||Sony Online Entertainment at E3 2003
May 15, 2003 Jakub Wojnarowicz
Summary: On day 1 of E3, Jakub talks to Sony and gets all the latest goodies on their upcoming titles for the PC and PS2 such as Planetside and Lords of Everquest.
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Lords of EverQuest
Our first appointment was with Sony Online Entertainment and they were very eager to show off their latest product – Lords of EverQuest. LoEQ takes place 10,000 years before EverQuest, on the land of Tunaria. Here players will take charge of one of 15 Lords, each corresponding to a different class. Lords are not unlike their WarCraft III counterparts, heroes. They have auras, spells and gain levels.
As this is an RTS, there are many supplementary units – over 80 of them. Not all are available for every Lord, of course. Armies tend to stay quite small as the focus is on tactics and combat rather than resource harvesting. To help implement this, there is only one resource – platinum – and AI is designed to make combat micromanagement easier. Units arrange themselves in a logical fashion, with tanks up front and casters in the rear.
It’d be a mistake to call Lords of EverQuest a WarCraft III clone. While it’s certainly inspired by that game, it also adds to the formula in some meaningful ways. Most importantly, the units themselves can gain levels and upon reaching level 6, they may become mini-lords, lieutenants of the main lord. The player also will have the option of transferring some of the units between missions.
The 3 campaigns will have 36 missions and Sony is claiming that the game can take 75 hours to complete. Now unless we misheard the 75 hour claim, that works out to be about 2.1 hours per mission on average. To keep things interesting, players will run into neutrals and may be able to ally with them. In keeping with the spirit of EQ, there will be quests to complete in many of the missions. The units, spells and abilities will of course also draw heavily on the deep EverQuest universe.
On the technical side, SOE has designed its own custom engine. The camera is capable of swinging around 360 degrees and has impressive zoom abilities. Regardless of any stylistic similarities to WarCraft, we’d say it’s a somewhat more impressive game visually. LoEQ takes a more aggressive stance with the special effects.
SIDEBAR: This is my Random Fact, short and stout. This is the handle, this is the spout!
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EQ Online Adventures: Frontiers
EQ Online Adventures is the PS2 version of EverQuest. Although similar in many ways, it was toned down for the console crowd and in fact was probably easier to get into as it lacked the hardcore time sinks of the original. The small online PS2 market is going to grow by leaps and bounds as every PS2 will soon ship with an online adapter, so it’s no surprise that Sony Online Entertainment decided to go ahead with Frontiers.
This being a console title, where there really are no such things as expansion packs, and Frontiers is no exception. Frontiers is more of an upgrade, or 2nd edition of Online Adventures. It of course features a new class and new race, but also has a new continent and new lands on the old one. In total, about 144 square kilometers (approximately 60 square miles) have been added. Crafting and other trade skills have also been implemented.
Sony has managed to update the graphics with new character models and extra terrain features. Grass patches appear here and there, while the models have all been completely revamped. The world is completely seamless; there are no zones to blunder through. Somewhere in that limited PS2 memory architecture, the devs also managed to find room for battle and city music.
SOE has decided to include many more quests on Frontiers, and designed new epic quests for people approaching the new level limit – level 60. The new race is the Ogre, obviously suited for melee combat more than anything else. The Alchemist class has also been introduced, and they’re a special form of spellcaster. Creating and using potions to augment his abilities, the Alchemist relies heavily on the crafting skills that are new with Frontiers.
Best of all, original Online Adventures owners will be able to interact with Frontiers characters in all the old zones. We’re not quite sure how OA users will be able to deal with new items and the higher levels involved, but we’re quite sure that SOE planned for this contingency when designing the first version of the game.
SIDEBAR: Marcus writes slow because is is slow.
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PlanetSide. Boy, does that ever invoke images of Halo and Tribes, doesn’t it? Except, in my staunch determination to never let anyone ruin the game for me, I successfully managed to avoid all pre-release information about it since the original press release… until now. So if you know all about it, you probably won’t read anything new here.
