Monday, October 17, 2011

Elements of Lore

Game teams can be very different in their organization from one company to another. I've got some friends working at other companies who tell me their team is very compartmentalized: one player writes the quest outline and dialog, another one puts it in the game, a third one does things like choose what the quest NPCs and items look like, a fourth creates the reward items, etc. Other companies have broader roles, so that just one or two people might do all of the above. On the EQ2 team we tend more towards the latter. Although everyone has areas of specialty, and there are certainly some things (like spell balance) that need a dedicated specialist, many things can be done by many people which does allow for more flexibility of assigning tasks when needed.

As tradeskill designer for many years I was particularly fortunate, because tradeskills is an area that touches almost every other aspect of the game, at least in EQ2. So while you might think "making recipes" when you hear the word tradeskills, I also had to learn how to make items themselves (the final itemization balance was approved by our main itemization guy of course), create or request appearances for items and NPCs, make quests, which included making quest instances, populating said instances, house items, harvest nodes, zone decorations (such as when I created the central crafting areas in West Freeport and North Qeynos) and even occasional tradeskill-specific spells (such as revamping the reaction arts). Short of actual scripted group or raid encounters I probably learned at least a little of almost everything the design team did, which was really great for me since it wasn't long before I was able to fill in if the team was short handed in one area or another. For example, when we revamped Lavastorm I helped out with adding some quests, and not just the tradeskill line; I'm the one who redecorated the Temple of Thunder, and I added the new mount paths and teleporters around the zone (yes, I'm the reason those lava horses run IN the lava streams just to give you a little fright and a nice view). I count myself very lucky to have had that opportunity, since I like to learn things and I like to help also!

One of the things that I also do from time to time is writing. Obviously, when writing quests there is some writing skill involved, and in fact I know a number of game designers in the industry who do come from a purely creative writing background. Some quests need more storytelling skill than others of course; a kill-ten-rats type quest doesn't need much fine dialog. On the other hand, other quest lines are an opportunity to entertain the player (such as Advanced Journeyman Tasks - poor Vanesta!) or pass some lore to the player as in Shadows of the Betrayed, or the coldain prayer shawl. I actually sniffled a bit writing the dialog for that last one, I made myself so sad about the guilt the Coldain had born all this time!

I used to enjoy writing short stories about EverQuest; I did it quite regularly in EQ1 just for the entertainment of my guild and server, and when the print magazine EQuinox came out for EQ2 I contributed at least half a dozen articles between the two issues. These days I don't get a huge amount of time for writing, but I do occasionally have the chance to step in when our more regular writers are busy with other things, and last weekend I got to write a little lore article about the beastlords that are coming up with the Age of Discovery expansion.

That story hasn't been officially posted yet, so I'll refrain from further details until it is, but here's an older lore story that I wrote in 2009 for Game Update 51, Elements of Corruption. We were releasing a new zone in which the dark elf mage Najena finds herself fighting for her survival against the infiltration of the void forces of Roehn Theer. (In the actual zone, she will contact adventurers and agree to an uneasy truce provided they help her against the void invaders, who are trying to obtain artifacts that are key to the Ages End prophecy.)

Elements of Corruption

…And the Nameless created the Gods and the Gods created all the races of Norrath to worship them and bring them honor and for many years all was well. But soon the Gods grew jealous and each coveted the worship of all mortals, that each might grow more powerful than the others. And the Gods of the Light and the Gods of the Dark made common cause against each other and mighty were the battles between them and all Norrath trembled.

Then came the Nameless, He who created all things and He who shall end all things, and He sent forth His avatar into the world saying "Keep thou the balance, that no lesser God shall rise all powerful, and that neither Light nor Dark shall reign supreme." And thus did Roehn Theer the Godslayer come to Norrath and so did the Gods come to fear one who was both less and more than a God and for a short time peace returned to Norrath.

But the Gods wished not for balance and together they caught the Godslayer unawares and threw him into the Void and bound him there, that they might advance their own ends in Norrath without fear of reprisal. And once more did Norrath tremble and all the races of Norrath bowed down before the Gods and the Gods strode without fear among men and we were much afraid...

~ fragment of text attributed to Zebuxoruk, translated by Eylee Zephyrswell

The shadowy figure bowed its head, eyes closed, concentrating deeply. Had an observer been present in the room, they would have heard nothing and seen no more than the figure of a powerful void being floating in the air, apparently deep in meditation. However, in the reverent silence with which a worshipper communes with his god, an internal conversation was occurring.

"What progress can you report? Have you located the artifacts we sensed?"

A frown crossed the void man's face. "We have confirmed that the artifacts do, indeed, appear to have been created by the mage Najena, as we suspected. Unfortunately, she was alerted by our probing and discovered the presence of the void anchor in Lavastorm much more quickly than we had expected."

"Has the anchor been damaged?"

