This is an important time for veteran MMORPG Everquest. Despite having been around for close to fifteen years, during which there has been any amount of tweaking, expansion packs and spin-offs, only one actual sequel has been released (the functionally-titled Everquest 2, released in 2004).
Thus, expectations are running high for the soon-to-arrive Everquest Next. But what actually is Everquest? Well, although not the absolute first of its kind, for many RPG veterans it marks the page in gaming’s history when online multiplayer adventuring finally dragged itself out of the primordial, primitive swamp of text-based play. (As anachronistic as a penny-farthing, most gamers under twenty-five will have to look up the phrase “text-based play”, but take it from the older set, it really was as primitive as it sounds.)
Finally, players could explore a 3D, visual world instead of making do with their imagination (which, let’s face it, can never really compete with shiny new graphics). But the original developers like John Smedley, who remains at the heart of the project, remained faithful to this previous generation of games, and thus much of the format of those older titles lived on in Everquest. And if you’ve played any MMORPG of any note over the last decade, you’ll recognise them yourself: the class systems, the choice of character types, the quest/loot/trading tropes.
Convolution aside, it is Smedley’s original, core ideas that make Everquest such an enticing scene to get involved in. Much like an old but still-powerful rock band – Motorhead, say – we see a creative product that was around at the beginning of its genre, that has evolved where necessary, often leading the way… but retains the qualities that made it great, and still out-performs the many imitators of those qualities. For example, Everquest invites and encourages actual co-operation between members of a team in a way few other titles in the genre can match; with lone-wolfing beyond the beginning levels sure to get the team slaughtered, the wizard must learn to keep a distance from the fray, protecting the close-quarter fighting classes with long-range projectiles. Similarly, those same fighters must protect the physically-vulnerable wizard classes when the action gets too close for comfort. Meanwhile, the healer types flit hither and thither, using the healing powers the whole team depends upon.
The bottom line is that Everquest is a blue-chip, premier-league product. That we can still enter and explore this prime real-estate realm for free (well, most of it) means that Sony Online Entertainment deserve a respectful tip of the hat from us all.
About Sony Online Entertainment
The above-mentioned John Smedley seems to be the only member of the original creative team who has survived the various company name-changes to retain his prominent position within Sony Online Entertainment. This is hardly surprising – and seems to have done the franchise little harm, with all due respect to those original guys – given the convoluted transmutations of the various companies (and the ever-changing names) who have had control over Everquest over the years. As an executive for Sony Online Entertainment America, Smedley gets the credit for securing the budget for the original game. Sony was to launch the game under the label then called Redeye, and at this stage had no inkling of its imminent success. Indeed, Sony at that point saw the game as something of a side-project, having already decided to throw most of their weight behind their console-only brand 989 Studios. Come 1999, Smedley and team had the finished product, which Sony released under Verant Interactive, having decided for reasons undisclosed to ditch the name Redeye. Given that the game was destined to generate speculation in serious academic circles – and an outright ban in Brazil – based on its supposedly addictive properties, there’s probably a body of thought which maintains Redeye might have been the more appropriate moniker, but speculation aside, what is known is that the stratospheric heights of popularity the game had risen to barely a year later led Sony to drastically re-assess Verant Interactive, with the first change starting with yet another new name for the company: Sony Online Entertainment. Simple, right?
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