Frogdice Reinvents the MMORPG with Stash on Kickstarter

by Wolfshead on September 11, 2014

StashRarely do I ever endorse a Kickstarter project, but there is an interesting and unique MMO/RPG hybrid called Stash that I would like to recommend to my readers. Forged by the venerable Frogdice, creators of the esteemed Threshold MUD, Stash is a breath of rarefied fresh air in a stale MMO market dominated by Blizzard’s WoW and a parade of unimaginative clones.

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LandmarkWatch most streams that showcase SOE’s Landmark “sandbox” virtual world and you’ll see a familiar sight to those that follow the comic book and the superhero genre. You’ll see a superhero character with a flowing cape that seems to effortlessly fly through the air. Instead of fighting crime, this superhero is gathering resources.

The typical landmark avatar is a cross between Superman and Spiderman. Like Superman, the Landmark character has limitless strength and boundless energy. He can effortless dig holes, chop down trees and carry thousands of tons of earth and rock without the slightest of encumbrance. Like Spiderman, he leaps like an acrobat on steroids from object to object with his magical grappling hook.

What is all this for? Not to fight crime or vanquish a dragon? No, it is so this superhero can build his own private architectural creation, much like the way Superman built his Fortress of Solitude.

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EQNext LandmarkSince the release of the EverQuest Next Landmark alpha in February and all the surrounding hoopla it seems that everyone is in the alpha. To be honest, I can’t think of a streamer that is not in the alpha. Many of them are giving away free alpha accounts and codes for in-game items. Rumor has it that there is an unpublicized SOE “insider” program where a select number of websites and superstar streamers get to dole out free promotional goodies on behalf of SOE.

To their credit, SOE has run a masterful and rather ingenious promotion campaign. With all the positive press surrounding Landmark, maybe it’s time for a different perspective. So let’s take a brief time out and dispense with the hype and cheer-leading that has emanated from SOE and their sycophants in the gaming media. For a few fleeting minutes, let’s go off the script and challenge the official narrative and dare to talk frankly about what it’s like not to be in the alpha.

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I had the opportunity to have participated in two Elder Scrolls Online beta weekends. During the previous beta weekend I was able to devote some significant time to playing two characters where I got a good feel for the first 5 levels of the MMO.

The second beta weekend apparently just ended abruptly at 9 PM Pacific time — 3 hours ago as I am writing this. At least the previous weekend allowed players to play in the early hours of Monday morning but not this weekend. Throughout this beta weekend the ESO servers were plagued with problems that made playing the MMO pretty impossible. You would think that given all of the server problems that players experienced this weekend, Zenimax would have the good sense to extend the beta weekend like they did the previous time. Not this time.

Since I didn’t have much time to play the most recent beta which has put me in a foul mood, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts instead.

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In the classic film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is forced to relive February 2nd over and over. Eventually he learns from his mistakes, perfects his strategy and wins the heart of the heroine played by Angie McDowell and the curse is broken. For years, MMORPGs have been subject to a similar curse. I call it the Groundhog Day syndrome.

In this design paradigm players are forced to deal with a virtual world of static spawning enemy NPCs with predetermined attributes and abilities. When killed, these mobs spawn again within a few minutes or if within an instance they re-spawn when you repeat the instance.

In the real world people would quickly tire of being trapped like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog day. With so many interesting possibilities available to a dynamic virtual world, why would anyone want to go back to a predictable scripted theme park MMO?

Do we really need another Groundhog Day MMO?

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Pantheon Rise of the Fallen portraitBrad McQuaid is back. Almost 15 years after the release of EverQuest and 7 years after the release of his Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the prodigal son of the MMO world has returned seeking redemption. This time Brad is pitching a new MMO on Kickstarter called Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.

Brad has a checkered career in the collective memory of video game industry. Deemed by some to be the brains behind the revolutionary EverQuest — regarded by many as the finest MMORPG ever created — he is also considered an incompetent villain by others who believe him largely responsible for the failure of Vanguard which is estimated by many to be one of the biggest disasters in MMO history.

Before the debacle of Vanguard, I was a big admirer of Brad McQuaid. After all, he was the face of EverQuest and was christened as a “game god” by the media back then and many of us believed the hype. I also think that he received the lion’s share of the credit for EverQuest when in truth it was a team effort. That said, I still have a great respect for him and despite his failings he has dared to come back on the scene to challenge the complacency in the current MMO market.

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For World of Warcraft devotees the almost annual BlizzCon love fest is like an American State of the Union address combined with the euphoria of an Amway convention. There is no dissent to speak of as the lucky few fans who managed to purchase tickets sit in rapt attention awaiting revelation of new features and story narratives that will shape their game play experiences in months ahead.

Blizzard is preaching to their loyal choir. So it’s no surprise that BlizzCon 2013 was predictable and scripted spectacle. In grand tradition, I too follow with my predictable BlizzCon article.

Before each BlizzCon there is always a feeling in me that maybe this time Blizzard will get it right with World of Warcraft and change course. After all, how can a video game company continue to adopt a stay the course philosophy after losing millions of subscribers? Surely something has to give…

After watching BlizzCon 2013 in DirecTV’s virtual ticket pay per view my hopes were again dashed. The massive and aging ship USS: WoW lurches toward the iceberg of its obsolescent doom in a sea of ice cold reality.

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lex Afrasiabi 2010 BlizzConWhile viewing the schedule for the upcoming BlizzCon 2013, I noticed a familiar name in the lineup of panelists: Alex Afrasiabi. It seems that Alex, missing from the public eye for the past 3 years and rumored to have been working on the delayed top secret Titan MMO has indeed returned to World of Warcraft team as the Creative Director. This is certainly a promotion from his previous job title of Lead world designer.

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EverQuest Next logoOne of the highest objectives a fantasy MMORPG should strive for is the creation of a vibrant and passionate community. For the player, the benefits of a robust community are felt both within the game as the quality of the community itself gradually becomes the draw and outside the game as players congregate around websites, forums and even meeting in real life. For the developer, virtual worlds with healthy communities act as a magnet for new players and have the added bonus of higher player retention.

A MMORPG that fails to value and nurture community is selling itself short and may as well just call itself a single-player video game.

Developing a community in and around your virtual world is more than about involving the community in decision, hiring convivial community managers and leveraging social media — it has to be a philosophy that permeates every facet of your virtual world.

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EverQuest Next logoBy now most EverQuest devotees have watched the video presentations and read all of the coverage on various gaming websites about SOE’s reveal of EverQuest Next in Las Vegas over the weekend. We’ve seen and heard all of the hype regarding the new features of EQ Next. By now everyone knows what a voxel is and we’ve seen a lot of demos of things blowing up.

After ample reflection and analysis, I think it’s safe to say that SOE will not be bringing back many of the elements that made the original EverQuest such a magical experience. EQ Next is a brand new type of highly accessible superhero low fantasy MMO aimed at an entirely new audience of gamers that are more at home with a software toy like Minecraft then they are with a serious virtual world like EverQuest.

SOE has decided to entirely reboot and re-imagine the world of Norrath with the end goal of creating an intellectual property that will be the flagship offering for a vast franchise of products and services.

As well as attending SOE Live, I have poured over all of the videos multiple times to really digest what SOE has presented to give the best analysis possible. My assessment of EQ Next is based on what we currently know. I’m certain that many of my questions and gaps in knowledge will be answered in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Let me preface this article by saying there are a lot of things I like about EQ Next (and its companion offering EQ Landmark) and many things that I do not like which I will discuss in this article: the good, the bad and the ugly.

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