"Fortunately, no. Once the mage detected our presence, she interfered somehow with the concealment illusion, stripping it off completely. She then attempted to close the anchor, but we were able to turn back her attempts and it remains open. We are currently working to restore it."

"No. The element of surprise is clearly lost; we must simply press forward. The mage is attempting to create artifacts that can counter my powers and stopping her must be your first priority; anything else is secondary."

"Yes, Master. The beach has already been secured and the forces are even now advancing on Najena's tower. We shall have the artifacts within the week, if all goes well."

"See that you do, Munzok. Since Anashti revealed our presence prematurely, our only option is a rapid advance before they can find a new way to prevent my return to Norrath. Get those artifacts by any means possible, and do it now. Fail in this and there will be no corner of Norrath or the Void in which you can escape me."

Moosh panted, his breath coming in gasps as his powerful legs pounded down the stairs to his mistress's inner stronghold. Behind him, the sounds of approaching battle followed swiftly; more swiftly than even their worst fears could have predicted.

"Mauls! To me!" he barked. As they approached the entryway, the ogre troop fell efficiently into their accustomed formation behind him. Heavily armored and in peak fighting condition, the Mauls were Najena's most trusted defenders. Moosh felt a fierce pride as he surveyed the troop: veterans of many a battle and like himself, descended from the original ogres who had been Najena's sole defenders when she left Neriak so many years ago to begin her lone research. Every one among them was fiercely loyal to Moosh and to their mistress, and they would not fail her now.

He nodded, drawing his sword and gesturing towards the sounds of approaching combat. "We make our stand here. They must pass no further. We will prevail."

The Mauls drew their weapons, settling into an alert guarding stance, ready for the enemy's approach. Within moments, a bolt of fiery magic splashed against Moosh's shield, singeing his eyebrows. Around the corner came a wave of elemental constructs and soon the Mauls were fully occupied defending themselves. Balls of fire and blasts of frost flew from side to side and the smell of scorched hair and burned flesh filled the air.

Moosh shattered an ice elemental with his sharp blade and then dodged a blow from an earth golem. Stepping backward to evade the blow, his foot slipped in an unexpected patch of ice and he found himself suddenly on his back, with the golem towering over him. The golem's massive foot stamped down to crush his skull... and was deflected at the last moment as Drash's massive spear pinned the golem to the nearby wall as if it were as insubstantial as a butterfly. Moosh scrambled to his feet, nodding thanks to his comrade.

"Where is the mistress?" grunted Drash as he dispatched the earth golem and retrieved his spear. "Why has she not dispelled these pests?" He ducked to avoid a fireball and then charged forward to attack the fireball's creator before Moosh could reply.

Moosh turned to deflect a sword blow with his shield and pondered this question himself. Najena's mastery over elements was as close to absolute as any being could achieve after hundreds of years to perfect it. For an enemy to attack her using elemental minions was beyond foolhardy, it was bordering on suicidal. She should have either dispelled or assumed control of these elementals as easily as an ogre might swat a fly, and yet the Mauls were still occupied defending themselves. Could she be injured? She should be safe in the Ward of Elements and the Mauls were guarding the only entrance. Could the enemy somehow be interfering with her ability to see what was passing outside?

Parrying another blow, Moosh focused on the weapon attacking him for the first time, and was surprised to find he recognized the massive sword. Hand-chipped from a single massive block of stone, this sword could as easily be used to bludgeon the enemy to death as to slash flesh. Indeed, he had seen this sword many times before and listened to many ale-fueled tales describing the arduous process of handcrafting a traditional weapon like this one. Moosh looked past the sword to his attacker's face and a chill grasped his spine as he recognized his long-time acquaintance and comrade, the master of Najena's jails.

"Ca'iluer!" he shouted. "What are you doing? It's me! Drop your weapon, old man, before I have to hurt you!" Moosh fell back a few steps, defending himself, but hesitant to press his attack. The old man was full of stories and boasts, but no match for the strength of an ogre in the prime of life.

"We are everywhere, Maul." The words came from Ca'iluer's mouth, but were not spoken as he normally would. As the jailor swung the huge stone sword at Moosh once again, a purplish flicker seemed to pass over his body. For a second, it seemed to Moosh that the man became transparent and he could see through Ca'iluer's body to note that the fighting around them seemed to have died down; then with another flicker the man's solidity returned and the sword connected with Moosh's pauldron. Unbalanced by surprise and the sheer weight of the weapon, Moosh stumbled, but found himself steadied by a strong ogre hand grasping his arm as Drash appeared beside him once again.

"Drash, it's Ca'iluer! Help me hold him..." Moosh's voice trailed off as the firm grasp on his arm was not relinquished and in fact became tighter. "Let me go!"

A dread foreboding grasped him, and he turned to look into the eyes of his most trusted fighting companion and friend since youth. Drash smiled back and a purplish flicker seemed to pass momentarily across his face.

"So glad you could join us..."

No comments:

Post a Comment