A huge update for a seminal, popular MMO title will change the familiar into the strange and open up the skies to the sound of beating wings, but it’s not World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. It’s Destiny of Velious for EverQuest 2, the sequel to the MMO that put the genre on the global gaming map. With the launch of the new expansion Newsarama had the chance to talk to Sony Online Entertainment’s Senior Producer for EverQuest 2, Dave Georgeson, (MechWarrior, Tribes) about the expansion, EverQuest’s legacy and the MMO universe outside of Azeroth. As a bonus we have a bunch of exclusive screens to entice you into returning to Velious.
Newsarama: What is Destiny of Velious and how does it fit into the lore of EverQuest 2?
Dave Georgeson: A lot of the lore of EverQuest 2 is spawned from the lore of the original EverQuest. In EverQuest 1 there was a very popular expansion centered around the continent of Velious. Well, EverQuest 2 is set 500 years beyond the timeline of EverQuest 1, so a lot of stuff has happened between then and now. The Destiny of Velious expansion is the first time that players have returned to the continent of Velious and [to] the plotline that has been building over the course of the last expansions: the prophecy of The Age’s End. When we release the next part next year, that will finally wrap up that huge prophecy. So players are going to an old friend of a continent, seeing all kinds of new stuff while also completing this massive prophecy that’s been going on for a while.
Nrama: So there will be content that an existing/former player of EverQuest 1 will recognize.
Georgeson: Absolutely, we did a lot of homage stuff. Basically, it’s ‘how can we take a bunch of old friends make a cool new story, while adding a bunch of new stuff too.’ [For example,] when you first start on Velious, one of the first things you’ll see off in the distant horizon is The Tower of Frozen Shadows, which was a really popular dungeon in the Velious release [for] EverQuest 1. We’ve taken it and extrapolated what the plotlines in that area would be now and set a new adventure in that area.
Nrama: What would you say is the top feature of this expansion?
Georgeson: No argument, it’s flying mounts. It’s funny, you get used to walking or riding mounts all over the world and you get a certain perspective on the world, and what we are doing now is allowing you to earn flying mounts as you play through the quests of Destiny of Velious. Once you earn a flying mount you can fly pretty much over the entire world, so all of the old content you can take a flying mount through and it’s amazing how it completely changes how you perceive the world. You would think that the zones would feel smaller, since you can now fly quickly from point A to point B, but it doesn’t feel like that at all, it actually feels like the zones are much bigger because you can go to a lot of places you couldn’t before.
Nrama: What is a cool/interesting feature/gameplay tweak in Destiny of Velious that might be overlooked?
Georgeson: Well, let’s see…I’ll go ahead and pick on the most controversial thing we’ve done so far, which is the way we are going with itemization for the game. The last expansion, which was not done under my watch, set up some mechanisms for how you could advance your equipment which really wasn’t well thought out. It didn’t have a way of inching forward as players got more and more powerful. So I had to change some stuff around and I think we’ve come up with a way where people can have all kinds of “custom-ability” options on their armor, stay very creative in the way they put things together but at the same time we put the balance back in line and set ourselves up so we can keep expanding beyond [Destiny of Velious]. So there’s a bunch of tinkering that we need to pay attention to moving forward.
Nrama: Would Destiny of Velious be a good point for new players to jump in?
Georgeson: There’s really no bad time to start an MMO, but as far as being able to jump straight into Destiny of Velious? Destiny of Velious is largely a higher-level content expansion, so you would have to have leveled you character up to the higher levels, but it doesn’t take that long to level a character up. I did it in two to three months of regular, not hardcore, playing. [Author’s Note: It’s here that a Sony PR representative cuts in to note that Destiny of Velious is an all-in-one expansion, containing the core game and all of the previous expansion content to date.] Yes, it’s a great time for people to start because whenever we do something new like this the community gets excited. If you buy this box, you need nothing else in your life! [laughs]
Nrama: How long was Destiny of Velious in development?
Georgeson: About a year, a solid year.
Nrama: How would you regard the loyalty of your community? Would you say that there is a significant percentage of people who bought the initial EverQuest 2 box who will pick up Destiny of Velious?
