Ever since the reorganization of Sony Online Entertainment into Daybreak Game Company in February, there’s been a great deal of uncertainty from their fanbases in the Everquest: Next and Landmark communities. Landmark players and those interested in EverQuest: Next have taken to the forums and social media with lots of questions, not all of which have been answered. We sat down with Senior Producer Terry Michaels to see if we could use ‘the add tool’ to get new information out there for some of the community’s most common questions. He’s also published an official Producer’s Letter that will also go into detail on some of the items below.
MMO Central: First up, what is the current status of both Landmark and EverQuest Next and how has the team been getting on with the much smaller headcount from previously?
Terry Michaels: Landmark and EverQuest Next continue to remain very important to the company. Landmark as we’ve always said will be the vehicle by which we engage everybody to help us create EverQuest Next. Right now, we’ve shifted our focus to being more EverQuest Next-centric. We’re focusing on priorities for features for EverQuest Next, and wherever it makes sense, we’re going to roll that into Landmark. It’s really a symbiotic relationship between the two games, allowing us to get feedback from the players and incorporating that into both games so that they can be as incredible as we can possibly make it.
MMOC: Is there a plan to resume a more regular Landmark Live broadcast schedule? Will you be putting in more appearances on those and/or the Workshop Show?
TM: I can totally do that. The past couple of times, both for the Workshop Show and Landmark Live, things have come up that limited my time. I’ll try to make an appearance not next week but the week after to prove that I’m still alive. Going back to the Landmark Live question, we will absolutely be doing Landmark Lives, but we’re going to try to focus them around the times when there’s big news to talk about. Before, we were doing them on a regular cadence because we had big things going into the game on a weekly or biweekly basis. Now that we’re focused on some of the big pieces for EverQuest Next, there will be a little bit longer times between when they’re going to happen. That may be a couple of weeks or it may be six weeks that go by between any major updates to Landmark because we’re focused on the things we have to get done and get right for EverQuest Next. We’ll still do hotfixes as necessary, but we’re not going to make people wait five weeks or three weeks when there are bugs we can get fixed. We’ll still do those as regularly as we possibly can or as often, it will never be regular. Without a doubt, we want to do Landmark Lives, but we want to do them when there are things to announce. Some feedback we’ve gotten over time is that people felt that we were only on there to be on there and we weren’t sharing good information. We want to make sure that when we are, we do.
MMOC: A question from community member Fredelas. He’s not asking you to commit to a timeline, but could you describe a typical session for a Landmark player a year from now?
TM: That’s actually a hard question to answer. Some of the main core features that are going to be important for EverQuest Next are what we refer to as creative risk areas. What that means to us is that we know what we want to do, and we have an idea of how we’re going to accomplish it, but until we actually see it in the game, we don’t know exactly how long it will take to iterate on it, that it’s the kind of fun we want in the game. Sometimes that means just a little bit of iteration and polish. Sometimes it means a lot of that. Sometimes we get it in the game and say, “You know what? This isn’t nearly as fun as it sounded on paper.” So we have to go back to the drawing board and start over and figure out what we want to do and then try that. It’s a very fun part of the development cycle, but it’s extremely chaotic, so it’s hard to give definitive dates when things are going to come out, when they’re going to be ready. So I can’t really tell you a year from now how many of those things are going to be in the game because right now one of the things we’re focused on is the combat for EverQuest Next. With that being one of the focuses, is that going to take us six weeks? Is it going to take us six months to get it right? We’re not certain and six months is a big difference from six weeks and how many other things we can get done between now and this time next year. So we’re going to have to play it a bit by ear and as we get resolution on things on when they’re doing to be ready, we will absolutely share that stuff, but right now it’s such a nebulous time. If I give you a guess, it’ll be educated, but it’s still just a guess. It’s hard to quantify some of that stuff. If I mention combat and two other things, then the questions immediately come up with “what about…?” It’s not that we’re not working on them, it’s just not the priority for us. We’re working on them slowly over time. We’re trying to be very careful about what we say so that everyone has the correct expectations and so we’re not painting ourselves into a corner that we can’t meet.
MMOC: Given the land rush after the server wipe, some players are calling for another server to be spun up to allow folks to spread out and be able to find just the perfect spot that might be claimed on all the other servers. Will a new server and set of islands be launched, and if not, what is the reasoning?
TM: [Producer] Emily [Taylor] and I spent a good bit of time doing some analysis. We’ve got lots of tools we can use to look at metrics on the game. And we went to the depth of finding out the amount of claimable land space on all of the islands, all the parts of the world that are above water, right? We know the number of claims that are out there in the world. When they were asking us to run up another server, it was around 40% of the claimable space in the world was claimed, so less than half. Now I get that there are particular biomes that people like and/or areas, but we’re keeping a close eye on it. The only reason we did this was because the numbers don’t match the perception. There is a lot of world out there to still claim. We’re trying to make it to where we don’t flood it. I’m sure you remember before the wipe, some people had an island to themselves. While that’s awesome to say, “This is my island.”, it’s not really fiscally responsible for us to have an island per person. We can open another server when numbers dictate it, but they haven’t yet. When I see 60, 65, 70% of the world is claimed, that’s when I’m going to look at opening up another world so we can have more space.
