I’ve gone from being MMOnogamous to being an MMO-ho. With frickin’ laser beams!
In the last couple of days I’ve been granted access to the LOTRO F2P beta (thanks to Mordor or Bust), spent more time in EVE than I expected (and then, again, less, as my Planetary Installations rot unworking and useless), and tried Age of Conan on their Endless Free Tortage (that’s Tohr-TAAAAJ by the way) Trial.
So what’s with the deafening silence these last few weeks, I hear you all ask? Well for one thing, I’ve had real life stuff going on; other than that, most of my playtime has been taken up with Fallen Earth.
Yeah, I’m a fickle MMO-abandoning byotch. I wouldn’t have thought so 6 weeks ago, but there you have it. I dumped EQ2 without a second thought — well, actually, it’s more like we agreed to see other people. I met this hot, modern, just flaky enough to be interesting other MMO so me and EQ2, we’re on a break. It’s mutually agreed. Honest.
Which isn’t to say EQ2 suddenly sucks — it’s still a lovely game and I’d still be having a lot of fun playing it (if I were playing it). But Fallen Earth is filling a gap in my gaming needs that I didn’t even realise was there. For one thing, obviously, it’s not fantasy, and in many ways that’s really refreshing after a steady diet of YAFMMO* in the last half-decade or so. SWG is the only other game I can think of offhand that wasn’t fantasy, not counting various short stints in various betas (like Pirates of the Burning Sea). Oh wait, City of Heroes isn’t really fantasy either — except that it sort of is, with all the caped/flying/vampire/mage/greenarrow crusaders out there; and City of Heroes had one thing that really ended up getting to me, which was the awful sameitude of the various mission styles.
Moving on. FE isn’t the only non-fantasy game out there, but it’s a pretty good one. It’s occasionally very funny, and best of all it’s not in-your-face see-what-I-did-there funny. I almost missed a conversation between two NPCs in Midway about whether bullets are better than ninjas — you had to be there but trust me, I LOLed. It’s also gritty, and sometimes even grim — and sometimes it’s grim and funny at the same time. Some screenies will illustrate:
It’s definitely a game for grown-ups — hence its M rating — and while it’s not full of sugars and fudges, it does have grown up dialogue and at my age that’s oddly refreshing. When a quest NPC is being a dick, the other NPCs call him on it:
On the downside, the blood splatters are really quite silly in first person, but I’m hardly ever in first person unless forced to by cramped quarters so I don’t really care. In third person it’s either not there or not noticeable — I couldn’t tell you since I don’t notice it. I’m usually too busy noticing stuff trying to bite my face off. (Sandworms are now on my forever-Shit-list, as are all kinds of creepers.)
The gameplay has been both better and worse than I expected or remembered from beta. The reticle thing hasn’t been an issue at all after the first few days, which is ironic because it’s one of the main reasons I didn’t try FE at release. As it turns out, if that’s the only way you can fight and you actually want to fight stuff, you’ll get used to using it. I’ll probably be all confused not to have one when I log in to EQ2 or some other non-reticle game now.
The UI, however, is primitive enough to make an etch-a-sketch drawing of a UI look almost sophisticated in comparison. Let me count the ways.
Let’s start with the hotkey bank that can’t be split up in any way and can only ever be a monolithic block. Sure, you can expand it to 18 slots across — errrr, 18? Who uses 18?! 12, yep, we all know that from every MMO on the planet. 24, sure, I’ll take it instead of two distinct hotbars (or hotbar banks) — but 18? That means my second line of icons would start at shift-6 — oh yeaaaah, I’m totally going to remember that when some creeper or sandworm or zombie is chewing on the back of my head.
Second, the chat interface. You can’t change the colour of text channels (and yes, SOE games — EQ2 and SWG included — have rather spoiled me for that kind of functionality), which is a pain in the ass when Help channel text is the same colour as Clan channel text. In any case what the colours are doesn’t matter, it’s the lack of user customisation that bugs me. This is 2010, not 2000, and I expect EQ2 kind of functionality from my UI rather than what we used to get in Asheron’s Call. I don’t think it’s rocket science — though I’m sure that kind of thing takes resources. (Yes, I complain and critique. No, I never make the mistake of thinking things are “easy” to fix or implement. But just because they’re not easy doesn’t mean I shouldn’t notice their absence or ask for their inclusion.)
Oh and back with the hotkeys — the icons are pretty rudimentary and not very well differentiated. It doesn’t help that you’ll have 483,2956 skills by level 5, and I hear the end game (not that I’m ever likely to see it) is a mash-fest. In that respect it’s very similar to many other MMOs, EQ2 included, and it does bug me generally that we somehow end up doing more keyboard-staring and -mashing than we do looking at what’s happening on the screen itself.
I have to admit to being quite unreasonably irked by the fact that cooldowns appear to be up before the ability is actually ready for use, so I’m constantly getting “This ability is in cooldown!” or “This ability isn’t ready for use!” If it’s not bloody ready for use, don’t show it as ready, and if that means you have to add some kind of tiny delay so it’s actually ready a split-second before it appears to be, that’s fine by me. I’d rather lose a tenth of a second than waste 2 seconds trying to use an action that isn’t as ready as the UI tells me it is.
