Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween desserts

We're having a pot luck Halloween lunch today at work, in addition to a costume contest and department decorating contest. I spent an amazing amount of time this weekend cooking, both to bring stuff to Saturday's halloween party, and for the pot luck. Leftovers from the party also came to the pot luck so there's no shortage of goodies!

Here's some recipes:

Pumpkin pie

  • Puff pastry to line a pie dish (Pepperidge Farms brand frozen sheets are an easy cheat if you don't want to make it by hand)
  • 1.5 cups mashed kabocha or buttercup squash (or pumpkin). Easiest way to prepare this is cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, wrap in foil, and bake for 30-60 minutes in a medium heat oven until it's soft, then it just scoops out.
  • 2 tbs (1oz) melted butter
  • 1 tsp each of ginger, cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp each of mace, ground cloves
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (4oz) brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (4oz) white sugar
  • 2 tbs flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk

Line a pie dish with the pastry and chill in fridge till ready.

In a bowl stir together mashed squash, butter, and spices.

In another bowl beat eggs thoroughly with fork or whisk, then stir in sugar, flour, salt, and milk.

Fold the two mixtures together and pour into the pastry. Bake at 450 F for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350F for another 45 minutes (until a knife comes out clean).

For the halloween version, I used some of the pastry scraps to make a pumpkin face, and baked them separately on some parchment paper for about 20 minutes, then put them back in the oven on top of the pie about 10 minutes before the pie was done.

McCall's Best Cheesecake

  • 3/4 cup cookie crumbs (chocolate graham crackers for example, or digestive biscuits)
  • 2 tbs melted butter
  • Combine, mix well, and press onto the bottom of a spring form pan. Leave to set in fridge.

Main body
  • 24oz (680g) plain cream cheese at room temperature
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup (8oz) sugar

Preheat oven to 375F. Beat the cream cheese until light and smooth, then add eggs one at a time and mix until blended. Add vanilla, lemon juice, and sugar, mixing till light and smooth. Pour over crust in tin, and bake about 45 minutes until beginning to set.

  • 2 cups (500g tub) sour cream
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Mix together in the sour cream tub. When the cheesecake is ready, remove from oven and spread this topping over it. Return to oven for another 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool in tin.

Refrigerate overnight before serving. Good with strawberries or strawberry sauce.

For the Halloween version, I made a spider web pattern on top with melted chocolate, and put a little model spider on the top.

Egg-free chocolate cupcakes

  • 3 oz salted butter
  • 2 oz cocoa powder
  • 8 oz (1cup) sugar
  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup organic apple sauce
  • 2/3 cup water
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ cup mini dark chocolate chips
Melt butter gently and allow to cool for a minute or two. Add everything else except chocolate chips and mix well using a fork or whisk until smooth. Add chocolate chips (can either mix in, or leave sprinkled on top). Line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers and fill them about 2/3 full, then bake in a preheated oven at 350F for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick stuck into the cupcake comes out clean. Wait until cool (refrigerate or even freeze so they don't crumble when being iced), then cover with the icing below.  (You can also use this recipe to make one big cake, just pour into a lined or greased cake pan and cook a little longer.)

Buttercream icing

  • 4 oz (½ cup) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered confectioner's sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch or Bird's custard powder (can also use vanilla pudding mix)
  • 1-2 shots of whisky or other strong alcohol (e.g grand marnier, brandy, rum, Bailey's) or cream
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
Mix well, adding more liquid if needed to soften up. Spread on cooled cupcakes then refrigerate.

For halloween version I just sprinkled them with some little pumpkin candies.

I also made butter tarts (which were eaten so fast I didn't get a photo) and macaroni and cheese for the pot luck today.

And I made my awesome dalek costume, as seen below facing off vs Doctor Who ...

The LEDs in my headpiece do actually light up but by this time of the evening I'd turned them off.  I'll probably post more details about the costume another time!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Path of the Beastlord

My Beastlord lore article is now officially posted, so here it is also. This was an interesting story to write and I had to do a bit of research, since the first precursors to the return of the beastlord class actually happened during the mystic epic weapon quest several years ago, although players did not realize that then. But since I don't play a mystic, I hadn't done the epic quest, so write-ups on fan sites were a big help. I ended up using's write-up most heavily since it contained helpful dialog details too.

I spent quite a while before even starting to write debating how to tell the story - what person should tell it, from what perspective. I considered telling it from the point of view of a player character doing the prelude quests, or a mystic doing the epic quest but in the end I decided it might be a more interesting story if I told it from the "bad guys" side, especially as we know very little about the Cult of Sellok from the in-game content. I think it turned out well in the end, hope you do too.


Have you ever had a leader so self-assured, so charismatic, so confident that it seems somehow unthinkable to pursue any goals but his? That's how it was with Sellok.

To be honest, I was just in it for the money at first. Work was short that winter, but I'd left home only that summer, and I was determined to earn my own way in the world. I'd rather have starved than return home to admit defeat and face the mockery of my brothers. So, when the hooded figure approached me on the Nektulos docks with an offer of steady income, I wasn't inclined to look too closely at the details.

I'd always been quick on my feet and good with a blade, so it hardly seemed like work at all when they asked me to infiltrate myself into adventuring parties exploring the recently rediscovered continent of Kunark. I was to look for an ancient scroll or tome containing the writings of an ancient sage. I would know it by the age and the language it was written in; they showed me samples of the ancient script known as Death's Whisper so I would be able to recognize the angular runes when I saw it.

Several months passed while I offered my services to this or that group of adventurers exploring in one dungeon or another. I had grown almost complacent with this lifestyle, content even; and then I found the tome.

I had joined a group exploring the ancient Iksar tomb known as Charasis. We found ourselves in an area I was later to hear called the Vault of Eternal Sleep, but at the time we just called it a deathtrap and other names that were less polite. The halls were riddled with pit traps and other hazards, and after the umpteenth time we had to get ourselves out of one, I was long past ready to leave. I was prowling around the final room when a massive and weighty tome caught my eye. Glancing at the others to make sure their attention was still focused on dividing up the loot, I cautiously opened the book to the first page and immediately recognized the spiky runes I'd been taught were Death's Whisper. Unfortunately, the tome was far too heavy to take with me, so I copied the first few phrases into my journal and returned to the adventuring party to find our way back to the safety of daylight.

When I showed the runes in my journal to my hooded contacts, there was an immediate rush of activity. In no time at all I was taken to their encampment in a hidden vale, and brought before their leader. Introducing himself as Sellok, he demanded to hear every detail of my expedition and the location of the tome, and then there was no option but to immediately assemble a party to return.

