Continuing our celebration of Everquest’s tenth anniversary, WarCry is pleased to present “The Old Guy and the n00b”, a paired interview with environment artist Kevin Burns and senior programmer Jennifer Chan. Today’s installment features general questions aimed at both Chan and Burns. Monday will feature questions specifically for Burns, the “old guy” and Wednesday’s installment will feature Chan, the ‘n00b’.
Please introduce yourself and give readers a bit of your background in game development and with SOE/EverQuest.
Burns: Hello, I’m Kevin Burns, an Environment Artist on EverQuest. As an Environment Artist I create outdoor zones, dungeons, objects, and decor, as well as weapons and items for players. I mainly work with 3DSMax, for modeling zones or objects, as well as Photoshop to create textures or rough out some concept ideas, and finally I use some custom in-house tools to place the objects, particle effects, and sounds into the game zones.
Chan: I’m Jennifer Chan, a senior programmer on EverQuest. Before joining SOE, I wasn’t working in the gaming industry. Right before, I was actually working on analytic and reporting systems.
How long have you worked at SOE and on EverQuest?
Burns: I’ve been with SOE since the very beginning. I originally got my foot in the door at SCEA/989 Studios as a Lead QA on 2Xtreme and NHL Faceoff ’97, both for the original PlayStation. Then I jumped onto EQ when it started up, and I’ve been with SOE ever since. I worked on the original EQ as well as the first two expansions (Ruins of Kunark and Scars of Velious). After that, I worked on EverQuest Online Adventures and EQOA: Frontiers (both for the PlayStation 2), followed by Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade and UL: The Warrior’s Code (both for the PSP), then UL: Dark Kingdom (PS3), and most recently, back home to EQ again for the latest expansions of Secrets of Faydwer and Seeds of Destruction.
Chan: I started with SOE on EverQuest in May of 2008.
What is the best part about working at SOE generally and on EverQuest specifically?
Burns: The best part about working at SOE is that I get to do something I love for a living. I get to be creative and artistic. The best part about working with the EQ team is the team itself. They’re a great bunch of people to work with. It’s a focused and friendly environment of artists, designers, and programmers who mesh really well together.
Chan: SOE’s a great company to work for so it pretty hard to pick just one. The food’s great, the people are fun to work with, and we’re all dedicated to putting out a great and fun to play product. On EverQuest specifically, the best part has to be working on a game that has brought joy to so many players. There’s definitely a pride point when I see someone playing EQ and I can say, “I was a part of that.”
What is your favorite class and race? Why?
Burns: Dwarven Warrior was my favorite race/class to play. How can you not love the Irontoe way of life? Slaying monsters and ales, pints and barrels… if it all goes wrong, which it often does, at least you’ll have a good story and a handsome corpse.
Chan: I haven’t gotten a chance to play all of them yet, but if I were to pick, it’d have to be one of the classes that can solo but also play a part in grouping.
What is your favorite in-game area? Why?
Burns: Really? Pick one out of 375+ zones? I would say my favorite zones that I’ve played in, were the ones I’ve had the most memorable experiences with friends. I had the most fun playing with small groups of coworkers after the launch of the original EQ. Playing with some of the original dev team, actually playing the game that we all had created, was a fantastic experience. Some of my personal favorites were assaulting Crushbone from Kaladim, hanging around Freeport and showing friends around Befallen, and of course making several corpse runs to the bottom of Blackburrow.
Chan: Hands down, the Plane of Knowledge because of the portals and being able to meet such interesting people passing through as a result.
What is your favorite expansion? Why?
Burns: My favorite expansion was Ruins of Kunark. Straight off the success of launching EQ, it was a very exciting project to work on. I really enjoyed the theme of the expansion, especially the jungles and the addition of the lizardmen, the Iksar.
Chan: Seeds of Destruction. The mercenaries feature that was introduced in that expansion really made the solo game possible. When I don’t have time to get a full group going I can just pop out my merc and I’m ready to go!
What have been your most satisfying experiences working on EverQuest?
