At the recent SOE FanFaire in Las Vegas, I made a point to speak with Salim Grant, the Lead Designer and Acting Producer of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes to get an update on the game. He spoke with passion and enthusiasm, if not a little fatigue.
"We've worked hard. Very hard in the past two years," he said, "to make Vanguard what it should have been at launch. Finally, we are at a point where we are deciding what to do next instead of asking what we needed to fix next."
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was always meant to be a sequel to EverQuest. "That was Brad's goal," said Salim, "a graphically updated EverQuest with new content and features which were not then technologically possible, so you'll find many parallels to EverQuest and the designs of dungeons in Vanguard have the best EverQuest dungeons as their touchstones."
Fans of EverQuest and fans of the "hard" game had looked forward to Vanguard, and to this date, Vanguard has its own cadre of passionate fans of the game; a community of dedicated players who have remained steadfast through the game's rocky beginnings.
"At this time, the game performs very well. We've focused on fixing bugs, improving and optimizing performance. Lower end machines can now run on higher graphics settings. Then and now is like night and day."
I remember. I remembered the UI that didn't work, Diplomacy being broken and slews of other bugs at Vanguard's launch. "Fix the bugs" have trumped "more content" consistently on player polls and that has been the development team's focus although they have also managed to release new content.
"The designer is the window through which the player sees the game," said Salim. "It's been a long and interesting history, and a fantastic opportunity to work on a game from scratch. We know the potential of the game, the things we want to do and how we want to do it to grow the game."
It's a small and dedicated team, evidenced by the number of hats Salim wears. He is Lead Designer as well as Acting Producer and Lead Programmer.
"I'm very proud of my team," said Salim. "We've put our heart and soul into this game. We've managed to fix a lot of older bugs and yet managed to release content for free. In May, we released the Halls of the Pantheon and at the same time raised the level cap for adventurers and crafters to 55 with all related content for those levels." Salim compared the Halls of the Pantheon to the Temple of Solusek Ro in the original EverQuest. Players will find quests for their class armors and will be sent to the far reaches of Telon for these quests.
Future plans include a universal banking system instead of regional banks, increasing bank space, a second dungeon by name of Halls of Shattersoul, 6-man dungeons, more 50+ content and then an Alternate Advancement system.
"The game shines in groups," Salim answered, when asked to define the best of Vanguard. "We bring back the dungeon crawl; the thrill and excitement of a dangerous quests, traps and unseen monsters. The danger and challenge of an open world filled with dangerous creatures. Players have to be aware of their environment. Yes, you can be trained. Although mobs are leashed, the leashes are longer and you can't just walk around or stand by in impunity as mobs chase a player. You'd better stand back or get out of the way of the backwash. The world of Vanguard is a dangerous place. Remember we don't have zone lines."
Vanguard is also a triple career game. The careers are Adventurer, Crafter and Diplomat. Players can advance their characters in any of the lines or any combination of the three, a feat that few other MMOs out there can boast of. Vanguard is challenging. The international box art for the original EverQuest had a picture of Firiona Vie and the words, "I'm sorry, I'm not easy." and Vanguard captures this sentiment in spades. With the Camelot Isles free content update, they added NPC tricks and racial traits. So the player doesn't only have to be aware of NPC classes, they have to be aware of racial traits. For example, not only are fire spells less effective or ineffective against fire elementals, players might find that it actually heals the mob.
"Come back and play," Salim invited. "We might have been fixing the game and designing content for our current players, but we have not forgotten new players. There's a 14 day trial for the Isle of Dawn, our newbie area. The newbie experience has some of the best content there is in the game and reflects what players can expect to find in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes today."
In conclusion, Salim summarized, "The game runs now. It's taken two years but we've taken things in stride and are now gaining momentum. We've spent two years fixing the game and that wasn't fun. What's fun is putting in the new stuff and I'm proud and happy to say that we are at the point in time where we get into work, smile at each other and say...
"Okay, what do we want to do next?"