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Exploring Seeds of Destruction with the EverQuest design team

Michael Zenke

Sony Online Entertainment's Fan Faire event is in full swing, and John Smedley's community address this evening has been the epicenter of news for SOE MMO players. New expansions for EverQuest and EverQuest II are freshly announced, and we've already talked out the EQ2 expansion with its senior producer. Join us now for another chat, this time with the heads of the EverQuest development team. EQ's Senior Producer Clint Worley and Lead Designer Ryan Barker chatted extensively with us about the new content.

Talk of a level increase, all-new zones, old zones revamped, and tons more awaits you below the cut. Click on through!
Well met, fellow Norrathian! Make sure to check out all of our coverage of the next EverQuest II expansion, The Shadow Odyssey as well as Seeds of Destruction, the next expansion to EverQuest!

Clint Worley: Seeds of Destruction is something we had a lot of fun with. Players have been playing these games for a long time now, both EQ and EQ II. Any time we do anything nostalgic, or hearken back to older story lines the players really enjoy that. That's something we really wanted to focus on with this expansion. Ryan can get into the lore with that better.

Ryan Barker: The overarching storyline is actually sort of a combination of a lot of the past expansions. The major themes are from the Omens of War storyline and the PoP storyline. The dischord forces are a malicious group coming out of an alternate reality, one based on a sort of discord force. Meanwhile Norrath is based more on an ordering force. They're trying to take over the world, destroy it, and suck all of the energy out of it essentially.

They've tried this a couple of times and failed, but this time they've figured out that they have a way to go back in time and mess with Norrath's history. That's because of some things that happened during the PoP expansion with the Plane of Time; some of the things that happened there caused the timeline to be weakened, and Norrath's continuum is now in flux. They're entering into big points in Norrath's history, trying to change things so that their invasions would eventually succeed. New ones, that is, even if past ones didn't succeed.

The expansion opens, then, with the end of the world. You're looking at the destroyed world of Norrath, and there are all these portals. There's a starscape, like an imploding sun ... there are asteroids. Basically it is complete destruction. You realize there are outside forces at work that caused some of this to happen. To prevent it you have to go back through the portals to critical points in time to fix what happened in the past.

Towards the end of the expansion you're actually going to head into discord's realm, to take the fight against this invasion to their turf. You take them on and –ostensibly – beat them.

The level cap is being moved to 85 with this expansion; is that cap going to be hit primarily by working on this new content?

Ryan: It will be a combination of old and new. We've got five new levels, we have content for the 80-85 range, but I'm sure players will return to some of the content they're already familiar with to hit that cap. We have all new spells for the 80-85 range, though, and they'll all be available through the expansion.

Clint: I know a lot of people have the stereotype that everyone playing EQ is at max level, but actually there are a lot of people who are down in the low 60s or high 50s. We are raising the level cap, and that's going to directly impact the people that are maxed out, but there is still a ton of content for the players that aren't at the max level.

Can you describe some of the new spells or AAs that players will be getting their hands on?

Ryan: I actually don't have a lot of that information in front of me. Some of my guys are working on that right now, but it's still in development so I don't have much of that with me right now. A lot of that might change in Beta anyway. Talking about that right now will likely be premature.

Twenty new zones seem like a big chunk of new content – how many of those are going to be the reimagined old content, and how many will be all-new areas?

Ryan: I'd say it is about two-thirds reimagined old content and a higher percentage of that is stuff the players would have been familiar with from the lore but may not have seen before in-game. One of the more famous ones is the invasion of the Plane of Earth by Rallos Zek. That's been floating around the lore for a long time, but you've never been able to see it happen. Players know what it is but they haven't actually seen it before. Another zone is the Ogre capital city. You get to see the height of the Rallosian Empire as it was. They have a lot of slave-trade going on, lots of magical things going on. It's a huge place with intrigue and spying and events ... it's going to be a new experience for players to see a big empire like that at its peak.

Then you have a couple of zones that are the invasion of the Plane of Earth. We've had Plane of Earth in the past, of course, but these are completely new zones. Old themes, but with completely different areas of the zone explorable.

For each of you, what is your favorite area of the expansion?

Ryan: For me, I really like the Field of Bone battle. That's where Jaled'Dar and the Sebilsian Iksar Empire fought it out in Kunark. That basically determined the fate of the continent and subsequently most of the world. I think that one is really interesting; I've always liked the Iksar lore, the Kunark lore, and so I find that one really fun.

Clint: On my side Blackburrow looks great, Surefall glade, Qeynos ... they're the old throwbacks, where players are going to run around in these areas and see them as a new version of the launch versions of those areas from back in 99. It's a cool twist on how everything got started.

Access to all of the previous expansions is something you offered with the last expansion, and you're doing it again with Seeds of Destruction. Why do you feel it is important for players who are buying the newest expansion have all of that previous content?

Clint: When I came onto the project two years ago, I was coming from the console world. The first thing I did when I joined the project was, I went out to a retail store and I wanted to buy the most recent EQ expansion. What I found was that –depending on what store I went to – I'd find an expansion that was two years old. Then I'd go into another store and find the most recent expansion, and in a third I'd find something even older than the first one.

