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PAX East 2014: Landmark's current tools and future crafts

Eliot Lefebvre

We've all seen what gamers are capable of making in Minecraft. A quick search online turns up replicas of everything imaginable, sublime works of art, even inexplicable cat fountains. According to Dave Georgeson, this is exactly what led to the creation of Landmark, and by his own admission the development team owes Notch a Christmas card solely because of that. Without that limitation, Landmark wouldn't be what it is now, nor would it be developing into what it will eventually be.

At this year's PAX East, Georgeson explained to me that as much fun as Minecraft is, it lacks something crucial: a way for players to see all of these creations. Landmark, by contrast, is designed from the ground up not just to allow that sort of interaction but to actively encourage it. And that's only the beginning; the game's current status as a sort of super-Minecraft is the simplest core expression of the game's promise. By the time it's done, the whole point is to make a game that can be anything, a game for all seasons and tastes.

Landmark is a fantasy game in the same sense that any game is a fantasy.It's no secret that the game's alpha testing went quite well. Part of why it's not a secret is because the game dropped its NDA after about four minutes of testing. Why did that happen? According to Georgeson, it was a simple realization that the game would be done a disservice if itwas locked behind an NDA.

Originally, the team was very reluctant to send the game out in the wild without some kind of NDA. It's always a bit nerve-wracking to release a new sort of game since you don't want people to be able to look at it in depth when you're still not sure if it's even going to work. But after an amazingly stable first day, Georgeson realized that the NDA needed to go. A game that was built on the principle of letting creative people share their work requires the ability to actually share that work, and the player enthusiasm simply could not be contained for long.

Of course, then the game crashed for an entire day as soon as the NDA dropped, but some things just can't be helped.

Despite server issues, the team is very happy with the alpha experience, especially as the community has developed and bonded. Players figured out how to do things that the developers weren't aware could be done within the game's engine, and even when players were still limited to building alone, the community showed initiative in teaching its members how to do tricky things with the elements available.

The lack of an NDA also played into that element of socializing and working with the community. The team as a whole realized that the only way to give people an active voice in the community was to be as transparent as possible with development. Holding back information means there's less space to fit in player feedback, creating a very different overall environment; the open and sharing atmosphere between players and developers that currently exists has been a boon to making Landmark the best game it can be.

So the game has moved into beta, and while alpha was all about making sure that the socializing and building features worked, beta has been about turning the game into a full-fledged exercise in world-building. That means adding feature sets and expanding the game's functionality until players can create almost anything in almost any environment.

So what's the first car on the feature train? Caves, Georgeson told me. Yes, you don't have to just stick to the surface; you'll be able to tunnel down to find resources and add a whole subterranean element to play. After that will be a major revamp to the game's current crafting system (nicknamed "crafting 2.0"), then the first stage of implementing water into the game.

If you were waiting for a splash of cold water, here you go: all of this is just theoretical right now, you don't know how it will turn out.  There.  I hope you feel refreshed.What's after that? Risk. Right now players can merrily grapple back and forth with no thought of penalty, soaring through the air like the game had turned into an ersatz copy of Just Cause 2. Once risk is in place, however, sailing through the air without a care for falling damage will end more or less how you'd expect. (With a loud "splat" and unpleasant visuals.)

And once there's risk, you can add monsters... but that's further on down the line.

But it's not just major changes that affect the game. The entire game should be changing with a minor UI element being added in the next patch. It's already possible to tag your claim, but people don't usually have a reason to wander too far from their claims to see what's been made. But a new UI element will be added allowing players to search tags and review claims that have been made, giving players more reason to explore, see new things, and experience the breadth of player creativity on display.

The player studio will also be in the game by May 1st or before, and with a game so reliant upon player crafting, it seems an obvious way for players to both make money and explore what's possible. The studio will also be international, allowing collaboration from all around the world.

Further ahead, the point of this game isn't just to make a game; it's to make a game that can be whatever you want it to be, Georgeson argued. It's expandable upward, and the ultimate end point is a game where you can play an intricate fantasy game at one claim, then jet off to another and have a completely different experience with different rules and mechanics, tools to make your own dungeons, your own sorts of PvP, tools to change physics, monsters, opposition, and everything you can think of.

It sounds a bit like Second Life, and Georgeson doesn't discourage the comparison; he believes that Second Life could have been huge, but it didn't have a game at its core. The goal with Landmark is to make a solid core, something to get people invested, and then give them the options to rebuild it if they want to. If they don't want to, they can instead enjoy seeing all of the ways that people have rebuilt it.

And all that comes one at a time. Just by giving players tools and seeing what they come up with.

Massively's on the ground in Boston during the weekend of April 11th to 13th, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2014. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, Landmark, or any MMO in between, we aim to have it covered!

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