Landmark: Claim Building By the (Tutorial) Numbers

The claim is starting to resemble one of those exercise books one writes in while working one’s way through a set of tutorial problems.

claimfront

Day 1: We learn about arches.

Enter the enthusiastic cut-and-pasting of arches, spaced out only by a few walls because the immersion-seeking part of me slapped the builder silly and said “Stop it with the dang arches already!”

Day 2: We play with microvoxels in the underground studio, and surface in the end with a small modest square window which gets promptly smashed into the wall.

Seeing as it makes no sense for the window to be just sitting there, when there’s like five arches within walking distance on the left, a hasty stall / guardpost / lookout thingmajig is constructed.

For no reason either, really, it just felt better to have a hidey hole for a small window.

Said the hermit, crawling into his makeshift cave, to get away from the desert sun.

claimback

More microvoxel play yields a ladder which looks good but doesn’t work.

What the hell, it can be a scenery prop and I can just grapple over the wall.

The next day leads to more struggling with microvoxel ladders, determined to get a working ladder which also looks good.

A video tutorial I found suggested offsetting the rungs by a voxel, but the end result produced UGLY TRIANGLES on the side. LADDER SIDES ARE NOT MADE OUT OF THICK UGLY TRIANGLES.

We settled for a 45 degree ladder instead, which looked a little more decent and could be walked on.

Except… I’d run out of stuff to prop the new ladder against.

The arches gain a second floor.

Microvoxels played with. Check. On to the next set of tutorials.

Inlaid patterns gives the outside wall a new ankh design.

Then -negative- inlaid patterns for the hell of it to get a new ankh window.

claimside

Except… stone does not float in the air.

Re-enter Microvoxels to try and figure out how to semi-realistically support a lump of floating stone forming the center of the ankh.

New set of tutorials! Antivoxels next!

More play. More puzzling out. More “I wonder if I could make a rope bridge out of these things…”

unnaturallystraightropebridge

Ok, so it is an unnaturally straight rope bridge, but I think my brain would explode if I tried to get it to sag.

Also, no idea where to put rope bridge, so enter third mini-floor and a lookout platform on a tree -just- to give the rope bridge something to connect to.

Lookout platform was also good excuse to practice zero data voxel technique at least once.

TIL: Healing around a complicated pattern is HIGHLY ANNOYING.

Then one realized that the platform was now floating by itself around the tree.

*sigh*

Took some shortcuts with the line tool, to create some supports for now. Also still confirmed that it acts in a very strange manner.

Probably ought to be able to make some straighter supports with antivoxels but blah, not today.

And this is why a little cut-and-paste is a dangerous thing...
And this is why a little cut-and-paste is a dangerous thing…
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Landmark: What’s the Point?

I have been following certain threads with interesting titles in the Landmark forums (“Ummm.. so what’s the point of this game?“,  “Progression is frustrating and not very fun“, “Very Unrewarding” ) in the search for various perspectives, while pondering the point of Landmark.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.

I play GW2, a game of lateral progression, and we encounter a great many people who find it difficult to understand the point of GW2, especially after being trained by WoW or other traditional MMOs.

I willingly played A Tale in the Desert, a literal crafting sandbox of -significant- grind which had progression on a mandatory to optional spectrum via a levels unlocking skills system. It appealed to a very niche audience only because other folk couldn’t figure out what to do with themselves in a game with no combat, and which took forever to walk anywhere.

I fully expect there to be a subset of people who will walk into a creative building game, be it Landmark or Minecraft, and go, um… where’s the game? What’s the point? What do I do?!

Some of them will get it if it’s explained to them. A few of them might try it and like it. Still many others will fade away from the game, having decided it’s just not their cup of tea.

I understand that Landmark is more of a “software toy” – if anyone is ancient enough to remember Will Wright and the original Sim family of games and the term as used then. You played with the software as it was, tinkered with whatever parameters you wanted, created your own goals and “what ifs” and then when you were done, you put it down and forgot about it until you got the urge to mess with it again.

Thing is, putting it down and forgetting about it is not a concept that sits very well with MMOs and the desire of its developers to be paid (though other free to play games like League of Legends, TF2 and Dota 2 seem to be doing just fine with a broad base of folks who do that, perhaps since they have a very hardcore cohort who play ’em daily and pay enough to keep development going.)

And that sort of unsettles me and makes me want to lay a finger on what specifically makes me feel that way.

I think I am less worrying about what the exact point of Landmark is (since it can be many things to different people – a place to build, socialize, craft, gather, roleplay, tell a story, design for other players or for future Everquest Next, be creative, indulge in artistic expression, make a virtual home, play with a virtual dollhouse, have an adventure, explore, learn, etc.)…

…but more trying to answer a burning question with incomplete information and stuff that is yet unknown, undecided and/or undetermined.