And inventory… yeah… um. I don’t have much good to say about it except for the fact that the single monolithic “pack” can be filtered into several user-customisable tabs. That’s pretty cool, though I’d have preferred separate bags. And the downside of the tabbing system is that the inventory “boxes” you see onscreen will shrink and expand as your inventory gains and loses items. It’s not elegant. It’s messy and a pain in the ass and apparently it makes it very hard to hotbar stuff from inventory and have it reliably stay on the item you want hotkeyed.
End of UI rant. If you know me, you know I’m a UI … very-intolerant-person, and pretty blunt (though hopefully fair) in my criticisms. Obviously it’s not a game-breakingly bad UI or I wouldn’t be playing, but that’s mostly because it’s so rudimentary and does so little. Oh well. Moving on.
The Ability Points, Levels and Skills system confused me somewhat at first but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of. Once you do understand it, the problem isn’t so much getting the AP and levels as figuring out where to spend said AP. You can literally build any kind of character you want — but one thing you won’t be able to do is build a character that’s good at everything. Great at one thing, no problem. Good at several, easily done. Good at everything — not going to happen. Just as well really or we’d have a little army of post-apocalyptic Supermen running around and how boring would that be?
It is of course scary and engrossing in equal measure trying to figure out what you’re going to do with a given character, especially when you have no respec option. I’ve done a little research, though not much, and I’ve found this handy-dandy build calculator thingy. In any case I’m not even out of sector 1 yet so fortunately I don’t have to decide just yet what I want to be when I grow up. It’s very interesting to note that although I have 3 characters that are essentially the same base “class” — crafter — they all play very differently from each other. Maybe it’s all in my head, but whatever it is, it’s working and I’m having a blast.
Right now my characters range from 12 to 17, and three of the four can craft. What can I say? Initially I thought I’d have to specialise my crafters (and yeah, I’m an altoholic), though as it turns out since every crafting and gathering skill is based off the same INT/PER attribute combo, a single character can in theory master all the crafts. It takes a while, but time is the only restriction.
I could have rerolled but what the hell, I like crafting — and the nice thing is you can make a character who can craft but also fight stuff, so it’ll probably all come out in the wash in the end. And you know what? For all the little flaws I mentioned above, FE is an extremely compelling and entertaining game, provided you like its quirks and don’t hate the genre. If you’re looking for fantasy, move along. If you’re looking for something a little different (and yes, complete with Monty Python references here and there), then Fallen Earth might be just the ticket. It’s all one server, so do say hello if you decide to play!
Wordage is creeping up, so I’ll wrap this up with a few screenies. If anyone reading this wants any particular info on FE and how it plays, just ask.
* Yet Another Fantasy MMO
As everyone knows — well okay, the three or four people who have heard me rant about it before — I’m a UI Nazi. Seriously. I’m not just concerned with UIs, or mildly interested in them, or even rabidly interested in them. If I can’t make the UI do what I want in a game, chances are I’ll eventually stop playing that game. That’s a hard theory to test though, since the games I’ve played that have had awful UIs were also pretty awful games generally.
EQ2 is no exception. When I saw Werit’s otherwise very entertaining video of his EQ2 heritage quest experiences, I couldn’t help cringeing at his UI. It’s not his fault, of course, it’s how the game presents it to you — and that’s after some customisation on Werit’s part. But now I understand that whenever I thought he was intentionally ignoring me in game, he was just probably not seeing the chat, because 17 million other chats were spamming to one chat window. (Which also kept fading — what is it with fading windows? Is it an FPS thing? I detest that with a passion. The last window I will ever want fading away is chat, because 99% of the game’s information — let alone the minor aspect of its bloody social side — is echoed in chat.)
And now Syp is also trying EQ2. My prediction is that it won’t stick for him — the game is too huge to adequately try out in a few weeks, which may sound like a good thing but has actually become a rather large barrier to getting any kind of new players. It can take several tries to find your EQ2 legs, and in my opinion the freaky, highly uncanny-valley, brown-dominated art style really doesn’t help there. (There are some gorgeous views and great textures in EQ2, but the art style is still weird no matter how you spin it.)
Part of what puts players off, I’m sure, is the yucketty (technical term), unwieldy, and apparently intractable UI. When you first log in, there are boxes and hotbars and crap knows what else all over the place — you’d think at the very least that, by now, there might be some kind of a default layout that loads based on the screen rez you’ve chosen in the game. Well, a better default layout, I mean. One where all the windows aren’t squished together in the middle. Some of the windows are opaque, some are not, and some fade when you’re not looking. It’s a mess, and it’s unusable until you’ve at least dragged a few elements here and there on your screen. That’s bad: you should have something usable right out of the box, even if it’s fugly; this is fugly and useless.
Fortunately, as Syp points out, you can load UI settings from other characters. They’re just text files, so you can even load settings from other people’s characters if they let you have that file. For my Test server characters, who occupy an EQ2 folder of their own, I just copied over my main character’s settings from the live EQ2 folder. Easy as pie — once it’s set up.
The first thing I do in any game is mess with the UI, and I’m constantly tweaking and messing some more. I’m using a couple dozen UI mods (all sourced from EQ2interface), and 90% of those are designed to replace basic UI elements like bag windows, hotbars, equipment windows and the quest journal. A couple of them extent the functionality of elements like the broker. I only have one mod that actually does anything in the strictest sense of the word, and all it does is allow me to cast heals and cures on groupmates without having to untarget, target them, then retarget whatever it was; given the number of debuffs that get flung around in EQ2, this is really handy though it’s not actually essential.
