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Exclusive interview with the developers of Legends of Norrath

Michael Zenke

The next set of Legends of Norrath cards is slated to release just next week. Oathbreaker will be the final set in the 'first block' or 'year one' of the SOE-Denver production. To get some information on Oathbreaker, new raids, and future plans, we sat down to talk with Kyle Heuer, Associate Producer for the game, and Tom Lischke, Producer at the Sony Online Entertainment studio in Denver.

Join us as we talk about raid play, tournaments, some exciting plans for integrating Legends of Norrath with EverQuest and EverQuest 2, and a few hopeful words about the future of loot mounts for EQ2 players. Also make sure to head over to our exclusive gallery of Oathbreaker loot cards!


How does the Denver team feel about where Legends of Norrath is right now? How do you see the players feeling about the game?

Kyle Heuer: We feel pretty comfortable. There are obviously some things we'd like to improve here or there. As far as the game side of it, we monitor the tournaments and gameplay like that and we're seeing pretty good deck diversity right now. We want to create a little more parity here and there, but overall things are looking pretty good.

Tom Lischke: We've been pretty good about giving players events on the weekends. One of the things we're looking to improve is the weekday experience. We're looking at what players do when they show up on a weeknight looking to play. We have our raid experience, the co-operative gameplay there, which is a great blend with the MMO experience. Four players vs. our AI opponents. Free play is one way to call it, but we're calling them scripted events. Right now we're looking at sort of a month-long event where you can do a little bit every day. We want to be able to provide something for players to do every day, not just the weekend tournaments.

Kyle: The response on that event has been really good. We've been seeing over 100 people on pretty much every night, it's been really well received.

You mention the number of people playing the game; how many people do you feel are making the jump from the MMOs to the TCG? Do you have a feel for what percentage of the players are participating in Legends gameplay?

Tom: We get a pretty large sampling. We like to do events for the MMO players. They get to come in and experience the EverQuest lore through a sort of alternate viewpoint in Legends of Norrath. We've got the Living Legacy promotion going on and we're part of that, for example. We regularly get big waves of players that come through and take a look. We have a core group that regularly plays the game as well. That's our goal, is to provide content for both of these groups, give them things to do.

What is the Legends of Norrath connection to the Living Legacy event? We've mostly heard about the MMO events involved there.

Kyle: We created a special scenario that ties into the Living Legacy storyline. We give returning players a brand new deck, and you can jump right into the Scenario. It's sort of a beginner-level adventure, and if you defeat the Scenario you get a unique and special loot card and some XP potions to take back into your game. That's been pretty heavily sampled and so far it's been well received.

The intersection between the trading card game and the MMOs from a lore/story perspective is very interesting; do you have hopes to do more crossover events like this in the future?

Tom: We're right in the middle of ramping up for what we're calling our 'second block', it's year two of our card sets. That'll be sets five through seven for us. We're working with the EQ and EQII teams to really get wound up inside their expansions later this year. We're looking at the stories they're telling and the content they're providing, and we want to be really well integrated with that. That's really our best source of material for those sets, the new expansions.

Kyle: It's interesting, too: the first set in our second block is going to come out before either of the expansions, so we have the chance to tell some of their stories. We can lead into their releases. It's a way for the MMO players to sample what's coming from a lore perspective, as well some of the mechanics that will be coming down the pipe. We can give players sort of a different take, our take on it. That's a high priority. We think we did okay with the first block of cards, but we feel that with more time ... we've been part of SOE longer now, our relationships are stronger, and we're going to take advantage of that. They're looking forward to having us involved in their stories, and we're thrilled to participate in theirs. It's a really big deal for us.

The next block of cards will start, then ... sometime late summer?

Tom: Our next release, Oathbreaker, is next week. That's the last set of the first block. We haven't released the date for the first set of the second block, but it'll be late summer or early Fall and we're planning to have it precede the MMO expansions by a little bit. Not by much, but a little bit. Just enough time to get through those Scenarios.

Looking at the first block of cards, are there any classes or types of gameplay that you didn't have the chance to address as much as you wanted to?

Kyle: We've kind of done a first take on every class during this block, and I think every block will pretty much be like that. Each time we'll try to sort of expand on our versions of the EQ and EQ2 classes. Every block will have a fresh look, I think. We've done lots of cards already, obviously, but with the sheer amount of content to tackle here there's plenty of ground left to cover. We'll have a better sense of what we're taking on as we get closer to the end of the summer. There are so many possible ideas to explore, you know, we can only pursue one of them in each card set.