And that question is: Should I be investing my time or money into this game?

Of course, that answer is different for different people.

Some people have even willingly spent $100 on its Alpha stage. They were happy to pay for the privilege of being involved in the game’s development from the ground up, have a voice (such as it is) in where the game is going, to playtest with unpolished tools and systems and be the first guinea pigs (or *ahem* first to get to play around with the game or have a headstart), to create and design and maybe, just maybe, have it included in Everquest Next. They’re dedicated fans of the franchise and the studio.

I mean, if you asked me if I would do the same for ArenaNet and Guild Wars, I’d -seriously- give it some thought. (Though the initial payment would put me off.)

But here’s the thing, I’m not them. And since this is my blog, we’ll dig into my perspective today while I try to get it sorted out in my own head.

I didn’t pay for Alpha. I didn’t pay for Beta. What kind of game would I pay or not pay for?

WoW’s design is primarily a raid endgame centred around vertical progression of gear. Eve Online encourages very dubious player behavior and morality in its design. For me, the answer to both is no. Because I don’t want to support games whose design I’m not in favor of.

Other people play them, and pay for them, and keep both games going just fine. To each their own.

I paid and played games like City of Heroes, Guild Wars 1 & 2, A Tale in the Desert, Minecraft, but not games like Wurm Online or Darkfall or Fallen Earth.

I generally support games that foster friendly and cooperative groups and social experiences in their design, but also give leeway to solo at one’s choosing. I’m drawn like a moth flies toward light to games that show off innovative design and interesting novel systems to play with and learn, but I’m turned off by games that have room for nonconsensual PvP, take forever to progress or get anywhere (aka too much time grind) or are sluggish and buggy.

My fascination for grokking systems may see me knowingly put up with some annoying game design choices. at least for a short while.

Mob Wars: La Cosa Nostra is one example. I played it religiously for a month, logging in every day, doing all the stuff, incrementing numerically for the sake of incrementing numerically, but one day I just decided to skip a day. It stretched to two. Three. Then I didn’t bother logging in anymore. The addiction/compulsion was gone. Gimmick design works for a while, and then it loses its hold, especially when you break the habitual pattern formed and find other more prioritized things to do.

I put up with quite a bit of crap in A Tale in the Desert. The endless running across large tracts of land, for one. I avoided doing that as much as possible, and credit to the game, it wasn’t excessively forced. Mostly because the multiple systems and minigames in ATITD just kept blowing my mind. Each required days to learn and probably months or more to master. Observing the social interactions and conflict between cooperation and competition was so fascinating that I was willing to put up with a few not-so-comfortable things, since there was nowhere else to get the same experience in more convenient form. And there were always many lateral progression options and ways to get regular feelings of accomplishing something too.

As for Landmark, well, I can’t quite get a proper grip on what kind of a game it is and where it intends to be going, leaving the existing Closed Beta experience sitting smack dab in the middle of the Play-Don’t Play spectrum.

You see, for MMOs, I want to know that the game is still going to be around for a bit and popular enough to have some people playing it, for me to want to invest time, money and energy into playing it. How is Landmark going to work, exactly?

I’ve kind of read the Blueprint. But it still leaves me with questions as to what exactly the game is going to entail.

Harsh death penalty and PvP are big twitching red flags for me, for example. Waste too much of my time, threaten me with resource loss, and your game goes right into the Eve Online pile. It may be a great simulationist sandbox in the vein of all those others, but Trammel killed Ultima Online for a reason. If you can still find your niche to play and pay, all power to you. I’ll just not be there.

(The Everquest brand is not particularly promising on this front. Time-wasters and harsh penalties aplenty. And Landmark is already actively showing signs of time-wasting.)

How is the payment model of the game going to work? What kind of economy is going to drive this game? What types of playstyles and gameplay niches are we expecting to see?

The Bartle model may not be the most ideal one to use, for this sort of game. This is pretty much unexplored territory for triple A MMOs – it’s more the purview of games (*ahem* “virtual worlds”) like Second Life and Neverwinter Nights (the old one, with the Aurora toolset that players created content with) and maybe multiplayer Minecraft.

Here’s my best guess on what playstyles we might see in Landmark:

  • Adventurer – resource collectors, explorers, seeking thrills, adventure, exciting experiences
  • Builders/Designers – artist builders, artisan builders, home builders
  • Roleplayers/Storytellers – using the world to create and tell stories of their own choosing
  • Crafter?