Eventually we reached the tome, and Sellok's disciples set up a makeshift camp and scribing table, while Sellok spent several days studying it and making copious notes before we were allowed to leave again. I should have taken my payment then and left; I could have returned home with enough gold to buy a modest farm of my own. But while we were holed up in that vault with no one else to talk to but the skeletons, Sellok took an interest in me. He said that he was impressed by my initiative. I'd succeeded where dozens of other hirelings had failed. During the short breaks he took from studying the tome, he explained a little - a very little - about his research.

He told me of the Truespirit, beings locked in a plane between planes, a world of spiritual power and energies that lay parallel to ours. In the past, he said these spirits had found their way into our world, possessing and corrupting animals into what he called "spirit guides," and using them to lead innocent mortals into evil ways. The root of this corruption was in the city of Shar Vahl on the moon Luclin, where the resident Vah Shir kept what they called a sacred glade filled with these corrupted animals. Sellok said their evil influence grew over the city to such an extent that the gods themselves were eventually forced to destroy Luclin entirely to free the world from these Truespirits. He added that since the destruction of Norrath's moon, we have been free of their control, but they are ever trying to return, looking for more more mortals to enslave. He hoped to use the knowledge in the tome I found to be able to control these spirits and prevent their return to Norrath. And I, naive farmer that I was, didn't think to question what he told me, nor think that the kind of knowledge that is likely to be found locked away in a sealed forbidden tomb is unlikely to be wholesome.

You'd think that growing up with three elder brothers I should have known better than to accept any story unquestioningly. But as I said, Sellok was a man of great charisma and conviction. When he spoke, we all felt like lowly insects crawling in the presence of greatness. When he asked for something, we all leaped to earn a precious word of his praise. And so, when we left Charasis I too donned the hooded robes of his disciples, and joined the cult of Sellok.

The following months were a blur. I worked harder than I'd ever worked on my parents' farm, and that is no easy life even with three brothers to share the load. Some of the demands from Sellok seemed odd, but we followed unquestioningly. We traveled the length and breadth of Kunark, rounding up the skeletons of long dead Iksar warriors so that he could test his theories. He constructed a strange altar in the hidden vale, and told us it was to trap the spirits into the old bones as they tried to enter our world.

The agonized wailing and shrieking of the spirits as Sellok caused the skeletons to become animated were dismaying at first, but he assured us it was merely the Truespirit fighting to escape him, and that we were protecting Norrath by entrapping them into these old bones. Most learned to ignore the sounds; some, like me, preferred to leave the area entirely when the wailing started. When it got too hard to listen at these times I would visit the plains of Antonica. Walking through the farmland there never failed to remind me of home and calm my mind as I assured myself it was lands like these that I was now protecting.

It was on one of these excursions that I encountered the wolf. It was sitting in a quiet glade and seemed to watch me with almost human intelligence. I knelt slowly on the soft grass nearby so as not to startle the wolf, and enjoyed the scents of life all around me. As I knelt there, I felt strength returning that I didn't even realize I had lost. The bees buzzed in the background, the birds sang in the distance, and a small badger waddled out of the bushes nearby and stuck a cold wet nose on my arm.

"Your spirit seems remarkably untroubled for one who has helped create so much pain," said the wolf suddenly. His voice sounded as old as the hills themselves.

"Your pardon?" I almost replied in surprise. I looked hastily around, half thinking someone was playing a trick on me. Norrath can be a strange place at times, but talking wolves are not something you encounter every day.

"You work for the necromancer," said the wolf and his pelt twitched inadvertently as if flinching in revulsion at the very mention of Sellok. "You bring him skeletons, corpses, and dead husks in which he traps the living spirits as they attempt to enter this world to bring help and life. Surely you cannot be deaf to their cries of agony. I hear them day and night now, trapped in their dead prisons, unable to escape."

"That is necessary!" I shouted, standing up in anger. "They would corrupt Norrath! Just as they did to Luclin, which is why it was destroyed!"

"Young one, the tragedy of Luclin had nothing to do with the spirit realm. And as for the Truespirit, we only wish to help. Our role in Shar Vahl was as friends, advisors, and guides. We took animal form to best travel in this realm and partner with mortals, but we have only ever gone where we were freely invited."

"'We?'" I repeated, more confused now than anything, but stubbornly holding on to my anger as the one thing I could be sure of. The wolf certainly didn't seem like an evil, corrupting influence, but if I believed his words then it meant my master had deliberately led us all astray, and I had been unwittingly aiding in the most terrible of deeds. "Don't you touch me!"

The wolf gave me a long, sorrowful gaze. "Listen to your instincts, young one," was his only reply before twitching his whiskers and vanishing from sight in a few powerful leaps.

I tried to return to life as normal, but the wolf's words haunted me. What did I really know about the Truespirit? Was there any evidence to support what Sellok had told me? The questions plagued me, and the next time Sellok tried to trap the spirits in the skeletons of the dead, I didn't leave but instead crept close and watched. The look on his face was not that of a man selflessly saving the world. It was a self-absorbed, power-hungry look that made me feel unclean. Watching one of the undead Iksar shambling around afterwards, I seemed to feel the agony they were in, and couldn't bear it any more. I swung my blade and ended the abomination there and then, feeling its gratitude like a whisper in passing as the spirit escaped its prison.

My life was only saved at that point by the coincidence of a group of adventurers entering the hidden vale at that moment. As Sellok and the cultists fought for their lives, I slipped out of the vale, arranging it to look as if I had died in the battle.

Since then, I've dedicated myself to finding the spirits Sellok had trapped in the undead bodies and ending their suffering. Nowadays I seem able to see an almost visible spirit essence escaping, and sometimes it seems to whisper something to me as it passes by. I heard Sellok himself had been killed by a group of adventurers, possibly those whose arrival allowed my escape. I hear his followers scattered but I have lost track of them as I continue to travel the lands of Kunark, seeking to free the trapped spirits. I don't know if I can ever atone for the pain I helped to cause, but I can at least free those I helped to harm, and in doing so I am learning to see the signs of the spirit realm where it touches Norrath.

Despite Sellok's best efforts, it seems the Truespirit are touching our world more frequently now. I have not seen the wolf again, but something tells me that once I have finished undoing the damage I wrought, we will meet again. And when we do, I intend to ask him more about the secrets of Shar Vahl. I want to learn how the spirit guides and chosen mortals formed a bond as strong as life itself. I want to learn to work with the Truespirit to truly protect Norrath, as I had misguidedly thought I was doing long ago. I want to discover the joy of facing the world with my spirit warder by my side. I want to learn to become a beastlord.