As I said I’m always tinkering with my layout, trying to find the perfect balance between being able to see lots of game info when I need it while still keeping as much screen space free as I can. When I see WoW-screenies that show a teeny-tiny visible window surrounded by scads of group info, raid info, DPS meters and crap knows what else people need to see in WoW I always shudder and wonder how people manage. Yes, I need my UI elements, but I also need to see the game. Most of them are worth looking at.
So here’s Fairuza’s more-or-less current UI layout. If you click through you can see it full-size, which for me is 1920×1200. After years of cramped screens, being able to have loads of stuff showing and still see lots of the game is a wonderful luxury.
Fair’s hotbars are in a constant state of flux, because the higher she levels the more stuff she has to throw on there, and I’m still looking for the most intuitive arrangement for me. The one where in the heat of battle I’m not going “OcrapOcrap where’s my healing spells argh!” but can still access her damage spells because nuking is what Fair does (yeah, she’s a healer, but a nuking healer. Best of both worlds, right?!) And because I craft and harvest a lot, I’ve also got hotbars with recipes (for doing crafting writs), hotbars with bag shortcuts, hotbars with gear-swapping macros, hotbars with pets, etc. etc. etc.
Targeting stuff is as close to the middle of the screen as I can get it without them being on top of the character. Lots of people like having stuff on top of (or very near) the character, but I can’t stand that, so this is my compromise. Remember, I don’t raid — I don’t usually see particularly urgent combat situations, so this works for me.
And most of my UI is taken up with chat windows. EQ2 spams a LOT of chat and I like to be able to catch up on stuff without having to scroll for 18 miles to see it. So on one side I have main chat, showing xp stuff, guild chat, tells and the crafting channel, with tabs for combat, sub-channels and narrative spam (e.g. “You successfully counter Burn Your Eyebrows Off crafting event!”). On the other I have tabs for NPC tells — quest conversation logs, basically — loot (mostly to see what I’ve been harvesting) and skill increases. Some of those tabs are a bit redundant and I could probably mush skill increases in with other stuff, but I’ve got it set up that way because it makes things easy for me and because I can. It just takes a while to get everything juuuust right.
The main point of this post is that although the default UI in most MMOs is poo, you don’t have to put up it. Taking the time to set up an interface you’re happy with and can navigate rapidly will be amply repaid every time you log in.
And yes — if people want, I can set up a default 1920×1200 UI for people to use in EQ2. Because I’m a giving UI nazi. ;)
As you may already know, I’m a bit of a UI fanatic. There hasn’t been an MMO made yet whose basic UI I find acceptable and adequate to my needs, when they’re not just downright fugly. And while I doubt I could design any to save my life, the gaming world is full of people who can and do and whose talented work I’m happy to adopt. (Tangent: I thought about adding some screenies, but all the mods below have them on their download page and this post is excessively long already.)
Various people have asked me to post what mods I use in EQ2 right now. I was interested to note that they’re more or less the same mods I used back in 2005 — the UI’s shortcomings are the same now as they were then, with a few exceptions — only in many cases the original mods have been taken over by newer players as the authors stop updating them, or are adaptations of existing good designs. EQ2 apparently includes a UI-moosher-arounder now, but I haven’t dared try it for myself yet, and I suspect I lack the programming skills to really do anything useful with it.
I get all my mods from one source: EQ2 Interface, which is a source for mods for other games too. It’s a good, solid site, and certainly the foremost EQ2 mod site that I know of. If memory serves, you’ll have to register an account with EQ2Interface to be able to download mods, but I could be wrong.
You’ll see a lot of Drumstix42’s mods here, partly because I like the base style — which in many cases is adapted from the work of an older modder whose stuff I used back in 2005, Milquetoast — and partly because he’s very good about maintaining and updating his mods. A few of my other mods are taken from the ProfitUI bits I liked, though I found the whole package to be a little hefty for my tastes (that said, many will love it I’m sure, and it’s worth trying out if you want a wall-to-UI-wall solution). Note that the author has stopped working on the mod, though it’s highly likely someone else will take up has taken up the torch and will carry on the work. Most of the rest of the mods I use are Seagoat’s work, who’s been mentioned enough times here that she should need no further introduction. (Thanks to Castillion below for the correction re Profit UI’s ongoing development!)
It’s worth knowing that many UI mods can be further tweaked by playing with the Window Settings option that pops up when you right-click on a UI element, specifically by altering the no frame/frame/titlebar settings to show or hide various elements.
Installing and using mods in EQ2 will can no doubt seem pretty daunting to the uninitiated, though it’s easier than you think if you’re careful and methodical. EQ2Interface has an installation FAQ that’s quite useful and should be read by anyone planning to use EQ2 mods. I’ll come back to this at the end of the mods list, which is probably what you really want to read first.
Quick caveat: my custom UI folder is actually *cough* a bit of a mess. Okay, a huge mess. It’s got bits and pieces left over from mods I’ve tried and not liked, from mods I wasn’t sure I liked so I turned them off (i.e. renamed the xml file) but left them where they were, and so on. It’s possible my eq2_custom.xml file contains unnecessary information — though I doubt it’s downright wrong or my mods wouldn’t work, and they do. I’m just trying to cover my ass here in case you come yelling at me later.
