Emily “Domino” Taylor, the Tradeskills game designer for EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark, continues to pen a series of journals for the site that recount the course of development for her.


EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark Dev Diary
Article by Emily “Domino” Taylor (Game Designer, EQII Tradeskills)

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Monday, October 8, 2007
Had a pretty good weekend, though they seem to be over so fast! In my Traveler game I turned a cool profit of close to 2 million credits on a trade deal; in the Cthulhu game we managed to finish the scenario without any of the party going insane or dying, though there were some close calls. And the San Diego Chargers won the football on Sunday by a ridiculously large score, so the whole city seemed pretty content. I got the spreadsheet for the 70-80 tradeskill writs all filled out by the end of Sunday so I was feeling pretty good about coming in this morning, running the script to convert the spreadsheet into the individual files for each writ, and then moving on to tradeskill reaction arts. But of course, it’s never quite that simple!

First I discovered that the spreadsheet I’d been using didn’t include the icons, so every item in every writ looked like a scroll. That required modifying the spreadsheet to include the icon information, and then modifying the script to accept the extra columns for icons, and then spending quite some time looking up the icon number for each item in each writ and putting that into the spreadsheet.

Once the icons were working, I discovered that the script was out of date in a few areas — it was obviously created when tradeskill writs were first made, and a number of things have changed since then. For example, back then, there were far less starting cities than there are now, so I had to modify the script to award faction and status to people in the cities that have been added since the writs were first created. While doing that, I was suddenly struck by the thought that Gorowyn is our new starting city, and nobody had mentioned anything to me about tradeskill NPCs or factions in that city. What if I were supposed to be doing that and I hadn’t realized!? It was a horrible thought, I was almost afraid to ask for fear of what the answer would be (“why yes, you’re supposed to be creating and populating the entire crafting area of Gorowyn, didn’t you realize? You should have been done 2 weeks ago!”). In a minor panic I checked with Cronyn, who is doing the population and furnishing of Gorowyn, and fortunately he had most of it under control. Whew! The only thing that wasn’t accounted for was a tradeskill faction merchant, so I sent some instructions on that Of course, that did make me realize I need to dig up some furniture to put on the Gorowyn faction merchant, which I hadn’t though of till now. But that’s a relatively minor thing, and if worst comes to worst, could always be added after the expansion launch.

Once that minor crisis was under control, I realized I still needed to add the coin reward to the writs. This reward – we call them “coinpurses” — is supposed to cover the fuel costs plus just a little bit extra. Of course, in order to create the coinpurses, therefore, I have to finalize the fuel costs. So the next detour was testing and setting fuel costs, and while I was looking at it, adding them in to the merchant lists of the normal fuel vendors around the world.

Then it was time for our Monday afternoon design team meeting, and following that, I got distracted from writs into fixing a few bugs for GU39. I also logged in to Beta server briefly to grab a screenshot, and ended up with a number of desperate tells from various people who were stuck in Chardok and needed to be summoned out — apparently you can currently zone IN, but you cannot yet zone OUT, making it a rather one-way trip unless you can find a friendly GM online to extract you.

Back to the writs, I also realized I still needed to change the dialog options for the NPCs who actually offer the writs so that they’ll offer the new higher level ones. This is 18 more files to change, and looks as if they all need to be done manually, so that’s going to take a while. It’s amazing how there’s always so much work involved in getting everything done than I expected… between setting the cash rewards for the writs, changing the NPCs’ dialog options, and adding in Gorowyn to the factions, there’s probably another half day’s work to do tomorrow despite spending most of today on it.

By this time it was getting late so I headed home to feed my cat. Every day when I come home late, she’s sitting at the front door waiting for me, and informs me in no uncertain terms that she’s lonely, bored, neglected, and abandoned, not to mention starving, and hadn’t I better feed her and play with her all evening? My apartment is on a corner – the front door faces west, and the balcony faces south, and normally when I walk from my car space to my front door, I pass along the path that leads under the balcony. Today however I detoured via the mailbox, so I didn’t walk under the balcony. And when I went in the front door there was no cat. There was, however, a sudden meow from out on the balcony and she hurried inside to tell me the usual story about how neglected and abandoned she is. Ha — I think she just didn’t see me in time to get into position. I’m fairly sure she lies around the balcony perfectly happily in the evenings, and only runs inside to sit by the door and look pathetic when she sees me coming. I’m going to have to try sneaking in from unexpected directions more often. Currently she’s lying on my legs while I work, and helpfully shedding into the keyboard. Kunark tradeskills, whatever else they may or may not have by the time they’re finished, are definitely not going to be short of cat hair.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mmm, more spreadsheets!

