Previews

Landmark Preview – I Built A…Something

 

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If I mentioned that Landmark, a new game based within the vast Everquest universe, was built around the central pillars of  mining for materials and then using those self-same materials to construct anything you can possibly imagine, you’d likely have a picture of Minecraft forming in your brain. If you’re one of the more irritating types of gamer who loves to leap to conclusions  you’ve probably even typed out the first half of an abusive tirade about how Landmark is totally a rip-off of Mojang’s work.

You’d be wrong.

Certainly there’s some traits shared between them. They both involving spending large amounts of time hammering into the ground in search of different types of stuff so that you can build some stuff which will then lead to even better stuff, for instance, but Landmark plays far differently from the block-based enjoyment of Minecraft in a variety of ways that ensures its its own unique game. The most important difference, at least in the game’s current evolution, is Landmark’s suite of tools are far more complex, nuanced and robust, resulting in the creation of some beautiful things. Spend enough time mastering the systems and you can produce true works of art.

But let’s start at the beginning. Dumped rather unceremoniously into a world with other players Landmark, in its current Early Access state, is not overly worried with educating new-comers to its many intricacies, nor is it exactly intuitive. The first while will be spent wandering around, trying to get a grip on what you need to do first.

In order to build you need to lay claim to a, well, claim. You do this by simply locating a portion of the map not already inhabited which strikes you as being pretty and sticking a flag in the dirt, proudly proclaiming this to be your little part of nowhere. Feel free to draw up a constitution, if you like, and declare your little parcel of land as an independent country. Your claim is defined by a floating box in which you can build whatever comes to mind, and surrounding that is an area marked as red on the map. No other players can put their claim within this area, thus stopping the relatively small “islands” from becoming over-crowded and ensuring that you’re stunning beachfront property doesn’t get its view ruined by a moron and his hut. Your claim isn’t free, though, as you must pay an upkeep fee of copper, a thankfully easy resource to find. Fail to pay the upkeep and you lose your claim. Upkeep can be paid in advance as well. This is clearly to stop players from coming into the world, laying claim to everything and then just leaving.

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It’s a good idea, but one that does have some clear flaws already. There’s a limit to how many days in advance you can buy upkeep for, so if you decide to go away on holiday or something for a few weeks or even a month you’ll return to find your hard work simply gone, a rather unfair proposition. There’s also some minor concern that once Landmark is free-to-play, which is its intended final form, that upkeep could be changed into a real money requirement, or that in order to pay in advance for a longer time you’ll need to break out a credit card, although I sincerely hope not as that would be the single worst thing the developers could do.

Hunting for resources at the moment is strictly a ground-scouring mission, although the developers are planning on adding caves and underground resources in order to encourage players to mine the depths of the earth in search of more valuable materials. At the moment you simply find a patch of metal or other element shimmering away in the dirt and hammer away with your pick, following the seam however many feet down it goes. Trees are obviously just chopped down in order to gather wood. In order to harvest higher tier materials you’ll need to make yourself a better pick, but to find said materials you’ll need to visit the large portal in the centre of the map and warp over to another “island.” Once you’ve got a selection of basic resources you can use them to create crafting stations, forges and other things, such as the Tinkerer’s Table, which can in turn be used to create more advanced stuff, like the various props used to furnish your designs. At the moment there’s a pretty good selection of tables, lights, chairs, beds, benches, vaults, braziers and more on offer, plus the high likelihood that the selection will become even more expansive as development continues.

When it comes to building Landmark doesn’t mess around, offering plenty of ways to construct your dream property. At the most basic level there’s the Add tool which lets you simply add a block of the selected material into the world, but on top of that you’ve also got a Smooth tool,  which can be used to create rounded features, and even more advanced shapes by users with far more experience than I. This alone sets Landmark apart from Minecraft’s 90-degree obsessed designs, and allows for some wonderful creations to take shape. Towers need no longer be square affairs, and true spiral staircases are possible. Speaking of which there’s several different shapes that you can choose from for placing down material as well, and they can all be scaled up or down in size. Furthermore there’s a Line tool which allows for the creation of smooth angles, and a Selection tool which can be used to quickly fill in or delete large areas, as well as select chunks of your work to then be copied and pasted somewhere else, or even saved as a template for later use. There’s even a Healing tool which repairs the land, plus a bevy of ways to fine tune everything so that you can get your masterpiece just right.

As an example, check out this trailer released last month showing off some of the things players have done. While it doesn’t get in-depth on the tools themselves and the way they can be manipulated to craft amazing things, it does give a brief glimpse at what is possible, and its almost scary how much more advanced than even this some of the long-term players that can be found wandering around have become.

