David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults, as well as numerous nonfiction books documenting videogame development and culture, including the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Shovel Knight by Boss Fight Books, and Long Live Mortal Kombat. Follow him online at www.DavidLCraddock.com, and on Twitter @davidlcraddock.

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults, as well as numerous nonfiction books documenting videogame development and culture, including the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Shovel Knight by Boss Fight Books, and Long Live Mortal Kombat. Follow him online at www.DavidLCraddock.com, and on Twitter @davidlcraddock.

Better Together - Stories of EverQuest by David L. Craddock

Since its servers went live in March 1999, EverQuest has drawn millions of players into its massive fantasy world. In 2019, developers shared memorable moments and behind-the-scenes stories celebrating the game's 20th anniversary.

For the first time, Better Together: Stories of EverQuest collects those tales to invite readers inside the teams responsible for the game's success.

Go behind closed doors to witness the struggle to create a computer roleplaying game in a company dominated by console titles, relive the triumphs and pitfalls of developers as they endeavored to build one of gaming's most immersive settings, and more in this tribute to a realm still explored—and stories being told—by players who have made EverQuest's world their own for over two decades and counting.


I missed out on EverQuest during its heyday, but I was always fascinated by the immersion of its rich fantasy world and the players who had forged unbreakable bonds there. The opportunity to interview some of its founding members about its origins, including the late Brad McQuaid, was too good to pass up. -David L. Craddock, curator, StoryBundle




FOR MOST TEENAGERS, middle school kicks off a turbulent period of adolescent romance, awkward biological shifts, and a battle to claim the top spot in class hierarchy. The moment John Smedley discovered Dungeons & Dragons, all those things took a backseat to exploring moldy crypts and sharpening his sword.

"I played Dungeons & Dragons every single day for a good four or five years. When my father got us an Apple II Plus, he was a chief petty officer in the Navy, so a $2000 computer was a big deal back then. The first thing that I wanted to do was make Dungeons & Dragons on the computer."

Recreating TSR's pen-and-paper roleplaying game was far beyond the scope of Smedley's programming skills. Rather than give up, he settled on the next best thing, a character generator that complicated his pen-and-paper exploits. All he had to do was run the program, type in values for a character's stats and skills, and he was off and dice-rolling.

In 1988, while in university, he was paging through the newspaper when he noticed a job advertisement for a programmer. Some local contractor wanted someone to write a game for Taito, the Japanese publisher, in assembly language. Stumbling across the ad was serendipitous. Smedley's course schedule revolved around the fundamentals of computer science and programming, stuff he'd mastered in his early teens through experiments on his Apple II. Now here he was, browsing a newspaper, only to find someone looking for a programmer who could make games for the platform.

Smedley completed the contract in record time, and with an understanding of what it meant. A finished game under his belt gave him a leg up on other freelance programmers with less experience. Moreover, the game was selling. Why stay in university, something he was doing to develop skills needed for a career, when he'd launched a career on his own?

After nearly two years at San Diego State University, he dropped out. "I'd just decided I had no interest in going to school. I wanted to build things."

Inspired by Knight Rider, one of his favorite TV shows, Smedley founded a company called Knight Technologies and landed another contract, this one with Atari to write games for the company's Lynx handheld. Over the next few years, he hustled for contracts and grew as a programmer. Five years in, he hit a brick wall. Assembly programming clicked with him. It was low-level, enabling coders to manipulate machines at the hardware level. Increasingly, he found himself nonplussed with high-level languages such as C.

"Where I started to break down was when we got into 3D stuff, where we needed to be working on maps for 3D objects."

Smedley pivoted again. He was no longer savvy enough to engineer Knight Technologies' projects himself, but he was earning enough to hire programmers who could. "I gradually built out the business getting other contract work, and it just grew from there. I was a programmer for my first five years or so, but after about two years, I was also managing people and building out the business."

Knight took on work for the Atari Lynx and Apple II line of computers—such as the Apple IIc and Apple IIe—until Smedley accepted a job at Park Place Productions. Though a small studio, co-founders Troy London, Stephen Quinn, and Michael Knox scored big by landing a contract to develop John Madden Football for the Sega Genesis. The commercial and critical success of John Madden Football cemented Park Place as a sports-focused company. Aside from a smattering of trivia games and the odd projects such as The Chessmaster, the co-founders concentrated on making more John Madden games as well as Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing, NFL Football, and NHL Hockey.

When Park Place suffered financial difficulties in 1993, the company folded. Smedley had a parachute: Working with Russell Shanks and Andy Zaffron, friends and colleagues in the industry, he started up Sony Interactive Studios America, a San Diego-based company devoted to making games for Sony's PlayStation. Their first project was to pick up one of the contracts left unfinished after Park Place went under.

