Interviews

EverQuest's Veil of Alaris - An Interview with EQ's Producer and Executive Producer

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We sat down with EverQuest Producer, Thom Terrazas and Executive Producer, David Georgeson, to discuss the future of EverQuest and its newest expansion due to launch in November, Veil of Alaris.



TTH: With the new Veil of Alaris expansion, we understand that there’s going to be a new guild housing. Where will the guild housing be placed?

Thom: We’re trying to make the neighborhoods a viable place for guilds so they can have a little bit more creativity within the zones or if they want to buy their own zone. We’re going to have one or two spots in the neighborhood where they can place the new guild hall. The new lots as well as the current one currently take place in the neighborhood zones.

Obviously, the social aspect of PoK is huge, and we don’t want to take that away so we’re looking at putting the entrance to the new guild halls in the same location where everybody hangs out. We want people to come together.

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We did a little experiment with allowing guilds to buy their own neighborhoods and it was fairly popular at first, but, like everything, it had a spike of interest then trailed off. So I think that it’s not as big a draw to players as we thought it would be. It could just be more additions we that need to look at inside the neighborhood and the tools that we create. In the neighborhood zones, right now, you can place objects in your yard. You’ll also be able to get guild halls that are in one or two specific places, kind of on a cliff side, so it kind of stands out. But we also want to look at doing events and allowing them to decorate the zone and give them tools where they might be able to place trees, different kinds of foliage that we have, and different points of interest that they like to use throughout the zone. You know, just to have parties within their own zones.

TTH: So it's basically the same kind of housing concept in HoT?

Thom: As far as the functionality and the tools go. Guild halls are probably what we wanted to do first, but we couldn’t do that without creating all the tools for the houses. We knew that we had to do the one before the other, so we were marching towards that starting last year with these tools and functionality for the guild halls; we had to do the houses first. We didn’t have the time to focus on the guild halls and get them created at that point.

TTH: The level cap is being increased to 95. When that was announced at the Opening Ceremonies at Fan Faire it sounded like that there were quite a few people who were unhappy with it. That surprised me.

Thom: Yeah, it didn’t get as big a “RAH” that I thought it would.

David: I actually understand this--why they would get depressed.

It seems like they would be excited because there’s all this new stuff to explore and new skills to get and more power and all that stuff. But people have climbed the level 90 mountain and they get to the top of Everest and they’re all: “Yeah! We made it to the top of the mountain!” And then the mountain grows! And that’s the reaction we got, which is perfectly natural. They’ll get used to the idea, but right now it’s, “Dammit! I just got here! I don’t have any more oxygen bottles!”

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Thom: Two years ago when we launched Underfoot, we didn’t have a level increase and we announced that at Fan Faire. I got cornered right after the announcement, basically just as I was coming off the panel, and a player asked, “You guys aren’t raising the level cap?” I started to cringe and get into my defensive stance, so I said that’s correct and he went, “Hell yeah!” They really wanted to focus on getting to the top of the mountain and now expanding on that…their AAs and all their spells and abilities. I think you’re right. Once you start to elongate the entire experience…the playing population feels the social network of staying together slipping away when we raise it.

David: It’s also very interesting when you don’t raise the level cap. The cool thing is that all the content you make at the level cap never grays out. So with the Velious stuff [in EQ2], honestly the loot does make you more powerful so eventually you do squish the stuff towards the beginning, but it’s all still white, yellow, and orange. It’s still all valid combat terrain. It’s pretty cool. But eventually you do want to increase the level range.

TTH: Tell us about the new hot bar.

Thom: You can resize it. It’s kind of like the bags now. You can make it thin all the way across if you want, up and down, any size you want. We’re also allowing you to have more hotbars and we’re increasing the number of buttons you have within the hotbars. We’re going to give you right-click menus on the hotbars so you can manage it really easily right from there.

David: How was the reaction of the Fan Faire panel when you gave the details?

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Thom: There was clapping. The biggest thing is being able to click on items in your hotbar from your inventory. Items that were in your bags that you always had to grab, swap out with an item in your hand slot to cast a spell or get the clickable action or effect…now no more hotswapping. Just drag it into your hotbar and you’re done.

TTH: That’s pretty sweet.

Thom: I was getting frustrated doing that all the time and I said that we have to change that. We were trying to come up with features for the expansion and wondering what to do, what do the players want?