(The events in this story make reference to the Mystic epic weapon quest, "A Sleeping Stone." The beastlord prelude quests are currently available from Caalina in Antonica, or Elmin in Commonlands. The beastlord class is coming in winter 2011 with the EverQuest II expansion: Age of Discovery!)


Final note: did you think the story's speaker was male, or female? I deliberately left it completely unmentioned and I've been interested to talk to people who've read the story and come away with completely different opinions.

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..."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

What Do Players Want?

A selection of quotes from nightly /feedback reports that amused me, interested me, or made me think. Sometimes I sure wish I the feedback reports could tell me the context behind the report; particularly for that first one. I wonder what was happening!


Text: confine gnomes.


Text: I've actually become bored with typing this but we **NEED** more hotbars... My warden is overwhelmed with not being able to organize herself/her abilities because of this. And to answer the question some GM's have asked, NO... it will not be a screen full of hotbars... My monitor is HUGE and you have so kindly added the ability to make the hotbars smaller in size. Please add more hotbars, it is making the game unplayable.


Text: All I want for Christmas is to be able to throw snowballs while flying. No, seriously, snowball fights in the air would be amazing, please.


Text: stop cursing me!


Text: It would be cool if you guys could design a "Dressing Room" for the mounts. for example, the horses have like 10 different types of armors that you can get, but given that you can custonize your character's armor and weapons to be he exact way that you want it, its insanly hard to find a mount whos colors / armors match.

You could set up a series of colored plates that have the graphics that already exist, but let us pick and choose what goes where to add personalization to our various mounts.

Thank you for your time.


Text: We need Dragon Flying Mounts. Preferably actual dragons like Woushi or the ones in Vanguard.


Text: Scouts get an unfair advantage over casters, Nerf Them ffs


Text: a second thought that just passed my head is i think this rating system is dumb. it is just another outlet for angsty people to put others down anonymously and hurt their feelings when someone has worked extremely hard on their home. I think its cool that you can visit other peoples houses with the click of a button but i believe that rating system has to go before someone ends up getting hurt emotionally too much from jackasses on the game.


Text: Exorcise is cool. Thanks! It's kinda like a half-infusion, only with added penalty. Kinda what I've been wanting - so thanks!


Text: I would like to suggest adding a few new recipies for Carpenters. Specifically, new trees! :)

Currently, Carpenters can make only one standalone tree -- the Nektulos Pine. It's a very well liked and well-used tree among decorators. Unfortunately, for everything else we must rely upon Grottos and faction merchants, while our crafters are left with the same old recipies.

There are so many wonderful trees ingame already that would make perfect Carpenter-crafted items. Just a few that come to mind are: the beautiful fruit trees in Conservatory, the lightly snow-frosted pines in Eastern Wastes, the stately green and blue-flowered ornamentals in the new Felwithe Mansion, the massive sweeping canopies of the Kunzar Jungle trees, the dark pines of Darklight Woods, the twisted frozen trunks of the Great Divide pines, the tall swaying palms of Kerra Isle, the Void-twisted trees of Toxxulia Forest, or even that cute little decorative palm from Toxx (that is now the "Warden tree").

I do hope you will consider adding some, if not all, of these to our recipies! There are more than enough trees, plants, and shrubs in this game already to keep Carpenters, vendors, and grottos busy for quite some time -- and EQ2 has an amazingly creative team of designers to add even more :)


Text: you need to change the loggin music back to the original. i like to logg in to pleasant music and the new music is so annoying and depressing that sometimes i just exit right back out of the game without playing because it bugs me so much.


Text: The two new dynamic dungeons are AWESOME! I'm having loads of fun with these. I can play the level 90 versions in a full group with my friends, and I can mentor and play a lower-level version in a duo or trio, so it's perfect. I really love that you can get shinies in the mentored versions, too. More like this please!!!! :D


Text: bring back /gems from eq1 :P its way overdue.


Text: loving the new sign house items! any chance we could get something similar with paper notes we could leave for people - maybe vertical ones pinned to walls, or horizontal ones for placing on desks? am massively into organising treasure hunts in my houses, and at the mo i've been having to use books, but they're not always appropriate!

ta muchly! :)


Text: Need more solo content


Text: I would like to see a new quest in runny eye the gathering to save the hobbits that the goblins are cooking


Text: Beetle Herding ... the ENTIRE quest line should be changed so you DONT need the wait for the spiders to get in JUST the RIGHT spot.

There should be a trap-door spider that kills them as soon as they get to the ROCK !!!


Text: We need pink wings in the game, maybe some can be made for Erollisi Day this year. Or sooner. A multitude of colors for Frostfell time.


Text: it would be neat if when you destroyed some item, no matter what it was, your character would actually animate and throw an item into the nothing.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

What do game designers do anyway?

We recently posted a job opening on the EverQuest 2 team for a game designer to fill my old role managing tradeskills. As most people know, I was hired directly from the player community, without any game design experience; in fact for many years I was an I.T. manager responsible for all things I.T. related in the Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, and New Zealand offices of my previous company. So, some general business/I.T. knowledge but not related to gaming. And my hiring worked out very well, so the company is once again considering applications from the player community to fill the role.

I've noticed two interesting things from the comments made on various discussion forums about the job.

First, seemed like 90% of the comments took the form of "Wow, I'd love to do this BUT I can't because... ", where "reason" was generally "too far away/can't move/don't know how to program/not qualified/health reasons". These comments made me very sad, to think that so many people see this as a job they would love, but feel prevented by so many reasons from actually trying it. I certainly understand that people have many different things that might prevent them, and health issues are hard to argue with in particular. But most other issues are surmountable if a person really, truly, passionately wants to do something. Heck, I sold a condo, moved from Australia, and took a fairly significant pay cut from an IT manager's salary to take the job in the first place, because it was what I genuinely wanted to do and an opportunity that might not have come again. I've never regretted that. I hate to imagine that any of these posters WILL regret not doing the same. As I wrote in one thread, you might not get the job if you apply, but you're GUARANTEED not to get the job if you don't apply.

Second thing I noticed is that a large number of players don't seem to understand at all what a game designer even does. Several people mentioned that they can't program, when nowhere in the job description did it even mention programming as a requirement. Game designers don't program. NONE of the game designers on EQ2 program. Some of us have done some basic programming in the past (including me) but others haven't and none of us NEED to do it as a job requirement. The most we ever do (and not all of us) is some basic scripting language stuff, and that's only on rare occasions for most of us. For the most part, game designers work with the tools that the actual programmers - the code team - provide for us. We do most of the creative work. We come up with the ideas for the stories, we write the text of the quests, we name the items you get, we decide what the zones and monsters should look like, we assign what stats are on equipment, what your spells do, what components are going to be required to make which recipes, we name the NPCs and dress them up.

