Thursday, April 11, 2024

It's Like That And That's The Way It Is

When I went to log into EverQuest II this morning so I could carry on with the new, excellent, awkward and frustrating Darkpaw Rising update, I spotted a link in the launcher to the transcript of a recent AMA by the EQII team on the new, excellent, not at all awkward or frustrating forums. I thought I'd have a quck look at it while the game loaded so here I am, nearly an hour later, not having played at all.

It's a long and very interesting read although much of that interest applies only to people who might actually play the game. A few of the topics and answers, though, I felt had some wider resonance so I've pulled them out for consideration here. I recommend anyone who currently plays the game, or used to and still cares about it, take a glance at the whole thing but for everyone else, this will probably be more than enough.

Since I can't keep my opinions to myself, I've added my thoughts as well. It's my blog so I can! 

 Q: Is there a possibility of opening up some art assets for community contributions as well?
Caith: Nope.The player studio project that many of the Daybreak games had going for a long time were both legal headaches as well as not viable financially. The amount of art resources (hours) required to work with a contributor far exceeded the amount of resources the teams could have simply allocated to an artist to complete the same work.

The thing I like most about this AMA is the way no-one balks at giving the real reasons for why things are done the way they are. Answer after answer comes down to some combination of not enough people, not enough time, much more complicated than it sounds, causes more problems than it solves or players didn't like it. Almost nothing is sugar-coated. It's like there was no marketing rep guiding the conversation and the Head of Studio, who was, actually wanted players to understand how game development works.

That said, I imagine the part Caith left out was that under SOE's ownership a whole load of projects were greenlighted that clearly couldn't have been profitable. They were presumably underwritten by Sony, a company that has long seemed quite comfortable with losing huge amounts of money. Perks of being a rounding error on the account sheet of a global multinational I guess.

Cut to the chase. You want me to kill 'em, right?

Q: Are there any plans or discussions involving a game wide stat/number squish? Is it just too much work for the team you have now or is it something that may possibly happen in the future?
Caith: There has been much discussion, but there are no plans for a game wide stat reduction for a variety of reasons. One of the primary reasons it is unlikely to happen is how content is designed in the game. EverQuest 2 was designed in a way that gives developers a lot of freedom in how they implement content, which allows them to make the content more flexible and unique. The downside of this is that developers can implement things in innumerable ways, and any rebalance of that content would be a manual process. So in short, a stat reduction would require hand tuning of almost every encounter in the game.

It might have worked for WoW, although the jury is still out on that, but it will never work for EQII. The part Caith left out is that EQII players fricken' love their big numbers. There'd be an outcry if DPS wasn't measured in trillions per second. 

At least, the folks still playing on the Live servers like it that way. Everyone else long since migrated to TLE, where the numbers are so much smaller and smaller numbers and simpler stats is one of the tentpole features of the upcoming Origins server, so someone at Darkpaw reckons on having cake and eating it too.

Q: Are the "suburbs" ever going to be returned to at launch state?
Caith: This is extremely unlikely to happen on a live server due to the amount of quest and NPC updates that have been made over the years, NPC’s have been moved and quest dialog updated to reflect the move, much less the quests themselves updated to function in the new zones they are in, etc.
Kaitheel: Our newly announced Origins server will allow you to step back in time and experience the cozy neighborhoods and all of the quests they had to offer!

There's some hard information about the upcoming Origins server buried in the AMA. The above answer confirms the long-lost neighborhood quests will be included, which is something I wouldn't have bet on. Elsewhere, it's also strongly suggested the intention is to get as close as possible to the original game as it was at that time and that the motivation for doing the server is to encourage both former players and brand new ones to take a look.

It is odd to think that the best way to get people to consider playing a game in 2024 is to make it look and feel like one from 2006 but I guess WoW Classic is proof that it works. Pretty soon everyone wil be doing it, if they aren't already.

Q: Will you bring back LoN?
JChan: Legends of Norrath was great when it was here, but we have no plans to bring it back currently. Spinning back up a whole new development team or taking away current developers to work on it would put stressors on the team right now that are just plain unhealthy for our long-term future. That being said, there's always the possibility that our situations will change in the future.

