David Georgeson pretended to be annoyed, but he really wasn’t. The Director of Development on multiple of Sony Online Entertainment’s current projects, most notably EverQuest Next and its inverted, player driven, and thoroughly unpredictable foil Landmark, Georgeson feigned exasperation when I told him the primary reason for my appointment was to check out survival MMO H1Z1. A mere five minutes later, however, and he seemed almost overjoyed at the chance to explain Landmark in full. I can hardly blame him — it’s a genuinely unique and fascinating game.
Landmark isn’t breaking down MMO conventions or escalating immersion to new heights; that’s EverQuest Next’s job. Instead, Landmark is about highlighting player inventiveness first and foremost. Buildings, PVP arenas, massive structures, even entire islands can all be assembled from scratch by players, at nearly any time. In fact, despite its loose fantasy RPG setting and tone, Georgeson informed me that one day he logged out alone in the mountains, only to log in and find an enormous office building that had been erected atop a nearby peak in just under a day’s time. Channeling Minecraft? Perhaps. But this world is persistent, and your creations exist for every player to see. Even if you chose to make an office building.
What’s especially empowering about Landmark are the tools given to players to back their creative escapades. A simplified but highly powerful set of digital apparati very closely resembling EverQuest Next’s development toolset is available to any player who chooses to accept it, and within the span of my short 15-minute demo, the creativity on display astounded me. One PVP arena featured a massive glass structure, with a diamond staircase that spiraled upward for miles and shimmered against the glow of a setting sun. Another was essentially a cave-based game of capture the flag, with arrows and colorful crystals embedded into rocks and walls to indicate specific directions. Not every creation will explode with popularity, but that’s where the community comes in; interesting stuff will get voted to the top, hot upcoming trends will be highlighted, and the lame or unfun will be swept under the table. A bit of democracy in my MMO — I like that.
Georgeson assured me that the interface for exploring the vast troves of user content is always being tweaked, and that by the time the game is fully complete, sifting through the sludge will be a piece of cake. He also noted that Landmark builders will live and die by their reputation. One already-renowned user builds MDPs, or modular dungeon packs. These are segmented 3D models of gothic or dungeon-esque doors, walls, and other scenery that players can use to easily design and build larger architecture of their own. The pieces come at a cost, and the in-game economy can get as micro or macro as players want it to. It wasn’t the case here, but it’d be perfectly feasible and possible for this user’s MDPs to actually have been created with “brick packs” or “material packs” made by yet another player. Regardless, said players will become known for their dependability and quality, and will thus have a name to uphold. And so the cycle continues.
Landmark’s emergence from closed beta is unknown and completely in limbo, but given its ties to EverQuest Next, we may see it progressing at a similar pace to that game. Interestingly, Landmark’s player empowerment ties in nicely to what the PS4 version of PlanetSide 2, the free-to-play, first-person shooter MMO already out on PC, has in store for players when it releases this year. A quick tip, Sony — referring to PlanetSide 2 as PS2 is a bit confusing. “Hey, want to play PS2 on PS4?” Um, pardon me? I figured it out quickly enough, but the mental image was rather amusing.
One of the things Senior Art Director Tramell Isaac highlighted about PlanetSide 2 that I found completely fascinating was the skill level of the player builders contributing to the game. Unlike Landmark, where tools (though powerful) are limited to what SOE itself makes available, those creating for PlanetSide 2 can use industry-standard applications like Maya or 3DSMax to outright design and model new objects in the gameworld. They have to be exported to a particular format and subsequently approved by SOE, but even so: this is crowdsourced development at its finest. Other players are happy to pay for the best creations, and Isaac informed me that one player makes over $20k/year from his PS2 creations. Aspiring 3D artists, you may want to check this out.
The rest of PlanetSide 2’s gameplay is no mystery thanks to its PC edition, but if you aren’t already looped in, just know that it links together sizable multiplayer maps seamlessly to form a massive persistent world. The nature of a conflict can change at any given time thanks to players logging in or out, the and the game’s scale is such that a conflict or match can last hours or even days, orders of magnitude longer (and arguably more exciting than) your standard Battlefield or Call of Duty face-off. We’re not talking EVE Online scale, but I’m pretty sure weeklong struggles that cost players thousands of real-world dollars aren’t all that desirable anyway.
Also See: H1Z1 Hands-On Preview
H1Z1 may be the talk of the town, but SOE clearly has some fascinating ventures brewing in the free-to-play and player-driven sectors of the MMO space. Expect PlanetSide 2’s PS4 edition to release later this year, and for Landmark to land — well, who honestly knows. Maybe you’ll wake up one day and find it ready and waiting, as so often happens in the game itself.