When do you redo your old zones?

The upcoming EQ2 expansion has some really nice artwork. (There’s some screenshots over on MMOGNation.) I’m sad to say that the game is still never going to win any prizes for beauty, and that’s because the characters are so ugly that it detracts from even the most beautiful environment.

But nevertheless, the past few expansions have done wonders for making EQ2 not look retarded. The last expansion was also extremely fun — in fact, for the first time since I started playing, I was willing to vouch for the game to my friends. “Try it,” I said, “but make sure you start in the new newbie area! The old areas are horrible.”

This brings up the question: when should you redo the art for your old zones? EQ2 has repopulated many old zones, making them more fun to play, but they don’t redo the art — they just redo the quests and monsters.

The old starter areas are still ugly, overly complex, and (to be honest) not very well laid out. I’m not sure what can be done with zones like Freeport, which looks like this in most areas (click to view):

The theme for Freeport seems to be “intentionally horrible-looking slums.” They did a great job with the horrible-looking slum bit, but why would anybody ever want to live here? Still, I bet a couple weeks spent retexturing the city could work wonders.

An easier case can be made for zones like Antonica, which aren’t inherently super-ugly, they just suffer from bad texturing. Check out the “freshly mown grass” look in the fields (click to view):

EQ2’s Antonica, with crappy old-zone goodness

Here I suspect an expert texture artist could fix up the zone’s art very quickly.

So when should you redo a newbie zone’s art? There are two good reasons not to do this:

  • It takes time away from creating new content for high-level players
  • All your existing players have already come to accept the ugliness of the old zones

And there are reasons to go ahead and redo the old zones:

  • It ensures that newbies have a positive experience with your game no matter where they choose to start their characters
  • It makes your existing players less embarrassed about the game (which means they are more likely to recommend it to friends)

Weighing the pros and cons, I could certainly see EQ2 writing off these old zones as a lost cause. After all, they are unlikely to ever get a huge influx of new players. The players they do get are likely to be friends of players, and their friends can tell them to avoid the old content!

But at the same time, they seem to be adding more and more new low-level content with each expansion. This tells me they’re still hoping to get new players. If they expect to get new players, why don’t they tweak the old zones before they make all-new ones?

Here’s my guess: none of the artists or designers are excited about redoing old zones; they’d much rather make new art instead. So it keeps getting pushed off the schedule. (You’d be surprised how often these sorts of things get delayed because of a lack of enthusiasm.)

This entry was posted in Design and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to When do you redo your old zones?

  1. Azaroth says:

    Oh, ow. Ow. I hope those screenshots are somehow not entirely representative of what the game looks like. Even if it’s just in those areas. At best, that’s a barrier. At worst, a lot of very normal, very sane people (my girlfriend included, I guarantee you) would never touch the game because of visuals like that.

    I could get into a huge spiel about why I’ve never gone so far as to even try EQ2, and why I think nobody else has either, why it’s never come close to being a serious WoW competitor – and my views as an outsider of how and what should be changed if they want to give it a go.

    But frankly, we all saw how the SWG NGE went, and it seems like companies are nearly always better off just keeping the subscriber base they have with a running MMO and a expensive new project if they want to give something else a shot.

    Because of this, something as basic as improving the cosmetic side of the newbie experience seems so very essential and especially impactful for the time spent. Don’t even say you’re doing it, just improve it and throw a note about it in the patch notes one time. That way it becomes “wow, cool” instead of “MAN I can’t believe they’re spending time on that, I’m already level X and this has no impact on my daily play experience so it SUCKS”.

  2. Pingback: GAX Online

  3. Babs says:

    Repurposing the zones would make it worth the while. All those damned doors in Freeport that lead to nowhere…and zoning inside the city? So last decade. I don’t know why games don’t put it in their plans to revisit areas that need improvement and build new content in it. Not SWG-NGE style, but just as a matter of course. Surely there are interesting reasons to have people repopulate old art!

    The new content is stunning. Kunark is gorgeous. This team (not the one responsible for slumlord gray) has done a beautiful job. I think you will be proud. Come see!