Interview: Behind The Creation Of EverQuest II's New Race, The Vah Shir
Darkpaw Games pushed out the 17th expansion for EverQuest II just in time for the Holidays, and it came with a rare gift for fans: the game's first new playable race in five years. The feline Vah Shir hail from the moon of Luclin, which players explore in the Reign of Shadows expansion. Fortunately, it's a bit more pleasant there than our real-life Moon.
Darkpaw Head of Studio Jenn Chan was kind enough to field some questions we had about the expansion and the new race, giving us some insight into what went into the Vah Shir's creation and implementation. Fortunately, I don't need her to tell me the most important things about the Vah Shir: don't call one of them "kitty" or try to scratch behind its ears.
MMOBomb: First off, can you introduce yourselves to our readers and let us sneak behind the scenes by telling us what your job entails day-to-day in the world of EverQuest II?
Jenn Chan: Hi, I’m Jenn Chan, Head of Studio for Darkpaw Games. Day-to-day I make sure that everyone on my team has everything they need to keep progressing. They are the ones that we say are on the “front line” and the folks that do the bulk of the dreaming up and implementing what’s going to happen when you login and enter the world.
MMOBomb: The latest expansion, the 17th in fact, Reign of Shadows add quite a bit for players to explore in EQII, but the most touted may in fact be the addition of a new race. Before we get to the new race itself, I would like to ask, “Why now?” since it has been about five years since the last new race.
Jenn Chan: Honestly, it just made sense. We knew we'd be going to the dark side of Luclin, a region that's been isolated for years, and that players would expect to meet up with the feline race that has long resided there. So we pitched to the team the idea of adding them as a new player race. Of course, if for one reason or another it wasn't approved or it didn't pan out the way we had wanted, we could have gone a different route and dealt with the limitations, but thankfully, it didn't! The entire team was excited about the opportunity and felt the Vah Shir had something different to offer the players as far as experience goes. They have a different body, providing a fresh silhouette and new animations, while having their own lore and personal contributions to the overall story of the Reign of Shadows.
MMOBomb: The EQ team also mentioned in the official post on the topic that this new race may bring up calls for a new race or class in the original EverQuest, but that they have “reached their limit” there. What exactly does that mean?
Jenn Chan: EverQuest was architected so that the top cap of available player races and player classes would be 16. We’ve “reached their limit” to say without some major reworking of some core things about the game. It’s surprising how interconnected to seemingly unconnected things it’s still tied to. For example, there’s an ability called “Wake the Dead” and if we don’t properly change that around it could either not work or we could start raising the corpses of some much spookier things.
MMOBomb: The new Vah Shir race itself does not actually come from Norrath itself which makes it an interesting choice as a new race addition. With all the other races available in the game, what made the team pick the Vah Shir?
Jenn Chan: The deciding factor was the location and story of this expansion. Last expansion, Blood of Luclin, we discovered Emperor Ssraeshza's growing power and his invasion of a citadel on the dark side of Luclin, near the Vah Shir city of Shar Vahl, but the expansion took place completely on the light side. So introducing the Vah Shir at that time didn't fit as nicely. But with this expansion we knew we would be heading into their known territory. We can now go there and reestablish a friendship with the Vah Shir, we can learn from them and count them amongst our allies in the fight against Emperor Ssraeshza. And ultimately, we can interweave their spiritual nature and years of struggle against Ssraeshza's forces into our own stories.
The established lore of Luclin tells us that a tribe of kerra, known as Vah Shir, evolved into their own race due to years of seclusion on Norrath's moon, though they haven't always stayed that way. There were a few years where teleportation between Norrath and Luclin was possible, as experienced in EverQuest, before being cut off from one another again. The Vah Shir who were on Norrath were welcomed by the kerra after this occurred. They would live, love, and establish families with the kerra. As a result, their descendants have helped shape the kerra we know today, and carry in them the blood and traits of their Vah Shir ancestors.
Knowing that players would be creating new Vah Shir characters, we leaned a bit into this lore, and the magical properties of Norrath, to help explain the creation of new Vah Shir characters on Norrath. The reestablished connection between Norrath and Luclin has had a wondrous and unanticipated effect upon some kerra on Norrath – their Vah Shir traits have become more dominant! Some Norrathians propose this is a magical reawakening of their heritage, while others have called it a blessing by Sahteb Mahlni, The Feral Spirit.
MMOBomb: What makes this race in particular exciting for players? How does this race feel different from the others and avoid just feeling like an “extra skin”?
Jenn Chan: Our artists would excitedly point to the new skeleton they were constructed on, and the exclusive hair, tail, and beard styles made for them, all helping to provide the Vah Shir with a different silhouette. The new skeleton gave our animator the opportunity to provide animations made for the Vah Shir, which definitely distinguishes them from other races due to their movement. Our designers made sure to create exclusive racial spells and abilities for them. Altogether, the results are a feline race distinctively different from the 21 other races players can choose from.
MMOBomb: What about the starting zone for this new race, what surprises lie in wait there?
Jenn Chan: Although the newly created Vah Shir characters still start in one of the good aligned cities on Norrath, they will find a quest line exclusively for them in Shar Vahl. Through this quest line, they will face challenges and learn more about their culture, their guiding dogmas and their beliefs, all of which have given their people strength and definition over the years.
MMOBomb: Of course, a new race does obviously beg the question of new classes. Will we be seeing them any time soon?
Jenn Chan: The alternate advancement revamp was about making abilities that have become obsolete over the years useful again. This happened simply because many numbers had become small or insignificant in comparison over the life of the game. This and the new Vah Shir race was where we spent the majority of our development time this year for expansion “features.” That said, Plundered furniture from the Heroic dungeons has made a return, so if you like decorating or are a housing enthusiast, here is your chance to take certain pieces from one of the many heroic dungeons.
MMOBomb: That is not all this expansion brings though. Other features like the Alternate Advancement revamp are eagerly awaited. Tell us about some other features you want to make sure players know about.
Jenn Chan: As one might expect, there is more to learn about the Goddess of Shadow. Her relationships and interactions with other deities and her realm of influence are in this expansion, but she is not the only one! Revelations, including never before named members of the Celestial Order await. And for you eagle-eyed players: Be on the lookout for some memorable characters and their descendants from ages past!
We also posed the following questions and were referred to Jenn Chan's post from earlier this month:
MMOBomb: Daybreak’s recent acquisition by EG7 is generally seen to be a positive thing, but how is it perceived by your team at Darkpaw?
MMOBomb:With the acquisition, what is next for EverQuest as a franchise? Fans have been waiting to see where we go in the future, but no word has ever been given since the cancellation of Landmark and Next.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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