Everquest Senior Producer Clint Worley and Lead Designer Ryan Barker Interview

Eddie Inzauto, GN: How long have you guys been on the team, for EverQuest? EverQuest has been around for a long time.

Clint Worley, Senior Producer: Well, I joined the team, I think it was about two years ago, on an expansion called The Buried Sea. I’ve been with Sony for like 13 years, but I’ve been on EQ specifically for about two, two-and-a-half years now.

Ryan Barker, Lead Designer: I first joined the team in 2001 on the Luclin expansion cycle, and then I worked on it up until The Serpent’s Spine, and then I took a brief break working on a PlayStation 3 game, and then came back after that, so I was gone about nine months to a year. And then I’ve been on ever since.

CW: So what do you think your total time on the project was?

RB: About six to seven years, somewhere in there.

GN: That’s legit. EverQuest itself has been around for 10 years, with over a dozen expansions. Thirteen, fourteen?

RB: More than that. We’ve had 15 expansions.

GN: Did either of you expect the game to just keep going for so long?

RB: I somewhat did, actually. I felt like EQ was going to hang around for a long time, and we were just going to keep creating stuff just ’cause EQ is a game where the story never really has to end. It’s like those series that have just tons of sequels, like the Maddens, or even like Metal Gear, those franchises have tons of games coming out all the time. You’re reinventing it along the way, and that’s kind of what we do, it just happens to be the same game, we just keep adding to it instead of making a new one.

CW: Yeah, I think on my side, I was actually more surprised because I’ve always kinda been doing a lot of console gaming, so for me it was this new PC game that you had to have…. At the time, in ’99, you had to go out and buy a video card, you had to be online- there were all things that most people didn’t have, and on a console, all you had to do was put a game in and it worked. You didn’t have to worry about drivers or memory or anything like that. So, from my perspective, back in the day, it was like, "This thing’s going to be shaky; we’ll see how it goes." But we’re here ten years later, so, I’m happy to be wrong.

GN: Over the course of the game, do you find that you’re always striving to offer new experiences to keep things fresh, or do you feel like, being that the game has been around for so long, that the players who have stuck with it — the old school MMO crowd — sort of demand things to kinda stay familiar?

RB: Yeah, it’s kind of a mixed bag. We want it to still feel like EQ when people are playing, so there are certain aspects of it that we don’t want to change. We’ve specifically NOT upgraded or updated some things, just because we feel like they’re integral to the experience of what EQ is. However, there is a lot of other stuff that we want to keep making new and fresh and keeping people interested, because it doesn’t matter how much fun something is, if you just keep doing the same thing over and over again, you’re going to get sick of it after awhile. So, it’s a case of trying to find the balance there, like you said, not alienating some of the people who’ve been around for a long time who really like some aspect of the game, but still giving people a chance to do new things that fit in with the other stuff that’s already there. It’s definitely a challenge; it can be difficult at times.

CW: Yeah, it seems like when I joined the project, there were a lot of times where — with me coming onto a project that was eight years in — it felt like I would go to the design team or just the development team in general with a great idea, and then they would be really quick to point out that that idea was put in the game six years ago or something. You know, and it’s like, ‘it was a great idea then, and it’s still a good idea, but it’s been done, and we’re onto something else,’ type of thing. It is definitely challenging from that perspective, but there is a lot of backstory, and the characters and the game have developed a lot, so it’s like an ongoing soap opera where we’re creating it and making the rules. It’s challenging, but it’s kind of our own challenge, so it’s fun to deal with.

GN: So, with all the expansions, all the additions and everything, what would be your favorite additions or maybe just expansions, to date?

RB: Well, Planes of Power was the first one that I was a full designer on; before that I had worked as an apprentice and stuff on Luclin. But Planes of Power was the first one that I really felt like it was mine, to a certain extent, like I really had ownership and a stake in it, so that one sort of always sticks out to me. And even beyond just the personal investment I had in it, it was so much bigger than, I think, we’d ever tried in the past, and a lot of the other MMOs had ever tried in terms of storyline and progression, and just the whole scope of what you were doing just felt really epic, and I felt like that was really sort of a turning point in the game, so that’s probably going to be my favorite one. And then Depths of Darkhollow was also another one where I really thought we kind of redefined some things, too. We went out and made some of the monster missions and stuff, and I thought that was really turning over a new leaf and getting some interesting stuff in the game, but still making it feel like EQ. So I’d say that those are the two favorites I have.

CW: For me, it was, because I was involved with EverQuest early on, just from the sidelines — helping out, beta testing, things like that while I was doing other games for Sony — I don’t know if it was a favorite expansion; for me it was just the original game. It was like, I was a console player, but I was playing this PC game and I found myself, you know, playing it over the weekends, playing all night…. I was fiending for it more than I was fiending for even the most hardcore game on the console. Expansions after that iterated on that feeling and added to it, but that initial launch, where it kind of just changed the whole gaming landscape, for me, was the real big memorable moment. After that, after it became successful and it turned into what it is now, not only us, but our competitors and the industry in general were like, ‘Wow, there’s a totally different way to play videogames.’ Up until that point, everyone thought that we’d made all the types of games we’re going to make; we’re just going to get better graphics and whatever. It’s not that often that a game comes along that changes the playing field that way, so that was pretty memorable.

GN: So being what it is — this game that seems to never end — do you ever expect it to see it laid to rest? How long do you think EQ is going to go on?

