Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Change My Gamma : EverQuest

A lot of unexpected things have happened this year. Finding myself playing EverQuest again is one of them.

I really thought I was done with the old game. It wasn't that I'd never play it again but that I'd never play it seriously, again.

By "seriously" I don't, of course, mean grouping up for dungeons or anything silly like that. When was the last time I grouped for xp in EQ, I wonder? Over a decade, ago for sure. Maybe a decade and a half.

No, what I mean is focusing on a character, levelling up, finding better gear, going to new zones, upgrading spells, researching which focus items I should be using, learning new mechanics and systems. The kind of regular soloing I've been doing, on and off, now and then, for years. I really thought I was done with all that.

I've written enough about the Overseer feature Darkpaw added back in March. I won't go over it again, save to say that without it I definitely wouldn't be playing EverQuest, either "seriously" or frivolously. I don't think I'd logged in for the best part of a year before curiosity about how EQ's version compared to EverQuest II's tempted me to take a look.

Can we get a spot on this guy?
Overseeing turned out to be both entertaining and practical. It's great to see my highest character positively zipping through the levels, if a level every couple of weeks can be called zippy. I still wasn't doing anything you could really call "playing", though. Just standing around the Guild Lobby, setting quests from the UI and collecting the rewards.

Around level 97 I went shopping for spells. By late June I had a level 100 character and I'd never used any of them. It occured to me that I was going to end up buying a lot of spells I'd never use if I carried on that way.

I started browsing the Bazaar, thinking about getting some better gear but gear costs a lot more to buy than spells. You really don't want to buy it and never use it. I thought maybe I'd see how I got on with what I had, first.

By early July I was out hunting. It was going well. I spent quite a lot of money making bags so I could carry all that fat vendor loot. It was starting to feel like old times, only maybe better.

Cogs for cash.
Not having to rely on mob xp to level makes a huge difference to how much fun going hunting feels. Soloing into three figures, at least the way I do it, remains painfully slow. I can make a reliable eight or ten per cent of a level in a matter of minutes just doing Overseer quests whereas I can kill or quest for hours and barely move the needle. The standard EQ UI now displays xp to three decimal places. It has to or you'd think it was broken.

With Overseer questing making light of the heavy lifting when it comes to xp, soloing is fun again. When I take the mage out to hunt my main aim is to make money and I always loved making bank in Norrath.

Unlike EQII, which has had Weimar republic levels of inflation for years, EverQuest still seems to retain a rational relationship between in-game income and expenditure. There are plenty of upgrades for my level on sale in the Bazaar, priced in the thousands or low tens of thousands. In EQII you'd need to add several zeroes to that.

"Tens of thousands" still sounds like a lot for one piece of armor, fifteen levels below the cap, but I can net ten thousand plat in an hour just by killing mobs and selling the drops to vendors. I know several very lucrative spots no-one else seems to be using these days. With the mobs now conning green, shading to grey, I can pull  whole rooms and AE everything down at negligible risk. Every pull brings in hundreds of platinum in gems and vendor loot.

Did you remember to bring the torch?
Add to that the numerous tradeskill materials that sell to players though the Barter system and money just rolls in. And modern EverQuest has what I'd consider to be almost ironically state-of-the-art mechanics for looting and selling.

Clear a room and all the drops on all the kills appear in a window with multiple options to take or leave. Tradeskill items self-sort into separate bags. Open the Barter window anywhere in game and you can check who's buying what you have, then sell it to them and get paid instantly, emptying your bags and filling your wallet right there at your hunting spot.

If you pick a place to hunt where most things you're going to sell to vendors stack, you can pretty much kill indefinitely without ever running out of space. It makes the whole thing feel quite zen. If mass slaughter can ever be considered meditative, that is.

As I play more I gain confidence. Today I moved on from hunting in zones I'd almost completely outlevelled to ones that are still a tad low but which give marginally decent xp. The hot zone for level 90, Fear Itself, which I wrote about a little last week, is just about right for stress-free soloing at my current level of 103.

The main problem I was having there was the gloom. It was so dark I literally couldn't see where I was going. If the mobs didn't have their names in lights above their heads I wouldn't have been able to see them either, which would have made wandering around in pitch darkness tantamount to suicide.

I should probably look at all these settings one day.
Fortunately I finally remembered what we used to do to fix visibility issues in very dark zones in EQ. Ramp the gamma as high as it would go.

It's been a very long time since I changed the gamma setting in any game. I imagine most modern MMORPGs don't even have one. EQ still does, even if it took me a while to find it, hidden behind an "Advanced" button in the Display tab in Options. Once I'd found and fiddled with it the difference was like night and day. Literally.

True, everything looks washed-out now. Granted, the whole "Fear Itself" thing is considerably less terrifying with all the lights on. But I can see where I'm going and what I'm about to bump into, which is a lot more important. It's not like I'm playing EverQuest for the graphics, after all...

I've already started researching where to go next. The final set of Hot Zones (the system finishes at level 95) will take me into 2011's Veil of Alaris expansion. That's going to be completely new to me. I should think I'd be ready to give it a try when I hit 105. Ten levels seems to be a fairly reliable margin although twelve is probably safer, when trying to learn a new zone solo.

When you start reading this stuff up and making plans it means you're invested in the game, at least for the moment. I really never expected that to happen again with EQ.

Of course, it may not last past the weekend. I kind of hope it does, though.


  1. The war in EVE Online has been occupying me, so I have fallen off the Overseer wagon for now.

    I remember back in the day discovering the gamma slider when lost in some very dark corner of West Karana in the middle of the night. Suddenly I could see stuff again. I get the immersive aspect of darkness, but I also don't want to spend half the game day unable to see. (Or have to give up my shield for a giant wisp orb or whatever the half decent light used to be.)

    1. I have a whole post brewing about nighttime and dark zones in MMORPGs. I started it but it just ended up being a lot of whining so I've shelved it for now. I like the idea of authentic night-time lighting in theory but in practice it almost always just makes playing the game not much fun. I prefer games that use a change of color palette to indicate night or gloom or shade rather than reducing the actual light levels and visibility. When it comes down to it, these are games, not simulations and it's hard to play a game when you can't see the playing field or the other team.

  2. It is kind of crazy that EQ has pretty much the best inventory management system on the market. Random loot is a pleasure to deal with there compared to most MMOs. There are a lot of things that are clunky about EQ, but also some things it does really well that no-one else has emulated for some reason. The menu system for spells is great, and being limited to a loadout of 8 or 10 (been a while I'm spacing) works out really well. Instead of 100 buttons, most of which you never use, you have to decide on a loadout for what you are doing. At the same time, it's enough buttons to not feel really limited like the 5 abilities you get to slot in ESO. It sounds like the overseer system is a winner too.

    1. EverQuest gets most of its publicity these days for the way it manages (or mismanages) its nostalgia-driven heritage but there are a lot more "Live" servers running the current version of the game than there are TLE or Progression servers. What's more, I keep a fairly close eye on the Server Status page and even outside of US Primetime (which I never see, due to being asleep) almost all the Live servers are at Medium or even High population most of the time, whereas the older TLE/Prog servers are Low as a large portion of that audience trades up to the new fresh start server every couple of years..

      The 2020 version of EQ is a pretty good MMORPG in a lot of ways, from the gameplay to the mechanics and systems. What it definitely isn't, though, is pretty to look at. You have to wonder how well it would be doing in today's market if it could somehow get a complete graphical update. Shame SOE lost touch with reality over EQNext rather than learning their lesson from EQ2 and not trying to reinvent the wheel with the franchise once again.


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