Recently we had the chance to sit down and chat with three EverQuest developers, just before both the original EQ and its sequel are to receive their 22nd and 12th expansions. We have a full week of features on EQ planned, but today we wanted to ask each developer what they love most about the storied franchise. Here’s what Holly Longdale (Executive Producer), Jonathan Caraker (Lead Designer) and Alan VanCuvering (Assistant Lead Designer) had to say.
MMORPG: What is personally your favorite moment from EverQuest's long history? Why?
Alan: My favorites are from a long time ago, and so sort of blend into more of a montage in my head than a single moment. Playing my bard, mostly. Standing outside Blackburrow and forcing people to group with me so I could heal them after they survived a train. Then being the one to go in and see if the train was gone. Finding corpses for folks, especially that one person that lost their corpse in the middle of an ocean... stuff like that. And also pretty much all the times I played with my guild.
Holly: My favorite moment as a player was skipping 2 days of work for the last weekend of the Journeyman Boots camp in a dungeon called Najena before they were removed and made into a quest reward. I was about 25th in line at the Najena camp so I decided to write up a list for everyone there and track it so no one got cheated out of their loot. This list was over 50 people which I handed over to another brave soul after I got my boots after a 32-hour camp overall. Najena, the main character of the dungeon, was a rare on an 18-minute respawn and the boots were a rare drop on the rare spawn. It was like playing very slow slots that punch you in the face every 18 minutes! I met some people during that epic camp that I ended up meeting in real life and becoming good gamer pals with. All we could do was sit around and chat and have fun in the dungeon as a massive group of players as we prayed every 18 minutes that our boots dropped!
Jonathan: Oh, there are a lot of moments to choose from! One of my favorite experiences in EverQuest was playing in the Tower of Frozen Shadow with my guildmates shortly after Velious launched. We mostly had the zone to ourselves, and happened to be the perfect level range. We planned evenings to spend in there together learning how the progression worked, figuring out how to get the keys to each floor, and learning how to navigate the many maze-like passages. Since Velious was new, we didn't have a walkthrough and had to solve the puzzles on our own, so there was a lot of discussion about how to get the key-dropper to spawn. We were usually wrong in our assumptions, hah! Like having person A open this door on a previous floor while killing mob B might have looked like it worked, but that wasn't actually how it worked. There was clearly a lot of time and care that went into the Tower of Frozen Shadow, with the lore messages, the secret passages, the many unique models, the progression, and the interesting inhabitants. It still sticks with me today as a fun, carefully crafted dungeon crawl. And one of the first things I wanted to know when I joined the team was where that locked mirror on the top floor led to!
MMORPG: Any specific moments from this expansion or past expansions?
AV: From this one so far, watching Grummus throw barrels at people. Still funny. I really did get a kick out of watching Meldrath's Mansion float across the sky during the Secrets of Faydwer launch event (or watching the little browning run off with Meldrath's escape vehicle after the final raid in that expansion). Mostly, funny character moments.
HL: When the team first told me the storyline for The Broken Mirror, I was enthralled because they always find a new spin on delivering interesting content and challenges. The art is just as unique as the idea in this world too. We have serious veterans on the team who have lived and breathed this world for over a decade and I’m excited to have worked and learned from them as a designer in my past and I’m learning from them again now. Every expansion is amazing because you get to create a world and experience for other gamers like yourself out of the ether of your imagination as a team. While we work really hard, I still find it incredible that this is a job…
JC: With the addition of a little inside joke in Sul Vius: Demiplane of Decay, perhaps now is the time to tell the pie story. Over a decade ago, I brought a pecan pie in to the office that was, let's say, well past its "Best enjoyed by" date. It was sitting at my desk, and in the cold light of day I was growing dubious about its freshness. Was about ready to throw it out when one of the other EverQuest designers walked by, took a good look at it, and decided he really wanted a slice. I should have stopped him, but I didn't intervene. And it wasn't long before he returned with a disgusted look on his face to let me know that the pie was decidedly not good. And the moral of the story was don’t trust any food that Prathun brings in to work. So, in honor of that moment from many years ago, we've added a Moldy Pecan Pie to the vendors in Sul Vius: Demiplane of Decay.
MMORPG: What is your proudest moment working on EverQuest? Why?