Georgeson: We have a surprisingly high percentage of people who have been with us for the six years the game has been running. We know we have extremely loyal fans. The beauty of EverQuest 2 is that it’s not exactly the same as everybody else’s game. Honestly if you look between the big boys of the genre you’ll notice a lot of similarities. Just to plug SOE’s case, we came up with it and everybody else copied it! [Laughs] But just because there are a lot of similarities, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any differences. Just look at our housing system, our crafting system, a lot of the ways we approach our content, the way we deal with guild halls, all those things are very unique compared to other games. I know I’m biased, but I think our game is superior in a lot of ways to a lot of the other MMOs out there, and our content is better as we go forward. I’m really pleased to be associated with this franchise.
Nrama: Do you see EverQuest 2 running indefinitely?
Georgeson: Oh yeah, I don’t see any reason for it to ever stop, in my opinion. This is a soapbox that I get onto, so get ready! [Laughs] When you have a regular retail box, you sell it for three to six months and then it’s pretty much done. We are moving onto the next game and that’s it. But MMOs are not like that. When a MMO has been around for a while and EverQuest 2 has been around for six years, that sounds like [mock complaining] “oh it’s an old game, why would I want to get involved with it,” but that’s absolutely not the case with MMOs. MMOs rock. The longer a MMO is alive, fully funded and continuing to create new content the better a MMOs is. There are a few big MMOs on the market, EverQuest 2 is definitely one of them and there is absolutely no reason it should ever die. Conversely, it’s very difficult for new MMOs to get any market share, since when you start a game, you don’t have nearly the level of content that an established game would have. So you are always trying to scramble to stay ahead of your players as they finish all the content and you don’t have the deep features in yet. EverQuest 2 has all of that stuff and we have really, really smart guys who are constantly pushing forward. I fully expect EverQuest 2 to be around for a very long time.
Nrama: The EQ franchise is one of the first major MMOs, what lessons have you and the other devs taken away from the experience of dealing with its place in society?
Georgeson: Yeah, there’s really only two MMOs that people actually know the name of in common street language. You’ll hear references to EverQuest or WoW in TV shows, books and all kinds of stuff. It’s common parlance that everybody recognizes. It’s been around for a long time, and that’s a cool thing because one of the hardest things, something that keeps people from coming to your game is that they’ve never heard of it.
Nrama: So the benefits of popularity and media saturation outweigh the risks at this point?
Georgeson: There is literally nothing bad about being an established franchise in this genre. It’s great. I like being in this position, we’re able to experiment and have fun with our franchise. We don’t have to worry about people just quitting, because they like the EverQuest world and are willing to be more flexible with their attitudes when we come up with some really cool things and change the game occasionally.
Nrama: How do you use player feedback?
Georgeson: There are several phases of development. In the earliest stage, when we are not fully committed to exactly what we want to do, we don’t solicit a lot of player feedback, but we’ve watched forums and know exactly what the players are complaining about and what their wish list items are. So when we create new content a lot of times we try to cherry pick those things and make sure they get addressed. As we advance farther into the expansion and we can start talking about it, we get TONS of feedback on what they want first, and we wade though that stuff and figure out what’s good and what’s not so great. It’s in beta when we look for the most feedback. In the last month or so we’ve focused on what they players are saying and focus on those issues before we launch.
Nrama: What’s the future hold?
Georgeson: We’re focusing this next year on content, making better and richer content, making the EverQuest 2 world one that players will want to brag about and really get excited about. This last year was really about getting our house in order so we can build from a solid foundation as well as working on Destiny of Velious and making it cool. Now that [the business end] is all straightened out, I’m really looking forward to the stuff we’ll be making.
Nrama:Finally, any hints about Destiny of Velious that fans would want to know?
Georgeson: I think that players are a little bit worried that this latest content is not going to take care of their fond, fond memories of the original Velious from EverQuest 1 and would just like to say that those fears are unfounded. I think we are doing an excellent job of extrapolating what went on before and making something new out of it and I honestly can’t wait for people to react to it. All feedback so far has been positive.