@LandmarkGame: A Model for a Social Operating System

@Ozzymandos

What is Landmark?

Landmark is a Voxel based social building game, produced by Sony Online Entertainment, utilizing core elements of Voxel Farm technology, the Forgelight Engine, and Storybricks. The game features core design elements created by arguably the largest team of designers and developers in the history of video games, and is a true sandbox, where player-created content is king.

In the Landmark FAQ, SOE describes the game as “….a Free to Play, next-generation online sandbox game,” and while that is an accurate description of the game, it is only the beginning of the Landmark story. David Georgeson, Director of Development for the EverQuest Franchise at SOE describes Landmark as a player driven, persistent world, where players possess the tools required to create their own virtual worlds from the ground up.

It’s an audacious claim, to be sure. To realize this goal, the players must be given the same toolset used by internal developers at SOE to build their flagship title, EverQuest Next. Ultimately, Next will be created by SOE using Landmark, but beyond that — Landmark will give rise to thousands of “games,” and experiences, designed, and created by — and for — its players.

The idea itself is Promethean; traditional online games feature hidden development tools, manipulated by the dev team to create play fields or “worlds” in which their players strive, towards the achievement of static goals, which are foundational to the games “story” or setting. Sometimes the players compete directly against one another, or participate in the game as a member of one or more “teams” or “factions.” Often, groups of players, small and large, work cooperatively towards goals dictated by the game, its story and its developers. As players grow in power and ability. they work together to take on tougher challenges, while the development team works just ahead of the player curve, creating new content for the players to consume.

Landmark inverts this process; the developers provide tools, materials, props and decorations, while the players build content to share and play to experience the content of others. This is a substantial change to how online games are played and experienced today. While many games place the player center-stage in the story, only a handful give the player this level of granular control over the game world by default, and those that do are either primarily single-player games, or are multiplayer “theme-parks” — moving players from one attraction to the next in a strictly linear fashion.

Landmark aspires to a living, breathing community in a way that Minecraft or Little Big Planet cannot: Landmark players build to their own imaginations within a shared world, and their experiences within these creations are by definition — shared experiences.

Angel-Bay-MEGA-City-shops

Angel Bay Mega City

It is important to note that Landmark is not yet feature complete. Players can design and build just about anything using the games robust building tools, and abundant raw materials. Many systems are MIA; combat, environmental damage, NPC’s / monsters, AI, and scripting, for example. Much of this will be (hopefully be) addressed at SOE Live (August 14-17) 2014.

What can I do in Landmark, right now?

  • Participate in design workshops for EverQuest Next and help determine core design elements for that games various playable races, monsters and NPC factions. The Dark Elf workshop is complete, and the Kerran workshop is currently underway.
  • Design and build settings, locations, environments, and props. Enter official contests, place your creations up for sale in the Player Studio in-game store.
  • Build freely using hundreds of textures, colors and materials.
  • Craft tools, equipment, props. Seek rares. Engage in trade with other players.
  • Harvest, gather and otherwise collect resources used to craft or build. Engage in trade with other players.
  • Explore a massive procedurally generated above and below ground world featuring almost a dozen worlds /servers and hundreds of “islands”. Explore procedurally generated caves and cavern systems. Find treasure.
  • Social Chat / Role play.

What are Landmarks current disadvantages and liabilities?

Builders do well in Landmark, especially if they are very social.. Explorers and crafters are also well rewarded because the world of Landmark is massive in size, and because there is always something new to discover or visit. The raw materials required to build, craft and decorate claims are dispersed widely across — and beneath — the games numerous zones (islands)and servers (worlds); — all of which are reachable by anyone using Landmark’s portal spire system. Because the social milieu of Landmark extends outside the game itself, competitive achievers are rewarded through various official in-game building competitions, and by authoring Player Studio products; — especially if their listings achieve high rank, have positive feedback or earn real money for their author. That said — if you play MMO’s primarily to raid, kill monsters or do PvP, you may be put off by the current focus on building without risk.

Lastly, Landmark requires a fairly high end laptop or medium to high end gaming PC to run on medium or higher settings. That will probably change as the game moves through development phases, but it will never run (well) on old hardware like many 2nd generation MMO’s do. The reasons for this are fairly complicated, but — in a nutshell — an MMO sandbox involves lots of data, passing between player and server. As you move towards a large tower in the distance, your PC must write the details of the structure to your machine so that you may experience it — in detail — on your monitor. Therefore, a fast broadband connection, fairly current CPU and GPU, and lots of RAM is recommended. That said — the game looks passable on medium settings, and performance can only improve.