I am a so-called Adventurer. In truth, I’m probably a harvester-gatherer. I collect resources and enable the larger game to function. I may have to put up with some grindy aspects via number accumulation and vertical progression tiers. I ought to be able to walk in and play for free in Landmark because I pay in time. (Caveat: I am not SOE, I do not come up with their payment models.) I exist as content for the other more dedicated players because I bulk up the game with more player population to socialize with, to admire their constructions and perhaps run their scripted dungeons/adventures/experience the stories they want to tell (assuming those systems come in.)

My payoffs? I should be able to sell or trade resources to the other players who need them… but in exchange for… what? I need an in-game marketplace or auction house or trading exchange. Perhaps I can trade for some amount of currency or Station Cash that enables me to keep a small-sized claim and cross over to the other playstyles. I should be getting in return the thrill of adventure, the fun of exploration, some sense of accomplishment, the excitement and novelty of seeing what’s over the next hill and around the next corner, etc.

Builders are a pretty broad category, since this is, after all, a building game:

I am an artist builder. I want to make large towering works of art out of voxels. I need large-sized or multiple claims. I need lots of resources. I have the option of buying templates from the Player Studio like windows, railings, decorations and more to copy-paste stamp them into larger pieces. My payoffs? I get to express myself artistically and show off works of great beauty. I develop a name and reputation for myself.  I perhaps contribute to parts of scenery in Everquest Next (assuming that’s a plus in your perspective, having paid $$ for the privilege.)

Seabiscuit's Blackheart Castle is an example. (Image taken from screenshot on forums thread linked.)
Seabiscuit’s Blackheart Castle is an example. (Image taken from screenshot on forums thread linked above.)

Big question is: Am I going to have to pay real life money out the nose for these things? If so, why should I be choosing this game to build in? Minecraft is looming as the equivalent of WoW in the creative building genre, and it’s buy to play. More such games are on the way as competitors.

I am an artisan builder, I make works of art that can serve as templates to be used in larger pieces. Besides all the regular perks of the artist builder – name and rep, EQN contribution, creative expression, etc., my payoff is potentially selling them in the Player Studio (assuming you live in the correct country for it), or the satisfaction of giving them freely away to others to see them used in larger works of art.

Image from forum poster Gizeh - Alpha Thread on Template Swap meets.
Image from forum poster Gizeh – Alpha Thread on Template Swap meets.

(There can be, of course, plenty of overlap between artisan and artist builder playstyles in the same person. Or the other playstyles, for that matter. The more playstyles one enjoys, the closer match Landmark is going to be for one – though I don’t know how much more money you’re going to end up paying. But we’re separating them here for clarity.)

homebuilder

I am a home builder. I have a vision of something I want to build – likely a house or a castle or something cool for me to stay in. I likely value environmental immersion of some kind. I may not be that great artistically. I might be able to supplement my not-so-great artistic skills with a few choice templates bought off the Player Studio, or trading in-game resources with artisans and artists, or even getting them free off social interaction (providing value by being there as a player.) I will probably be willing to foot a small upkeep for a small to medium claim, though having the option to pay in in-game resources might be better for a subset of these players.

What happens though when I am “done?” When I have created the house I want? What do I do next? Stop playing? Move to another playstyle, assuming I can find one that matches?

I am a roleplayer/storyteller. I tell stories and make them up using the game’s voxels and props. I interact with other players in some fashion, be it via chat or posting on the forums. (See a great example in progress here with a builder/immersive roleplayer combined in one person, creating some very natural constructions to tell a story in time.) My payoff is the stories I create and the people that see/view/experience them.

Eventually, assuming scripting and NPCs make it into Landmark, we’ll have crossover designer/builder/storytellers that will be similar to GameMasters of tabletop roleplaying games, designing adventures for others to experience – probably similar to how existing player-created content in other MMOs like Neverwinter Foundry or adventure mods in Minecraft work.

Crafting is the part that still puzzles me at this point. It seems to exist for the sake of existing and time-wasting. Here’s a bunch of technology trees. Go get the required number of resources and then come back and click a button to make it. You need to do it to unlock other things, like the tools you want for other playstyles.

Maybe, just maybe, one might have a dedicated crafter niche who pretty much goes out to collect resources and bring them back to craft, and then trades the finished, desirable products to others? Like those elusive Legendary picks and axes?

I dunno though. There is one danger of trying to add such niches though, taking lessons from A Tale in the Desert, there is the possibility that time-plentiful veterans will learn how to do it all, and do it much more quickly than newbies. This leaves newbies with nothing of value to offer veteran players.

How does the food chain function here?

Are there going to be enough players willing to pay for convenience and shortcuts to make up for playstyles that they don’t want to crossover to?

Are the rich folks on the very top willing to pay lots of money for what? Vanity? Prestige?

