1. Changing the core infrastructure to EQ, especially within a two month timeframe, is a risky proposition. How much testing will happen, and will there be an open test, similar to when the new User Interface is was rolled out?
This project has been in development for just about a year now. Two major systems were completely re-written from the ground up: the graphics engine and the collision system. During this process, there were two overarching rules to which we adhered: the system specs for EverQuest would not radically change and the current in-game graphics had to run on the new engine. Release 1.0 of the new graphics engine will be the new core infrastructure. When we launch the new engine this Spring, if players don't see any difference other than increased performance then we will have done our job well.
2. This sounds like a radical change to EQ, what was the impetus to re-write the engine? How long has it been in development?
No MMO-RPG can beat EQ in terms of sheer size and depth of content and with each expansion we significantly improve the quality of the art, but we still use tools and processes from the original EQ days (the quality of the art in Gates of Discord is a testament to the skill of the artists on the team!). Re-writing the graphics engine will allow us to use tools and processes to create art that is as good as (or better, imo) than games currently on the market or in development.
3. When you roll out the new engine in 2 months, will we get all the improvements in one shot, or is this going to a phased deployment?
The underlying architecture will have been re-written and will provide the basis for where we want to go with EQ's graphics in the years to come. Graphics changes that the player will see will be phased in slowly. Each new expansion will be built on the new graphics engine, and we'll select various places in the world to upgrade, but because EQ is so vast, it won't be all at once.
4. The graphics upgrade with the Shadows of Luclin expansion drastically raised the system requirements for then current EQ players. You've announced that a small percentage (less than 1%) of your current subscribers will need to upgrade their video cards. Do you expect a change in the minimum requirement to run the game (i.e. processor speed, memory etc.)
Nope. There are some very old video cards that don't support DX9, but other than that your system specs will not change. The new graphics engine should run more efficiently for the player and allow us to cater to those folks who use high-end-latest-technology video cards and those folks who want to stick with their (DX9 compliant) 16MB cards. Lower cards may not get the same visual experience, but if they can run DX9, they'll be able to play the game just fine.
5. Will the engine change result in a graphics upgrade, and if so, how will the new graphics be distributed to the existing player base?
Expansions will be released either digitally or on CD as they have in the past; other upgrades will be via patch, but they'll be metered out in an easy to download manner when the time comes.
6. Does the change to DirectX 9 indicate we will see EQ take advantage of DirectX9 graphic features?
Yes. A number of features, such as the way characters are animated and layers of clothing and armor are rendered have been completely rewritten to take full advantage of hardware T&L and pixel shader technologies for systems that have the right display cards. Even older cards should benefit from these optimizations.
7. There's a lot of heavy competition coming out for EQ this year, with World of WarCraft, the new Ultima Online title and even EQ2. How will this engine upgrade make EQ competitive against these products?
A better question might be "are these games being built to be competitive with EverQuest." Graphics make up one part of a player's experience, but EQ is so rich and so deep that any new game will have a very big challenge matching that level of immersion at any time during its development cycle, much less at launch. That said, EQ will continue to be the leader in content, and now we're going to be able to give the competition a run for their money graphically!
8. Does the engine change any back-end components to EQ? For instance will there still be zones?
Nothing really noticeable to the player, except better performance and better graphics!
9. You've mentioned that this will result in a much more stable platform. What improvements will existing customers see?
With re-writing the entire graphics and collision system, players can expect the current and new world (new graphics) to play faster for them, targeting to be more accurate, NPC pathing to be more accurate and realistic, animations on newly built NPC and PC models to be more realistic, as well as the improved visuals with the new graphics.
10. It's nice that you've offered a deal on the new Nvidia cards, but if I buy one of these big-honking cards, will I see a tremendous improvement in EQ? If so, what improvements might people with more mortal video cards miss out on?
Any high end card with lots of memory, shader 2.0 support and fast processing will play any graphically intense application better. For EQ, having one of those cards for sku 9 will allow you to see all of the wonderful visual effects to their fullest extent while playing; folks on other DX9 compatible cards will still play in the same (new) world, will still have upgraded graphics and improved performance, but may not be able to fully realize the benefits of the technology.
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