We recently had a chance to interview EverQuest's new Lead Designer -- Ryan "Rytan" Barker -- about how things are going with the game, and what players can expect in the future. While Ryan wasn't able to give specifics on the things coming in EverQuest's next expansion, he does give a clear example of some of the things the team has learned from past expansions and competing MMOGs that will no doubt influence EverQuest's 10th expansion -- which is currently slated for release some time in November.
Ryan has been around EverQuest for a long time now; many will remember him as the "Spells guy" during the days of Shadows of Luclin, after Lawrence Poe left SOE. For a time he left the EQ team to work on other projects at SOE, but now he's back and has taken up the Lead Designer position for the game. Note that while most of the questions are answered by Ryan Barker exclusively, quite a few of the team members participated in one of the questions!
Curse: 9 years, 14 expansions and countless live updates to the game; how have you managed to maintain a level of creativity that continually moves EverQuest forward over the years?
[rbarker]: It’s definitely been a challenge at times, but the rich backstory that we’ve developed over the years has been a great asset in creating new situations and stories that the players can really get into. We’ve got a long list of “loose ends” that would make great expansion concepts. I don’t feel like we’ll ever run out of new stories to tell in the world of Norrath. It’s a testament to the team that we’ve been able to keep people engaged for this long.
Curse: What was the most important lesson you learned with Secrets of Faydwer that you'll adopt for future expansions?
[rbarker]: I can’t really think of any one specific thing that came directly from Secrets of Faydwer that we’ll be basing changes on. It’s more of a gradual process of watching the game develop and seeing what worked over the long term rather than picking apart short term changes. Although if I had to pick something I think it would be to recognize the power that a heavy hitting story character like Kerafyrm can have to drive a story forward. Other smaller things that I’d like to expand on are the “solo” monsters that we experimented with in Dragonscale Hills, and I’d like to experiment more with some smaller raid content like the couple 2 group events that were in Bloodmoon Keep.
Curse: How has returning to a one year development cycle helped the process of creating expansions for EverQuest?
[rbarker]: They’ve made it a lot easier to tell some larger more epic storylines for sure. Some stories work much better as a single cohesive expansion story rather than parts of a series. It’s also given us more time to better plan how the content is going to fit together and more time to tune and polish everything. It’s also given us a lot more time to iterate on both the design and art sides. Overall it’s making it a more polished quality product.
Curse: What made you decide to bring Kerafyrm back into play with Secrets of Faydwer, and can we expect to see the return of other storied EverQuest characters in the future?
[rbarker]: Definitely. Players really dig seeing these big name recurring villains from the old lore come back around again. There’s so much existing lore to draw from it just comes down to which of our storylines we want to do next.
Curse: Living Legacy is an exciting promotion to bring back old players. How long of a process was this creating the new items, designing the new raids, etc. and are there any other surprises in store for players prior to the end of the promotion?
[rbarker]: No more surprises per se, but there’s still lots of content on deck that players will be getting to experience over the next several weeks. We’re really excited to see how the leaderboard raids shake out.
Curse: Is there any chance you could give us a preview of this updated Guk content running from July until August? Are the levels on NPCs being boosted, similar to previous zone revamps, or is it just a refresh of the content available in the zone to bring it to today's standards?
[rbarker]: The levels of the various NPCs have been tuned up for level 80 characters, with appropriate loot etc also attached to them. We hope that players really enjoying having a reason to go back and hit those old zones they remember from when they first started playing. I’m sure there’s some newer players playing now that haven’t even been to these zones before. Hopefully they have as much fun with it this time around as I did the first time I played in those zones.
Curse: Players often reminisce about the game, mentioning their favorites amongst the 9 years worth of content. Now it's time for you to do the same: what's your favorite encounter throughout the history of EverQuest, and why? (feel free to have multiple developers respond to this if you'd like, it would be great to get the team's thoughts as a whole!)
[rbarker]: For me it was definitely Lord Nagafen back in original release. I was part of the first raid that killed him on Rallos Zek. It was such a rush going back through the fire giant castle and seeing that dragon for the first time. I think I seriously jumped out of my chair the first time he stuck his head through the door and bit me.
[david ford]: During the time when Velious was the current expansion I was lucky enough to be part of a guild called Relics/Descendents (the name changed at some point) that raided 3 nights a week. We started humbly, with 3 groups working in Dragon Necropolis just killing basepop and learning how to work together but soon we were taking down Velious Raid Bosses and fighting in Temple of Veeshan. My favorite memory from that time was the first time we defeated Telkorenar. I never had the pleasure of fighting Nagafen so this was my first fight with a big red dragon. I spent the whole fight ducking around the corner between AEs to launch Dragon Bane spells at him, nearly dying constantly. When we defeated him for the first time it was a proud moment for all of us and I felt like we had really "arrived" as a guild.
[jonathan caraker]: It was a thrill to tackle Trakanon, a frantically fast paced do-or-die fight. After sending in the first sacrificial gnome, we had to apply the guild’s damage as quickly as possible before his banish and DoT wiped out the raid. The first time our guild killed him, only two people were left standing: a druid and warrior.
[doug cronkhite]: There were so many great encounters in EverQuest that it’s hard to really narrow it down to one. Things like the first time I saw Lord Nagafen, and Lady Vox. My 1st steps into the Temple of Veeshan, or Vex Thal and many others like it all bring back great memories, but two events in EverQuest really stick out in my mind.
The Rathe Council – Whether you liked it or not, this was really the 1st event in EverQuest that I ever saw that even the smallest mistake could send the raid tumbling out of control. Everyone HAD to be on their game and doing their job or it all went to hell, and quickly. I think EverQuest does a better job of this aspect of raiding than any other game on the market.
