EverQuest Remembered is a multi-part series in which I look back on a game that meant a great deal to me, partially due to a matter of timing and circumstance. When tasked with the idea of blogging about something that I spent the better part of five years of my life actively playing it was difficult to nail down what to write about. Putting thoughts to paper I’m left with topics ranging from it’s cultural impact to individual relationships, shaping a fledgling genre to bringing out the nature of who we are as players. There’s a lot to cover here in regards to my personal retrospective of this 17 year old game… but if you’ve got the time, I’ve got the stories – and maybe by the end you’ll have a deeper understanding of how lines of codes shaped my world as much as theirs.
EverQuest entered my life at a strange time and by a matter of luck. To properly start this story off though we need to go back to the year leading up to my discovery of this anomaly. In 1999’ish I wrapped up eighth grade and was well into the skatepunk / thrash metal scene. It’s when I got my first skateboard and saw Pennywise perform for my first time at my first Warped Tour… Ya know, back when people were throwing shoes at Eminem because he was a nobody rapper performing at a predominately punk festival. It’s was also the first year of dealing with my parents being divorced, being torn between two homes, and trying to make sense of it all. All of that fell to the wayside when I buried myself deep into those hobbies, spending less and less time with video games. Somewhat ironic since the driving force behind my interest in the sport and music came from playing Top Skater at the arcade and Tony Hawk Pro Skater at home. Skateboarding got me out of the house, among friends, doing a physical activity for like three or more hours a day. That first Warped Tour I went to was about two weeks after I started skating. I recall that clearly because after learning the basic trick of how to ollie (jump) I thought I’d try to do that over a parking block. And failed. Miserably. On my face. I was by myself so I’m not sure how long I was down for, but when I picked myself up off the ground and brushed gravel out of the scrapes I just dug into my face, my skateboard had rolled clear across the parking lot some 700 feet away. The next morning was Warped Tour ’99. Looking back on it my injuries somehow remained relatively low despite the careless abandon I flung myself around with back then.
Well eventually that came to an end. My mother moved out of state so I remained with my father. It’s where all my friends were so it made sense to me at the wise age of 15, despite knowing his battle with alcoholism meant it wasn’t the healthiest place for me. That alcoholism lead to us moving away from my friends anyways after my sophomore year of high school ended in the summer of 2000. It put me at a 30 minute drive away from my friends who mostly had no cars or even licenses. Effectively the summer was the last time I really had with them I thought as at that age, 30 minutes might as well be 17 hours. Whenever we could sleep over we did and skated as much as we could… until I jammed my ankle up and couldn’t walk on it for two weeks. Who knew picnic tables weren’t meant for jumping off of with a plank of wood? It was during the following downtime that I was introduced into EverQuest from a friend. I really enjoyed video games up to that point, but really I didn’t play a whole lot of PC games. I had stints with Diablo, the Star Wars Jedi Knight series, and Age of Empires, but it still felt weird sitting down at a desk to play games with a mouse and keyboard. He came over and showed me the ropes of it and explained that it was an account based game with monthly subscription fees, but you can log into your character from anywhere on any computer. Scott booted up his account so he could show me how cool it was. Looking back now I’m sure he was trying to sell me on it so more of us would play together, and possibly just because he was still fresh into it and eagerly wanted to get back to it instead of wasting time on other games. Either way it was the coolest game I had ever experienced at that point. I remember basically staying up all night until we couldn’t function anymore before going to bed. The next weekend he managed to wrangle up the account of another friend that was playing it, let me make my own character to play when she wasn’t logged in for a week or two. It. Was. Bliss.