Here's an older post that Josh "Autenil" Kriegshauser made on the SOE blog describing some of the different job titles that work on a game. In particular, about designers:

Designers breathe the lifeblood into the game. They write quests, set up NPCs, populate the world, create items and scribe spells. Some designers focus on Mechanics (spells, balance, achievements, etc) while others focus on Content (NPCs, Quests, Lore). Tradeskills are also an important part of our world and some designers work exclusively on Raid Encounters. While most of designers’ work is done in tools written by Programmers, designers may learn skills such as scripting as they level up.

As a tradeskill designer I did a lot of work with Excel spreadsheets, working out the details of massive numbers of recipes which I either created from new or revised. By the time I was hired, sub-combines had been removed from the recipes but there was still a lot of cleaning up needed for consistency's sake, not to mention all the new recipes for Kunark that I joined just in time to work lots of overtime creating. I also spent many, many long evenings at home watching DVDs while updating the stats on older crafted gear that had gotten out of date, a slow and painful process. (Nowdays our itemization designer Silius has a tool - which a programmer made for him - that allows him to update stats more easily so he can maintain the tradeskilled item stats, but back when I joined the team I had to do it all by hand myself ... uphill barefoot in the snow ... you get the idea!) I also added lots of tradeskill quests, which I consider an important part of the changes I made to tradeskills. Learning to write quests well takes some time, and my first ones were not exactly brilliant, but I soon figured out what worked well and what didn't and what was fun. It didn't take long till I was helping out with non-tradeskill quests too as needed, and helping new apprentices learn the tricks. As tradeskill designer I also kind of inherited housing and furniture, since the carpenter class makes furniture and nobody else was very interested in it, so it ended up falling mainly to me to request/repurpose/make various new house items for all the other designers who needed an extra quest reward or faction item here or there. During the course of all this I did learn a little scripting and write a few perl scripts, but it's nothing I couldn't have lived without. I don't like to ask people for help so I usually figure stuff out on my own, but as a team we're always happy to help each other out when needed and we all give and take pretty evenly. One of the best things about being the tradeskill designer was that I had a chance to learn a little bit of almost everything, because tradeskills is a pretty broad area when you think about it. Itemization, quest writing, collections, house items, even making and populating new zones for some of the quests; I became a bit of a generalist and jack-of-all-trades which was great in my opinion since it meant I could help out with almost anything as needed. Pretty much the only thing I didn't ever get into was raids and boss fight design, but we've had some great designers doing those very well for as long as I've been on the team so there was never any need (though I imagine if I'd really wanted to get involved, I could have asked to help; I always had other things I wanted to do first for tradeskills though). So anyway, yes - a very broad opportunity to learn some very diverse things, and for someone looking to join the industry for the first time I think it's going to be a great position to start in for this very reason. And no, no programming required.

Nowdays I'm on the production side, which Autenil's blog also describes briefly. My role so far is fairly diverse and hard to describe in detail but basically boils down to keeping everything running and making sure nothing important gets missed. I don't tell designer A to make this raid and designer B to make that raid, but I might notice that the lead designer hasn't planned any raids for the next game update and check if that was intentional or an oversight. It's definitely a change from the tradeskill designer role but so far I'm not regretting the promotion; I love tradeskills and I loved working on them but after four years I was starting to feel a little tired, as if there wasn't a lot more new to learn there. And I firmly believe the tradeskill system will benefit from someone with fresh eyes taking a new look from a new perspective and possibly seeing things that I wasn't seeing. So now I'm learning new skills which always makes me happy, and able to help the team in new ways too which also makes me happy. :) The last associate producer we had on EQ2 has just taken over as producer on the FreeRealms team, and the one before that has recently gone off to be a producer at Zynga. I'm not sure if I want to be a producer one day; there still seems to be a daunting amount to learn just as an associate producer, so for now I'm just happy learning that. And who knows what other opportunities will come along while I'm busy learning? There always seems to be something new.

I haven't seen all the applications coming in for the tradeskill designer position yet - HR and our fearless leader the producer are handling all that so far, and besides I'm on holiday this week - but I know we've received quite a lot and I'm looking forward to meeting my new replacement once the process is complete. Good luck to whoever you are - and well done for going ahead and applying without adding a "BUT I can't because ..." clause! I'm sure you won't regret taking the job, I certainly haven't.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Red shirt!

Normally I wouldn't bother to repost this, but today it seems rather appropriate, so ... =)

Your results:
You are Mr. Scott

You are a fun-loving foreigner with an amazing ability to get any job done on time.
Often described as a "Miracle Worker".

Mr. Scott

Jean-Luc Picard
Geordi LaForge
An Expendable Character (Redshirt)
Leonard McCoy (Bones)
Will Riker
Beverly Crusher
Deanna Troi
James T. Kirk (Captain)
Mr. Sulu

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Influence of Gaming

I caught this NPR program on the influence of gaming as I was driving around today.  Interesting listening.

Link to the whole episode

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Great Expectations: in-game stores

People are strange. In particular, people's reactions to in-game stores are strange. In-game microtransactions seem to bring out very mixed and contradictory feelings in people, and at the same time seems to blind them to the fact they're contradicting themselves.

Some things Dave "Smokejumper" Georgeson said in one of his early interviews after joining the EQ2 team expressed a truth of in-game stores in general that I think is often overlooked.  In this interview with Zam, he said:
"I'm a big fan of microtransactions. As a player, I'm a fan of them. And the reason I'm a fan of them is if the content isn't good, then the developer doesn't make any money."
"It's just basically choosing how you spend your money, whether or not it's entertainment that's of value to you. 'Cause it's completely optional; none of this stuff is required, if you don't want to pay for it you don't have to."
Now, it's true that there are some games where the purchased items grant actual in-game power so could be considered essential, but for many games that's not the case.  For many games, including the one I work on, it's entirely possible to never buy a single item from the in-game store and be at no disadvantage whatsoever within the game. It's totally optional. And yet, here are two things I frequently see people say about these kinds of items in these kinds of games:

1. They proclaim that the existence of an in-game store is horrible and, they will never use it; and they ask, often in the same sentence, why all the items in it suck so much, saying they're so terrible, they don't want any of them, why can't the designers do better.

2. Sometimes, if a new item comes out in a game I play that I think is pretty neat, I will link it on Facebook or on twitter. And often, a bitter sounding person will reply along these lines: "well *I* sure won't be buying it, because it doesn't have (X) / isn't (Y)". 

These both confuse me.  

