EQII: Rise of Kunark – Tradeskills Dev Diary #5

EverQuest II: Rise of Kunark Tradeskills designer Emily “Domino” Taylor continues her epic series of developer diaries, exclusively here on WarCry. Today, in entries from October 16th and 25th, we get an update on both the development of the expansion and the antics of SOE.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Only ten days to go till the cut-off date for finishing up new content. I’d say 8 working days, but I suspect quite a few people, myself included, will be working all ten! I know there were a number of people in the office last weekend — though it was freezing cold, I’m definitely going to try and work at home next weekend instead.

The black plague continues to make its way around the office — several people, including Feconix and Cronyn, have been sent home sick with instructions not to infect the rest of us. From the sounds of the chorus of coughing and sneezing I hear from outside my office, though, that’s probably a bit too late. There are rumours that the original source of infection was a friend of a friend at Areae, who met some of our staff at a bar two Fridays back and unintentionally (we presume) passed on the flu; if so, does this count as intercompany biological sabotage? Of course, this then raises the possibility that we could send forth our currently sick developers to snog staff members of the competition, and thus continue spreading the plague throughout the industry … but I suppose that would be above and beyond the call of duty. Not to mention morally dubious. Clearly the best course of action is to conquer the gaming universe by outstanding improvements to EQ2 tradeskills — which will not happen if I catch the flu also, so I’m consuming very large quantities of orange juice at present.

This weekend I was feeling very pleased with myself for getting the perl script completed to create the new tradeskill reaction arts. It actually worked almost first try – only a minor typo to fix – which is remarkable as it’s by far the most complicated script I’ve written from scratch. (Which isn’t to say it’s complicated, of course, just that I am a noob.) It takes the data I’ve laid out in a spreadsheed and creates two files from each line. The hardest part was actually filling out the spreadsheet. It’s hard to ensure that every reaction art for every crafter is always receiving an upgrade as the level increases, without making them all identical, and yet also without giving any one class a clear advantage or disadvantage. Finding a fairly balanced, consistently upgrading set of numbers for 90 different spells (9 primary classes + 2 secondary classes + 4 cross-craft skills, times 6 each) is fairly challenging on its own, but any duplications and remaining completely unique for each class … well, that’s a miracle a bit beyond my ability to pull out of thin air at 8pm on a Sunday. The final numbers I settled on may still need some tweaking but I hope they’ll be different enough to give different archetypes a different feel, without being totally unique in every way.

Once the new reaction arts were created there was still a lot more work to do, of course. It’s never that simple! The new reaction arts had to be set up to correctly counter crafting events, and that meant some changes to the crafting events, of which there are even more than there are reaction arts, as it turns out. For example since I’ve changed them to auto-upgrade, an armorer has six reaction arts, three giving progress and three giving durability (before the change he would have had about 21). But the same armorer has 23 possible events that can happen while crafting: slight heat wave, slight heat depletion, heat depletion, heat wave, hefty heat depletion, hefty heat wave, orange bead, red bead, white bead, orange hot metal, red hot metal, white hot metal, and a bunch of others. I also had to create the new Favor of Innovation event for level 70+ for each of the 9 crafting classes; each of these has to be created uniquely since they have to give back the correct rare harvest based on the level. And then hook up those 9 new files to the 9 new result tables for level 70+ recipes that I had to create so events would pop up at all. Then all the new reaction arts had to be added to the list of spells automatically granted to artisans, and the old ones removed. And … well … the list just continues! When I checked in the tradeskill reaction art changes this afternoon, I added 506 new files, deleted 2116 old ones, and edited 105. And I’m sure there will be more changes still to come once QA start bug testing and the folks in beta start submitting feedback. All that just to change 6 reaction arts each for 11 classes! Who knew.

I’m marginally ahead of schedule in where I thought I would be this week because I did a bit more on the weekend than I’d expected, mainly due to my expectation of a date being cancelled due to the flu striking again, but oh well … at least the game benefits from my loss of love life. Next big item on the list is to finish up the tradeskill tutorial NPC. Feconix was a big help with this, and Lockeye helped in getting me started before he left, but now the tradeskill arts are more or less done the tutorial dialog will need changing, and there were still a few areas where it wasn’t working yet. But, I have 4 new CDs just arrived today from Amazon to listen to while I work, and I think the guy at the local Blockbuster is starting to recognize me from all the DVDs I’ve checked out to watch while doing boring data entry/changes. Maybe they’ll put in a “movies for editing spreadsheets to” section if I ask nicely. In retrospect, the subtitled French language film from last Friday was a poor choice as my French is too rusty not to have to check the text frequently, besides which the movie was just rather confusing. But I have a suspicion tradeskill tutorials and Terminator 2 will go well together. Wonder if I can make the tradeskill tutor look like Arnie? I do live in the land of the Governator now, after all!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2007
Well, it’s been a very unusual week to say the least, and definitely not how I think anybody expected our last week before content lock to be. The moon in the sky tonight looks huge and is a strange yellow-orange colour from the ash and other particles still in the air over San Diego as we recover from terrible fires all around the city.

