Epic Dungeons – The Social Experiment

Sep
27

Epic Dungeons – The Social Experiment

One of the most controversial aspects of what we’re working on with our game is the dungeons-that-take-months-to-complete component. We’ve had a few people raise concerns about this mechanic, and another few who have said that it is flat-out impossible for us to have dungeons that take 2 to 3 months to complete.

We believe it comes down to a simple matter of people having forgotten what it was like to play in early EverQuest during the height of the game’s popularity before instancing became a common element in the genre. Certainly, long before 15 minute hard modes became the norm.

Or, in some cases, people who never played EverQuest, so they have no frame of reference and zero clue what we’re talking about.

You have to think about the fact that it has been around 15 years since this style of gameplay has been seen. Those of us who were around back in the old days of the first generation of MMORPGs remember what it was like to spend months in a dungeon before we saw every corner and “cleared” it.

But let’s talk about it in greater detail. If you look at the traditional dungeon in one of today’s MMORPGs, it is a very linear environment. Before you ever even arrive at the dungeon you have a prerequisite set of quests that require you to go from point A to point B within the dungeon.

Then when you arrive at said dungeon, you generally find some sort of quest hub at the entrance where you can load up with another series of very linear quests that require you to go to points C,D, and E while on your way to point B.

The whole point of modern dungeon progression is to have you on a linear progression that is very much on the rails and deviation is not allowed because the dungeon isn’t even designed for you to do anything other than what you are on the rails for.

Now let’s go back to a dungeon such as Castle Mistmoore in early EverQuest. The dungeon was designed for levels 20 to 45. For those of you who remember what the leveling curve was like in early EverQuest, that was literally months’ worth of content. Part of that was the size of the dungeon, but another part of it was the design of the dungeon being done in such a way that the entry areas were for groups of a certain level, while the next part of the dungeon was for the next tier of levels, and so on and so forth as you worked your way deeper and deeper into the dungeon.

Compare that to one of the modern-day dungeons in a game such as Lord of the Rings Online, and what you see are dungeons that are designed for a group of a very specific level. For example, most dungeons have a level gap of two to three levels, maybe five at the most. The dungeons are designed in such a way that if this is a level 15 dungeon, you never go into that dungeon unless you’re at least level 15 or a couple levels above.

In the case of the dungeon such as Mistmoore, you would go there in your early 20s and you could spend literally months working your way from point to point within the dungeon, leveling up as you went, exploring every nook and cranny, and literally growing up over the course of two or three months while in the dungeon.

The first time always took months, because you didn’t have maps, you didn’t know where you were going, you didn’t know what keys you needed or who droped them, or what openes this door or where the traps in the floor were and so on and so forth.

Back in early 2014 when the team first got together on the Project 1999 EverQuest server, we spent six weeks in Permafrost, starting in the late teens and working our way up to the late 20s. The only reason we even left was because at that point we were covering territory we had already seen in the past, and we wanted to move on to Kunark with the rest of the guild.

Had we done it fresh, without actually having never seen it before, we never would’ve left until we actually cleared the whole dungeon.

Recently, in a discussion over at the epic thread on MMORPG.com, a couple of individuals in particular made statements that dungeons taking several months to complete are an impossibility.

We disagree. We remember the dungeons that took months to complete. Mistmoore. Karnor’s. NTOV. Sebilis. Permafrost. Runnyeye. Velk’s Labrynth. Kael. And beyond .

The way dungeons were designed in the early days was in a sandbox manner. Rather than having a dungeon where you are on the rails from point A to point B, dungeons were wide open and you could go anywhere and do anything that you wanted to do. Not only that, but dungeons were not designed for a specific level range of two to three levels. Instead, dungeons were designed with 15 or 20 levels of content to explore, offering you the opportunity to spend several months within the same place if you wanted to explore every nook and cranny.

In essence, that’s what we’re doing with our dungeons. When we talk about dungeons that take several months to complete, were talking about dungeons that are done in the same way that the early EverQuest dungeons were done. Large, sandbox environments where you don’t have a linear line of progression to follow, but rather the option to go anywhere you want, with multiple tiers of content in each dungeon throughout the various wings.

You might start out the dungeon in the entryway where the mobs and puzzles and traps are designed for players with skills from 15 to 25, while the next level up is for players who have skills from 25 to 30, and then beyond that players who have skills from 30 to 40, and finally the deepest parts of the dungeon where players need abilities around the 50 mark to be able to combat the content of the dungeon.

There will be crafting events to overcome, puzzles to solve, doors to either bash your way through, unlock, or find your way around, traps, areas that require climbing skills and/or rope/climbing tools, areas where brute force is the only way, where magical traps and locks are the only way, and areas where mechanical traps and locks are the only way.

Through the course of exploration, combat, puzzle solving, trap completion, crafting, and beyond, players will naturally level up during the course of their time in a given dungeon. There might be three dungeons for that same skill range, but the goal is not for players to bounce around from dungeon to dungeon doing 15 minute hard modes, but instead spend several months exploring one specific area with their friends and guild and occasionally the random pickup person as well.

In EverQuest, you often did not see the other dungeons within a certain level range unless you actually created an alt and went to explore that place on a different character. The perfect example of this is in the very beginning of the game, long before teleports were around, long before maps were created, when players who started in Qeynos leveled up in one series of dungeons, while players who started in Felwithe, Steamfont, or Kelethin had an entirely different experience, and those who started in Freeport or Neriak had another entirely different set of dungeons to explore.

