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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Aggro Interview: Xalmat of EQSummoners.com

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I've never played a pet class in any MMO. But I've always thought, "Hey, that looks pretty cool." I checked out Xalmat's site some time ago and was struck by the sense of community amongst the Summoner classes. I decided to interview him to learn a little more about pet classes and their state in EQII.
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> Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your website, EQSummoners.com.

Myself, I've been a gamer for a good 18 or 19 years, before I even started my first day of Kindergarten. My first introduction to video games was an old mid-1980s 5.25" floppy computer. I can't remember what it was, but it sure had good games for its time. I then progressed to an Intellivision, before moving up to the grand-daddy of them all: the NES. I been playing console games pretty much ever since, up until I discovered EverQuest.

I didn't actually start dabbling in MMORPGs until I discovered EverQuest in November 2001, where I created my Magician. I fell in love with the game pretty quickly, and eventually went to join one of the biggest raiding guilds on my old server Brell Serilis. I started playing EQ2 right around the Friends & Family Beta of September 2004; I also quit EQLive shortly after I started the beta (You can see which game I prefer). I've been playing EQ2 ever since, with no signs of stopping.

I spend most of my EQ2 time playing on the Permafrost server. My main is my 53 Dark Elf Conjuror Sess (I've reserved my namesake Xalmat as a sexy 28 Ratonga Necromancer). I also dabble in tradeskills, with Sess being my 53 Tailor, and Xalmat being a 31 Sage. I tend to solo most of the time, but I also tend to duo with my 50 Necromancer roommate. Lately I've been advancing at a somewhat relaxed pace; I'm in no rush to 60 like I was to 50, and I plan on smelling the roses the entire way.

As for EQSummoners.com, it actually has a long history behind it. Right around the time I joined my EQLive guild I started getting more heavily involved with The Mage Compendium (the former name for EQSummoners). It was founded by a Mage named Ronaldor Vladimir sometime in late 1999 or early 2000, I forget exactly when. For a time it was *the* biggest Magician website on the web, as well as the most well-known. Around June 2003 the site had all but gone defunct, but the forums were alive and well, so Ron signed me on to work on the website. And as they say the rest is history.

We were forced into a domain and name change earlier this year when Ronaldor finally cut us loose, but the transition to the new domain name has been relatively smooth, thanks in large part to our server-side guru Daneks (who actually has physical access to the server), as well as a lot of word-of-mouth advertising about the Domain name change. My role seems to be overall admin of the site from a website design point of view. I'm pretty much the only active EQ2 player on the mod team as well.

Currently, EQSummoners.com dedicates itself to the EQ1 Magician class, and the EQ2 Summoner classes, Conjuror and Necromancer. For the EQ2 side of things, I feel there is more than enough similarity between the two Summoner classes that there's no need to divide the community up, and so far there's been no objections.

While the front page is currently sparse on information (chalk it up to laziness) the forums are alive with information. I recommend people visit the forums, even if they don't want to get involved with the community, simply because that's where the bulk of the information is.

> How do you think the Summoner classes were prior to the combat revamp?

In a word, broken. We were both too powerful, and not powerful enough. For starters, our mage and scout pets were woefully underpowered, and by that I mean that no Summoner in his right mind would've used any pet other than his fighter pet. The Conjuror spell Minion's Intervention was much too powerful too; with a 9 second recast, it wasn't unheard of for a 50 Conjuror to solo level 51 heroic named mobs in Solusek's Eye. To me, that says broken no matter what class you're talking about.

Equipment also had little meaning if it didn't have an effect on it. The most you could get from a +50 INT robe (if it existed, more on that later) was a bigger power pool.

Perhaps the most crippling issue (which thankfully got fixed with the combat changes) was DoT stacking issues. Long-time Necromancers from EQLive will remember the problems with DoT stacking all too well. Basically the issue was that when two characters of the same class cast the same Damage-over-Time spell, only the highest level one would stick. Get more than two or three summoners together, and usefulness tapered off to near nothing.

> How do you feel they are now in terms of game balance and general fun factor?

Summoners are a SIGNIFICANT improvement over their former selves. The most glaring problem with our mage and scout pets has been fixed, which for me instantly sold me on the class again.

