have always been able to add to every new holiday, each year, all year round. When there seem to be no resources for a new quest there's always time for a new Collection. And people like them, too.

And another thing, while I have my tin foil helmet fetchingly tipped at a rakish angle. Doesn't the Overseer system look absolutely perfect for a mobile app? Wouldn't it be great if I could do Steps 2, 3 and 4 (above) on the commute into work, in my lunch hour, on the way home?

The future is Mobile, as we all know. You do all have mobile phones, right? (Or cell phones, if anyone still calls them that).

SOE made a Mobile App for EQ once. It was so long ago mobile gaming wasn't even a thing. It was useful, too. I could log into it at work and talk to Mrs Bhagpuss in game at home. Then Smed lost interest in it because he seems to have the attention span of a sugared-up five year old. It broke and they never fixed it.

I trust Darkpaw not to do that. Over the last few years they've convinced me they can manage the game better than late SOE ever could. If only they could manage the expectations of their entrenched, entitled customerbase they'd be flying.

Unfortunately, I would expect any announcement of a mobile app to go down about as well with the faithful as Blizzard's hyping of Diablo: Immortal at Blizzcon 2018, at least with the EQII faithful. Strangely, the demographic that plays the older version of Norrath seems more amenable to modernity than their supposedly younger siblings. The EQ crowd might just wear it, so long as they can see something in it for them. They're more pragmatic.

All of which makes the introduction of the Overseer system to EverQuest something I'll be watching with interest. Holly Longdale hints at big plans for the future now she has her hands firmly on the controls of both iterations of Norrath and this could be a straw to tell us which way the wind might blow.

So I'll make my free Heroic 85 and play around with the new toy for a while. I very, very much doubt it will bring me back to EverQuest for any meaningful amount of time, not least because I seriously do not want to add another three or four steps of not actually playing another game to that daily routine.

Y'know, a mobile app really would help with that.


  1. The thing with mobile companion apps to MMOs is that it doesn't seem to work as well as people seem to expect it to. Neverwinter launched with a mobile portal and then shut it down three years later. RIFT's companion app lasted about a similar amount of time. And even WoW, which still has one, has taken out some features over time and the app download page on the Play Store has a lot of complaints about it being buggy and not well maintained. It doesn't seem to be good value for money from a developer's point of view.

    1. That's interesting to hear because it was exactly what happened to the EQ/EQ2 mobile app. It worked very well at first then it deteriorated until eventually it didn't work at all. I'd always assumed it was because the developers lost interest in it (which is what happened to all too many of SOE's clever little side projects) but maybe it's an inherant problem with trying to keep different technologies in sync.

      Even so, you'd hardly think it would be beyond the technical competence of professionals at this level. I'd bet your final comment is the key - these apps don't make money so resources are diverted and then stop altogether and the apps simply decay past the point of usefulness. I actually had a couple of sentences about monetization in the post but I took them out in the edit - I think the key lies in finding a solid monetization scheme for a mobile app. That's something I can't easily imagine happening for the Overseer system.

    2. Entropy is the enemy of features. As we have all seen over the years, a new feature gets put in, it works for a while, then the game changes, a new expansion comes along, and things start to degrade. Nothing in a live game like an MMORPG is "code and forget." All features need maintenance over time, and the more features you add the more time your staff spends tending them... or not tending to them, so they fall out of sync, cease to be useful, or just stop working.

      This is why it always gets up my nose when some MMO columnist go on and on about how game X would be great if it only had these dozen additional features. We all want everything, but I've worked on the other side of the code and I know how many updates and patches and changes it takes to keep an otherwise unchanging feature stable and viable.

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