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Some Assembly Required: A look at EQII's dungeon maker

Jef Reahard

So you're an armchair game designer, eh? Well, EverQuest II invites you to put your money where your mouth is -- at least as it relates to dungeon creation.

While Sony Online Entertainment's venerable fantasy title is no stranger to player-generated content given its spectacular player- and guild-housing mechanics, this winter's Age of Discovery expansion upped the ante a little bit in the form of the new dungeon maker toolset. The system is a bit rough around the edges, but it's nonetheless a fantastic first iteration that adds a lot of fun and replay value to an MMO that was already chock-full of both.

EverQuest II - player-made dungeon
In brief, EQII's dungeon maker allows you to pick from a selection of instanced map templates, populate said instances with NPCs and objects, and sit back and enjoy the spoils as your friends power their way through your content.

It's not the first such tool of its kind, of course. City of Heroes introduced its Mission Architect toolset some time ago, and Star Trek Online, Ryzom, Star Wars Galaxies, and a few other titles have all featured some sort of mission generator functionality.

If EQII's implementation lacks in originality, it makes up for it in terms of polish and ease of use (both from a player and a designer perspective). Running a player-made dungeon is as easy as clicking the Dungeon Maker button on EQII's options menu. From there, you can sort by map category, view the hall of fame leaderboard, and even use filters to find instances created by your guildmates.

The rating system is probably the dungeon maker's weak point, and as Karen Bryan explained in a recent edition of The Tattered Notebook, many progression-oriented players initially gamed the system by creating XP grind dungeons and vaulting them to the top of the leaderboards. SOE attempted to address this by doing away with the original star rating system in favor of the current "like" mechanics, but the change was only marginally successful.

Happily, there are some actual dungeons on Antonia Bayle's leaderboard, and finding an enjoyable romp doesn't take long at all.

EverQuest II - dungeon maker avatar
Player mechanics
The dungeons function much like your typical EQII instance. You can run them solo or with a group of up to five of your friends, and the mob difficulty scales in relation to your party size. You get XP for each mob kill, but you won't collect it until you finish the instance and zone out. You also won't be looting any of the NPCs, nor will you find treasure chests or the like.

Each dungeon and all the encounters contained therein are capped at level 50, and you're currently unable to use your main EQII character to run a player-made dungeon. This isn't as bad as it sounds, however. For one thing, there are a ton of avatars to choose from when you start a dungeon, and more are available via loot drops in the game world proper. For another thing, SOE is already planning to allow personal avatars in the near future, so those of you who've grown attached to your characters will soon be able to bring them into your favorite player-generated dungeons.

EverQuest II - dungeon maker toolbox
Builder mechanics
Setting up your first dungeon isn't as daunting as you might think. Open up your character sheet and click the dungeons tab in the left-hand column, followed by the "create dungeon" button at the top of the next window. You'll see a list of available maps (how many and which ones you see will depend on your EQII access plan as well as whether you've acquired any bonus maps from expansion purchases).

Name your masterpiece-in-the-making, and then highlight it and click the "edit" button at the bottom of the window. You'll zone into your new playground, and you'll find your toolbox window open and ready. All of the functionality is handily spelled out via tooltips, so I'll spare you the hand-holding at this point.

One thing to note is that you can collect additional NPC tokens while you're adventuring in the regular gameworld, and right-clicking these items in your character's inventory will allow you to add them to your dungeon maker toolbox.

Once you've placed an NPC, you can set it to patrol or wander, and you can even name it and give it flavor text queued to certain actions.

Another thing to note is that the dungeon maker uses EQII's peerless housing layout system. This means that dungeon designers can place any sort of housing-related item in their dungeon map, including things like decorations and even player-written books, which can be crafted by Sages. This opens up a range of possibilities for roleplay encounters and off-the-beaten-path gameplay experiences, and I'm pretty excited to see what EQII's talented decorator community comes up with using these new tools.

EverQuest II - player-made dungeon boss fight
Aside from the novelty and the roleplay potential, you're probably wondering why else you should bother with running a player-made dungeon, let alone take the time to design one. After all, the EverQuest series practically wrote the book on MMO dungeon-running, and EQII is crammed full of professional instanced content that takes years to fully experience.

SOE knows this, and the company designed a reward system exclusive for the dungeon maker system as a result. There's a new currency, and these dungeon marks can be used to purchase everything from additional design tools to gameplay items from the Station Cash store (including flying mounts, gear, appearance weapons, and more).

And as I mentioned before, your character will gain adventuring XP after the completion of every player dungeon, and there are also plenty of achievements to earn for both playing and designing.

So that's EQII's dungeon maker functionality in a nutshell. As it stands, the system is a whole lot of fun, and all it really needs is a few more map options and a tweak here or there. SOE has a wealth of in-game assets to draw on, and I expect the mechanic to blossom into a major minigame within the game just as EQII's player housing has done over the years.

MJ and I will be playing around with it quite a bit in future installments of Some Assembly Required, and we hope to see many of you doing the same. Until next time, happy dungeoneering!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!

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