Mobhunter: Notes from the Spring 2006 Summit and Fan Faire

This article will act as my living journal of the Everquest Spring 2006 Community Summit and Fan Faire. Continue to watch this article throughout the event for recent updates and news. I will also post new pictures of the event to a Flickr set called Everquest Spring 2006 Summit and Fan Faire Pictures. I will note when I have taken more picture.

Thursday, 6 April 2006, 7:25am:

It was a long day yesterday. Many of the Summit attendees arrived at 4pm to the Atlanta airport including a handfull of developers. There were a lot of familiar faces and conversations immediately fell to Everquest. The Summit is for both Everquest and Everquest 2 so we had some interesting discussions on the differences between the two games at this particular slice in time. I have let my EQ2 subscription lapse for nearly a year now. There simply isn't time enough for more than two games.

I had a chance to chat with Grumbuk on the shuttle about Everquest and Prophecy of Ro. Grumbuk is the mind behind many of the analytical tools that help catch cheaters including many Macroquest players. Gemdiver mentioned that a pile of characters on Fennin Ro were recently simultaneously banned due to macroquesting. Grumbuk's eventual goal is to have a system in place that can actively monitor the population for such cheats and act upon these data but at the moment he worries that even a system with 99% accuracy might still ban legitimate characters due to strange bugs so he simply compiles the data and gives it to CS to act upon it.

The Marriott is a beautiful hotel, a 40 story concrete monster with a hollow center. From the 27th floor, I can look down through the inside of the building but doing so makes me a bit dizzy. The internet runs a steep $13 a day but I'd pay anything for my dear readers.

After checking in I injected myself into a planned dinner with some of the developers. I had about five minutes from check in until I had to be back down in the lobby. A nerd might have run up and had his or her laptop set up within that five minutes, skipping other unnecessary behaviors like brushing teeth or putting on some fresh deodorant. Only a true renaissance nerd, however, has to load his fountain pen full of ink from a bottle. Fountain pens don't fly well, you see, so a small canister of black Noodler's permanent fountain pen ink always travels with me along with my three favorite fountain pens: a Pilot Vanishing Point, a Lamy 2000, and the pen of the gods, a massive Pelikan M-1000. I'll likely only use the Vanishing point but I like having the other two handy.

We spent most of dinner chatting on a variety of topics. Oblivion came up often throughout the night. Many of the developers including Rashere and Zajeer are playing Oblivion on Xbox 360. I have the PC version but the framerate drops so low that it is an exercise in frustration every time I play. The conversations once again reinforced that the development team are gamers first and foremost. Designing games pays their bills but they also do it because they love it.

I didn't recognize Chris Lena, the Everquest producer, until I heard him speak. I had met him once before but he radically changed his appearance from his Neil Gaimanesque look to something like the main character in Jarhead. I haven't had a chance yet to sit and pick his brain, but the visit is still young.

I had a great conversation in what I hope is a string of conversations with Kwill of EQ Vault on what it means to be an Everquest journalist. We shared a few emails and in-game chats about a recent rash of articles bashing professional game journalism as strictly fluff pieces with inflated ratings. Having been often accused of the same thing, it brings up many questions on our roles and responsibilities as non-professional game journalists (a snobby term, indeed). I could write a whole article about it but I don't know that there is much interest so I will save it for now.

Breakfast is at 9am with a full day of discussions planned including "Session 1: Growing the Game - Making EverQuest attractive to new players and still remain appealing to current players" in the morning and "Session 2: Prophecy of Ro - A look at the last expansion; what went right, what went wrong, and what we can learn from it.". I have a lot of material to discuss at both meetings. The Evil Agenda should fit nicely into the first discussion and my recent Successes and Failures of Prophecy of Ro article on Caster's Realm should fit the latter.

I will take copious notes and pictures and will post throughout the day.

Thursday, 6 April 2006, 5:15pm:

New Expansion Details, New "Progression" server opening.

Wow, do I have some interesting news. I droned on a lot this morning so I'll cut into some of the more interesting stuff right away.

There will soon be a "not a classic server" server. This server will begin with only the original game unlocked at first. As groups or guilds defeat certain triggered encounters, new expansions will become unlocked. It will be a no-transfer server so everyone is starting off at the beginning of the game. All the new non-expansion features will be there like chat channels, LFG, and new UIs, but features such as Plane of Knowledge won't be active until that expansion is unlocked. All of those who have screamed on the forums for months about a "classic server" will now get their chance to put their money where their mouth is. It sounds pretty interesting and SOE is expecting it to be popular. With some core features removed that we take for granted these days like the Guild Lobby, Nexus, Knowledge, Bazaar, and LDON Magi, it will be interesting to see how much old-world people are willing to take.