Mastery of Foresight, Muramite Proving Grounds – This raid was unique in that everyone had their job they had to do, but also had specific actions they had to accomplish that were different from everyone else. More than just doing your normal ‘raid’ function, you had to pay attention to the details and respond/react to shifting events quickly.
[james bell]: My favorite fight was King Tormax. Not as much for any complexity to the fight, but for the sheer satisfaction of killing the guy with a competent guild. The game for me is about playing with friends.
[harvey burgess]: My favorite memory from EQ was during one of our Plane of Fear raids. I had trained all the mobs away from the raid so that everyone could camp out safely. I then feigned and then waited to let everyone know that it was safe to log back in. After everyone was back in, I was asked if I was sure if I didn’t have agro anymore. I promptly stood up, Cazic-Thule says, “XXXXXX”, and I die. Guess that answered my question...
[ed hardin]: While there are a lot of memorable experiences (breaking Fear and Hate, logging to chat to save buffs for Lady Vox), I think my favorite encounter was finally Rallos Zek in Tactics with my guild. Some of us had done the event on open raids before, but as a guild it was a long process. We'd go through a round of flagging, then a round of gearing up, then take a day to try him -- each time we'd get closer and closer, and it got more and more frustrating when we lost. Rallos and how we did on the encounter was a measuring post for our guild over the months. Growing in numbers, skill, and gear always seemed a bit nebulous until we did Rallos again and could see just how much better we were against a known target.
"A few more AAs for the healers and the DPS," we'd think, "And better gear on our tanks and kiters, and maybe a few more people, and we've got him." It took us a long while -- a few months at least -- until we finally broke him down. We finally had the gear to handle the AEs and the adds, the AAs to deal the damage and keep the tank up, and enough kiters to keep the adds away from the rest of the raid for just barely long enough. I don't remember what items we got from that kill any more, but I'll remember the experience of taking him down with 27 friends for a long, long time.
[keith turkowski]: My favorite raid experience is probably the first time my guild beat Bazzt Zzzt on the 6th isle in Plane of Sky. It was our second day in the Plane of Sky and it had taken us the previous day just to reach that point. We began the careful process of killing the bees in controlled manner to make sure that as few of them would be up as possible when Bazzt Zzzt finally spawned. Because of the aggro radius and despawn timers, we had at best two solid attempts at killing Bazzt. Our plans were thrown into disarray when a foolish Druid killed the wrong NPC and caused Bazzt to spawn before we were ready. Fortunately we were able to recover and set up for a second attempt just outside of the aggro radius. Once we were ready, we went in with nukes blazing and after a quick and bloody battle Bazzt Zzzt was dead. Among the heaps of corpses, all that remained of our guild was a Magician, his pet, and an oom Druid who had managed to keep the pet alive with fast and furious heals. We logged in our camped Cleric, rezzed up and spent the rest of a very enjoyable day running around killing drakes on the 7th isle.
Curse: What's next for EverQuest? I mean, over the last 9 years players have defeated some fairly substantial foes and lore characters; everything from Gods to Kerafyrm -- a character that was rumored by many to be the destruction of Luclin for EQ2's lore. What can players expect to see in the future in terms of storyline, bosses, and even new features?
[rbarker]: Well the living Legacy promotion is obviously a big thing for us right now. We’ve also got a number of other plans in the works for some pretty big changes to the game. We’re not quite ready to talk about any of them just yet though. I can say that you’ll be seeing some pretty major storylines coming back around here in the fall again.
Curse: For players not familiar with the Energeian system, what exactly do power sources do? To an outsider it looks like "Just-another-augment," but is there something more to this system that sets it apart?
[kturkowski]: Energeiac “Power Sources” are equipped in the Power Source slot in the player inventory window and are used to power Energeiac armor that is equipped by a player. There are several types of power sources that players can acquire in the game that will improve the stats of Energeiac armor in different ways; some will give bigger boosts to hit points, mana, and other player stats. The amount of power granted by the power source to the items is dependant on the “purity” of the armor. Higher values of purity will grant a larger bonus, and the purity scales to match even the most powerful Energeiac power sources. Power sources have a limited charge that will slowly drain while they are equipped.
Curse: You recently made major changes to Alternate Advancement experience gain, as well as reduced the number of kills-per-level to gain levels post-50. Have you given any thought to reducing kills required pre-50 as well, to encourage new players and returning players to stick it out through the grind?
[JMash]: The changes made to the experience gain formulas applied to all levels between 1 and 70, but the most dramatic decrease in kills-per-level occurred between 51 and 70. The current implementation allows for solo players to gain a level as quickly as every 10 kills between levels 1 and 30, with that number increasing gradually to a level every 20 kills between 31 and 50.
Curse: In the same vein, finding groups can be difficult for returning players. What steps have been taken, and will there be further measures, to allowing reliable solo play for all classes when leveling up?
[rbarker]: We’ve actually just put some solo quests up on test that to help alleviate that specific problem. These quests are aimed at short play sessions or the time a player might spend LFG waiting for a group to come along. These quests can be completed once per day and will give better than average rewards for completion. We’re hoping these quests give players an opportunity to make some meaningful advancement even if they’re limited to short play sessions where getting a group can be especially difficult.
We'd like to thank the EverQuest team for taking the time to answer our questions. Hopefully the interview was informative for everyone reading! And at the same time, now that we've asked the EQ team their favorite encounter from EverQuest's long and storied history, what is yours? Feel free to share your EQ memories in the comments!
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