In #1, the person seems to be confused about what they actually want.  If they really dislike in-game stores in general and don't want them to exist, then they should be rejoicing if the items in them are completely undesirable, because then nobody will buy them and the store may be abandoned.  And if they really don't ever want to use an in-game store then it seems rather masochistic to be complaining the items aren't something they would want to buy.  It sounds as if the #1 type of person actually does want to buy things, and dislikes the store primarily because it's not selling the items that person wants to purchase.

In #2, while this might be a true statement, I'm always puzzled why someone would even bother to post it. The implication seems to be that the game designers were expecting every single person to love and buy it, that the company thinks they should want to buy it. Well no, not if you don't like it. That's like if I linked a photo of a pizza and said it is now available if anybody wants some, and someone replied that they only like hamburgers so they won't be eating my pizza, which would be much better if it were a hamburger instead and clearly the cooks must be stupid to make pizza. Well, yes, if you don't like pizza then don't eat it. This seems pretty obvious, good plan. Well done for figuring that out, but why even bother posting bitterly back about it? And why does everything have to be hamburgers, when there may well be people out there who do like pizza?

That's the beauty of completely optional and nonessential content, isn't it? If you don't like it, don't buy it.  If I walk into a clothing store I certainly don't buy every item in it; I usually don't even like most of them. That doesn't mean I'm going to run up to the sales clerk and hold up a pair of jeans, bitterly shouting that I would have bought them if they'd also had 4 additional pockets but they don't so I'm not going to.  Stores offer a wide selection of items that will appeal to a wide variety of people. Very few people will like everything, and it's probably better that way too or we'd all end up looking identical if we all had exactly the same tastes!  I think pretty much everyone understands this when they walk into a clothing store, so it remains a bit of a mystery to me why some people seem to get so bitter when not every single item in a game's in-game store appeals to them personally.

Anyway, no real deep & meaningful conclusion here or anything, just an interesting thing I've noticed when I watch people talking about in-game shops in computer games.  I am slowly developing a few theories as I watch.  Anybody else care to speculate on why folks don't have the same expectations of the in-game stores as they do of real world ones?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

New position! aka, WWSJD?

So, apparently it's been far too long since I updated this blog; and the reason for that is that just when I thought work was already flat out busy, I accepted a new position, and it got suddenly EVEN BUSIER.

So here's a quick catch up.

If you're even bothering to read this blog then you probably already know that since May 2007 I've been a game designer on the EQII team, in charge of the tradeskill system among other things.  The "other things" have varied and slowly grown over time, but tradeskills has been my consistent main focus.  As tradeskill designer for EQII I've shipped 4 expansions (Rise of Kunark, The Shadow Odyssey, The Sentinel's Fate, and Destiny of Velious, plus EQII Extended); and during this time I've worked under four Producers for the EQII team: Gallenite, Froesch, Brenlo, and now SmokeJumper.

However, work is about learning and growing, and four years doing pretty much the same thing is a long time, for me at least! Not that I don't love the tradeskill system in EQII, because I certainly still do; but the tradeskill system itself (or any game system really) benefits from different perspectives and different opinions, and having the same person making all the decisions forever and ever would not be a good thing, ultimately, either for the game or for the person.

So, when I was offered the opportunity back in April to try a new role, I decided that both I and the tradeskill system would benefit from fresh perspectives and challenges.  The new role is Associate Producer, still on the EQII team, and it was announced in this interview with Paul "Frizznik" Carrico, who's taking over the tradeskill duties in my place. Frizznik certainly won't think about tradeskills in the exact same way I do, and he'll see different priorities than I did, but I think that overall that can only be a good change to keep the tradeskill system from getting stale.

During the years I've been on the EQII team we've had a number of wonderful Associate Producers helping the various Producers, but during Brenlo's time the last of them left the team for various reasons (one to become the new producer for FreeRealms, in fact) so for the past year we've had none: just SmokeJumper handling it all on his own.

As was also announced recently, Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson is now stepping into a more senior role as Executive Producer overseeing the entire EverQuest franchise, not just EQII as before.  To quote from that link:

Smokejumper: I'm still very much attached to EQII and work closely with the leads on that project. We recently promoted Emily "Domino" Taylor to become the Associate Producer on EQII, specifically to shore up the fact that I would have less time in each day to spend on EQII. So far, it's been working very well. The team didn't skip a beat during the transition, and in fact, things are probably better now than they were previously because we're able to split up the tasks and I can focus more on the game's quality and business direction.

So, that's me now: mini-SmokeJumper, and keeping remarkably busy because of it. I'd already been working fairly closely with him on a number of projects, but since the official changeover in April, it's been pretty much non-stop. I don't know how he was managing on his own.

I also recently joined the EQ2talk podcast to talk with Dellmon and Aliscious about my new role, the future of tradeskills, EQ2, and everything related. You can have a listen here.  I'm a terrible public speaker, alas.

So, that pretty much catches up to the present time, and doesn't really excuse the lack of posts, but possibly helps explain the busy-ness lately that's been keeping me from posting much. As I think I mentioned in the EQ2talk podcast, I'm enjoying working with SmokeJumper so far; he's a good guy to work for and there's clearly such a lot I can learn from him that I'm trying to figure out some way to arrange some kind of mind meld machine to download it all!

In more general EQII news, we recently had another Game Update, and I helped (in a small way) our AV team to make a pretty cool video, which you can see here:

This week while I man (or possibly woman) the fort back here in San Diego, SmokeJumper is up in LA showing off EverQuest II at E3: if you're going to be there, definitely check out the Sony booth, where they're demonstrating their new 3D laptops with EverQuest II's spectacular 3D aerial races.  I'd never seen EQII in 3D before and I'm really not a fan of 3D technology, but I have to say I was just blown away by how good it looks.  Wow.  It really is pretty amazing looking.

Also coming up soon is SOE's own Fan Faire event. Preliminary schedule and details can be found on the official fan faire site.  Just a month to go now!  I'll be there, and I'll be looking forward to seeing some of the "regulars" again as well as meeting new faces. Fan Faire is always such a lot of fun.

And I think that pretty much catches me up to date with the news; I'll try to think of some more interesting things to post in the future.  I expect to continue to post on this blog as I think of interesting things to say, but possibly not so much about EQ2 tradeskills specifically. In the mean time, happy June, and happy tradeskilling!

Recent G.I.R.L. blogs

Things I've been writing elsewhere while I wasn't writing here!

G.I.R.L. Talk with Tiffany Chu
G.I.R.L. Talk with Jennifer Chan
G.I.R.L. Talk with Judy Tyrer

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Do Players Want?

