lostdungeonsofnorrath

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 18 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.

We’ve made it. Just a review in case somehow this is the first article you’ve landed on the series…

  • Pt 1, where I discover EverQuest and explore what initially hooked me.
  • Pt 2, exploring the genre defining designs of EQ as they’re legacy influences design of MMOs, RPGs, and modern gaming still.
  • Pt 3, outlining just how great the scope of the online community was both in and out of the game.
  • Pt 4, we talk about how personal relationships within your community shaped your experience as much as the design.
  • Pt 5, looking at the high end game, explaining your endless progression path, and how well social experience and game mechanics intertwined for the long play.
  • Pt 6, I addressed the darker side of a game this good with my personal addiction, depression, and getting out.

There’s been a lot of ground to cover. EverQuest was a landmark of gaming. It essentially created the MMO market as we knew it through the past 18 years as it still fights for life itself. I’ve had a lot of personal stories tied to the game as well as I recollect frequently. Despite how hard things fell apart at the end I’ll always remember it fondly. Yet the whole point of this series was wanting to say goodbye to the game I loved and the memories of it. The influence it had over my life and how it’s shaped me today is something I can’t ignore, but I’m looking to bury it in the past and move on. I’ve always held onto hope of a return. The EQ that’s available to play now doesn’t, nor could it, capture the state that it was back in the early 2000’s for me. The internet isn’t what it was- janky, wild, and lawless. My social life has changed along with my values. Game design has changed. The idea of being able to hole up for 12 hours a day in a virtual world without interruption is both unfeasible and undesirable by most. Smartphones didn’t exist and nobody texted back then. The game was forced to full screen so you couldn’t research or use instant messenging programs. You were locked in distraction free and it was beautiful. Despite how obtuse that all sounds now it’s a world I can never return to, just a dream that became a nightmare that I once visited. It’s shackled to the past though as I knew it.

Everquest held a lot of good, bad, and important times for me. It’d roll on for six expansions before I walked away. Today it sits on 23 expansions as of November 2016 where they went back and reinvented the second expansion and making a modern take of Kunark. After all, the game is nearly two decades old at this point. It’s a game that originally could run WELL on a Pentium 166mhz processor with 64mb of RAM. For comparison sake the 16gb of memory in modern gaming rigs is 256 times as much available memory. Going back and updating the locations and characters of the world is something they’ve been rolling out over the years to keep it as fresh looking as possible. I understand the business need for it, but it still comes at a furthering of a disconnect for me as it becomes less and less of what I remember. Yet I’m seeing parallels in other unrelated games. A good equivalent for me has been Destiny as it shapes what’s expected in it’s contemporaries.

Orcs as I knew them on the left… vs orcs now

In Pt 6 of this series I talked a lot about how circumstantial everything was for me personally. It really was a matter of lightning in a bottle though from a technology standpoint as well. Predating Facebook, the rebirth of Apple, or online communities beyond just forums – It was this weird piece of history that had to happen in order for us to get to the next step. The mystery of trying to find out how the systems worked before wikis were so readily accessible for games. Like kids at a playground we tried to work together in sharing rumors we’ve heard or how some unnamed source swore they did the math and figured out the perfect spawn cycle to get a rare monster with super loot to spawn. I shit you not there was one monster called an ancient cyclops that spawned in a zone called a desert that was so rare people continually made up shit that they swore was the solution to make it appear. Bizarre stuff like kill 13 pumas, then 3 desert tarantulas, exit the zone, then reenter. If you did it within 5 minutes it was guaranteed to spawn! Except when it didn’t, then it was because someone else must have been in the zone and messed up your cycle. It was hilarious how hard we tried to unravel the systems that governed the game back then.

It existed within a vacuum, during a time when computers were still dorky or just for school research. The Lord of the Rings films weren’t a thing yet so fantasy was still scoffed at as something losers explored in their parents basements. No matter how hard people have tried to recreate EverQuest as it was the magic just isn’t there. Norrath is no longer a place to visit as much as it is data to be mined and replicated… an algorithmic AI trying to recreate an organic life. Project 1999 was created to build EverQuest as it was back then, sans the 15 or so expansions that had officially released at the time. It was a fan server with regenerated code as much as possible from the original damage and enemy spawn tables to make you feel like we were all back in 1999. From a technical archival standpoint it succeeded spectacularly. I played it for awhile and enjoyed it for a few weeks. I even rallied the old gang back together as we hit up our old haunts as we pretended we were teenagers again, trapped at home because it was 2am on a Friday night and our parents wouldn’t let us stay out past midnight. Yet it just didn’t feel the same. It was weird knowing that it was a pirate server and at anytime it could all just vanish. Eventually that concern caused me to call it quits when I did… along with a bit of a fear of relapse into spending more time playing EQ than living my actual life. Years later Sony Online Entertainment, the proper owners of EQ, launched what they called “progression servers”. They were official servers that were gated content to match the original release schedule again. That meant they’d start off with the vanilla release and no expansions to slowly role them out as the players of that server unlocked them by hitting checkmarks. For example clearing out the top tier dungeons and slaying dragons would eventually open up the first expansion. Yet again, the magic that made it special back in 2000 just wasn’t there.

