Landmark: Oceans and the Infinite Void
Oceans have finally arrived in Landmark this week, and with them, some interesting new perspectives on gameplay. While the addition of water still has an aweful lot of empty checkboxes in terms of the final intent for its overall impact on the way you interact with or traverse the world, this initial implementation is nonetheless impactful.
In many ways, scampering around a given world in landmark hasn't given players much cause to want to seek out the edge of the world. To date, Landmark has existed in the space between Pangea and the archaic Flat Earth model. In other words, the world is flat, it has edges, and is all one solid landmass.
Sure, there are magical portals that allow you to traverse the infiniate void to visit variants on Landmark's version of Pangea, though I do constantly wonder if that will ever play more directly into the notion that the EverQuest universe exists within parallel dimensions. In that sense, the portals in Landmark wouldn't be all that different than the lighthouses in BioShock Infinite: doors to parallel worlds that closely resemble the one you've come from, but with a degree of variance to each.
I'd almost prefer to consider Landmark from that perspective, rather than just a bunch of biomes that loosely connect to form a larger world and happen to be separated by vast oceans. In some ways, Landmark's biomes are beginning to feel increasingly like the Shattered Norrath of EverQuest II, so in that sense you do still have a sliver of that parallel dimensional aspect shining through.
Chances are, that's not really the intent of adding the oceans in the first place. Yet ever since we were given our initial preview of Landmark and EverQuest Next during E3 2013, I've been mentally seeking out some deeper connection between the two games, and filling in my own conceptual storyline blanks to help give me some sense of place and purpose in the world when logging into Landmark.
In one example, we know that the citizens of Norrath have been kicked in their collective pixelnuts and will be coming into EQNext from a point of exile to retake their homeland. In that scenario, you could almost consider your character in Landmark as the human version of these exiles at an earlier point in that storyline. We've lost our home, and have set out to regroup and rebuild in a foreign land. In our exiled state we no longer have the benefits of industry to fuel progress. There are no gnomes to help tinker contraptions to make life less difficult (or moreseo depending on the contraption in question).
At the same time, that way of rationalizing my existence in Landmark breaks down somewhat rapidly. Our characters have essentially stumbled into Utopia, and not the horribly flawed sort envisioned by Comstock or Andrew Ryan.
There are no dragons threatening our towns and villages. There are no forces of evil pounding at the gates. It is a largely peaceful, and humble existence on any given slice of Landmark. So why would those humans ever want to leave and return to a wartorn Norrath?
To help answer that question, I turned to a post on Smed's blog made earlier this year that attempts to address why themepark MMOGs are ultimately not sustainable, and sandbox is the rising paradigm. In his post, Smed noted:
"In my opinion the solution is focusing a lot more on letting players make and be content for each other. Battlegrounds are an excellent example of an Evergreen style of content where it’s the players themselves that actually create the content. Auction houses are another example. So are things like storytelling tools in SWG.. or the brilliant music system in LOTRO. Building systems into the games that let the players interact with each other in new and unique ways gives us the ability to watch as the players do stuff we never anticipated. We’ll see a lot more creativity in action if the players are at the center of it. Imagine an MMORPG of a massive city.. and the Rogue’s guild is entirely run by players. Where the city has an entire political system that is populated by players who were elected by the playerbase.
There’s a great example of this today with Eve Online. It’s a brilliantly executed system where the players are pretty much in charge of the entire game. Sure there is a lot of content for players to do, but anything that’s important in the game is done by the players. This is a shining example of how this kind of system can thrive."
While I largely agree with the above, none of it really applies to Landmark, at least in its current form.
We do have plenty of evergreens to chop down and build with in Landmark, but in each of the examples cited for Evergreen style content there is a story or reason for existence that wraps it and gives it context within a given game world. We have the sandbox and a lot of tools to play with, but they're entirely out of context. We've gone from "You're in Our World Now" to "Here are some tools... create your own world".
We can't yet swim or properly explore the oceans in Landmark just yet, but as I stand atop a hillside and look out over the vastness of it all, I can't get away from the simple question: what's on the other side?
My character is a chicken, and it wants to cross that water-filled road. It wants to get to the other side. At the same time, the voice of FireFly's Jayne is buzzing somewhere in the back of it's mind...
Oh, hell. I've been to the edge. Just looked like more space.
Maybe the intent in Landmark is for players to ultimately create and tell their own stories. We do know that tools will eventually come online to facilitate the process, and I continue to look forward to getting my hands on them. Landmark's current crop of players seem not to mind their absense for the time being, and have shown vast amounts of creativity with their building efforts so far.
Enough to fill an ocean, in fact.