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Fan Site VIP Event (Part I)

Richard Cox Posted:
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El Mariachi, Lobsters and Gamer's Heaven

As most of you have heard by now I'm sure SOE recently held a Fansite VIP Event where representatives from various sites around the web were invited out to beautiful San Diego to hang out with members of the development team and get a hands-on look at the elusive EQ2 itself. Fortunately I was lucky enough to be picked to represent our site at the event, thank God for the existence of 10 Year High School Reunions and Craig not being able to make it! ;) In any case, I went, and I had a blast. What you're about to read is one VERY long, but also quite informative transcript of the panel discussions and interviews I attended while there, but we'll get to that after the intro and my impressions of the game itself from what time I spent playing it.

I arrived in San Diego on Thursday night, about 7pm and after checking into the hotel and dropping off my bags in the room I headed over to the hotel bar where we were all meeting up for a meet & greet type of thing. I hung out there for a while just getting to know everyone, both the other Fansite reps and the SOE reps. Eventually we headed to our rooms for the night to prepare for a long day of playing EQ2 and interviews and such on Friday. Friday morning rolled around and we all hoped on a bus and headed over to the SOE offices. We all spent the morning and up until lunch playing EQ2 in SOE's rather luxurious "Game Room", aka Gamer's Heaven, which consisted of a bunch of top of the line Alienware computers and various other computers of varying powers.

After a delicious lunch of BBQ we reconvened inside for either more playing time on EQ2 or breakout interviews depending on what each person wanted to do. I chose to sit through all of the interviews and discussions rather than spend more time playing the game so I could bring back as much information as I possibly could about the game for all of you. So we spent the rest of the day, until about 5:30pm or so doing panel discussions and interviews, which you can read the full transcript to below. Saturday we were treated to a trip into Mexico. We stopped at several different places, including an absolutely breathtaking hotel/restaurant which is built into the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean. We ended up in Puerto Nuevo where we had some of the most delicious lobster I have ever had in my life. I definitely put a hurting on those things. And Sunday we all flew off to our respective homes. And now here I am telling you all about it.

Hands-on Gameplay Impressions

I didn't spend as much time playing the game as a lot of the other people did, but I spent a good hour or two playing. I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the game. One of the concerns I had from watching the videos was how slow the combat appeared. After playing the game all these fears were laid to rest. The combat flowed just as fast and smooth as any other game I've played. Of course it didn't hurt that I was playing on one of the 3.2 GHz Alienware's with 2 GB of ram and an nVidia 6800. But I made sure to question one of the devs on this matter:

A pretty big deal has been made about the face that no computer on the market today can run EQ2 at the highest settings. Well, say on that Alienware, what exactly am I missing out on, if I have a top of the line system, what is it that I can't access details wise? And also what about low end systems?

Basically if you have a top of the line machine like that Alienware you'll be missing out on the very highest setting for environmental shadows and the highest setting for water effects. The settings on the Alienware systems in the game room are at the 2nd highest settings for both of those details and suffer little to no framerate loss. So really you're not missing out on a lot truth be told, down the road when you can access those features the shadows will be a little nicer and the water splashing around your legs when you run through a creek or stream will be a bit nicer, but overall you're more than fine with a system like that.

As for the low end systems, there are several people who have a P3 800Mhz with 512mb ram and a Geforce3 video card set up to test stuff on as they finish production on it. So the game is definitely playable on the lower end systems, it definitely won't be as pretty by far, but it is feasible to play them on such.

So as you can see a lot of the emphasis that has been put on "OMG I need a new system so that I'll even be able to play the game" has been needless. Granted the better your system is, the better the game will look and run, but you should be more than fine on today's midrange systems. Several of the computers in the "Game Room" were only 2.2 GHz systems with 1 GB of ram and a Geforce Ti 4600 and the game looked great and seemed to play great as well. Now, enough with my rambling intro, you have a LOT of reading ahead of you, there are roughly 5 hours of interviews and discussions transcribed into text for your reading enjoyment. So kick back and enjoy:

General Overview, Combat, Mechanics, etc:

