Today we're beginning our EQ Anniversary coverage by spotlighting one of EverQuest's original artists: Kevin Burns. Kevin has been with SOE since the days before EverQuest, and has created some of the most well-known zones in the game, such as Freeport, Erudin and Highpass Hold. Follow along after the break for his complete Q&A, and be sure to browse our on-going EQ Anniversary gallery where today's additions are concept art and screenshots from Seeds of Destruction.
Name: Kevin Burns
Avatar Handle: (shhh, it's a secret).
Position: Environment Artist
When did you join the SOE family?
I've been with SOE for 11-ish years now. I got my start with SCEA as a Quality Assurance Lead on NHL Faceoff '97 and 2Xtreme for the original PlayStation, then jumped over to EverQuest when it started up. Some of the more well known zones I've created in EQ are the original Freeport, Erudin, Befallen, and Highpass Hold.
What are your main duties on EverQuest?
Less bugs, better art. My main duties as an environment artist are to make the zones, both dungeons and outdoor areas, for players to explore within the game. This includes many different things, from deciding on the zone's concepts, theme, and layout, to building a 3D mock-up (to test scale and playability), to creating textures and objects for decor, and finally adding particle effects, lighting, and sounds. Often, I work together with other artists on the team to help out and share resources between various zones. Once the art side is finished, the zones get handed off to the design team to populate them with NPCs, quests, loot, and basically add all the fun factor.
What did you work on for the Seeds of Destruction Expansion?
I worked on the Old Kaesora (A) dungeon and Old Commons. Old Kaesora was a fun zone to work on, because we got to go back and build Kaesora when it was an intact Iksar stronghold.
What do you consider your specialty?
Dungeoneering! I like laying out an underground dungeon, creating themed rooms and areas, and creating the objects and lighting that really bring the zone to life. One of my favorite things is building little alcoves for sneaky monsters to hide in, where they can ambush loot-seeking adventurers!
Do you or have you played EverQuest?
I played, as a serious player, quite a bit of EverQuest, mainly from the original launch through the first 3 expansions. My favorite characters were a dwarven warrior and human rogue. Day to day, I'm often in EQ by myself, checking my latest zone work and objects to make sure they look, fit, and feel right within the game world.
Describe the process of acclimating yourself to the world of EverQuest?
Acclimating myself to the world of EQ was completely natural for me. I've always been into fantasy games and RPG's, so EverQuest was a perfect fit. From the beginning, we were trying to create the online fantasy RPG that we ourselves would love to play. It was a very personal creative process as we started building the EverQuest world and lore, and by the time we hit beta, we knew we were working on something incredible.
How long have you been in the gaming industry and what brought you to it?
I've been in the gaming industry since 1996. I've always been a huge gamer, in all the important disciplines: PC, Console, board games, and pen and paper RPG's. I played a lot of D&D as a kid, and spent a lot time dreaming up dungeons and scenarios for the game. Drawing maps on graph paper was the spark of my professional career as an environment artist. My interests always seemed to revolve around fantasy, gaming, and computers, and it all started to converge in my college years. I was taking some computer art classes, and started doing some PC game art as a hobby. I got my foot in the door at SCEA as a tester, and soon after started as a junior artist on EQ.
What other projects have you worked on?
In order: EverQuest, EQ: Ruins of Kunark, EQ: Scars of Velious, EQOA and EQOA: Frontiers (PS2), Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade and UL: Warrior's Code (PSP), UL: Dark Kingdom (PS3), and back home to EverQuest.
Besides yourself, who are your favorite artists? Who inspires you?
I find inspiration everywhere. I think I have a very curious mind, and I'm always exploring new ideas and creative hobbies. For creating zones, I try to draw on real world environments as a base (something players can easy relate to), and then build on the fantasy (to make something new and visually appealing).
What are your favorite video games?
I have a really broad spectrum of games that I enjoy. Some of my all time favorites, no particular order, have been Grim Fandango, Escape from Monkey Island, Alpha Centari, Quake, Battlefield 1942, Overlord, Fallout, Baldur's Gate, SimCity, Gears of War, God of War, Age of Wonders, GTA: Vice City, Dawn of War, Half Life, and Portal.
What video games are you currently playing?
Recently, I've been playing lots of Ticket to Ride, Catan, and Carcassonne (XBox Arcade), Jeopardy! , Pain, and PixelJunk Monsters (PSN), Rock Band and Conan (Xbox 360), Gran Turismo Prologue (PS3), Jeanne D'arc (PSP), and Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS).
Artists are their own worst critics. Do you believe this statement?
Yeah, I agree with this. When you are creating something, you have this perfect vision in your head. As you continue working on it, you keep chasing details to make it better and more refined. You could work on a piece forever trying to get it just right. You need to find a good balance of finishing a complete idea without getting bogged down in trying to over-refine it.
What other type of activities do you enjoy? Do you have any hobbies?
Non-gaming things I'm into: Photography (always trying to improve my skills with my Canon DSLR), Traveling and Road trips (my last road trip was a 10-day trip from San Diego to Seattle, with lots of fun stops along the way), Snowboarding and Cycling (I love snowboarding in Mammoth, cycling up the San Diego coast, and doing both in Lake Tahoe), and pet keeping (I currently live with 3 cats, a 54-gallon tropical freshwater aquarium, another 10-gal aquarium, 3 tree frogs, 1 house gecko, 2 skinks, 2 box turtles, 2 millipedes, and 1 hamster). Also, I'm a big San Diego Chargers football fan. I have season tickets and go to all the home games. I think I've only missed 2 home games in the last 7 years or so. Also, every season we hit the road and follow the Bolts to an away game. It's crazy, but it's a blast every time.
I love all kinds of gaming and play a lot of board games. I have a massive modern board game collection, and some of my favorites are Ticket to Ride, Formula De, Carcassonne, Tikal, Dust, and Battle Lore. I'm a huge Blood Bowl fan and have really been getting into the Warhammer 40k tabletop game this year.
Tell the community something crazy about you!
Here are a couple of crazy things... Once, while working on the original EQ, I stayed after work Friday night to play a little Tanarus. It turned into a 14-hour Mountain Dew inspired marathon session. I finally had to give up and around 10am Saturday morning, and took the rest of the weekend to sleep it off. I'm much too old for that now. ;) Ahhh, the good ol' days... however, I don't recommend that to anyone. Curse you Mountain Dew!
Befallen was one of my favorite dungeons to build. I created a nasty pit trap in it, where players would fall through an invisible hole in the floor down to a group of nasty skeletons in the room below. A few months after EQ launched, I was exploring Befallen with 2 of my friends, and since I built the dungeon, I was made the leader. Can you guess where I led us? That's correct, right into my own trap and instant death for the three of us. My response to my group was "...well, I guess that trap works!"