On one hand, lots of cosmetic options in other games say yes, there might be sufficient people willing to pay for pretty dresses. On the other hand, Glitch did die from lack of participation in the clothing shop and insufficient thought about a viable payment model…

I guess what I’m wondering at this point is… what’s the Landmark demographic going to be like? How much of each playstyle is there? Is there going to be a viable monetization strategy, and how acceptable is that strategy going to be for the various playstyles? And is it going to be enough to keep Landmark afloat and/or making oodles of cash?

And even, -does- Landmark need to stay afloat or make oodles of cash, or will it be shielded by SOE as the parent company, bundling the game along with its All Access Pass and/or profiting from whatever is designed in Landmark going into EQ Next?

Back to me. I’m not much of an artist builder, I can tell you that.

Nor am I much of a home builder. I can’t seem to understand the compulsion to build a pretty virtual house to stay in.

Seriously, everywhere I go, the early beginnings of a house of some kind.
Seriously, everywhere I go, the early beginnings of a house of some kind.

Further thought reveals that I am more of a -functional- builder. I build stuff to fulfill some kind of in-game need.

Zombies going to eat my face at night in Minecraft? Well, I better hack a hole into a cliff and hide in it. Or build walls to surround myself. And I may as well put a door in it so I can get in and out more easily.

frontdoor

Eri can tell you that in Terraria, my hobbit hole is good enough for me. Design and decorate a castle? Umm… no.

Landmark may not fit that building playstyle as well. Perhaps only mining for ores and designing those temporary tunnels into cave systems might fit.

Yeah, caving for mines has some promise. Though a) desert underground gets weirdly colored - bug? and b) if it's going to take forever to find enough ores for stuff, then that's not fun either.
Yeah, mining tunnels for ore, in conjunction with upcoming caves, has some promise. Though a) desert underground gets weirdly colored – bug? and b) if it’s going to take forever to find enough ores for stuff, then that’s not fun either.

Or for example, hacking a hole into the ground because I want more studio space but don’t want weird geometric creations floating in the air ruining my nice wilderness desert landscape immersion.

Not so secret hidey-hole. I made some steps for the unwary, in case they fall in.
Not so secret hidey-hole. I made some basic steps for the unwary, in case they fall in.

I suppose I -could- learn to be a bit of an artisan builder. Experimenting with microvoxels and seeing what kinds of odd geometric shapes get produced is pretty much the only thing keeping me hooked to Landmark at present.

Other people build houses. I build... um...phallic structures. They're wannabe obelisks, I swear!
Other people build houses. I build… um…phallic structures. They’re wannabe obelisks, I swear!

I probably couldn’t produce anything worth selling – far more skilled players could probably recreate them in no time flat – and besides, I bet Player Studio will never quite open for my country, with all those legalese concerns.

Problem is, the tools and various controls as they exist in Beta are somewhat awkward and not very smooth or intuitive to use.

One example and big culprit here is Shift-Tab to switch between translate, rotate and scaling, plus Tab for the directions. Having twisted my wrist far too often to the left to reach Shift+Tab one too many times, I gave up and wrote an AutoHotkey macro to keybind them elsewhere.

If you’re interested in it, it’s here:

r::Tab

q::
SendInput {LShift down}{Tab down}
SendInput {LShift up}{Tab up}
return

You can replace R and Q with whatever keys you want.

I have an entire profile on my mouse dedicated to Landmark, just to give myself two buttons for left-click (Button 5 uses the thumb and spares my index finger when it starts to scream), and to bind Numlock (Autorun? Who puts that -there?- Obviously I don’t play Everquest!) to the middle mouse button and button 4, which I use in GW2 and has become natural.

Proper keybinding cannot come soon enough in Landmark. No idea how Alpha players put up without it.

Said building tools have quirks that some dedicated builders are learning and sharing. Apparently all I had to do to fix my misshapen arch which was bumpy on one side, was to just copy the good side and mirror it. But how did I get a misshapen arch in the first place? The circle used to cut the arch and the smoothing tool used to round out the arch wasn’t consistent on either side.

The line tool acts funny. Hours are spent by players trying to work around it – avoiding holes in conical roofs, while some other player shows off how they got a straight one-voxel diagonal line from manipulating and cut-and-pasting microvoxels…

It all begs the question: Should I invest my time learning to build here, with its unique idiosyncrasies, or spend my time learning how to use a free alternative like Sketchup or Blender instead (which admittedly uses polygonal modeling, not voxels) or locating voxel modeling software or just build for fun in creative mode Minecraft when I can spawn all the blocks I desire without paying real money or grinding hours for it?

How about the other playstyles?

I confess to being weird and not minding mining or chopping wood. I find it oddly meditative.

But I don’t like feeling forced to go get them in order to get the next tier and the next tier of stuff – that just feels like busywork. I’m not really fond of game design that just exists to waste one’s time – it’s a carryover from subscription-based MMOs that shouldn’t exist in free-to-play ones.

