Given my forced adversity to committing 100% of my time to any one game, it's highly likely that EverQuest will go down in history as the MMORPG that consumed the most of my gaming lifetime. And that's why I read through the new two-page retrospective and interview with original designer Brad McQuaid on MMORPG.com with fond nostalgia:
At the time that EverQuest's development began, nobody had yet offered a truly-3D experience. The Doom Engine was still in use, and the BUILD engine the latest in technology, but no one had yet created a world with both 3D environments and 3D models - let alone on the massive scale that the EverQuest team were envisioning.
To aid the budding project, John "Dok" Whiston was brought into the team to create concept art including creating the iconic "EverQuest" logo, and a number of programmers also joined the team. Slowly the two man line-up of Brad and Steve grew to ex-WarWizard artists Bill Trost and Kevin Burns; Milo D.Cooper and Roger Uzun, who had left shareware for Sony, also joined, the latter writing the world and zone servers. To aid in the visual division Rosie Cosgrove also bolstered the ranks of the budding art department after working on the project's product demo. In all the team through ‘96 grew to around 10 people, all working meticulously hard and 18 hour days on a project that by their own admissions seemed "impossible" from time to time.
These early stages of design adhered to the initial "vision" document laid out by Brad (who had now become producer) and Steve, and this is something that would carry-on throughout the project. Steve Clover along with Bill Trost came up with the geography, topography, and citizens of this new virtual world - the former coming up with the moniker "Norrath" along with "Qeynos" (Imaginatively Sony EQ backwards) and various other places. The developers decided that their fantasy landscape needed an extensive lore of its own, so Bill Trost brought in the expertise of Tony Garcia, and together using their old D&D campaigns the world was designed with their own teenage pen and paper avatars. Sir Lucan (D'lere) being Garcia's table-top knight.
MMORPG.com: EverQuest was famed for its difficulty, was this a deliberate choice in terms of player retention and a slight lack "modern day" endgame content?
Brad McQuaid: We made the game we ourselves wanted to play. We wanted a challenging game where players could get a real sense of accomplishment, where risk vs. reward really meant something. The more difficult games we'd played, both online and offline, were the ones we both enjoyed and fondly remembered.
Was this the right approach from a commercial standpoint? Perhaps not. If I had a time machine I'd probably go back and do some of the things WoW later proved to be more mass market (though that would probably make me feel like a sell-out). In the end, though, EQ has grossed over a half a billion dollars. So while the game could have been easier, more polished, etc., it's not like we made something totally niche or esoteric. We were just lucky that the game we wanted to play was also a game that millions of others would enjoy as well.
Looking back, I can't say that I regret pouring so much of my time into EQ during its infancy, either. It was an experience that would be nearly impossible to replicate in the modern-day video game industry, and I'm happy to have been a part of it.