Ysh’s mods list
EQ2 Map — As has been noted elsewhere this mod it can get a bit busy with all the points of interest, NPCs, and other informational bits scattered about all over the place. On the plus side, you can zoom in and out of the map for more detail and you can search for things in a pretty comprehensive list of POIs, which can be a lifesaver when you’re sure you’re in the right place but can’t find the thing you’re looking for (and discover you’re in the wrong place, usually, at least in my case). This mod modifies the eq2ui_custom.xml file but I’m pretty sure it’s smart enough to modify an existing file if it’s not the first mod you’re installing. If it isn’t — check the file after installation — you need to make sure the file includes the line “<include>eq2ui_custom_poifinder.xml</include>” without the quotes just above the line that says “</Page>”.
ProfitUI Market Window — comes in its own package and lets you see sales box contents alongside the broker buy contents, which makes life a lot easier if you ever want to sell anything. Also comes with some handy preset searches and the like (for rares, spellbooks, and so on). Click here for specific installation instructions; this mod modifies the eq2ui_custom.xml file and you may have to make the modifications by hand if the file already exists and contains instructions from other mods.
AutoAttack bar — a windup bar that looks just like the in-game CA/Spell casting bar, except it tracks melee and ranged weapons. I never knew I needed this until I used it, and now I’d find it hard to live without. Auto-attacks can be a very large proportion of one’s damage in EQ2, and it’s worth having a visual reminder so that you can time your other combat arts/spells to take melee or ranged attacks into account. When you first use it it’ll appear in the middle of the screen, but it’s easy enough to reposition, resize, and tweak. Make sure you read the instructions on the download page (linked above) — you’ll need to alter the eq2ui_custom.xml file to make this mod work.
Drum’s UI Target/Implied target elements — I like the details included in this mod. It’s not really a must-have though, just a personal preference. I’m a habitual inspector of folks I come across if they happen to be wearing something weird and wonderful; this mod makes that a matter of two clicks, rather than having to unroll a right-click menu or typing /inspect_player Charname in chat, which I usually can’t be arsed to do.
Drum’s Persona Window — I’m currently trying this out and somewhat on the fence about it. It presents a lot more information at a glance than the base window does, but that makes it somewhat busy and, ironically, hard to glance at. Also, the faction bars on the faction tab seem to be a little borked (they extend beyond the window size) but that may be just my setup.
Drum’s Maintained Spells window — the text on this is bloody hard to read (at least at my rez), but it’s very handy for characters with lots of buffs and buffs that can be placed on individuals. It also tracks how much is left on wards and the like. You can swap between standard (just icons) and extended views by playing with the no frame/frame options in the element’s window settings.
Drum’s Chat window — A little extra functionality over the base window, but my main interest in it is that it’s a lot more compact and, to my eye, cleaner than the base client version.
Seagoat’s Knowledge Book — a cleaner, more compact version of the original. Definitely optional.
Seagoat’s Inspect Player window — another optional one and again, cleaner and scrunched up. Ysh does not like wasted UI space!
Drum’s Hotbars — hotbars with all the goodness retained and none of the bloated padding of the original windows (try making the background of the default hotbars black and you’ll see what I mean). Includes recast timers, though these seem to be a little buggy on initial login: they don’t appear quite where they should until you mouse over your hotbars, at which point everything updates and looks perfect again. Further tweaks can be made through the window and hotbar settings options (right-click on the hotbar).
Seagoat’s Compass & Clock — let me see at a glance where I am (yes, I need this sometimes!) and when I am, both in Norrath time and in Earth time. For some reason the day/night cycle element doesn’t always know where it should be when you log in or zone (until you mouse over the main element, and it’ll snap into place), but I suspect this is similar to the hotbar/timer issue and not something modders can easily do anything about, if they can fix it at all. Note that this is actually a patch for someone else’s mod — a very common occurrence after years of modders coming and going in the game — but all is explained in the notes on the linked page. RTFI!
Experience bars — I’ve been flipping between Seagoat’s and Drum’s for the last couple of months and I still can’t quite decide which one I prefer, so you can have links to both. The screenshot I posted the other day uses Drum’s, but in the meantime we’ve swapped machines around a few times and I’m back to using Seagoat’s. Be sure to check the screenshots on Seagoat’s bar to see all the different ways in which it can be configured!
Drum’s Guild window — again, more compact than the original, and I prefer how the info is laid out. Very optional.
I’ve been trying out a series of group windows to find one I like that also incorporates the “click to cure” functionality (very handy for healers) where you can click on a detrimental effect to cast a cure without losing your current target. However, I haven’t found one I’m willing to recommend just yet. I liked Drum’s group window but the det-effects were just a bit too small for these ageing eyes to see, even if it does have c2c.
Spell positive/detrimental effects windows — these are the ProfitUI versions; I just took the specific ones I wanted out of the package and used them alone. They are smaller than the originals (as usual for my UI preferences), and there are a few different versions you can pick such as stack from bottom, stack from top, start left/right and so on.
Seagoat’s quest journal — shows the quest list and details in a size-by-side arrangement instead of the vertical stacking that’s used in the default. A few other tweaks for compactitude and the like.
