I am pretty sure a lot of the friends I made in Everquest 2 have been puzzled by my love of house decoration. That or they started thinking it was a good time to back away slowly when I started talking about it. In fact, I even agree to a certain extent that it is pretty sad that nowadays that is my main reason to play Everquest 2. Not so much for my passion for house decoration in a MMORPG, of all places, but because I just don't enjoy the rest of the game as much. Worse I have yet to find another MMORPG with a more engaging gameplay and house decoration. My hopes right now are on Final Fantasy XIV for that but that seems to be far away in the future...
Anyway, why I love it so much in Everquest 2? To put it simply creativity. If that is so why am I not trying to scratch my creativity itch in another more fulfilling field like... say, writing or painting or something along those lines? Well.... That I don't know either. I guess this blog does scratch my itch for writing though. I am not sure what kind of itch decoration in a MMORPG scratches.
The next question someone might ask would probably be, why aren't you doing that in a game whose main purpose is dealing with virtual houses, like The Sims for example. This one is easy. In a MMORPG I am building and decorating a house for nothing but my own amusement. In a game like The Sims I would have to build to please a virtual twerp so they don't get sad. In fact I would be spending more time worrying micro-managing the actions of said virtual twerp so he can get as close to happiness a virtual person can get than about building cool stuff. At least in a MMORPG my biggest worries are with the space I have to work with and the item count.
Of course, none of those answers really, well, answer anything. So I guess we have to dig deeper to see where it all began, what makes it so fun, why more MMORPGs should have decent house systems and why Santa Claus wear red instead of say... purple. Ok, I admit one of those topics won't be actually covered on this post. But all the others will!
It all started in, of all the places, a single player game, Morrowind. That game was the first in the Elder Scroll series to have an awesome modding tool that allowed you to change almost anything in the game. The cool thing about is, if you wanted to put an uber sword, deep down in a dungeon protected by the fiercest monsters you could. Or you could just put it in a chest right at the starting area too if you preferred. That was the main thing with it, everything you added with a mod went directly into the main game. It wasn't a separate adventure with a completely different story and a character. Of course, that was also possible through total conversions but that was a lot of work to do.
In fact, the closest thing to a new story would be the quest mods that added, you guessed it, new quests for the player to do. Morrowind, like all its descendants, though wasn't really much of a quest-driven game. So their quality, scope and rewards variety a lot. But I am getting side-tracked here.
The point is, while other games, like Neverwinter Nights, gave you tools to create your own separate adventures, completely isolated from the main game, Morrowind embraced the idea that the players can add as much interesting stuff to the main game as the developers did. One of those interesting stuff was house mods.
I don't remember why exactly I started to download house mods. I guess it is because before Morrowind I already sort of had an experience with the series by playing the demo of its ancestor, Daggerfall. In that demo you could buy cool stuff like horses, a cart to put all your stuff in and houses. Though I never figured out if you could do anything with the latter in the demo. When I got Morrowind I was disappointed that none of those were in the game. It was still a very cool game, still my favorite to this day, but I really wish those options were there.
While looking for cool mods I stumbled on the concept of house mods. Until then my character had been wandering Morrowind without a place to call his own, sleeping wherever he could, carrying only his gear around. Ok, only his gear plus anything else he could loot in dungeons to sell for money. But you get the spirit!
The idea of house mods looked cool as it would add a sort of base of operations for my character. I don't remember what was the house mod I first downloaded but I know I got hooked on the concept pretty fast. It added another layer of immersion to an already pretty imersive world. It also introduced me to the ideas of mannequins to show off your collection of armors, display cases for your trophies, book collecting for your personal library, storage space for your alchemical igredients, etc. Many of those concepts I would found later in Everquest 2.
My only problem with it is that at the time I couldn't make a cool house myself. All my attempts looked more like the prototype for a bad dungeon than an actual house. To make matters even worse there were times I wish one of my houses had a certain style or item but would get frustrated due to my inability to create new 3d models or retexturing. So in the end I never built a house of my own in Morrowind and relied solely on the awesome house mods available at the time.
