Kaelin Consulting

Mark W. Kaelin

I have over 25 years of experience in the electronic publishing industry. I was an editor for CBS Interactive for eleven years, where I was responsible for acquiring, editing, and writing technical content for daily publication on CBS Interactive properties TechRepublic.com and ZDNet.com. My duties included the recruitment and development of contributing talent. Prior to CBS Interactive, I was an editor with ProQuest for 12 years, where I developed, designed, edited, and maintained an array of university and business school supplemental curricula products. Before ProQuest, I was a public accountant for five years, specializing in tax preparation and in compilation and review engagements. In addition, I have performed independent consulting services over the last 30 years for various business clients.

A little more quest please

Originally published in January 2001.

Name: EverQuest: The Ruins of Kunark
Genre: RPG
Format: CD-ROM
Developer: Verant Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Multiplayer: Yes, exclusively
Requires: Windows 95X/2000; Pentium 200; 64MB RAM; 3D Accelerated Graphics Card; 600 MB hard disk space; 28.8 Internet connection
Retail Price: $39.99
Street Price: $29.99

Several months ago, I suggested in this column that reluctant computer game players be adventurous and try one of the currently available multiplayer online games.  After several months of procrastination, I decided to take my own advice and give one of these massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) a try.  I settled on EverQuest: The Ruins of Kunark, developed by Verant Interactive and published by Sony. (Note: an expansion pack is now available for high-level players called the Scars of Velious)

The MMORPG genre is, and you heard it here first, the computer gaming buzzword of 2001.  In fact, don’t be surprised to hear 2001 referred to as “The Year of Massive Multiplayer Online Games,” or some such hyperbole.  Hype aside, there are several multiplayer online games poised to hit the market during the first quarter of 2001.  This bubble of releases coming down the pike indicates a major new trend in computer gaming, so there is a kernel of truth somewhere in the marketing buzz.

What It Is

EverQuest takes place in a traditional role-playing fantasy universe complete with wizards, dragons, warriors, and other assorted monsters and characters all striving to survive and thrive in a mystical virtual world.  Players can choose to role-play characters from several different races, including a race of lizards known as Iskars.  In addition, each character is required to choose a professional class.  This class determines your home city, how other characters will react to your character, and most importantly, how you will play the game.  Will your character rely on magic or brute force, will you be good or evil?  These are the questions you will have to answer even before entering the world of EverQuest.

The EverQuest world is divided into several continents, which are themselves further divided into several zones.  The zones can be cities, deserts, forests, mountains, dungeons or anything other type of area found in a role-playing environment.  Each zone has certain monsters, non-player characters and specific dangers that must be dealt with properly and carefully.  This is where the EverQuest community, existing outside the game itself, becomes so important.

Because much of the information about monsters and zones is left for the adventurer to discover, EverQuest players have banded together to form Web sites and discussion boards where detailed information discovered by one player can be shared with others.  These communities often take the form of guilds where higher-level established players and their respective characters mentor newer players and their recently established online personas.

The user interface is extremely simple and should be readily mastered by even the most inexperienced computer gamer.  Using a traditional keyboard/mouse combination, players can target other characters, hail them, attack them, or, as is often the case, run from them.  Banks of programmable hot keys makes the EverQuest interface almost infinitely customizable.  The ability to set your own interface standards should satisfy even the most demanding veteran game player.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the in-game graphics employed by the EverQuest game engine.  Streaming graphics data over the Internet in packets that are assembled in a fulfilling form on my computer screen is quite an achievement.  The virtual world is full of color and movement that gives the game environment a level of richness that is comparable to what is available in traditional single-player games.

The environmental and character sounds were also a pleasant surprise.  There are ambient sounds throughout each zone that invoke a sense of danger or pending excitement as you make your way through to your destination.  The monsters voices are wonderful, with skeletons that cackle, lions that roar, wasps that buzz, Griffins that scream, and ghouls that wail a skin-crawling wail.  I saved myself a terrible death several times by hearing an approaching monster before I actually saw it.  For some monsters, seeing it means almost certain death so it pays to keep your ears open.

Of course, dying in EverQuest does not really mean actually dying.  What it means is that you re-spawn in a different zone without any of your previously accumulated equipment.  If you want any of that equipment back you have to travel back to your corpse, which lies in a fetal position at the exact spot where you “died.”  These corpse retrievals can be quite difficult, but are almost always necessary.  This is one area where being a guild member can be very beneficial.

And What It Ain’t

Strictly in terms of technical achievement and innovation, EverQuest is an excellent MMORPG.  Bringing such a rich and vibrant fantasy world to over 300,000 players worldwide through as little as a 28.8k modem, is a wondrous accomplishment.  However, in terms of overall game play, I was a little disappointed.

First and foremost, this is supposed to be an RPG, which means there should be many opportunities to role play.  Unfortunately, there are very few.  In fact several players have been banned from the online world for taking the evil-nature of their characters too seriously.  Another aspect of role-playing games is the quest.  In EverQuest, the quests are either too few or too difficult for low-level players.  The game designers need to add quests, especially at low-levels, and they need to make these quests readily available and easier to find.  Most advantageously, the quest information would be relayed during role play. 

With so few quests available and so few role-playing opportunities, players are left with only one thing to do – kill monsters.  The game digresses into a first-person shooter game where players kill a monster, heal up, kill another monster.  The fact that you are a cleric or a warrior or a necromancer is really irrelevant, your only mission is to kill monsters and gain experience so you can kill bigger monsters so you can gain more experience.  The pattern is oddly addicting, but when you take a step back and look at it, you are left feeling empty and asking yourself, “Why am I playing this game?”  This is not a good question for a game player to ask.

The other major problem I have with EverQuest involves the people at Verant Interactive and Sony.  With 300,000 registered players paying $10 per month in addition to the $30 they paid just to get access, I would have like more time, effort and forethought placed on making my game experience more enjoyable.  (Do the math and you can see why there is industry buzz!)  Ideally this effort would be in the form of better customer service.  There are official discussion boards where players can ask questions, but there are only 2 or 3 moderators to give the official answers to such queries.  With such a huge online population, there should be hundreds of representatives whose sole job description is to converse with customers on the discussion boards.  Mark my words, the first developer that takes such a proactive approach to their online game, will be the game that defines the genre for the masses and displaces EverQuest as the current game of choice.

In the end, I like EverQuest: The Ruins of Kunark as a first-generation MMORPG, but I believe the second-generation will be markedly better.  If you are thinking about purchasing a game in this genre, EverQuest is a good choice, but the better choice may be to wait for the next wave.