Also, my system is truly on the low-end of the spec pool when it comes to Landmark, and starting and stopping with crashing framerates, falling through the floor and just plain crashing, or getting stuck on loadscreens and having to force the client to re-draw by hitting ctrl+alt+delete and canceling makes me think that I simply can’t participate in an Adventurer playstyle until I have the funds to upgrade to a better computer.

(Pushing the envelope is all very well, but that does restrict the playerbase some. EQ2 was reportedly less popular due to the need for high graphics capability at the time, whereas WoW’s popularity took off into a cult phenomenon – one of the foundational reasons being that people with low end computers still could play and enjoy it.)

I still have big unanswered questions about PvP, griefing and how other players are going to be able to affect you. Big questions about death penalties and potential resource loss, microtransactions and planned payment model. Other questions like:

Will my favored playstyle(s) be available for free, or low to reasonable cost?

Otherwise, why should I start now and invest the time to learn this game?

Well, don’t start now then, some people will reply.

Fair enough, I could just pack up everything, let whatever’s on my claim save into a template (assuming it does, apparently anti-voxels and negative space don’t?) and let the upkeep expire to make room for others. Log out and wait to log in later.

But fundamentally, I’m a little antsy about what the answers to the following questions are going to be:

Why should I spend a good amount of time on this game?

Unnecessary timesinks. Is that valuing my time? (I want to build creative designs unhindered by said timesinks, would be a better answer.)

Why should I keep playing?

Upkeep. In order not to lose stuff in 5 days?  (Or, because there are fun things to do that cater to multiple playstyles in-game?)

If SOE swings one way, Landmark would be dropped like a hot potato. By me, at any rate.

The other way has more promise.

But it’s all a big uncertain gamble right now, isn’t it?

Landmark: The Next Step

That mithril pick and rubicite axe arrived sooner than I’d expected.

Landmark is called a “social building game,” and at this stage of closed Beta, where the floodgates haven’t -quite- opened their way to allowing in bored griefers, many people are still in a civil and cooperative communal mindset.

(Though I hear some people are trying – digging holes around people with excavators, kind of pointless when the “victim” can grappling hook out or evac to safety or even log out and switch servers as a last resort or following people mining all the ore before the other can get to it, a shared node system wouldn’t work here, I guess, so I’d jump servers as a solution, methinks.)

Being in a nomadic frame of mind and needing heartwood to build the stations on my claim before I could settle in, I thought to pop by and surprise visit an MMO blogger and chop trees along the way.

The easiest one to track down was Syl (#totallynotstalking), mostly because she helpfully included a picture of her claim location on her blog , with nearby Portal Spire as easy point of reference – and provided server and island in there too.

Besides, her Twitter said she needed dirt, and I had tons of it from OCD mining.

Trouble is, I hit 360ms ping on EU servers.

The pause time between actions is noticeable. Not completely unplayable, but not that great either.

It’s fine to visit with, or engage in very solitary and slow wood-chopping or mining, but it does feel more molasses-like than usual. (And I hit 220ms on US servers, so lesser of two evils, really. I’m not sure if I can still play Landmark once hostile monsters and/or PvP is introduced, if optimization doesn’t happen.)

After randomly visiting a bunch of claims near the Portal Spire in slow motion fashion. and grumbling to oneself about how lucky Syl is to have a public works guy right on her doorstep (no loadscreens required,) I finally tracked the place in the screenshot down. (Fun self-created explorer minigame, though.)

Syl wasn’t home.

Bah.

From prior WvW experience, EU prime time happens right after SEA prime time, so I figured it’ll only be a matter of time. MMO bloggers being all excitable about Beta launches and all that.

I didn’t quite want to wait around in a 360ms world though, so I popped out and switched to a US server. Confidence, since it was turning out to be home. It was kind of fun to walk around the same area and see how different the same map was, due to the presence of different players.

Syl’s mountaintop was unclaimed in Confidence, but stumbling down a steep mountain into a valley, I came across a moss-covered fort.

mossfort

The owner was home.

As I walked up to check out the place, he came right up, said hi, and offered a Mithril Pick and Rubicite Axe completely unasked for.

I love those generous-minded sandbox veterans.

I was a bit puzzled at how he was willing to give away the top tier pick and axe, but as it turns out, after more closely reading the forums, these items have a random quality assigned to them when first crafted. And it’s a pretty wide quality range. Truly obsessive individuals end up randomly rolling more than a few times for the really good stuff, I suspect, and end up with a surplus of didn’t-quite-make-the-cuts.

And since it’s not (yet) possible to salvage the items for any return of materials, the only options left are hoard ’em, trash ’em, or give ’em away. Which makes newbies pretty lucky if they socialize with an older player.

