Although currently busy with a slew of EQN Landmark work (if you doubt that, follow him on Twitter), Georgeson sat down with me to talk a bit about the game's alpha and the plans moving forward, revealing some promising tidbits about incoming crafting specializations, fast travel options, landownership, and the upcoming alpha roadmap. He also expounded on the world's shortest NDA.
Of course, seeing as it is just the beginning of alpha (one that Georgeson specifically stated is only 60% done in his alpha introduction video), you know that there are definitely more features incoming to the game, like water, monsters, and combat. It's no secret that crafting is an important topic to a number of Massively staffers, so it was natural to begin the discussion with the in-game crafting system.
As it currently stands, the crafting system is no more than just clicking a button with the resources in your bag and staring blankly at the crafting table. But since several of SOE's other titles, including Vanguard and EverQuest II, have more involved and robust systems, it's understandable that players would expect an innovative game like Landmark to move forward, not back. Georgeson noted that the system currently in game is just the rudimentary beginnings of crafting. In fact, he explained that the team has been pretty pleased to get crafting to the point it was at before the alpha started, and players should definitely be expecting much more to come.
What about the animations, like working the forge in EQII? The answer: "We'll get to that." Georgeson also revealed more of the plans for crafters. "Remember the classes of EQN where you collect a whole bunch of them and you specialize? We're going to be doing that kind of thing with crafting also." So players who have learned specializations will be able to craft different and better things than players who haven't. Additionally, players will have to work together to craft some really great things, as players will have different specializations.
With less than a day of NDA, you have to wonder why SOE even had one to begin with. According to Georgeson, the NDA could have lasted a month. Why the change of heart? It all came down to players being happy! Georgeson revealed,
"To be honest, the reason we had an NDA is because I was really paranoid that we would launch and just fall over and everything would be very negative. We wanted to make sure that we had a window of time when we could make the corrections and make sure that it was fun for players before we started telling every one about it. The first weekend was so much fun, and the people really responded to the community, so we decided overnight to drop the NDA because we were having such a good time with the players."From the outside, it looks as if the money-back guarantee coupled with the drop in NDA was a significant boost to Landmark interest and Founder's Pack sales. Georgeson corroborated this, saying that sales surged after the satisfaction guarantee was offered and that "when [SOE] dropped the NDA, [sales] went nuts." He added, "Once people realized we were proud of our creation instead of hiding it behind a fence, it took a lot of the 'considers' and convinced them to try it."
With the NDA gone and this atmosphere of open communication, will it be possible for the alpha forums to be viewable by those outside of the alpha population, at least in a read-only state? Georgeson answered that he liked the idea, so curious fans may have the ability to read up on the game even if they can't reply.
Addressing the land rush
With the flood of new people eager to try the game, finding a plot of land to call your own became nigh impossible fairly quickly, even though the team estimated each world holds 16,000 to 17,000 claims. "As far as land space goes, we slightly overestimated about how many claims people could put down on an island by about a third," Georgeson disclosed. The team wasn't sure exactly how organized players would be when claiming land; they turned out to be more haphazard than expected. If players had fit the claims together in a more orderly fashion, they'd have been able to squeeze many more onto each island.
To those who can't find a spot now or would prefer a different one, you'll have the chance to claim a new spot soon. More worlds, each with its own set of island maps, are incoming: one tonight named Serenity, two very soon (as in days), and a whole bunch more when the ordered hardware is delivered. It is expected that many current players will pull up stakes and move to these new worlds, opening up the current worlds up for new players to stake claims.
Home and back again
Georgeson also addressed the problems landowners had in finding their claims. "This week we're going to make it really stupidly obvious where your claims are and how to get there." He went on to note that "in hindsight it was hysterical how big a blind spot [SOE] had for this" since devs never faced the issue on their single island and were focused so much on other aspects like crafting and mining.
One of the bugs that is currently being fixed is the one afflicting players who log into different worlds than they logged out on. While exploration is fun, it's best when it is not forced; numerous players were forced to travel all the way to a portal in order to travel all the way back to their claim -- a very time consuming and annoying process.
That led into the topic of faster travel. We already know the grappling hooks are in game, but what else can players expect? For instance, earning a fast travel to your own claim was mentioned early on. Georgeson revealed that there are plans to have a default fast travel option to the island's portal hub for ease in traveling, but travel to claims themselves is still being debated so as to not negate the process of exploring as players go. "I think we're going to encourage you to actually move to your claim and port back to the hub whenever you want to go to another world," he told me. However, he did assure me that "there are so many cool ways [SOE is] planning to travel in this game... the grappling hook, mounts, gliding, and possibly flight."
Although Georgeson just penned a state of the alpha letter, it covers only the immediate future. So what can players expect a bit further on?
"In the next few days the dev team's going to be getting together and, based on all the feedback and comments we've been seeing, we're going to assemble our roadmap for the next month or so. At that point well be able to roll that out and show people what we are intending to do"Devs will keep the players informed on what big things are coming, the order they are coming in, and why they are being done. Georgeson told me that the new process of including the "why" is very important because once players know why something is being done, they can offer real feedback.
Combat will be at either the very end of alpha or the start of closed beta. The main hangup with that system is that mobs cannot be introduced into the world yet. "The thing that's stopping us from putting monsters onto the game is that we do not yet have pathfinding code written that works with changeable voxels." In other words, monsters can't just follow points on a path, so a whole new AI server has to be in place to handle calculations on the fly, allowing mobs to move around on ever-changing terrain.
Additionally, once liquid is in the game, players will be able to drown as well as burn in lava. On top of that, falling damage will eventually ensure that players will get hurt if they jump off a mountain without having a grappling hook or gliding. And the ability to slide up mountains will be a thing of the past once those mechanisms are put into place.
In other words, there is plenty to look forward to as Landmark's alpha progresses. For another look at the alpha, be sure to tune in to Massively TV this week for all of our streams!
When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!