A selection of assorted feedback from the past week:


Text: Guys i am dying for more hotbars. This game is incredible, but ten hotbars isnt enough! =)


Text: i think there should be more guards patroling new halas just for protection and to make the city feel alive


Text: please make key mobs un-despanwable for idiots like me


Text: thanks for yet more crap loot from the PQ chest. I hope your hair falls out in patches.


Text: Fighters should heal crit! :(


Text: I must say that I really love the number of easter eggs the quest designers put in - npcs that give lore when hailed afterwards, or as additional dialogue options, or even giving hints if you hail them after. This is the first expansion in which I've genuinely been interested in what npcs have to say. Great job!


Text: No difficulty nerfing please!!!!!

the game has only been out a couple weeks - it should not all be beatable right way.


Text: make an instance where each named is a froglok clone of a group member and at the end all the shadows unite and turn into a massive froglok that squashing people with his feet!


Text: screw you and the ice in the hold of rime ascent thats the stupidest bullshit you morons ever put in the damn game RETQARDS


Text: OK! I love the expansion. Love the flying mounts!! Just amazing how beautiful this game is.....can't wait to see if this post makes Dommino's blog lol.... Please can we have a "tinkered flying baloon ship" and can you also offer it as a historical Guide Quest!! Those have been so fun! This would be awsome for tinkerfest coming up.

(Hi! But I don't plan to post any other comments that say this, otherwise everyone will start to do it.)

Text: love the Guillermo Del Toro/Neil Gaiman feel of Pools in Velious :)




Text: Suggestion: Possibly a yearly event:

Camel and Flying Carpet Races in Sinking Sands where prizes are camel mounts, run speed 75 for the land bound (those who are too low a level to get the flying mounts). But there could also be sky races for prizes and for new flying carpets (really vivid color styles), that when the flying gryphon quests are completed, they can be a true flying mount (much like the Gnome aero race those btw). Race courses would be in SS and PoF for these.

There could be an Arabian Nights type of event in conjuction with it where we can get outfits like 'I dream of Jeannie' and jeweled bottles that, when placed in house and rubbed once a day will give us some special (time limited) boost for battling.

Also, awesome bejeweled scimitars could be available for our appearance slots, and turbans for the guys heads, and for the girls, a shear veil for across her face that would mysteriously enhance her make-up around her eyes and make her eyes sparkle. There could be silly silk slippers (where the toe part curls up) in various vivid colors.

Your imagination could go wild with this...perhaps an Aladdin's Cave and a sleeping dragon where a number of stashed treasure items need be be stolen from the dragon successfully to win a prize.

Thanks for considering this,

( I thought of it while here in SS and saw the Camels running by)


Text: So very cool.... these Public Quests are AWESOME and so much social time spent with many players :)


Text: I find your lack of Sundered Frontier Wisdom-based quest rewards disturbing.

I mean, a Shaman can only take so much Str/Sta/Agi gear before he goes insane. >_<


Text: I adore the developer that wrote the quests for the Othmir. Never before have I felt so involved in a developing storyline that phyiscally changed the enviroment of the people I was doing quests for. Thank you, you are a wonderful game designer and deserve a promotion to lead designer.


Text: Some new hair styles would be nice. Something between super fancy frilly and just out of the shower would be nice.


Text: Now that we have flying griffens we can ride all over the place, you guys should make some flying pig mounts!


Text: Must we really take a furniture item from each repeatable faction quest from othmir & snowfang EVERY SINGLE DAY? How many othmir hammock's does one need? Could we have an option to perhaps say 'No thanks, I don't need furniture'.

The entire forest will surely be cut down for this multitude of wasted furniture that is forced upon us. The poor Othmir must do nothing but harvest wood and craft furniture for us like sweatshop workers. And the poor Snowfang gnolls have enough problems without taking up half their day making chairs for us.


Text: Did you know: shadowknights do not resuscitate little otter pups. nor do they rescue kittens from trees. make them into handbags, maybe. make them into shoes or slippers, yes.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Egg-free Guinness Pudding

This is a version of the Guinness Chocolate Pudding recipe I posted earlier, modified so it contains no eggs.


4 tsp Bird's Custard Powder (which contains no eggs) - US residents can generally find this in import stores such as World Market
4 tbsp milk
0.5 cups sugar, plus 3 tablespoons
1.5 cups of Guinness stout beer
2.25 cups of heavy whipping cream
4 ounces of dark chocolate (I used 72% chocolate chips).  If using a solid bar of chocolate, chop or break it up into smaller pieces so it melts faster.


Pour 1 cup of Guinness into a small saucepan and set it on the stove to simmer over medium heat.

In a separate bowl, mix 4 tsp of custard powder with 4 tablespoons of milk and 0.5 cups of sugar.

Pour the remaining 0.5 cups of Guinness into another saucepan (pour slowly down side to minimize foaming) and add 1.25 cups of the heavy cream.  Mix, and set on stove over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until bubbles start to form at edges.  At this point, remove saucepan from heat.  And add the 4 oz. chocolate, and stir until chocolate is all melted and mixture is smooth.

Add the sugar and custard powder mixture to the chocolate mixture in the saucepan, stirring constantly while adding. Return the saucepan to the heat.  Stir constantly for about 5-10 minutes till it thickens.  When thickened the mixture should coat the back of a spoon dipped into it, and not be runny.

At this point, remove from heat again and divide among small glasses.  Leave at least an inch of space in each to add the topping.  This is a VERY rich pudding, so keep the glasses quite small - this will make 12 shot glasses of pudding, or fewer larger glasses.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, until set (cover with plastic wrap if leaving overnight).

Meanwhile ... the first saucepan should have simmered down to just a tablespoon or two of liquid.  (If not, keep simmering till it does.)  This is making a Guinness flavoured reduction, so you really only want a small amount of concentrated liquid left.  Pour the reduction into a bowl and put in the fridge to cool.

(Wait at least an hour to do the next step, or overnight, so that the Guinness reduction and the pudding have time to cool.)

In a clean bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream with the remaining 3 tbs of sugar.  Beat until soft peaks form, then add the cooled Guinness reduction and beat again until all combined.  Carefully spoon the whipped cream topping onto the top of the pudding glasses and return to fridge to cool until ready to serve. Leaving the pudding to sit overnight seems to make the flavour richer, so if there's time to do this the night before it will improve it.

(In this picture, using small disposable shot glasses from BevMo.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Why gnomes are great

(This will be a rather short post as there is a cat fast asleep on one of my arms so I'm typing slow and one-handed.)

As I mentioned in my last post, the final day of the Destiny of Velious launch events is today, and it's a series of flying races run by those mechanically-minded tinkerers, the gnomes.  Check out this video of the races!  And here's a great screenshot taken by Gnobrin, one of our art team:

This morning when the event started and people started talking about it, I got a message from a friend asking what it was all about. When I explained, he expressed his regret that the game he's currently playing doesn't have gnomes in. And this led to a discussion that's the title of this post: why gnomes are great.

