Today, SOE launched EverQuest II’s Rise of Kunark expansion pack and it presented unique challenges to the art team. Often, game artists are relied on to provide the creative spark and flair that drives a game, but in the case of Rise of Kunark, more often than not, the team found themselves in the role of custodian to the legacy established by the original Kunark expansion for EverQuest. We interviewed Lead Environment Artist Tim Heydelaar and Lead Character Artist Chad Haley on the art of Rise of Kunark.
“Once design has the meat of the zone, we will go back in and take most of the points of interest and concept them out and, particularly in this case, make sure they’re Kunark-y,” explained Heydelaar of their creative process.
Both men agreed that it is much easier for them to create original content – such as the Chelsith dungeon – than to re-imagine the art of others. Haley pointed out that had they done, for example, a one-to-one translation of the original Sarnak, it would have looked terrible in EverQuest II. The trick in both cases is to update the look for the current game, but maintain a sense of tradition and nostalgia.
To achieve maximum polish, SOE divides their art team over each new zone in an expansion. Over the course of seven to eight months, there is one person who does 95% of the art for a zone. They work with designers and object artists to fill the zone and make sure it meets standards, but the actual development of a zone spans the entire production and fills the entire attention span of the individual artist responsible.
“The dungeon team is in the same boat,” Heydelaar added, save that they spend half the time and do two dungeons per artist over the production cycle. Each dungeon is smaller than a zone and requires a little less time to do correctly from an art point of view.
While environments get most the attention, characters are also integral to a good expansion pack. Among Haley’s responsibilities was the creation of the new Sarnak playable race and their NPC counter-parts.
“I’d run around in EQI and look at the Sarnak and get what they look and feel like,” he explained. Unfortunately, there are a wealth of technical constraints on what exactly a playable race can do. They must mesh with all the items and content already in the game and that constrained their development somewhat. To support this, the fiction splits the race into two grounds. The playable race are more recently evolved and humanoid, while the more models more familiar to original EverQuest veterans are exist only as NPCs.
“I’m very happy with the Sarnak, it was more of a challenge than we thought it would be,” admitted Haley, as he explained the process of adjusting each animation in the game to fit their unique style. Despite this, Haley said the only negative feedback he’s received is that players want to play the NPC race as well. “As far as customization and making the Sarnark your own, I think we really nailed it.”
There is also a wealth of new armor and weapons either in the expansion or on the very near horizon. They derived the Sarnak armor directly from the original expansion and the Iksar themed armor used the Shaman on the original Kunark poster as a basis. There is also some dragon-scaled armor for interested players.
While they enjoyed adapting the old content, it was the completely original areas introduced in Rise of Kunark that seemed to excite both men the most. “When each expansion, particularly those based off previous lore, we always try and do something completely original that has no ties,” said Heydelaar. In this case that was Chelsith.
“[We] came up with this organic, almost alive type underwater-ish dungeon,” he explained. It has spawning pools, underwater lilies and eyes embedded into the floors. While Kunark is admittedly a more exaggerated look than the typical EQII artwork, they took it even further in this epic dungeon. “It has no EQI ties, so we don’t have to answer to anything, which is nice,” he added.
For Haley, the highly of the expansion – apart from Chelsith – was a wyvern-type beast on the Kylong Planes. Often, designers provide the artists with some basis to work from, but it’s up to them to really create a story and then the appropriate animations for individual monsters.
“This is probably one of our first creatures we did for this expansion,” said Haley. The wyvern in this case is extremely powerful, but also extremely lazy. He doesn’t want to fly or chase players too long; he just wants to do his own thing. “When he chases you, it’s Homer Simpson running after you type of feel.”
With Rise of Kunark, fans get to sample what the SOE team can pack into an expansion when it’s had a full year to simmer and both Haley and Heydelaar believe that the extra time has done wonders for both the quality of the product and the team who builds it.
“It was great, it was the best piece of news we’d heard in a long time,” said Heydelaar. “You stress a little less and get more done…You get to polish more and work with design more.”
EverQuest II Rise of Kunark is in stores now, bundled with all the previous EverQuest II expansions. Players can login and enjoy the new race or take their existing high level characters into the epic multiple-theme zones in search of those newly unlocked levels.
Check out the next page for all sorts of concept to reality side-by-sides.
Side by side images of concept art and screenshots from the Rise of Kunark expansion pack.
Enjoy? For more, check out the following two galleries: