An Interview with Bill Trost
We’ve recently celebrated the fourth anniversary of EverQuest® and who better to talk about this online gaming phenomenon than the one person who has been dedicated to it since the beginning as a driving creative force. As co-creator and lead designer for the original EverQuest and subsequent expansions packs, Bill Trost now serves in the defining role of Lead Designer for EverQuest II®, SOE’s continuation of the fantastical worlds of EverQuest.
Steve Fuller: Not many people are aware of your originating influence on EverQuest. Can you give us some background on how EverQuest got started and the role you played in its creation?
Bill Trost: While I was an art student I met a couple guys who needed help making a little shareware PC game demo. This demo got noticed by John Smedley, now the president of SOE, and eventually all the folks who worked on it were hired to develop EverQuest. John Smedley, who was at that time the director of a Playstation development house, had the idea to take the text MUD experience and update it with the latest 3D graphics, and he was able to actually convince Sony to fund it. This was the beginning of EverQuest. I was the Lead Game Designer for the original release of EverQuest as well as the first two expansions. But, it would be dishonest for any one person to try to take credit for the design of EQ. EQ’s original game design was truly a team effort, with the largest and most notable basic gameplay contributions coming from our resident game design and code wizard, Roger Uzun, whom I am now fortunate enough to be working with again on EQ2. Ryan Palacio (SWG) and Geoff Zatkin (EQ2) also had a lot of influence, especially within their specific specialties, database design and spell design respectively. In addition to leading and training the design team, establishing the framework for the fiction of Norrath, the faction system, interface and content design were my personal responsibilities. But my good friends Kevin Burns (EQoA) and Tony Garcia (EQ2), along with all the other designers and artists contributed incredibly to the content design and quest creation. A great many of the now familiar characters and places of Norrath actually came from an old pen and paper RPG campaign world I created as a teenager. Tony was a player in that campaign so he and I worked well together and had similar goals for what we wanted the world of Norrath to be. It is incredible and very surreal to hear people talk about all the names of our old characters and such. “Firiona Vie,” for example, was actually in my original campaign an ancient Elven city, not a hot Elf babe. Here is a bit of previously unrevealed trivia: the name, “Firiona Vie,” in that campaign, translated from Elvish meant “The Flowering Place.” It seemed to be a fitting name for EQ’s beautiful Elven spokesmodel.
SF: What were your expectations of EverQuest in the beginning? Did you envision having a sustained subscriber base of more than 400k four years after release?
BT: No way. No how. We thought that if we could get 70k over the life of the game (which we hoped to be about 16 months or so), we would be golden. EverQuest’s longevity and continued growth is just incredible and a testament to the skill of the talented designers, engineers and artists that came on board after us original farts. I have the highest respect for them and feel they have consistently improved the game over the years. EQ is more fun now than it ever was.
SF: And on beating such expectations, one word to describe your thoughts now on such a huge accomplishment?
SF: Looking back on your role with EQ, what is your most shining moment? What’s your one most favorite thing about the game?
BT: Queen Klicnik! Hee… Seriously, I love that so many people enjoy what we worked so long and hard on. We accomplished what we set out to do and what nobody, including ourselves some of the time, actually thought we could do. We created a brand new fantasy world and a fun game. Norrath is a place where people can meet, become friends, have adventures, then tell stories about the good times they had. That is awesome.
SF: For balance, what moment would you love to take back?
BT: I wish, on the original release, we would have had the time and good management support to do some of the awesome things that Rich Waters, Shawn Lord, Scott Hartsman and the rest of the EQ Live team have done with PoP and LoY. Those guys (and gals) rock. They are totally focused on EverQuest and have excellent leadership in Robert Pfister and Rod Humble. EQ is a much better game since the gauntlet was passed to them.
SF: With the success of EverQuest, it only made sense to transfer that success to other platforms. Currently a version of EQ can be played on the PC, on the Pocket PC, as a pen & paper game, and even console gamers can now get into the act with EverQuest® Online Adventures™. A version is now being beta tested on the Macintosh. Do you play a role in any of these other products?
BT: I am the unofficial Lore Czar of EQ so I get to hear bits and pieces where lore conflicts might occur. But, I am deeply involved in the design of EQ2, and have been since we shipped Kunark, so that is my primary focus. I am playing EQoA and EQ right now and let me tell you, those teams are doing great things while maintaining and improving the original spirit of EQ.
I love the EQ d20 stuff that Sword and Sorcery are doing. It this former-geeky-teenager’s dream come true to have hardcover role playing books dedicated to the fantasy world you helped create. I need to get a Pocket PC! I really want to play that game. It is also so rad that Mac folks are finally going to get a chance to play EQ! I really hope they like it.
