EverQuest 2: The Next Generation - A Q&A with David Georgeson

Exec Producer David Georgeson discusses the upcoming EQ expansion, Age of Discovery, but also some of the content players can look forward to in Game Updates coming very soon.
During Fan Faire of 2011 Ten Ton Hammer just had to get together with Executive Producer David Georgeson to talk about the upcoming EverQuest 2: Age of Discovery expansion. As it turns out, David had a lot to say about it. He gave us the inside scoop with all the juicy info not just for Age of Discovery but also some of the content players can look forward to in Game Updates very soon.

TTH: Let's start by talking about mercenaries in Age of Discovery. Will they function like the mercenaries of  EQ1?

David:  I liked the EQ1 mercenaries a lot. So, the basic core functionality is very similar. If you go to different cities, you get different mercs with different roles... melee DPS, ranged DPS, healer and tank. Then they follow you around. You can only have one at a time and they take a player slot out of your group. If you want all players in your group, then you’ll need to disband your mercenaries, but you can resummon your mercenary after five or ten minutes.

That's where EQ1 went, and we’re moving beyond that.

An Ogre Mercenary in EverQuest 2 What we’re going to do is to tinker with the AI brains of the mercenaries depending upon which city you get them from. So if you get a healer in Neriak versus a healer in Qeynos, they will act differently. They will use different skills, different spells; they actually have different AI so they might retreat at different points so that we can give them a racial personality to each of the different merc types that you can get.

In addition to that, if you have any spare cosmetic gear, you can throw it on the merc and they will equip it. If you get rid of them permanently, they’ll give it all back.

You can name the mercs, of course. If they hang out with you for a while, you can train them to say things. It will be amusing to see what people train their mercenaries to say. You can even use them in raids if you want to. I think the real beauty of it is if you and a couple of friends want to go into a heroic dungeon and you can’t find enough people to go, you can all get mercs and you’ll have a full group.

You can collect all the different mercs, but you can only use them one at a time. We hope to have it so that the ones you aren’t using will wait at your house smoking and drinking.

TTH: That would be so cool!

David: It'd be awesome. We’ll see if we can pull it off.

TTH: Do they have confidence levels like in EQ1?

David: I want that, yeah. I think that that’s a really good mechanic. It makes them completely different than pets. You commonly just throw a pet into the middle of the biggest mob of stuff that you can get and hope that it gets all the aggro. You can’t do that with a merc. In EQ1, they’ll just turn tail and run. I like that mechanic a lot because it makes you pay attention to what’s happening to your merc.

TTH: How do the Apprentice Tradeskillers work?

David: This is the probably the softest design we presented at the show; the most in transition. We’re making it up right now.  Two days before the show, we decided to kill the idea we had because of all the complexities that we were running into. Then we asked ourselves what else we wanted to do. We then had this idea already halfway done.

One of the designers that we have who's in charge of tradeskills right now, just in his own spare time, was putting together the Tradeskill Apprentice idea which puts an apprentice NPC in your house who you can work with.

He can do offline crafting, and he can also make special items that you can’t normally craft or get anywhere else. As you work with him, he’ll eventually level up and he gets to the point where you can work with him to create grandmaster level types of items that are top-in-slot kind of things. But it will likely be heirloom so only you can use it or pass it to your other characters.

The advantage of having that Tradeskill Apprentice is to be able to craft some really good items. They’re like high quality raid items, but you’re able to get them from a different approach through the tradeskill method. But you have to level your apprentice up and grow him over time to be able to do that.

And like everything else we’re doing, you can dress your apprentice and rename him and all that other stuff. It’s really neat and I think the tradeskillers will like it because it gives them access to items that they can totally brag about.

The readers jumped us a little bit right away. “Is this going to be more powerful than the raiding stuff?” And our answer was that if it requires items that you can only collect the mats in a high-end raid, then yes, it will be more powerful than the raid gear because it takes more effort to get.

I think we’ll see a lot of renewed interest in tradeskilling once we throw this in there.
Another look at an Ogre Mercenary

Another look at an Ogre Mercenary

TTH: So, we heard a rumor that the eagerly anticipated Beastlord is finally making its way into EQ2.