Everquest 2 is following in the footsteps of Everquest; we're trying to make it a great massively multi-player online world. We're trying to do things different, we're trying to take innovative steps where we can and where we see fit, but we're also trying to preserve the integrity of what made the first Everquest so successful. So it's kinda like choosing different areas to progress in… One of the ways we're doing that is with combat, right now we have what we call Combat Arts, which kinda brings a lot more decisions into basic melee combat. For example you have your fighter who can choose to perform some special attack. The fighters can do various things, which are not strictly limited to melee damage, they can do effects like mages or enchanters would do. Not the exact same types of effects, but they do have options to do other things in combat besides hack and slash or be the meatshield.

The four archetypes that we have are the Fighter, Mage, Priest and Scout. The Fighters are obviously the tanks, the ones whose main purpose is to deal damage and take damage. The Scouts are more of sort of a group resource guy. They'll be there to affect various things, and also they can deal a good bit of damage, but aren't as durable as the fighters. Where they really shine is when they have a tank there to take the brunt of the attacks and they are free to do things like backstab and more be the tactician of the battle instead of being on the front lines. Priests' main goal is to be group support as far as casting buffs and things like that along with keeping the party alive. And then we have the Mages, who just deal a lot of damage and do various other magical effects.

The Archetype system will really be the core of how you want to pick your group also. While we have this many classes we want to give them an individual feeling, especially as you start getting to Class and Subclass levels. But we want it to be balanced so you don't HAVE to have this particular one out of twenty-four guys. A Priest archetype of whatever sort will be able to serve in the priest role regardless of their class or subclass. If he's a Druid, or even later an Inquisitor, he may be specifically wonderful for this exact situation, but ANY Priest should be able to fill in. This should make it a lot easier to fill out your groups in the first place, without having some of the interdependence problems that EQ Live had, where there wasn't a role in the group for everyone, just a specific group of classes.

How do you actually enforce that? How do you make it to where they're actually asking for a "Priest, "Mage", "Scout" or "Fighter" as opposed to a specific subclass? It seems like there's still an advantage towards one subclass or another even tho the others can work in the role in a pinch.

We're trying to make the ability decisions laid out in such a way that your core and important abilities are set out in your Archetype levels and you'll specialize more past that in your Class and Subclass levels. But you'll always have that core competency in the important or core abilities for your Archetype. People will probably still prefer a certain character of an advanced Class/Subclass for specific situations, but hopefully there will be enough situations where this one is great here but not so great over here, that you'll want this Class/Subclass for now and another for another time. There should be enough variety in situations where they should all be preferred for specific cases here and there.

Are there enough balanced perks to not make it to where you'd always want to choose one over the other? For example this guy is better at this, but this other guy is better at this, this and this; therefore the second person will always be picked over the first.

I think when he's saying "here" he's meaning "this particular encounter" not "this particular point in the game, level or skill, etc". So for example, against the Undead Armies, there may be a certain subclass that's more proficient than the other subclasses but against the Orcs it'll probably be another that is better suited. It's really dependant on the actual content you want to consume and the type of encounter; which brings me to another new or different thing which EQ2 has to offer. Our encounters have what we call an "Encounter Brain" and it can react to different situations that are presented. Say you've got a Priest that starts healing the Fighter a lot, now the encounter itself might be waiting for something to happen as far as maybe once a certain amount of healing has been done, we're going to perform this sort of attack. Basically the encounter will react to the group in a much more realistic manner, more like an actual coherent "group" of mobs as opposed to the traditional setup which is just a buncha mobs who are grouped together, but acting independently. Another example would be maybe the "Leader" of the group dies, so the remaining members flee for help. There are many different things the mobs can do as a reaction to the different things the player's group does.

So essentially you've basically put an AI into the encounters?

Right, there's a good amount of AI involved in that. In addition to the actual types of monsters and mobs that you're fighting there are also different types of encounters so it's multi-dimensional in that manner. There could be many completely different encounter types all composed of the same monster or mob type, thus adding a LOT of variety to the combat system, which has been quite monotonous and boring in some previous games.