Second, SOE threw out some hints at the next expansion. The expansion will be a full level-range expansion from level 1 to 70. They intend to build a new focused set of content for players of all levels and plan to sell the expansion as a stand-alone game as well as an expansion for us old-time players. There is no word on a price, but I expect it to remain at $30. There will be content of all types including solo content, small group content, six-person group content, instances, quests, and other things that we expect at the high-end. There will not likely be low level raids since balancing such things and making them worth the effort is hard when gaining five levels will reap much better benefits. There will be overarching quest lines that will go through a series of levels and even at least one that will go all the way from level 1 to 70. The intent is to make content at those levels that is fun enough that people aren't worried as much about leveling and gearing up to 70 as fast as they can (although I expect we will either see a level increase or a large jump in AAs - likely both).

Rashere mentioned two big areas they will be working on over the next few months: death and downtime. Various ideas for a new death system were discussed (as they were at the last summit) including choices to respawn with gear, a flat 90% res at all levels rather than lower resses at lower levels which doesn't properly scale since life should be harder at the higher levels than it is at the lower. There was no mention of any sort of death effect but the development team is still interested in making death matter.

Downtime will lead to some sort of combat state system so that the EQ system knows players are out of combat and will up the reneration to compensate. This poses problems when players can leave combat, regen, and enter it again when they weren't intended. It's a complicated issue but SOE plans to focus their attention on it.

There will be a new Nektulos revamp that is much more traditional and less Hollywood-set-like. This one has real trees and a real forest. It is much more like the desert of Ro revamp in that the layout is much the same as the original layout. We were able to zoom around it a bit and it looked good.

You learn something every day and today I learned that there is a fellow in the Plane of Knowledge that describes the location for every monster mission. He is apparently available on "find".

With Rytan's recent departure and Rashere no longer working on AAs, two existing developers will now be handling those topics. In strange irony, Prathun will now be the new spell guy. Prathun is very well liked as a high-end raid developer, not to mention being a very easy guy to talk to even though his Street Fighter 2 skills are slightly lacking, so it will be interesting to see how people work with him. Typically spell issues were always hotly debated leading to strong feelings towards the developer in charge. Oshran, the designer of my favorite static zone in POR, Arcstone, will be taking over on AAs. There is no new announcement on a new item guy to take over for Zajeer who is also moving off of items to focus on other content.

Our second session covered Prophecy of Ro, though it quickly fell into other general topics as well. The discussions started around destructible items and how this, traps, and auras lead to a new way to interact with the environment. Many ideas were thrown around including missions, events, raids, and encounters based on destroying or defending various destructible structures. The development team seems continually interested in focusing on features that work well in future expansions as well as the one introduced such as the mission system, monster missions, and now auras, traps, and destructible items. While destructible items was mainly focused in Devastation, the developers plan to use it elsewhere.

The problems with Elddar were known and the programming team is looking for a way to fix the lag in this zone.

That's the word for now. I will post again later tonight or early tomorrow. I added a whole new pile of pictures to the Everquest Spring 2006 Summit Flickr set. I will label a few of these as I remember the names.

Thursday, 6 April 2006, 9:58pm:

We just got back from dinner. I spent much of it grilling a very responsive and patient Chris Lena on all things from the raid / single-group equipment gap to a word-by-word analysis of his quotes on the dev chat a few weeks ago. I did glean a few pieces of info, however.

The new yet-unnamed expansion will likely continue the same release schedule so I expect to hear more official details in a month. The release itself will likely be September.

Feedback on POR has been quiet. Based on the discussions today, there aren't any glaring overall problems like there were with Gates or Depths of Darkhollow. There isn't a big content-changing patch expected anytime soon. I would argue that the problems brought up in my Prophecy report still needed to be addressed but as players grow in power, more of that content previously locked by difficulties will become more available. There's nothing like a level increase to increase overall player power.

SOE currently has no plans to rebuild a Plane of Knowledge and other than a secretly whispered special project of which SOE cannot comment, there are no plans for new player models. SOE did create a new terrain editor that helps with the rebuilding of old zones which was used for the new desert of Ro and the upcoming Nektulos 3.0.

I was corrected on my terminology for the new non-classic classic server which is known, officially, as a "Progression" server. SOE doesn't have exact details on what will open up new expansions, but the mechanics of the unlocking will basically be like unlocking the expansions as if you paid for them. If you are a player who only owns the original game, much of the newer content is cut off. The Progression Server simply treats every player as though they didn't play. Certain free features like POK will still have to be shut off manually.

The exact methods to unlock new expansions is not yet known, but the intention is for more than a single group or guild to do it. The mind quickly falls back to Nagafen raids with individual buffs and camping to chat. For players who do not desire such challenges, expansions will unlock as groups unlock them just as though a new expansion was released. There is a lot of interesting potential, though whether players can really live through the old style again remains to be seen.