David: Da-da-da! Yep, it is. It’s really righteously cool.

TTH: That’s awesome. It’s been a request for how many years now?

David: I know! In the panel yesterday the fans were saying, “We’ve been asking for this for years and you made it to the level where we couldn’t even say the word on the forum because it was outlawed" (and it was!) "Why did you finally turn around?” My answer was, "You’ve asked for it for years. It seems that we should give it to you. That’s why we’re giving it to you."

It should be really cool. Of course, it’s based on the EQ1 concept of the Beastlord, but we’re going to push gameplay in different directions with this class. We don’t want to add just a 25th class and have him just like all the other classes. That didn’t seem worthwhile at all. So because the Beastlords have the warders, we’re going to take that gameplay and run with it.

I don’t know how many warders we’re going to have or what types of warders we’ll eventually have, but there will be quite a few. You’ll be able to collect them, and once you begin working with them, you’re basically forming a bond with this animal in the true spirit kind of sense, and the bond matures over time.

Your warder has an AA tree and you build those AAs over time. Your warder also has a skill hotbar separate from yours. The Beastlord in EQ2 has fewer skills normally than a regular class would. It’s actually quite a few less, but your warders have their own AA trees and hotbars and there is interactivity between those. So when you use a warder ability, it’s going to open up an opportunity for you to do something with your character, and vice-versa. If your warder gets stunned, you can do something about it.

You build "synergy" during combat. (We're still trying to think of a better word). It can fill up several times. The more you let it fill up, the more active and powerful abilities become available. So, if you have patience, you can get all the way up to a level 5 synergy ability and you’ll be able to fire those off to have really impressive effects.

We think it will be very fun. It’s very active; it’s not one-button macroable, which is always a plus in my opinion. If people want to play one button macro, then there’s 24 other classes they can use. But the Beastlord is designed to be very active.

TTH: That’s cool. I really like that idea of having an interdependency. It’s not like just another pet.

The long-awaited Beastlord comes to EQ2 David: Yeah, it’s very different from a pet. We’re already having questions about other classes' pets.  Those are summoned, they’re like a magical spell. They’re not smart, they’re not sentient. They don’t have the intelligence to adapt and learn tactics. They do what they do. It’s kind of like having a robot, in a way. Whereas warders are totally different. That’s a partner you’re building. So when you interact with your warders, and summon different warders, you’re really changing the way your class plays. It should be very, very interesting for people, I think.

TTH: Are they aligned as evil or good, or both?

David: I really don’t remember the conversation well enough to be sure, but I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t be neutral, to be on whatever side they wanted to be on. We’ll have warders available that will definitely be evil or good aligned. So you’ll have to choose what you want.

TTH: In regards to the rest of the expansion, are we looking at new zones as well?

David: For the box?

TTH: Yes.

David: No. We’re giving away all of the zone content for just the regular subscription price.

TTH: Ok.

David: We are cranking out content. Just so you’re aware, Velious came out, and Game Update 60, GU 61, GU 63, 64, 66, and 67 are all Velious content. We will be building Velious content until 2013. One low price, big ass content! It’ll be the biggest expansion pack ever made by the time we’re done with it. It’s gigantic. You know all the stuff in EQ1 where half the continent was all dragons? Well, you haven’t seen a dragon yet, have you? We have a lot to do! Plus, we’re doing that whole Freeport, which is going to be fantastic. Did you hear any of the details on that?

TTH: No.

David: Then I have to tell you some of that. Next summer, we’ll redo Qeynos with the same kind of treatment that we’re giving Freeport.

The EQ2 Tradeskill Apprentice in action Freeport is getting turned into a massive multi-level quest hub with all kinds of exploratory content in it. We’re taking the whole city and turning it into a single zone, so there’s no more zoning between areas, although all of the neighborhoods and sewers are still going to be instances. The reason why we’re making the neighborhoods instances is so we can actually do predicated content so when you go in, your actions will affect the way the neighborhood reacts to you.
The neighborhoods are like segregated neighborhoods, like when you go to San Jose. There’s a Vietnamese block, a Korean block, and so on and so forth. That’s the way the neighborhoods are going to be in Freeport.