Given the damage tiers that SOE put out prior to the revamp as a guideline (tier 1 is sorcerer/predator, tier 2 is summoner w/ dps pet and rogue, etc), I'd say for the most part we fall in right where we should be. In shorter fights sorcerers and predators will out-damage summoners, but once a fight lasts longer than 30 seconds or so, sorcerers cannot match the damage that summoners put out, either because they blew all of their high-recast spells, or because they run out of mana.

> Many people view the summoner classes as solo classes. Do you feel summoners are also useful in groups and if so, why?

Summoners are a powerful solo class, don't get me wrong. We can *easily*take out some encounters that other classes struggle against. But where a Summoner truly shines is in a group. I consider Summoner classes a jack-of-all-trades because we can truly do it all. Summoners in general can fill the roles of fighter, mage, and scout through their pets, all the while crank out some good damage by themselves.

Conjurors specifically have powerful stun/stifle abilities that cripple mobs (get two Conjurors together and you can keep any non-Epic mob under permanent stun/stifle lockdown), as well as damage shields and proc buffs to aid your tanks and melee. Necros are somewhat more passive in nature that Conjurors as far as utility goes, but they can heal other players (via their Exchange Life spells), perform superior crowd control via their root, stun, and fear spells, and in a pinch resurrect fallen allies with Revivication.

The only things that Summoners can't do are disarm traps on chests, and use Tracking to locate monsters (which is a good reason to pick up a Scout, I might add). And I suppose Conjurors can't act as a backup healer nor can they resurrect the dead, while Necros can do both. Otherwise, we can do it all.

> Is it hard to find a group as a summoner? Do you feel other players understand the summoner classes?

It is hard, but not because you're a Summoner. I believe EQ2, much like most MMOGs, suffers from what I call LFG-Syndrome. At any given time there are only so many people on your server in your level range that will group, and only so many "needed" classes (priests and fighters), so it's all a matter of timing to get a group as a DPS class (scouts and mages).

I feel a lot of players understand what a summoner can do in a group (namely DPS, and a LOT of it), but not a lot actually understand how to play a summoner. To me, summoners are one of the most complex classes in the game simply because you have a lot to keep track of at any given time; in other words, we're a class that requires a lot of micromanagement. New summoners create their character and expect it to be an easy class, but in reality they find out how complex the class is, and give up before truly giving the class a chance. To this I offer my advice:

* Understand how the class is set up. Summoners are a pet class first, Damage dealers second. Without your pet, you're nothing but a weak Sorcerer with even less defense than a level 2 orc pawn. All of your strategies should involve your pet in some fashion or another.

* Summoners are not about big numbers in a short amount of time; that's what Sorcerers are for. Instead, Summoners are about doing a little bit of damage at a time, but over longer period. The big picture shows that we do a ton of damage, almost more than any other class, but because you rarely see big numbers from our spells, you can't see it until you start log parsing.

* While Summoners are powerful soloers, they're even better in groups. I find I get the most enjoyment when I group with other Summoners and take down incredibly hard targets that we otherwise couldn't take down.

> Are enchanters wary of summoner pets? Do they have reason to be?


It depends what you mean by that question. I'll take it both ways. First, do you mean they should be wary because our pets break mez? Well to that I ask, what the hell are you mezzing for in the first place? Mages in general have multiple AoE spells for a reason, and all mesmerization does is interfere with our ability to dish out damage. Now, if it's an add from outside the encounter, that's one thing, I can see mezzing that, but if you're mezzing mobs within the encounter (in general), then you need a slap in the face because you're interfering with a Summoner's damage output.

But also more than that, pets won't break mez unless the pets are attacked first, or told to attack. So if you see a mob beating on a pet, wait until the Summoner backs his pet off before mezzing it. Otherwise the pet will keep on fighting and you'll just be burning mana trying to keep it mezzed. Second, do you mean they should be wary because our pets are better? Well, enchanters aren't a pet class in my book. Sure they get charm (Coercers) and dopplegangers (Illusionists), but to me those aren't really the same caliber pets that summoner pets are; they're one-trick ponies. Summoner pets are the best pets in town, partially because our class depends on them, but also because they can fill such a diverse role at any given time.

> If someone is debating rolling a necro or a conjuror is there any advice you could give them to help them decide?

