EverQuest has come a long way since it was first released in early 1999. With the release of four retail expansions over the intervening years, the game has added vast new areas, seen an increase in the level cap, undergone a major graphics overhaul, and more. Sony Online has attracted more than 500,000 EverQuest subscribers in the process, making it the most successful premium gaming service in the US. But even though the developer is also working on a full-fledged sequel, Sony Online isn't slowing down its work on EverQuest, and in fact, the development team for the live game is larger than it's ever been.
EverQuest: Lost Dungeons of Norrath will add a new type of adventuring experience when the expansion comes out this fall. While previous EverQuest areas have been public, meaning different groups of adventurers may meet on the path to an epic quest, the more than 40 hand-crafted dungeons in the latest expansion are designed for small groups. A unique version of a dungeon will appear when a group accesses it, and this private dungeon can be tailored to the levels and abilities of the group's characters. For more details on the expansion and on Sony Online's general plans for EverQuest, we spoke with Robert Pfister, senior producer on EverQuest, and Rod Humble, vice president of product development at Sony Online.
GameSpot: Previous EverQuest expansions have taken adventurers to new continents, the moon, and other planes of existence. How will the next expansion expand on the dungeon-crawling elements already in EverQuest?
Robert Pfister: Lost Dungeons of Norrath's dungeons are reminiscent of a more-traditional type of dungeon-crawl experience longtime gamers will remember--a small group of players battling monsters through a single dungeon to the climax of that adventure. The new dungeons are about two-thirds to one-half the size of a traditional EverQuest zone, but the dungeon instances are created per adventuring party, so you and your group will take on the dungeon alone. No early camping or spawn disputes.
GS: What's the story behind the new dungeons? How do they tie into the larger EverQuest storyline?
RP: Lost Dungeons of Norrath revolves around five areas with five distinct themes, some taking their origin from areas currently in the game and others that were once talked about only in legend and have now been brought to life. Rather than having a new storyline for each expansion, we've been working hard since the release of Shadows of Luclin to weave the expansions together with a common thread. There's the known history of EverQuest, but these expansions each reveal more of the hidden story of Norrath only hinted at previously.
GS: How does the dungeon system work? Is it a way to keep groups from competing with each other, or camping areas to get specific rare items?
RP: Players will be introduced to the Wayfarer's Brotherhood through world events long before the launch of Lost Dungeons of Norrath. These events will orient them to the coming changes in Norrath, including the ancient dungeons that have been found. Player groups will contact a member of the Wayfarer's Brotherhood to get their assignment and the key to the dungeon. Their adventure may be to kill the boss monster, rescue someone, or clear the dungeon of creatures. All these assignments will offer plenty of opportunities to gather loot and experience.
GS: How much will the dungeons be customized for a given group? Are there any randomly generated areas?
RP: There are some rules associated with the dungeons, in terms of the level range of the group, the time allotted to complete the adventure, the time allotted to start the adventure, and so on, but overall the dungeons are balanced to provide groups of five to six with an independent dungeon-crawl adventure that's tailored to their experience level and the adventure type they've selected and also balanced to offer them the hand-crafted content EQ is famous for.
GS: How large of a group can enter the new dungeons? Where will the dungeons be located, and how will you gain access to them?
RP: Groups will have five or six people. There will be entrances scattered around Norrath. Players will receive directions to these newly discovered dungeons when they select their adventure.
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GS: What sort of variety can players expect to find in the different dungeons, in terms of the physical setting and the monsters and items they'll find there? How long will it take to complete these areas?
RP: There are five dungeon themes. Each theme has multiple flavors to it, and each instance created has content designed for that group. Each of the dungeons (more than 40 in all) will have a unique layout, special points of interest, and in several cases a unique sub-theme. We are not randomly generating art in this expansion. Each dungeon is hand-crafted and pushes up the bar for what we can do with our engine. The layouts, objects, textures, and lighting really come together to produce some of the most exciting dungeons to date. As for the amount of content each dungeon will have, it depends upon the level of the group playing, the adventure selected, and the usual unforeseen dangers, but sessions should take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes to complete.
GS: Tell us about the in-game interface for tracking progress through the adventure.
RP: Some of the secrets of the Lost Dungeons of Norrath are not ready to be revealed!
GS: With Legacy of Ykesha, Sony Online started offering the option to buy expansion packs online for immediate download. Is this a popular option and something that you plan to do more of in the future?
Rod Humble: It has been a popular option among the players. It's not for everyone, but for players who have broadband, the digital distribution model provides real convenience. We plan on offering this same option for the Lost Dungeons of Norrath, and we're curious to see what sort of take-up occurs. Keep in mind that Lost Dungeons will be a far larger download than Legacy of Ykesha was.
GS: We hear that EverQuest currently has more than 500,000 subscribers. What sort of challenge does the upcoming release of EverQuest II present for continuing to grow the world of EverQuest? Can we expect Sony Online to continue to produce new content and features for EverQuest after the release of EverQuest II?
RH: Having EverQuest II coming up for release while EverQuest continues to grow is a pretty nice problem to have. Our strategy has been to develop EverQuest II as a different kind of product, one that will appeal to players who perhaps didn't like the direction of EverQuest's gameplay and to ex-EverQuest customers. The style of the content and overall feel will be different from EverQuest in a way we think customers will be surprised by. Yet it will continue the mythos and immersion that we regard as the cornerstone of EverQuest's success.
We will continue to support and grow the original EverQuest world. The team is bigger now than it ever has been, and our increasing subscription numbers seem to indicate that our players appreciate the recent effort that has gone into making EverQuest more user-friendly and adding even more content to develop the deepest online fantasy world ever made. We will be making an announcement sometime after Lost Dungeons of Norrath that I think will underline our long-term commitment to EverQuest.
GS: Are there other EverQuest expansions in the works? Will you continue to produce full retail expansion packs for the original game after EverQuest II's release?
RH: Absolutely. If anything, customer demand for new EverQuest expansions keeps rising. We are now up to two a year. You can count on another expansion in spring 2004. We have others planned, but marketing gets unhappy if we talk about things too far out.
GS: When do you expect the expansion to ship?
RP: We're gearing up for beta in late July or early August. Lost Dungeons of Norrath will ship on September 9.
GS: Robert and Rod, thanks for your time.