Othesus’ Active Quest window — this modifies the window that shows the details of your currently “active” quest. EQ2 doesn’t let you track more than one quest at a time, incidentally, which is a shame. This mod adds a great deal of functionality such as a drop down menu for the most recently updated quests and several clicky buttons that will open links in the client-based browser to some of the more common EQ2 info sites (such as the EQ2 wiki, which in itself is a great resource). I don’t actually use the clicky buttons a whole lot, but when you need it it’s nice to have it at your fingertips, and the quest-dropdown and navigation options are something you really miss once you’ve become used to them. (NOTE: You may want to patch this to include the new Zam db instead of the old Allakhazam one. I’m not a huge fan of that site so I haven’t bothered.)
My inventory, bags, bank and container windows (that’s 4 separate links) are all Seagoat’s creations. They are extremely compact and may not be to everyone’s taste, but I love them. The merchant window I use is Drum’s.
Last but not least I’m using Drum’s version of the very handy InfoCenter. This mod contains a wealth of easily-accessible information on things like classes/spells (which is currently out of date after the recent spell/CA name streamlining), what mounts where at what cost, housing, some crafting and harvesting info, adventuring writs, heritage quests, and a ton of other stuff. You can even customise it with your own information if you want. Make sure you follow the installation instructions given on the download page.
Installing custom UI mods in EQ2
As noted above, you should read the EQ2 interface FAQ first. I did however find it a little daunting at first, which is often the case with FAQs written by people who know what they’re talking about but forget that novices won’t. Maybe my extreme layman’s version comments will help if you find the FAQ confusing.
1. If you want to use your own UI folder, like I do, you’ll have to create it yourself. The custom UI folder needs to live in the UI folder that you’ll find in your main EQ2 installation folder — standard windows XP installs would have this in somewhere like “C:\Program Files\Sony (or SonyOnlineEntertainment)\Everquest II”. Inside this Everquest II folder is a UI folder, and inside that one is where you create your custom UI folder. You can call it pretty much anything you like except that the name must have no spaces or special characters — so MYUI is fine, but MY UI is not, nor is MY-UI. This is where you’ll unzip your custom UI elements.
2. If you’re installing EQ2 Map first, it will create a custom UI folder for you called, cunningly, EQ2MAP. It will also modify (or create if necessary) the eq2.ini file that lives in the main EQ2 directory (unlike every other UI mod file) so that the game knows you’re using a custom UI and knows which folder to look in for said custom UI elements. If you already have mods installed in a custom UI folder, the EQ2 Map installer is smart enough to check and should install in whatever folder you have listed in eq2.ini.
3. The “eq2.ini” file is the one that tells the game where to look for your mods. This doesn’t exist by default and may need to be created — the EQ2Interface FAQ has an excellent guide on making this, though if you’re familiar with .ini files in general you’ll know how to proceed. The main thing to note is that it mustn’t end up being called eq2.ini.txt, which is why the FAQ goes into agnoising (but vital) detail. Some mods will do the legwork for you — EQ2 Maps is one of them provided you install it first, as is the auto-updating version of ProfitUI Reborn.
4. EQ2 mods work by replacing a base EQ2 client version with the modded version. So if you want a different set of bag windows, having an eq2ui_inventory_bag.xml file in your custom UI folder will load that info instead of the basic client info. If you’re not seeing your marvellous new UI mod, chances are the eq2.ini file doesn’t contain the information it needs to look in the right directory. See 3 above.
5. Installing most mods is simply a matter of extracting the right file into the custom UI directory. Some mods are a little more complicated because they might need more than the bare-bones eq2ui_element.xml file (like image files), but all the ones I’ve listed contain very comprehensive instructions. I tend to hold on to the downloaded zip files, if only because it gives me the mod author’s name — I also used it initially to figure out exactly what UI element was called what when it was in my custom UI folder, so I could be sure I was removing the right files if I decided I didn’t like a mod. The file names (e.g. “eq2ui_inventory_bag.xml”) are pretty self-explanatory once you have a bit of experience with EQ2’s interface.
6. It’s worth making a note of whose mod you’re using, because there’s usually no way of telling either from the name (which is generic) or from the mod’s contents. On the other hand, if you’re not planning an “EQ2 mods” post and you’re not a compulsive UI-trier-outer like me, you can probably do without.
Okay, my head is about to explode. If this is useful for people I may make it into its own page for easier reference. Feel free to ask questions — I’ll answer if I can, and if I can’t chances are Seagoat can. ;)
Whether we agree with the tenor or not, these game-impression posts are, after all, part of the reason we read blogs. If we didn’t want to read opinions, why bother reading blogs? We’re not journalists, and we’re not paid to even pretend we’re neutral; rather, most of us are reading and writing about a subject we’re passionate about.
Spinks has one of her own today, on EQ2, which provides another very interesting read. I kept wanting to say “Yes, but –” and “Oh, but if only –” but the fact is we all approach games in our own ways, and telling people that if they only did this or if they only knew that is usually not very helpful. Many of the things that frustrate Spinks frustrated Mort and me* when we first started playing EQ2 over four years ago. The channels were impenetrable, we seemed to have way too many clicky things on our bars that we weren’t sure what they all did, a lot of the combat stuff we tried didn’t seem all that useful, we had no freaking clue where we were or how to get to where we wanted to be, and killing 10 rats in Norrath 2.0 is the same as killing 10 rats in Azeroth, except Azerothian rats are way more polished and may come out with a Monty Python reference. (To be fair — EQ2 has that sort of thing too, but it’s not as in your face as WoW’s love of references.)
