Mobhunter: Note's from the West

I find myself with a moment to set quill to parchment and give you, dear reader, a glimpse at the treasures of the West. This is not the sort of treasure you may be used to, glittering gems, jewels, or plates of gold (I lost 20 bucks at the slots in about twelve seconds). I offer a far more valuable treasure: the golden vaults of knowledge.

Ok, enough metaphor. This article will act as a working set of notes as this year's Fan Faire in Las Vegas, June 2005, continues on. Keep an eye on this page for the latest notes and links to the articles and pictures of others.

Let us begin:

11:00 am, Friday 10 June:

The next expansion is called Depths of Darkhollow. It appears to be an underdark-ish expansion but details will be thicker during the official announcement on Saturday. The devs seem very excited about it and give the impression that they plan to take it in a new direction. One unattributed quote: "No other MMORPG has done this yet". We'll know more tomorrow. Oh yeah, John Smedley, CEO for SOE, does a mean Axel Rose impression.

The new tutorial was also a big topic. SOE plans to release the tutorial, a level 1 to 10 instanced zone with a variety of quests and missions, will be released in a single stand-alone format, both on CD and download. New players can sign up for a station account and play the tutorial on a special server known as "escape". New players can play up to level 10 without having to put in a credit card. The tutorial has all new artwork, mostly from DON but some unique models such as the Kobolds. This lets player get a good taste of EQ without having to commit anything more than download time.

This whole package will be known as "Escape to Norrath".

Gemdiver, the manager for Caster's Realm, has an excellent article on the EQ Community Summit including some great labeled pictures of the devs.

Kytheria from EQLive posted some excellent pictures from the Summit. If you look really closely you can see the top of my head.

At the present I can hear lord Brenlo mocking the players of the PvP tournament. The winner of the level 50 tournament walks away with a 42" plasma TV so I imagine the competition is fierce. Periodic release of lions into the arena helps keep people honest.

I have had many conversations with the EQLive developers including a couple of conversations with Craig Knapp, the Everquest producer. Craig has an excellent wide view of the game. He knows, as do the EQLive developers, what is important and what is not. Fun and community are paramount. Craig's enthusiasm for the "Escape to Norrath" trial and Rytan's work on the tutorial and the level 10 to 20 quests show their commitment to bring new players to EQ.

All of the developers seem quite excited about the announcement of the new expansion. No doubt, releasing the first information about an expansion like this to a live audience can be nervewracking.

1pm Thursday, 10 June

I posted some Las Vegas Fan Faire pictures. I will be posting more of these throughout the day as well.

2pm Thursday, 10 June

Rumors and whispers about the new expansion run wild.

There was a lot of discussion about cheating and hacking and general customer support issues - a topic that gives me an ice-cream headache. The programmers are building tools and techniques to trap a lot of the typical cheats. A lot of the summit reps felt that better reporting on the numbers of cheaters caught and banned would help scare away cheaters and help the rest of us see that things are getting done.

SOE mentioned that they were seeing a fair amount of people returning to EQ after some adventures out in EQ2 and WoW.

I have a couple more details on the "Escape to Norrath" package. Craig Knapp mentioned that the CD for the next expansion will include the 400 meg Escape to Norrath demo so that players can give the discs away. Any deals for distributing Escape to Norrath on CDs in magazines or hand-outs at retail chains are still under discussion. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see EtN passed out frequently on CDs.

SOE wants to make it as easy as possible for new players to get a hold of the demo, install it, and get playing without difficulty or invasive requests for credit cards. The trial also has an unlimited duration. This isn't a 10 day or 15 day trial. Players don't have to worry about installing it only when they have the most free time, players are free to play at their leisure before any commitment.

This is something that frustrated me with my purchase of WoW. When I first bought Warcraft I found it interesting (frustrating) that I had to enter a credit card number before I was even able to patch or play a single day. Aside from nice box-art I had no guarentee that I would like WoW at all (I ended up liking it a lot, but thats not the point). A limited trial of some sort helps me see what I am paying for, especially when I have already paid $50 for the retail box.

I have had excellent responses to both Loral's Evil Agenda, Las Vegas Edition and Loral's Evil EQ2 Agenda. It sounds like a few of these ideas have already been kicked around the SOE offices with positive responses. Some of them, like the Plane of Knowledge issues, are very contested even within the dev team. That is something we don't often realize. Many of the arguments we have about uber vs casual or class issues or models or the focus on knowledge all happen in the halls of SOE before we ever learn enough to debate them ourselves. The end result are decisions often built from the debates of many people, not just one person's single decision (even Smed).

Oops, another thing on Escape to Norrath. If you log into Test, you will see the new server-based newbie chat channels. The Escape server will be no different but nice folks, such as yours truly, are able to join that chat channel and help folks out from our live servers with a typical /join escape.newbie or whatever the channel happens to be named.

I suggested some sort of big-brother big-sister program and other folks chimed in by recommending that some system where helping newbies awards leadership experience.

Oops, sai Maddoc just sat down to me. I must be in trouble...

2:36pm, Thursday, 10 June

Yes, Character Models...

The short answer: We won't be seeing character models any time soon. SOE, all of those individual folks I mentioned above, are all interested in adding new character models. They articulated the complexity a little bit (I get frustrated with players who micro-manage SOE so I try to avoid such statistics). Each Luclin model, including new animations such as multiple weapon strikes, take up over one hundred individual animations per model with 32 models. Each piece of different armor requires its own animations. The total number continues to grow and grow. The final number, 8.5 man years just for models alone, still doesn't include everything it would take to add new models. I know nothing about character animation but the devs seem to shake their head when they talk about how the Luclin models were done. Here's another interesting statistic: it takes the same amount of work to rebuild one new player race and sex that it takes to add in all of the new models in Dragons of Norrath - including the dragons.

