After my initial interview with Terry Michaels, I found myself confronted with two choices: go to every Everquest Next panel I could find in Planet Hollywood or attempt to rattle more concrete answers out of the team. Naturally, I decided being pesky would be considerably more fun. For me, perhaps, if not the developers. But it's their job to field a barrage of questions, right? Right.
"You have fifteen minutes." The PR representative tell me.
Other media personnel continue trickling in, the roar of the crowd made apparent each time the door swings open. Programmer Steve Klug and Senior Producer Terry Michaels seat themselves at my overtly large table and briefly, ever-so-briefly, I feel a twinge of guilt for organizing this meeting. These wouldn't just be questions from me (Spoiler: I had one question of my own), but a proliferation of inquiries from Reddit.
"So, let's start." I hit the button, even as we conclude the preliminary introductions. "To clear it up once and for all, are there dedicated healers and tanks or it now more Guild Wars 2 slash The Secret World? Is the Holy Trinity dead?"
"Well, I can answer that to some degree. It's.. " Michaels begins, slowly. ".. the dedicated roles of the holy trinity are not going to be present in Everquest Next. There will be different classes and different build that are angled towards some of the roles, so there might be a class or a build or a class that is more tank-ish but you don't NEED that person to accomplish that goal and content. You can go in there without having somebody who is the stereotypical tank."
"It will be impossible for someone to be what you would call a tank in another game - "
Klug interjects, "The combat mechanics work very differently. "
" - Yeah. The combat's very different. There's not the common threat mechanic that people see in MMOs where there is somebody who can generate enough aggro that the NPC will never ever turn away from them." Michael finishes.
"I spoke to Mr. Green about Storybricks." Storybricks, for the uninitiated, is the engine that helps powers the emergent A.I in Everquest Next. "He mentioned something about the intelligence of monsters. Will their attention spans, so to speak, be affected by that?"
"To some degree. But, by intelligent, what we really mean, generally speaking, is that the more intelligent an NPC is, the more likely they are to choose the most appropriate or more appropriate actions at any given time. So, the smarter Orc would choose to do some of the more optimal options whereas a dumb Orc might not. They may make mistakes and poor choices."
I lean forward. Journalists are like steel-jawed terriers. Give us a bone, and we're going to latch on. "Now, this was spoken of on a 'theoretical' basis, but, will there be personality traits on - "
Unfortunately, I also have the attention span of a gnat.
"Axes." I look to my list of questions. "Will there be axes?"
"Axes? Like swords and axes? Yes! We will have axes and hammers and swords and two-handed swords and - "
"Everything you can think of." Klug states gravely."
" - Yeah."
"Good. People were worried since there weren't any during the presentation."
"Oh, no no no. There will be axes." Michaels announces, with all the finality of a tombstone.
I skim the list of questions from Reddit, pick out one: "So, here's another question from Reddit. So, let's say that both wizards and rogues use daggers. Can you use both a wizard's dagger skills and a rogue's dagger skills simultaneously?"
The two exchange a look.
Klug answers: "Well, weapon skills are specific to a particular class, right? There may be secondary skills that may be affected by daggers that you might be able to use as a different class but the dagger weapon skills themselves wouldn't be the same because you'd have wizard dagger skills and you'd have rogue dagger skills. You'd have to use one or the other depending on which class you are."
"Just to clarify. You can't have both offensive skills from both classes simultaneously?"
"It's - "
Klug gets cut off.
"Let me take this one. So, the ability bar is broken into two sections. The first half of it is your weapon skills. the weapons that you can use are based on the class that you're playing. So, in your example, if you're a wizard and wizards can have daggers then the first four will be filled up with your wizard dagger abilities. Then, you would have what we're calling the character abilities filling up the other half of the bar. You can put different categories of abilities into that other half from any of the classes. So, if a rogue has a character ability you're interested in using when you're playing your wizard, you can absolutely use it. But you can't take one the weapon abilities from the rogue and use it while you're a wizard." Michael says.
"Will there be an inertia and momentum in the game?"
"In what part of the game?" Klug questions, cautiously.