Most games — not all, mind you — do reward a little deeper digging, and although WoW’s spit and polish has become the de-facto standard, it’s sort of like Brylcreem: sometimes it’s just a slick and shiny covering for nothing much underneath. My point being that polish in and of itself is not a guarantee of quality — it’s a guarantee of one department’s (or two) attention to detail. To be fair though, WoW is exactly the same: those people who come away thinking it’s just a shallow easiest-mode-in-the-MMO-world game aren’t getting the full picture either. WoW is quite complicated and complex enough in its own way; what I tend to rail against is that it’s not the only way. How the 800lb, 8 billion dollar gorilla in the room does things shouldn’t become the only way anyone else does things.
Anyway, I’m rambling again and I’m either preaching to the choir or to those who will never agree no matter what I say. Have you noticed how talking about WoW has become sort of like talking about politics or religion? I’m not sure whether that’s funny or deeply sad.
So, yes. Coming back to EQ2 after a 3 year break meant that while we had a very strong sense that there had been many, many changes while we were gone, Mort and I weren’t flailing around trying to get our feet under us in the most basic MMO sense. Instead, I’ve noticed lots of things I’ve been glad to come back to, and lots of things I’m glad have been tweaked. Here’s a list, in no particular order.
EQ2 housing isn’t perfect (the game that manages to pull off that particular challenge isn’t yet made), but it’s pretty damned good and is currently beaten only by SWG in terms of what you can do with your home. You can now rotate (y-axis only for now, unlike SWG) your furniture as well as make it larger or smaller and move it up and down, which provides quite a few decoration options. Aside, of course, from the sheer insane variety of the possible deco, even though a lot of the carpenter made stuff — and I say this with love — is ugly dark brown pap. Oh wait, some of it is ugly light-brown pap. A ton of stuff has been added in the years we were away and it’s possible to do some really striking and unique homes. In fact, the current Tinkerfest festival has just added another couple of dozen deco items, one of which is a set of cogs and wheels that move when placed together on a wall, which is just pure gnomeish awesome.
You can get a mount while still wet from the character-cloning vats, provided you have enough money and/or guild level and/or status. Okay, so you likely won’t have the status at that point, but the fact is you can buy a mount from Day 1 if you can afford one. Sure, money is an entry barrier, but exactly how much hand-holding do we MMO players need these days anyway? (Ah yes, one man’s hand-holding is another man’s way-too-hard mode — I may go back and examine that someday.)
3. There is a ridiculous amount of stuff to do.
In that respect EQ2 strikes me as very similar to WoW — you cannot possibly do all the quests in all the zones that are appropriate for your level, which to my mind is a good thing. But it’s not just the quest stuff — it’s the things you encounter while running around the world and promise yourself you’ll go back to explore properly someday, the stuff you read or hear about and swear you’ll check out as soon as you’ve got time, the stuff you promise you’ll do when you’re the right level; I’m sure you know what I mean. It’s nothing but a good thing to have more to do than you have time for, in any MMO.
4. Guild halls
Yes, these rate their own entry, because they’re a lot more than just housing, and there’s something there for everyone. Provided you’re in a guild of course, but even that isn’t exactly hard to do. There are small guild halls for small guilds and huge guild halls for huge — or really really active medium-sized — guilds, and a score of cool amenities to put in them, including bankers, brokers, and candlestick makers.
5. The plethora of classes
For an altoholic like me, having a million classes you can make is a great thing. For more achievement-oriented players, and certainly for players who prefer one main char, this may be a downside, because you’re never quite sure if you made the right choice. However, from what I can tell, while some classes are more flavour-of-the-month than others, none are utterly broken anymore and there really is something for every playstyle. It was EQ2 that really started me playing healers, though the Fury (my main character’s class) is more of a nuking hybrid so I never really felt like I was filling that holy-trinity role, which in my case is a good thing. I like hybrids and I don’t like being shoehorned. And while some class pairs (fury/warden, dirge/troubador, monk/bruiser etc.) may not seem all that differentiated to begin with, the differences do become more visible as you level up. My fury is 59 now and my warden is 46 or so, and they’re different enough that I can’t play one like I play the other — sure, they play similarly, but not identically. And, if you end up thinking you’d prefer playing the other half of a class pairing, that’s possible too. (It’s a bit of a pain in the backside to carry out, but it’s possible.)
6. The separation of church and state. Err, crafting and adventuring.
I have always hated the fact that most MMOs treat crafting as something you do when you can’t get a group. I disagree vehemently that the main focus of MMOs is and always should be combat — it may have been the original focus, but that’s like saying that tabletop RP games are only about the combat. Any game system rooted in strategy warfare games will include combat, but it’s narrow-minded to think that something’s origins dictate what they will be forevermore. Regardless of how well crafting may or may not be implemented in most games, EQ2 deserves props for being one of the few games out there that lets you be a level 1 adventurer and a level 80 crafter.