An example that I’ve been using is that you go into a shop and on the back counter, you can see a bag of gold and it’s just sitting there glowing and you can click on it. What do you do? Do you take it? If you take it, maybe the neighborhood will go, “Hey Rube!” and start chasing your ass all over the neighborhood. “Thief! Thief!” “Kill him!” and all that kind of stuff. Or you could just leave it alone. We’ll go through and put in all of this exploratory content that isn’t just chase feather, do quests. Of course, we’ll still have that too.

We’re also going to have all kinds of race and class specific quest lines, which is something we normally shy away from because we want everybody to be able to do the content. That seems efficient. But we know our players are alt-aholics, and they keep going through and through and through, so we want to give them something so that when they do change race and class, they get some different content along the way.

So when you play in Darklight Woods or Timorous Deep as an evil character, you will no longer go on the Golden Path to Butcher Block to help the dwarfs for some reason. Instead, you’ll go to Freeport and get involved in Lucan D'Lere's march for power.

We’re focusing on personalities. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones. I’ve always been a fan of ensemble books or ensemble characters where there’s really key characters and the plots always revolve around those, so we’re going to be doing a lot of that with Freeport. We’ll build personalities that have connections and you’ll be able to understand the kinds of things that they’re interested in after you’ve worked with them for a while and you’ll get to know them as personalities, which we don’t have enough  of in EQ2. We just don’t. We’re doing a lot to really seriously change the feel of the game without messing with the mechanics too much.

TTH: Tell us about the player created dungeons.

David: I think I’d like to come up with a better name than Design Your Own Dungeon, but I don’t know what it is yet. DYOD?

We call them Builders right now. We have builders and players, and we wanted to make sure that both ways to interact with the dungeons are fun. So with the collectable mentality, everything you need to build a dungeon is out there in the world. It can be crafted, it can be gained as loot in special quests, maybe there is some high-end raid stuff to collect... But basically to get a map layout to customize you have to go and defeat that area. So if you want the Crushbone Keep map, go beat Crushbone Keep. That sort of thing, but we’re still working out the mechanics on that.

Design Your Own Dungeon in EverQuest 2

Design Your Own Dungeon in EverQuest 2

You go out and collect the map layouts, the spawners, the traps, the different kinds of decorations and things that you want for the dungeon, and then when you have all the pieces that you want, you push a button and…bam! You’re inside the dungeon and now you’re basically at the level of laying stuff out like in your house. We’re vastly improving the housing interface, too.

Lots of things that we’re building for that are helping the rest of the game. We’re getting dungeon finder, improved housing interface, better leader boards. There are all these features coming out in GU 61 in August that are useful for the game already that are being constructed so we can do Design Your Own Dungeon.

You build your dungeon. If you want to test it ahead of time, you can run a party of invaders through your dungeon and watch them get slaughtered. For bonus points, I want you to be able to name them will all of your friends’ names so you can watch your friends get murdered.

So you run through those tests and when you’re ready, you just publish it. Once you publish it, you take a screen shot and it asks you for a little blurb, and all that goes automatically into these dungeon leaderboards. Your dungeon will show up on the most recently created list. Once people start playing it, they can actually rate your dungeon after they’ve played it. When you go to the leader board pages as a player, you can sort by the different ways that people can rate and find a dungeon that’s cool for you. You click it and you’re in! If you’re with a group, then you double-click it and you’re in right away. If you really want to wait for a pick-up group, then you can register for a queue, and bam! When the dungeon finder fills your group, you go into that dungeon.

TTH: That’s cool. How do you limit that, though? Don’t you think that inevitably there’ll be a billion crappy dungeons and just a few good ones?