"Well," Klug begins. The word 'well' comes out very frequently in interviews. "Certainly, the heroic move system will have aspects of physics and inertia as part of them. You saw that in the debut."
Michaels adds, "And I would that much like Planetside 2, the movement model of the game is a physics-based simulation."
"Are there any artificial caps in regards to how deeply you can dig into your land? Like, if someone finds a Pick Axe of Eternal Smoting on the first day, can they dig into the center of the earth straight away?"
They both stare. I probably should have attempted to organize my questions list.
"We haven't talked about that but I'm entirely certain we will put arbitrary limits on - " Michaels says.
" - An arbitrary limit or just a practical limit. For instance, a very low tier character may have serious trouble surviving if you dive that deep."
"But it's possible." I persist.
"We haven't really discussed that." Klug concludes.
"How the heck is latency going to work with all the destructible terrain and stuff?"
For once, Klug takes point. "There isn't really any latency involved - "
" - Well, there certainly is latency but we have synchronization mechanisms in place. We've added some new synchronization mechanisms so that your effects - for anything that has latency involved we can synchronize things that are quicker to happen at the same time. We could go really technical. In terms of the way Planetside 2 does things, there's something called back timing so that you see things played out in the right time frame for other players and everything can be synchronized very nicely. It also has to do with movement compensation and making things, the motion of other players looking very smooth. "
"We have a lot of systems in place to handle latency." A reassuring finish from Klug.
"And we are aware of the technical challenges that go into something like a fully destructible world and we have solutions planned and some in place to deal with the types of things that your question is addressing." Michael supplies.
"Since Planetside 2 is a first-person shooter, there's a lot of really great latency addressing technology coming from it."
"So, you're building on stuff that exists in Planetside 2?"
An affirmative nod. "Very much so."
"Uh, just to double check for the people at home. The subterranean levels are all procedurally generated, yes?"
"Some of them are." Michael says.
"So is the surface." Klug adds.
"Right. So, Reddit asked about the potential of falling into a hole that you open. Will it be instanced exclusively to you or can anyone jump through it?"
"It's a part of the world just like the surface of the world." Michael affirms.
Then, Klug says: "They can see him do that and jump in right after him."
"Yeah! They can jump right in and be like, 'Oh, my god. I am going to save you!' or 'Oh, my god, I'm going to see what you just found and try to take it from you'"
"During PVP, people could potentially break into a tunnel and run screaming down it?"
"Sure." Michaels says, a little too quickly.
"Well, we haven't talked about PVP very much - " Klug adds, a tiny hint of panic swelling in his voice.
"But, theoretically." Klug agrees, after having issued the necessary disclaimer.
We all stare at one another, aware that somewhere, somehow, there may have been a misspoken word.
"Yes." A nod from Michaels.
"Yes, we have first person." Klug says.
I nod. "Oculus Rift?"
"We haven't announced any other than PC this winter for Landmark." Michaels states.
We continue on. Occasionally, a PR representative drifts past the table, a wary eye fixated on my little group.
"Will weapons stop progressing after a point? Like, if some guy decides to use a sword from day one, will he eventually run out of things to level up with that sword?"
"We haven't talked a lot about the progression that's going to exist in our game but there will will be a maximum progression for anything than players can progress in our game." Michael replies.
"No holding onto their sword for three years?"
"I wouldn't say that." The shrug is audible. "Perhaps, when that sword is done being progressed, you're still quite happy with it."
I shrug too. Question answered. Good enough. Besides, the next one is more interesting: "Are abilities tied to weapon types or the weapons themselves? Or is it a mixture of both?"
"It's a combination. In the classes panel, we talked about the fact that certain items will convey certain effects to what the character is doing." Michael says.
"Passive or active?" Terrier. I was probably a terrier in my previous life.
"Passive. And in that way, one sword can create a different situation than another sword would for the same class for the same ability. So, there will be reasons to collect more than one of a weapon type. But the weapon abilities are not tied to a specific weapon. They are tied to a specific weapon type."
"And there's a lot about that itemization that we aren't getting into. That's a whole other conversation." Klug quips.
