The Game Archaeologist and the NeverEnding Quest: A cozy chit-chat with Thom Terrazas

Welcome back to the Game Archaeologist's third week of our EverQuest expedition! So, OK, we lost a few valued members of our team crossing the wilds of Norrath, but who would ever think that 10 rats could be so vicious when out for vengeance? It comes with the territory, and really, it's well worth the loss of human life if we can educate just one soul on one of the most influential MMOs of all time. Their mothers will understand their sacrifice.

We've already taken a look at the highlights of EverQuest and the perspectives of several veterans of the game, which means this week we must be gearing up for an inside look into the machinations of grinding, hell levels, alternative advancement and DKP. For this, we struggled through the Swamp of Sony to find the ramshackle hut of Thom Terrazas -- and he was expecting us. A fight ensued, with many a chicken flung in anger, not to mention a few pokes in the eye, Three Stooges-style. But in the end, Terrazas capitulated and told us everything we wanted to know.

Thom Terrazas almost has all his SOE merit badges, having worked on Planetside, Vanguard and now EverQuest in various roles. I was curious -- what was it like to be handed the keys to not just a game, but a veritable institution? Hit the jump to see what Terrazas has to say about his favorite memories, the future of the game, and why EQ hit it out of the park in 1999.

The Game Archaeologist: Could you introduce yourself, your role at SOE and your history with EverQuest?

Thom Terrazas: My name is Thom Terrazas. I have been the Producer for EverQuest since May of 2009. Due to many of the questions being asked about times when I was not privy to the information, I have solicited information from a few respected members of the team to help answer these questions, most notably, Doug "Elidroth" Cronkhite, Alan "Absor" VanCouvering and Lydia "Zatozia" Pope.

My history with EverQuest starts back at beta, about six months before the launch of EverQuest on March 16th, 1999. I was a sports junkie then, having the time of my life testing games like Game Breaker and MLB for 989 Studios when I noticed a good portion of the department testing a 3-D Dungeons & Dragons-eque game.

At first look, it reminded me of my freshman year of high school when I saw people (nerds) at school playing Dungeons & Dragons. I just couldn't wrap my head around the concept of a Dungeon Master spouting off situations at a moment's notice without warning: "How the heck can a monster be jumping out at me right there? Everything was fine just a minute ago! You just don't like me and want me to die! I call bulls**t!"

Even though I had some of the same initial feelings about EverQuest as I did back in high school, I found myself drawn to the game the more I saw it. I began to ask questions until I did the unthinkable: I asked the tester if could get an account to play the game and help "test." Who was I kidding? I just wanted to play! I began to think: Was I becoming a nerd too? Holy Smokes!

I don't think I've ever considered myself a nerd, and most people that know me probably will attest to that. They'd probably say I'm more of a dork than anything else. Needless to say, I started to play EverQuest, and I eventually got my little brother a job at 989 Studios where he began to play the game with as much interest as I had -- and he was probably more of a sports junkie as I was. He and I would carpool into work together, and we started to find ourselves coming in earlier and staying later just to play it. Essentially, we were hooked.

When EverQuest launched, I was working in the customer service department as a Game Master and moved onto manage the technical support team. Eventually I was the Director of Customer Service, overseeing in-game and technical support teams. During that time, I played EverQuest consistently through the next three expansions (Ruins of Kunark, Scars of Velious and Shadows of Luclin). I left customer service around 2004 to work in game development, and in 2009 I came back to EverQuest as the Producer -- the Circle of Life!

Why do you think EQ clicked so strongly with players to become the dominant MMO of the early 2000s?

When EverQuest launched it was a revolution in gaming. A three-dimensional fantasy game that played a lot like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign merged with a fantasy computer game. It tripped every gamer-geek nerve. Computer game, roleplaying game, amazing technology -- it was challenging and rewarding, and you could do it in your underwear... or not. It was the first time ever that you could really be in the world. Other games let you play in their world, but in EverQuest you truly lived in the world of Norrath.

The reason it remained dominant was the way that it made relationships. To be really successful you needed help; the community had to work together to figure out how defeat challenges. They did this in two ways. In the game, they grouped together with people and found some that they liked. They would seek those people out and share experiences with them, and together they would beat enemies they could never handle alone. This is the part most people are aware of.

The second part was the internet. There were a lot of tricks and tests in the original game that were sometimes frustratingly hard to figure out. Quests would be so vague that it took a larger community to figure them out. So information sites came into existence. The EQ community worked together to build up information they needed to figure out epic quests, trade skill recipes, raid mechanics and even the best way to divide loot in a guild. When a community can look to see the result of all their hard work and how it helps all those that came after, it really forms a bond.