David: The rating boards do that for us. As the players rate them, they basically self-police that. The highest rated ones are obviously going to be the most visited ones. The leader boards ages out votes after 24 hours, so your vote only counts on the leaderboard for 24 hours, and then it falls off. The leaderboards are a great indicator of what’s hot right now. If you stay on the leaderboard, at midnight we parse it and everybody who’s on the leader board gets a gold star, or some other kind of mark. It’s an award. When you accumulate enough gold stars, it turns into a loving cup kind of thing. When you have enough loving cups, your dungeon automatically goes to the Hall of Fame, and it’s there forever. So your name can be up in lights and there’s perpetual ratings and things like that, so eventually we’ll accumulate this list of just kick-ass dungeons that players are making.

When you play in one of these dungeons, you don’t play as yourself. You play as what we call an adventurer. The adventurers are, again, collectables out there in the world. They can range anywhere from a gnome to a dragon and any kind of monster in-between. What we do is isolate those different adventurers and we give them three or four skills that they can use. Each adventurer has a unique personality; they don’t play the same.

TTH: Kind of like the champions for the older PvP Arena.

David: Kind of, yes. The interface will definitely be different and we’ll put more effort into making their play distinctive.

The DYOD Builder Once you have these adventurers and you go into these dungeons to play, your group list has pictures of which adventurers are being played by each person. You have a list of available adventurers that you’ve collected. Whatever you want to play as, you just drag it over. Once your group leaves that starting room in the dungeon, you’re locked in and you play through the dungeon.

The number one reason why other games don’t do this is because of the exploit potential: making a super-easy dungeon with high loot. Our monsters in Design Your Own Dungeons don’t drop loot; you don’t get XP for killing each individual monster. The objective is to finish the dungeon, and the dungeons are built for 20-30 minutes of play.

Well, because we know that the objective is to get to the end and kill the boss at the end, we can prevent exploits from doing some really easy stuff. Every spawn, every trap, every object of interactivity thing all add up points, so that room will have a certain number of points in it called a challenge rating. We then measure every possible path to get from A to B and we find the easiest path. Whatever the easiest path challenge rating is becomes the challenge rating for the dungeon.

When a group finishes that dungeon and get to the end, they’re going to get DYOD tokens that reward them for their play and that’s scaled up or down based on the challenge rating. So a super-easy dungeon, you don’t get much for it. Super-challenging, you might get your ass handed to you a few times, but the payoff will be really good.

There are the shopping areas where you use your tokens to buy items for your real characters. There’s a special shop for builders too as builders get tokens based upon how often players play their dungeon, what their quality ratings are, that sort of thing. They have a different sort of metrics. They can get these special builder-only things like rare spawns or cool monsters or even really epic loot for themselves. Kind of like the tradeskill epic loot.

TTH: That’s a really a cool way to go about it.

David: Wait! There’s one more thing and I’m really fired up about this. I think it’s cool.

What we do is when we’re laying down spawners, people are always like, “Can we script the spawners?” We really don’t want to set up a scripting language. That’s Neverwinter Nights and I don’t want to go there.

What we’re going to do instead is that when you throw down a spawner, it’ll watch around itself for objects that can interact with it. For instance, if you threw down an orc spawner and put down a campfire next to it, when the orcs spawn, they’ll have fire weapons. Or if you put several groups of orcs in several areas, normally, you’d be able to pull each camp separately, but if you put an alarm bell near one of them, when you pull that camp it’ll ring the bell and all of them are going to come. So there’s this object interactivity that the builders can play with.  As they collect these different things and put them next to spawners, they’ll be like, “Holy crap! I didn’t expect that!” That will provide variety and eventually they’ll learn what works well and they’ll be able to make really customized content without having to learn a single thing about scripting.

TTH: That sounds like a lot of fun.

David: I was a huge Dungeon Keeper fan. Then I worked as the Senior Producer for Dungeon Overlord, the Facebook game. It’s just one of those things that I’ve been picking at for a long time, and the team got solidly behind it and we realized that we had a chance to do something that nobody had ever done before..let’s do it.

We tried to figure out all the flaws that could be going in and tried to nail them. I think it’s exploit-proof. We’ll know when we get to beta. I think it’s exploit-proof!

TTH: Those are dangerous words!

David: We even wanted to start using things like the ultravision and infravision to be able to detect traps, which would be cool. Finally, a use for the vision powers! Or maybe a use for the disarm trap skill!

