EverQuest Online Adventures: The Discussion
One of the first topics discussed in the round-table discussion was the hardware. How exactly did they manage to create a seamless world without some large source of client side storage? Rod Humble, executive producer and game designer for EQOA, admitted that the decision to develop the game without the HDD was one of the most challenging aspects of bringing the world of Norrath to the PS2. "We were uncertain of how much we were able to do with the (PS2) memory card, whether we would be able to patch to it or not." They certainly managed to overcome that challenge and the 4MB memory card space required to play the game is evidence to that fact. Mr. Humble admitted that, at one point, they almost didn't think it was possible, especially when they decided to create EQOA as a seamless world instead of the zones common to the PC version of EQ. When asked about the limitations of working with the PS2, Humble admitted that besides the lack of a large storage device, the only significant hurdle was the limited amount of video memory of the PS2 compared to that of the PC. Benjamin Bell, producer of EQOA, stated that the only content they are unable to add to the game is art, but assured us that with a world spanning over 323 square miles, players had only seen a fraction of the whole.
Curious about the setting and locale for EQOA, we turned to Jeremy Ellis, lead content designer, for details. Mr. Ellis stated that EQOA is set in the same world as EverQuest, the land of Norrath. Except this is a much younger realm, taking place 500 years prior to the events of EQ PC. In this age, the Elves are leaving the continent and the Eldarr Forest is in the throws of gradual decay. Players familiar with EQ lore will witness many of the events that forged the Norrath of EQ PC. Mr. Ellis and the team also stated that events using live actors were planned for the future but could not disclose details at this time.
In discussing some of the gameplay changes necessary to make EQOA more of a console savvy experience instead of an extremely complex port of the original's mechanics, we spoke with Alex von Minden, community relations manager for EQOA. One of the most noticeable differences between EQ PC and EQOA is that parties are limited to four members instead of six. This was done to make playing the game easier for solo players as well as pairs. Mr. Humble as well as several of the other members of the development team stated that they wanted to make the game enjoyable for the single player as well as the team player. While soloing in many MMORPG's, including EQ PC, is extremely difficult, the team wanted to try to accommodate those kinds of players in EQOA. SOE expressed that soloing in EQOA will not be an easy task, but will be more manageable than the PC versions. As a community based game, EQOA was intended to bring players together, so naturally, survival and progress in the game will be much easier in a group. The team noted that they had to keep in mind the fact that the console could be turned on and off at any time when designing the game. While players may require hundreds, perhaps even thousands of hours to fully experience the world SOE has created, the developers haven't lost sight of the casual gamer. Aware that many players won't be able to pull thirteen hour marathons, SOE has designed a wide variety of quests for those with limited playing time and those who have time to kill. In fact, new content is planned for the very end of this month with several new class specific abilities and items for those players brave enough to challenge them. You can check the details here.
One of the major differences between EQOA and its DirectX sibling is the lack of player vs. player (PvP) combat. Benjamin Bell, producer and game designer for EQOA, stated that this decision was made to give players more of a cooperative-based community instead of one where new players live in fear of player character killers (PK'ers). Also, players won't be privy to the amount of damage their teammates dish out, instead, the only numerical data they'll ever see is their own. This was implemented to keep things simple for the console crowd and to prevent discrimination between seasoned and inexperienced players. Concerned parents will also be happy to note that EQOA also features a profanity filter that is continually updated as swearing shortcuts appear.
Players unfamiliar with EverQuest will find that the 13 available character classes fall into 4 archetypes: tanks who soak damage for the group, melee fighters who do direct damage with weapons, casters who do magical damage from range and cleric-type characters who are responsible for healing. While specialized, SOE emphasized that each class would be self sufficient enough to solo, but are terribly effective if used appropriately in a team.
Players in EQOA may have already noticed that enemy loot is fairly common and that magic items can actually be found off of common foes. The development team indicated that while rare and powerful monsters will usually drop incredible items, the majority of special treasures are region and enemy race specific. SOE hopes that by spreading out some of the more desirable items they will encourage players to venture out and explore Norrath and hopefully prevent the "camping" of rare enemies so prevalent in current PC MMORPGs. Also, since most items have level requirements for usage instead of the hated "nodrop" tag, there won't be any low-level characters using uber loot in this MMORPG. In the current state of the game, any member of a team can loot a vanquished enemy, though SOE has plans to handle looting order in groups to prevent players who "ninja" (stealthily stealing) items.
When asked about the progress of the existing playerbase in regards to world exploration, SOE were delighted to say that the players haven't even scratched the surface. Mr. Bell indicated that there are many things on the DVD-ROM that players wouldn't be able to see until SOE is ready to reveal them. Perhaps an upcoming patch?
One of the upcoming updates players will be seeing over the next few months will be the introduction of trade skills. SOE is very excited about giving players the ability to fashion their own items and gear and indicated that player-created items will be more effective and more valuable than those gotten from the in-game merchants. Mr. Bell indicated players would begin to see the first trade-skill abilities appear with their next major patch to the game in early April. Though before their introduction, players will be enjoying one of the first of several in-game pastimes: fishing. While no significant details were released about fishing, the dev team indicated they are looking at the fishing mini games of several console games for inspiration. When asked about in-game player housing, SOE stated that there were no plans at this time to include player homes in-game.
So far the EQOA development team and SOE has been thrilled to see a young and growing playerbase with no prior MMORPG experience come to the realization that they're playing in a persistent world. Stories of players sitting for several minutes just to watch the sun set in-game and the general sense of awe when players venture out past the confines of the starter cities has been a source of much joy for SOE and the EQOA team. Though the game, in its current form, is far from perfect, SOE stated that they are aware of some of the recent problems and plans to address most of these issues shortly. The next patch to the game should resolve most immediate player concerns.
Thus far, the EQOA appears to continue the phenomenon started years ago on the PC and only looks to further increase its influence. When asked about how many units of the game have sold thus far, Sean Kauppinen, PR specialist for SOE, stated that specific numbers could not be disclosed, but there were enough players in-game for them to warrant the recent purchase of an additional server. With a planned expansion to the current game (w00t!) and their current level of commitment to the existing playerbase, SOE's dedication to EQOA is testament to the phenomenon that is EverQuest.