Sony Online Entertainment wants Landmark, its upcoming persistent fantasy world, to belong to gamers. You can think of it like Minecraft, but with better 3D graphics. Landmark is going to be a massively multiplayer online world on the PC that is built to be customized by players.

Not only can you create your own characters — you can build homes, landscapes, and just about anything else. You can explore the world, fight the evil characters that are planted in the world by Sony’s designers, or just make your mark with a giant construction project.

The best user-generated content from Landmark will be used in EverQuest Next, the remake of Sony Online Entertainment’s classic fantasy role-playing game series. Landmark is in the alpha testing stage now, and Sony just showed off what ocean waves will look like and the ability to go underground and mine minerals (or build your home) in giant caves.

We interviewed Terry Michaels, the senior producer of Landmark, at a recent press event. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

GamesBeat: You changed the name to Landmark awhile ago?

Terry Michaels: That was about six weeks ago. We did it when we moved from alpha to closed beta.

GamesBeat: We last talked like a year ago, so — how did you decide to do that?

Michaels: Part of it was that there was a lot of confusion with the names being so closely linked. People didn’t understand the differences between the two games. Landmark is a complete game in and of itself. We wanted to make sure that was clear. We also found that having EverQuest Next in the name made people have a predilection to do things fantasy-based. Landmark isn’t a fantasy-based game. It’s not specific to a genre. We want people to be able to create anything. So we thought that by removing that, it would make it clearer and easier for people to understand the differences between them, and get rid of some of that pre-conceived notion of what Landmark was.

Terry Michaels, game designer for Landmark

Above: Terry Michaels, game designer for Landmark.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: How would you categorize some of the players right now? Are they people digging around like it’s Minecraft, or are they actually architects or whatever?

Michaels: We have a variety of people playing the game right now. But we focused, through alpha, on the building and the harvesting tools. The people that are playing the game are interested in one or both of those. There’s definitely a group of people out there exploring the world, collecting resources, and in a lot of cases bringing them back to the people who want to build things. We have found so many amazing builders and creators, people with imaginations that just floor me every single day.

We think that with the introduction of caves, that’s going to bring in more of the explorer types. There will be more of the world to go through and see. When we get combat, it’s going to open it up for another set of players, people who want go out and adventure and fight things and collect hard-to-get objects and items in the game and be able to trade those with other people.

Landmark at night

Above: Landmark at night.

Image Credit: SOE

GamesBeat: The natural resources — have you tracked how much of those are being created and consumed?

Michaels: Yeah, we track all of those metrics. We do that so that we can make sure that when the economy is put into place, we know how it’s going to function. The right kind of rarities need to exist in the world, things like that.

GamesBeat: If you’re looking for something like gold in the mines right now, what would your chance be of finding it?

Michaels: Different resources are going to have different rarities. You’ll need to go to different tiers of the world and different parts if the caves. The rarity is a little hard to put out there, because everybody can’t be everywhere at once. It’s a game about exploring and finding these things. You may, in two minutes, find an amazing gold mine. For me, it may take me 45 minutes to find one, just because I’ve been looking in the wrong place.

GamesBeat: If you dig down, you can dig a hole so deep you can’t get out. You could use the grappling hook, I guess?

Michaels: Yeah, we have rope movement for that. We also have ways for you to do things like teleport back to your claim, or go to the central part of the island. In a world where you can change everything, we know you’re going to get into situations where you have difficulty getting out. We’re going to make sure that players have lots of ways to overcome those obstacles.

GamesBeat: I could just dig a bunch of holes and see if anyone falls in.

Michaels: You could, but if it’s not on your claim, then they’ll eventually heal back up. They won’t stay there forever. We don’t have Swiss cheese world where everybody’s dug holes.

GamesBeat: You thought about that, then.

Landmark in the snow

Above: Landmark in the snow.

Image Credit: SOE

Michaels: We have a fair idea of how people might want to grief in the game, so we try to make sure those are covered by the mechanics in the world itself. People have begun inventing their own games. There’s this game where someone on a claim has a template for a cage. Both players have it, and the goal is to put a cage around a player on the fly, as they’re building, and trap them in there. It’s such a cool creative way — it’s beyond even the stuff we have right now, building a castle or a spaceship. It’s using the tools to do something creative and fun. I think, as we add more stuff, you’re going to see more of that.

You talked about the grappling hook. I’ve seen people create grappling hook courses on their claims. Who can get the farthest before they fall? Players are already creating things in the game that are their own kinds of games.

