We return from the towers of the south, leatherbound notebooks laden with rumors and gossip. Much information transferred on the thirty thousand year old network of voices and ears. Today we summarize the knowledge captured at the April 2006 Everquest Community Summit and Fan Faire.
During the first Everquest Summit panel, SOE revealed some details on the yet-unnamed twelfth Everquest expansion. This expansion will focus on all levels from level 1 to the max level, likely level 75 - a level cap increase over the current level 70. The expansion will attempt to bring new players to the game by offering entire new lines of content and progression from the very first levels all the way through to the end.
The twelfth expansion will include quests and missions for all levels and will mostly focus on large zones over the smaller instanced missions of expansions like Dragons of Norrath and Depths of Darkhollow. With this focus on larger un-instanced zones, there will be more base content than the last few expansions but with no lack of quests. The intent with this focus is to get more players playing together in the same area rather than separating players out into groups of six and isolating them from other groups.
This expansion will include a full copy of the base Everquest game so with nothing but this single purchase alone, a player can begin the game at level one and progress all the way to level 75. The intent of the progression in this new expansion is to even allow this player a chance to reach the highest power and most challenging content of high-end raids. All of this resides in a single package.
This expansion will also include new high-end raid content at and above the current high-end raid zones of Deathknell and Demiplane of Blood. Players of all levels will likely have new hunting areas available to them, regardless of their level.
As mentioned, the new expansion will likely increase the level cap to level 75. This will give high-end players a reason to hunt regularly for experience and will also increase the base power level of all high-end players above current level 70 limits. Content once inaccessible except by those in raid gear will become easier as players increase their base power by leveling to 75.
The expansion will also likely include new sets of Alternate Advancement points to further increase a high-level players power. Because of the abundance of high experience rewarding zones and the ease at which AAs can be earned at higher levels, the costs for these new abilities will be higher than previous expansions. One can remember the backlash against the high cost of AAs in Gate of Discord, but Norrath was a different place back then and with AAs coming at nearly one every fifteen minutes in instanced hunting zones like the Nest and the Hive, players will have little lack of places to earn them.
For the past few months and even years, some players have asked SOE to return them to the older world of Everquest, a world without the Plane of Knowledge and without instances, a world where the economy wasn't flooded with powerful items for low costs. SOE answered this request with a new upcoming "Progression" server.
This server will begin with all expansions disabled. Only the base game will be active, although any changes to the base game such as zone revamps and class changes will stay in place thus making this a "progression" server and not a "classic" server. As groups of players activate certain triggers, such as killing boss mobs in the old world, each expansion will become unlocked. For example, supposing that Nagafen and Vox are the trigger mobs for opening up Kunark, when groups of players kill these two dragons, Kunark will be unlocked. When they kill Venril Sather and Trakanon, Velious may become unlocked.
SOE hopes that this server will give players a new starting ground on even territory. No character transfers will be allowed. Players will earn the low-end items earned seven years ago and be forced to defeat encounters with much lower power than currently available on normal Everquest servers with all eleven current expansions.
It is not yet known whether this server will be popular or not. Even the developers within SOE differ as to how this new server should operate. Will players play in a game with limited transportation and long corpse recoveries? Will veteran players ignore their high-powered characters on normal servers for lower powered characters who fight for days to earn lower powered rewards? Only time will tell.
Currently, players who die leave behind corpses wearing all of the character's gear. Resurrections and corpse recovery vendors in the Guild Lobby can help players recover their equipment, but newer players who do not understand these systems or have access to clerics able to resurrect have a harder time with corpse recovery than high end raiders who simply wait for a resurrection or spend a very small percentage of their money for a corpse summon.
SOE plans to look further into this system and possibly develop a new way to handle death in Everquest. Possible changes include optional respawning with full equipment but leaving behind a naked corpse that must still be resurrected for experience, or waiting on a respawn to let a group or raid member resurrect a player without forcing a zone. Details of a new death system are still unknown but expect more information soon.
In relation to other current MMOs, Everquest has a large problem with player downtime. Characters who run out of mana or endurance at all levels of the game often have to sit for long periods of time to recuperate. Current games like Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft include a "combat state" system that understands when a player is in or out of combat.
SOE plans to build such a "combat state" system in Everquest. With this system in place, the game could see when a player has left combat and increase that character's regeneration of hitpoints, mana, and endurance to reduce the downtime a player faces when hunting at all levels of play.
SOE revealed more news of note and items of interest throughout the four day event.
With Rytan's departure as the spell guru, Prathun, the SOE designer known for designing high-end raid content, will take over spell development. Oshran, the designer behind Arcstone and the 70 spell missions in Depths of Darkhollow, will focus on new alternate advancement abilities as Rashere focuses on the overall design of Everquest.
Lead programmer Jamey Ryan is working on a dynamic reward system that will help solve the problem of players focusing on only the most rewarding content for experience or shards. As players focus their attention on one particular piece of content, the rewards will lower while the rewards on unused content will increase. This will help push players to try a variety of content rather than focus on only the most rewarding content for the lowest effort.
SOE revealed a new more traditional revamp to Nektulos Forest. Many complained that the existing revamp of Nektulos was too rigid in design, looking more like a movie prop than a forest. The new Nektulos follows the philosophy that a zone revamp should look much like the original. It includes real trees and the same general layout as the original Nektulos zone.
SOE sees the introduction of destructible objects, traps, and auras as the beginning of a more dynamic and interactive world in Everquest. Like the features released in previous expansions, expect to see these features used to create more dynamic and interactive environments, quests, and storylines.
The performance problems found in Elddar forest are due to strange effects of trees. SOE plans to look into these problems and perhaps fix them with a programming change.
Spell Research will likely be further improved to include spells from older expansions such as LDON and Omens of War.
The EQ Players website will likely include many more features. These features include guild roster lists in XML, a better system for guild websites and guild websites for EQ Live, and a new skinnable character page. Other more ambitious efforts were described as well but are likely to come out later as these features require in-game development and further discussions between the EQ Players developers and the EQ Live team.
Throughout the long weekend I sat with many of Everquest's current designers and programmers. They stayed up late and talked openly with their fans about all aspects of the game from large topics such as the new upcoming expansion to small ones such as spell balance between druids and wizards. Once again it was clear how much the SOE development team cares about their game. The Everquest development team continues to make bold and sometimes dangerous moves as it evolves over the years. The mission system, instancing, monster missions, spirit shrouds, the upcoming Progression server, and a new expansion built for players of all levels, all show how far the design team is willing to go to keep this venerable game fresh in the minds of both new and old players.
We have many new adventures ahead of us.
13 April 2006