I got the 70-80 tradeskill writs finished and checked in by the end of Tuesday (though, inevitably, I’m sure QA will turn up some bugs). My bug list is now up to 186 items. I don’t know what’s a normal number so I don’t know if this is good or bad. Lyndro mentioned at our meeting on Monday that he had over 200 though, so I’m hoping this is normal. When I skim over them they mostly seem to be fairly minor issues — still need doing of course, but can be done later, after the actual new content stuff is put in. That needs to be finished up first, before tackling smaller bugs. Of course, if the recipes had taken as short a time as I’d expected they’d take, I would have all the new content in by now and could be bug fixing … but alas. Next expansion I’ll be able to plan much better I hope, with a more realistic understanding of what will be the long and painful parts!

Yesterday Brasse from www.thebrasse.com spent the day with us, talking to everyone she could, and madly making notes for a few articles on Kunark that she’s writing. She came out to our dev team lunch with us and we talked briefly about tradeskills, though there’s so much in the Kunark expansion that my little section will be only a tiny part of the big picture!

Today (and yesterday’s) I’m back to staring at spreadsheet, this time for the tradeskill reaction arts revamp. Tradeskill arts are actually spells, same as adventurer spells, at least as far as the back end is concerned. Being focused on tradeskills, I really haven’t had any cause to look at spells yet, and they are very, very complex beasts indeed. Scary, I would even say. I decided to lay out the new tradeskill arts in a spreadsheet form and write a perl script to spit it out into the individual files. This would be the first perl script I’ve written entirely from scratch, rather than modifying an existing one, and it’s taken me a while to get my head around it and figure out how I need to lay out the spreadsheet, not to mention the perl script.

Zoltaroth, one of those amazing guys on the coding team, is just a whiz at perl and seems to be able to make it do the most complex things with complete ease; he helped me out a lot when I started, and needed to pull out a lot of data to document various things and do bulk changes like the harvest drop rates. However, the coding folks are all quite busy now with lots of last minute code requests and urgent fixes, and now I’m a bit more familiar with our file layout it’s time for me to quit being a newbie and start doing these things for myself. Still, I can’t help but be painfully aware as I stare at the script, that it would probably take Zoltaroth 15 minutes to do what’s taking me a day to figure out. But I wouldn’t learn anything that way, and next time I’ll be faster (I hope). That’s what I keep telling myself anyway!

Fyreflyte is off sick today, and wasn’t looking so hot yesterday either – he didn’t get in till afternoon, and when he did arrive, he deposited a HUGE pile of cough drops, throat lozenges, decongestants, and I don’t know what else beside his desk. He says he’s been eating vitamin C like it’s candy, but he was still getting a sore throat and by late afternoon was sneezing too. I’m a little worried I’m going to catch it next. Our office isn’t that big, and I’m sure there’s no way I could have avoided the germs in this small space. Archonix has been off sick this week too and I’ve heard several others sniffling and sneezing — seems the black plague has picked just the wrong time to strike. I stopped by the supermarket on my way home earlier this week and picked up a couple cartons of fresh squeezed orange juice, some oranges, and some multivitamins — here’s hoping I escape it. I hear yet more coughing coming from someone down the hall as I write this though, so I don’t know how good the chances are. Go go immune system…

We had another playtest at lunch today, most folks were running around Kylong Plains but I and a group returned to Shard of Fear as we did last week to revisit it after the latest round of changes. There have been a lot of changes just since last week, and on the whole it’s much improved, though we still found a few bugs and a few things confusing. It’s surprising to me to see how much a zone like this changes before it goes live. When we did the first playtest (or at least, the first one I participated in) 3-4 weeks ago it was totally different – visually it was pretty much the same, but the monsters’ behaviour, the questgivers, the quests themselves, all totally different. Last week there were no quests at all but the monsters behaved differently and in many cases were different, and this week the mobs had changed again and we had a new series of quests. I guess planning out quests and concepts for a zone like that are all very well as a starting point, but the true experience isn’t appreciated till you play through it and see how it really feels. I guess before I worked here I knew the devs did playtest zones, but I didn’t realize how much, nor how large the changes could be as a result. It’s interesting to watch. Though I’m also developing more of an understanding of why some of the devs tend to be more casual in playstyle. After running through that zone over and over and thinking about it and discussing it and writing copious feedback from a testing perspective, I’m having a hard time looking forward to playing it again on my play account characters — it’s going to be very reminiscent of work, rather than play!

I don’t know how it got to be Thursday already; in fact I’m not sure how it got to be October. But, time to head home now and see if I can sneak up on the cat. With luck I can get some more done on the reaction arts spreadsheets from home, and be ready to try importing them with my new script on Friday.

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