Everquest 2: CES Look Forward, Interview with Scott Hartsman


Carolyn Koh is covering CES for WarCry and in her first report back she talks to Scott Hartsman, the Senior Producer for EverQuest II. Through him, we get an update on the status of SOE’s flagship title.

EverQuest II: What’s Next?
Article by Carolyn “Sylvene” Koh

imageWalking into the Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) suite in the MGM Grand, I greeted the SOE PR team and their rep from Kohnke Communications, and then heard a familiar voice from further within the suite.

“Ut-oh… that sounds like trouble headed our way!”

It was Scott Hartsman, Senior Producer of EverQuest II and I hadn’t expected anyone other than the PR team. It must be Vegas. Jackpot! We fenced verbally as we always do, with me trying to get him to reveal more than he should.

“What? No accidental reveals of working titles for new expansions?” I asked him.

“No… not going to happen with expansion four,” he replied as the dance continued.

But that’s jumping ahead of the conversation. I twitted him about the Estate of Unrest not making the launch of Echoes of Faydwer and amidst denials of culpability and claims of “someone must have gotten an old zone list and somehow it made it onto box artwork…” we segued into the new zone scheduled to be released in a Game Update in February.

image“No, it’s not on test, but being play-tested internally and will be released in February,” he told us of the zone.

The Estate of Unrest must be one of the zones most nostalgically remembered by EQ players. The trains were epic and although Scott promises trains, he also promises that they will be no where as large as those in the original zones. “No, no aggro through floors, but hey… it’s a house with a front door, a back door and a side door. How else are you going to leave it?”

I suggested jumping off the balcony and his eyes gleamed at the thought of the old social aggro trains of old Unrest. After a bit of reminiscence, we went back to the new zone.

“How to re-introduce the zone in EverQuest II without copying EverQuest is one of the biggest challenges our developers face,” said Scott. We talked about the fountain in the courtyard, the gazebo, the little canal and the hedge maze, all which would be retained.

The designer of the hedge maze in EverQuest ascertained that the hedge maze in EQII would be the exact same hedge maze, turn for turn. Beyond that, the basement is a full fledged dungeon, the mansion a much larger structure with three floors according to Scott. It is a “big, big zone” capable of supporting many groups of level 65 to 70 players, not just a couple of camps in the house and three or four inside.

image“This is not a zone for the faint of heart,” claimed Scott. The Estate of Unrest follows the theme of the first Adventure Pack in that it tells a story. The ghosts of the family that lived in the Estate tell their story and provide quests. Scott waxed lyrical over the integration of sound effects and music. “I love the sound effects in the abandoned nursery, the sound designers have managed to mingle hints of lullabies with stuff that really creates an eerie atmosphere.”

“Mini bosses? Of course! You’ll find our old friend, the Festering Hag still hanging out there.”

The EverQuest II team will not be resting on their laurels with the EoF expansion, nor with the introduction of the Estate of Unrest. There are plans for more free zones. The Live Team is finalizing their plans, and with the blessing of Smed, are doubling their work! Scott revealed that they hope to have something happening every month to keep things moving for EQII. They look to doubling holiday schedule and Scott reminded me of Erollissi day in February – just around the corner. Their schedule should shape up to place an event every other month, interspersed with new zone introductions and game updates.

Although there are no plans for new Adventure Packs in the near term, I mentioned the Nektropos and wondered out loud if something would happen with another race soon. I am happy to report that Scott does not have a poker face.

“So, were there any challenges with the launch of EoF? Any big glitches?”

Scott reported that there were no big glitches, but as expected, ten times the number of players playing the game often revealed little glitches. An amusing bug had to do with getting fantastic combat avoidance when naked. “That’s not something we typically have testers test!”

“Are crafters happy?”

Scott attempted a frown. “Are crafters ever happy?” But he broke into laughter at the last word. The state of the tradeskills at this time are as well as they could be. The new secondary skills were received well by some, hated by others. But he admitted that there could be improvement in the progression of some skills as well as a greater diversity of harvests, all issues which were being addressed.

“Are YOU happy?”

“Well, we were surprised at the rate in which players are getting into the end raid content. The biggest nightmare of developers is that we launch an expansion and players race through the content in three days.”

At one and a half months after launch, although surprised, Scott was still happy that not all raid zones were beaten. A little faster than expected, but still okay, and there are plans for expansion four. No more six month expansions, claimed Hartsman. “We will take as long or longer than EoF as required.” This last expansion, he explained proved that taking the time to develop, polish and launch a good product was a good business move.

“Subscriptions are growing and that makes me happy. We did it by releasing a quality game, and…” he broke into laughter again, pointing at me, “You can’t twit me on anything! That’s a first!”

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