EverQuest was unlike anything I’ve ever played before. I heard silly stories at school about another game where people would sell high level characters in a game for thousands of dollars. I figured those were tall tales kids made up as wish fulfillment; a justification for all the time they spent playing games. Later I’d realize they were true, it was a game I never played Ultima Online, the precursor to EverQuest. What made it different was it created an online world to explore that wasn’t just 2 to 10 people in match-made competitions like Star Wars Jedi Knight or Ages of Empires. This was a massive fantasy world that hundreds of other people were running around in with me. Everyone had a character that was their own. Unique mixes of elves, dwarves, trolls running around together casting magic spells, wielding giant clubs or daggers, and hunting all sorts of monsters in fields, cities, sewers, or deserts. You could talk with Non-Player Characters (NPCs) for quests to get new armor or money. Some existed as guards that you could run to for protection if monsters were chasing you. The expanse of this game was beyond my understanding at that point, but it was clear to me at that point I needed to get in on this with my own account and character. Convincing my parents to buy me a game was usually an obstacle in of itself, but now I needed to find a way to make them believe it was worth an unheard of subscription fee of $10 monthly? The hurdles were worked through a lot easier than I thought. My mother who had moved out of state was ridden with guilt and looking for a way to make up for it, so a small monthly charge to her credit card was an easy out for alleviating it I found out.
So what was it that made it click initially? For starters there was the vastness of it all. Imagine a game that digitally recreated an entire fantasy world. Races, classes, mythical heroes, villains, historical sites, fledgling cities, thousands of characters, weapons, dragons, innkeepers, bartering, boats… All of it. It was a game so content-rich that no player could experience it all despite how much time they spent with it. I was used to games like Super Mario 64, Final Fantasy 7, Tomb Raider 2, or Metal Gear Solid that had a clear cut ending. They might take a few dozen hours at most to fully exhaust their worth, but eventually every game came to an end. With EverQuest the potential for character growth was virtually limitless. Even if you managed to advance to a point where you felt there was nothing else for you, that’s when you lend your strength to your friends to help them get caught up. That unity was a big part of what kept you coming back further down the line.
Another huge hook was the danger element that created a sense of tension and relief. The fear of death was real as if you died you needed to return to your corpse, without any items, in order to secure your armor and weapons again. If you failed to do so within the time limit all of it would be lost. Some would gripe about how you lose experience (and potentially levels), but in the grand scheme that was something a bit of time was guaranteed to solve. Without going too deep into specifics, just know that items took hours of work to get in the best case scenarios, and days of play on top of incredible luck along with an iron will for the worst. I once had an item that took so much luck and effort to obtain that I was able to sell it on eBay for $125 in real world cash… and all it did was let your character appearance change. No actual gameplay advantage was built into it, the only purpose it had was cosmetic. Needless to say, “corpse runs” became a priority real fast once you invested some time into your character. Managing to get ahead with your character under those circumstances created a sense of accomplishment I never got from grinding out Flan Princesses on the moon in Final Fantasy 4 for an item upgrade. In EQ when you got something powerful or rare you could boast online with friends or the hundreds of other players on the server. It was so damn cool.
Connecting with friends ended up being a huge reason for me to stay with EverQuest at that time. All my friends were back in my old town, but like five of us were playing it together intermittently. The newest player to join in was always at the back trying to catch up, and at this point it was me. My original character was an Ogre name Kogaki. Sadly Kogaki and I had to part ways because he was on a friends account. Once I had my own I had to start from scratch again, putting me further behind. The name “Kogaki” was tied to her account so I was left renaming a new Ogre built much like the first. I tried several names that I wanted that sounded brutish like Grokk, Ugmok, or Thunk. All based somewhat on the default name generator’s options, yet they were all unavailable. Jokingly to myself I typed in “Punkrawk”, teasing how it could totally pass as traditional Ogre name but was sure to get rejected… but I’m sure you know how that worked out since 16 years later I’m still using that name today online and in gaming communities. The “Bbob” came later again in jest. While big into skating, I never really counted myself among the punk brigade. Pulling from Heroine Bob in SLC Punk, named such because he never did any drugs – I co-opted the name Bob to highlight how not “punk rock” I was. The naming filter required 4 characters so the final step became adding another b in there to continue with the ridiculous nature of the naming. Punkrawk Bbob, Ogre, and follower of Rallos Zek, the god of war.