It’s everywhere! What can I say, I’m a harvesting junkie. I actively enjoy it, and there’s certainly plenty of it to do in EQ2. Having a harvesting-bonus cloak and a harvesting-bonus mount and harvesting-bonus tools are just… an extra bonus. Having to evade mobs that are high enough to single-shot you so that you can grab that foody bush or ore node is fun for me. I’m odd that way.
As Spinks said: see shiny thing on the ground, pick it up, add it to a collection (one of 600 or so currently in the game, I think) — or sell it to collection maniacs for silly money. Who can resist the lure of that little shiny ? off to the side as you ride from A to B? Pure win.
EQ2 has quite a lot of fluff in terms of silly cosmetic pets, or costumes, or particle effects and whatnot. There’s enough of it in fact that they’ve now monetised a fair bit of it through the Station Cash system, and considering it’s all entirely cosmetic that doesn’t really bother me. I haven’t spent any money on it yet, but maybe I will. Or maybe I won’t. But at least the fluff is there. It’s one of those things that you may not notice when you have it, but you miss when you don’t — as was the case in Warhammer Online. WAR was so fluff-free when I played it that it was almost painful after a while. I don’t like to be too tightly focused when I play, and fluff is like a giant “hey, we do silly stuff too!” sign.
Last but anything but least, crafting. The crafting system itself is pretty much vanilla, but it’s debatable whether an “interesting” crafting system is even possible in MMOs these days, given that you have to provide some kind of base-level difficulty. A Tale In The Desert implemented crafting that almost required you to have a degree in metallurgy, or at least CAD, which frustrated me no end. Requiring player intelligence is a good thing; requiring specialised knowledge in a non-specialised environment is not. Aside from that though, there are 9 distinct crafting professions, all of which are useful in their own way and all of which have a definite customer base, and there are a zillion crafting-related things to do out in the world now — quests to get items to make you even better at crafting, or in the case of the epic crafter earring, items that make you see special red shinies that nobody without the earring can see! The very fact that there is an epic CRAFTER quest says it all, in my book.
There are also plenty of things that still bug me or irk me about EQ2, but that’s the case for all games. I’m trying to play by a new set of personal rules this time around:
— don’t overplan your playtime. That works very well for some, but it ends up making me feel stifled. I have the most fun if I can just log on and putz about more or less spontaneously. Yeah, I have lists of things to do (actually, of things to make for people), but that’s not too overwhelming;
— if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Which is really a corollary of “If you don’t like it, don’t play it” and is such a no-brainer I sometimes wonder why we persist in ignoring it. I mention this because of a game-bashing exchange I saw in chat the other day, which made me want to ask the bashers why, if they hated the game/the designers/the publisher so much, they were still paying $15 a month for the privilege. Then again, it’s their $15 a month; if they want to spend it complaining about what a horrible time they’re having, who am I to judge?
As a final tangent mostly to Spinks, but also to anyone else who’s playing EQ2 and casting a leery eye on mods — get them. There isn’t a single game out there that I’ve seen that has a decent or decently-customisable UI straight out of the box, and EQ2 is no exception. (I happen to think UI design should be given a lot more dev time than it apparently is, but in a world of finite resources I bet the thinking goes something like “Well, we’ll have fans making these within weeks anyway, so why bother spending the time and money doing it ourselves when we could be doing quests and content and particle effects?”) They’re not required, but they sure do help. I’ve only got one screenie that shows my UI to any great extent, but I’ll try to remember to take more, and maybe do an EQ2 UI customisation post one of these days, because there’s a lot more under the hood (even the unmodded hood) than you’d think.
Among other things, I’ve got smaller and cleaner hotbars, smaller good/bad effects bars (just above the left chat window), a modded chat window, a different XP-bar (showing adventure, AA, and crafting though I’ve hidden the crafting part since Fair is maxed out), an extended compas (showing location and time and coords), and a different maintained-spells window (the one in the top left) that gives me names and details of what I’m maintaining and on whom. What you’re not seeing is that most of my other game windows are modded too — including the quest journal, the skill book, the inventory and persona windows, my bags, the bank window and bags — and so on.
The reason I initially got mods for EQ2 in the first place was to get rid of the stupid amounts of padding and not-so-great decorative scrollwork most of the game windows had on them. When you’re playing on a 19″ screen, as we were in 2005, game windows that are too big partly because they have too much empty space are just a waste of space and time. Then I wanted to get some resizeable bags — which can be done within the client now — and then I wanted bags that actually stayed where you put them on screen, instead of defaulting back to some preset location every time you logged in (also native now). And so on and so on. The mods I use are all pretty much cosmetic — I don’t use meters and parsers or whatever the hell achievement/combatty type people use — but having them makes my experience smoother. I’m a control freak, and a bad UI will eventually contribute to driving me away from a game.
So if you’re on the fence about getting mods, take a leap of faith. Managing them is a bit of a pain, but getting them is easy, and getting rid of them is as easy as deleting the special UI folder (or file for a single mod).
* Yes, it is “Mort and me” and not “Mort and I” in that phrase. That and people saying “phenomena” when they mean the singular form of the word are this year’s pet grammatical peeves.
… and much chatting goodness ensued.
It’s not all blathering roses. The timestamps disappear when you zone, it seems, and have to be toggled off and back on. There may be other minor weirdnesses. HOWEVER….
