This week I had the opportunity to sit down (well, email) Jason Mash, senior designer for Everquest and the brain behind some of the more recent Live events including the War of Antonica event we saw recently. Let's dig right in.
Loral: What is your general philosophy, doctrine, and purpose behind live events? Why do you do them? With what questions do you begin?
Maddoc: One of my most fond memories of EverQuest, especially in the early days, were the random events that would occur throughout the world in various zones. For instance, in Qeynos Hills, a skeleton army would spawn occasionally and GM's (who played some much larger, meaner skeletons) would participate in the event. I remember a feeling sense of wonder and awe that I was participating in this event, helping to rid the world of these terrible undead minions.
The overall purpose behind the design of live events is basically to invoke the same sense of awe and wonder. Typically, we want to create an event that the players can interact with, influence in some cases, enjoy participating in, and ultimately have a lot of fond memories of. We also want to expand on existing lore, sometimes in very subtle ways, which adds a layer of community coherence by giving them something to collectively try and figure out and discuss. For those who are interested in the lore, that's always an aspect that they enjoy, and I like to help foster that as much as possible.
Loral: What goes into the design of a live event? How long does it take?
Maddoc: A live event goes through a number of phases, the first (and probably most important) of which is the planning stage. We figure out what our goals are for the particular event, what lore we want to present to the players, how we want them to interact with the event, how we want them to influence the event, and ultimately the sequence of events that the players will encounter as the event progresses.
A live event doesn't have a standard amount of time that it takes to build since it's very tightly and directly tied to the scale of the event. I (along with Prathun, Absor, and Keridon) had roughly 6 weeks to design and implement the Retake of Grobb live event. That particular event was very large scale, spanning an unprecedented 90% of the old-world EverQuest zones, which was able to be done due to the amount of time we had to work on it.
Loral: What sorts of things did you learn when doing the War of Antonica events leading to the retake of Grobb?
Maddoc: The Retake of Grobb event was a learning experience for everyone involved, giving us an opportunity to do something that had never been done in EverQuest before, while at the same time giving the player's something global to participate in and affect to a certain extent.
There were only a couple things that I would like to change about the event progress, the most notable of which being the presentation of some of the more subtle lore points. Some of them were a little too obscure or dependant on players being in the right place at the right time, so I'd make them a little more obvious.
Loral: How do live events fit into the release of a new expansion? Tell us a little about the design and story of the Depths of Darkhollow release event.
Maddoc: In conjunction with the ongoing storyline in EQLive, we incorporated the events that would lead Norrathians into Darkhollow. The storyline had been planned months in advance when we first conceived of the expansion.
The turning point began when Lanys T'Vyl, child of the Prince of Hate, entered Neriak, the dark elf city, and demanded the help of Queen Cristanos Thex in the way of a sacrifice for the greater good of dark elves. Lanys had a plan, specifically magic knowledge, which could elevate their evil race above all in Norrath. Cristanos obliged and offered up her very own husband, King Naythox Thex, as the sacrifice for Lanys' designs.
By deceiving and drugging Naythox, Cristanos made her husband ready for the ritual Lanys had planned and there was a procession from the dark elf city into the nearby Nektulos Forest. There was a decision to conduct the ritual outside the city should anything go terribly wrong.
For many days, Cristanos' necromancers of her Dead guild chanted in a circle around Naythox Thex as they worked the magic of the curse Lanys mapped out for them. There were many interruptions as the army of the light and good in the world, Norrath's Keepers, attempted to thwart the queen's and Lens's efforts. Skirmishes took place across the forest until, one night, Lanys, the leader of the Dark Reign army, and Firiona Vie, leader of Norrath's Keepers, met on the battlefield.
As the battle reached a fever pitch, the curse upon Naythox was almost complete and was seemingly fed by the chaos around it. While all in the forest focused on the clashing blades of war, Cristanos saw her opportunity to withdraw her husband to act in her own scheme and teleported them both back to Neriak, the dark elf city, with the aid of her wizardly handmaiden.
The removal of Naythox also removed the focus of the curse and the discordant energy in the air created an explosion that few have seen before. And when the dust cleared, the armies of both sides, including their leaders and commanders, had disappeared and a passage to a dark underground world appeared the path to Darkhollow.
And while Norrathians discovered Darkhollow, no one yet knows where Lanys, Firiona, or their allies have gone.
Loral: Where do you see live events going into the future? Do you see monster missions playing any part?
Maddoc: I foresee monster missions becoming more and more integral to live events in the future. On that front specifically, we've currently got a Halloween event that's in progress that makes use of the monster mission system, and it seems to be going over really well with the players. It's very likely that they'll continue to make an appearance.
Loral: What are some of the main complaints you hear in regards to live events and how do you address them?
Maddoc: The most common complaint I've heard recently is that there's sometimes not enough notice that an event is going to happen, which I think we'll work into the next event, perhaps giving a day or two warning before big events or battles.
Loral: What was your favorite event or piece of an event?
Maddoc: I'm very partial to the armies in the Retake of Grobb event (mostly because I spent a lot of time developing it for the RTG events), specifically the technology that manipulated their movement across Norrath. I'd like to develop that technology further, adding in a lot more flavor to them, such as training sessions, night-time activity, and other events of the same nature. There's so much potential for this new technology that I believe we could put to use in many other places in EverQuest besides live events.
How awesome would it be to see small patrols of guards gather together, fall into formation, and begin a training session in their home city? After which, they could go on a march throughout the lands, patrolling for and exterminating any immediate threats to their culture? Maybe they are occasionally given orders to escort an Emissary of the Court to another, distant city. It's all part of an interactive and dynamic world that I'd love to expand on and add into EverQuest at any chance.
Loral: How much did you love those most excellent Reports of the Wilds?
Maddoc: Reports of the Wilds? What are these mysterious relics of which you speak? All friendly jokes aside, they were very well written and I enjoyed them thoroughly. :)
Notes: With luck, we will have more such interviews with other members of the Everquest Live staff. I thank Jason for spending the time to answer these questions and hope to talk to him again soon.
14 November 2005