Norrathian Notebook: Landmark's AI will be a game-changer

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|11.20.14

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Norrathian Notebook:  Landmark's AI will be a game-changer
It's really hard not to be all giddy and excited about the introduction of AI to Landmark; it's quite literally going to be a game-changer. Some might even argue a game-maker! Only one other feature, combat, comes close to the impact that this system will have on the sandbox. Even then, combat doesn't rival it; it complements it. In truth, it will be an early Christmas present for all those players who've been waiting as patiently as possible for this next step: Monsters are slated to be released into the wild on December 10th. I am sure I mirror the sentiments of many when I say the Storybricks system just can't get here soon enough!

Before you get your hopes up too high, know that this first iteration of the AI system does not include the much-anticipated storytelling features that players will have access to on their personal claims. Those will come in time. But that doesn't diminish the magnitude of what is coming in just a few short weeks. The introduction of mobs will truly be the big bump that makes Landmark an actual MMORPG in the eyes of the world as opposed to "just a building game," an inaccurate description the game's had a hard time shaking. And did I mention, I can't wait?! If you are fairly new to following Landmark, you may not know what all the excitement is about. Let me share that with you.

Before I delve deeper into this topic, know that these are just the words of an excited fan who can't wait for the next step in the game's evolution. I am not privy to some special bit of news by virtue of being press (at least at this moment!). There's no secret nugget of knowledge I am going to reveal. What I am going to do is revel in a system that I believe will revolutionalize not just Landmark and EverQuest Next but the genre as a whole. It's going to raise the bar of our gaming experience expectations. Will other games be able to follow suit? Who knows, but they are going to wish they can.

Finally, kill 10 rats!

We don't actually know which mobs will be introduced first, be they rats, bats, cats, or carnivorous plants. Creative Director Dave Georgeson has even mentioned in the Landmark Live broadcasts that players won't guess which will initially appear, but I think we have a good idea of the possibilities. After all, we were introduced to a number of new mobs at SOE Live. Personally, I expected the stationary versions of monsters to come first, like the scorpion bush. But the blueprint actually says that the coding for pathing, that little aspect that was hanging everything up, is actually done! That means mobile mobs are possible. I am personally looking forward to the necrozoa, the ominous land-jellyfish creature.

Of course, it may not be just those newly created mobs that show up come December. Landmark will be a living, breathing world, so I am sure there will be the more mundane, everyday kind of fauna like deer, bears, lizards, and yes, the infamous rats. (I swear one of the first things I will make when I can program my own AI stuff is a Kill 10 Rats scenario, an homage to the quests that started this whole franchise!) I am fairly sure of this because we learned early on that there will be leather in the game that will be harvested from hides, and devs even used terms like deer when discussing that.

One question I have to ask, however, is whether or not we will end up with mobs that fit into the other genres espoused by Landmark. Will we see sci-fi creatures popping about, or even steampunk creations? Or will everything still resemble a fantasy setting? I am not against seeing that kind of diversity, and in fact I would welcome it if it will be strictly in biomes and on islands that are specifically designed and designated for that genre. Alien creatures on an asteroid? I can see that. But I still want my experience to be based on the genre I want it to be, so some delineation would be nice. (Plug for theme-designated islands here.)

Mobs are not just for fighters

Speaking of hides and leather, the introduction of such means the addition of new building and crafting materials. You may not care one whit about heading out to stalk prey or finally having something to fight besides other players in PvP arenas. You may actually dread the idea of stumbling across some massive death-bringer while spelunking for treasure chests and gathering resources. But even as a builder you'll appreciate having new materials to work with! Imagine having a supple leather texture to paint on your voxel couches (or line your walls -- hey, we don't judge here). Instead of just stone statues, we could start seeing creations that look more life-like. Imagine if we got textures like feathers?

My point is, no matter what playstyle you prefer, be it building or adventuring or even just admiring the creativity of others while touring claims, you'll benefit from the introduction of mobs.

Landmark comes alive

There's no doubt about it, the islands of Landmark will come alive like never before when monsters are introduced to the game. The music is awesome, and the various biomes with their respective vegetation are diverse, but the atmosphere in-game is still empty when traveling. It's lacking that living, breathing world feeling that only comes with the presence of other living breathing things. Non-player entities provide that.

And more than just adding wildlife like other games, the Storybricks system adds life to the wildlife. When players affect the landscape of Landmark (which they do frequently when mining and such), the mobs will register the changes and move accordingly. That's really no small feat. How much more fluid and realistic those dynamics will look compared to the invisible tracks that mobs can't veer away from in other games, sometimes making them walk stiffly and cluelessly through mid-air! I've said it before and I'll say it again: Storybricks will bring the intelligence to the artificial intelligence. And face it, the smarter the opponent, the more thrilling the hunt.

So 'fess up: When this all comes out, who among you is going to dig a big hole and try to capture a mob when it falls in it? I know I am!

After Storybricks, there's no going back

You can pretty well tell that I am very excited for the implementation of the Storybricks AI into Landmark, and afterward, EQ Next. I know that the player-programmable AI isn't coming at the same time as the mobs, but to finally see the system in action on a personal level will be thrilling; it will be a taste of what's to come. I'll be able to better visualize the mobs wandering my underground maze halls, just waiting to devour the adventurers who are there seeking treasure. I would love to see feral cats wandering the streets of player-built cities, or seagulls circling the docks, or ghosts haunting player-designed graveyards. Maybe not so much rats scurrying about a restaurant, but you can't deny the reaction such a scene could give!

More than that, I think it will finally begin to click in others just exactly what's in store for us. That means more excitement all around! And I don't mind sharing in the excitement with other fans. The more, the merrier!

If you, too, are looking forward to seeing this revolutionary system as it gets off the ground, you'll want to jump into the closed beta soon. If you don't yet have access, drop me an email at mj@massively.com; we've got a cache of seven-day keys to give away. You can use it now to see what the game has to offer, or save it until the mobs are in place. Either way, it's more than worth the price of admission!

The EverQuest realm is so big that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all! Join her as she explores the franchise's nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running biweekly on Thursdays, the Norrathian Notebook is your resource for all things EverQuest Next and EverQuest II. And keep an eye out for MJ's Massively TV adventures!
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