It dawned on me that I needed to work with the team, our PR and marketing people, to put out an all-in-one offering. If people just buy "EverQuest", they're buying the whole experience. We're getting away from those individual expansion things. Now when you buy the product, no matter what level you are, if you're starting for the first time or if you've been playing for nine years, you get everything in one box. You don't have to worry about missing out on something.

Nothing sucks more than going out and buying something for $30 thinking you have the most recent content only to find you need to go drop more money to get up to date. That's just not where we want to be.

To that point, with the Living Legacy promotion, all the previous content was gifted to the returning players. Our understanding is that the promotion went really well for your team. Can you comment about how the promotion has impacted EverQuest?

Clint: It's been very positive. A lot of people have played EQ over the years. There are a lot of people that still play, and there are people who have walked away to play other games. We wanted to tap back into the memories people had of the game. We offered content for current players with some new and unique raid content, and then we went back in and addressed some of the other zones to appeal to mid-level players. For returning players or all-new players, we offered some interesting newbie gear to make use of.

Overall I think it shows that despite EverQuest having been around for some time, people still have fond memories and given a chance Norrath is still really appealing.

The big 'back of the box' feature is the new Mercenary system. Can you describe how that will work?

Ryan: Essentially you'll be able to go to sort of "Mercenary Merchants", which we'll call something else, but there will be guys hiring out Mercs for you in various towns. Plane of Knowledge, the big cities; there might be unique Mercenaries in specific places. You'll be able to hire an NPC that will take a spot in your group and fight alongside you using an AI that you have some interaction with. You can pick targets and tell them who the main tank is, that sort of thing. They'll fight right alongside you much like a player would.

We're aiming this at players who have problems filling out an entire group, or solo players who would like to take on some content that they otherwise wouldn't be able to handle. Either way they can hire one of these guys and jump into harder stuff. That's the basics of the system.

When you say "fighting alongside you" are you talking purely melee classes or will there be healers / casters as well?

Ryan: We have a selection of classes, for launch we're talking about having tank and healing classes. We're going to have a lot of variations along those lines between the two archetypes. We're building a system that will allow for more than that in the future, but for now we're only planning on having those two at launch. We'll expand it after the expansion is released, to fill in some other roles.

We felt with tanks and healers, those are the two most critical points for a group. If you can't find a healer and a tank you're going to have a hard time taking on pretty much everything – so we wanted to address that.

What are these mercenaries going to look like? Will they primarily be PC races, or will there be some fun NPC races for hire as well?

It can be just about anything we have in global memory. Anything we've used an illusion for, anything we've done with familiars. To start it will mostly be PC races, but there will definitely be some non-PC races that will be available – they might be the special hires you can only get in certain places. Blackburrow seems like a logical place to hire a gnoll, for example.

Clint: With the added success we've had from the TCG, Legends of Norrath, and some of the promotions we have planned with the coming year, we're planning on leveraging the mercenaries in the coming year. For example, there might be an event where you can only get that mercenary from the event for a limited time.

Would mercenaries be showing up as loot in Legends of Norrath as well?

Clint: We've definitely talked about it, but we haven't done anything to support that yet. For the expansion we have our plates full, but there's no reason to rule that out. It seems like the next logical step.

Do you see EverQuest and Legends of Norrath blurring the lines any further in the future? I know the LoN developers have been really excited to work with you on the lore and expansion content. How is that going from your end, and do you hope to do more of that in the future?

Clint: I think it's interesting, because the way Legends of Norrath is packaged – it's not EQ1 or EQ2 specific. Working on that is always a creative challenge because although both games have EverQuest in the title they both really have their own storylines. Anytime there is an opportunity we like to take advantage of it, and we're actively trying to find those opportunities. There are definitely times we want to be on the same page but there are creative hurdles. It's definitely something we try to do every chance we get.

There's a lot of work that and collaboration between EQ and EQ2 to make sure the rewards are balanced across the two titles. We don't want to get into a situation where the EQ2 guys are really bent out of shape because our loot is so much cooler, or vice versa.

From this blogger's perspective, it seems like you guys come out ahead with all those awesome mounts ...

Clint: See, and from our perspective we're always giving the EQ2 guys a hard time because they have so much more customizable options. The paintings and apartment items are so cool. We give them a hard time for that and they give us a hard time for our mounts.

This is the first expansion where the team has had a full year to work on the content. Is there anything that you think has particularly benefited from that extra time?

Ryan: I don't think there was anything specific that we were able to do in a year that we wouldn't have been able to do in six months, but the difference is the level of polish we have here. The content here is a lot stronger and more cohesive, we've had a lot of time to pull it together and make it fit. From a lore and balance perspective both, it's been great.

Clint: Yeah, I think it's important to note that the goal of going to one expansion a year wasn't to add more stuff. The goal of only doing one expansion a year was to make the expansions better. We were putting out expansions so fast before that we were tripping over our own shoelaces. Ultimately our polish is what the players will judge. You could have twice as much content, or you could have a product that the players really respond to. We think we have a product they're going to respond to.

Thank you both, very much, for your time.

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