I bought a copy of Everquest the other day. (It’s the time of year. The next instalment of “The Lord of the Rings” hits the cinema, and Martin’s thoughts turn to fantasy gaming.) First impressions: it reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon from a few months ago, the one where a doctor tells Alice: “You’ve got interface poisoning. You’ll be dead in a week.” Ick.

Sure, it’s a complex game with lots of interactions, but does all of this complexity have to be passed on to the newbie user as soon as they log in? Whatever happened to progressive disclosure? And do I really need five different mouse actions (left-click, right-click, double-left-click, alt-left-click, left-click and hold) to simply activate different features or objects? You can skin the interface (kudos to the programmers for good use of XML; nuts to the designers for making the basic UI in need of skinning), but it doesn’t make the fundamental problems go away.

Also, the game is basically four years old, and it shows. First-person games on the PC have come a long way since then. Console games, with their smooth, cartoon-like animation are almost fully mainstream now, and so the bar on prettiness is raised. I know they’re apples and oranges, but after playing the gorgeous Ratchet and Clank for a week or two, the stilted and angular first-person Everquest feels bony and cold.

But hey, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like EQ, though. Over time the interface will become transparent, and the graphics will take second place to the gameplay, which seems pretty cool so far. That’s the advantage of it being four years old: it has had time to mature, and the developers have fine-tuned it extensively.

The community seems pretty friendly, too, although I haven’t done much social interaction yet. I’ve just barely figured out how to chat to people without attacking them and being cut down instantly by their reflexes. I’ll give it time.