Art & Graphics
We wanted to still have the EQ flavor in the game, but obviously not just look like EQ1. We wanted to raise the bar and I think that through some of the newer hardware out there we've been able to do that. We've done a lot in the way of motion captured animations. There are a little more than 1,000 animations for the character, which is pretty intense. To give you a perspective of how much work we're talking here, the smallest animation generally takes from half a day to a day to do. There's a lot of motion capture and a lot of hand animated stuff as well. Obviously we're a Heroic game. Fantasy characters tend to be able to do things that are humanly impossible. Because of this we had to do a lot of special custom animations. We used the motion capture mostly as a reference, and then we would go in and animate it. A lot of the stuff we couldn't find specific actors for, or specifically trained people to do it. Some of the motion capture work that we did involved the guys from Smashcut. Smashcut is a stunt company in Hollywood that has worked on over 90 movies, including The Matrix, Fight Club and the Batman movies. They've also worked on over 50 TV shows including such hits as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The actors they sent us knew their styles and their forms very well, but it was also very homogenous. We wanted to make things a little less obvious, so for some of the moves they were perfect, but for others the animators had to go in and adjust and just use that as a very basic reference. This way the animators could see what was involved in a specific motion and then go in and put their own special touch on it.
There's a flavor of motion capture in almost everything in the game, but in the end product there is actually very little raw motion capture. Most of it has been edited or manipulated in some manner. Also the combat system that we have helps facilitate some points in space for blocking, for connecting, being deflected and all of that. The motion capture is a little bit more vague than that. We would then edit it to get within the vicinity of a certain point that was needed to animate a block or deflection or whatever. Also when you're motion capturing you aren't going to say "This is for the flinch animation" and then hit the guy in the head with a bat. Things like that, the connection shots and the blows landing etc, aren't really as feasible in motion capture and are custom animations. In general the art has probably taken a lot longer than any comparable game just because of the sheer amount of polygons.
With the new technology there's a lot of new information that's going in there. Compared to the regular polygon and textures there are new maps and such that are being put in. Like a cave for instance, we could do it with just one texture wrapped around the interior of the cave, but we have 4 or 5 different shaders and textures in a lot of cases. The top is different from the bottom and those from the sides, etc. This way we can make it look like the path on the floor is worn down or whatever. All in all it's six or seven times the work, because now there is so much more detail that can be included.
I think it's a lot easier to do this kind of stuff for a live action movie, because in that industry they've had something like 40 years to perfect their technology. In the gaming world though the graphics technology changes every nine months or so. It's really hard to keep up as a game developer sometimes. In the beginning we were like "Are you sure we want this many polygons over here?" and we just decided to do it, just put in the polygons, put in the shaders and we'll be ok.
Some of the more interesting features about the quest system are the Access quests which will grant you access to the instanced areas. Then once you finish that quest you'll have access to that instanced area at whatever rate it can be accessed, be it a weekly spawn or every three days, whatever.
Another very interesting set of quests are the Heritage quests. A lot of these will be fairly difficult but they will give you some Heritage items, some things that you'll remember from EQ1. They will be useful but probably won't do the same things that you may remember them doing in EQ1. One good example of one of the items you can quest for is the Mana Stone. Basically if it's ever been one of the "Top 10 EQ1 Items" then you can probably expect to find a Heritage quest for it.
Also worth noting is the Betrayal quests are almost fully implemented now. We are probably going to make them more and more and more difficult. We want it to be very painful and difficult to betray your city. So when you see that Dark Elf Paladin in Qeynos you're going to know that he went through a lot of trouble to get where he is. Part of it you'll have to have a group for, they don't all have to be doing the betrayal quest though, they're just there to help you get through it. It will also be restricted in how many people can do it in one day. Also as a good teaser this would be one of the few places you get to talk to Antonia or Lucan.
There are also things like, just to tease a little, some of the class quests are actually really cool. They're not your typical collect and fetch type of things. One of the Rogue quests for example, I had to sneak in, get some plans and sneak out. It wasn't about combat at all. It was really difficult, there were callouts from the guards like "What was that?" and I'd have to freeze and avoid being found. It has an almost Metal Gear Solid feel to it. There are a lot of these quests like this that aren't what you've come to expect as your typical fair for quests. There are times where we don't want you, where you're not meant to fight your way out of things. Sometimes you'll be forced to stealth or think it through, use that grey matter for something other than holding your ears apart. If you try to fight your way through these situations you will die.
There are a LOT of quests in the game. To give you an example, my wife is playing the beta, and she got really into doing the quests. By level 9 I think she had completed like 56 quests and had 64 pending. And she was still going. The main focus of our quests is content and the item rewards. And then we have other new quest types also. For example you have the Slayer quests. If you want to earn the Orc-Slayer title you have to go out and kill a certain number of Orcs. There are many different types of Slayer quests and you can gain several Slayer titles. Or the exploration quests for example. There are also item quests, you might kill some random mob and it'll drop an item which might start a quest for you. There are a ton of different quests in the game and it's not about quantity, it's about variety, we want to provide as many different options for you to spend your time ingame as we can.
Well there you have it, roughly 5 hours of recorded discussions and interviews; I hope you enjoyed it all. And if you made it all the way through it then I must be doing something right with my writing style. :) There are many other things about the trip that I could talk about, but I figured that the pertinent info about the game was most important. As for the details about the trip to Mexico and the other partying, there are some things you're just better off not knowing about, consider yourself safer that way. ;)