Someone who started in Kelethin, for example, usually went from Crushbone to Unrest, and from Unrest to Mistmoore, and then from Mistmoore to Kedge Keep, if they stayed on the same continent. In between there were overland zones like Steamfont Mountains and the Mino Caves, the chessboard in Butcherblock, or the goblin camps.

Meanwhile, Those in Freeport/Neriak would do Befallen and then from there head to SolA, SolB. Halflings had the option to go straight to Runnyeye after working their way up in the exterior, or head over to High Hold Keep.

By the time you finished Unrest, might not even know about SolA or SolB or HHK or Runnyeye, but your friends were telling you about this place called Mistmoore, so that’s where you went. It wasn’t until months later that you knew about this other place that had the potential, but since you had already leveled beyond it, you would go do that with an alternative character later on down the road.

Having dungeons that take months to complete is not restrictive in any way. It’s the exact experience that we all had when we played EverQuest in the early days of the game. Dungeons were not meant to be consumed in a matter of hours or even a matter of a few game sessions. Instead, dungeons were meant to be experienced over a period of weeks to months.

You grouped up with your friends, you found new people to invite into your guild, you grew the community, you met other groups who are doing the same area and became friends with them, you found encounters that were too difficult for your group to complete on their own and reached out to anyone in the nearby area who could help you, you died and had corpse runs and had to ask others for help which led to friendships and alliances and guilds growing, and socialization and exploration were the key elements.

Which leads me to our upcoming social experiment that kicks off on October 5th. In light of certain individuals thinking or claiming that it is impossible for dungeons to take weeks to months to complete, we want to take people back to the beginning and show them exactly what were talking about.

Maybe it’s because these individuals never experienced classic EverQuest. Or maybe it’s because it’s been so long that these individuals have forgotten what it was like to play in the original first-generation style. Regardless of the reasons, we want to prove a point.

So here’s what we’re going to do: on October 5rh we are starting a Project 1999 social experiment. We have a static group of six players who will be meeting up Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from around 7 in the morning until 10 in the morning EST.

We will be live streaming the sessions on our Twitch channel. The time frames will vary slightly in that not everyone is going to be playing exactly the same time frames every single day because we all have various commitments with families and children and wives and jobs, but as a general rule somewhere in that timeslot on those days for the months of October, November, December, and January of 2016, you’ll be able to find us as we take a group of characters through classic EverQuest.

The first dungeon we’ll be running is Befallen. We expect this dungeon to only last a few weeks, because it is not a large one. From there, we will be moving on to Runnyeye, where we expect to spend the bulk of our time. The point is to show people exactly what we’re talking about when we mention dungeon that takes for weeks to months to complete, when you don’t use maps, are exploring, and taking your time.

And yes: the second time you run through, it will be faster. And if you use a map or a Wiki you can go through even quicker. And if you are higher level it can be quicker. But even Kael or NTOV were not areas that you could just blast your way through in a couple of hours when you were level-appropriate, regardless of your gear OR your knowledge of the area; they were still difficult encounters and you required a team to do so.

We’re not talking about a linear progression from point A to point B, with a set series of goals that you’re supposed to complete in a very specific order. Instead, where showing people exactly what it is that we’re designing with the Saga of Lucimia: a sandbox game where there are no linear progression paths, where you can go anywhere, do anything, explore in any direction, and spend months within a dungeon before you actually see every nook and cranny and complete it.

If you’re interested, follow along. We also have an unofficial night crew forming up right now who will be sharing our guild tag, made up of other community members from the Saga of Lucimia forums. While they won’t be streaming their sessions on our official channel, they are nevertheless part of the overall crew, and we may be using individuals from that group to fill in a slot now and again when someone from our team can’t be online due to real-life commitments.

Over the course of four months you will see our group grow from the early stages of being around level five, and growing up until the point where they are likely around level 30. We’re not sure if we’ll make it beyond level 30 at the time we’re done, given the fact that we only have four months, and we are only meeting up for two or three hours three times per week.

We likely won’t even reach the first hell levels during our experiment. That’s when things really slowed down. And yes, hell levels are absolutely a part of the Lucimian experience.

The other thing we want to point out is this is roughly the same progression pace that we ourselves are aiming to achieve in the Saga of Lucimia; a progression that takes place over a period of many months. We don’t expect players to be able to reach 100 in their primary skills for at least 18 to 24 months, for the core players who play 15 hours a week on average.

Power levelers who play 40 to 50 hours a week will naturally get there far quicker, but we aren’t designing the game with those players in mind. Instead, our game is designed with players just like us in mind; people who have children, families, jobs, and while gaming is still our primary hobby and passion, it is not our life. This is also why the camps and caravan system is so important to what we’re doing, because we need to make sure that people who have limited time to play can still keep up to speed with the rest of the group and partake of these epic campaigns that take months to complete.

So stick around. Tune in to our Twitch channel every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday around 7 a.m. EST for the next few months and follow along as our merry band of adventurers make their way through EverQuest in an old-school style without mini maps, without solo content, with a group of friends and community members, and take our time exploring a massive world.

When we’re done, you’ll see that these types of experiences are far from impossible, it’s just that most people have forgotten what it was like to play in a vast open sandbox world where nothing is on the rails.

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