Holy Grails of Everquest Next: Full Destructibility

May the Good Lord Take a Liking To Ya and Blow Ya Up Real Soon!

Yes, this Holy Grail was about the fact that no matter how pitched a battle you had, the dishes on the table nearby were never disturbed. In fact, the mirror never broke neither. Watching the video above reminded me that for all our sophistication, we really kind of like it when things blow up. Falling down is a good second choice, too. The appeal of Jenga lies in the fact, that at some moment, that tower of blocks is going to fall down. I remember that as a child I loved to stack up bricks in a tower and then drive my toy cars into them to make them fall down. (Yes, I was a child once. It was 2995 years ago, and my red hair was fabulous even then)

So there’s a definite visceral appeal to making the world destructible. Gaming in general has been moving slowly in this direction as computing power and software became more capable. We had rag-doll physics for our enemies. DDO has some places where there are walls you have to bust down. Skyrim went some way toward this, making dishes and things on tables actually movable, so that you could send them flying around, or at least knock them on the floor. After all if the bad guy staggers back into the china cabinet so that it falls forward on top of him, smashing all the china in the process, that’s just more dramatic and arresting, right? So of course we want to do stuff like that in our games.

But this can look a lot like a “window dressing” enhancement that doesn’t affect gameplay much. I think that’s wrong.

Calling this “window dressing” (I’m strawmanning here, I haven’t read anyone who has called it that) ignores the visceral reality of doing something and having the world reflect your action. I submit that this makes it feel more “real” than realistic art. You get more verisimilitude bang for the buck by doing this. That’s not a small thing. Players are constantly seeking more “immersion”.

But we shall see. David Georgeson said that “the world heals back”. So nothing we’re talking about here is permanent. The world may have qualities of permanent change, but the buildings you smash down will grow back after some time. This seems to me to be absolutely necessary as a counter to the roving bands of young wood elves smashing everything in sight just for the lulz. And you kids get off my lawn. The “world healing” will perhaps have the same effect as “broken windows”.

There are consequences to gameplay, too. You will be able to kill things the way Gandalf beat the Balrog, by blowing up the bridge they are standing on. If they are embracing this, they are opening up a whole new level of strategy – winning by making the bad guy fall down a hole, or pushing it off a cliff. In prior MMOs I often got the impression that gamedevs thought that was “cheating”. But it never seemed like cheating to me, just strategy. But this is a fundamental conflict between players and game-masters. GMs often seek drama, whereas players don’t want drama, they typically just want to achieve their goals as efficiently as possible. At least, I do. But never mind.

And sieges become less theoretical, too. The walls can actually be broken down, by catapults, trebuchets (trebuchets!) or bombes. That great scene in The Lord of the Rings where the one giant orc is carrying the bomb that will blow up the Deeping Wall can be reenacted ad hoc. That is, it doesn’t have to be at a specified place and time. I think this will be important.

Also, players will be able to build walls (temporarily) between themselves and the bad guys, that the bad guys have to knock down. Presumably some mobs will do this too.

But the best part of this is what this means for what’s below the surface of the world. Because there will be many layers of content below the surface of the world, and players can tunnel down to it, intentionally or by accident.

Shrek saying, "You see, Norrath is like onions!"

A ought to be really good news for the Explorers out there. Since the world below will be procedurally generated, and old regions will collapse at some point and new regions join. So even though you thought you knew what was under Freeport, it might well be different today. Hooray for more sewer runs!

That’s all for today. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the emergent AI.

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