Meanwhile I’m still building my first little house, a simple affair, and vainly trying to figure out how to use the smooth tool to create rounded edges. Maybe one day I’ll reach the level of talent that can be found within the video. One day. Still, I’ll throw in a shameless plug here and urge you to check out my first attempt at creating a Youtube video in the form of a Let’s Play for Landmark. It’s not much as Landmark doesn’t lend itself to the format that well and my own claim is mostly just a floor, but I’ll throw out another video soon showing what I’ve managed to do.

The developers intend to add in a store where players will be able to sell their designs for real money, allowing the most talented creators to show of their skills. It’s this system that will earn the developer’s money when Landmark goes free-to-play upon release, as every sale made in the marketplace will have a small slice of  funds taken from it. It’s a bold move as the developer’s are betting on having enough talented builders within the community to power the storefront, and for having enough players willing to spend money on premade items. However, that’s not the only intended method of earning money. The developers have put forth their entire business plan, and there’s some points in there that many will not agree with, such as being able to buy resources. Purchasing outfits and things like that is a little more par for the course, but will players approve of the more awesome props potentially only being available through real money? Above all else it’s how the free-to-play model is implemented that will decide the fate of Landmark, and its hard not to be nervous about it.

Player vs player combat being one of the most important changes to come could potentially damage the game significantly, depending on how the developers choose to handle it, and how well the mechanics work. The crafting system will also be getting overhauled at some point as well, as will the amount of resources required for construction of items. All of the planned changes and features can be viewed in a clearly laid out map that the developers constantly update.

Indeed, the future is looking bright for Landmark in terms of cool features and is easily the most exciting part of the game currently. A physics system is promised soon which will give players an even greater suite of tools to play, allowing for things like working windmills and waterwheels. Who knows what players will manage to create. Perhaps the most fascinating upcoming addition is modifiable AI which will apparently allow people to create quests and even entire storylines. Entire teams of builders could come together in order to forge a miniature RPG, with one person in charge of creating the buildings required and another in charge of scripting the entire story.

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All of this is going to tie into the development of the next Everquest game. Apparently the tools provided in Landmark are the barebones versions of the ones used to create Everquest, and buildings created in Landmark may make the transition to Everquest when it’s completed.

Of course as an Early Access game there are quite a few problems to deal with at the moment. The crafting tools are often cumbersome and temperamental, while crashes are infrequent but still frustrating when they occur, although thankfully progress seems to be saved quite regularly, so losing hours of work does not happen. There’s a problem affecting me and many others in that firing the game up on low settings results in a white screen, a frustrating glitch considering the game doesn’t ruin smoothly just yet on lower spec machines. A variety of other, smaller glitches plague the game as well. Yet these are all fixable problems.

So, Landmark is not Minecraft and comparisons are largely pointless, but it’s arguably going to be contending for a chunk of the same audience. The simple fact is that I view Landmark as a better game, at least from a creative empowerment point of view, as it allows for a far greater degree of control and creativity than Mojang’s world dominating mammoth. Of course that is not intended in any way to belittle Minecraft which a great game has it’s simplicity going for it; it’s a game anyone can play with ease and sink a great many hours on.  Just about anyone can use Landmark’s tools and build a simple house of blocks, but by doing so they’re essentially just replicating Minecraft, and may as well play that instead. However, while I do view Landmark, even in this early stage, as a more powerful creation tool, I doubt that it will ever reach the same level of popularity. Minecraft was one of those rare instances where everything just converged, a demonstration that the right thing at the right time can become massive, regardless of actualy quality much of the time, although make no mistake I’m not called Minecraft game. Indeed, it’s brilliant in its own way, and deserves to be huge. But as a game Landmark arguably deserves to be huge too, yet will probably never achieve the same level of success.

Still, I’d be shocked if it doesn’t gather itself a fairly substantial and quite dedicated fanbase. Even in this rough Early Access phase Landmark has a lot going for it, and its potential is vast. I’ve spent numerous hours toiling away, mining the materials needed to construct my own, rather inadequate home, and admiring the many vast structures created by players far more talented than I. The community are a friendly bunch, and while the chat box is too quiet simply finding a couple of people and saying hi usually gets the talk flowing.

Well, now my crappy house feels even crappier.

Well, now my crappy house feels even crappier.

But let’s answer the question that many people are wondering; should I buy it right now? The answer is; maybe. It all comes down to how you view and use the Early Access system. Do you just use it as a means to get access to a game ahead of time and don’t give a rat’s arse about its actual intended use? If so, then don’t buy it. Seriously, just wait, the game is going to be free to play when it releases, so spending money now is pointless and you’ll get a complete game as a reward for your patience. However, if you actually view the Early Access system as a way of funding the development of games that intrigue you, then go ahead and click the buy button. Landmark is worth it.

In fact, Landmark has become one of my most anticipated projects, having now sunk quite a number of hours into it, and seeing no end in sight. So much can go wrong between now and launch, but currently Landmark has the potential to become a powerful tool for the audience willing to master it.

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