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Everquest Next's Terry Michaels: "You won't get snake skins coming from gnolls."

We interrogate Senior Producer Terry Michaels in a bid to learn more about the upcoming MMO.

"Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh. Ehm. Gee." A random passerby squeals as we all file out of the massive hall. People aren't just mildly intrigued by Everquest Next, it seems. They're stoked.

But then again, who wouldn't be? Everquest Next sounds like it could be revolutionary. It's like Minecraft meets Guild Wars 2 meets Pixar, a kaleidoscope of everyone's favorite things. In spite of the elated response, however, the team behind Everquest Next are only at the beginning of that long road to release. And the first stop?

The press suite at Planet Hollywood.

Right after a big announcement, developers look a lot like stressed-out members of royalty: 'we' instead of 'I', cautious responses and a dazed look that suggests what they'd really like to do is run away sobbing from the press. As Senior Producer Terry Michaels settles down, we check with the PR person. "You have about 10 minutes."

Right. Let's do it.

"Biggest question I've heard so far: What's the deal for PvP?"

"So, we haven't announced anything about PvP. We are going to have PvP. It will absolutely be in our game. We aren't talking about the details yet. We will be announcing that in the near future."

"Er. No chance you could at least tell me if there'd be open world PvP?"

"Uh." A furtive pause "I can say that there'll be all kinds of PvP?"

"That's all I'm getting, huh?"

"Yeah."

One of the things mentioned during the presentation was that players would be able to decide on the look and feel of the equipment. However, freedom in this respect could diminish the value of hard-won raid items. Why work hard at looking awesome when you can look awesome with far less effort?

"It's interesting because it's one of the things we're going to be engaging our community on in Round Table." Michaels began. Round Table, for those who missed the explanation during the announcement, is a feature that the developers will be introducing that will serve as a bridge between them and the players. "We're going to be asking that very question about what players want to see because there's many ways we could go about it. What we do want to do about it is make sure players have the biggest array of choices possible. And the visual aspect of their armor is one of those choices that we want to make available to players whenever, whatever possible - "

Time to break the house down.

"Do you have any, like, more concrete ideas on this?" I interrupt, hoping to wrangle a more solid response.

"Well, we know we want to keep what we call a visual language so you can look at characters in the world and get a sense of what they've accomplished and what they have and what not done. So, the visual language is extremely important to us. But there are a lot of aspects of that customization we're leaving up to players."

We squint at each other, two gunslingers on the verge of a confrontation, before I drop my gaze and continue with the next question. You win this round, Michaels.

"So, how are we framing all those loot issues? Like, will snakes drop snakeskin instead of, uh, a twenty-feet long quarterstaff?"

"We all joke about the fact in the original EQ you could get swords from snakes and snakes could kick and all those wonderful things that were part of the original game. We want to have a system that is much more natural and understandable. The snake will drop things like snake skin. You won't get snake skins coming from gnolls. That's not the way we're going to drop loot."

I nod. Always good to know what to expect from the carcasses you leave behind.

Continuing on, we touch on the art direction in the game. Was it a technical decision or the product of artistic design?

"It's completely an artistic decision. These kind of games last 10, 20 and even 30 years. With more photo-realistic look, those are often outdated by the time you launch your game much less five years later so stylistic will stay relevant much longer."

There's a brief pause as I consider the next question. It's one from Reddit and it is as bluntly-worded as a battering ram. A deep breath, and then:

"Will power be sold in EQ? What can players purchase?"

"We're not going into details about what our micro-transactions will be but it's going to be a free-to-play game."

".. 'kay."

Awkward silence - where was the indignant huff at the very notion that power could be brokered in his game? - unfolds for a moment before it's broken by the next question.

"What is the death system like?"

"Well, there will be death in the game. It's meant to be an important part. If you don't have a sense of danger, then dying does matter."

I push. "So, what exactly will you lose? Experience? Gold?"

"We're not discussing the death mechanics just yet."

"Darn. Fine. Next question. Have you ever changed any game mechanics or features in the franchise based on a comment thread on a Forum or Reddit?"

"Absolutely. We want to put our ideas out there for Everquest Next so players know about them before we release the game. We can get those opinions and take them into account in regards to what we're creating."

"Annnd, the crafting system?" I switch gears, hoping to dislodge Michaels from his paces.