I do enjoy observing veterans at work in these crafting sandboxes. You learn so much from what they are doing.

In A Tale in the Desert, I picked up by osmosis (just hanging out around more experienced players) things like scaling up the number of machines operating at one time in order to give higher returns, where to put various buildings for more synergy and efficiency without having to run around, and so on.

theboard

This fellow had a most intriguing board.

My goodness, it was like he had a premade set of voxel paintbrushes to work with.

“You mean it’s possible to get shapes like -that-?” was the thought that ran through my mind. “I gotta look into this building thing more. I need those frickin’ building tools.”

So that was next on the agenda after the Syl visit was complete.

Run around, mine tons of tungsten, finish the set of building tools. Good thing I set a claim in a Tier 3 desert, so I did that while at home, so to speak.

Conclusion: This voxel building thing has promise.

Lots of it.

And as of right now, Landmark is the only place you can do in it.

Obligatory home claim screenshot. Feel free to friend me (Jeromai) or stop by to visit (Confidence - Tor)
Obligatory home claim screenshot. Feel free to friend me (Jeromai) or stop by to visit @Confidence – Tor.

It’s an ugly misshapen sort-of arch.

But it was made with no prior reading or watching of any guides or tutorials, just trial-and-error learning with all the building tools available.

workinprogress

I hit a self-learning limit with this guy’s (lack of) beady black eyes, so next sandbox goal, watch and read all the available building tutorials on the Landmark Wikia.

I won’t spoil it for any of you here, but I do suggest watching at least the basic ones once you’ve got experimentation out of your system.

There are some fairly unintuitive keyboard commands that I would -not- have known about, without watching them.

I think I hit one of them accidentally, yielding a fairly awkward voxel size range, and could have used the other when trying to make the pathetic little arch.

Ah well, so it goes. It’s a learning process.

And the fun of these sandbox crafting games (at least for me) is the stuff that’s unique to the game in question, that learning curve of devouring information and applying it, until one groks all the systems in play.

And so it begins:
And so it begins: learning about voxel sizes.

The only thing that I can’t quite shake off though: I feel like I’m learning how to be a 3D graphics artist for SOE, working free-of-charge. On my leisure time.

(Though granted, they’re probably eyeing other folks’ creations that are much less amateur-ish than mine.)

What am I getting in return here? Bragging rights? Showing off pretty screenshots to my friends? Maybe possibly a trickle of Station Cash if another player decides they like the stuff I make – and presumably only a very small percentage of real artisans will achieve that level of demand?

I don’t quite feel that way in Minecraft, where all block creations are exchanging about freely and exist on maps that one can save, whereas I just keep feeling a big corporate specter of “we own everything you’re making here” looming over me in Landmark.

User-generated content may be a bit of a double-edged sword. Players entertaining other players, selling and trading with them, while big brother takes a cut because one chose to do it with the tools that big brother made.

Landmark: First Thoughts

For the game formerly known as Everquest Next: Landmark, and now merely known as Landmark… I have a new name suggestion.

Landmark: Pothole Simulator
Landmark: Pothole Simulator

Okay, okay, I’m being unfair.

I know it’s Beta, and I know caves are coming.

Soon, there won’t be these nicely convenient ore veins just glimmering on the surface, ready to be attacked… and we’ll all want to slit our wrists hunting for ore, just as in Vanilla Minecraft.

Minecraft: Mineshaft Simulator
Minecraft: Mineshaft Simulator

But in the meantime, since it’s there, and gravitating to the path of least resistance like the stereotypical gamer , one hammers away at the soil, creating ugly little scars of devastation that presumably heal at some future point when one is not looking.

tropical

When it’s working, Landmark really is quite pretty.

Even on my toaster, though its Core 2 Duo processor comes in under the minimum specs for CPU, and my ATI 4870 GPU apparently just didn’t make the cut either.

My screenshots are nowhere near as pretty as those of you with more modern machines, but they’re not bad, and to be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised that the game’s working at all.

The performance of the Landmark Beta client has apparently taken a sharp drop downward from Alpha, which I suspect is due to the increased number of entities since they introduced flora and the sickles to harvest them, plus the player load of all us freeloaders jumping in via the 4x Founder guest invites, and thousands of other keys being given away by various websites.

This has led to the initial uncomfortable experience of loading into a crowded Player Spire and freezing at 0-1 FPS, risking a crash or viewing most of the world as a slide show. My mistake was jumping into the Medium loaded Serenity server, whose 7+ player names in view completely hung up my system.

Well, that’s one way to encourage players to spread out.

I chucked my GW2-bred zerging tendencies out the window, put on my hermit hat, and tried to guess the least popular server name ever.

I settled on Confidence, mainly to shore up my lack of it.

