Monday 23 May 2011

Decorate your home. It gives the illusion that your life is more interesting than it really is.

I decided to give the housing system in EverQuest II a bit of a test drive this past weekend, having related my bemusement at the game’s apparent determination to increase the levelling time of my character by burying them beneath a pile of furniture from which they then have to hack their way free, like an American GI fighting their way through the undergrowth of a Vietnamese jungle; the military imagery constantly reinforced by the fact that I keep wanting to say NORAD when I mean to say Norrath. Unfortunately I was quickly pulled over by a surly mounted guard who told me that driving a house around was irresponsible and quite frankly ludicrous, and that I should take it back to where I found it post haste; not entirely a problem since I’d been threatening the kids for the past hour to stop fighting in the back or ‘so help me I’ll turn this home around and take us all back to where our home would be if we weren’t currently driving it around the countryside’.

Thus I rented myself a room in an inn and went off adventuring, this time with a mind to hanging on to the various furnishings I was offered, and so each small hub of quest-givers suddenly looked less like an expeditionary force of stalwart adventures in need of assistance, and more like a car boot sale with rows of tables of old household objects for sale at bargain prices.

“How much for the lamp?”
“Oooo, um, fifteen orc ears?”
“Hhhffffff. Will you take ten?”
“I really can’t go lower than fifteen…”
“How about ten orc ears, and I’ll collect five random glowing objects from the landscape near them?”
“Oh go on then, but I want Crushbone orc ears, none of your foreign grobin rubbish, I can’t do anything with that.”

After a few hours of Boot Fair Adventuring – as opposed to Boot Foul Adventuring, where someone just kicks you in the pants if you don’t do what they say – I found myself with an inventory packed with old bric-à-brac: rugs, tables, stools, book cases, lamps, mirrors, pictures, various heraldic banners (George R.R. Martin would be pleased), beds and fireplaces, although no hat stands yet, much to m’colleague’s disappointment I imagine. No urinal yet either, although my character did sit down and mistakenly try to use what turned out to be an alchemical workbench, such that she now has fluorescent pubic hair the colour of aching despair, which bursts into a rousing rendition of O Fortuna when exposed to moonlight.

Back in my acorn-shaped room in the inn at Kelethin I dumped my boot fair bargains in a heap in the middle of the floor, then stood back to marvel with hands on hips at the amassed pile of junk which looked not entirely unlike the resultant mess left by the stink spirit in Spirited Away. After a short session of sifting and sorting, I began to experiment with setting up the house.

I have to confess, EQII’s housing is fabulous. A sort of limp wristed, ruffle collared, pink trousered, mane haired, interior-design-lovey fabulous, where a game such as LotRO is of a more subdued and sombre instructional DIY bent. Double-clicking a housing item in your inventory allows you to place the item anywhere within the house in the X and Y dimensions of three-dimensional Cartesian coordinate space. A roll of the mouse wheel lets you rotate the item about the Z axis centred on the object, such that a table can be spun so as to align it to any wall surface, for example; holding the ALT key down while using the mouse wheel gives a finer granularity to the movement, to really allow for precise orientation of objects. Holding the CTRL key down, on the other hand (On my other hand? There’s no CTRL on my other hand, sir!), allows the mouse wheel to move the item up and down the Z axis, thus allowing tables and chairs to be floated somewhat surreally in mid air, but also allowing items to be placed ‘on top’ of other items where they otherwise wouldn’t naturally be assumed to fit. Finally, using the SHIFT key performs the operation which surprised me most, in that it allows you to scale objects to be bigger or smaller than their default size, which really allows for a level of customisation and flexibility that should keep most avid virtual homemakers happy. I haven’t explored the system in-depth, merely flung a few items at random around my otherwise barren room while experimenting with the basic placement mechanics, such that the interior of my house currently looks like an antiques shop lost a fight with a centrifuge, but I have read of the various failings of the system for those who want to arrange and place items ‘just so’; books seem to be a particular sticking point here, although I was mightily impressed with the way the system understood my wanting to place a book on a table or bookshelf, without the need for me to manually change its vertical orientation.

LotRO’s interior housing design suddenly seems admirable yet painfully restrictive by comparison; a theme which is recurring with regularity as I continue my adventures in both games, having also recently discovered the joy of EQII’s cosmetic weapon slots, where LotRO still stubbornly forces you to use the irritatingly glowy and otherwise blandly designed legendary item skin, all for a weapon which you’re only using because it randomly happened to have the right set of stats to make your character competent at end-game content.

So yes, I’m slowly converting to the interior decoration method of questing: ignoring all armour and weapon rewards and focussing on whether the quest giver can offer me that perfect something for the wall above my cast iron antique fireplace with art deco tile surround. My greatest adventure for an evening will sometimes consist of resolving the bitter internecine struggle between the clashing furniture in my kitchen-diner. Soon it will be ‘Sorry chaps, I can’t make tonight’s dungeon run because I need to grout the tiles around my newly installed matching Kor-sha bathroom suite’, at which point I hope I’ll have the strength of will to pack the whole lot into boxes and drop them into the Shard of Fear, where such mind-bending character-warping horrors belong.

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