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Tattered Notebook: EQ Next and Storybricks, sitting in a tree...

MJ Guthrie

OMG! It's EverQuest Next news! No, really. I'm not pulling your chain. It's all official and everything. Namaste Entertainment, the creator of Storybricks, made the announcement that it is collaborating with SOE on EQ Next. So go ahead and do your finally-some-news celebratory dance, I'll wait a moment. Just don't go all out and strain something; you'll want to be able to spring into celebration again when more is revealed, right?

Sadly, the news is pretty much summed up right there in that one sentence; we don't have any more details to revel in and no time frame for getting more (well, other than SOE Live, of course!). But when has a lack of specifics derailed fan excitement about an upcoming game? Well we may not have definitive details, but using what we know about Storybricks, we can certainly speculate on what the relationship between the two means for Norrath's next incarnation.

And if there was ever a relationship I was happy to see, it's Storybricks and EverQuest Next's.

Qeynos on the horizon.
At the end of last year, I was the lucky one who nabbed the chance to reveal Storybricks' dev diary regarding bringing NPCs to life. I remember well the words resonating with me as I read through it. Starting off as a tabletop payer before I was introduced to (and fell madly in love with) MMORPGs, I could totally related to ideas espoused in it. I thought longingly how it would be awesome if a game managed to incorporate those ideas. And now, those ideas might be coming to EverQuest Next? Be still my heart!

Now you might be thinking, what's the big deal? Well, let me tell you why: Exciting innovation is not yet dead in MMO development!

Storybricks logoIt's alive!

If you're suddenly envisioning Frankenstein's monster rising from the table, an animated being instead of an inanimate object, then you're on the right track to understand what the big deal is about Storybricks. In a nutshell, Storybricks devs expressed their intent to create the illusion of life in MMORPGs by putting the intelligence in Artificial Intelligence. In the dev blog, Brian Green and Stéphane Bura detailed the ideas of bringing NPCs to life in such a way that players could experience roleplay with them just as they could with GM-controlled NPCs in tabletop games.

Imagine coming across an NPC who doesn't just stand there and blandly roll through the same text player after player after player. Instead, the NPC interacts with folks on an individual basis, adapting to the choices and needs -- and even emotions -- of the one currently standing there. Now add in a memory; yes, the NPC remembers past experiences with the individual player and draws on past interactions to guide current ones. Pretty innovative, right? But it doesn't end there.

Not only does your relationship as a player affect your exchange with the NPC, but the NPC's personal life does as well. Wait, what?! Yes, my friends; Storybricks proposed that AI should have a genuine life outside the confines of PC interaction. Here's how devs put it:
Important NPCs should have inner lives, complex relationships, and their own goals that they work toward. They should remember past interactions with your characters and adjust their behavior depending on whether they feel grateful, trusting, envious, betrayed, and they should be able to express these emotions in a convincing manner, each one coloring their day to day activities (e.g., a guard whose girlfriend just left him should act differently from one who was just dressed down by his captain).
Just think of interacting on a personal level with some of your favorite personalities in Norrath when they actually have a personality!

Freeport from above.
What's my line?

If there is anything the EverQuest franchise is known for, it's for the quests. Lots of quests. So even if an EQ sequel were morphed into a sandbox, you'd expect there to be quests, right? I mean, it's in the name, for Luclin's sake! But questing is a decidedly non-sandboxy endeavor. So how do you reconcile the seemingly diametrically opposed ideals of sandbox and questing? Storybricks' answer is first to bring the NPCs to life, then allow players to interact naturally with them.

The idea is that just as your relationship with the NPC is unique, so, too, is your dialogue. Forget canned responses where players select a pre-scripted line that might best suit their needs; in fact, just throw scripts out the window completely. Instead, convey your wants and needs by actually communicating, and then NPCs respond in like manner. Questing takes on sandbox elements when it ditches the script and becomes improv instead.

Kyle Antihilus BayleLet's hear it for the RP!

Another thing that has me personally very excited hinges on a single line at the beginning of that dev diary, the one introducing the "why we do what we do" part: "Storybricks was founded to bring the core of the roleplaying experience to MMOs." The Storybricks crew's reason for existence was to put the RPG back into MMORPGs.

As a roleplayer, I can't not be stoked to hear a company place RP at the forefront of design. For many games, roleplay features are an afterthought -- if they're included at all! And now this company is partnering with EQ Next. I am hopeful that the design philosophy carries over. After all, partners in a relationship do influence one another.

Last EverQuest is best

Now, take all of that from Storybricks and insert it into Norrath. Can you just imagine how this would seriously bring that already lore-filled virtual world to life? If so, then you can see why the sight of Storybricks and EQ Next holding hands elicits squeals of delight! It would most certainly make for a more deeply engaging sandbox experience than can be found in any other MMO out there.

Think about it. With the elements that Storybricks espouses, EverQuest Next would be a world where your choices truly do matter, where action has consequences. Even how you talk to an NPC will influence what is available to you as you live your Norrathian life. A slip of the tongue could literally derail your plans, but perfectly placed words could reward you greatly. Just think of the possibilities.

Emergent gameplay. Innovative. Those words are some of the few we've ever heard regarding EQ Next. But if the game can incorporate these Storybricks elements, it will certainly fit that bill. And if EQ Next also includes some of the greatest elements from its predecessors like housing and player-created books, then the latest installment in the EverQuest franchise will certainly be the greatest.

EverQuest II is so big that it that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all! Join her as she explores Norrathian nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running every other Saturday, The Tattered Notebook is your resource for all things EQII and EQNext -- and catch MJ every 'EverQuest Two-sday' on Massively TV!

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