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Interviews: House of Thule Interview

By Guest Writer on August 25, 2010

House of Thule Interview

While looking ahead to the new expansion, it’s good to look back as well – EverQuest style

“…our world isn’t ours anymore … EverQuest has become so much more the world of our players”

An MMO that lasts a handful of years is considered a success; the original EverQuest has done much better than that. Launched in March of 1999, EverQuest is considered one of the elder statesmen of the 3D modern MMO genre, and while it may look its age it seems to have no thoughts about acting it, slowing down or ceasing to expand the world of Norrath and give its subscribers new content and adventures.

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The support for the game has been robust and the dev team has been adding new content at a strong pace. Expansion No. 17 is in the pipeline and on October 12, House of Thule will release to subscribers. With that announcement, it seemed like a good time to sit down and chat with the game’s producer about EQ past, present and future, about how the game has been sustained for so long and about the lessons learned.

Thom Terrazas obliged the request for an interview and took time to chat with MMORPG about the expansion and about the game after 11 years in release

MMORPG.com:

First off, tell us a bit about the expansion and in particular the player levels it caters to and how it changes or opens up new areas of Norrath for veteran EQ players.

Thom Terrazas:

With the House of Thule, we’ve done a lot of work to overhaul our inventory system and give players what they’ve been asking for, for quite some time. We’ve also given them some ways to show off a bit more and to progress their characters past their current level. Some of the big features we are delivering in the House of Thule (HoT) are Increased Inventory Space; Larger Bags; Additional Bag Slots; Player Housing and hundreds of items to display; A Trophy System that benefits your game play; a +5 Level Increase (the maximum level will now be 90) and many additional items.

This expansion caters mostly to our players that have already reached level 85, which is the large majority of our players. We’ve also made a good effort in making sure we deliver content to all players around that level whether you’re in or out of a Raid. It opens up a whole area of dreams for players to explore. Something is wrong with the gods of dreams, and dreams have gone weird, and have become real. A new house has appeared in the jungle of Feerrott that leads to this realm of living dreams.

MMORPG.com:

When creating an expansion for one of the granddaddies of modern 3D MMO space, what parameters are important to the development team?

Thom Terrazas:

The most important parameter we use when defining our expansions is: “What would be a great story to tell.”

Once we have the story in place, and the zones start to take shape through concept art, we decide which features players would like to see in the expansion. This comes in the various ways that the players advance, be it spell, items, alternate abilities, achievements, levels and many other small things. Then we start implementing the content, and decide how we want the players to progress within the content, how difficult do we want the content to be? How long do we want players to have to spend? Do we want grind? If so, how much? Do players want grind? Etc…

We have a dedicated player base and we have to be true to them and to the EverQuest world we’ve created. It’s great to be fun and whimsical with our designs and sometimes we’re able to get away more than we care to say, however we have to balance that with the framework that players grew to love and helped to define the modern 3D MMO space.

MMORPG.com:

This is a game that launched in 1999 and is still going strong. How do you keep the game fresh?

Thom Terrazas:

We give the player more to explore and achieve with each and every development cycle. We use every ounce of creativity and ingenuity within our own minds and the minds of all developers and players in the gaming world solely to deliver some great and compelling content. It is the constant addition of content that inherently keeps the game fresh. It’s as rewarding as it is constant.

MMORPG.com:

Not only has EverQuest been a stalwart in the MMO field over the years, it has set a foundation for so many MMOs and MMO players. While the game has taught gamers about MMOs, what have you learned - as a developer - about the space in the years you have worked with this title?

Thom Terrazas:

We have learned that there is room for the hard-core player and the casual player. We’ve learned that there are many different versions of what a hard or casual player are. We have also learned that no two players want the same thing from the game, so you will never make 100% of the players 100% happy, but you can make the player happy with sections of the game that most apply to their way of playing.

EverQuest is an amazing world where people found an outlet away from real life and an extension to their own imaginations. Millions of people have played EverQuest and have spent countless hours in our world, however one of the biggest things that I have learned is that our world isn’t ours anymore… EverQuest has become so much more the world of our players that everything we plan and develop has a lasting effect and each decision must be made knowing how it can influence the players within EverQuest.

MMORPG.com:

How have you seen the player base for EverQuest and for MMOs in general change over the 11 years that EQ has been around?

Thom Terrazas:

For EverQuest, the player base has changed to a core group of people that love the game. They love the challenge it offers, they love the camaraderie they get. They love the large complex raids. They love the simple small group content that still offers a challenge. While for other games it has seemed to go down to the “reword me every time I click a button or this is too boring” mentality. The games are getting simpler and simpler.

MMORPG.com:

In a similar vein, what do you think are the elements that you feel are most important to players when they approach MMOs now? How does your new expansion cater to that need?

Thom Terrazas:

While it may seem a contradiction to what I said above, accessibility is important. Players need to be able to come in, find their friends and play with their friends quickly. We have some die hard players in our game that think we have made this too easy and have fond memories of 30 minute runs across multiple zones to join their friends and play with them. We cater to this a little bit by making our expansion on hubs. So you get to a key zone and this zone connects to five other zones, making travel between the parts of the expansion easy. Also, games need to be loyal to the spirit of our game. The spirit of EverQuest is for a hard-core experience. We continue to offer that in this expansion. This is not to say that we plan to kick everyone in the teeth, but we also don't plan to make it a boring cakewalk through pretty zones where every monster dies at the press of a few buttons.

MMORPG.com:

In the years between the launch of this title and today, there have been a lot of titles challenging for subscribers in the MMO space. Why do you think the original EverQuest game is still popular and sustains its community as well as it does?

Thom Terrazas:

We continue to cater to a crowd that likes a harder game. While it may not be as difficult as the original, it still offers one of the more challenging experiences in the MMO market. Even with the assistance of mercenaries and other things we have done to help the solo player, it still offers some of the most complex and challenging group and raid content in the genre.

To use your words earlier, EverQuest “has” set a foundation. A foundation that was also formed through connections between friendships made through sharing experiences and adventures – some enjoyable, some difficult and tedious but definitely many memorable. Every Fan Faire that we attend, countless stories (some lies) are shared about an encounter overcome and shared with friends while playing EverQuest. EverQuest launched with a lot of mystery. There wasn’t a lot of spoon feeding in the early days but that only gave players the challenge to figure things out for themselves. What a sense of accomplishment it gave people when they did figure it out and when they did it with other players. I often hear comments from players that they wish it was like it was … Way-Back-Then. I’m pretty sure it was the mysteries that they discovered and the camaraderie they developed while overcoming a hurdle ... Way-Back-Then.

Further credit goes out to our other departments that we team up with to keep the players engaged and informed. To mention a couple, our Customer Service and Community teams have been important cogs in the wheel, communicating with the player and assisting when an issue arises as well as playing the role of an event coordinator and conducting quests within EverQuest to keep Norrath alive and fresh. Players remember that and can connect with EverQuest the more that they can connect to the people that keep the ship running. Many other departments share the same passion that keep the game alive and will continue to support the development team to deliver what the players enjoy.