It’s a good step for us to gradually change the UI as well. We might not have the new beautiful UI for the hotbars, but we’re getting there. It’s another first step. We’re going to get the functionality down before we start changing the look and feel.

You can also resize all the buttons, so if you don’t want this size, you can shrink down even more.



TTH: What's the level range for the expansion's content?

Thom: It ties in to 80. I think 80 is the low side. It’s 80 to 95. Obviously, there’s room to grow after 95, within the zone as well.

TTH: Lots of new AAs?

Thom: Yes.

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TTH: Realizing that there are 12 new zones, how many raid zones?

Thom: We have 6.

TTH: Instanced?

Thom: Some of them are and some them aren’t. What we’ve learned from a lot of events recently is that having chokepoints and spawncamping didn’t work out. With the Crushbone event, we just redid as an instance, which made sense. We hate having players come to the front door and realize that there’s a party there, but they weren’t invited. There’s plenty more instancing.

TTH: At one point in time, I would have said no to instances. The community today that plays games, and MMOGs in general, is so different from what it was back in the day.

David: Fundamentally different.

Thom: Yeah. It used to be handled very well by the community. On the regular servers, there is a lot of communication. It’s something that we really have nothing to do with. They work together.

David: Players have changed. Travel time used to be a cool thing. Prepping two hours for a raid used to be…well, we still do that. People really want to log in and, in 15 or 20 minutes, be able to log out and have done something cool and have really enjoyed themselves. That’s fundamentally different from the expectations of twelve years ago. MMOs are not really instant gratification all the time, but we are starting to steer them towards what the customers want. That’s the beauty of MMOs: we can continuously morph them.

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TTH: It’s part of the challenge too because when you take a look at stuff like EQ Next and where you want to take it, you have a decision to make. Do you make it more sandbox or do you make it more of just an "Online Game?" There’s a challenge there.

David: It's no secret that I love sandboxes. It’s weird making these games because the customers change.

(turning to Terazzas, jokingly) Well, ok, yours don't.

Thom: I’m not arguing that point at all. But they do want change.

David: Of course they do.

Thom: Things that make sense, like the hotbars. Functionality. Marketing the game…that was a big point yesterday. They asked, "Why aren’t you doing more?"

David: That's a tough one to explain too, without getting into the details of ARPU (Average Revenue Per User).

Thom: It was a hot topic for them. We talked about Recruit-A-Friend. I said, “Hey! You’re a great marketing tool for us as well. Reach out to your friends.” They said that they’ve done that. They want more. They want easier functionality in the game. When they bring somebody into the game who hasn’t played before, they don’t lose them within 2-3 weeks because they’re not on to hand-hold them through it. Once they’re over the hump, it’s easy sailing.

David: They open the door for you.

Thom: Exactly.

It seems that everybody has played WoW, so everybody draws from that interaction and how a game works for them. Yeah, it’s a bit of a climb for them to get used to EQ. We have to erase that.

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David: I played like crazy for the first two weeks of launch, then I didn’t play again at all until I took over the Executive Producer position. Once I started playing again, I realized how much had changed. There’s a lot of fun in that game that you don’t get any more from anywhere else. I didn’t have any trouble at all getting up to level 50. Ok, the interface is a little bit intimidating to start with, but that’s the kind of stuff that Thom is talking about fixing.

You know what worked really well in the marketing discussion for EQ2? That we had applause for? That we were putting in that video recording and posting to YouTube, and the fans saw that as a way for them to self-promote the game. Now they feel that they can promote it. We might want to consider putting that into EQ.

Thom: Well, we haven’t announced that, but we’re actually doing that, I think, right after the expansion. December?

TTH: So the final question would be…I’m guessing that there’s going to be new armor sets?

Thom: Yep. And there’s a new cultural armor tier. We got applause on that too.

TTH: When was the last time that there was a cultural update?

Thom: I don’t think it was last year. I think it was two years ago. I think it was with the Underfoot expansion.

***
Thank you to both Thom Terrazas and David Georgeson for taking the time to speak to us at Fan Faire to talk about the Veil of Alaris. The interview continued from there, though, and we started talking more about EQ2's expansion: Age of Discovery. Check back at Ten Ton Hammer a bit later to hear all the juicy details.


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