Gnomes are great for many reasons, really; I used to play one myself in the original EQ. From a game designer's perspective though they are great because they are so crazy and random and inclined to catastrophically break or change things that they can be used as an explanation for almost anything.

For example, we want to create an event that lets people try out the new flying mounts but only on a temporary basis? Gnomes can build a test course and an unstable, prone-to-disintegration mechanical flying mount! No further explanation needed. Gnomes just do things like that.

This principle can be applied to almost anything. Why did the sun explode? Gnomes! Why did sharks develop the ability to swim on dry land? Gnomes! Why did the gods abandon the world? Gnomes! Why did everyone's underwear turn purple? Gnomes! "Gnomes" is an explanation that can answer almost any question; and as such they are a wonderful excuse for a game designer to use when all else fails. And the beauty of gnomes is that it quite likely really IS their fault anyway.

Some (ie: gnomes) may call this a blog about blaming gnomes, and not about why gnomes are great, but this is clearly a nit-picky point of semantics that I will ignore. All MMOs should have gnomes, or a gnome-equivalent. Gnomes are great.  =)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Velious is here!

(Warning: may contains some small spoilers.)

It's been too long since I last posted, in my defense I can only point to our fantastic new expansion Destiny of Velious which shipped last week to huge success! It kept us very busy making it, but I've seen almost nothing but positive comments about pretty much all aspects of the expansion, and everybody with fond memories of Velious from EQ1 days has been both eager and excited to see what's happened to the continent some 500 or so years later.

What's happened is a lot! While Velious has been isolated from the rest of Norrath its inhabitants continued their battles; in particular the centuries-long cycle of battles (known to some as the Ring Wars) between the giants of Kael Drakkel and the dwarves of Thurgadin continued for some time, finally coming to an abrupt and icy end when the coldain defenders used their last-ditch defense of desperation and set loose the waterfall that concealed the entrance to Thurgadin, flooding the battle plain including those fighting on it. Suffering terrible losses and believing that Thurgadin had been destroyed, the giants withdrew and turned their attention elsewhere, and the dwarves have been steadily rebuilding Thurgadin since then.  Unfortunately, a new enemy has also appeared on the horizon in the form of Kraytoc's forces of the Rime, who are now attacking Thurgadin from within Storm Gorge...

Meanwhile the events of the past centuries and the shattering of Luclin resulted in some areas of Velious melting and shifting around. A great wall of ice now divides the continent in two, cutting off the region formerly known as the Western Wastes from the eastern side. The cliff seems impassable, so it's not clear what has happened to those who were left on the far side, if indeed anything remains alive.

The othmir, those peaceful otter-like inhabitants of the western side of the continent, managed to flee just in time and have established a new home on the ice floes where the gnomish pirates of iceclad used to have their igloo camp. The gnomes, meanwhile, had allied with the dwarves to fight against the giants and relocated closer to Thurgadin, where they have lately started to take advantage of the harbour to reconstruct their mechanical ships. As for the giants ... they've been keeping busy also, needless to say, and Kael Drakkel is an area adventurers will be exploring to learn more.  Tradeskillers will find quests to help the othmir, the gnome pirates, and the coldain; not to mention a reclusive group of goahmari whose hidden home high in the mountains has only recently become accessible to the casual traveler.

The Tower of Frozen Shadows is still standing, although as the ice has melted and shifted the tower's foundations have settled and the tower is now leaning at a distinct angle. Personally, I'm very excited to visit the tower again, as it was one of the zones and stories that interested me most in EQ1 and I still have strong memories of guild adventures running through it.  I haven't had time to get a group in there yet but what I've seen of the tower looks like a great rendition of the tower I remember.

There are so many great stories to learn in the new Velious that I certainly won't try to describe them here, I can only say that if you have fond memories of Velious in EQ1 you won't be disappointed about how much information there is to be gathered about what's happened since then until now. And there are lots of people to see and places to visit, from Thurgadin and the coldain to the gnome pirates and othmir, what's become of Tserrina's frozen tower and Velketor's Labyrinth and Kael Drakkel, and much more.

This was my fourth expansion working on EQ2, which seems hard to believe; I'm not sure where those years have vanished to. Time seems to have flown by and I'm always learning new things, so there hasn't been a dull moment. As always I've been putting everything I have learned towards making tradeskills fun in this expansion, and I think there are more than a few very nice rewards that tradeskillers will enjoy.  In this expansion the part that stands out in my mind as the most significant piece I worked on was the Coldain Prayer Shawl heritage quest.  For those who don't play EQ2 or have forgotten, a heritage quest is our term for a special type of quest that specifically rewards an item that was famous from the original EQ1. These quests are often quite lore-heavy and have unusually nice rewards.  So, heritage quests include rewards such as the journeyman's boots, the bone-bladed claymore, the paw of opolla, the greater light stone, the flowing black silk sash, and many more.  The Coldain Prayer Shawl heritage quest is slightly different from previous ones however, as it's the first purely tradeskill heritage quest we have done. (Many have a small crafting component, but none require high level tradeskilling and give tradeskill rewards until now.)

To create this quest I relied heavily on the story and requirements of the EQ1 version (and as always the detailed notes and accessible organization of the information on Niami's EQTraders fan site made this so much easier for me than it would have been otherwise).  While creating the new quest, I accepted that neither the mechanics of the EQ1 version nor the requirements would translate directly into EQ2, which is a very different game. Also, many centuries have passed since players first assisted the coldain and learned how to obtain the blessed coldain prayer shawl, so many things might have changed since then.  Rather than try to duplicate the original quest, I used it as an opportunity to allow players to learn what had happened to the coldain (and the shawl) from then until now; and most importantly, to put them in the position of being the main character in the quest, the protagonist of the story. Nobody has progressed far on the quest yet - it has a fairly lengthy faction requirement - but I certainly hope that when people finally do finish it, they'll be left with the feeling that they were the hero, they did a great thing, and they have done a great service to the coldain.

So, Velious is back!  Hurray!  If you haven't seen it yet, check out our launch video:

And also watch out for the fun launch week events which will be wrapping up next week.  In particular, the gnome flying races on March 1st are great (we've been having lots of fun testing them internally already) and will be accessible to all players of all levels whether or not you've bought the expansion.  You don't even need to subscribe or pay a penny, now we have a free to play option, so there's no excuse not to check out the crazy gnome fun.  Designer Windslasher did a a fabulous job on these and I couldn't be more impressed; you will be too!