The answers to many of the questions boil down to some variation on "We're a small team and we're already at full stretch doing live events, expansions and updates." and that's the context of Jen Chan's answer here but that last sentence is intriguing in a couple of ways. Firstly it hints at a potential change for the better in terms of resources at Darkpaw and I don't see any sign elsewhere in the AMA of general feel-good platitudes so maybe she knows something...

Secondly, it doesn't explicitly rule out a return for Legends of Norrath, the EQ-themed collectable card game that shuttered eight years ago. I only recently deleted the game files from my PC on the final assumption it was gone forever, not that I actually played it when it was around anyway. I wouldn't have thought there was a chance in a billion it would ever return but given that plenty of other questions in the AMA received a firm, unequivocal "No, never", I guess now we can't rule it out.

Watch in amazement as I battle two bosses at the same time!

Q: Finally, when is DBG/DarkPaw going to seriously address tradeskilling. You know how long it has been since there has been new craftable bags or boxes, or totems? Not to mention, at one point in time we could craft the beginning gear and Jewelry needed and make a bit of change. Other than food/drink, spells, not much else anyone wants.
Caith: Bag space is a DB and systems issue, a ton of the functions in the game iterate over every single item that a player has in their inventory, including every bank slot, every house slot, etc. We are, and will remain, extremely stingy when it comes to increasing inventory space, because as soon as we do the next question becomes “when are you going to fix lag and decrease loading times”.

Ah, inventory! How we love to hate you and hate to lose you. I'm fairly sure EQII actually has the most generous inventory allocation of any game I've ever played, so clearly Darkpaw's definition of "extremely stingy" is a little different than mine, although I realise Caith here is talking about the parsimonious present and future, not the profligate past.

In general, though, this answer is a great example of the way giving in to the demands of one set of players is always likely to cause problems for another or, in this case, for everyone. Who'd be a game developer, eh?

Q: Could you all please bring back the map help for npcs, quest items and such?
Kaitheel: We have no plans to remove the current map system in game, where the quest givers and quest update conversations are given specific quest icons, but the short-lived blue regions on the maps that give direct locations of quest steps are not something we plan to bring back. They were useful, we agree, but they had some significant downsides. Downsides that outweighed the usefulness.

These blue regions presented every active quest target possible at that moment on your map, naturally drawing your attention to the map. We observed how little attention was being paid to the dialogue, the story, even the characters to fight and the world one was traveling through. It was not helpful for building the world, telling the stories of the world, or your immersion therein. Even I found myself paying more attention to the blue splotches on my map than I was to the quest journals or NPC conversations. The quest I was doing, my motivation, the quest givers – all of it was buried behind the ease of these blue regions on the map. So, coupled with the significant amount of time that they took to create, we chose instead to give more helpful journal text, with more specific points of interest, and labeled sections of the zone on the maps.

Kaitheel is the epitome of the quest guy. He loves writing quests and he wants everyone to appreciate them. Answer after answer in the AMA reflect it, just as answer after answer from Caith suggest he'd really rather be honing his stand-up at an open mic night somewhere. 

I tend to agree with Kaitheel on this although I did quite like the big, blue splotches when they were around. They were added in the era when all MMORPGs were backpedalling as fast as they could away from the origins and traditions of the genre. In attempting to remove all the obstacles and put in all the labor-saving devices, most of them cut-and-pasted ideas and mechanics from the wave of imports sweeping in from the East. That's when every older game added flying mounts, too. 

We still have those but now we're not allowed to use them until we've been everywhere on foot. So swings the pendulum.

This isn't the time to start another debate about immersion but I'd just mention that I wouldn't be enjoying each new expansion in EQII half as much if I couldn't open the wiki and copy the co-ordinates for every quest target into EQIIMaps to get a glowing trail and a map marker. If Kaitheel believes most players are finding their way by in-game landmarks, he's fooling himself. All that really happened when they took out the in-game quest markers was that the trade passed to a third party provider.

And now with the UI

Q: The exp gain in zimara went from one extreme to the next, could you all please balance that some?
Caith: The experience gain in Zimara is an example of where we would prefer it to be. It takes actual work to level up, and you have multiple routes to obtain experience, some requiring more attention (questing) and giving larger rewards, some requiring little attention (grinding mobs) and giving much lower rewards.