The 1-2 player names on the island I randomly ended up on slowed me down, but I waded through molasses sufficiently far to get to a more quiet locale where I could actually experience the game a little closer to what is intended.

Moving also seemed to worsen the effect, causing framerate drops to 0 for a couple seconds before it bounced back up to whatever was presumably normal. My CPU and GPU took turns being the bottleneck, as indicated on the helpful display on the top left of one’s screen.

This led me to suspect that both were being slowed down when rendering new areas beyond the visible map, similar to how my Minecraft occasionally lags when procedurally creating a new chunk.

When I had the time later, I quit out of the game and edited the UserOptions.ini in the Landmark folder, and altered the RenderDistance from a very optimistic 999999.000000 to 1000.000000 – which sounded a lot more like what my toaster could handle.

(Basically, I followed a number of the settings tips from this website, also tweaking down Lighting Quality and Texture Quality to even more minimal than recommended, and turning off Shadows altogether.)

It didn’t completely get rid of the issue, but it did mitigate it significantly enough to be felt.

I now hovered around 35-40 FPS when stationary, instead of 20-30, and the framerate would only plunge to 0 for a split second when moving, or worse case scenario, pause for a few seconds when rendering the next part of the map.

Going near other players or their creations was still a little luck of the draw though, along with going near the Portal Spires to swap islands and entering the loading screen.

(Caveat: Altering Render Distance to such a short distance will make the map brought up by the ‘M’ key look fairly ugly, as it doesn’t render the landscape in its entirety. But you know, when you’re a desperate player with a low-end machine, you get used to such tradeoffs.)

There was also very regular falling out of the map for a couple seconds, before the game bounced me back up to solid ground.

falling

I’m curious to know if those of you located in the US also experience this, meaning it’s the Beta client’s unoptimized nature at work, or if it’s due to my 220-240ms latency from being on the other side of the planet disagreeing with the server on just where my avatar is. (Fair warning for those of us in Europe, Asia, Australia or the other continents anyway.)

I’m probably an atypical Landmark player.

Maybe it comes of having prior construction sandbox experiences in A Tale in the Desert.

Maybe it’s just that the GW2 WvW league is starting in a day or two, and thus I’m keenly aware that I only have a limited amount of time to play in the Landmark sandbox before my gaming priorities call me elsewhere.

Setting down a claim flag and hogging some land for myself was not the first thing on my mind.

Exploring was.

desert

The biomes, by the way, are pretty nifty in how different they all look.

I’m exceedingly partial to the desert one, which is great because barely anyone else seems interested in claiming land on that biome (the crowd seems to have gravitated to the forests.)

Admittedly, the Old Forest biome looks pretty darned good too.
Admittedly, the Old Forest biome looks pretty darned good too, if you catch the lighting at the right angle. It’s downright gloomy at other times though.

In close-up, there’s quite a bit of variance to the objects that make up the biome – though after wading through the same terrain for ten long minutes, thanks to the stuttering framerate, it begins to wear on you.

I suspect this is merely an early Beta thing. It doesn’t make sense to have islands of one concentrated terrain or another, so it’s likely that these biomes will get spread out in more natural fashion across the continent at a later date. (That’s probably going to make it a lot harder to collect resources though.)

There were a number of pragmatic reasons for why I decided to be a nomad and explore first.

For one thing, I was coming in completely cold, having not followed any forums or watched any videos. I had no idea what to expect, what kinds of resources there were, or what would be considered a “good” location to claim or no.

To me, this sort of thing is the privilege of veterans. It’s similar to A Tale in the Desert, where my first Telling ended me up in a somewhat out-of-the-way locale, making it slightly awkward to get anywhere and being a little short on nearby resources (luckily I got adopted fairly quick by a friendly and welcoming guild and moved in with them to use their stuff.)

That learning experience helped me out in subsequent Tellings to land grab locations with desirable resources, and still have sufficient space to expand. One has to see the crowd tendencies at least once to know where the newbies go and where the vets hang out.

For instance, it was very likely that the central hub from which you could portal anywhere would form into a crowded little village / ghetto of a few oldbies seeking convenience, not minding the crowd or wanting to be very social, plus newbies crowding in next to each other without sufficient room to expand.

Landmark does seem to safeguard against this somewhat by reserving some space around the claim for you, so the danger of random players building unsightly stuff too near you is probably a little less.

I personally don’t like those kinds of crowds, and I’m okay with walking a bit to get to the Central portal, so felt very little urgency to plonk a claim down. Worse case scenario, I’d wander out to a map edge or something.

(After you’ve played ATITD, which can take upwards of 2-3 hours or more to walk from one side of the bloody map to another – plus a near-mandatory cross-region run for seed from various Universities if you start the game before chariot stops are up  – I was pretty sure that walking a ways in Landmark wouldn’t take as long. Though I didn’t quite account for the framerate lag.)