Chat scrolls! (Cue heavenly light and choirs of angels, that’s how much this means to me.) It scrolls marvellously, reliably, and whenever something happens that should make it scroll. Chat text doesn’t break up over several silly, non-scrolling lines. Or at least, none of those things that bother me beyond all reason happened in the few hours I played this afternoon.
Properly scrolling chat text is win. I’d have Mythic’s babies if I hadn’t already got other ovarian plans.
Also, the whole chat window is somehow more responsive and crisper. Maybe that was just my state of heightened happiness, but I do think they somehow cleaned it up. Lovely job.
Oh yeah, and they made some other changes, I guess. The patch notes are here, as if you hadn’t already found that link on 12 million other blogs. And if you hadn’t seen them yet, what rock are you hiding under? Got a spare room?
This has been discussed by other much more blogalicious bloggers over the last few weeks, but it bears rehashing — if only because if it somehow makes it into the collective unconscious, game design teams might finally start to consider that *how* players access the game might also be important. Assuming developers aren’t tapped in to some formic hive-mind that we can’t reach.
I’m talking about the User Interface, which includes the time spent wading through splash screens and other tick-me/click-me boxes, reading tips that are either self-referential in a truly Swedish-cinema way or else just bumblingly made (and The Seventh Seal this is not), wondering if one’s addons are working correctly (see pic above – where’s my portrait?), and just generally fighting with the system instead of PLAYING.
Not everyone is irritated with it — I think it depends on how irritable one is about User Interfaces in general, which in my case is very, because I’ve had a quasi-professional interest in UIs and users for some years now. To me, the term itself implies the need to actually think about how the user is going to use this interface. In all fairness, since I got my gratuitous jab at developers out of the way, I’m certain game designers do think about the UI and I’m sure they would make them really good if they had time. Here’s my point, though: if it were me, I would give the UI a little more priority than it is usually given. Even if it’s just enough priority to get modders on-board early enough that they can design a good UI for you, accessible to people at launch rather than a year down the line. If you’re an ethical designer-gestalt you’ll avoid swiping their best ideas and incorporating them into your own UI without a word of thanks or credit.
Uhh… where was I? Oh yeah. First and foremost, I would have liked a chat interface that was a little more clean-cut. Being able to scale the chat windows is, I think, a mistake. We can resize it already AND we have a dozen or so font+size combinations to choose from which, together, should have been fine. The scaling option confuses things. I was going to say it appears to cause refresh issues too — where text you just typed doesn’t appear in the chat window, or doesn’t fully appear, or somehow chops itself into several lines on-screen — but given the appearance of other refresh bugs (like party buff icons remaining on-screen after you’ve left a party) I’m wondering if the UI doesn’t have more general refresh issues that the chat thing is merely one part of.
Next, user-selected options should stay selected. Hell, they should actually be applied when you select them. I had to manually edit one of the settings files in order to get the “Text fade” option to stay turned off — nothing I did in-game ever affected it in the slightest. If they can’t be applied until you restart the client, the message to that effect should be clear and should be visible on every single option requiring a restart, instead of being a faffy little message that some options might not be applied right away. (Play around with the graphical options, you’ll see what I mean.) If some options require a UI-reload, that should be marked somewhere too, along with the means to do so.
I don’t want to be held by the hand all the time. I’m pretty clever, and I work a lot of stuff out for myself. However, as far as interacting WITH the game and not IN the game goes, I bloody well should have my hand held. The player/game interface shouldn’t be as opaque as it is in most games, and the only reason it is, is because it’s not given a high enough priority. Most people involved in making games are smart and know how to look things up… they’re self-taught gamers like many of the rest of us who don’t do it for a living. Which means they don’t tend to think outside their own box. If you want to reach millions of people, not all of whom are self-taught or indeed want to be, you need to make that reach smooooooth. And that means testing things like the UI on people who *aren’t* habitual beta testers, because we tend to gloss over rough patches like clunky UIs. Or else implement some real UI testing. Mythic actually tried, though I wish I had focused some of my comments on the UI-experience itself rather than individual elements thereof (eg the ToK).
Granted, no amount of great interface will keep players in a game they don’t enjoy. Consider, however, that a dozen daily irritations will turn a player off a great game if they’re persistent enough. I always enjoyed SWG, but I never, ever got past one of the most diabolically bad interfaces ever. I found Vanguard’s interface tolerable only after I’d acquired several mods to streamline my experience past the clunkiness.
Oh yeah, which reminds me. Wanting the UI to fit into the “feel” of the game is one thing. Making it visually huge and clunky because the only thematic tie-in people can find for fantasy is medieval book-look is unimaginative. In my world, the UI should be transparent — in the sense that I interact with it, but it doesn’t impact me much. I shouldn’t have to struggle with moving stuff around in my inventory (oh, so 1999). I shouldn’t have to click 18 times when 2 will do. Did you know you can shift-Leftclick to bring up a quantity window when buying things like consumables at vendors? Why isn’t THAT on one of the tip windows? Hell, why isn’t it mentioned on mouseover, or somewhere else in the vendor window?
Not only are the UIs being put out by games these days exceedingly slipshod, they’re also disgustingly unhelpful. For the love of MMOs, help me forget the UI and just play the game!