Executive Producer Scott Hartsman has compiled an extensive State of the Game address, hosted here exclusively on WarCry. The article is presented by Hartsman, but includes sections from their Character Art Lead, Environment Art Lead, Audio Lead, Rise of Kunark Design Supervisor, Mechanics Designer, Tradeskills Designer and Technical Director. They all come together to draw a full picture of where EverQuest II is today.
Article by Scott Hartsman, Executive Producer
As the developers and stewards of EverQuest II, our mission is to take as good of care of our existing community as we can by supporting the live game with improvements that people care about, while continuing to develop better and better expansions in which to continue the adventure.
We wanted to take a moment and let the experts around the team talk for a few minutes about what’s going on in their areas. Where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re heading. If you’re not familiar with EverQuest II, we invite you to read on for details. If you do know the game, we hope that you enjoy their perspectives.
To begin with, both visually and with game audio, we’ve been trying to consistently raise the bar for what people can expect out of EverQuest II.
Character Art Lead, Chad Haley:
The character team has been diligently working on pushing the look of EverQuest II into a much more high fantasy feel. Creatures should appear more exotic, weapons more powerful and armor more unique than what you’d find in real life. If we create something that you can find at your local store or see at your trip to the zoo then we haven’t reached our goal.
We are also pushing our engine and tools to new heights of quality. During Echoes of Faydwer development we experimented with animated weapons and synching animations between two separate objects. The fruits of these efforts are found with the Fae wings, cloaks and new mounts. We were able to get one animated zombie arm club into Echoes of Faydwer and expect many more with Rise of Kunark. (If you’re lucky enough to have found this weapon try /wave sometime.)
As many of you know we are also working on major character system improvements for the player characters. The main goal with this new system is to make it possible for us to create new armor in a timely fashion for player characters in EverQuest II. At this time I can’t comment on any release date but I can tell you that the engineering team has done an amazing job supporting this effort as we make daily strides to complete this lofty goal.
The new Sarnak player race will be the first completed character using this system and we are all very exited about showing them off. Players will also notice small updates such as the one in our next live update that allows human male characters to wear hair styles previously only reserved to the alternate appearance human males. Expect these small changes as the old is replaced with new. I look forward to seeing you all in Kunark.
Environment Art Lead, Tim Heydelaar:
When it comes to our Environments, we’re really trying to make the regions of Norrath each feel like their own small world, with multiple themes/zones within.
We want you to see the mountain far off in the distance, find a way up and explore the area, and then discover another interesting place to explore beyond. Considering our hand-crafted nature, this isn’t something we would have been able to do before, but support from engineering and approaching many ideas differently has given us the ability to create something I think our Players will love to explore and be immersed in. Less zoning overall doesn’t hurt either!
Keeping the worlds visually appealing, while marrying many of original Kunark’s memorable areas, has also been a challenge. Veteran EQ players will want that sense of nostalgia strongly associated with Kunark, yet we want to deliver a new experience regardless of how much time you’ve spent there in the original EverQuest. Time has worked its magic in Kunark to say the least!
Audio Lead, Cat Neri:
The audio in EverQuest II is constantly evolving. We really want to make the world feel alive and match the amazing art that’s in our game. We do this in both music and sound effects. Our music has changed significantly since launch in both style and implementation. Instead of just looping music in one area over and over we have added significant amounts of “Point of Interest” music throughout our new zones to make specific areas really feel like they have more importance.
We have also changed direction from the original scoring where there were potentially areas of music showing excitement that didn’t necessarily match the environment or what the player is currently doing. We’ve moved toward a more ambient style in making main area themes that fit the feel of game play much better. Additionally we are adding an adaptive combat music system so that your battles will be as aurally exciting as they are visually stimulating.
In many new zones since Echoes of Faydwer our aural ambiance went from a standard day/night loop to actually changing every few hours to match the changes in the day i.e. twilight vs. dusk, etc. Great examples of this are in Greater and Lesser Faydark where new code support has also allowed us different types of compression on files so we can increase the ambient mood of a zone.
Our game design methodologies have evolved considerably over the past years. EverQuest II originally earned the reputation for being too “grindy” for the amount of enjoyment that was there to be found. In the time since, we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure that the game is first and foremost, fun.
We want the challenges of the game to express themselves in terms of the difficulty of the encounters that you face, and not in terms of the amount of frustration that a person must endure.
Jeremy Gess, Design Supervisor, on our next expansion, Rise of Kunark:
Design has been focused on bringing together all the elements that will make Rise of Kunark a great expansion. As adventurers explore the new but familiar lands they will see just what a determined empire led by a sinister leader can accomplish!
Also, more mysteries relating to the enigmatic Seal will be unraveled as adventurers delve into ancient histories and discover artifacts left behind by a fallen but not forgotten people! Further, more will be revealed about the state of Norrath’s cosmology here in the Age of Destiny as heroes work to claim epic objects infused with the divine energies of the planes!