Also EQ Live had a lot more focus on the individual NPC, he'd be with other NPCs of his type, but he'd never think of them as a group of his or friends of his. In EQ2 when we lay out encounters those guys are all very much attached together. So a group of Orcs may have an Orc that they consider to be their Healer. If their Healer starts getting attacked they'll respond and protect him much like a Player group would. (Well, most Player groups, we've all been in a couple of groups that couldn't keep the Healer alive.) It should come across to the player as being a much smarter encounter setup and make the World even that much more immersive.

In EQ Live Paladins and Shadowknights and such were hybrids of other classes, they basically had a couple abilities from each class. In EQ2 are they being built from the ground up originally or are they still going to be hybrids?

The Paladin and Shadowknight are both Subclasses of the Crusader Class. The Crusader is a Class from the Fighter Archetype. When someone wants to be a Paladin or Shadowknight they would begin their adventuring career as a Fighter. Once they progress further down they'll take the Crusader route and then really the difference between the Paladin and Shadowknight is really the good and evil versions of almost the same abilities or the same type of character. Like in EQ Live the Paladin is sort of a Fighter/Cleric and the Shadowknight is sort of a Fighter/Necromancer. We don't have that sort of distinction, but there will be a distinction between the two. The Shadowknight is more of the evil person who will still have Lifetaps and that sort of thing.

Basically the Paladins and Shadowknights will still have the flavor that you're used to having, but they're not a derivative class is what I think you were asking. The Paladin isn't just a half-ass Cleric and a half-ass Fighter, same for the Shadowknight.

Exactly, so as you get higher as a Paladin you won't start getting low level Cleric spells for example?

No, they have their own spell lines built up from scratch.

One of the concerns I think a lot of people have when you say that basically the Shadowknight is the evil version and the Paladin is the good version, is that players start to think that there are actually 12 end classes as opposed to 24. Because while the spell names may be different and the spell effects may look different, but in reality they actually do the same exact thing.

That won't be the case for sure. They're the same in that they're both Knights of either good or evil. But their spell selection will be different; the Paladin will be heavy on heals and such where the Shadowknight really won't have any of that at all. There will be a definite distinction between the two.

We wanted it to be meaningful in addition to being good role-playing flavor at the top level. Really most of what your character is going to be in a purely functional sense will be defined at the Archetype level, but you'll get things you're better at, you'll specialize in some areas and weaken in others as you go up that will make you distinct at the end.

How closely paired are some of the other Subclasses? For example the Monk subclasses; the Brawler and the Bruiser?

Right now they're fairly close in function. The one thing that really separates them is one is more offensive and the other is more defensive. That's really the only difference between the two. Right now we're actually implementing the subclass combat arts so that could change at any time.

Are there "dirty tricks" type abilities for the evil ones?

Yes there are definitely "dirty tricks" such as eye-gouges and the like.

How many different animations do you have for say the special abilities?

Right now there is, I believe, four distinct combat animations unique per the subclass, which will naturally grow in number as the game progresses.

Exactly at what point of the evolution process, brain wise, between all of you guys did you decide on making it to where things are based on Archetypes with flavor as opposed to the actual interdependency within the specific classes?

It was actually a pretty early decision in the design of the game. One of the main goals was to, like we said earlier, when the player is building a group or party, you want these basic iconic representations of your adventurers. And the specific flavor beyond that is good in certain areas, but is not totally necessary.

Can you tell us a little about ranged combat? We haven't seen any of it at all thus far. The people who plan to play Scouts are pretty much going nuts at this point, clamoring for ANY information on the subject.

That's something we're actually currently working on getting implemented. It should be ready pretty soon; we already have some test cases on the design servers that we're playing with right now. Ranged combat will be a lot like in EQ Live, we'll deal with the basic ranged weapon and then the ammo. A lot of the ammo in the game will be dependant on tradeskills. The ranged attacks will have a minimum and maximum range. Therefore you won't be able to point-blank fire most things, you'll have to switch to a melee weapon if you're in melee range or below the minimum range of the ranged weapon and ammo combination that you're using. Different things will have different ranges in which they'll be able to be used.

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Richard Cox