On March 16, 1999, the game that would change the gaming world forever was released for public play. Hundreds of thousands of gamers bought EverQuest and began to experience one of the greatest computer games ever made. They also crashed the Internet in San Diego, California where the game’s servers were located. Not only did EQ revolutionize gaming, it also caused Internet technology to advance significantly in order to deal with the way the game worked via the Internet.
While MMO’s in the form of Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) had been around since 1978, it was really only in 1997 that the first true MMO came out in the form of Ultima Online. The introduction of the Internet to the general public in the early 1990s made it possible for people to play games outside of contained networks like large businesses or universities since they could now connect to each other. What is wild about that is that computer games were as old as the computer industry, and the Internet offered a way to play those games with more people around the world.
Everquest is the brainchild of John Smedley, who was the head of Sony Interactive Studios in 1995. John played a lot of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and wanted to make an online role-playing game that was similar to AD&D. He finally got permission to fund the initial concept and began to build the development team. What we know of EQ today was nothing more than a fledgling idea at first based on three primary goals.
- It had to be Internet-based.
- It had to accommodate hundreds of people online at once.
- It had to use a 3D engine.
With that in mind, John began to assemble the development team. He had been impressed by WarWizard 2, a demo designed by Steve Clover and Brad McQuaid. He hired them and they began to build what would become EQ. Now, you have to realize that while all kinds of technology exists today to build these MMOs, almost none of it existed in 1996. In fact, 3D video cards were not equipped in most personal computers. The technology was cutting edge new at that time. My first PC in 1999 had a 8 MB video card which was considered top of the line for about 3 months. It had a Pentium III 500 Mhz processor which was also top of the line for two months. Back then, computers were doubling in power ever 18 months as were their accessories. These things did not exist in 1996. The EQ team was building a game based on where they thought the computing technology would be in 1999.
I won’t go into the details of the development of EQ very much as it is a long story, but this team pulled off one of the biggest successes in gaming history. It is on a par with the creation of Dungeons & Dragons itself. There were some teething problems at first, most of which were in the nature of the game itself such as Internet problems, but by the fall of 1999 these had been met and conquered. This to me illustrates the adage, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” They knew what they needed to get done and made it happen.
My wife, Debbie, had seen the EQ game box in June 1999 and wanted to buy it, but I was leery of an online game. We didn’t have the Internet yet and had just bought our first PC from Gateway (remember them?) with the money I was saving since I had quit smoking in April (one addiction traded for another!). But, in late July while at the hospital ER for someone’s illness (be married and have kids, you’ll be on a first name basis with the ER staff at some point) I ran across an article about EQ in a magazine like Time or Newsweek that had a picture of a dwarf wearing a horned helmet and holding an axe and a shield running across a bridge over a river of molten lava with a red dragon chasing him. I read the article and was hooked.
Let’s set the stage some. Back in 1993 a disaster known as Magic the Gathering hit the gaming world. This “stain on humanity’s record” negatively impacted the local role-playing community in Northeast Missouri which was pretty small to begin with. Suddenly, no one wanted to play D&D and instead was off buying artistic cardboard instead. I put my D&D books up and turned to my real life challenges which precluded me from having any time to play D&D anyway. A few years later in 1999, I had some time to play games and that’s when EQ came along.
I waited until Christmas of 1999 to get the game as a gift from my kids and it was something I really wanted to get. I popped in the disc as soon as I could and was greeted by the message that I needed to be connected to the Internet. Soon the familiar warbling sound of our dial-up (remember that?) making the connection to the Internet filled my ears. The connection was made and I had to do all the stuff that comes with getting into a new game. In this case it was making an account, signing off on all the EULAs and stuff, and then finding out there was a download required to play the game plus the updated stuff. Needless to say, I didn’t get to play in on December 25th. The download speeds were slow back then and I had to wait several hours for them to go through.
Finally, on December 26th the PLAY button lit up and I eagerly clicked on it, anticipating something wonderful. I was not disappointed. That’s when the now-familiar EQ theme music began to play and the introduction video started up. It was awesome! I was going to play D&D online with other people! The video ended and I reached the character creation screen. I had no issues here as I knew I would play a Dwarven Fighter. Back then, we didn’t have all the guides we have now. There really wasn’t a lot to character creation either. Pick a race, a class the race could be, choose a name (mine was not taken yet!), adjust the attributes with the limited pool you had to work with, and if your race had more than one choice, pick a starting city. Hit the PLAY button and off you went.