The raid experiences you have been offering players recently are very interesting. What prompted that style of gameplay? What prompted that development?

Kyle: We're going for a couple of different things there. First and foremost it's about the collaborative style of gameplay. Normally in a card game it's all about the human opponent. Raids offer an alternative, the chance to play cooperatively against an AI opponent. Our computer opponents are pretty sophisticated, they offer a good challenge. We also wanted to provide something sort of unique.

You don't see this style of gameplay very often in a card game. It also offers that ability to take down a giant monster – always a really fun thing. Raids are a very important part of the game for us. We've got a couple of things we're working on behind the scenes to elevate the gameplay of the raids as well as the importance of the raids within Legends of Norrath. We're not ready to talk about that just yet.

We're coming out with a new raid in conjunction with Oathbreaker. I believe the announcement of the Chel'drak raid was just made on the site the other day. We've spent more time on this raid than the past events. It's going to be really polished, a really challenging raid. I think this is the most challenging raid we've come out with.
Tom: Yeah, I initially thought it was going to be a pushover. When it first goes live, we sit there and watch how players take on the event. The last two raids we put out there were knocked down pretty quickly. This one I think is going to take a bit longer. We're sitting there kind of cheering for the raid boss the first time, you know, trying to see how people take it on.

It's different from the other raids, mechanically speaking. We're going to make players approach this from a different perspective, use different tactics. We've also got another raid that's coming out at Gen Con, where our world championships are held. Our guys are just polishing that right now, getting it ready. So we have two new raids coming soon.

The Gen Con raid is interesting – is that one going to be a bit easier, perhaps aimed at people who haven't played the game before?

We haven't finalized the difficulty level. We want to see what the player response to Chel'drak is, then we'll make the decision from there. We're going to have a lot of walk-up traffic, so that's definitely one thing to keep in mind.

Legends of Norrath's participation with events like Gen Con is interesting. So much of MMO gaming is cerebral, all online. Do you see yourselves as providing a sort of point of contact for these worlds? A way for players to participate in events and also have a more physical experience with their games?

We're looking to take the best of both genres, MMO and TCG, and put them together. They click really well, we've found. There's a lot to be found in that traditional market. Integrating it with the MMO has really opened up new options we haven't done with previous games. Raid play, scenarios, getting inside the lore, it's all very new for us. It's a interesting too, to see a specific path, a known quantity to play against. It's not something you see very often in the TCG space and I think it's been a great marriage.

We do pretty well on the MMO side, and we're at our best at Gen Con. The tournament there is a very traditional experience for TCG players. We have these great ideas there that we think will pull players together into competitive play, and get people really interested in the game.

We know you don't have a lot of details nailed down for games like Free Realms and The Agency, but do you see this 'card concept' being important to MMOs in general in the future? Or do you see this as something that SOE in particular is poised to take advantage of?

Tom: From product to product it will always be a challenge to figure out what the right integration between TCG elements and MMO elements. It can be as deep as developers want it to be. The earlier we're involved in a project, the more opportunities we have as developers. TCG elements could be as deep as a crafting system, or even another path of advancement aside from leveling. Or it could be like it is in EQ and EQ2, where it's something fun that players can do on the side while they're waiting to do more traditional gameplay. We're looking at a number of different ways to use these mechanics in future games.

It depends on a lot of things, right? Traditional MMO interests vs. action elements vs. strategy elements, but there's a lot of ways to go about this. It's a little bit of a juggling act, but there's a lot of ground that hasn't been covered here yet. We're in a really good position to do something unique with this.

Of the new loot cards coming in Oathbreaker, which one is your favorite?

Kyle: For me it's the Gnomeland Securities M.A.D. That thing is great.

Tom: That's a favorite, but we're trying a few things new with loot cards. I'm interested to see how that pans out.

Is there any chance we'll see some new mount types for EverQuest 2? The EverQuest folks have been getting some really interesting stuff.

Kyle: We're looking to do some overhauls to the loot in the second block of cards, so ... perhaps ... you might see some content along those lines in the future?

When you set out to do Legends of Norrath, did you anticipate the level of response the game has gotten?

Kyle: We've been pleasantly ... not surprised, but it's been an interesting experience. It's been especially interesting bringing microtransactions to a group that traditionally is very set against that model. We want to make sure we do it right, that we provide value for the players. They can sample it for free, try it out. We want to make sure that people spend their time playing the TCG and having fun.

Thank you both, very much, for your time.

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