MMOC: Has there been progress made on the larger islands and continents mentioned in the blueprint?
TM: Absolutely! That was one of the very first pieces that we were working on that was really in line with priorities of EverQuest Next, because Next needs large open spaces and continents that you’d be zoning between. So there has absolutely been progress made on it. At the moment, we are capable of creating a much larger islands than we have had in the past. The problem is that the technology doesn’t currently support things like combat across those islands, but we are working on that. It’s a complicated problem and it’s one of the big things that’s taking up some of the time we need for Next right now so we can get things ready and build that game as well. Progress has been made and it’s been good progress, but it’s not yet ready to be put into either game. It goes into one of those areas of research and development or creative risk that I was talking about. It is months away from being ready for prime time at a minimum.
MMOC: As a corollary to this, a number of builders were hoping for some large flatter areas to build on. These current islands seem even more mountainous and full of broken terrain than the previous ones did. Will we see some proper plains in a future iteration, or will players be expected to terraform their claimspaces to create them?
TM: For right now, we don’t have any plans in the near future to add more islands. If we open another world, it will have the same islands. But, when we go to add to islands to the game, absolutely, we have heard that feedback loud and clear and we will add that stuff into it. In the short term, the expectation is that you will have to terraform some areas to make them more appropriate for what you want. Our goal when we created the islands, we thought they were going to be good usable space, but we also wanted to make them unique and interesting islands, and in some ways, those two ideas compete with each other.
MMOC: A question from player Katinna: A number of players have asked for things like a scalable UI, getting the building tools out of inventory, and multiple hotbars. Can you tell us where they are on the roadmap and what sort of progress has been made to getting them in-game?
TM: Scalable UI is absolutely something we are working on right now. We’re working on it for a particular reason which is 4K monitor support, because if you put our game on a 4K monitor, it’s impossible to read the chat. It’s hard to find icons because it’s really small. We’ve been working on it for a bit. Unfortunately, that means that we have to pull out a lot of the major plumbing for our UI system and fix it. We’re absolutely working on it because it’s important to us for a number of reasons as well.
Multiple hotbars is a hot topic for us. We’ve talked about it for a long time. One of our goals when we set out to make Landmark and EverQuest Next was to make a game that doesn’t require multiple hotbars. We don’t want everyone to have to play the UI game. We want you playing in the game. We made that decision when we were originally talking about EverQuest Next, and Landmark is a different beast to some degree. So we can go back and talk about it. For everybody’s reference, we didn’t even allow you initially to have multiple hotbars at all, so you couldn’t have hotbar 2, 3, or 4. You only had hotbar 1. We realized very quickly that that was too limiting for Landmark. I’m not going to say that we won’t do it, but there’s going to be some resistance and we’re going to have to talk about it heavily if we’re going to add the concept of having multiple hotbars in the game. But that’s the best answer I can give you on that one.
Building tools in inventory, that is something we have talked extensively about internal to the team and we have some plans in the future that would take them out of your inventory. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a timeline on that because that really is a Landmark feature and as you will see in the Producer’s Letter, those things are automatically lower on our list of priorities than the EverQuest Next features right now. We’ve gotten part of the way down that process, but we haven’t finished it and we have to get back to it when timing permits.
MMOC: The past handful of Landmark competitions have been for buildings in the style of the various races that will be featured in EverQuest Next, and that’s a natural linkage, but many players have expressed a desire to feature content that can never be a part of Next. Are there plans in the somewhat near future for a sci-fi competition, or steampunk competition, or pick a genre that can’t be done in EQN without breaking lore?
TM: It’s definitely something we’re interested in doing. It’s something we’ve talked about in the past and something we’ve done in the past when we’ve had the Halloween competition, the Landmarks of Landmark competition. It’s an interesting piece that it’s not really apparent outside the team, and when I say the team, I mean the people who work here – because as you know good and well that we treat the community as part of the team as well – but the team that’s here, it’s really not clear to you guys how much work goes into each competition from our perspective. I would say that for every competition, we spend 10 to 20 hours of work for multiple people, 5-6 people doing the judging, and working on things like the reward for the competition and things like that. So it’s a significant time commitment from our perspective to do a competition, and unfortunately, in the short future like when we’re focused on the EverQuest Next things, that’s what the competitions are going to be focused on. When we have more leeway, when things open up a bit, when we’re more entrenched with what’s going on with EverQuest Next, it is absolutely a possibility. I can’t say it’s going to be in three months or six months, but it’s something we’d like to do. I know that’s not going to make people happy because I can’t give you any definitives on it, but you’d mentioned our reduced team size. We have to be very economical with our time to make sure we’re using it in the best way possible, and right now, that is EverQuest Next and the features that will go into it and building up the world. One of the things you can see in the Producer’s Letter is a screenshot of an area of Qeynos we built up using some of the submissions that we got in the Qeynos Workshop, to give you an idea of how we’re using those things that we’re working with you guys on.
