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E3 2014: Underground and underwater with Landmark's Terry Michaels

MJ Guthrie

You didn't need to be at E3 2014 to partake in Landmark's latest (literally) groundbbreaking patch. In fact, if you were at the con as I was, chances are you haven't been able to log in and experience it for yourself yet! Luckily, Senior Producer Terry Michaels was on hand to offer me a peek at the new features before I broke down in heap of deprivation-induced agony from my Landmark withdrawals.

What was the big deal with this latest update? It included the first iteration of caves and the second phase of water. Players can now go spelunking deep in the earth to find large veins of minerals, explore uncharted biomes with new plants, and even find treasure chests filled with special items. On top of that, they can swim through the bright blue oceans that surround each island. As Michaels helped me get my Landmark fix, we talked about everything from the newest content to heroic movement to my pet topics: player books and theme-enforced islands. Oh, and did I mention that combat is planned to appear by SOE Live in August?

Journey to the center of Landmark

After earlier dev comments that there will only be a few cave entrances per island and only a handful of claims might be affected, I envisioned around five surface entrances. A hand has five fingers, right? So imagine my surprise when Michaels told me that in fact each island has on average between 25 and 30 surface entrances! I was off just a wee bit. And we're not talking about little divots in the side of a mountain, either; these cave networks are massive, snaking underground for one to three kilometers.

But that's not even all. There are also pocket caves that are fully encased in rock or earth that can be accessed only by digging with a pick or a pulverizer. Want to try to find these special pockets that might be hiding some awesome treasure? Michaels shared a hint that will help players find them: Pocket caves are purposefully placed near large deposits of resources! The idea is that while you are mining for your gems and minerals, you break through and land in one of these areas.

There's also a hint for finding caves. If you aren't the type who wants to discover an entrance simply by exploring naturally, you can give yourself an idea of where a cave entrance is by looking on that map and showing claimable land. Michaels explained that initially, cave entrances did not show up as unclaimable red blotches, but in order to remove the unfun factor of running across an island to place a flag on what you "think" is claimable when it really isn't, the team added the red exclusion zone. However, just knowing a general area will not guarantee you will find the cave entrance easily. "It's not as useful as you think," he emphasized. Even with the tell-tale circle there, the entrance could be small and behind you, nearly hidden on the other side of a rise.

Michaels explained that while resources are still currently available on the surface, larger veins have been added to the caves. So if players want to hit a jackpot, they need to move underground. Then, as of next week, some resources will move down and will be found only in caves and deep in the earth. There are also new plants found only in the caves, all of which can be harvested. (Hint: Harvesting the bio-luminescent plants will actually make your cave exploring adventure a darker experience!). If you want a bit of direction on where to look for getting your buried resources, craft and use an ore prospector to find ore and a ground sounder to find gems. Using these offers a sonar pulse that will show you all the nodes within 200 meters, and when you get close enough, you will see an outline of the vein in the color of the resource.

The last aspect of caves that Michaels discussed was the new treasure chests. These chests are filled with items that are attainable only by looting a chest. Currently, there are seven different things, including three outfits and a glide belt (which we all know I desperately need!). Michaels pointed out one really great thing about these chests: People don't have to kill each other in order to be the one who nabs the treasure. When a chest is looted, six nearby entities, be they groups or individuals, will receive the loot.

Diving in

As if wandering through the underground weren't enough to keep you busy, you can also now swim through the water instead of running across the surface or diving deeply. And just as there is a variety of movements on the land like backflips and twists, there are a number of strokes in the water. When underwater, you do the breast stroke, whereas on the surface you do a crawl. Even going backwards has its own stroke.

Players can gather resources normally, including mining and harvesting plants (and yes, there are new, unique plants under the water, too!). While you swim, you can see bubbles, although there isn't a breath meter yet; that won't come into play until there is damage and death in-game. At that point, yes, you will be able to drown if you stay under too long, and swimming down is a lot farther than you think!

I like to heroic move it, move it!

While I have loved using the grappling hook to move around and somersault off mountains whenever I can, I have apparently missed a number of heroic movements. Michaels demonstrated a repeated backflip that goes on and on if you sprint backwards and jump off of something high. Of course, there is also the fun flip when springing sideways and then jumping. And soon, Michaels revealed, there will be heroic dives, so you can swan dive off your favorite cliff into the waves below or just into the air (hopefully you have a glide belt or feather in a bottle to prevent you from falling to your death when damage is implemented). If you haven't had a chance to explore the different heroic moves, do it! Michaels noted that new movements go into game without any fanfare, so experiment and see what you discover.

Getting my wishes!

Anyone who has followed Norrathian Notebook or my Landmark streams knows that there are two things that I am very much gunning to have in game: player books and theme-enforced islands. When Michaels asked if there was anything I wanted to ask, I pounced on the chance to champion my causes. The good news? Both ideas have a good chance of working! Michaels said that it was possible and added, "I see no reason why it can't be slotted in at some point, but I can't promise you a when." In-game authors rejoice! I am fine with waiting for other features to get in; just knowing that this awesome one has a good chance is enough.

The second idea I pitched, for theme-enforced islands, was also met with a positive response. Michaels noted,
"We've talked a lot about that. We've been talking about that since the very beginning. We weren't sure if that was something that was going to happen organically, with people congregating together... naturally gravitating toward [similar themes]. In Landmark, we really haven't seen that too much. [...] It's definitely something we could do. We've even talked about it to the extent of ways we could do it."
One way Michaels shared for enforcing theme-based islands could be to adapt the claim reporting ability -- currently focused on inappropriate content or IP violations -- to include structures not thematic to the island. This way, players who wish to remain in a certain theme (New Norrath, anyone?) can be reasonably assured that they will. "This is something that is totally doable," he concluded. "It's a very valid valid point and absolutely a great idea and just an extension of some of the things we were already talked about. I'll take it back to the guys."

Getting into fights

Now for combat news! Our final topic of discussion was the focus on combat and PvP for SOE Live. Michaels talked about how there is so much more to combat than just combat. Besides the skills themselves, you also have health, death, damage, healing, resurrection, and heroic movement. "It's a bunch of little things that add up," he explained. "We have to nail all that down."

Michaels also told me an interesting fact: You don't have to have the pathfinding system complete to get combat in the game. Remember the giant plant mob, Chomper? Now think about ghosts and wisps -- things that don't move. PvE combat could actually make it into game before mobile mobs. "You still need AI, but you don't necessarily need pathfinding," he clarified. Is this the direction the team is taking? It all depends on the fun factor. "We can do that, but does it make a compelling experience for somebody who wants to get into the game and fight?" he asked. "We're not sure about that."

On the other hand, PvP may be the first combat; it doesn't need pathfinding either. In fact, players don't actually need combat for PvP in Landmark! Michaels shared an example of one player who has established a cage match using templates and platforms where players are trying to capture one another in a cage.

Whichever way the team goes, the goal is still to have combat by -- or even before -- the big convention this August. And then things are really going to get interesting!

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-12, bringing you all the best news from E3 2014. We're covering everything from WildStar and Landmark to Skyforge and H1Z1, so stay tuned!

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