I get asked this a LOT. The best question I've been able to come up with is: Would you rather stare down an earth elemental, or a zombie, in a staring contest? If earth elemental, you're a Conjuror; if zombie, you're a Necromancer.

Conjurors are much more fire/ice/magic based by nature, and tend to specialize in multi-mob combat. They're a bit less straight-forward than Necromancers because of this, but in my book they're a bit more flexible when combat situations change. Necromancers are disease/poison based by nature, and tend to specialize in single-mob combat. This makes them more straight-forward, but a bit less flexible to changing situations. Of course, the above opinions are mine because I mostly play my Conjuror. I'm sure some Necromancers would argue otherwise ;)

Besides that, summoners are either a pure good or a pure evil class in the end, unlike sorcerers. If you would rather live in Qeynos, Conjuror is the way to go. If you would rather live in Freeport, Necromancer is the way to go.

> Are you pleased with the graphic design for pets?

Yes and no. For Conjurors, I like how are pets transition from being summoned animals to pure elementals as you progress through the levels. However, specific pet graphics (*cough* the purple monkey *cough*) are long overdue for change.

Necromancers, I really like the look of necromancer pets. However, their tank pets need some more variety; except for their Master I version of their 52 tank pet, the only difference graphically between all zombie pets is its size.

> What other pets would you like to see?

Different types of pets? Well, I wouldn't mind seeing a priest pet, but that might not sit well with priests. Otherwise I'm pretty happy with the different types of Summoner pets. I would like to see the return of Monster Summoning though, from EQLive. Maybe not as a brand new pet, but rather as an illusion we cast on our pet. Necromancers, I'd like to see the return of the Spectre pet from EQLive. Anything to break up the monotony of the one-graphic Zombie pets.

> Your forums are very popular and very informative (even for players from other classes - I got some tips on good solo hunting grounds there recently). To what do you attribute the success of your forums?

Age. We're one of the oldest EverQuest communities on the web, and we're a pretty tight knit group as a result. It's always been our goal to make the boards as friendly for newcomers as possible (we're pretty hard on flamers who only troll the boards trying to stir up arguments). At least on the EQLive side, a lot of the frequent posters there are VERY old-school Mages that have been playing longer than I have, and they're usually quite willing to give advice to new players. The EQ2 side has a much smaller poster base, and tends to be more lopsided towards Conjuror, but I'm hoping more Necromancers start posting.

> What would you like to see improved about EQII?

You just opened up a big can of worms :P As much as I love EQ2, there are still a number of issues that I want to see involved. Itemization, especially for tradeskill goods. My Conjuror is a tailor, and overall the items we can make are VERY lackluster compared to anything that monsters drop. You can't even get a robe with INT from a tailor unless you make Tier 5 Fabled, or progress up to Tier 6. That's not to say that monster drops are much better; until Desert of Flames or Splitpaw came out, it was very rare to find anything desirable for Mages, or for that matter usable.

I want to see more back-and-forth from the dev team. Some members, like Owlchick, are outstanding when it comes to informing us, the players, of changes that are coming. Others, they don't post at all, or when they do it's a once-in-a-blue-moon frenzy of posts. To me dev team communication should be a two-way street, and when change (especially controversial change) is coming, I get a better feeling when I'm given the reasons for any given change, rather than being told to accept the change. Hell, even something as simple as "We are now aware of this bug, and it is in our list of things to fix" would suffice.

I would like to see much more inter-city tension. One of the things that sells really well for many PvP-oriented games (like DAoC, WoW, Planetside) is the tension that comes from playing rival factions. Even if no PvP is involved per se, I want a reason for aligning myself to Qeynos other than to become a Conjuror. I want my Necromancer to feel it's his duty to serve the Overlord and wreak havoc with his enemies at every step.

There needs to be some kind of alternate advancement system, or grand EQ1-style Epic quests to keep players coming back for more. You can only live off raids, loot farms, and tradeskilling for so long before it finally gets boring and you say enough is enough and move on to a different game.

I want to see Tradeskills become a bit more streamlined and more diverse. The current tradeskill system places too much emphasis on the subcombine portions, and not enough on the final products. I spend about 95% of my time on any given armor piece making the stuff used to make armor, and only 5% of my time actually making armor.

