It's been quite a weekend.
SOE loves their game. Almost the entire staff of designers, artists, programmers, customer service representatives, and management are former players who joined SOE because they love the game. Every attendee of the guild summit I spoke with never felt that SOE fed them a line. Only twice did Brenlo hold his tongue in response to my questions; one when asked about SOE's plan with IGE and later when asked about focus effects above 65, a subject not yet decided. Every developer spoke clearly and in detail with every question I asked.
"Gush on, valiant Fanboi!" you shout, but let me reveal the darker side. Though Smedley said that the bulk of active EQ players were below level 50 I only know of one or two attendees of the sixty that play characters below level 65 and both hardly play anymore. I learned on the first night that SOE developers have a private forum with raiding guild leaders to discuss raid encounter tuning. I can't help but wonder why no such forum for single-group players exists.
After nearly ten hours of focus groups and future discussions Brenlo handed out a list of twenty issues SOE would review and implement very soon. Of these twenty, twelve of them were raid specific and most of the rest were general fixes. Only one focused on casual content: a solo instanced encounter of some sort.
Many single group issues came up, however, and SOE reacted positively. I left at least half a dozen copies of Loral's Evil Agenda in the hands of SOE employees including Robert Pfister, Executive Producer of Everquest (who had already read it but politely accepted it before wrapping the remains of his hot dog in it and casually tossing it over his shoulder).
John Smedley stated first that Gates of Discord's release was SOE's worst mistake in five years. He personally apologized. I spent my day job listening to managers who speak often and say little. Smedley was the opposite. His introduction gave the statistic that most active EQ players are below 50 and revealed that EQ and EQ2 development teams receive royalties for their games individually. This dispells the theory that SOE is secretly trying to wean us off of EQ and onto EQ2. The EQ team wants to keep us playing as long as possible. Rod Humble augmented this address stating that while voices often state that Velious is SOE's best expansion (I still think LDON is), Ykesha is the best selling expansion. Many attendees attribute this to shared bank space, but I'm not so sure.
Smedley revealed the failed plan to bring out level 65 to 70 during the fifth year anniversary two months ago and Brenlo confirmed that SOE designed Gates of Discord with level 70 in mind. This explains a lot of the expansion's difficulty. I spoke with just about anyone who would listen about the overly long duration of sewer, Vxed, and Tipt trials and the designers agreed that four hours for an often failed event was too long. Whether it's fixed before we see level 70 or not is hard to say. SOE designed Gates to be very hard.
Later I asked Smedley to confirm the rumor that we would have new PC models before the end of 2004 and he confirmed it. SOE is outsourcing the project to another company, an act that vexes SOE artists. It's their baby and they want to do the models but there simply isn't the time, a statement we heard often. The developers who spoke at the initial meeting stated that they want and expect Everquest to stand up graphically to other current massive online games including EQ2. The graphic update we battled through recently helps us get there.
The shifting number of allowed players in raid encounters between Planes of Power, Lost Dungeons, and Gates of Discord frustrates a lot of guilds and leads to many players quitting. Everquest's designers stated that 54 is the new official number for future Everquest raids.
Though focused on raid content, all love of the single-group gamer is not lost. Brenlo confirmed that new high-end elemental level equipment will update the LDON adventure merchants. Single-group hunters will be able to gear up for Gates of Discord content without Time or Elemental access. Omens of War includes only one flagged zone though certain encounters may be locked. This resembles Kunark, Velious, and Luclin expansions where most of the content was open to all players. Omens of War includes zones for all players tuned to help characters level up to 70.
SOE based the high cost of AAs on the experience found in the Plane of Fire, a zone many single-group hunters cannot yet reach. While Omens zones will offer experience zones to help non-flagged hunters, SOE should up the experience in Tipt, Vxed, and the sewers closer to Fire than they are now. The difficulty in reaching these zones and the difficulty in the encounters warrants the experience boost.
While SOE designed Epic 2.0s to be the best class items available to the most powerful raiders, Epic 1.5s will be available to high level players and require only one or two groups to complete.
It was an amazing weekend filled with the obnoxious rings of cell phones, one so loud that its owner cried out to his deity in shock and horror. The icy glare of the guild leader from the dark and frightening Rallos Zek server gazed over us bluebies like we had green target circles under our feet. Twice I became stuck between Gilfalas of Paladin's of Norrath and Raaj of The Steel Warriors who crashed together in debate over Defensive.
Ryan Robinson, the Sheriff of Norrath and customer support supervisor told the story of a trade scam buried under over thirty transfers from different accounts that took two weeks to track down, but they did. This fellow needs his own Stephen Bocco police drama. 40% of the 47,000 petitions the CS department receives monthly are lost items and 70% of these are scams of some sort. A lot of CS's day is chasing ghosts.
Here's a brief summary of the things I found most interesting:
- We will have new PC models by the end of the year.
- New high-end high-cost items will be available on LDON adventure merchants.
- Gates was designed for level 70, thats why its so hard.
- Rallos Zek is a chaotic server of horror and villainy.
- Gilfalas just wants "a little something!"
- Omens of War has only one locked zone, the rest of it is open to all players.
- While Epic 2.0s are for the uberist of the ubers, Epic 1.5s are available to the rest of us.
- Some sort of instanced solo adventure is in the works.
- The Omens of War task system, a small 30 minute quest system, will be available to levels 20 and above.
- There will be a quest for Gates of Discord spells, though details aren't available.
- Chat channels cross over between Everquest and Everquest 2.
- The development team wishes they never called it Everquest 2.
- Soon augments can be removed and replaced on other items.
- Smedley loves pirates.
- The graphic engine update we went through will help EQ stay graphically competitive with other MMOGs.
There are dozens of other reports of the summit including posts on Steel Warriors, Paladins of Norrath, The Safehouse, GU Comics, The Rune, Caster's Realm, The Druid's Grove and a lot of places I haven't found yet. Druid's Grove even has pictures including some unfortunate ones of your fearless writer, Loral (I'm the one in the black shirt on the right).
I received a lot of positive feedback from at least six other attendees I spoke with on the way back home and feedback from the postings above agree. SOE is working hard to improve Everquest and fix previous mistakes. Though not all of my agenda points were met; mainly what I wanted to hear was "Lost Dungeons 2 in December"; I am very happy with the direction things are going. I look forward to the next few months.
Our world is strong.
7 June 2004