While the population didn't exactly explode, especially as the progression of time rendered EQMac stuck in a type of video game amber, a singular community of dedicated, helpful players formed, and they became proud of their hardcore home. According to many of them, EQMac was the way EverQuest was always meant to be played, frozen in time at the release of one of the game's best expansions. It was a mark of pride to say that you played on Al'Kabor, especially now as massive AAA MMOs dwarf the original EQ -- to say nothing of this odd EQ spinoff.
Yet, as SOE posted, "all good things must end," and with the news that EverQuest is being prepped for free-to-play, EQMac players learned that they would not be joining the rest. Unless higher powers intervene, on March 29th, Al'Kabor will be turned off for good. As such, I felt this was a good time to look briefly at the history of this unique title and the testimonies of its passionate fans.
After the first few years, the allure of EQMac became less about its native OSX platform and more about its "stuck in time" status. Like all MMOs, EverQuest continued to expand and change as the years rolled on, and some gamers regretted the transition to what they saw as a kinder, softer EQ that lacked the difficulty curve and raid challenge of the early 2000s. Fortunately for those who felt that way, EQMac gave them an opportunity to return to the past and play the game as it was -- not as it became.
For a player weaned on World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, or even EverQuest II, 2002's Planes of Power might well be a completely different generation of gameplay instead of a game from just a few years back. It was popular back when leveling took an extremely long time -- and there was no guarantee you'd ever hit the level cap, what with the harsh death penalties and all. The UI was more cumbersome, it was in first-person perspective, your compass simply wouldn't work unless you leveled up Sense Heading (plus, no maps!), night was pitch-black except to certain races, and grouping was an absolute must.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the environment that a segment of MMO players crave. Instead of holding your hand, EQMac's hands pushed you down in the mud over and over again. Not everything was available in a giant database the minute the game went live. Players had to band together to figure out even the simplest of things, and real progression took time, dedication, and a monumental level of teamwork. For hardcore raiders, it was paradise.
It's not exactly true that SOE outright abandoned Al'Kabor. While the community was incredibly small (rumor has the numbers in the hundreds, not thousands) and the studio stated that it wasn't proud of this version of the client (and thus did not elect to keep the game in sync with EverQuest classic), it did receive a modicrum of support from within the company.
One developer in particular, Todd "Hobart" Schmidt, became the expert on EQMac and began to hack away at the bugs and problems that plagued the server since the game's inception. Severe issues, such as the in-game sound causing bugs and crashes, had previously gone ignored by SOE, but Todd turned that around.
While there's only so much one man could do, EQMac players recognized that Hobart's interest in the game went above and beyond mere maintainance. The server also benefited from a part-time GM and a volunteer guide program
The other major boon to the server came in August 2005, when SOE released EQMac as a free client download with a 30-day trial for new players. Previously, players had to hunt down one of the increasingly scarce copies of the retail box.
While EQMac had official forums on SOE's website, the community quickly gravitated toward its own fansite, EQMac.com, along with a wiki. It's here that players organized their in-game activities and kept the spirit alive for the better part of a decade.
Buried among the hoopla of EverQuest's 2012 F2P conversion was the sad news that Al-Kabor would not be joining the rest -- or even continuing to operate as is. The studio posted the sad announcement on January 10th, sending shockwaves through this tiny community.
While EQMac players were told that the months of February and March will be subscription-free for currently players, it certainly wasn't much of a consolation prize for those who had made Al'Kabor their own. The servers lit up with a mixture of outrage and sadness, with folks torn between fighting for the game and discussing how to best spend the last couple of months.
Others echoed the seniments of player Aerili, who wrote, "I'm sure SOE are expecting the howls of outrage, disappointment and more. And deservedly so. This is a pathetic decision, especially given the excellent work by Hobart on improving the server and the creation of the Intel client. As a gaming community, Al'Kabor has been a real success, in spite of SOE." Another player asked in bewilderment, "You'll keep seven EQOA servers running, but not one Mac server?"
Perhaps one of the most touching stories comes from Kristin, who met her husband on the server in 2005: "We have a wonderful relationship and two kids all thanks to this wonderful sanctuary that Sony has nurtured quietly in a corner for nearly a decade. I cannot express to you enough how badly our community doesn't want to be torn apart. There has been talk that the whole community may move to another game to continue playing together, but we all soon realized there is no other game like EverQuest and nothing close to being as awesome as Planes of Power. There isn't anywhere to go that recreates what we want to play, how we want to play, and the challenge imposed by Al'Kabor's unique rules. All of us here at EQMac firmly believe that what we have is incredibly special and we don't want to lose it. We would prefer to be ignored for another 10 years if possible, but I know you may have other plans for us."
Astonishingly, John Smedley wrote a follow-up letter to the distressed community, laying out the reasons behind the decision. In it, he said that the small population and ancient codebase that only one dev knew presented difficulties in justifying continued operation.
Looking for a compromise of sorts, Smedley did commit to running a poll about a possible Mac version of the current EverQuest client. If numbers were high enough, he said, he could go to the company with a case for doing it. And while a vast majority of pollsters did vote for the Mac port, to date there are scarcely 600 people who have voted -- numbers too low to justify action, according to an inside source on the EQMac forums.
New EverQuest Mac port or no, some have said that SOE is missing the point of what made the server special. Player Cabot summed it up thusly: "Those of us who play on EQMac wouldn't be happy on a modern, PoP-locked EQ PC progression server because the rules have changed since the real PoP era. We like the hard version of the game, the way it was originally designed and meant to be experienced."
Is it a done deal at this point? Signs point to "yes," but Smedley's letter to the community gave them hope that SOE's president has a soft spot for Al'Kabor. In another interesting development, Hobart posted a question on February 8th about a hypothetical EQMac marketplace. Is that false hope or a sign that SOE is trying to come up with a financial excuse to save the title?
It's been said that it's not over till it's over, and March 29th is still some time away. Massively has been in contact with SOE regarding this situation, and we hope to hear more soon.
In any case, next week we'll be hearing from some of the most die-hard EQMac fans and what they have to say about this unique gameplay experience. And if you've played on Al'Kabor, speak up in the comments and tell us what you think about all this!
When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.