Games: EverQuest: The Shadows of Luclin


Developer: Verant
Publisher: SOE
ESRB: Teen
Street Price: $29.99
Genre: Massively Multiplayer

If you don’t believe that an addictive substance could be manufactured out of thin air, you obviously haven’t heard of EverQuest®. Since the game launched almost three years ago, more than 400,000 subscribers have spent long sleepless nights hooked up to their keyboards and mice attempting to just get a little further, acquire a few more items, and climb higher up on the experience ladder. The game should include instructions for players to occasionally pause and eat or sleep, because when they’re playing EverQuest such non-essentials tend to get forgotten.

Sony Online Entertainment's (SOE) EverQuest is about as addictive as a game can get. By combining superior 3D graphics and network technology SOE created an online multiplayer game that makes gamers want to regularly shed their mortal coils and slip into their virtual lives. Day after day, night after night, EverQuest players return to explore new places, meet new people, and grow their characters a little more. Taking on the role of a character chosen from among 12 different races (such as humans, ogres, and elves), players role-play a range of class types from wizards and  warriors to rogues or bards. When they log off, the rest of the world may go on without them, but everything about their character remains at a standstill, waiting for them to pick up where they left off the last time.

With its own economy, clubs and hangouts, social events, and even its own newspapers, EverQuest is the first truly successful collaborative fantasy world. And Sony Online Entertainment has continued to enrich this world with expansion pack after expansion pack. The latest, The Shadows of Luclin™, brings new lands to explore, new characters, and lots of new quests. But most importantly, the game also boasts a new graphics engine that supports higher polygon models and environments as well as more detailed textures. In The Shadows of Luclin, characters' faces have brows and mouths instead of flat texture maps, making character interactions more believable and the online experience that much more immersive.

The Shadows of Luclin also includes a second disk with high-resolution textures to replace low-res textures from the original game and the first two expansion packs. Once you load up the game, all of your EverQuest environments will immediately look more detailed. Of course, The Shadows of Luclin's support for hardware transform and lighting, 32-bit color, and DirectX® 8, makes it the perfect match for NVIDIA's GeForce™ Titanium Series.

Only a full-featured GPU, such as the GeForce2™ Ti, GeForce3™ Ti 200, and GeForce3 Ti 500 brings you everything The Shadows of Luclin has to offer without a significant frame rate hit. We talked to Jeff Butler, the Producer of EverQuest, about the secret ingredients that make The Shadows of Luclin the drug of choice for gamers around the world.

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"Considering that our character models go about 3,000 polys fully equipped, half of which are generally visible at any given time, they add up quickly. Yet, the GeForce3 handles the load very well."

Jeff Butler, EverQuest Producer

Where is EverQuest®: The Shadows of Luclin set?
Luclin is the ringed moon of Norrath that currently can be seen from the Plane of Sky. It bears the name of the Maiden of Shadows, a mysterious being that the players will come to learn more about as they adventure on her moon.

What’s new in this expansion pack?
More than anyone ever thought we could accomplish in a short year since the launch of EverQuest: The Scars of Velious. We have 28 new zones including an entirely new starting city, a new player race (The Vah Shir) and class (The Beastlord), an enhanced 3D graphics engine along with all-new highly detailed player-character models, new non-level-based advancement options for characters above level 50, and of course, thousands of new quests, items, and adventures.

How has the graphics engine been improved?
When EverQuest originally shipped in 1999, the development team utilized 32 x 32 low-resolution textures to make the game run smoothly on the graphics cards available at the time. With the advent of superior graphic cards, the upgraded texture resolution featured in The Shadows of Luclin will be 256 x 256 pixels and occasionally as large as 512 x 512 pixels. This vast improvement in quality will make Norrath appear more vibrant and detailed than ever before. The character models we have built are also far more detailed, sporting a much higher polygon count and a greater texture depth making the them much more lifelike.

In addition, we’ve implemented hardware T&L, DDS texture compression, and a host of other features that should make NVIDIA users quite happy.

Where did you end up spending the majority of your polygon budget?
It was spent mostly on the models. In massively multiplayer games like EverQuest, players spend a lot of time developing their characters and want them to be as visually appealing as possible. Luclin features character models which, when fully equipped, approach or exceed poly-counts of 3,000. This represents a dramatic step forward for games of this type…well, any type really.

What have you done to add more detail to faces?
While the higher polygon count and the more detailed textures account for most of the improvements, we've also animated the faces, and that certainly makes them more lifelike when you see them in the game. Furthermore we’ve implemented hair and beards as attachable geometry rather than simple textures, and have likewise used the layering technology of our engine to support things such as tattoos, jewelry, and the occasional scar. It's hard to put into words just how much more detail and realism there are in the new character models compared to the old ones.

Are there new character models for each race?
Yes. We've created new models for each race, along with player character pets, such as the magician's elemental pets. And our new character system will enable us to add even more new looks and styles over the coming months.

Why did they feel that it was time to upgrade the characters?
It makes the game more appealing to our customers. EverQuest has always featured great gameplay, and for a lot of people that's all that matters. But if we can keep the graphics on the cutting edge of technology, the title will appeal to more players. And the new engine gave our artists a chance to really show off their talent.

Are there entirely new character animations in Luclin?
Yes. The new models and the old animations were completely re-done to portray the most fluid and lifelike movements possible. We figured, why make new models if you don't also update their animations?

What other techniques are you using to keep the game’s framerate from bogging down?
The implementation of hardware T&L had the biggest effect on keeping framerates steady. Luclin also benefits from a pretty advanced occlusion-culling/visibility system. Finally, the use of DDS textures throughout the game keeps swapping to a minimum.

Can you give us some details about the new armor and clothing textures in Luclin?
Much of the armor and the character accoutrements consist of attachable geometry like the hair and beards. No longer is your plate breastplate a texture placed over the torso of your character, but rather a custom model built for it. The same goes for robes, boot cuffs, pauldrons, boots, and several other items. It really gives the characters a much more realistic look.

The raw power of the GeForce3 allows you to have numerous characters on screen without your computer coming to a screeching halt. What are the most characters an end-user would see in a given raid?
As with any game, a beefy graphics card means better frame rates, faster load times and fewer options that need to be disabled to get good framerates and reasonable load times.

On one of our GeForce3 test systems, I’ve seen total raid parties in excess of 60 people, an average of half of which are on screen at any given time, in addition to the creature being fought. Considering that our character models go about 3,000 polys fully equipped, half of which are generally visible at any given time, they add up quickly. Yet, the GeForce3 handles the load very well.

How does it make you feel to compare the old EverQuest worlds to the new and improved Luclin?
Most of the designers working here have either played EverQuest during its beta phases and were later hired to work on the game, or have been here from the very start. Each of us has a different feeling about it. But most of us are very attached to the old EverQuest, and we love the old world. We'll miss it like an old comfortable pair of jeans. But, well, the new look is just so damn incredible, so we’re all happy about making the jump to Luclin.

What's next for EverQuest? How do you plan to make a more realistic online experience in the next version of the game?
It's hard to say right now. Let us rest up a bit from this giant leap forward and ask us again.

Will the world of EverQuest never end?
Not as long as there are gamers that want to play in that world.

Even if EverQuest as a service were to go away at some point, there is no doubt in our minds that anyone who has been a part of this great online community will look back on it as one of the finest gaming experiences that they’ve ever had. We certainly do.

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