More news tomorrow, I'm off to bed.

Friday, 7 April 2006, 8:27am:

My friend Boanerges over at EQClerics posted his notes from yesterday's Summit meetings. He had a lot of good info. Also, my other friend Nanyea posted some additional information from the Summit meetings on the EQLive boards.

Some vanity news: there's a great post about the Everquest Raiding Game on the EQLive forums that used my Caster's Realm article on the topic as a base.

There's also an interesting thread about the difficulty of Theater of Blood. Every time I ask about the intention of this zone, I get a different answer. Personally I think it could have been designed for more players by having less flagging requirements and lowering the DPS and overall damage output a little, but having not hunted there invalidates much of my opinion. Right now I think the value of this zone for a non-raider is to bottomfeed off of the drops that high-end raiders don't want when they tear a line to a huge ubermob. I think it could be more than this.

7 April 2006, 2:40pm

I posted more pictures to the Spring 2006 Summit flickr site.

Baelish gave a very interesting presentation on many of the upcoming changes to EQ Players. Much of it was qualified under a great cloak of secrecy (why you would tell a bunch of press geeks that they can't talk about something, I'll never understand) but much of it sounds interesting. A few things we CAN talk about includes a fully CSS implementation of player profiles that other websites can skin. Your guild's website can post character profiles with any look or layout that they wish.

Guild rosters can be pulled directly from EQ Players in XML, letting guilds reformat, sort, and display rosters any way they wish.

Other whispers and rumors include an in-game tournament system, an in-game tie to Comic Book Creator, dream profiles with gear you WISH you had, automatic paperdoll uploading, automatic screenshot uploading, an automated DKP system, and an in-game browser to tie to many of these services. A lot of these features are still under discussion and planning so we'll have to see what happens.

More Breaking Future Expansion News: "Likely" Level Increase to Level 75, New Starting City

I got a "most likely" confirmation on a level increase to level 75 in the upcoming unnamed fall expansion. That should help a lot of players increase their power enough to handle content previously out of reach such as the MPG Trials and the harder DODH missions.

There will "probably" be raid content above Deathknell as well so it sounds like players of all levels have a good reason to head into this one.

The goal of the expansion is for players to be able to go from level 1 to level 75 and all the way through the post-Deathknell raid content in this single expansion alone. It will likely be far more efficient for players to go back to previous expansions at various points in their growth, but the intent is for the expansion is to be a new starting point for new Everquest players including a new starting city.

Friday 7 April 2006, 11:09pm

While most of the Fan Faire attendees and developers headed over for karoke and live music, I spent some time sitting with the bard correspondent, the lead programmer, and senior programmer for Everquest. We had a great conversation surrounding everything we heard so far including the Progression server, the new look at the death penalty, the low level game, atlas changes, improvements in the hotzone system, further use for environmental effects such as breakable items, and a lot of other things. It is always great to see how much these guys love their game and love talking to players about it.

Here are a few more notes from the panel.

There was discussion surrounding the Atlas and additional information one might be able to see. Coloring certain zones to represent current population was the best suggestion I heard so that players can see where current popular zones are located and find groups a little easier.

I spoke more to Grumbuk and Jamey Ryan about how pathing works and asked the pathing bug questions that came up in the comments earlier. The 20k fall off of the horse while using an aura has been fixed on test. Much of the pathing information requires more information on the specific zones, mobs, and any other data. They are working on pathing issues and discussed the difference between the pathing meshes used in old world zones to their new "Path Volume System" that lets them mark out possible paths with wide geometric boxes instead of simple lines. They talked about the pathing problems with Arcstone and pulling mobs above a certain Z axis and hope to have a fix soon.

This afternoon was the tradeskill and lore discussions. I don't follow tradeskills much so I cannot comment on much of it. Vahlar mentioned that they are planning to compile the lore behind the previous eleven expansions and post it so players can get a feeling for what has happened over the years.

I also forgot to mention something that Boanerges mentioned in his report: new AA sets are likely to cost a lot more AAs than previous sets. This caused a big stir back in Gates of Discord, but AAs are much easier to get now both in the higher experience rewards in zones and with the fact that AAs get easier to earn once you reach higher levels. The AA for a level 50 costs exactly the same experience that an AA costs at level 70 but level 70s get much more experience per kill. The answer to the age old question of "should I level or should I get AAs" should always slant towards level.

Tomorrow will be the meat of the EQ panels so expect more notes tomorrow afternoon. I also posted more pictures to the Spring 2006 Summit and Fan Faire Flickr Page

Saturday, 8 April 2006, 8:32am

Kwill has two excellent fan faire reports posted including the EQ Vault Community Summit Report and Pakse's Community Summmit Report.

A brief Discussion of Alternate Advancement

Yesterday I briefly mentioned some of the discussions surrounding Alternate Abilities without going too far in depth. Here is a bit more discussion.