Looking Forward: The Near / Short Term

New game elements are being added to the game on a fairly regular schedule. A recent patch revealed a simple guild tool, a score of cosmetic “props” and transparent glass and ice as building materials. The Landmark road-map includes features that will be added in the near / short term including deeper caves, “lakes” (phase 2 of 3 for “water” in-game), health bars and environmental damage, monsters, and rules for PvP. There is much speculation within the Twittersphere that at least two of these elements will be announced / premiered at SOE Live 2014. Rodolfo Rosini is in Vegas with the Storybricks team, and it is safe money we will see Storybricks in action in EverQuest Next, and possibly — the announcement of a rudimentary claim-level encounter design tool(s), designed for Landmark, to allow players to manipulate the Storybricks engine.

Monsters (and combat!) are coming. NPC’s and PvP combat will make gathering more interesting (imagine something Balrog sized and nasty, living at the bottom of that tier 4 cave!), but won’t contribute to a player’s vision of what their claim (game?) can be until the players possess the tools required to set pathing and reactions for their own NPC’s, at claim level, and build scripted events or encounters for their own claims and creations. The implications of a tool that can make Storybricks accessible to player story-tellers in a “game” is the next revolution in gaming, and I predict that the number of players who specialize in claim-level design in Landmark will rival or even exceed those primarily in “building.”

Simulated Firefight

Simulated Firefight (Zee)

Likewise, fully destructible / constructible PvP battle arenas imply movement and explosions. None of this will be realized until individual voxels in Landmark can be programmed to “move” in some way, and alter or change their default state under certain conditions. It is clear that Voxel Farm — the software that generates the 3D, sandbox world of Landmark as an integrated component of SOE’s Forgelight Engine to — is capable of rendering the motion of individual or “groups” of voxels, in rudimentary ways. What is not clear is the performance impact of all of that movement (writing, rewriting, and tracking position for every voxel on screen during a 3D avatar-led match of Tower Defense, for example).

Finally, there are plans to improve the building tools used in Landmark today. As a non-Voxelmancer, I can only imagine what might be in the pipeline with regard to the tools. David Georgeson has said that — and I’m paraphrasing here — the learning curve (for building tools in Landmark) here is similar to any other learning tool in any other competitive game, and I agree. I’m guessing the curve is probably going to be sweetened a bit, and that we will also see a few new tools *soon*, if not at SOE Live 2014.

Finding Your Niche

At this moment, Landmark is dominated by builders, and they are doing incredible work. Every day I see player designed claims that rival current AAA environment, set and prop design. They are sharing techniques with one another, tweeting about their latest build and making how-to videos for Twitch.tv and YouTube, at a level of engagement I have not seen since the early days of class-based forums and message boards in EverQuest (early 2000’s). Crafters have likewise been busy; — Bob (Mortok, guild leader of the Legendary Explorers) has given away close to 700 picks, axes and grapple hooks of the highest quality to new players. He is not alone. The concept of the free-box caught fire, and spread over dozens of claims, on nearly every “world” or “island” in-game.

Teams of players have created elaborate group builds in both the traditional fantasy and sci-fi genres. A few have upped the ante, creating mega-builds where building shouldn’t even be possible, featuring destructible environments which “heal” to a built state, over time. Others have begun to design PvP role playing scenarios, using fleets of attacks ships, which appear in the skies over various neighborhoods, and rp-menace the locals for their “copper” (a resource gathered which is currently used to pay rent on a claim, among other things).

It is clear that dedicated teams of players are creating astounding content in Landmark’s sandbox, and that other players are hungry to use and enjoy it. These creations will only get better over time and with the release of new tools and basic game play editors and systems. It is also clear that — no matter what style of game play you prefer — you should be able to find your niche in a fully realized Landmark. The meta game of Landmark — which exists as an overlay — outside the game itself, and uses non-traditional content creation and distribution channels — has fostered an exceptional level of player engagement and developer interactivity with their community. The sky may have limits, but it is really up to US to decide how large we want it to be.

Landmark Explorers Pub Crawl (GaiusMaximus)

Landmark Explorers Pub Crawl (GaiusMaximus)

Finally, there is the opportunity to monetize your creations in this Sandbox world, via the Player Studio in-game store, through a regular following on Twitch or YouTube, and ultimately — through the power to create content for other players that rivals what dedicated teams of professional developers can create themselves. If the cream rises to the top, some of those players will eventually find their way into game-development as a profession, using games like Landmark to secure jobs, shop projects and attain funding and support for their own games. This is great news for gaming and general, and good news for our real life economy as well. The “gold in them thar hills” may be procedurally generated, but it contains the seed of real treasure, in the form of new careers or “jobs” for player designers, builders, makers, writers and broadcasters in the years to come.

I can’t wait to see what’s Next.

–@ozzymandos (Twitter).

 

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