For another thing, once you’ve played some of these crafting sandbox games, you learn about community technology bottlenecks and certain resources being gating mechanisms, where players coming in late get the privilege of skipping past some of the early grind through the altruism of community-minded veteran players.

craftingstations

It never fails to amaze me how these public works are bound to spring up.

Have a crafting station or piece of equipment that isn’t destroyed when other players use it, that takes a lot of resources to construct? Only going to use it irregularly yourself?

Well, why should every player waste resources reinventing the wheel, then?

Enter the communal-shared resource. Public goods, public works, call it what you will in different games, the concept is the same.

I got lucky.

The random island I started on when I selected my server had one such industrious individual benevolently building away right next to the Portal Spire.

Seeing him WAY further along the tech tree than I was, I immediately dumped all plans of trying to follow the miserable little crafting chain from the basic work station at the Spire, and tried out all of his crafting stations instead, staring at the recipes to make plans for what I wanted to collect and trying not to drool onto his floor.

In return, he got my verbal thanks, and a Feedback thumbs-up. Not much, but I guess those warm fuzzy feelings make up for it?

Oh, and publicity here, I suppose.

DKonen's claim - Confidence Server - Channel (Tier 1)
Public Use Crafting Stations – Dkonen’s claim – Confidence Server – Channel (Tier 1)

Try not to crowd there so much that it freezes my CPU from too many adjacent players when I visit. That would make me sad.

But visit Dkonen anyway, because there’s a lot of cool crafting stations generously made available for the public to use, and he ought to be one of the first to get a flaming thumbs-up indicator of awesome coolness for his claim.

Since I now had a public works to fall back on for crafting stations, I decided that the nomadic plan would be viable for a while yet, and that I ought to work on the danged vertical progression for personal tools instead.

That’s still a heck of a lot of work, I might add.

It turned out to be a fairly considerable amount of mining and tree-chopping involved, along with having to cross-island hop from biome to biome, slowly raising Tiers as my tools got better and needed the next Tier’s resource to build the next better tool.

(Still not a fan of vertical progression, but I suppose the game needs stuff like this to give players some goals and the temptation to shortcut it via the cash shop later on.)

These, by the way, are the trees you need for the Thistle Seeds for Sundrop Heartwood.
These, by the way, are the trees you need for the Thistle Seeds for Sundrop Heartwood. Ran around for ages looking for them, suspecting I was following in the footsteps of someone(s) who had already chopped them all down. Finally got far out enough to find plenty.

I started to wonder what the point of claims was, since there was no way you were going to be able to find a good geographic locale with all the necessary resources nearby, when all the necessary resources were separated so widely.

It was beginning to seem as if all a claim needed to be, was a patch of empty land on which you get some space to build whatever pretty object you wanted, having already spent the time (or $$$) to obtain the necessary resources elsewhere.

It took many hours, but I did get to the Cobalt Pick and Gold Axe before getting bored of the grind and deciding the last tier or so could wait and be spaced out a little less urgently.

Good tools -really- make a difference.

The Cobalt Pick is significantly more enjoyable to mine with than the earlier picks, in my opinion. It can even almost completely mine an ore vein in a few artfully chosen single-clicks, rather than having to toggle on clicking and waiting for an endless amount of time, adjusting the cursor every now and then.

Speaking of which, Landmark REALLY needs a auto-attack toggle for their picks and axes.

I got through one vein and one tree holding down the mouse button before my finger started cramping, and I started hunting for other options… including keyboard/mouse hardware macros or writing something in AutoHotkey and braving whatever reception third-party software users got.

I eventually settled for the forums-suggested solution of turning on Windows 7’s Click-Lock, via Control Panel => Mouse. Holding down the mouse button for an adjustable amount of time then locks it on, allowing one to auto-mine or auto-chop without risking RSI or carpal tunnel. Click again to stop.

Along the not-obvious line of things one might be interested to know, shift+mouse wheel zooms in and out, alt-F10 removes the interface, and ctrl+F12 takes screenshots. Who thought these up?

If anyone figures out how to strafe, please tell me. Keyboard turning is weird as hell for many MMO gamers.

Anyway, I’ll be grinding out the rest of the resource-locked tools before seriously experimenting with building. I plunked an experimental claim down and tried some of the basics, but made a pretty lousy job out of it. Maybe I’m just not cut out artistically for voxels.

Walking around to see something like this totally doesn't help the ego either.
Walking around to see something like this totally doesn’t help the ego either.

Still, I could see myself in a nice gathering and exploring niche in the future, selling stuff to the dedicated builders – assuming the rest of the game develops well enough to do that in an entertaining and non-boring fashion.