The level increase to 75 in the next expansion will likely include a new set of AAs to upgrade basic class-specific AA skills such as durability, healing improvement, magic damage improvement, lightning reflexes, and other class-defining abilities. These skills will require base AA improvements just as spells require improvements when a class goes from level 70 to 75. Like the level increase, these AA increases will improve the baseline power of high-end characters in Everquest regardless of whether they raid or hunt in single-groups.

At higher levels, AAs are much easier to acquire than they are at lower levels. For older players, AAs are much easier to acquire now than they were back in the days of Luclin and Planes of Power. As levels increase, so do the experience point rewards of defeated creatures. Yet the cost for a single AA remains the same - roughly the same cost as going from level 50 to level 51. This means that AAs designed for levels 71 through 75 should cost much more than baseline level 50 AAs and likely will. For example, there may be a new set of Healing Adapt AAs that go from 1% to 10% but cost 10 AAs per percent or 100 AAs for the whole set. That may seem daunting at lower levels but at level 70, one can earn an AA per hour doing monster missions alone. This rate is much higher in certain high-experience-reward areas such as the Nest and Hive missions.

Players of Everquest above level 50 are of two minds when it comes to AAs. Older players who hunt often and earn vast quantities of AAs rather quickly constantly require new AAs in order to have a reason to hunt. Raiders especially rarely earn any equipment in single-group hunts that they desire. Their only reason to hunt in single groups is to earn experience, but if they are maxed out on AAs, they don't even have that.

The other type of player, newer players attempting to reach higher levels and higher-end content, see that 400 AAs might be required to earn all of their baseline abilities expected from a high end player and fall into despair. It may take them two hours to earn a single AA at level 55 or above. Earning 400 such AAs would take far longer than most players have the time to spend.

SOE discussed various ways this might be approached. Some mentioned baseline quests that would reward players with a set of AAs on a given line. Complete a set of four missions and earn the entire bank of Healing Adapt 1, 2, and 3 AAs for example. Complete another set and earn all of the Healing Gift line. This would speed up the progression of a newer character through lines of their baseline AAs.

Whether we see such quests in the future is unknown. However, it is clear that earning AAs today is much easier than earning AAs in the past. Every expansion opens up newer high-experience areas where players can quickly earn new skills.

As a new player grows, they should seek out new levels before worrying about new AAs. While some baseline AAs, perhaps 24 or so, should be spent on critical effects, divine arbitration for example, most AAs should not be worried about until a class hits the highest levels and earns the most experience per kill that they can.

Saturday, 8 April 2006, 6:26pm

Possible Level Increase to Level 80?? Madness!

At one of the four EQ sessions today, Rashere said they were tossing around the idea of a level increase to 75 or 80. A level increase to 80 is unlikely given that SOE has never done it in the past and that the extra levels would require tons of extra content, spells, disciplines, and equipment. A level increase to 80 would also radically alter the difficulty of old-world content. Still, it is fun to lean back and imagine what would happen with a level increase to 80.

There were four EQ related sessions today including Items and Spells, The Future of Everquest, Prophecy of Ro, and Class Balance. Most of the discussions focused around very specific things including particular items or spells or the way auras work in POR. There was little general news beyond the red herring level 80 drop.

I had a chance to meet my old friend Ben, the editor of Mobhunter's articles, and introduce him to all the developers.

We spent some time talking to Larry Elmore (pic), the artist who does all of the covers for Everquest's expansions. He's a great no BS guy who will tell you stories about the fantasy industry back for thirty years. Every old cover of Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms that dragged you into the world of fantasy role playing was likely done by him. He's a wealth of information and a very personable guy. If you ever get to a Fan Faire or you happen to be at this one, visit his booth and say hello. You won't regret it.

Sunday, 9 April 2006, 5:24pm

I return home after three days of madness and excitement. I learned little else of major note, but no doubt a few details will return to me.

I did learn that when the crystal form of experience arrived in monster missions that the pirate monster mission will offer up more experience for each crystal recovered beyond the base 20. This is one of my favorite fun monster missions so I can't wait to try it out further. I also heard more about the many progression and story lines that will follow new players from level 1 to "max level" in the new expansion. Progressive storylines will follow players along as they progress through the lore. Also, characters will be able to submit lore books to a central library where others can come learn about the lore of the lands in this new expansion.

I had a clarification on some of the EQ Players functions mentioned a few days ago. After talking to some of the EQ Live developers, it was clear that little discussion between the EQ Live developers and the platform developers has occurred. I wouldn't expect many of the features mentioned in the EQ Players presentation to go live anytime soon for EQ1.

I will write up a full summary of the weekend's activities in a few days.

Thank you for reading!

Loral Ciriclight
9 April 2006