Last month saw the release of EverQuest’s 22nd expansion. To honor the occasion we asked a few questions of one of the original designers and visionaries behind the project, Brad McQuaid. Read on for what Brad had to say.
MMORPG: Last month at MMORPG we celebrated EverQuest with the release of its 22nd expansion. For those that weren't yet playing MMOs at the time, why did you decide that making EverQuest was something you had to do?
Brad McQuaid: When a classmate brought Ultima 2 into my junior high computer class so we could play it on the Apple 2s available at lunch, I really had an epiphany of sorts. I have been a fantasy fan since I learned how to read, being a big fan of Tolkien, Moorcock, Zelazny, etc. I also really enjoyed playing AD&D with my friends. Playing Ultima 2 made me realize that a game could be like a fantasy novel, but with you as the protagonist. Likewise, you could play in a D&D environment without needing to get all of your friends together in one spot and with the computer acting as the DM. From that point on I knew I wanted to make computer RPGs.
Then in the early 90s I was exposed to text based MUDs, where you would telnet into the game and play with other real people in a fantasy environment, essentially D&D, but online. The only drawback was that these games were text based and had limited reach.
When John Smedley came across the WarWizard single player RPGs Steve Clover and I had written in the early 90s, he hired us on to create a 3D graphical MUD. This was an incredible opportunity, because I could combine graphical single player RPGs with online text MUDs! To me, combining the two was just an amazing opportunity and I quit my business programming day job right away, as did Steve, and we both joined Sony and began work on the game that would become EverQuest.
MMORPG: At what point did you realize that you were on to something big?
Brad: One of the first times we showed EQ to the public was at GDC in 1998. We had something like 10 computers hooked up and in two rows and anyone could walk up and create a character and run around Qeynos and Qeynos hills. People literally swarmed around the PCs and wouldn’t stop playing. We had to politely ask several of them to log off and give other people a chance. And many who did made their way back into the crowd only to be found on one of the other machines a few minutes later continuing to play. We just couldn’t keep them away! At that point I think we really knew we were onto something really big.
MMORPG: Equipped with the knowledge you have today what is one thing that you would have changed about the original EverQuest launch?
Brad: The game itself was ready at launch thanks to a long beta, but the infrastructure and bandwidth coming into San Diego was not. We had serious problems the first couple of months dealing with all of the people trying to play the game.
We had the best routers available, but they were designed for web traffic (usually bursts of data) as opposed to an MMO which constantly exchanges smaller amounts of information in a client/server environment (for example, the client and server are constantly updating each other as to the position of your character, other players, NPCs, etc). The routers just couldn’t handle the number of tiny packets going back and forth. We had the best Cisco engineers onsite constantly, tweaking and adding hardware, and it took a while before the actual devices could handle it.
On top of that, we were sucking up all of the bandwidth in the San Diego area. At that time (March 1999) there really wasn’t a lot of bandwidth coming into that region. If I recall correctly, they were in the process of running an OC12 down from Los Angeles down to San Diego but it wasn’t complete. Thankfully, because of the limited bandwidth and the problems EQ was causing, they accelerated the installation of the OC12 and things cleared up in a month or two. It didn’t just cause problems for people trying to play EQ, though. We got phone calls from Qualcomm (also based in San Diego), and they were a little upset that we were saturating the bandwidth for the entire region!
So I suppose if there was anything I would do differently, given 20/20 hindsight, it would be making sure the hardware and bandwidth the game would require was in place before launch. But, honestly, I don’t know if that would have been possible. EQ was something new, and it also became very popular very quickly. In a sense, we were victims of our own success. Thankfully the players out there put up with all of the connectivity issues and stuck around. Today players simply wouldn’t put up with a launch like that, but back then because MMOs were so new and because EQ was the first truly 3D graphical MUD, they put up with it all. The rocky and rough launch, in the long run, didn’t really measurably hurt us.