While we're on the subject of old chestnuts and dead horses... Is anyone ever satisfied with the rate of xp or leveling in any MMORPG? I very much doubt it. It's the Goldilocks story without Baby Bear. 

I'm almost at the end of the signature quest line for Ballads of Zimara with my Berserker and he's 10% into 128. I very much doubt he's going to hit the 130 cap before he runs out of quests. He might not even hit 129. I'll have to do repeatables or else try and finish the Collects, if those even give xp any more. 

I'm broadly in favor of relatively slower progress but this puts me right off  levelling another character, even with the suppposed 50% bonus for characters on an account where one character has finished the Sig Line. As for the future, when this becomes a step on the levelling ladder that has to be taken before you get to current content, you can forget it. It was fine having to revisit older expansions when it took a couple of sessions at most to hit the cap but a couple of weeks is too much by a lot. I guess I'll be finding a use for all those level boosts I stashed after all.

Also, how could the phrase "actual work" ever belong in any description of a process in a video game? I fear that, when the act of creating something other people use for entertainment becomes too closely tied to your own sense of identity, it's possible to find yourself losing perspective...

Q: Do you have any plans to reduce the number of spells? we have to use 3rd party addons to get an additional hot bar because of the honestly absurd amount of spells/clickies/buffs some classes have? Maybe allow us to combine some buffs to 1 button?
Caith: We’ve talked about it, and introduced some ways to reduce the amount of spells players need on their hotbar or rotation, but the resulting pushback from the playerbase has always been more negative than positive. Everyone wants less abilities, but not this ability, or that ability, or any of MY classes abilities. Ultimately, with the amount of UI performance degradation, less abilities on hotbars showing cooldowns, etc, the better as far as I am concerned.

As above, here's another great example of how giving in to one group's demands just exacerbates complaints from another. It's akin to Wilhelm's Law, which states that every feature in an MMORPG, no matter how widely despised, will prove to have been someone's favorite when removed.

Personally, I love my ten hotbars, at least six of them filled with spells I might and usually do use in combat. I can't remember what all of them are called - I can't even remember what some of them do - but I wouldn't want to be without any of them.

Q: I know it is impossible to make everyone happy and I love that H3 is difficult and not for everyone. Can we get a raid equivalent?
Caith: It is comparatively easy to find six likeminded players that enjoy an extreme challenge to get them into a challenging heroic dungeon, when compared to the task of finding a raid guild who all agree that they want the same level of challenge, failure, regroup, retry. The larger number of players seem to drastically increase the likelyhood of a player or subset of the players are frustrated and angry and only here because they feel like they have to be, thus leading to overall dissatisfaction with the content.

And finally, a word of pure common sense from Caith. I never liked raiding and never did much of it but when I did, back in EverQuest, raids could have as many as 72 people. Can you imagine the time it took just to get everyone facing the right way? Is it any wonder I decided it wasn't for me?

Stockholm Syndrome doesn't actually exist but if it did it sure would explain why some people say they enjoy raiding.

And on that not at all controversial note, I'm off to do what I meant to do four hours ago, namely play EQII.


  1. And finally, a word of pure common sense from Caith. I never liked raiding and never did much of it but when I did, back in EverQuest, raids could have as many as 72 people. Can you imagine the time it took just to get everyone facing the right way? Is it any wonder I decided it wasn't for me?

    That reminds me of work, where it is apparently an impossible task to get everybody in an "all hands" conference call (or Microsoft Teams meeting) to mute themselves before the event starts. And the kicker is that everybody in the call is supposedly an employee at a Tech company, so the concept of "pressing the mute button" is something beyond their capabilities.

    Of course, that's why the "Mute All" option was created, but that will also mute the speaker, so....

    1. The genuine original raids in EQ, before raiding turned into designed content, were just a bunch of people going into a zone and trying to clear it. I did a few of those with my first guild and they were absolutely chaotic. Anyone could come, any level, and the only plan was to get as far as we could without everyone getting so fed up they left. That was fun...


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