We recently spoke to EverQuest 2 Senior Producer Bruce Ferguson and Design Supervisor Noel Walling just after the successful launch of EverQuest 2’s fifth retail expansion in four years, The Shadow Odyssey (TSO). Bruce and Noel walked us through many of TSO’s coolest features, clarified a few lingering questions, and hinted at EQ2’s future.

Storylines Revisited and Revealed

Arriving at Innothule

Zones like Innothule Swamp and Upper Guk were part and parcel with the original EverQuest experience, but EQ2 players found that the the tumultuous times in the centuries since rendered the lower half of the continent formerly known as Antonica inaccessible. All that changed when players excavated and constructed an airship capable of scaling the distance to Innothule during a recent live event, paving the way to loads of level 50-80 TSO content.

One of the cornerstones of TSO is more lore, Ferguson explained, such as how Lower Guk (and now Upper Guk, merciful heavens!) became infested with undead frogloks in the first place. I couldn’t pry for any details, but it either has something to do with Ykeshan trolls or the SOE gents were having fun with my profound EQ lorelessness. At any rate, expect answers at every turn, but in fine Confucian fashion, these answers will lead to more questions.

For example, as previously reported, TSO includes a summing up of parts of the void storyline that have been with the game since before GU 46. “I don’t want to give too much away, but certainly there will be a large change that will result from players ending that storyline.” said Noel Walling.

So what’s the worst that could happen when freeing the goddess of undeath from the power-sapping ether? We’re guessing that aside from cool loot, players might unleash some nasty consequences. “To some extent, yes. But players will find that they have a fairly significant victory in the end.”

Beyond the Void

How many gods from the EverQuest pantheon have yet to return? Many of the elemental and lesser gods aren’t too surprising, most of which were never player-selectable. They did make cool server names, though!

All six elemental gods

  • The Rathe - The Council
  • Fennin Ro - The Tyrant of Fire
  • Tarew Marr - The Fathom Lord
  • E’Ci - The Wintry Guardian
  • Povar - The Veiled One
  • Xegony - Queen of Air

Five balanced gods

  • Druzzil Ro - Matron of Art
  • Erollosi Marr - Queen of Love (though she still has a Valentine’s day event)
  • Prexus - The Ocean Lord
  • The Nameless - Creator of All
  • Veeshan - The Wurmqueen

All six lesser gods

  • Ayonae Ro - The Maestra
  • Luclin - The Maiden of Shadows (she seems a bit broken up these days)
  • Morrell Thule - The Lord of Dreams
  • Tallen Zek - The Beholder of Battle
  • Terris Thule - The Dream Scorcher
  • Vallon Zek - The Governor of War

Speaking of Anashti Sul, isn’t she, the goddess of undeath, and Rodcet Nife, god of health and healing, an odd pairing to be introduced in TSO? Bruce Ferguson set me straight: “It’s really not. Rodcet Nife took the place of Anashti Sul when she was banished to the void. Anashti Sul was the goddess of health and healing, but in her travelling and experimenting, she actually became the goddess of undeath. She was trying to find a way for creatures on Norrath to live forever, and unfortunately that resulted in the undead.” The road to the Void is apparently paved with good intentions as well.

Will nostalgia buffs find any Easter Eggs in the new content? Bruce wasn’t letting on. “I don’t know about Easter Eggs, I do know that our designers have paid a lot of attention to making sure the content feels right. When you go into Lower Guk, you see the frenzied ghoul and you see all the familiar stuff you expect from those zones, but really in a much newer light. ”

Snap-On Armor

One area of confusion during the press previews was the snap-on armor system meant to improve the visual appearance of lesser mobs in TSO. To me, this seemed a lot like the pre-Rujarkian orcs of several years ago, back when SOE discovered that unnecessary lag in zones like Zek was caused by drawing orc character models and their armor (like player characters), effectively drawing polygons that no one could see (the polys beneath the armor). The one-piece Rujarkian orcs solved the problem nicely.

So is snap-on armor a step backwards in terms of performance? According to Bruce, no. “We designed the armor to have the availability for us to apply certain textures or certain addons to them of a very limited set, but they’re substantial enough to significantly change the appearance visually without impacting the amount of textures that we’d have to load and do a lot of extra vertex stuff on the client side.”

