Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Landmark Beta (the game formerly known as EQ Landmark)

Initial thoughts on Landmark the Game, a voxel-based builder MMO by SOE. This is based on 8-10 hours play, with some additional notes at the end. This is a bit stream-of consciousness, since I'm trying to write as I play.

Preface: Clearly still a beta. LOTS of missing features (like combat, damage, monsters, and... anything other than harvest / craft / build). There's a big list of upcoming features here. It's very ambitious.

Harvesting - You start with stone tools (axe, pick) and can make better versions of each as you harvest better materials. This is very typical Minecraft-esque harvesting, except tools don't wear out, so once you have higher quality stuff, you no longer need the older versions. You equip your tool of choice and click to harvest. A single click starts the complete harvest of a tree, but you need to multi-click or click-hold to harvest minerals, since they're in random veins.

Early on you'll definitely want a grapple hook, since a lot of digging is straight down, making it hard to get out of your pit without one.

Added note: there's also a tool upgrade system, which uses artifacts you harvest / gather. I have not delved into this much, since I've just gotten to upper-level tools.

Materials are arranged in tiers and by type. There are gemstones, rock, and metals, as well as basic dirt. Wood includes several base wood types, plus various heartwoods, which are used to make infused wood crafting materials.

Harvesting is, frankly, a bit tedious at first. There's an element of gating here, and if you have friends, they can quickly get you up to speed by partying for a mining / tree-cutting expedition. Party harvests are all shared (when within 180 yards), which is very cool. Oh, I should mention that harvesting leaves gaping holes in the ground, but everything outside claims (more below) heals over time (20 minutes is what I've read).

Crafting - You use resources to make stuff, duh. Tools, crafting stations, props and more. I can see a constant need for stuff driving play here. There's also a (limited) resource tracker so you can make a harvesting list for your projects.

Chat - Is extremely primitive and kind of annoying. The main general channel gets constantly spammed with leave/join messages, and that's about it. Really needs work.

RANT MODE ON: when the heck are developers going to realize that chat is the PRIMARY social mechanism in the game and stop giving us absolute crap tools for it? Private channels, passwords, multi-window support, color support, and channel moderation are the MINIMUM for any modern multi-player game. Stupid not to have them, especially in a beta when you're trying to build early community support.

World - There are several servers, each with a number of islands. Each island has a base material level, and one or two (maybe more) biome types on it. I've seen desert, mountain, forest, grassland, arctic, and tropical stuff so far. Lots of variety in terrain and appearance. The world is pretty, but man does it chug out at high settings. My GTX 560 is the 'recommended' card, and running medium settings I'm only hitting 30 FPS on average. A little disappointing, but... beta.

Every island has a big spire somewhere near the center that's a crafting and travel hub. There are basic workstations, plus the travel nexus, which allows travel between islands (and maybe servers?)

Claims - To build stuff, you establish a claim, and start hacking away. Claims are big cubes, and you can position them pretty easily. There's a buffer around each claim, but right now there appears to be huge tracts of land available. Once you have your claim placed you can start digging / building stuff. Auto-heal doesn't affect your claim. I just started building, so I haven't done enough to really form an opinion yet.

More stuff, after another day's play:

Parkour! Man running around the world is just fun, because as you run you jump / flip / slide too. There's no actual in-game effect, but it has a very solid cool factor.

Voxels: Voxels are (effectively) deformable cubes that are used to model all non-prop objects in the world (props are 3d models that you can size, turn and move, but not alter). The basic voxel is about 6 inches across, and when placed in the world, they weld themselves to neighboring voxels. There are basic tools to paint, add, delete, cut / paste, and smooth. Easy right?

Not really. Smoothing a voxel connected to neighbors also warps surrounding voxels to conform to the new smooth shape. You can also place a voxel in mid-air, and smooth it, creating smaller versions (from tiny to REALLY REALLY REALLY TINY). But they're not really smaller, and placing one next to normal voxels still does welding. You can also make anti-voxels. And anti-voxel strings, and zero-data voxels. And stretched voxels.

Did I mention textures? On top of the basic voxel shapes, you have various materials, and some of these come in different finishes, so you can paint your voxel/anti-voxel/anti-voxel string sculpture with polished obsidian and rough alabaster if you want.

Here's a simple example of how to make an anti-voxel: Build a 5x5x5 cube of voxels. Cut a 5x1x1 tube out of the center. Select the entire cube and apply the smoothing tool X times (larger X for smaller anti-voxel). Now cut a 5x5x1 slice perpendicular to the tube out of the center of the cube. Paste this 5x5x1 slice elsewhere. The center 1 voxel empty space is your anti-voxel.

So this is all fine, but sadly, the build tools are a little lacking. I just posted some suggestions on the forums that highlight some of the lacking bits:

1. Grid mode indicator - Maybe it's visible somewhere, but I can't see it. Even a message in chat indicating grid on / off status when you hit 'G' would be helpful.

2. Alternate colors for voxel / paste placement - Yellow is incredibly hard to see against light surfaces. A hotkey that cycles through yellow / red / black / green would be a big plus.

3. Floating selections - I was really surprised not to find this implemented, since it's a common feature in graphics applications. Basic operation: Select an area, hit the float key. Move the selected voxels using the existing translate/rotate tools. Hit the float key again, pasting selection in the new location. It would make moving those misplaced objects so much easier than paste / click / ctrl-Z / paste / click / ctrl-Z.

4. Paste frame (a terrible name) - Micro-voxels are tiny to the eye, but they're one voxel right? How about a toggle that displays a full-voxel transparent framework around a pasted object to assist with placement? Basically, whatever you're placing would have a select-box type outline to aid in alignment. For large, complex chunks of voxels this is less useful, but you can actually see large, complex chunks. For a single micro-voxel this would be a huge boon.

Here are a couple quick images. First is standard to tiny voxels (see, REALLY REALLY TINY). Second is showing voxel welding when micro-voxels are placed next to normal ones. I haven't really built anything major that's worth showing, but there are tons of videos / images out there from builders with actual talent.

Current impressions: despite being very beta, I'm favorably impressed. The build tools still need some development, and voxel logic can break your brain, but some of the things people have built are absolutely incredible. I got a lot of mileage out of Minecraft, which is probably the builder game most people think of first. Landmark brings some of the same builder features to what promises to be a true MMO experience. I'm very curious to see how some of the coming features (combat and creatures especially) affect the overall builder atmosphere of the game. The community is solid and the devs are very passionate about the game. That's a good combo. I'm looking forward to seeing more.


  1. Whoa. That is tiny. So tiny I didn't even notice it at first. I thought the 3rd in the row was the smallest. Then scrolling past my brain said "HEY! LOOK! That's super tiny!" (my brain yells at me a lot)

  2. I think there's even a size smaller, but I can't see it. :)

    If you imagine a 5x5 block with a hole that small through the center, that's an anti-voxel.


Note: all comments are moderated to block spammers. Please be polite.