The EverQuest II team is blessed with super talented artists. With everything that goes into the game, we sometimes forget just how much impact our art team really has on the world of Norrath. I quickly found out that there's a reason for this... Artists tend to be a little shy. After carefully setting my traps and observing them in their natural habitat (really dark cube areas) I managed to stun one of them with a bright light. Once his vision cleared, Tad Ehrlich, one of our amazing artists and the man who drew the Vasty Deep dungeons, agreed to answer a few questions for us as well as share some of the concept art!
What did you draw from for inspiration for the Vasty Deep zones?
For the Conservatory, one of the other concept artists on the team, Dok Whitson, worked with my lead to come up with an approach and the one image that really stuck with me was a pillar he concepted. I thought it fit absolutely perfectly, so I then took that and applied it to the rest of the dungeon. Beyond that I mostly just focused on strong color schemes and wanted to make sure that there was plenty of variety and detail through it so people wouldn’t be seeing the same thing over and over.
For the Labs I really wanted to push the lighting. I experimented with baking in ambient occlusion before in my other zones and I wanted to take it a step further and use the baked-in lighting to create a much darker feel. So I put a lot of effort into customizing the look so it was creepy and foreboding. And the direction that I got from Leah Swigart and Kyle Vallee was that it was supposed to be a lab horror movie so the rest worked itself out J .
When I got to the Vestigial Cella it was about making a cave that was more interesting than just a cave. So I tried to create a lot of depth in the zone; pushing back the walls so the players would have long vistas to see beyond the individual islands they were on and adding in some magical elements to lead the player’s interest around the zone.
The Vasty Hub was something that we talked about but weren’t sure if we’d have time to get it in before we shipped. Luckily we did! For that one I wanted to create an area that would seamlessly blend into the other zones. So I tried as much as I could to make each entrance to each of the instances unique and give each little hallway its own feel. Beyond that I just wanted the outside to look like nothing I’d seen in the game before.
What’s your favourite part of the Vasty Deep zones?
There’s little things I like in each of them but I think my favorite area would have to be the library in Vasty Labs. Being able to have the contrast between the exterior water and the interior of the library I thought worked out pretty well. And it was fun to try to simulate an aquatic environment. Something I’d never had a chance to do before!
What's your favourite zone that you've worked on in EQII?
I think my favorite zone would have to be the Conservatory. I just feel that all the pieces came together for me on that one. And I like the very distinct areas throughout it.
Are there any hidden areas or easter eggs that you slipped in for the really diligent explorers?
As far as easter eggs, I think the only thing I’d say is that all that erudite writing in the zones has to say something…… doesn’t it?
How did you get started in the industry?
I began in comic books and worked as a colorist for Wildstorm, Jim Lee’s comic book company. I was very fortunate to land in an industry that I was extremely passionate about and had amazing people to learn from. My experience there led to me starting as a texture artist at Midway. The rest is history!
What are some of the other areas you’ve done the art for in EQII?
The first instance I did was Nu’roga and then I did all the Guk instances for the last expansion.
Do you draw on elements from the other EverQuest games for EQII?
If the zone is based off a previous zone from Everquest 1 then I make sure to do some research. At the very least I'd like a player who comes in to the zone and has experience in the first Everquest to say "Hey!! I recognize that!!"
Do you have any advice for aspiring game artists?
I've been very fortunate in my career. Some of it was luck, some of it was knowing people, but I’d like to think that hard work was a lot of it. I feel that you can really only be judged by your last piece and that pushes me to try and do my best at whatever I’m working on.
If there’s anything you’d like to share that was not covered by one of the questions, please feel free to share!
The only thing I'd like to add is that I hope that the players get those few seconds of wonder when they enter my zones for the first time; that they feel compelled to just stop for a bit and take it all in. Personally, I think that's what makes working on environments so rewarding. :)