Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 04, 2015
Hell level nostalgia

The original Everquest, before 2002, had a complicated formula to calculate xp requirements per level which led to certain levels needing far more xp than others. These levels were known as hell levels. At the time leveling was a very slow process, so while a regular level could already take a week of playing to achieve, a hell level could take a month. And at the time you also suffered an xp loss on dying, so dying during a hell level could set you back a week of progress. The xp curve was smoothed in 2002. And today, on the new progression servers Ragefire and Lockjaw, the xp requirements per level have been significantly lowered. You can now level up in hours, not days or weeks or months.

It is my personal belief that the way people play MMORPGs depends very strongly on the incentives and requirements. Thus as much Ragefire and Lockjaw might resemble the old Everquest, and the advertising says "play like it's 1999", I think that playing on these progression servers with their fast leveling is fundamentally different from playing the original Everquest with slow leveling and hell levels. Furthermore from the descriptions I read it appears that EQ today is far more solo-friendly than EQ 1999, and that again has a huge impact on social behavior of players.

I'm not saying that I want my hell levels back. But I would say that the often bemoaned phenomenon of people "playing alone together" is very much a product of the xp requirements curve and the ease of soloing. If you made a new World of Warcraft server on which gaining a level would take 20 times as long as it does today, and you increased the group xp bonus significantly, you would end up with a version of World of Warcraft where lots of people would group during leveling, and where leveling would be far more prominent than end-game raiding.

Me, I'd rather play on that hypothetical server. I am currently playing a level 29 hunter not using heirloom gear, and doing a lot of pet battles. And I can't help but outlevel any zone shortly after I entered it, in spite not having the heirloom xp bonus and in spite of not resting in an inn. My WoW leveling experience today is as far away from the original WoW as the Ragefire / Lockjaw servers are from the original Everquest. For people who actually like taking their time to explore zones and level slowly, there don't appear to be many games on offer. Anyone know a game where people still group to level, because leveling solo is too slow?

Even back in the relatively early days of WoW, there were places where people needed to cooperate. For example, if you started in Loch Modan, you'd generally need a bit of help to deal with certain monsters there. People used to just group up with whoever was there. Hardly anyone had mics, we'd chat in text.

That was before Blizzard removed nearly all the outdoor elites. Because god forbid anything got in the way of solo ROFLSTOMP.
You know I'm trying really really hard to think of a post-2004 MMO that still requires groups while levelling and I can't think of anything.

Maybe DDO? When I played it around 2009 you still needed 1-2 extra people to run content, but maybe things have become more solo friendly since then, I wouldn't know.
I was totally in the "solo level" zone in Everquest, which is why I never got past level 37. I even resorted to doubleboxing to try to kill monsters harder, but it was just not possible with my meager skillz. Even the tiniest mistake got you killed, and then the "XP loss monster" ate your lunch.

I started a Gilnean Warrior in WoW recently. At first, I just did the "Use what dropped, no Heirlooms, no gold or gear from my main." route... and I was still outclassing the content with ease. Then I hit level 20 and Heroed Up with a full boat of Heirlooms and a bag of gold from my main. Now I just nuke instances from orbit.

While I'm good with that, because I want to use my new toy in end game content more than I want to level up my nth character. But yeah, there is a problem here.

The problem is that WoW tries to be three games at once... a leveling game, an end game PvE raiding game, and a PvP game. These three games have completely different goals and rule sets. There are inherently incompatible with each other.

The leveling game is, by it's nature, exponential. Level 60 was far harder to get than level 5. It has to be that way or the game would be "too easy" like it is today. Imagine the result of just extending the levels while leaving the original game fully intact. At some point... and probably before level 70, the ludicrous difficulty of extending the original exponential curve would collapse under it's own weight. So the curve is recalculated at each expansion.

At the same time, as end game content becomes "What people want", the leveling gets even more abbreviated. You either have to be able to skip the leveling content entirely, or breeze through it. Blizzard chose the latter, and it's working for them so far.

Huge market open for the company that figures out how to do the former, as in release a game, then when the "expansion" hits, release it as a new game... one your max level characters can start at level 1 in with the equivalent of heirloom gear if they choose. (Or not if they're levelers.) But the original game never changes. You always have a "Most recent game" with easily skipped content for max level players, and a long chain of "as they originally were" games for levelers, all using the same range of levels.
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