Sony Online Entertainment released today a new developer video where Steve Danuser, EverQuest Next's Lead Content Designer and Stéphane Bura, Lead Designer at Storybricks take us throught what we have been waiting for: how emergent AI and player interactions will take place in this version of Norrath. I go through the video pretty well, but I don't cover everything, since I do encourage anyone interested (which should be every person clicking on this) to watch the video in its entirety. Whether you're pressing play or reading my thoughts on the video, don't forget that we have comments at the bottom of the article, where you can jump in and share your thoughts with us!
Today's MMOs can be seen as the same exact gear treadmill, meaning that what you experience with one character will be the exact same experience with your next character. Even though designers and developers work very hard to make the world feel like it is a living world, full of something going on, the reality is, it's quite static. EverQuest Next will not have traditional quest hubs, because it will not be a static world. Rather than going from Hub A to Hub B in search of NPCs with question and exclamation marks over their heads, you'll be guided to areas where events are unfolding and taking place. Players can participate in these events in a variety of manners. They can join the NPCs and guide the event forward, they can sabotage the event to see what comes of it, and so much more. Through working with Storybricks, SOE is able to create truly living worlds where not even one server to the next will look the same.
This introduces one of the core pillars of EverQuest Next: a life of consequences. What you do in the world matters. Your choices effect Norrath at every corner; you're not merely acting out a script to watch the same story unfold. In the video, we're taken back to the EverQuest Next Keynote from this year's SOE Live and the Dark Elf City of Neriak. The interesting point here is that while, yes, there are NPC patrols wandering around the city looking for trespassers, the guards do not have any set paths and are aware of teleportation systems, that they use to their advantages. Every type of NPC has its own set of rules and acts accordingly – you won't see warriors performing the same tasks as scouts or priestesses, but they will carry out their tasks, jobs, and daily lives even when players aren't around to witness them.
While some objects will be placed in the world by developers, similar objects can also be placed in the world by players, which will trigger the same set of behaviors from different NPCs. NPCs will also act accordingly when players or other NPCs have certain items equipped.
How do you find quests, then, if what's become the norm for finding quests in an MMO doesn't exist in EverQuest Next? The answer is simple: each player comes equipped with a tome called the Rohsong. How it acts, however, is anything but simple. The Rohsong acts as several things: a beastiary, an atlas, a quest journal, and your guide to Norrath. It will let you know where events are taking place, as well as chronicling your journeys across Norrath. Not only will Rohsong remember where you've been, but it also remembers your character's choices throughout Norrath. Your story is made up of Deeds, Conflicts and Choices, and Exploration.
Not only do individual NPCs have complex behavior, but NPC groups, as well. As a group, NPCs will have goals that will drive the group, which will allow them to either instigate or react to changes. Certain NPC groups can bring about behavior changes in other NPC groups, such as if a group of Orcs invaded a town and stole their supplies, to leave the inhabitants starving. These starving townfolk will behave in a very different manner than before, when they had an ample supply of food. By allowing the AI to do this, conflict is created, which also creates story, the backbone to EverQuest Next. The story becomes embedded into the NPCs, which translates to drives and goals. Lore is embedded into the world itself in a way we haven't seen before, creating an endless loop of NPC goals and story. Not only that, but by giving different factions of Gnolls their own agendas, the world is set up for so much conflict, which of course leads to participation in the world's story, as well as events constantly happening.
Around the 7:35 mark, we get a demonstration on how player choices, Norrath's story, NPC drives and everything else intertwines into one massive, living, breating world. We're taken to Kithicor Forest, a place ripe with the magic released from Tunare's death, to see how the devs test out story and NPC reactions. We're told that in the demo shown, that the events play out at a far more rapid pace than players will experience, since we will participate over days, weeks, or even months. In order to test scenarios, developers need to speed up the pace.
The demo shown is just how NPCs will react to adjustments made on the development side, but what we don't see is how this would play out once players are thrown into the mix. These drives and reactions are created to allow for player participant content. Players can help the Kobolds achieve their goals or drive back their greedy forces. Depending on the needs of NPCs, players can either fulfil those needs to create new needs, or deplete those needs. Because players will be able to see the effects of their actions play out in the world, the world becomes dynamic and living, rather than shallow and static. Depending on how you react to the needs of NPCs will change how these groups react to you, meaning: faction! It's good to see that faction will take an important role in EverQuest Next.
In EverQuest Next, players will be faced with tough choices. In the example we're given in the video, the Dark Elves have taken over Kithicore and the Serpent Spine Mountains from the Kobalds, have built their Shadow Pit – the essence of Tier'Dal magic – and now want to consume more power for the Shadow Pit by taking the magic left over from Tunare's death, essence that is protected by Dryads. Do you, as a player, fight on the side of the Dark Elves or the Dryads? There is no right or wrong here; this conflict will require you to take sides, but it is one of personal choice. This introduces the concept of indirect PvP – you will not always be directly fighting other players as conflicts unfold, but sometimes you take actions against the desires of other players, which will create other sets of conflicts. There is the possibility that this means that optional PvP objectives will be placed in these areas for players to participate in, should they choose.
As you satisfy the needs of one group, you could end up taking away the needs of another. This means that your reputation or faction with one group increases as another decreases. What this doesn't mean, however, is that content will be taken away from you if you choose one side over another. You might experience the content from a different angle, but it will still be there for you to participate in, should you choose to do so. If you change your mind at a later date to side with the group you were initially opposing, your reputation with them will gain as you fight for their needs, but this will mean that your reputation decreases with the group you were initially favoring.
I haven't gone through everything in the video, because I that would have ended up being a transcript of the video, rather than what this article has turned out to be. If you have 30 minutes, I highly recommend watching the video in its entirety. There's a lot of amazing information here, and despite my reservations regarding how combat may or may not be to my liking in EverQuest Next, the living and responsive world that SOE has created with their partners at Storybricks really is something exciting. Last week I was bummed out over combat, but this week I'm back on the hype train. Don't have 30 minutes? SOE also released a six minute rundown to give you the short version.
Are you as excited as I am about this new Norrath? Am I off my rocker being this excited? What's your favorite part of this Life of Consequences video? Let us know all about it!