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Awakened Nostalgia - EverQuest Relived

Updated Mon, Apr 12, 2010 by B. de la Durantaye

Where would you go if you could relive your glory days? Were you a head cheerleader? Captain of the football team? Hardest partier in college? Or maybe you had friends with whom you would travel to exotic faraway lands, finding adventure at every corner, developing your friendships into something that transcended age, race, sex and politics. Maybe you were one of the hundreds of thousands of people who spent countless hours living excitement, heartache, euphoric victory, and mortifying failure in an online world we all came to love called EverQuest.

Nostalgia's calming caress has fueled some fantastic accomplishments and EverQuest fans have been incited to motion for just that. 11 years and 16 expansions after its initial launch players everywhere still enjoy the game or hearken back to the early years when it played a large role in their everyday lives. Some of these players have experienced such ardent longing to relive days past that they have created a time machine of sorts. One that will take them back to Norrath as it was in 1999.

The Draw


First, let's explore what made EverQuest so popular that thousands of people have signed up to go back to 1999 to play it all over again.

EverQuest came onto the scene very near the dawning of MMOGs. To say it was a different time would be like saying Sean Connery played the best James Bond--it's both obvious and quite true. Soloing was rarely an option, death penalties were severe and unforgiving, reputations made the player, and raids could last all weekend. The flavor of MMOGs has changed dramatically over the past decade and today the average player simply doesn't have the patience and/or time for the old-school MMOG. So what was the hook? Why did so many people live and breathe EverQuest? I asked that very question of John Smedley, President of Sony Online Entertainment, and the creator of the original EverQuest.

"I think it was partly the time and the place," Smedley told me. "It was most people’s first MMO. I would say it had a little bit of an older crowd. There’s such a feeling of nostalgia for the first experience. It was the first translation from when you played tabletop D&D to an online game."

The nostalgia Smedley spoke of certainly rings true. In 2006 SOE opened up what they dubbed Progression Servers, which allowed players to start all over again from the beginning. As guilds and alliances defeated specific content the next expansion would be unlocked. The result was a certifiable success. Many players new and old jumped at the opportunity and both progression servers filled to the brim on opening day.

So does SOE plan on opening more similar servers?

"I wouldn’t say 'progression,' " said Smedley, "but we do have other things planned like that. We did the 50/51  server recently. [A server that allows players to start new characters at level 50 with 51 Alternate Advancement points. -ed] We’re planning on more stuff like that that will keep people interested and maybe offering them a slightly different way of playing. We try to change things up a little."

50/51 or Progression, Live or Classic, the allure of EverQuest still draws many players. Part of the attraction lies in the difficulty level of the game, which simply isn't seen in many of today's MMOGs. Cliff  'Nilbog' Gibson, founder of Project 1999 reminisced fondly about the days of 1999 EverQuest.

Project 1999 is an emulated server that attempts to recreate EverQuest as it was in 1999, before expansions and back when it was a very different game from the MMOGs of today. The project is not supported by or affiliated with Sony Online Entertainment, and playing it requires a breach of the EQ EULA.

A Group in Crushbone
A Group in Crushbone

"I missed the difficulty of original EverQuest," he explained. "The players of all games have always complained about the death penalties, running naked to retrieve their corpses, and the unforgiving nature of the game, but I think they desire the challenge."

The challenge of the game was certainly a common theme as I spoke to more people. I approached two of the top raiding guilds involved in Project 1999 and asked them what made EverQuest their game of choice.

"There hasn’t been a game like [EverQuest] in difficulty and content matter," said Xzerion,  guild leader of Inglourious Basterds. "You have to be good at playing your class. In World of Warcraft, you were playing with a bunch of nine year old kids and all they had to do was to show up, get some levels, and be somewhat useful on a raid. Here, it is clearly evident if somebody is playing with you and is not good and could deter whatever group or raid you’re trying to take part in."

"To be able to progress and meet your full potential as any kind of class, you have to understand the game mechanics," added Otto, former guild leader of Inglourious Basterds. "You need to understand the layout of the zones; you need to understand how your class is beneficial in group situations. Every other MMOG that I’ve played is just so easy that the journey to the final level in the game can be accomplished within a few days, at most. That’s what I liked about EverQuest--it took time and effort... I think that without the difficulty of the game, you miss out on the fulfillment factor."

One of the guild's officers, Karsten, agreed, and offered a more analytical perspective. "I would answer in a much more metaphysical and psychological way," he began. "That question opens up a large variety of ways in which you could answer it. The succinct way of answering it is that I like playing EverQuest in the same way that I’m attracted to women who are hard to get.  It’s a sad commentary on the psychology of what mankind is attracted to. I really do think that one of the reasons why EverQuest was so popular is that I think they [SOE] put together a game that specifically plays on those parts of humankind’s personalities. A lot of us play EverQuest because of our latent masochist tendencies... We like EverQuest because it’s difficult.

"I remember that when I started playing World of Warcraft, I couldn’t stop raving about the fact that it didn’t try to punch me in the face whenever I logged on and tried to XP, and that was refreshing and nice, but it’s also the reason why I quit playing it."

Stanley Soulcat, guild leader of Transcendence, another top guild on the server, had a slightly different thought on the classic EverQuest experience.

"MMOGs were a lot less commercialized," he said. "Back in the old days, there was UO [Ultima Online], and then nothing until EverQuest came around. And based upon my opinion, back in the day, people didn’t enjoy the PvP environment that UO offered, and EverQuest gave them that PvE environment and allowed them to have a better time and not constantly be trolled or attacked."

So what exactly is Project 1999 and does it fit the bill for what these players are looking for?

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