“The way they’re designed is that we can significantly change their appearance without significantly increasing the art assets that need to be loaded to improve that appearance. We kind of took a step back and asked, ‘How can we make stuff look better without requiring everyone to get another 3 gigs of memory for their machines?’ And this was our solution.”

Would this pave the way for an Oblivion or Fallout type, more of a “what you see is what you get” approach to loot? “It’s an interesting question. Oblivion and Fallout work off of a much different rewards structure than what you have in EverQuest. There are very few special weapons in those games. There are a few named weapons, but those are reserved for special places. In EQ and EQ2 all of the weapons are special, they’re all named something specific.”

The Void, as awesome as it is intimidating

“We could certainly do something like that if we chose to. But it seems to me it would restrict the desirability of going and actually hunting that mob or boss. For us, in an MMO the size of EverQuest 2, we don’t want to dis-incentivize you from attacking a mob based on what he’s carrying.”

Tradeskills and Missions

A significant part of TSO hasn’t seen much press, that is, quests and even dungeons where tradeskillers have to work together to complete a crafting goal to earn faction and purchase recipes. Noel explained: “All the tradeskill stuff is totally new, and actually a lot of the crafting stuff is based on the new tradeskill dungeons that our Tradeskill Designer, Emily Taylor, has been working on for this expansion.”

“Also a lot is going on with the voidshard system. Tradeskillers are actually able to produce versions of the voidshard armor for a lower voidshard cost than what the players can buy at the vendors themselves.“ So players can save shards by looking up the appropriate tradeskillers, but if none are to be found, it’s still possible to get the latest armor. This is an elegant solution to a problem as old as MMORPGs - how to support the player economy without gimping players when the player economy isn’t supporting them.

“We want to make the relationship between players as strong as possible. The more people you interact with, generally speaking, the more fun you’re going to have. I hop between single player and multiplayer games and I always feel much happier when I’m playing with other people.”

“With the expansion there’s over 500 new quests, and those vary from collection quests to solo quests in the Moors of Ykesha, to group quests that take you through the dungeons, to tradeskills, also our mission system, which allows players to collect void shards for completing missions.” Missions, you say? “The mission system is sort of like a set of repeatable quests which can only be completed every so often.”

“One of the things I’m really thrilled with is how specialized and unique the dungeons are. Every single boss, every single named in the dungeons is unique and different. They all have scripting that makes them much more unique than what we’ve done in the past. Some use elements of what we used in, say, Maiden’s Chamber in Kunark or Vault of Eternal Sleep, but each dungeon is a learning experience.”

EQ2’s Challenges and Future

What was the biggest challenge that SOE faced? Noel and Bruce weren’t talking specifics, but we was happy about the amount of intelligent planning that went into this expansion and how the team “stretched their wings”

Animation support and GPU enhancements helps make TSO EQ2's best looking expansion yet.

Noel explained that the EQ2 team is spending a lot of time under the hood these days, tuning up game performance. “One of the things that has been a challenge for us is shoring up our multi-core support. It’s not exactly an expansion feature. When we first launched the game, there were no duo-cores or multi-cores. That’s been an ongoing challenge for us, and one that we’ve started to address just this past year. We’ve got a new graphics programmer that’s working on shoring up our GPU support as well - making stuff run faster and better as well. It’s definitely a challenge dividing tasks code among cores.”

Bruce added: ”That code was never written for multi-core support, so its almost as though we’re rewriting the entire game engine to handle that kind of stuff. It’s a tortuous process, it’s not something we can do overnight. But we’re certainly making strides on it.”

Avid patch note readers know that code was added several months ago to move animation support to a second core (if present). Noel hinted about what the next big advancement might be, adding that “cloth sim is another example of something we could do.”

As for other future developments, if SOE remains true to form we’ll have to wait until late summer and FanFest time to hear more about what’s in development. The gents were able to confirm that FanFest 2009 is on (was there any doubt?) and that this year we’ll have a little more lead time than last year to make our plans.

Our sincerest thanks to SOE, Bruce Ferguson, Noel Walling, and Katie Hansen for setting up this post-TSO interview!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our EverQuest II Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.