GamesBeat: The idea of a game within a game is a valid one here?

Michaels: Absolutely. We want people to be able to create the kinds of things — we’re giving them all these little pieces of games. We’re letting them combine those in whatever way they want to. They’ve already shown us that they can combine them in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we were building the individual pieces. As we add more things in there, it’s going to expand what they can do.

We were talking a bit about the PvP stuff, where we want people to be able to create their own scenarios, build the environments for it, create their own kinds of PvP games within Landmark. That’s a great example of what we want players to do in the game.

GamesBeat: You mentioned it wasn’t genre-specific. If you wind up with a sci-fi world next to fantasy, is that going to be weird for players?

Michaels: What we’ve seen so far in Landmark is that people generally congregate with other people who build similar things. Over time, people will naturally — but we’re not enforcing that sci-fi needs to be near sci-fi. I’ve seen a fantasy castle next to a modern building next to a giant spaceship. We’ve seen those near each other in the world. It isn’t odd. Things are spread out a bit, so it’s not like they’re sitting next to each other. But I’ve even seen someone build those things in their own claim, one next to the other. It works in the game, because it can be anything you want it to be.

GamesBeat: What do you know you’re already going to use in EverQuest Next?

Michaels: At the very least, we’ve seen all of the really interesting and unique building techniques that people have found to make truly detailed, amazing things in the game out of voxels. We’ll be using that in the generation of EverQuest Next. That’s just the very first steps of things that people have done. Six months from now, that list will be incredibly long, the things that we’re going to pull forward.

We want to make sure that while we’re giving people the choice to submit things in the correct art style for EverQuest Next, that’s a choice, right? It’s not like, “Oh, that’s an awesome castle, we’ll put it in Next.” We want people to want to sign up for that.

Player-created forest in Landmark

Above: Player-created forest in Landmark.

Image Credit: SOE

GamesBeat: Can you make an offer to someone to buy it from them?

Michaels: We haven’t run into that yet. We’ll be running the competitions and we’ll see what people do, what they’re willing to submit. They might become famous, become a part of the development of EverQuest Next. We already know, from what people have been doing, that they’re excited to be involved in the development of a game. I don’t think there’s going to be any real lack of participation as we start opening those competitions.

Players want to be famous, if they’re builders, so that people want their stuff. It’s hard to think of anything more fame-inducing than having a central hub piece in the middle where everyone starts, or having a cool temple that eventually makes it into Next. That’s going to be pretty amazing. I can’t wait to see what people do when we start opening things up.

GamesBeat: Do you have some natural conflict that will get the combat going once you put it in? Something story-driven, something in the lore that’s going on?

Michaels: It’s a living world. We’ve talked about some of the creatures that are going to be in there. There are dangers in the world. There are going to be Venus flytraps, ghosts, creatures that are wandering around the world that will attack players. Now, we’re not going to have the idea that you’ll see a more directed story, something that talks about a natural conflict in the world. It’s just an us-against-them mentality.

GamesBeat: How large is it already, and how large are you expecting it to become?

Michaels: As far as the landmass, it’s enormous, and it’s only going to get bigger. In Landmark, having a part of the world that you can control is an important aspect of the game. As people come into it, we have to add more land. It’s like our world, right? As you add people, they want to have their part of it. We need to make sure that there’s enough land to support them. As far as the total number of islands and worlds, I don’t even know at the moment, because we add so many all the time.

Landmark at sunset, created by a player

Above: Landmark at sunset, created by a player.

Image Credit: SOE

GamesBeat: Have you figured out what you can economically support, though, given the usual rate of pay for a free-to-play game?

Michaels: We’ve done that sort of analysis and based some of our decisions on it. But we’re seeing what players are doing in the game right now. We’ve talked about developing games with our players. We talk about our economic outlook with them. We have the posts out there on our forums, the blueprints of what we’re going to be doing. The open development is all about letting people see what’s going on, so they can see why we make the decisions we make, why we go down certain paths. Things aren’t hidden behind closed doors, where nobody knows the reasoning behind them.

GamesBeat: How would you make this last 10 years? What’s necessary for this to go on? Some games lately have sunsetted earlier than people had thought.

Michaels: We believe that open development, engaging players early on so that we make sure the games we’re making are the ones that people want to play — that’s going to be a key component to it. The result of that development process is going to be something that’s better than what we would have done before.