Anyway, I'd keep on writing about all the things I'm excited for in this new expansion, but that would be more time away from actually logging in and playing it myself, so that's all from me for now! Come check it out, if you aren't already; maybe I'll see you there.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Recent G.I.R.L. blogs

Some of what I've been writing while I wasn't here ...

Making Mother-Friendly Games
G.I.R.L. Talk With Abby Watt
The Ghost of Christmas Presents
Rescuing the Princess.... From Stereotyping

Got several more Q&As coming up over the next month on the G.I.R.L. blog too, so watch out for those!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Exciting week!

It's been an exciting week around here!

Not only is the Destiny of Velious beta getting underway for EverQuest II, but there's lots of other things happening too.  Last week saw the soft beta launch of "Dungeon Overlord", a facebook game that I've been playtesting in alpha for quite some time.  It's reminiscent of the old DungeonKeeper games (which I loved), in that you can build your underground dungeon lair, designate rooms, and attract creatures.  This is a social game, however, and besides attacking innocent NPC villages in the world above, you can also launch attacks on your fellow players, raid their dungeons, even destroy and steal things.  I've been enjoying the building aspect very much, but am not yet sure how much I will participate in the PvP side which I'm guessing may become quite competitive as the world fills up.  I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops, and in the mean time building up my hordes of evil minions ...  Check out the official page, watch the trailer, and give it a try on Facebook!

Edit to add an update: check out the great review from!  And tune into the Jethal Silverwing show on Online Gaming Radio Tuesday night to hear Jethal and SOE's own Linda "Brasse" Carlson talk more about Dungeon Overlord.

Also just launched is EverQuest II's Fortune League, a Facebook-based fantasy-football type of tournament where you join a league, assemble a group of 6 hardy adventurers, and try to complete a weekly quests.  Participants can earn rewards for their characters within EverQuest II, as well as fame and glory within their league, of course!  The interesting thing about this game is that you assemble your group from all the race/class combinations available within EverQuest II, and their performance during the quest is actually based on real data pulled from the EverQuest II game data. So as I understand it, if barbarian wizards have a particularly bad week within EverQuest II, it will affect the performance of your barbarian wizard in Fortune League.... and the reverse is also true. I have never in my life played a fantasy football game so I had to have a good read of the instructions and FAQ and no doubt there's still much to learn, but it looks potentially a lot of fun, particularly for folks who really do enjoy fantasy football type games.  This week's quest is called Siege at Kaladim: "Isolated and penned into the city you tried to liberate, you and your team defend ancient Kaladim against the hordes of screaming mad bugbears and goblins trying to rout you out. If you can endure and survive long enough, your hope is that help may arrive in time to push your foes back again."  My brave group of mostly short races is eagerly waiting to fight back the bugbears!

And of course, last but surely not least, January 11th will see the launch of SOE's latest MMO, DC Universe Online.  This is launching for both PC and Playstation, I believe the first MMO to ever do this, and I'm sure the team in Austin has been heroically overcoming unexpected technical challenges in the process make lesser beings tremble.  I took part in the early beta testing on PC, but haven't had a chance to check it out more recently since I've been so busy with EQII's own upcoming launch.  It was lots of fun when I did play it though, and from what I've heard it's improved by leaps and bounds.  Besides being a fun comic book themed game where you can actually play with various big-name superheroes you know and love, it's also so pretty!  I confess I found myself flying around taking huge numbers of screenshots, and some of the quest areas inside buildings made me sigh and wish we had that furniture for player housing in EQII. 

Of course we are all hoping it does brilliantly, and are on the edges of our seats waiting till the launch.  Follow the link above for more information!  And if you didn't already see the fantastic "who do you trust" trailer released last year, here is is again:
Which ones will you be playing - or will it be all of them?  =)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

It's beta time again, beta time again...

January, and it's that time of year again ... beta time for the upcoming EQII expansion, due to release in February!  This year's expansion is called Destiny of Velious.  If you haven't seen the teaser trailer we showed at Fan Faire yet, here it is.  I love the music, which sounds both epic and somehow nostalgic, and the video itself gives you a little teaser of what some of the zones will look like.  Can you guess which bits of the video are inside Thurgadin?  Did you spot the Tower of Frozen Shadow?  If you remember Velious fondly from EQ1, then you're probably looking forward to this expansion very much, as I am.

While many players are rushing to sign up for beta (secure link here) and impatiently saying they can't wait till it launches, the dev team of course are running around madly trying to make sure everything is as good as it can possibly be, and unable to believe how fast time is flying past.  As always, we tried to get everything done and ready before beta starts, but there are always a few things that don't get done quite on time, and other issues that may not become obvious until large numbers of people are running through the content.  So now is a time of much bug fixing and polish: polish being a catch-all term that means anything from "making it look prettier" to "explaining it better" to "improving the fun of it" and more.

Normally we all receive copies of nightly compilation reports from players on all our live servers who have used the in game /bug or /feedback commands to submit their comments.  If you've skimmed this blog in the past you may have seen some excerpts of the feedback reports that have caught my eye for one reason or another.  We also get regular reports from the customer service team highlighting problems they've come across through the live petition interactions, and of course there is always plenty of feedback posted on the official forums too.  All this is could be enough to keep a person busy all day just reading it; but during beta we add yet more reports on top of this.

During beta we compile and report the beta /feedback and /bug reports separately, so that they can be tracked separately, and these reports get the top priority for our attention.  We also have separate beta forums where people can leave feedback, and where we developers can post answers and information, or ask for specific feedback on areas we may want to get more information on.  Many of us log into the beta server itself as time permits, and either talk to people there, or perhaps just listen to the talk in the chat channels to see what people are talking about and whether there are any common themes.  We also get an additional report that we don't normally receive, which reports quests not completed.  This is a list of all quests that have been accepted by at least one player on the beta server but which have never been completed by anybody.  It's a good way of quickly highlighting a quest that might be broken: if 300 people accepted a quest but not a single person has managed to complete it, then chances are there's an issue that needs to be looked at.  Sometimes it's an easy reason - for example, maybe the quest requires entering a zone that isn't available yet on the beta server, or which is too hard thus far for anybody to have completed, or maybe there's a timing element that means you can't actually finish it for a couple of days.  But other times it may be that an NPC isn't spawning properly, or there's a bug in the quest causing it to actually not update, or similar.  We turned on these new reports about a week ago and they'll run till beta ends and the expansion launches, by which time of course we hope they will be completely empty.  So far no quests of mine are in the list, which makes me happy - but there are still several weeks of beta to go, and at least one rather important quest of mine that hasn't been tested yet, so neither I nor anyone else will truly relax until the last bug is closed and the launch date arrives.