I spent four years playing EQ constantly chasing the latest and greatest experiences it offered. Through the six expansions I played I had a ton of thrills. I’d crept through zones way above my level just to sneak a peak of what kind of dangers lay ahead. I’d try and scour new zones before anyone else I knew so I’d have a one-up on navigating them through it. Even as much time as I spent inside of Norrath there were chunks of the world I still never saw beyond a dangerous glimpse as I ran full-sprint across areas to pass to where I needed to get to. I wasn’t alone in this either. The vastness of the content it offered was truly unmatched for years to come. Aside from the physical geography that was hardly explored in great detail there was a ton of story left unchecked by myself and the overwhelming majority of players. I’ve read the developers state about how some 60% of the quests in the first three expansions had never been completed by any players as they were hidden among the expanse in obscurity. NPCs would appear in zones during certain times requiring a certain phrase typed out by the player that they could only get from an in-game book found at the bottom of a lake tucked back in a corner of a zone with no monsters so no one visited. That may sound ludicrous or infuriating to some players but I’m basically salivating the idea of something being so secret that no one ever discovered it. Oh, and then there’s the dynamic content that once it’s unlocked can never be repeated again by anyone on that server. Let me tell you about the greatest moment of gaming that I’ve known of. The event revolves around a character named “The Sleeper”.

Kerafyrm, The Sleeper

Back since EverQuest vanilla they’d tried steadfastly to use lore as a foundation of the world. Yes there are dragons to slay. Yes they reside in what we call dungeons or lairs. They were put there for a reason and there’s a story behind why they’re there and who they are. All of it was pieced together from gathering from bits of dialog in the game, info dumps in the instruction manuals, or provided from in-game books to read ala Elder Scrolls style. Think how Dark Souls has a backstory for everything in game that has to be pieced together from snippets of item descriptions of understanding why an NPC appears when it does. Even the mountains and lakes had a history of how they were formed if you cared to dig deep enough. Summing up what’s important to a nutshell here regarding The Sleeper, Kerafyrm, comes from all that digging that lead to an insane event that reshaped Norrath permanently for the players.

  • At the launch of EverQuest there was a red dragon, Nagafen, and a white dragon, Vox. They broken the rules set forth by the gods, became lovers, and created a new species with their child Kerafyrm, a prismatic dragon. For their transgressions they were imprisoned on opposing sides of the world which became their layers where only the highest level characters could raid.
  • In the second expansion, Scars of Velious, you travel to the icy north continent where the god of dragons, Veeshan, left her physical mark on the world in the form of deep chasms from her claw marks. Within that realm you could discover the palace where that cursed prismatic dragon, Kerafyrm, was kept in The Sleeper’s Tomb. There were 4 extremely powerful guardians that protected it.
  • Slaying all 4 guardians within a week would cause an event where The Sleeper would awaken permanently, despawning the guardians forever and taking all their unique loot with them. This was no easy task as it’d take about 60 of the highest level players, in the best gear, with the best guild leader coordinating with the sharpest tactics in order to slay even just one of the guardians.
  • Once awoken all across the server in other zones The Sleeper’s presence was known. It seemed random to players at the time but Nagafen and Vox would react with dialog as a result of their child waking. Kerafyrm would appear in several other zones at that time and instantly kill all the players there shortly before dispersing.

This was all unraveled over the course of about 2 years of gameplay. It’s hard to encapsulate how much of an impact that had on the community. Guilds would organize and warn others before hand on public forums so new players wouldn’t be alarmed. Out of the 30-some servers that were active at the time, I believe only 4 of which ever woke The Sleeper. When it occurred everyone was confused and just began taking screen captures of what was going on all over, rushing to those forums to share what happened. Eventually we’d all piece it together to realize what we’ve done. The closest any other game has come to something similar have been when an MMO closes down for good. Matrix Online went down with a blaze of glory, as did Final Fantasy 14 before they rebooted it. Still, these once in a lifetime moments of MMOs is why we play them. Dynamic content that will never be experienced again. No single player AAA can recreate the rush of being there in a moment that will never be replicated again. It’s a genuine experience. The event of waking The Sleeper was the first time that had ever been done and it left it’s mark on me despite just being a bystander to the events on a server that never woke it. Despite the over half million players on EverQuest at that time, less than 500 had experienced anything related to it. Yet it’s still talked about today. That says something.

Earlier I mentioned EverQuest informing me of who I am today and I’m sure that came across as somewhat corny or over-inflated. I say it with complete sincerity though as it built me up when I was broken before it eventually tore me back down again. I learned a lot about myself and was opened up to new experiences from putting together the pieces of who Chris is. Aside from the moniker and identity of Punkrawk Bbob that I carry with me today it helped me find a lot of interests that I still hold. I don’t think Lord of the Rings would have connected with me if I didn’t have it as a background to parallel between. Yes, I know it’s backwards to think that LotR references back to EverQuest, but that’s just how I learned of them and came to enjoy it. That’d spin into Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop gaming. It opened up my understanding of structured clubs. Prior to EQ the idea that people would volunteer their time to get a bunch of like minded people together to further appreciate it was strange. I was so much of a loner that I didn’t realize the benefits, or more importantly the effort put in by individuals to make things like clubs exist.