TTH: And what about reforging?

David: Oh right, reforging!

Well, it’s a relatively simple thing. Basically, you can have a powerful item that has stats and you could shuffle some of the secondary stats around if you reforge. Anybody can do it. It’s not a tradeskill. That’s something that of course the power-gamers are interested in because they want to maximize every little thing. If they think they need something else, they can shift in that direction. The primary stats can’t really be shifted around but it’s a nice thing for them to self-police for what they think they need for their build.

In addition to that, just because we thought it was cool, if your weapon had a particle effect on it, we’re also going to give you a particle effect editor. So you’ll be able to change the particle effects: the colors, maybe speed and rotation and that sort of thing and be able to customize how your weapon looks to other players. And that’s just sexy.
Reforging is just sexy

Reforging is just sexy

And we’re also going to raise the AA limit by….an undisclosed amount. More than one!

GU 61 in August gets a lot of these things as benefits. We have the new dynamic dungeons that we’ve never done before in EQ2. Basically, every time you go in, we have basically 15 different templates that we can pull from in these dungeons. Every time you go in, the rooms and everything…the areas are populated differently. Hopefully, it’ll take longer to chew through that dungeon. We’ll see how the players like it. If they like it, great.

Also in GU 61, we have new raids and heroic dungeons, all with normal and hard level versions.

Raids always used to be hard mode basically. By putting in normal raids, what we’re doing is allowing players who are interested in raids but weren’t hardcore enough about it to be in the hardcore raid groups. They’re actually playing these normal raids already and they’re having a good time with them. They’re designed to be beatable with a pick-up group of 24 people. They’re learning how to play raids with these normal raids. It’s already working.

We’re anecdotally getting all kinds of feedback where they’re like, “We’re getting tired of doing the normal raids, so we just did our first-ever hard raid and we kicked ass!” We’re like, “Dude, that’s exactly what we’re hoping for.”

It used to be where you would ask somebody if you could go on theri raid and they ask if you’ve ever been in a raid group before. “No.” So they say, “No!” Or if you get in, it’s like, “Stand there, shut up, sit down, and do exactly what I tell you!” This other way is much friendlier and it’s fun.

There’s a bunch of other stuff too. The most important thing that’s coming out in GU 61, and it sounds non-sexy but it has gigantic impact, is that we’re re-itemizing everything from level 20 to 90, which is over 50,000 items. We’re re-itemizing everything because when we changed the stats for Velious, the progression screwed up. Plus, ever since we put the Golden Path in, the only really legitimate way through the world to get cool power items was to go down the Path, which basically invalidated the rest of the world, which is insane with this much content! By going through and re-itemizing 20 though 90, it’s all validated. All of it.

And when we go back and do Freeport and the Beastlords come in and people start doing alts and everything like that, they can explore everywhere. It’s all good! The dungeon finder will be a blast because you can hit any dungeon, and there will be dungeons…I promise you that there’ll be dungeons that you haven’t ever been in. There are so many dungeons.

Any dungeon setting is going to be a blast. Right now, you’ll only go to dungeons that other people are in. But if you’re queuing up for a pick-up group with the dungeon finder and you hit the "any dungeon" button, it’ll take you to any dungeon. You can select specific ones if you only want to play those ones, but you might end up with a longer queue time. If you pick any dungeon, we’ll take the best six people, put them together, and then you go! You’re going to see content that you’ve never seen before.

Right now, we’re doing 125% rewards on the "any dungeon" button. So XP and tokens, you’ll get 125% because we want people to click that button. Shorter wait times are better for people. You’re going to see more content.

TTH: That’s a lot of really cool stuff.

David: Dude! We’re going to be so busy until November! From November to Christmas, we have nothing planned. We’re going to do R&D projects because we’re going to need to de-stress after this.

We’re really excited to get this stuff done because we know that it is the right stuff and the game is going to be so much better for it afterwards. When we get to November, we’ll relax and do some pet projects and passion projects and stuff for a while, which always ends up with cool stuff to. I have no idea what that stuff will be yet.

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