In short, it was the community as much as the game.

In your opinion, what was the best EQ expansion and why?

Hands down, Planes of Power. It was the most epic-feeling of all expansions, allowing players to explore the planes of the gods and introducing large-scale raiding and alternate abilities. Some of those encounters may never be equaled -- EverQuest set a benchmark for raiding and still does in many ways today.

What did the team do right from day one?

Considering the massive challenge of building something that had never been done before with technology that in some cases didn't even exist yet, the most impressive thing is that they built it and it worked. They also created a world that made people's jaws drop when they saw the landscape for the first time. I had the same reaction and still get the nostalgia rolling through my brain when I visit the original zones.

There were a bevy of systems that were uniquely and successfully created. The faction system, the starting areas of each race, grouping with other players, the layout of the world and the depth of the lore are just to name a few.

What should the team have done differently from day one?

First off, they should have discovered my raw ability early on and brought me on the project sooner! To be honest, everything created back then was fairly iconic, and giving any of it a negative spin just doesn't do it much justice. I would like to punt on this question as I can't really think of anything they could have done differently at that time.

What is one of your favorite behind-the-scenes stories about EQ?

Oh wow! There are plenty of stories but probably only a handful that I can share. OK, here's one: When I was a young pup of a Game Master (GM), my job was to go around the game and help customers with issues they experienced inside the game. Players would be greeted with this well-equipped avatar of myself in-game, but what they did not see were a lot of fun-loving pranksters sitting alongside of me, elbow to elbow. We had a few GMs that would log into the game un-announced and would play pranks on each other.

So one time, while I was helping a customer in front of me, my co-worker logs in and kills me in game. The customer was standing there and scratching their head, saying "What the heck just happened?" Realizing what my co-worker had done, I logged back into my character and had to hike back to where my corpse and loot it, all while "naked" in the eyes of the customer. By that time, the customer was laughing his butt off, while telling all his friends in the game. Embarrassed and now laughing myself, I finished helping the customer.

This happened a few times in the early days and sometimes was the much needed levity to break the tension at work. I will not admit to tomfoolery myself, and I will not admit getting them back by launching their avatars across the zone while not logging into their server. Nahhh... that wouldn't be proper to do that. Needless to say, a lot more logging of events entered the game, and most of those shenanigans stopped. Most.

What is it like working on a 12-year-old game with all of these fresh MMO faces out there?

It's pretty gratifying. It's also amazing to think that we're working on the game that advanced the gaming industry for many other games. Had EverQuest not been created, it's not a stretch to say that other games may not have come to fruition.

What would you say is EverQuest's greatest legacy?

The large scale raids and those fresh MMO faces you mentioned before.

If someone asked you why he should give EQ a try today, how would you convince him that it's worth his time?

EverQuest isn't a stodgy old game just because it's been around a while. It has evolved over time and has contributed to some of the evolution in the industry just about every year. For example, the EverQuest housing system might be the best one on the market right now. I'd also show them videos and screenshots of our newer zones and NPCs. It's not the blocky game it was in '99. We innovate gameplay as well and still produce some of the best content out there.

If you want to play a game with great gameplay functionality, where tactics and strategy play a key role in defeating encounters, giving you and your guildmates a sense of accomplishment, then EverQuest is the game for you.

Why did SOE proceed with EverQuest II instead of giving EverQuest a full makeover?

That is probably a question for the big guys upstairs, but I'll try to answer your question with a question: Would you change a game with a lot of happy players in it? I don't think I would either. EverQuest was still very popular when EverQuest II was being created, and it continues today. If it's not broken, leave it alone.

What are some of the challenges of running two (three with EverQuest Online Adventures, four with the upcoming EverQuest Next) EverQuest MMOs simultaneously?

It's not as challenging as people would think it would be. While EQ, EQII and EQOA share much of the same core lore, they take place at different points in Norrath's history. Also, the gameplay style for each game is different enough that the games don't generally attack the same audience. EQ Next is still in its early days of development so it's hard to compare it to the other games just yet.

We have a pool of experienced designers with a lot of history working on the game world to draw from. It's great to be able to call someone who's on EQII and ask them what they think about something.

Will we ever see a free-to-play model a la EverQuest II Extended with EQ?

Excellent question! OK, I wasn't going to say anything but I can honestly say that we are not working on a F2P model for EverQuest. That's really all I can say about it... at this time.

Thank you Thom! And if any of the rest of you would like to pass along one of your favorite EQ memories for a future column, send an email (100 words max, please) to justin@massively.com.

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.