As much as I want to say my friends kept me engaged with EverQuest it really went much deeper than that. My home life was shit and this was a bridge to escapism in a level completely unknown at the time. When that summer ended and it was time to return to high school, I went 1 day to that new school. After that I came home and told my father I wasn’t going back and he didn’t push back. He had his own problems, I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t dropout to play EverQuest. I dropped out because I was unhappy, probably suffering from depression now that I look back, and unwilling to make my situation better. Not going to school, living away from my friends, and too dumb to get a job I had to fill my time with something though. That’s where EQ came in. It provided me with a space that I could call my own as everything else in my life (seemingly) fell apart at the age of 16.
I was mentioning a bit back about how rich the content was in the game, and I want to revisit that for a minute. Imagine the first time in your youth that you connected to something bigger for you. Whether it was the first time you fired up Super Mario Bros on NES, your parents reading you The Hobbit, watching Star Wars, or even hearing the first chunk of music that made you ‘get’ what it was all about. Those times are like discovering an opening to a cave with no back. Most of us are probably still exploring that door we found back then, I know I am. For me EverQuest remains one of those tunnels I found within the cave of gaming that I’m still navigating through. Prior to that I the closest I’d played to something like this setting was was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. EQ served as an essential gateway into the fantasy genre for me. I didn’t know what Dungeons & Dragons was, I had never heard of Tolkien, and while having played Final Fantasy 4 I didn’t realize it was ‘a thing‘. From here I’d learn about pantheons of gods, dragon lore, or that fictional universes could have a history stretching back millenniums. A team of friends dedicated countless weeks of their life to creating something to share and inspire hundreds of thousands of others, with myself among those ranks.
Yet MMO’s often get accused of lacking a story compared to other genres. Written off as nothing more but a roller coaster of quest chains that have you fetching items or killing ten rats to make the sewers safe. Do a bit of digging though and you’ll be overloaded by how layered the world you’re walking through is. The race I played was Ogre. Big hulking brutes that came loaded with tons of strength and constitution, but an abysmally low intelligence for character stats. Piecing together the lore through various quests, the thick manual that came with the game, or through external website databases I’d learn that Ogres were created by the god of war, Rallos Zek, as his perfect warriors. Being strong and intelligent when they were first created, wielding great physical and magical prowess hand-in-hand, Ogres began their invasion of any realm they wished to lay claim to. This lead to them attempting to besiege one of the elemental planes, the Plane of Earth, a foundational realm that guides the existence of the world of Norrath that all mortal beings inhabit. The upper gods fought back and banished Rallos Zek along with his Ogres from the elemental planes and created a barrier to prevent lesser beings from entering ever again. As their punishment the race of Ogres faced a genocide and were cursed with stupidity, as well as all the other races created by Rallos. During part of that invasion Rallos’ army slayed several council members of the Plane of Earth, and as each one fell a mountain was raised on Norrath. These thirteen peaks together formed a player location (also known as a “zone” to players) to explore called the Rathetear Mountains, as well as another zone called Lake Rathetear within them. Playing the game without taking time to smell the roses and you’ll never realize any of this, but that doesn’t detract from the joy of play. These locations were lush and fully developed lands filled with rewards or peril. It was just something else to help build the illusion that this was a living, breathing, persistent world to play in.
Really at the end of the day I had no clue what was in store for me or the impact this game would have on my life, just as no one thinks of a pebble falling as the start of an avalanche. The perfect storm of moving away from my friends, injuring my ankle to limit my walking, being introduced to a massive social game, and ultimately looking for an escape from my depression. EverQuest came into my life at the right time it seemed.
Today was my personal story of how I found the game. Next time we’ll be exploring EQ’s impact on the industry, how it shaped both the RPG and MMO genres, and how to this day the foundation is laid is used from tabletop gaming to essentially any game with multiplayer. As always, thank you dearly for reading. I look forward to sharing more with you on this largely ignored icon of gaming in the future with more installments of EverQuest Remembered.