The Zones of Kunark
Rise of Kunark Interview with Scott Hartsman
The Rise of Kunark is in beta and rapidly approaching its release date of November 2007! While most of us wait not so patiently, and many get back in game to gear up for the new bit o' fun, we scrounge for every bit of RoK info we can get our hands on. I was more thrilled than anyone should be when handed this amazing assignment that we are happy to be sharing our readers!
Ten Ton Hammer was very honored to have the opportunity to get in a zone theme Q&A with the Senior Producer of EverQuest II, Scott "Gallenite" Hartsman. In addition, they provided us with some new and very exciting screenshots and zone lore, written by Senior Game Designer Tony "Vhalen" Garcia. We thank you both for your time and generosity.
Without further ado..
Savanja: The first thing I noticed in the gameplay footage of the new zones was the amazing variety of scenery within each zone coupled with the feeling of expansiveness. What inspired this style of zone design, and is this a trend we will be seeing in EQII in the future?
Scott Hartsman: More than anything else, the fact that we’re making KUNARK is what’s pushing us so hard in this direction.
Throughout the development team, we really do understand the huge responsibility of doing well by the Kunark name. The reputation that the original has is synonymous with epic adventure. It’s a land of breathtaking scenery that impressed entire generations of EverQuest players, from the moment they set foot there.
Given that our Kunark is coming out seven years after the original, we have the combined challenge of living up to people’s memories while making sure that we do so while meeting the expectations for a release done in 2007 technology.
It’s a lot to undertake, and we’re doing our best to live up to our end of the bargain.
Savanja: Lake of Ill Omen had been one of my favorite zones; will this be included in RoK? As with the rest of Norrath, I'm sure major changes have happened to the zones that we remember from EQ1. Can you share the most notable changes with those old familiar zones?
Scott Hartsman: I don’t think any of us would feel right calling it “Kunark” if it didn’t have Lake of Ill Omen. It’s absolutely present, and it’s massive. This zone itself is part of the larger region known as the Fens of Nathsar.
The changes that the world has gone through are far too numerous to detail in one short place. I can talk about a couple of other interesting things from the nearby vicinity, though:
The infamous Sarnak fortress present in the original LOIO still stands today.
Swamp of No Hope didn’t fare quite as well – While the geographic changes expanded the Lake drastically, much of the swamp sunk far below sea level, causing it to be colloquially known as the Pit of No Hope.
Savanja: Much of the player base has applauded the work done in the most recently added starting zone, Darklight Wood, due to the large amount of quests and content included in the area. Can we hope to see this sort of action-packed starting zone within the Rise of Kunark?
Scott Hartsman: Yes. Early beta test reactions to Timorous Deep are coming in loud and positive. People appear to be enjoying the fact that we’ve expanded on the Darklight Wood methodology for the new player experience in Kunark.
The last time I checked, we had about 25% more quests in Timorous than we did in Darklight, at the same quality level or higher.
Savanja: It appears that the starting zone for the Sarnak is a bit larger than the other starting zones currently in game. Will there be a bit more than just level 1-20 content?
Scott Hartsman: Right now, we’re still on track to have it as 1-20’ish. One of the reasons for the extra-large size is that the full city of Gorowyn is also contained within the Timorous Deep region.
Savanja: I am absolutely thrilled that there is a move towards less zoning and bigger zones, but will this create a tax on player systems? With zones so large, travel options will be important. Will there be the same horses and griffons that we already have in game, or will new modes of transportation be introduced?
Scott Hartsman: Yes – there is at least one new mode of transportation that people are enjoying. The native beast, longtime mount of the Iksar, the sokokar, are able to be employed as a new mode of travel.
It’s been challenging to find ways to make sure performance doesn’t take a significant hit with the larger regions – that’s absolutely true. One of the reasons that you don’t see an overabundance of high-engineering-required features in this expansion is that our engineers have been devoting significant time to improvements in tools and pipeline support. On top of that, they’ve been making continuous optimizations aimed at making many parts of EQ2 run better.
Essentially, our engineering efforts this round have primarily been focused on helping make the core experience that is Kunark as enjoyable as possible.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – We know it’s a lot to live up to, and we’re putting our money where our mouth is when we say we’re taking our commitment seriously!
Savanja: We've heard that the Sarnak will be a neutral race. Being as such, will good and evil classes be starting in the same area?
Scott Hartsman: That was one of the ideas that we were working with through the initial prototype, but it didn’t work out cleanly in practice since so many parts of EQ2 require cities to be strongly tied to good or evil.
Therefore, the Sarnak are considered Evil from the point of view of the existing residents of Norrath. Their race is predominantly concerned with what’s going on in Kunark, and not yet concerned with what’s happening elsewhere in the world. As such, their home city of Gorowyn is remarkably tolerant of outsiders of both alignments, as long as they’re not overtly hostile.
Savanja: What prompted the decision to move nearly all of the heroic content from the overland zones?
Scott Hartsman: The fact that overland heroic content went largely unused was the biggest driver in this decision. It doesn’t take a long visit in any of the global level channels to infer that very few people go through the effort of grouping to adventure in an overland zone, and the logged combat data backed this up. Solo/Duo-capable outdoor content gets played; heroic content very seldom does.
It’s a case of the game adapting to the way people actually play, compared to how they were originally assumed to want to play. People don’t “group up, then wander around looking for something to do” in open-ended hour-after-hour six person play.
People are objective-based, generally conscious of how much time they have available to play, and tend to want to group with people whose goals for the moment match theirs. Taken as a whole, they form groups with the express purpose of going out to do something specific. Many also prefer to know ahead of time that they’re embarking on an adventure they have time to complete. In EQII, both of those specific attributes of grouping can best be addressed via dungeons and instances.
On top of all of that, the split between outdoor/indoor also reduces frustration on both ends and it sets an expectation that people can begin to rely on. Solo/duo folks can consistently enjoy their own play style by not encountering unattainable group content in the overlands. Those group folks who do play-by-wander won’t be frustrated by all of the ‘useless’ solo creatures there – They know to head indoors.
Savanja: Even though we know that raid content is not a major focus of this expansion, can we get a break down of how many raid zones and how many challenging group zones will be included with RoK? Can the 1% of 1% hope for some raid content in the future, after the expansion has gone live?
Scott Hartsman: I’ve been misquoted a few times here, so thanks for presenting an excellent opportunity to clear it up:
The “1% of 1%” comment that I made at Fan Faire was in addressing a specific question regarding contested raid content -- The content that only an exceptionally small segment of the EQII audience ever gets to experience (Usually one guild per server). It wasn’t addressing all of raiding, and it definitely wasn’t addressing difficult grouping at all.
That said, it’s more accurate to say that raid content is not the primary focus of this expansion. I’m not going to reveal specific zones, instances, and raid counts, but we are doing everything we can to make sure that Kunark has plenty to do for both of those types of players. Among other things…
Sebilis is an exceptionally large and dangerous dungeon. The winged dungeon of Charasis (aka “Howling Stones”) is right up there as well.
Veeshan’s Peak alone is the most target-rich raid environment created in EQII to date.
And that doesn’t even begin to address the other instances and raid bosses that will be present.
I’m sure we’ll continue to add more over time, but the goal is to make sure there’s no shortage for groupers and raiders from the outset.
Thanks Scott for your time and great responses!
Check out the screenshots, lore, and concept art on page 2!
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our EverQuest II Game Page.