CW: From my side, it’s interesting because, the way massively multiplayer online games work, usually there’s a big surge of players that come in and you kind of establish your player base. Players will come and go when new games are released or whatever, but you end up with this core fan base, where THAT’S the game they play. That’s what they play when they go home every night, that’s what they play on the weekends, that’s what they look forward to playing on the holidays. So as long as there’s interesting stuff from the dev side, and as long as the players still have those social links, where they make friends and they play the game not only to play but to check in with people they know…. As long as that’s there, it’s hard to predict when it would go away. It’s almost like asking when chat rooms will go away.

RB: Every prediction we’ve ever made has been wrong. Every time we think, ‘Oh, it’ll last another two years,’ we’ve just always been wrong. So to make a prediction would just be foolhardy at this point. I’m just going to see how it pans out and do what I can to make it last as long as possible.

Just based on the technical aspect, and all the systems that were in place to build the game, none of them were set up past the original launch. All the additional content was sort of shoehorned in, and we’ve had to go back and really change a lot of the systems, just because they just weren’t built to support 10 years of development. We had weird things like, ‘We can only make 10,000 items, and then we can’t make any more, because that’s…how…it’s set up,’ so we’d have to go back and change that. And there’s been a lot of that type of stuff; no one planned on this game being around this long.

CW: Right, ’cause at the time, if a programmer comes and says, ‘Hey, you can do it this way, but just so you know, if you ever make 10000 items, or if you want to make 10000 and ONE, it won’t work.’ At the time, it’s like, ‘When would we ever make 10000 items?! That’s crazy talk!’ Well, 10 years later….

RB: And I even hear that occasionally, now. We’ll be building a system: ‘Well, you’re only going to have a ceiling up to…’ whatever number, and I’m like, ‘No, we can’t do that, because I guarantee we’re going to hit it at some point, so let’s just fix it now and not have to worry about it later.’

GN: So there’s been a lot of going back into the original stuff to get it working….

RB: Yeah. More from a code side than from the design side; a lot of the content you just leave how it is. And that’s also another hurdle, building the system so it still supports the old versions, because you can’t go back and retro-fit 10 years of content to whatever new system you build. The manpower required would just be impossible, so we have to maintain the old system and use the new system. So that can make it even more difficult.

GN: A server merge has been on the menu as of late to make way for a brand new server coming in March. Is that another part of this sort of updating process? Will this new server be in any way different or better than old servers? Or are there other specific reasons for the change?

RB: There’s always a lot of player interest in having a new server go up.  Everyone likes the feeling of starting fresh and having everyone be on an even playing field.  There’s also been a lot of talk about having various rule sets available, so we’re polling the players as to which one they want and then we’ll go from there to set the server up.

GN: You talk about being more of a console guy to begin with, Clint, and there was a console game, EverQuest Online Adventures. Are you looking at anything for the PS3 sort of similar to that?

CW: Well, it’s interesting, because I worked on the end of EQOA and then I worked on EQ Frontiers. At the time, we were really kind of blazing the trail. There was Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast that kind of did an online RPG thing, but we were really confident that [with] the PS2 as a gaming platform we could introduce MMOs to console players. Pretty quickly we were hit with the reality of: you have to buy a network adapter; there’s no keyboard that comes with the machine; voice was KINDA supported, I think. So, we were a little ahead of our time. I know that John Smedley, our president, has been vocal about the fact that we like the PS3 as a gaming platform, and that now that consoles are online and they support voice, all the hurdles we had with EQOA don’t seem to be there, which is really interesting from a game development perspective. It’s definitely something that we’re interested in, but with all the games we have in development, we’ve got our hands pretty full right now.

GN: The whole cross-platform thing seems to be a growing trend at SOE. Free Realms, The Agency, DC Universe… are all going to be on both the PS3 and the PC. Of all of those, which has people the most excited?

CW: That’s an interesting question. We’ve kind of intentionally gone with three very different properties. Free Realms is a family game aimed at tweens and teens and I’m sure there will be some crossover with an older crowd and maybe even with a younger crowd. Obviously, DCUO is being made for the comic fans. The types of character that are in there, younger kids will definitely relate to, but there’s a whole generation of people who are in their mid-20s, mid-30s, that collected comics, and they look at that game like, ‘Man, I could live the life of my comic book character.’ And then The Agency gives players a chance to live the life of an elite agent…spy world meets persistent online shooter. From my perspective, I don’t know if I have a favorite out of the three- they’re different enough that people who are into shooting guns and doing spy stuff will be really geeked out on The Agency, and not so much on the other two, and vice-versa.

RB: It really just depends on who you talk to; different people are excited about different games.

GN: How about you guys? Of the new properties coming out, which are you excited for?

CW: I’m actually really excited for Free Realms. I play a ton of, I guess you would call them more ‘hardcore’ games, but I’m really looking forward to Free Realms, mainly because there have only been a few situations where I’ve sat down and my wife has been interested in what I’m playing. Usually she’s like, ‘Oh god, another racing game!’ ‘Oh god, you’re killing someone else!’ But there have been a couple of situations, like The Sims, and some of the puzzle games like Tetris and whatever. Animal Crossing. Things like that, that are more social, she has always been really interested in. So, on a Free Realms perspective, it’s a game like we would normally play, but it’s really easy to understand, super colorful, really casual, you don’t need to dedicate eight hours a night to get somewhere in it, so it’s kinda cool to know that we’re making a game that could appeal to everyone.

RB: Uh, I’d probably go with The Agency just cause it seems so different in comparison to other games out there. I’ve played the comic book game — I think DC’s going to be a great game — but this one seems the most different. I’ve never seen a spy MMO anyone’s even tried to do, so I’m really interested to see how that turns out.

GN: But will they be able to pull you away from EverQuest?

RB: I will have no problem working it into the cycle.

CW: Yeah.

GN: Well, thanks for your time guys, it was great talking with you. Here’s to another 10 years!


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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