Chris Kozak, Mechanics Designer, on the evolution of gameplay:
Currently on the gameplay side of things, we have been busy improving the achievement system. Game Update 36 saw the first achievement revisions that included removing weapon restrictions and improving the desirability of a number of the lines. Game Update 37 builds upon this by improving a number of the subclass tree abilities and also making it so that you can spend your points in either tree after respeccing. PvP has also seen a recent balance update in Game Update 36. The focus of this balance change was to make the higher level fights a bit longer and more playable for all of the classes.
As you may know, we are also working on changing the way weapons currently work. Our Test Server currently has the Dual Wield class of weapons changed to One Handed, and the game now allows the use of One Handed weapons in either hand.
Game update 38 should see the release of this to live servers. One of the big factors behind this change is to make it easier to make better quality item rewards moving forward. Now we can concentrate on making a great dagger or sword rather than having to make several of them for the different playstyles. It’s a level of distinction in itemization that ended up really not being necessary.
In the long term, we are busy working on finalizing spells for the next expansion. Unlike in the past we will not be following the “14 level rule” (whereby you only see spell upgrades every 14 levels).
Expect most of your spells to get upgraded in the expansion, along with the addition of a new spell for each subclass.
Another project that we are working on is to analyze how spells are currently used. It’s often the case that many classes end up literally spamming buttons for the duration of combat. We are looking into ways to reduce the feeling that you must always be pressing a button to contribute to the group or raid, and to make individual ability presses feel satisfyingly powerful.
This may sound like a drastic change but rest assured that it isn’t. The idea is to keep what you have now although it might take on a slightly different form. Expect more information on this project as we get closer to testing out the first set of classes.
It’s not always about adventure to many of our players, though! The realms of crafting and harvesting in EverQuest II have improved in quite a few ways as well.
Emily Taylor, Tradeskill Designer:
In my time here since May, I’ve tried to bring a new perspective on tradeskills within the game, and have a number of new changes already accomplished, with more still on the way. Some of the exciting changes from Game Update 36 and 37 have included: the ability to change your tradeskill class, the reintroduction of chocolate and cheesecake recipes to Norrath, the addition of tradeskill XP to tradeskill writs, and the addition of more furniture for carpenters, as well as numerous smaller or more technical improvements.
Also on the way is a review of harvesting product results that should see rare roots added into shrub nodes, a higher frequency of pelts than meats from den nodes, only one type of imbue harvest instead of four, and a number of other tweaks and balances that should be appreciated by everyone harvesting, adventurer or crafter.
Looking forward to the Rise of Kunark, crafters can expect to have a bit more reason to travel outside their home cities, as camps of Sarnak and Iksar will be requesting their assistance in manufacturing goods to support their efforts. Some of the crafted items made from Kunark recipes should also add a few new stats that crafted equipment hasn’t previously granted.
Crafters can also expect a number of tradeskill quests to be added, yielding a variety of tradeskill-related rewards. And, of course, another 10 levels of new recipes to look forward to should make Kunark an exciting discovery for all!
Another goal of ours has been to make the game as approachable as possible. One of the risks of having a live game is that potential new players who first join the game after so many additions can sometimes get scared away if those additions feel like they’re too overwhelming or complicated.
Our goal is to instead become much more approachable, with many of our added features making the game both more enjoyable, and more accessible, to everyone.
Don Neufeld, Technical Director:
On the engineering side we’ve been splitting our time between getting Rise of Kunark done and keeping the live game exciting.
In the live game we’ve most recently added features such as the dressing room window to let people preview items, mounts and even furniture before buying them.
Additionally, many other new features have made their way into EQII: Quest Sharing, new Looking For Group system, the ability to change one’s tradeskill class, and spam filtering.
We’ll soon be releasing Game Update 37 with vendor buyback and changes to the broker system that let you sell from all your characters at the same time.
On the expansion side we’ve been working hard on support for our fantastic art and design teams. By radically rewriting our tool chain we’ve been able to really improve the speed with which designers can build our world, which is a necessity given the huge new zones. Instance persistence is kind of a hybrid feature live / expansion feature that we’ve been developing. It will go live in GU38 for Emerald Halls but will really shine in Rise of Kunark as designers can build deeper, harder raids that are designed to span more than one play session. Our goal is to eventually have all instances be persistent.
Going forward we still have a lot of major features under way. We’re working on a new adaptive music system for combat that we think will add excitement to your encounters, instances that remember where your group left off so you can play them at your own pace, even over multiple days, and last but definitely not least we’ve got a project underway to completely rethink how maps are done in EQII… but that project is so ambitious that it will launch after ROK.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look into what’s going on in our world. As the producer, it’s my job to say, “Now come check them out in EverQuest II!” One other thing we’re extremely happy about is that for the first time the game can be downloaded, in full with all of its expansions, from direct2drive.com.
It’s been a great thing for EQII to have an on-demand avenue like this, and it’s shown in the increased number of new faces that continue to arrive in Norrath for the first time every day.
We’ll see you all in Norrath!
– Scott Hartsman