Fast forward some years later when I am bored with the MMORPG I am playing, Lineage 2. I start hunting for other MMORPGs and I hear that Everquest 2 has a pretty good crafting system which was something important to me at the time. It seems it also had a housing system which was something that really enticed me. My first trial with Everquest 2, didn't work out so well though. It was the old trial with the islands of refuges. There were some interesting ideas in there but I was never able to find out how to do the crafting much less test the housing which wasn't available in those islands.
So I end up deciding to give World of Warcraft another go as the friends I made in Lineage 2 wanted to give WoW a try. Most of them end up abandoning the game not too long as they liked PvP but weren't satisfied with it in World of Warcraft. I stuck around for a good while until deciding to go hunting for another MMORPG again. I don't know why exactly I decided to do that. I guess it was my frustration of having to play Alliance due to the friends that stayed, a faction I found bland, when I wanted to play Horde. I guess there were issues other things with the gameplay that frustrated me too, like the crafting which was way too simple for my tastes.
With those in mind, I end up giving the Everquest 2 trial a go again. This time though it was with the "Play the Fae" trial. I think that was the name. Unlike the first trial this one made you start with a Fae, by then, the newest race of the game. You started in one of the new starting area too, Faydwer. My plan was just to make a fae to test the game, since I thought the whole idea of the race was ridiculous, then if I liked the game delete the character. Long story short, the trial was much more impressive this time, I actually liked the fae (gliding is fun!), got to test the crafting and the housing. I quit World of Warcraft after that, bought Everquest 2 and had a love-hate relationship with the game since then.
You can say the novelty the fae, with their ability to glide, a more involved crafting system and the housing, that added a lot of immersion to the game, were the things that sold me on the game. Later on as the novelty of gliding waned off and crafting just lost a lot of its attractiveness, housing is the only thing that kept me playing. It is still the only thing I can't find better in any other game, actually. But if someone wants to prove me wrong, please, comment away! I am always willing to give a new game a try. Specially if it has housing. *cough*
Ok. So what does make the housing in Everquest 2 so good? Well, I already mentioned creativity and immersion. Immersion, I guess, is pretty self-explanatory. Creativity maybe not so much. Before tackling that, let me add another reason. It is a way to actually leave my own, actual mark in the world. Unlike questing that is pretty static, unchanging, no matter what I do, on my house things change as much as I wish. Also that mob that I killed and the NPCs say that now they will be safe forever? Yeah, I know it will respawn in a few minutes and the NPCs will still be asking for help from anyone willing to offer it. My house however is something unique. It exists as long as I like then if I decide to get rid of it an start over, it will be gone, living only in screenshots. Well, ok, nowadays we can save the layouts in case we change our mind. But back in the day remaking everything from scratch was a pain! We did it shoeless, with snow or rain or a meteor shower, uphill or downhill and damnit we liked it! You kids nowadays get everything easy!
As for creativity it is incredible how much necessity can help with that. Since we can't just make our own 3d models and textures we have to work with what we have, be it houses or items. Obviously, due to resource reasons, our options on those areas are limited. Granted, it was much worse back in the days. Still there are a lot of things that we still have to figure out how to build ourselves. For instance, if I want to have a sink on my house I need to build it out of the available items as there isn't a sink item. This can be easy or hard depending on what I am trying to build. It really depends on the complexity of the piece and how hard it is to make something that looks like it with stuff that was created with completely different purposes in mind.
It isn't limited to parts of a house either. Entire houses can be remodeled by covering walls, blocking passages, building stairs, etc. I tend to stick to houses for my characters. But I've seem a guild hall that looks like the interior of the Enterprise, another that looks like the interior of a submarine, a library tower built in the fake outside area of a house and many, many other things that blew my mind with their coolness. I am not near as good as those people but they motivate me to keep trying to become better and making cool stuff too.
And that is what makes it so hard for me to outright quit Everquest 2. I just can't find another game that whose gameplay I feel is decent enough and has a housing system just as flexible as Everquest 2. Until then I will keep sticking with it in a form or another just so I can continue building houses. Because in the end that is what I do. I don't decorate virtual houses. I build them.