MMOC: In a similar vein, what sort of plans are there for including more props and outfits for non-Next genres that seem to be popular with players? What about weapons? It’s a real shame that the cowboy outfits have empty holsters, after all.
TM: This is absolutely stuff that we want to, and will, support. We are building fantasy-themed things currently to support the development of EverQuest Next primarily, but as time becomes available, we will try to slot in materials, props and outfits where feasible. Weapons are a bit harder (read: takes more resources across multiple disciplines), so will take longer before we’re able to get non-fantasy-themed in that area.
MMOC: Late last year, you and Dave Georgeson had been talking about claim vendors on Landmark Live, and installing them had not made that December update before the team went on holiday. We haven’t seen much news on them since, and we’re wondering what the latest information is that you can provide on them and the beginnings of a true player-driven economy?
TM: This is a great example of a feature that wasn’t quite complete when we needed to shift the focus to EverQuest Next. It is something we will get back to before we get to Open Beta for Landmark.
MMOC: During one of the livestreams, you or one of the other developers had said that EQN races such as elves, ogres, halflings, and dwarves would not be a part of Landmark. Are there any plans to add other races such as aliens to the game? What about adding smaller humans to the game? Will we see more body diversity choices for the races we do have?
TM: We’ve always felt that Landmark is a “human” world, so adding other player races into the game isn’t something we’re currently planning. As we expand the ability to customize and change your appearance as we develop EverQuest Next, those are things we’ll be looking to get into Landmark as well
MMOC: Players have done some amazing things with the use of voxel water and the various water emitters in the game. What sort of progress is being made on full-on dynamic water?
TM: This is still in the R&D phase. It is amazingly complex in an MMO environment, but we’re still trying to find a way we can do it that works both technologically as well as being part of the cohesive experience of the game. Even with the difficulty though, this is still one of those things we know would be great in the game, so we’ll continue to try to find an appropriate solution.
MMOC: The most recent EverQuest Next e-book was so intense, and we can see why the team was so psyched to get it out to players. Are there more e-books in the works, and what sort of ballpark timeline can we expect to see them?
TM: Yes, there are more in the works. I recently approved new contracts with Alexander Drake and Robert Lassen for two new stories. As for timing, as quickly as possible, but since they are not something we can rush, I have to ask you to be patient. Our authors are extremely dedicated and incredibly talented so we like to be flexible and give them the necessary time to hone the stories until they’re ready to be released. As they get closer, we’ll be sure to let everyone know.
MMOC: Speaking of the game’s lore, there are plenty of creative writers in the community. Have you considered a writing competition for EverQuest Next along the lines of the building ones in Landmark? For example, there could be a style guide provided by your team and certain criteria for, say, a character background or brief plotline that was needed, flavor text for an in-game item, that sort of thing, and the writers would pick winners whose work would actually be included in-game.
TM: We actually did one of these a number of years ago when we were looking for authors to contract out. It is how we ended up forging a relationship with many of our current authors. As we move forward, if we have a need for additional authors for either stories or for in-game text, etc., we would be open to the idea (assuming there aren’t legal or ethical reasons to prohibit us).
MMOC: How’s the work on Emergent AI for EverQuest Next coming along since last we heard about it at the big all-hands stream in February? It’s a big concern for the community after the announcement of Storybricks’ departure from the project and subsequent shutdown.
TM: We are still hard at work on the AI for Next and Landmark. It has been, and will continue to be, one of the biggest priorities for the team and the games.
MMOC: Finally, can you please provide some morsel of an exclusive piece of news to tease our audience?
TM: Yeah. We have a system that’s almost done that will go into Landmark in the – I will say near, there might be weeks, multiple weeks’ future that is the ability to paste with interior air. This will be the functionality of being able to take a template and when you paste it down, it doesn’t paste the air on the outside of whatever you’re placing, but it pastes the air on the inside. It would be putting in caverns or taking a building and submerging it into the side of a hill. It won’t carve around it like with the things you see right now. It’ll actually embed it and leave the inside as air, rather than having to carve that back out again. I know that’s something players have been asking for and that is approaching the end of the development cycle on that so we can get it into the game.
There you have it, our interview with EQN and Landmark‘s Senior Producer Terry Michaels. You can follow him on Twitter @terryjmichaels or follow him on their forums under the user name Fairan.
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