Then and now infographic by SoE

A spiritual sibling existed though and I recognized this the moment I played it. Snagging an alpha build of Destiny I didn’t think much of it beyond it was a pretty and fun arena FPS. Later on with the beta they gave us access to some PVE content. Exploring the post-apocalyptic Russia made me realize this game was so much more than that. It became essentially a dungeon crawler where you and some buddies could run short missions together to unlock new gear and upgrades. There was something magical there as they hid away their lore in a way that felt familiar. The advancement of level and loot, raids and quests, a constantly expanding world and races by the players to be the first for discoveries. I was in love all over again as I sank every free minute playing Destiny for a year plus. Aside from the design similarities my life was mirroring that lonely state I was in when I played EverQuest. This time my wife was living away from home going to grad school so that left me by my lonesome. I’m in my 30’s and most of my friends spend time with their family now so hanging out isn’t necessarily a thing anymore. So days or weeks would go by without seeing anyone other than coworkers in person. In Destiny though I could meet up with my friends and bullshit over chat while progressing my three characters. It was the perfect drug for the time.

Once my wife finished school I was able to resume life as normal again, but for the most part I know to avoid Destiny the way I know to avoid EQ. They’re both “all or nothing” experiences for me. Now that Destiny 2 has been announced I’m actively avoiding falling back into that trap. That’s neither here nor there as we get back to the spark that ignited the fire within me for persistent games…

EverQuest Next was set to be the last bastion of EQ reoccurring with years of development put into it… Yet as of 2016 it’s officially been put to rest. Both a blessing and a curse as what they showed of that game back in 2013 was too tantalizing to ignore. I was ready to build a new PC for the first time in nearly a decade to jump back in. They had planned to return to the original world with an alternate timeline of the Norrath I knew. Completely destructible terrain made possible by millions of voxels shaping the land. Dynamic enemy AI to create paths, communities, or lairs dependent on the likes and traits of the creatures. World events that would determine whether cities would be built or not. All of it sounded like simply the most awe-inspiring game experience I’d ever heard of. A return to those feelings of so long ago possibly? They even released a split-off game that allowed you to explore and build structures in one of the most advanced Minecraft-inspired games I’d ever seen called EverQuest Landmark. This was a real thing that was happening as tangible code was loose into the wild. Eventually they’d let you build those structures and bring them into EverQuest Next proper they said. There was so much promise with the weekly developer updates it was hard not to be scared it’d fall apart. It was too grand and beautiful of a game to truly exist.

EQ Next was a world of whimsy I was ready to call home again.

They unfortunately were reaching for the sky and Sony went on to sell off the development team to Daybreak Games, and eventually the project was cancelled outright under it’s new owners. So now I’m left with no hopes of returning to Norrath proper. Part of the desire to create this blog series was to solidify a final place of closure for me. I wouldn’t want to change what the series was or the impact it had on me… for better or worse I am who I am from my teenage years and hardships that were closely tied into this game. Sure it took me down a strangely dark path, but don’t we all have those times that we know we should regret? Just as Pixar’s Inside Out highlighted… Sorrow and joy intertwine as memories get more complex as we mature. Part of me loved it despite my dependence on it. With that said it’ll always hold a special place in gaming for me. The lore, the characters my friends and I played, the memories of late nights camping to gain higher levels with them, and the excitement felt when that one rare drop or spawn worked out. I’ve tried in absence of the game that’ll never return to enjoy pouring over the various books documenting the phenomenon that was EverQuest. There are tabletop RPGs, atlas map books with lore, behind the scenes accounts of it’s creation, books celebrating the culture of it, spin-off video games, as well as novels and the original instruction books to provide some story to remember it by. It’s worked to some extent but it always just leave me craving those times again. At this point it sucks to admit but the brand is all but dead.

I could and likely would just go in circles if I don’t force a close here. If you’ve read any bit of this, thank you for going with me on this ride. Hopefully at the end of this EverQuest Remembered series you have an understanding of why it was special to me. If not that, perhaps an understanding on how much it impacted online gaming or defined a genre that still holds shape today; over 18 years after it’s initial release you can still see traces of it in new releases as Destiny proved. I won’t have an EverQuest sequel to look forward to anymore. I can’t return to it the way I knew it and the face of technology has changed the way we interact with digital media in general. It’s weird knowing this experience is just locked in the annals of time at this point. Other games like Final Fantasy 7, Super Mario 64, or even Gears of War are things you can return and relive the memories a bit. That’s just not possible given the dynamic aspect of MMOs. Then conflate that with the rapid advancement of tech culture… That moment is gone.

Thank you for all the years you gave me, EverQuest. It’s time to let you go.

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