But to step back in time a moment … Last Friday when I left work I was anticipating a long hard week’s work to get all the new content in before our content lock first thing Saturday 27th. I joined a few friends and co-workers at a karaoke bar on Friday night and then played my normal Traveller RPG with my friends online on Saturday morning (to the tune of a cool 2 million credits’ profit), then spent the rest of the day working. I wanted to create a quest for Kylong Plains so that crafters who are not high adventure level could quest a sokokar mount; the sokokar quest for high level adventurers had already been done by Srukin, but since it required combat, it wasn’t appropriate for high level crafters who might be lower level adventurers. Since I hadn’t known this would be needed, I hadn’t scheduled any time for this, so the weekend’s project was to try and slip in a crafter-friendly version of the sokokar quest before the content lock.

Since I’m still far from familiar with quest writing, I just took Srukin’s quest and basically mirrored it, removing the parts where high adventure level was required and replacing them with crafting tasks. I had a little fun at his expense in the process; where his first quest has Borbin Happens asking adventurers to go kill 24 drolvarg and bring back their fangs as proof, my first quest has Borbin’s assistant despairing about what to do with all the drolvarg fangs that are piling up and asking the crafters to make something useful out of them. And so on. There were a couple of complicated tricky bits, but fortunately (for me — maybe not for him) Srukin happened to be in working on Saturday as well and he was nice enough to explain the bits of his quest I wasn’t quite sure how to work with. I spent most of Sunday in the office also finishing off the quest and by the end of Sunday I was pretty happy with it.

Sunday is when the fires started getting out of control around San Diego, but as I was mostly in the office I wasn’t really aware of how serious it had become. It was Monday morning when I realized just how big the fires must be. I don’t normally turn my alarm clock on; I’m a very light sleeper, and just the sky starting to lighten is generally enough to wake me up by about 6:30 at this time of year. Since most people get to work around 10, that’s definitely not a problem. On Monday morning though I didn’t wake up till 7:30 because it was so dark outside, and when I did wake up, I thought at first it was a cloudy, rainy day. It was only when I looked out the window that I realized it was smoke in the sky, not cloud, and that the fires were much worse than I’d thought.

The last three days have been pretty surreal. There’s been a constant smell of burning in the air, and quite frequently there’s been ash raining down from the sky. The swimming pool at my apartment complex looks as if someone poured a few ash trays into it; my balcony has enough ash on it to sweep off in clouds with a broom. The office was closed from Monday to Wednesday since they’ve been asking people to stay off the freeways so that evacuations and emergency vehicles can move around, plus half the office staff seemed to be evacuating their houses and scattered all over the state staying with family and friends. Gallenite said at one point he had about 7 people, 3 dogs, and a couple of cats at his place alone, a little mini SOE evacuation center.

Since my area didn’t have to evacuate and since I can get to the office without using any freeways, I ended up going to the office all three days anyway and actually got quite a lot of work done. Monday and Tuesday were pretty quiet but on Wednesday a few more people came in. Kander, who used to work in customer service before joining the design team, came in and spent a good part of Wednesday helping out the very short-staffed CS team. I had contemplated going over myself, actually, but since I have no idea how to do any of what they do, I figured I’d be more of a hindrance than a help overall. I spent my time creating faction writs, recipes, and quests instead, and working on the tradeskill tutorial.


Today, Thursday, was the first day that we were theoretically back at work. Work today and tomorrow is optional; those who are still affected by the evacuations and the fires are of course not expected to be in. But, most of the rest of us were, and the office felt more or less normal, if a bit on the quiet side. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was glad to have some human company once again, having spent the past 5 days working in a mostly empty office with almost nobody to talk to, and the evenings in a mostly empty apartment watching DVDs and making model slugs out of modelling polymer (don’t ask). Apart from the fact Silverfrost informs me I have apparently discovered a new way to crash zones, this time with tradeskill writ quests (go me), all is pretty much well once again in tradeskill land and now we just await the decision on when the new date for the content lock will be.

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