Sunday, January 03, 2010

It's good to be home again

After a lovely Christmas vacation in the United Kingdom, I'm back home in San Diego getting used once again to warm weather, sunshine, and my adorable cats.

I'm still getting over a cold, but the sunny San Diego weather should soon cure me, I hope.

In the mean time, the first order of business (after unpacking and greeting the cats) was to log in to EverQuest II, where a number of seasonal live events are under way!

Most exciting to residents of Freeport was the sight that met their eyes when "Update 54: Will of a Tyrant" arrived.  The floating Dethknell citadel has crashed into West Freeport and Overlord Lucan de Lere is missing, and chaos reins in Freeport as various factions fight to take over power in his absence.

I had a chance to log in briefly just a few hours after the patch, and it was great to see the huge crowds of players standing around stunned, investigating the scene and trying to understand what had happened.  Dynamic events like this that really change the landscape in the world are just fantastic for keeping an MMO world feeling exciting and real.  This change is particularly shocking as the floating citadel has been a permanent fixture in Freeport since the game launched, and we don't generally make big changes to the main cities, so the occurance of a change this big and this dramatic has an extra impact.

I'm also personally rather pleased that in this particular event, it was the (male) Overlord of Freeport who was kidnapped, not the (female) queen of Qeynos; her kidnappers were foiled (through the heroic efforts of the players) and she is left to keep order in Qeynos and encourage efforts to rescue the Overlord.  It would have been so easy to have the pretty girl get kidnapped, and I was one of those making the argument that we should buck stereotypes and avoid that.  And I think it's worked out very well; looking forward to seeing this story continue to unfold!  Unfortunately I didn't have time to actually run through the quests related to the kidnapping events until returning from my vacation, so I've spent some time this weekend doing just that.

Also since I left, the EQII winter holiday event "Frostfell" has arrived, with more quests to do and more items to craft, in addition to many of the old familiar ones from previous years, and I played some catch up on these this weekend also.  It's interesting to watch how Frostfell has evolved over time.  A couple of years ago one of the daily presents that you could get by talking to one of the holiday NPCs was a collection of snowglobes: visit the NPC each day, and you could eventually collect a whole set of snow globes with different scenes inside them from around the world.  The first year they were introduced there were just two: Freeport and Qeynos.  The year after that a whole bunch more were added, and since you could collect the entire set of them on every alt, it became a bit problematic where to put them all.

When players started posting screenshots on the housing forum showing how they'd built entire rooms within their homes using nothing but snow globes, we started to think that perhaps we'd given out enough snow globes, so the following Frostfell season there were no more snowglobes offered.  The NPC who'd formerly given them out was changed so he would just say sadly that someone had beaten him up and taken all his snowglobes away, and a different NPC gave out the presents that year.  But players started asking what happened to the original NPC, why were his snowglobes taken away, who did it?  This led our live events guru, Kaitheel, to introduce a new quest line this year allowing players to help the snowglobe NPC and find out the answer to who took his snow globes and why.  I love watching this kind of growth and interactive development of content within our game.

Another exciting thing for me in EQII this week was the start of the city festivals!  This is a small monthly live event that for now is a simple merchant fair that will be visiting each of our player starting cities for one week each month, one city per month. The original idea wasn't mine, and the early implementation was started by devs Kaitheel and Windslasher, but when they both got called onto other more urgent projects, I found a little time to implement the base version that will, with luck, be built upon by others over time.

The Far Seas Trading Company, a ubiquitous presence anywhere in Norrath there's profit to be made, rolls up a little caravan to the city of Kelethin (this month) and sets up a small market row selling food, drink, festival clothing, and fine furnishings they think may be of interest to the city's residents.  (There are specialized items tailored to each city, as well as some common items shared by all.)  There are also some basic quests to do, as well as "flavor" NPCs to add interest to the setting.  EQ2 Traders has some great write ups as usual, even though the festival isn't particularly tradeskill-related.

I've learned that the little touches of flavor are hugely effective in making a quest or event seem "real" and "fun" or not, so I had some fun adding in a few characters that I thought might be drawn to fairs like this.  There are workers, of course, who generally just stand around chatting amongst themselves and making comments on the profitability of the venture.  One nearby (not shown) offers some quests, and the crier (above) wanders around announcing the fair has arrived and gathering attention.

There's a fortune teller who'll charge you gold and tell your fortune for the month.  She'll only give you one fortune per month, but it's different for each character.  I had a lot of fun thinking up some Onion-esque horoscope type fortunes for her, and I hope players will enjoy discovering them all as the months pass.

And some fire breathers to put on an entertaining show, and occasionally some terrible comments:

The festival layout is similar but slightly different in each city depending on the location, of course.  Mostly the Far Seas traders travel by caravan, but of course, when they head for Gorowyn, it's an island, so they may need a boat instead... I tried to suit the layout to the city in each case.  Here's a section of the market row from the festival in Qeynos, which was on Test server prior to the update.  They too have random call-outs (on a timer, so it's not too spammy) and emotes to make them feel more alive and real.

As always, one of my biggest challenges was coming up with names for the characters.  In this particular case, if you're curious for more details, I talked briefly about how I picked some of these names on the G.I.R.L. blog back in October.

All in all, it's just a little event without a huge significance to the game's overall story.  But it's one more thing of many intended to make the world feel more alive and dynamic, give people something to look forward to each month, and keep things interesting.  I'm glad I had the chance to lend a hand to the live event team, on a number of events this year, since live events are something that I really enjoy and value in the games I play, and I feel they're very important to a game like ours.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the city festivals develop over the coming years, whether it's done by me or by the normal live events team!

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