PlanetSide is a massively multiplayer FPS that should be launching any day now. The whole idea is that not just teams are brought together, but sides in a war. SOE is planning for servers to run from 3500 to up to 5000 players on several continents. Continents are designed for 500 players, and characters are free to move between them through warp gates or stratospheric pod drops from shuttles.
The characters in PlanetSide will, of course, have levels. Unlike most MMORPGs the focus is on getting those levels quickly. To keep everyone playing, there will be 60 certificates (skills) to learn but the most anyone can know at any given time are 23. Certificates are like a very broad but shallow skill tree… no, not a tree – a flat line. There is no armor skill 1, armor skill 2, super armor skill 1, super armor skill 2. Players just know how to use tanks once they’re certified for them.
Skill point assignments are easily changed, and the current plan is to allow the player to exchange certificates once every 24 hours. To gain certificates, one has to do good in battle and gain battle experience. Unlike a MMORPG, a character isn’t necessarily as good as his level, but as good as he is played. A heavy weapons skill won’t make him any better at combat if the user running the character is inept.
In addition to battle experience, gamers can also pick up command experience. By leading teams to victory in their objectives, leaders will gain experience and notoriety – good or bad. This will allow them to draw in bigger and better teams.
Penalties for dying are simply a respawn timer – no experience is lost. To cut down on griefers, PlanetSide will feature coded grief moderation. Destroying equipment, killing allies and other forms of active grief may lead to restrictions or even the locking of an account.
Dave Georgeson, of MechWarrior 2 and Tribes fame, also made it a point to mention that SOE plans to roll out features over the coming year and watch the community for ideas. The plan is to keep things fresh and interesting, and these features are already in the system. They’ll be released systematically to test their popularity.
SIDEBAR: Tribes fans have a love-hate relationship with Dave Georgeson, but he’s a remarkably cool and down-to-earth guy in person.
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EQ2 has the advantage and bad fortune of being the sequel to the most popular MMORPG ever. Almost 500,000 EQ accounts are currently active (no small amount of them due to the difficulty of canceling one), and EQ fans are as hardcore as MMORPG fans come. No matter what the say, they like the time sinks because those time sinks give items rarity and value.
Any changes to the EQ formula, no matter how small or even perceived after a patch, are met with flames that bring to mind the Derek Smart flame wars on newsgroups. Thus, SOE has its work cut out for it in trying to please everyone.
One of the more interesting ideas they decided upon was to make the EQ2 universe parallel to EQ’s. That means that EQ and EQ2 are not just running at the same time, but players from each game may be able to interact with each other in select zones. This, despite the 500 year time differential, as EQ2 occurs 5 centuries in the future.
The graphics of EQ2 are quite impressive. Characters are very customizable, with 45 adjustable bones in the head. These bones are linked to create chins, brows and cheeks. Multiple textures are available, being of quite high resolution and offering staggering detail. Characters can even have acne! The dragon was just… wow. The detail of the textures on it was quite insane; and those details were helped out by liberal use of pixel shader effects. Due to the use of pixel and vertex shaders, a GF3 card will be the minimum accepted, along with a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. There are plans to upgrade the graphics over a 5 year period, as has occurred with the first EQ.
When questioned about said time sinks, SOE said that they were working out the worst ones but only offered a few examples. Mostly they want to avoid the endless sitting around and waiting that currently plagues EQ; they’d rather have someone spend hours doing a quest by doing things rather than spending hours waiting for that rare spawn. There still will be rare spawns, but the designers suggested that they are planning on ways to make sure everyone gets a fair crack at them by putting limits on how many people can enter some zones. For example, average raids may be limited to 24 people, though special ones may see 50 or 100.
To keep things fresh and interesting at all times, raids will be implemented on the lower levels. Speaking of levels, characters will be able to reach level 100, though Sony was rather cautious about comparing the time investment to reach level 100 compared to reaching level 50 or 60 in EQ.
SIDEBAR: What do you have to say about this article?