When I brought up the new EQ2 models - a set of asian-friendly models soon to be released - I heard that there was no silver bullet for those models, it took a lot of time and it was part of the deal between SOE and the company hosting the asian servers to make it more friendly to that environment. Here's a funny bit. Moorgard stated that the asian audience demands mouse-movement and one-handed gameplay so they never have to put down their cigarettes. That cracked me up.

SOE doesn't seem to hold the same worry that I hold. They aren't concerned that a new set of models would not be well received. After the mixed reviews I hear about Luclin models, WoW models, EQ2 models, and the new asian EQ2 models, everyone has a different opinion and paying 8.5 man years for models that may receive similar criticisms doesn't seem like a real good investment to me.

So we will have to see. New character models are a topic SOE hears a lot. By their words it is something they really want to fix. New character models are not off of SOE's master to-do list but it isn't something we will see any time soon.

4:17pm Thursday, 10 June

I just got back from the "EQ: Progression of Power" discussions. A lot of individual class issues were discussed with a general theme that life is really hard in Anguish and people seem do die a lot - go figure.

Here's a micro-list of topics and answers:

Blind, it's the human crash bug that even R.A Salvatore mentioned in the intro to Rogue's Hour. The EQ team wants to fix it but its not a priority.

Endurance regen: The devs built the current endurance regen based on no regen components. They don't intend to have any endurace regen items or spells. However, they recognize that downtime in general is a problem and hope to come up with a solution.

Ranger discs: A ranger wondered why he hasn't received a disc since Kunark. Since rangers have hybrid spells, the discs for melees are meant to make up for that. There's no intention to add more ranger discs.

Cleric CH isn't enough anymore: A cleric was concerned that existing heals aren't powerful enough for existing mobs. The devs disagree. It's hard for a reason.

Cleric Melee: I didn't get the answer to this one but Saroc, the cleric represenative, asked what the intention is for clerics soloing.

PoP backflagging: There are a lot of bugs with backflagging including holes in the quests and no way to track it. Why don't they just open up everything up to Time?

Cleric Plate Class issues: Clerics are a plate class but get eaten a lot. The dev team recognizes the extreme gap between tanks and non-tanks. Tanks can survive but non-tanks are completely destroyed. There is no intent to let any other class really tank but they do see the gap growing.

Warrior's epic 1.5 and 2.0 clicky has too long a casting time when getting hit and no channeling skill means it will always be interrupted. SOE will look at the problem but instant cast items "are bad".

Cleric invis: SOE is looking for a way to stack invis potions and make improved invis potions easier to acquire.

Ranger bows: Why is the epic not a bow? Bow DPS is meant to trail behind melee dps because ranged attacks are safer than melee attacks with repostes, rampages, and AEs. SOE didn't want to gimp the epic 1.5 or 2.0.

Will Pally DPS vs undead get increased? There's a lot of weird issues with situational DPS. In general, Paladins aren't designed to out DPS other DPS classes even against undead. Rytan will look at the numbers vs undead, however.

Regeneration on raid wipes take too long. Downtime is a big issue in general and SOE wants to address it. However, you did die...

Loot all: SOE wants to do this and it's just a matter of finding a time.

Stuns as they are on Lucy are not accurate. SOE feels that the existing stuns, 5.2 seconds on NPCs, 10 seconds on PCs, is appropriate.

Delay death isn't enough. A player feels that delay death isn't enough of a boost. Frankly, an extra 250 hps feels like a lot for me.

Warriors with lightning reflex. I don't remember what this was.

Shaman Craigs, the Shaman CH: No complete heal will be further touched. Rytan feels they go outside the intent of the game. While heal improvements will occur, they will not occur with any of the three CHs.

I was just informed that Curt Shilling, EQ fan and major league baseball player, arrived.

6:47pm Thursday, 10 June

I added over twenty new pictures to Loral's Las Vegas Fan Faire photos.

12:42am Friday 11 June 2005

We saw a preview for Depths of Darkhollow last night. I have an article all written up and ready to go tomorrow afternoon.

However, I can say that SOE may have found a way to solve the problem of level 20 friends and level 70 friends grouping together, the character archetype problem for groups and raids, and the unused content problem in one swoop.

Depths of Darkhollow lets you pick a monster and fight alongside your friends. More details tomorrow but it looks very very cool.

Time for bed.

7:42pm 11 June 2005

It's been a crazy few days and I am bound to pay for it on Monday morning. I just posted a full Depths of Darkhollow preview on both Caster's Realm and Mobhunter (there are very slight differences but mostly the same). Everyone is really excited about it and the rumors run rampant.

I have a few other juicy tidbits as well. It appears we will see a full geometric and graphical revamp of both Nektulos forest and the Plane of Knowledge! Many times throughout the weekend, Craig Knapp has asked players what features would bring players together in one spot to find groups. He suggested Minigames. I suggested short-duration stackable buffs with regen and mana regen from a single unique NPC - just some bonus hp and mana for starting groups in this place. Any other suggestions are welcome so post them here if you have a good idea.

There are only a couple of events left this evening. I don't know how long I am going to last at the beach party tonight or how much more juicy information I might get as the night wears on and the alcohol runs free.

Mobhunter Exclusive: Slap in the face!

Though received positivly, not everyone understands the great wisdom of the Evil Agenda. See Kytherea's iron gauntlet treatment of the concern of the casual!

I'll have at least one more update before I travel home tomorrow. In the mean time, check out the Depths of Darkhollow screenshots.