It is 2001 and the shops are stocking pumpkins in anticipation of the upcoming holiday and the Fire, Fire, Your Pants on Fire paintbrush is still in vogue. Unsuspected by the general populace of Neopia, something is coming that will forever change the landscape of the games room in every home.
An instant success, Neoquest was played by thousands of Neopians upon first release and sold out so quickly that multiple shipments had to be ordered to keep up the demand. Lines wrapped around the block of Neopians queuing for their copy of Neoquest.
There are plenty of scientific analyses on the emergent trends that predated the release to show why it became such an overnight success. Studies on the cultural drift that led to a little known role playing game taking off in popularity abound. But I am are here to take a look at the future of the game and the loyal community supporting it that caused the Neoquest Mania that took Neopia by storm.
In a dusty basement a Korbat, Lupe, and Kiko all gather around a low table. There are posters of popular bands on the unfinished brick walls and half empty Achyfi cans mingle with dice and cards before the group. "What are you playing?" I ask.
The Korbat, who is painted mutant, wears an oversized scarf and holds up a token of a small Lupe cast in metal and painted red. "Neoquest, of course," he exclaims and it is that obvious, any Neopian who pays attention to popular culture would recognize the stance of the Lupe hero from the first Neoquest game.
But this is not the Neoquest most Neopians are familiar with on their home computers or television screens, yet all of the thematic elements remain. The Neoquest tabletop game is just one of many merchandising tie-ins that were available to consumers when the game hit shelves in the Season of Collecting.
While the three roll dice and draw cards to move their perspective Lupes around the board I take a look around the basement. In a corner is an old Virtupets64 console with a Neoquest cartridge already inserted. A poster of the white Lupe hero from the game reigns over a table of action figures.
But these three basement dwelling Neopians are just a small fraction of the game's fanbase.
Bright lights, loud music, and punch bowls filled with Neocola and fruit. It is a complete turn from the quiet group in the basement but you should not be surprised if you see one of them dancing up a storm.
NQCon is the largest yearly gathering of Neoquest fans in one location and books out the Neolodge's convention center for three days in the month of Collecting. NQCon celebrates all iterations of Neoquest but began before Neoquest II hit shelves.
"Already there was a lot of hype about it." An Acara dressed as a wizard speaks up about the rumors circulating before Neoquest II hit shelves. "We were all really excited, the introduction of multiple characters to control was what we'd been waiting for." I found out later in the night that the Acara is one of the hosts of the after-party and we agree to meet up for a further interview at her home.
"Mipsy" as she's affectionately known on the convention circuit is a gregarious young lady with a feisty temperament known for getting things done. "I started out in security," she explains with a laugh, pouring tea from a teapot emblazoned with the character her nickname is from. "Then they put me in events and there I've been since."
"In the beginning it was just a few hundred of us, by the time NQ2 came out there were a couple thousand. Now we're back down to a hundred or so each year coming out to NQCon, but our after party is still the best, beats that Usuki convention at least." She grins.
When Neoquest II hit shelves, the reaction was even more overwhelming than the first game's turnout. Dozens camped for a week ahead of time while hundreds more came nearly half a day ahead. Neoquest II sold thousands of units on the first night. Reporters covered the release and famous Neopians were there to celebrate and dressed like the new characters from the game of course. Friendships were broken over spoilers released too soon and the vocabulary of Neopia changed.
"I stayed up late to try and finish the first dungeon but my mom made me go to bed." She pouts over her tea. "I was still in school and had aspirations of being one of the first to beat it. There were prizes too! But moms don't care about prizes when it's past bedtime."
But children now who are in the age group that Mipsy was when Neoquest II came out have different priorities. Even in the Neolodge Convention center I saw Neopians with heads together and phones or hand held devices out. Everyone is mobile now, these are not the same kids that stayed up late to play Neoquest II when it released. Yet here they are still celebrating a game released over ten years ago.
Mipsy is right; the heyday of Neoquest has come and gone. But the culture is still strong and remains so in the newly converted and years old in-jokes. I asked the group of players I interviewed in their gamer's basement where they thought the future of Neoquest lay with the knowledge that there might never be a new addition to the brand.
"I don't know." The Kiko shrugged while moving his blue Lupe token onward toward the next boss. His companions looked equally lost.
But Mipsy, whose real name I will probably never know, sounded optimistic about where Neoquest will go in the future. "It's all the community! Mods, tabletop, new content shared between friends. We are the future!"
Caught up in the infectious excitement of her words, I cannot help but think she must be right. Neoquest lives on in Neopians through our love and fond memories. The future might never bring a Neoquest III, but what came before has touched many Neopians and brought friends closer.
We are the future of Neoquest; we are the heroes and heroines, and may you all have a grand adventure.