Smedley recognized the necessity of finishing that project. It was guaranteed money. It was also far from the type of game he wanted to be making.

"I had a partner there, Chris Whaley, who was working on football. We were doing all the sports games for PlayStation."


SIS AMERICA COULD be considered a 50/50 studio. Half of the studio's projects were managed by John Smedley. His partner, Chris Whaley, oversaw the other half.

Unfortunately for Smedley, every project was a sports title. Hockey, football, and worst of all, baseball. "I still hate baseball with a passion. I think it's the stupidest sport ever made, and I don't understand why people watch it. I'll watch football, and hockey was more interesting because of the fights."

While Chris Whaley managed production of NFL Game Day and ESPN Extreme Games, Smedley toiled away on NHL FaceOff and the Major League Baseball-licensed MLB titles. Both Smedley and Whaley worked alongside their teams, putting in 17- and 18-hour days to meet deadlines and get paid by Sony.

"Those were the things that paid the bills. I had to keep my focus on them, but not my passion. My real love was fantasy, and fantasy gaming was where I wanted to go."

Smedley tried to convince others of his grand idea for an online RPG. On one occasion he went to his first boss at Sony and pitched the concept. The executive gave him a confused look.

"Wait a minute," he said. "You want to make an online-only game?"

The notion was preposterous. Most consumers were tying up phone lines by dialing into America On-Line or CompuServe. Besides, SIS America was a PlayStation studio, and Sony's console had no online capabilities. Smedley knew that and explained that he wanted to make his online fantasy game for computers. The suit laughed and told him to get back to work.

After his boss got fired, Smedley tried again with the new guy, Kelly Flock. Smedley made his pitch and held his breath while Flock silently considered.

"All right," he said at last. Then he asked Smedley for a budget.

After a fruitful discussion with Simutronics, developer of one of his favorite online games, Smedley came back to Flock with a number: $800,000. That would account for servers and a small team to work on the PC game, during which time Smedley would have to juggle his responsibilities on sports titles.

Once again, Smedley found himself holding his breath. Once again, Flock gave him the green light. In March 1996, his online RPG formally entered production.

"I was passionate about making online games, and Kelly had a pretty good ability to see the future, to see where things were going. I had to keep making sports games, but I didn't care one iota about those."


JOHN SMEDLEY KNEW he was addicted. It wasn't a problem, he reasoned with himself. He could kick the habit at any time.

Then his wife found out.

"I got into a game called CyberStrike, made by a company called Simutronics. I fell in love with that game. I was paying three bucks an hour to play."

CyberStrike was an online-only 3D game where players built, customized, and piloted robots called mechs. The game was available exclusively through Genie, a gaming service, and went live in 1993. For $6 an hour, players could roam the virtual world, battling one another, upgrading their avatars, and even exploring in weather that appeared dynamic. CyberStrike proved so popular that venerable publication Computer Gaming World created the awards category of Online Game of the Year so editors could give it to Simutronics' breakout hit.

Smedley kept his habit to himself until the afternoon he returned home from work, eager to hop into his mech and blast away at other players, to find his wife holding up a bill for $600. "That was our first discussion about money. I had a habit, and when you're a single guy making okay money, you don't really think about that. But once you're married, it's a discussion point. I loved this game, and I was playing easily 40 to 50 hours a week."

Still, Smedley's enthusiasm bore fruit. The developers at Simutronics had given him the information about logistics such as servers and the expense required to run them, which had informed the budget proposal he'd given to Kelly Flock. That, and all his time playing the game had proven to Smedley that his idea about charging players to inhabit a virtual world teeming with other humans had merit.

He wouldn't charge by the hour, though. His game, still referred to by himself and his upstart team—three developers strong—as "the online RPG," would be a traditional boxed product: buy the game in a store, install it, play forever.

Smedley's next step was to secure a game engine. Building one from scratch would be too costly, and Sony would never go for it. After scouting the market, he booked a flight to Cincinnati and met with Sinjin Bain whose studio Pyrotechnix was willing to license its proprietary technology.

"The idea of a game engine wasn't really a thing back then," explained Smedley. "The closest thing was Doom, and id Software had their engine, but like an idiot, I didn't license that one. I licensed a much different type of engine."

Smedley licensed the engine for two games. The first was Tanarus, a 3D tank game in the same vein as CyberStrike. The second would be his online, fantasy-themed RPG, which he was entrusting to the skills of two developers who'd happened to make one of his favorite games.

"I became aware of WarWizard after downloading and playing it, and I thought, Wow, this is cool. Back then, PC gaming was nothing. It was just this little hobby. I would say PC gaming in general wasn't a big space. There was a lot of shareware, so when I saw that game, and that it was good, I noticed it had contact information. I just reached out to them, and immediately, the second I met Brad and Steve, it was instant: Yes, let's do this."