There is also very little diversity as far as products go; for Armorers, you can make Plate, and you can make Chain. You can't specialize your plate armor to cater to Priests, Warriors, or Crusaders, they get stuck wearing the same armor. You also can't control what kind of stats your armor has (such as emphasizing heat resist, or sacrificing heat resist to boost cold resist). Maybe an augment system similar to EQLive would fix this problem.

Lastly, I feel macroing is a huge problem in EverQuest II, especially for Tradeskills. My perception lately is that very few players legitimately max out their tradeskill level the old fashioned way anymore. Part of the problem is the emphasis on subs, but the other reason is that there is no risk. It used to be you could *DIE* and incur experience debt if you missed tradeskill events or countered incorrectly; now you can make hundreds of combines and miss every event and you wouldn't know it. Enforcement by GMs on stopping macroers seems to be lackluster at best, nonexistent at worst, which also ties into the lack of risk.

> Are there any other upcoming MMORPG's you are following or looking forward to?

I'm not really big on playing other MMORPGs. Though a few have caught my attention. I haven't tried WoW, and probably won't unless someone gives me a free 30-day trial, or even gives me something similar to EQ2's Trial of the Isle. To me, WoW is an MMORPG set on easy mode; I don't like easy. I like challenge. I don't like forced PvP, which is something WoW does (IE: Alliance and Horde members can't even talk to each other). I'm also convinced that about 3.99 million out of their 4 million players are only playing it because it has Warcraft in the title (Blizzard hasn't made a good Warcraft game, in my opinion, since the Warcraft 2 expansion. Their best game, in my opinion, remains Starcraft: Brood Wars).

Vanguard, I'm completely turned off from because it's run by none other than Brad McQuaid; as far as I'm concerned he's the reason that EQLive went downhill, and I'm distancing myself as far away from him as possible. I don't see Vanguard being successful at all. I'm also convinced McQuaid is doing everything he can to make life as difficult as possible in his game, simply for the sake of being difficult. I like a good challenge, but it needs to have a reason behind it, and thus far McQuaid hasn't given me a good enough reason to care about his game.

City of Villains has caught my interest, and I'm debating if I should drop some money into it to try it out. Something about playing a Supervillain has captured my curiosity.

I gave Final Fantasy XI a fair shot, and I can walk away from that game quite easily. It reminded me too much of the bad things with EQLive, and not enough of the good things. It also feels MUCH too much like a console RPG (probably because it is a console RPG). I suspect the only reason people continue to play it is because it's a Final Fantasy game (and again, in my opinion the Final Fantasy series peaked at 6, and has steadily gone downhill ever since).

D&D Online has no interest for me. I'm not a D&D player, and probably never will be, so the interest as a result is zero. Rumors are abound of a Grand Theft Auto MMO. I don't know if they're true or not, but if they are true, I'm sold! I've heard a few things about a Star Trek MMO, but I'm not convinced such an MMO could be successful.
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Finally, I just want to say thanks to all the Magicians, Conjurors, and Necromancers from the boards out there reading this. You guys are a wonderful community, and without you I wouldn't still be playing.
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A big thank you to Xalmat for taking the time to answer my questions. I found his answers to be very informative and interesting. Doing these interviews has really opened my eyes to different aspects of EQII and I hope you enjoy them as well.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great stuff - as a Conjuror I wish everyone would read this so people would have an idea of what we are actually all about. Really good points - but Vanguard will rule ;)

12:38 AM  
Blogger Matt W. said...

Xalmat wrote: "I didn't actually start dabbling in MMORPGs until I discovered EverQuest in November 2001, where I created my Magician.

Vanguard, I'm completely turned off from because it's run by none other than Brad McQuaid; as far as I'm concerned he's the reason that EQLive went downhill, and I'm distancing myself as far away from him as possible. I don't see Vanguard being successful at all."

Brad McQuaid left SOE in early October 01, SOL (Shadows of Luclin) was released in December 01. I believe Jeff Butler left in January 02. A few lead developers working on the SOL expansion also left SOE during the development of the expansion. In all fairness of the Sigil team, the horrible outcome of the expansion is not primarily their fault.

With Brad & a several key members of 'the vision' fleeing during crucial development, and all the rumors around the office or I suppose a good way to put it would be "plotting" new endeavors for the future this internal dismay would distract from the potential of that specific expansion. I'm sure it's a safe assumption that it was definitely effecting the development process ultimately leading up to its demise.

