by Mike Shea on 23 February 2003
For the last week I've been putting time into Everquest Online Adventures. I have a level 13 ranger named Tarlin on the Ferran's Hope server. Like any first generation game it isn't perfect but it is a big step forward in the world of online games. I particularly like the custom chat macros that can be operated like mouse gestures in the newer web browsers. It soon becomes second nature to press Down Down Up to wave and Down Up Up to hail someone.
Most of the improvements I could see for this game are not with the game itself, but the abilities for people to get online and get all the proper accessories. I stated a little while ago that online console gamings is not ready and I stand by that statement for the most part, although the success of Xbox Live has changed my mind about a lot of it. I would still argue that broadband access is still too sparse to get the majority of console players online. Until friend Mark Miller way out in Jasonville Indiana is online with me, I won't call it a success.
Time for the pontification. How do we get from where we currently are with consoles to the world of William Gibson's Neuromancer. First, it is my hope that we have to establish a cheap, wireless, global, and reliable network. My dream is to have a console that is online the minute you pull it out of the box in your car. You don't have to dial it in. You don't have to configure it. You just sign up in the store and connect away. Given the continuing sad state of cell phones both in lousy coverage and in lousy quality and stability, I think we are a long way from this. The alternative is a wide reach of cablemodems and DSL connections. $50 a month is still a pretty hefty price for internet access, and will keep a lot of people away. At the very least, consoles should include networking hardware and on-line play with the cost of the console. I shouldn't have to spend $40 for a network card for a PS2 and I shouldn't have to pay $50 to sign up for Xbox Live. No doubt the next generation of consoles will include online play for free.
Routers and switches cause another problem. Any form of home networking should have some form of routing built in. Granted it is only another $50 to $80 for a four port router, but it is an added cost and an added complexity. Keeping home networking cheap and simple is the way to get it to everyone. Home network providers should include at least a built in four port router.
In-game communication is a key to good online gaming. EQOA has included good support for any USB keyboard. I picked up a Logitech Multimedia Elite USB keyboard for $30 at CompUSA. It works well as a lap keyboard. It is another added cost, however, and considering that the cord is only about five feet long, I needed another $20 extension for it. I had dreams of a PS2 controller with a built in thumb-based keyboard like you will find on blackberries and the new Palms and Handsprings (UPDATE: I just found this keyboard / controller from the EQOA forums. This would help keep the console feel and also allow people to chat with a moderately good interface.
Voice seems to be the best way to do it. It works well for Xbox Live and I was able to do some complex strategies in Mech Assault using nothing but voice. Voice does break the roleplaying element that games like Everquest has. It is nice to be able to roleplay and not feel like an idiot. Having to say the stuff that I normally type in-game would be embarrassing. Not to mention the harsh injection of reality that one gets. Suddenly I am analyzing an accent that someone has instead of paying attention to what they're saying. Still, voice is the easiest and fastest way for people to communicate. It fits in with online gaming very well. It should be included with the price of a console just like rumble packs are.
Online gaming is a bigger step for the entertainment world than anything that has hit consoles since Atari. Joining 3000 other players in a giant vast world is incredible. Living in a world with no beginning, no ending, and nothing but wide open lands and dark dangerous dungeons is the way fantasy RPGs were meant to be played. In order for this type of gaming to hit the masses we need the following things:
The world could be a vastly different place if all of these things happened. Today we stand at the beginning of a great future of online gaming. We are perhaps five years away from a huge online gaming presence. It is a good time to be a gamer.
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