Burns: Definitely, the feeling of accomplishment when you create a good zone. I try to make zones that are fun to play and interesting to explore. When I get good feedback from designers and players about how they enjoyed a zone or dungeon I worked on, that’s when I know I’ve done a good job.
Chan: It’s all about the players. I love it when I can do something that’s simple to implement and makes the play experience better.
What have been your biggest challenges working on EverQuest?
Burns: I think the biggest challenge is time and scheduling. We want to get as much content as we can into each level. It’s really easy to over extend yourself when building a new dungeon from scratch by adding too many rooms, features, etc. So keeping your schedule in mind, and having to scale your zone creation to match, can be challenging.
Chan: Being that it’s a 10+ year old code base, sometimes fundamental systems aren’t coded as you’d expect them to be. Back when EQ was first built, software architecture wasn’t as developed as it is today and they were trying to solve many problems that we take for granted today. What seems like a simple task can sometimes take a lot longer than people expect.
Has World of Warcraft affected how you design games?
Burns: Maybe the designers would have a more interesting answer, but as an environment artist, it really hasn’t affected how I create zones and objects for EQ. I still create everything with the EQ style and lore in mind. But certainly WoW has had a huge impact on the MMO industry as a whole.
Chan: It has in the same way that any other game out there affects the way I design games. You play other games (both internally and externally) and you see what they did, what didn’t work and what did work. Designing games is a collaborative process, you can’t only do your thing and you’re done… I suspect that many other developers feel the same as well.
Do you find that player expectations entering EQ are different now than they used to be?
Burns: Yes. I think originally EQ was the hot new MMO game when it launched, and everyone wanted to try it out. MMO’s were new to a lot of players at that time, so they may not have expected the massive scale of the game and it’s community. Now, most players have experienced a few different MMO’s and know what to expect in general. I think players entering EQ now, or returning to play again, really enjoy the EQ lore, the massive amount content we’ve created over the last 10 years, and, most importantly, the EQ community of players they play with.
Chan: I think so, when EQ first came out machines were less powerful and people were excited to be in a 3-D world (instead of the 2.5D). Now for a MMORPG to not be 3-D is pretty rare. I think that same idea also applies to many other parts of the game.
What awesome franchise that isn’t yet an MMO would you love to work on?
Burns: I think a G.I. Joe MMO could be great. There’s a lot of potential there with a built-in fan base, character classes, and storylines to draw from. Definitely some good PvP with the Joes vs. Cobra, then add some movie and toy tie-in’s, sounds like a hit to me. Personally, I’d love to work on that because I’ve been a huge G.I. Joe fan since I was a kid. I loved the toys, watched the cartoons, and collected the comic books.
A couple of others I’d like to work on, that might not be mass appeal MMO’s, but just because I think they are so cool, would be a Firefly MMO, a Mad Max MMO, a Deadlands MMO, or a killer apocalyptic zombie MMO. I’ve always been a mech fan too, so maybe a BattleTech or Robotech MMO would be fun!
Chan: That’s a tough one, there are so many MMO’s in development right now and so many of them look like they would be fun to work on.
What is going to define the next generation MMO?
Burns: I think the next big jump for MMO’s would be in accessibility. The same game, accessible through a phone, laptop, home PC, or Playstation 3, whatever you have on you at the time, much like how we access our email and the internet and social networking sites now. There would be a lot of variation on gameplay styles within the same game, to reach the widest audience possible.
Chan: The next gen MMO is going to have to take MMO’s even more mainstream than they already are by finding a way to make gaming more accessible to a broader audience and creating storylines and quests that are interesting to bigger audiences.
Is the future of MMOs a “WOW Killer” or is it something we can’t even imagine?
Burns: I don’t think there will be a WoW killer. I believe games like WoW, EverQuest, and Ultima Online have cemented their place in history. Their numbers may shrink, as more and more MMO’s launch, but I think they’ll have people playing them as long as the servers are up and running.
Future MMO’s will continue to expand the MMO genre, and create games that appeal to all types of gamers from kids and casual weekend warriors to hardcore power gamers.
Chan: I think it’s something that we haven’t thought of yet. There are so many more ideas that we haven’t explored or different styles and ways of gameplay that have yet to be tapped into.