I would love to tell you I strode forth into the game and became an instant hero, laying waste to my foes, and gaining a reputation as a great fighter. Instead, I, like so many other players, struggled to figure out the commands to do anything in the game. It had a manual and I read it a lot in the first 10 minutes. Finally, I figured out how to move forward. Then I could move to the right. Now the left! And right into the stream of water where I promptly drowned before I could figure out how to swim. That caused my first, but definitely not my last death in EQ. I “rezzed” at the soon to be really familiar location in Kaladim and eventually figured out how to move around and interact with the NPCs. I also learned how to map the keys to make it easier to move. Did you know that EQ originally came with the “A” key mapped to auto-attack your target? I sure found that out when I hit it trying to interact with a NPC, whereupon targetted NPC killed me in one blow.
After running around Kaladim, learning the game mechanics, and picking up some quests, I was ready to fight some enemies. My problem was I didn’t know how to get out of Kaladim. But the game manual had a rough map and I figured it out. I also chatted with some people in the game chat (no voice back then, just text chat) and learned more about it. Finally, I emerged from the tunnels of Kaladim into the zone of the Butcherblock Mountains, the homeland of the Dwarves. It was there that I learned what a train was (a long line of enemies chasing down a player that they had angered while trying to run away), and that fighting more than one was a fast way to die. Also, we had next to no gear, and had to acquire some by taking it from the goblins and skeletons that infested the area around the Kaladim entrance to BB (Butcherblock).
It was still so fricking awesome!
I still treasure those memories. I loved playing EQ, and so did most of my family which required us to get another computer, more accounts, but never enough time to play. One of my fondest memories of the game was fighting a giant scarab with another player as it attacked us near the guardhouse on the road to Greater Faydark (the land of the elves and orcs). We got onto the roof and it reared up on its hind legs and still attacked us before we finally killed it off. It made my adrenalin pump for sure. There was also a lot of dying (more than I wanted but part of the game) and a lot of friends to make in the game. We built guilds and shared a lot of time playing the first 3D MMO.
Wow! There’s a lot there isn’t there? The world of EverQuest continued to expand because if a MMO doesn’t do that, it dies off. Eventually it will be overtaken by other MMOs with a whole new world to experience much like we do with our RPG campaigns. In the case of Everquest, the game expanded so much it began to be a totally different game than it was originally. The old zones were reworked, new features were added, and the game lore was altered. Sounds like every edition of D&D, right?
But there are still ways to experience the old, familiar, and still incredibly fun world of the original EverQuest. Experienced programmers have recreated the game via emulators and built several worlds. Some like Shards of Dalaya are significantly altered to create a new game in my opinion, but others like p1999 are true to the original game. P1999 is probably one of the best emulators out there. It features the original game along with the first two expansions which together formed what we called Classic EQ. Later expansions really changed the game experience and p1999 has stated it will not add those expansions. Unfortunately, p1999 has retained some of the biggest problems of the original game which were limited item drops and the need for large raids of players to access what was called end game content like the red dragon I mentioned. This leads to super guilds who control access to the content. On the other hand, the game was clearly designed for large scale efforts to defeat the major bosses, so it is what it is.
What is nice about p1999 is that there’s a lot to do before getting to the end game content. This is the grinding stage of the game, but it can be enjoyed by players seeking to adventure and do certain things like exploration. Some of it can be soloed, but that also takes some of the fun out of the game to me. My favorite experiences are all in groups where we battled enemies as we worked on a quest or just going through a dungeon to kill the enemies and see what loot would drop. Dying on those adventures requires some work to retrieve your bodies which is why it is important to work together. Sounds like you’re playing D&D, doesn’t it?
EQ had a sequel called EverQuest II which I really liked just as much as the original. I will be covering it soon. I am actively playing this one and to be quite honest, this is a game that is easy to figure out, and has a ton of content that is wide open for players to enjoy without the raid problems of Original EQ. Plus, it has more quests than you can shake a stick at. More on this later, but if anyone wants to play this game, holler at me. You don’t need anything but your computer to play this one.
I will close this long post out with some links to various EverQuest sites. The nice thing about original EQ is that you really don’t need a powerful PC with the latest and baddest video cards and all that computer stuff. It ran good on P3 processors, so even a 10-year old computer will handle it with ease. You do need what is known as a Titanium copy of the game to get started, but you can find that on the Internet and download it with some poking around or borrow a copy from someone who has it (like for instance, me).
EverQuest – the live version which is free-to-play.
P1999 – an emulator version which runs the Original Classic EQ.
Shards of Dalayla – an emulator version but with a completely different story line that makes it a different setting, but still using the classic client in many ways. This also does not require the Titanium discs, but can be done using the Steam sourced client.
Coming next week: Dark Age of Camelot