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 Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
Cyber heroes forced to wait for glory
Everquest screenshot, Sony
Ragefire: The dragon people are queueing to kill

The life of a hero was not supposed to be like this.

You can walk the Planes of Power where gods do dwell and have stood fearless before the mightiest creatures that call Everquest their home.

Your history is one of glorious deeds but now, to complete the epic quest that will make your life as a priest complete, you have to stand in line and wait like a peasant at the village pump.

Perhaps Everquest should be renamed Everqueue.

Waiting room

The huge popularity of the online adventure game Everquest is causing problems for some players keen to complete key tasks for the characters they control.

Characters in Everquest assume a profession while adventuring in the online world. As they travel, complete tasks and defeat monsters they accrue experience making them more skilled in their chosen profession.

Star Wars: Galaxies screenshot, Lucas Arts
Players of Star Wars: Galaxies will be limited
Whether they choose to be a warrior, thief, wizard or priest, all have the chance to complete an epic quest that rewards them with a hugely powerful magical item.

The artefacts are coveted because they cannot be sold or passed on to other players.

Completing the epic quest can soak up weeks of playing time as characters and their fellow adventurers journey through the continents and caves of Everquest completing all parts of the task.

But the epic quest of the game's clerics (priests and healers) is causing big problems.

"I should see my shot at the epic in December sometime," said Lance Berg, who runs a powerful cleric in Everquest.

Mr Berg is currently number 52 in the list of clerics queueing to complete the epic task. Three months ago he was at number 67.

Many of the other Everquest servers that host replicas of the game world have waiting lists just as long.

Red and dead

The bottleneck is caused by the need to kill a red dragon called Ragefire.

Monsters rarely permanently die in Everquest, instead they respawn some time after they have been killed.

Unfortunately the Ragefire dragon only respawns every few days and the timer that triggers its re-appearance is re-started when the Everquest servers are taken offline for maintenance.

Everquest screenshot, Sony
Life in Everquest is a struggle
"Clerics are also one of the most common characters at the high-end of the game," said player Jeremiah Kristal, "so you have a significant percentage of the characters all competing for a single, three to five day spawn."

On a few Everquest servers some players are spending days of real time hanging around in the game world just for Ragefire to appear.

On some servers the appearance of Ragefire sparks a free-for-all which sees player-controlled characters turn on each other.

"It's not uncommon to see 45 characters from 3 guilds sitting at that spot all hoping to attack first," said Mr Kristal.

Another player James Grahame said Verant, the makers of Everquest, have resisted suggestions that the red dragon should respawn more often.

"Verant rightly sees the cleric epic as a very powerful item," he said, "and in Everquest, power and rarity usually go hand-in-hand."

This problem of too many players and not enough for them to do could strike other online game worlds.

Galactic hopes

Poster for remastered Star Wars, 20th Century Fox
Star Wars game explores the film world
One game that is trying to avoid the bottlenecks is Star Wars: Galaxies which is due to launch later this year.

The game is set in the Universe laid out in the Star Wars films, books and comics and takes place during the Galactic civil war after the destruction of the first Death Star.

Although players of the game will not be able to take on the roles of key personalities of Star Wars such as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, they will be able to play Jedi knights, star pilots and bounty hunters.

Lucas Arts is working with EverQuest creators Sony on the Star Wars: Galaxies game and is capping the number of players that can be on any one server to limit population density.

Players will be able to buy or build their own homes on the various cities and if too many people crowd into one location the playability of the game could suffer.

The game's release is also likely to carried out in stages to ensure a slow build up of players on the servers supporting the online Universe.

See also:

04 Jan 02 | Entertainment
29 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
13 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
09 Jun 02 | Technology
30 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
28 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
03 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
29 Oct 01 | dot life
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