Xalmat started playing EQ after Brad McQuaid left SOE. Maybe Xalmat can be a bit more specific about when they think the downfall of EQ began?

-Krones

2:13 AM  
Anonymous Xalmat said...

Well Matt W., I started playing EQ when The Vision (tm) was still in full effect. Four years later, while the SOE team has done its best to remove the annoying parts of The Vision (tm), it's still there. I'm not happy with some of the conventions The Vision (tm) took, and any game that tries to make it difficult on the player for the sake of being difficult instantly loses ground with me.

Hell, it took me three years of EQLive and 5 minutes of EQ2 to realize that.

The Beta process for most MMORPGs is such that the bulk of any expansion is usually completed a good month or two before the release date, and the last month before release is bug fixes. That's usually where Beta Testers come in, a month or two before release.

If McQuaid wants me to play his game, he's going to have to go out of his way to get my attention (such as Beta access, or a free copy of the final release). I don't see that happening.

I'm also not one to buy into hype very easily.

But all that is a topic for another day.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Quylein said...

I just wanted to say good stuff Aggro, always like the interviews. I've been a Mage since hmmm Jan 2000. Began going to the Mage Compendium shortly afterward. I will say it was and has been a great board. Very diverse and sometimes very anylitical. But, it was always a place for me to go take my mind off of work and enjoy myself. I havent posted in years though mainly because my momma said "if you dont got nothing nice to say... Blog it!" I'm glad you took em over Xalmat.

Thoughm,to the defense of Vanguard the only Hype you would buy into isnt the Hype Sigil has put out. It's all been player driven Hype up untill the last year.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Matt W. said...

I could care less if you decide to play Vanguard or not, but the fact remains you started playing EQ after a couple of the original core developers that most informed and grokked EQ players refer to as 'the vision' left SOE and were no longer responsible for any new implementations.

We agree too disagree, while some remnants of the vision's difficulty remain from the original tenets,(death being one, challenging raid content the other) and death is a joke compared to how it was originally intended including corpse retrieval, a good portion of the vision started to die before you even started playing and when PoP came around it was almost like the final nail in the coffin.

Each beta is dynamic depending on the company and situation behind the development. SOL was a utter cluster fuck. It was not even close to being finished, the Seru/Katta lore was butchered, a lot of the raid mobs were bugged, Acrylia was a lost cause, the end game itemization in some places like VT was implemented in two weeks and a lot of the mobs were not tuned or tested.

SOE released the SOL expansion in an abysmal state and the reason it was unfinished was because the leadership behind the vision had left during its development and they weren't able to finish what they wanted to completely fulfill development wise, and than after these key members left and decision to release the SOL expansion as is, that's when the changes started to come via a wave of patching. Changes such as summonable mage items with vendor bought spells that rivaled end game Velious loot, etc. This is around the time you started playing.

I'm not saying the vision is perfect, far from it in fact. I criticize their past quite a bit, but I'm also open to new possibilities from that team, everyone makes mistakes, and they have a better understanding of what with the experience they have acquired, in a lot of ways that was the beauty a lot of us 1st gen EQ players loved about EQ, we didn't know what to expect, that included the developers since the mmo fantasy genre was still somewhat new, as it is to most players and developers who are just starting out. All those wonderful class defining roles like kiting, feign death pulling, the power behind mez, were never expected.

-Krones

12:18 PM  
Blogger Anskiere said...

I'm not really sure about all of the above stuff.. I usually play a game if I like it. I don't care if this guy left this company and is now making this other game that was what this first game was supposed to be like.

I don't follow people around, and I don't buy into hype - by the company or the fans following the company. Shouldn't people play games because they like them, not who developed them?

2:49 PM  
Blogger Zygwen said...

Oh yeah, The Vision was great, not. Being forced to use boats that didn't work rocked. Having to stare at a spellbook while your group mates got beaten up, not knowing when your meditation would be interrupted by a mob was fun.

My only regret at the death of "The Vision tm" is that new players have no clue what it is.

As a former beastlord, I've had my disagrements with Xalmat but I will agree with him in disliking The Vision.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous site said...

The guy is absolutely fair, and there is no suspicion.

4:29 AM  

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