I shoot him a glare. Tease.
"Er. Boats. Are there any oceans planned for launch? Boats?"
Michaels grins. "We haven't discussed any of that with the public yet. So, look for that in the future."
Damn that well-oiled PR machine.
"There's been a lot of boats questions." Klug muses.
"Well, boats are a big deal with EQ. But that's a good question for the Round Table."
After some deliberation, Klug remarks in an almost dead-pan fashion, "Tell 'em we'll get back to them about the urgent boats questions."
We'll get back to you in regards to nautical transportation. Official word, folks. Sorry.
"Will the original crowd control of enchanters and bards play a role?"
"Well, we have a very different class system than that game did and with a fully interactive world, there's many different kinds of activities you can partake in to crowd control. You know, we use it in - and I don't believe Dave used it in our presentation, but - you know, you can blow a hole in the ground and an NPC can fall into it. And that is a form of crowd control. So, expect to see a lot of different mechanisms in the game because our game is fundamentally different from the other games that we've made before."
"He also showed the stasis spell." Klug points out.
"And stasis are the ideas of like mezmerization and things like that."
"Or even the idea of bringing up a wall so that monsters have to go around, right? That's a very different kind of - " Klug muses.
I cut in. "Speaking of that, we've seen spells that can destroy. What about spells that can create things from the landscape?"
"Well, the crystal wall is a great example of that. That's - "
"How long will stuff like that last?"
"Well, it depends on the ability. Um."
"Are there any that will last permanently?" Nope. Not getting away from me, Michaels.
"That's a hard question to answer." Michaels says, finally.
"Or at least longer than five minutes?" I offer, in what may or may not be a helpful manner.
"Permanence is a grey thing." Klug retorts.
"We've talked about the fact that people's changes to the world are different based on where they are in the world when they're making those changes. Whether you're in a part of the world that you have control over. Whether or not you're in a part of the world that nobody controls. Or if you're in part of the world that we deem to be significant for our directed story. The permanence will be different based on where you're doing things." Michaels says.
Ten minutes down. Five to go. The conversation speeds up. "If someone selects a rogue as their starting class, will they have an advantage over someone who rolls up a rogue class as their, uh, 10th or 12th class?"
Michael replies, "So, we talked a little bit about it on the classes panel and the classes that you can pick up at the beginning of the game? The ones we give you as options to start with. Those are fully functional classes just like the ones that are found in the game as you play through it. "
"Not better, not worse." Klug states, concise in a fashion only programmers can be.
"Not better, not worse. There won't be an advantage for starting as a rogue vs me finding it later in the game. Absolutely not."
"Are dungeons and housing instanced?"
Ever the professional, Michael launches into an explanation, "For the instancing question, that is a tool that, as game developers, we will use to help us tell the stories that we need to tell. So we'll use instances in the appropriate locations and not use them when they are inappropriate."
"So - " That didn't actually answer my question.
"That doesn't actually answer your question, I realize that." Michael says, a little apologetically. "But it's the answer I am able to give up at this point in time."
I look over his shoulder. "Especially with your PR guy glaring daggers, eh?"
Sudden laughter as we break away from the verbal duel and my continuous attempt to wheedle answers out of the duo. Ben, the much-beleaguered PR dude walks away, head drooped, a Peanuts character turned flesh.
"Anyway. ANYWAY. I'm curious about the mechanics behind the creation of the voxels. For lack of better words, how'd you come onto the engine?"
"We started with our first-gen engine we build entirely in house. Then just like the Story Bricks, we sought out experts in the field. We realized we wanted to have more in terms of naturalistic landscapes and more epic vistas. So we were working with a partner called Voxel Farm-" Michaels says.
"Correct. That has worked with us to build an engine that uses - you could look it up - an approach called dual contouring of voxels that gives us the capability of having smooth voxels and the really nice sharp, oblique angles that you can't get with other voxel rendering technologies."
"How wide is the variety of tools available?"
"We're not discussing the tools available for building and construction."
The PR guy ambles closer.
"And, that's fifteen minutes sharp. You can have your people back!"