"We talked a little about what's going to be in Landmark. We haven't announced what's going to be in Everquest Next.-"

"Aww."

"- It's going to be a resource-based crafting system and you're going to go out and collect things and use them at crafting stations and you can use those in productions and making a more interesting set of content. All of that will be carried to a much greater level in Everquest Next." Michaels continues, completely unflappable.

"What kind of difficulty can we be expecting here? There's a lot of commentary about how MMOs feel a little too easy. Where does Everquest Next sit on the scale?"

"Well, risk and reward is what MMOs are all about. I would not call this game a hardcore MMO. We want something that is accessible to a larger number of people but we want to make sure it's balanced with good gameplay and interesting things that will keep people interested."

"Can you say anything about the economy we can expect from EQN?"

"Social interactions are important to us. In things like the economy and how you interact with it, we think that building social bonds between individuals is very important. So those types of things come into consideration when you discuss bazaars, auction houses and trading. We'll obviously have trading and we'll let people sell the things they craft or find."

Briefly, I muse over apologizing for the haphazard shotgun blast of questions. I'm pulling things from Reddit, from my colleagues, from disjointed recollections of the announcement.

"Okay. Ultima Online tried something similar sometime ago, but that turned out fairly disastrously. Players showed up and flattened everything. How are you guys going to prevent the same from happening here?"

"All of the A.I care about what's going on. You might be able to push the goblins out of area but they might have been keeping something else out. By pushing them out, you're opening the door to let something else comes in. We want a constant ebb and flow in the population, a world that is changing always around you. We're not creating a system where players can just go and destroy the ecology in the world, which is kinda what happened in Ultima Online." His face crinkles sympathetically."Players just kinda walked out there and destroyed everything so there was nothing the A.I could react to. We're going to make sure that there's going to be a system in place."

"Is the balance between creators and audience shifting?"

"The community and the players of the game? They're the vertebrae of an MMO. They are game designers in the own right. They have their idea of what will make a fun game and what won't. And what we want to do is we just want to make sure we know those things before we've made those games so we can do our best to make sure we create something that is both sound and interesting to the players. We're taking the involvement of our players to what we consider an unprecedented level with EQN and Landmark where we actually want to involve them in the development of the game."

I squint. His PR team is a well-oiled juggernaut. They've trained him well.

"Speaking of classes, I know we've got 40 different classes in places and the ability to multitask. But, will there still be definitive roles for people to play?"

"We want the classes to be both iconic and interesting to players so there will be classes that have particular focuses on what they do. There may be a class that is more damage based and avoidance based. There can be another one that can absorb damage or what would stereotypically be called a tank. What we don't want is players to have to fall into their roles." Michael begins.

"What we see in MMOs right now is that you're gated in your ability to play the game based on the availability of other players with particular skill sets or roles . We want to make sure players play the game whenever they want to and with whomever they want to so we need to have a more flexible system. What you're doing one day is not what you have to do the next day. Say for instance you need to play a class that isn't what you'll call your 'primary'." The air quotes are almost audible. "You're still earning advancement that you can apply to whatever you want. No longer will you have to give up your time to help somebody accomplish something. Everybody should be advancing their characters every time they play the game."

Time finally ticks down to the last minute. I catch a glance from a perambulating PR person, the one that says I will in trouble if I attempt to monopolize Michaels' time any longer. Last question, and it had to be a good one.

"During the presentation, the trees, uh, exploded in different ways. One of them kind of just broke into voxels. And others kinda - "

I tip my hand in the air, miming a tree as it collapses onto the earth.

"Fall over?"

"Yeah." Eloquence is hard at conferences.

"We have control over how things are destroyed in circumstances. To be completely honest, we're not done developing systems for that. We will generate standards and expected results. You'll be able to anticipate what happens when you destroy something. The trees you mentioned were of different scales so you had a small tree versus a very tall scree. With a small tree, it looked more natural and we're endeavoring to make things as natural as they look."

"And we're done! Thank you kindly."

In case it wasn't obvious already, the development team behind Everquest Next has finally started talking about their upcoming MMO. Some are heralding it as the WoW-killer, some just think it's cool. What about you? Let us know what you think! You may also want to read Mike's take on the whole business over here.

Tags: everquestnext Interview

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