AV: There are several. The entirety of The Serpent's Spine expansion. Pretty much everything in Dreadspire. However, many of the things I am most pleased at having done are small things. Like the butler in Dreadspire that welcomes you to the dining hall, or wishes you a good evening, depending on whether you are entering or leaving. Some of the dialogues that I've written have made me laugh (probably nobody else though). Things like that.
HL: My proudest moment would have to be my first expansion with the team – Lost Dungeons of Norrath. I was an EQ player of 4 years before I joined the team and I felt like they were really innovating on the technology we had and bringing some cool options for an evolving group of players. The dynamic dungeon approach was very creative on the tech and design side. We learned a heck of a lot then and still use some of the foundations of that expansion today. That was in 2003. Hard to imagine! My second, and equally proudest moment, was to return to EverQuest to work with some of the same teammates who mentored me back when I first started. This is a very special team with incredible devs who are devoted to this game with as much passion and care now as they had as dev newbs (when compared to over a decade of work on the game!). They truly inspire me. And so do the players. The best group of players and community in a world of gaming that seems to be growing hostile. We are very lucky and are reminded every time we log into a server to players having fun and appreciating this epic game.
JC: There have been many, but one of the proudest moments I've had working on EverQuest was implementing the Rogue epic 2.0. I play as a rogue, primarily, and acquiring my Ragebringer was an amazing night that I'll never forget. It was very late PST and over half the guild was east coast so we didn't have many guildies on and my small raid force was unable to kill the General. (In retrospect, it wasn't a good idea to trigger the fight with so few people!) It clearly wasn't going to happen, so we sent up a call for help. I was sure I was out of luck, but friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike dropped everything and came to help me finish the final step. It was that realization that I was part of a kind and tight-knit community that made a great moment even better. So it meant a lot to me that I had the opportunity to work on the next version of the epic. I spent a lot of time planning how the new quest's lore would tie into the old one, and how to add some very rogue-like elements, especially to the pre-quest.
MMORPG: What excites you most about this new expansion?
AV: I'm happy that we have a good number of raids to offer this time around. But I think what I'm most interested to see is how folks respond to the extensive amount of level scaling content we created this time. We've done instance content that scales to the level of the characters for a few years now, but never to this extent. With the Planes of Hate and Fear we even have some raids that scale. So I'm very curious to see what our customers think about it.
JC: I love the mirrored interactions between our two versions of Sul Vius: Demiplane of Life and Decay. The dual nature of Anashti Sul being reflected in the dual nature of her home Demiplane was really the concept that sold us on wanting to make this expansion, and this was the most fun content to work on in the Broken Mirror. And it's no accident that it is a broken mirror that is needed to solve some of the Demiplane's quests and puzzles.
HL: I love the art and the characters and how they tell a unique story. I’m a lore nerd so I love the story the team developed with the two aspects of Anashti Sul, the Prime Healer, and that the story threads together lore and events in EQ and EQ2. Not many games can say that… and not many dev teams attempt it, I’d wager.
MMORPG: What is your favorite “team” moment while working on EverQuest?
AV: For me it's the fact that everyone is willing to do whatever is asked of them. In the past I've worked with some folks that felt that certain tasks were beneath them. With the team we have now, everyone will just do what needs doing. We work really well together and we have each other's back. This crosses disciplines too. If art needs a hand, any designer is willing to hop up and help out. Same goes for programmers, if we need something, they are there to help. This has mostly been the case for this team in recent years, but it’s a thing that I suspect a lot of teams on any sort of job don't have, and it makes me happy that we do.
JC: You know, many of us have been working together for over a decade. Every year, when we're getting close to releasing a major update, I'm reminded how this team can and will move mountains in order to create more of Norrath for adventurers to explore, and this year is no different!
HL: My favorite team moments are ongoing and happen regularly. I’m in the unique position of asking the team what they want to do, determining the plan together, and then constantly seeing them exceed their own plans. This isn’t a case of a team under-promising either. Every single time we head into a release they always dig deeper and create some real magic that gets everyone smiling and proud. I’m pleased as punch to be working with a team that has always had a great sense of humor. They always have been a very deep well of sarcasm and wit that never goes dry. I loved that about the team when I first started, and I love it now. It’s one of the reasons I returned to this incredible studio, team, and franchise. Long live EverQuest!