SF: What are your thoughts on having all this varied EQ entertainment available to a diverse base of users?
BT: It is just mind blowing. I love it. Our world of Norrath is so diverse and flexible that you can tell virtually any kind of story in it. I love seeing all the different interpretations of Norrath.
SF: Where is the current EverQuest heading? Does it have legs?
BT: Does it ever! EQ is better than it has ever been. As long as people enjoy playing it, we plan on supporting and expanding it. And we have the most talented people in the business doing just that.
SF: You have since moved on from the original EverQuest to take up the design reigns of EverQuest II. What is EverQuest II?
BT: EverQuest II is an entirely new fantasy game based on the future of the world of Norrath.
SF: How will EverQuest II differ from the original?
BT: EverQuest II was designed new, from the ground up, taking into account all the lessons we learned over the many years of EQ. It is not a replacement for EQ, it is a different game. It is designed to offer an alternative experience that we think will appeal to both current and former EQ players as well as people who might be new to online gaming. Our plans are for the two games to exist simultaneously and to build off of each other. We are in a unique position in the industry to be able to do something like this.
SF: How will EQ II affect the life of EQ?
BT: That is top secret for right now. But it will be fun. For both games.
SF: What goal do you hope to achieve for EQ II that you might have had for EQ but could not be achieved for whatever reason?
BT: We really did, for the most part, reach all of the goals we originally set out to reach in EQ. And the EQ Live team is constantly setting and achieving new goals! For EQ2, since it is not just EQ1 with different graphics, we have defined an entirely new set of goals that we are striving to reach.
SF: Can you break down the feature list for EQ II? Give us a hint on what we can expect?
BT: I can’t give a complete list of features at this time but the largest one that has everyone excited is the addition of dedicated trade classes that form the foundation of our in game economy. Our combat and magic systems are also very exciting and new, while maintaining an overall EverQuest flavor.
SF: With E3 around the corner. Do you have big show plans? Can you tell us?
BT: This is why I am being so tight-lipped on features. We have big plans for E3 this year, where lots will be revealed. It is very exciting.
SF: After EQ II, what next for you?
BT: Our core systems for EQ2 have been designed from the beginning to support expansions. If EQ2 does well, I hope to be able to work on at least the first one of those, because we have some cool ideas that just don’t fit with our initial release plans. After that, I hope to be able to explore some other game ideas I have, here at SOE. At some point, fresh blood and fresh points of view are needed. And they will be needed in EverQuest II.
SF: In your opinion, what’s next for the MMO industry?
BT: The sky is the limit. I personally hope that more people get into this industry and shake it up some. We at SOE are doing our part with EQoA, SWG, Planetside, EQ II and some other things I can’t talk about right now. I hope others follow that lead. As a gamer, it will be so depressing if every new game coming out is just trying to be “EQ Too.”
I think the market is wide open for a group of folks with a new idea and a clean, tight, focused design. String enough of those together and you have the MMOG version of a cable network. That is the model I hope the industry follows.
SF: And to close, what advice would you give someone who wants to become a game designer?
BT: Play lots of games. Play all kinds of games; pen and paper games, war games, board games, card games, console games, party games, computer games, MMOGs. You never know what game will have a cool mechanic that you could use in one of your designs. Also, make games. Even if it is just for yourself. Let me tell you this, if I was interviewing a designer and he or she was able to show me a game he or she had made on their own, even if it was just a solitaire card game on 3×5 cards or a chess variant, and the game was actually fun, they would be light years ahead of most people who want to be game designers and would be seriously considered for the job. The most important qualifications a game designer can have is a love of games, and more importantly, a love of how games work and an understanding of what they can do for the people who play them. For video games, a deep and realistic understanding of the ever expanding limits of technology is also a must. You do want to actually ship your game, after all. Be flexible. Accept criticism gracefully. Never be so married to a design that you become blind to better solutions. There always is one. Be confident. If you don’t want to play your game, odds are, no one else will either.
Also, strictly speaking, most companies do not hire inexperienced game designers. So it is really a good idea to learn either programming or art as a way to try to get your foot in the door somewhere, and that experience can only help when you are later called on to communicate your designs effectively to engineers and artists. Once you are in the door, bust your ass and make people notice your bitchin’ work ethic and your killer, positive attitude. It won’t be long before they make you lead designer.
SF: Final words?
BT: Wow. That was quite an interview. But this has been quite an exciting 7 years of my life, working on EQ. And 4 years of people actually playing it!! Incredible. I cannot thank our loyal players, past and present, and my fellow EQ teammates, past and present, enough. I feel so very fortunate to be able to make a living doing something I love. Thank you. I hope to see you in Norrath.
And thank you Bill for bringing great entertainment to our lives!
-Steve “Mennix” Fuller