How Halflings Happened - A Developer Roundtable

Posted date / 10.11.17

What differentiates the Halflings in Pantheon from the standard fantasy tropes?

Forrest Imel - Concept Artist: This was always on our minds while developing the Halflings. It's really easy to say 'let's make these halflings different! We'll give them fiery wings and huge, broad calf muscles; they'll be super unique!' It was never our intention to completely alienate the players from the idea of a Halfling. We took the original tropes into consideration while developing the visual side of them; short/small people, young/playful, etc., but then thought about what we could twist and change about them to give them their own identity. A lot of this was done initially by our lovely writer Justin. Jared and I just expanded on his written lore.

Jared Pullen - Senior Concept Artist: It was a real challenge to be sure, owing to how extensively the Halfling trope has been explored in popular culture. There are so many preconceived notions of what a halfling is, a good deal of which has been based largely on Tolkien's Middle Earth Halflings; the Hobbits. The unique lore set in place by our talented writer and loremaster Justin Gerhart became the pivotal point of difference for us. While still being deep lovers of nature as one expects of this trope, Pantheon Halflings have a wild edge that sets them apart. They embrace a very literal and visceral affinity with nature, wearing furs and hides with plant and animal adornments both. As such they carry into the game with highly tribal design sensibilities, very different to the Halflings we've come to expect from books and film. Forrest has realised them so beautifully.

Justin Gerhart - Lead Writer: I appreciate the way Forrest and Jared spoke about the precision of reimagining, and to the details of the finished work. They are both phenomenal talents and a privilege to work with. They've played a bigger part than they realize in crystallizing our vision for the Halflings. Another major inspiration for their flavoring came from Chris simply saying, 'I see a bit of the lost boys in them'. That really was the final push to get out of the lazy chair and live among this wild, paradoxical and joyful people. It gave them faces, instincts and charm, and played a critical role in what we are releasing today. It's not always right to reinvent or reimagine a beloved archetype, but there are cases where digging a few layers deeper into what you've come to expect from that archetype can reveal a creative opportunity. I hope we made memorable, but reasonable, decisions in our move away from tradition. If we didn't it's my fault.

So these are not Tolkien's Hobbits. Visually it's pretty clear what separates our Halflings from the traditional fantasy style guide. The basis for Pantheon's Halflings started when we asked, 'What if they had a reason behind their appearance?' This helped us imagine them in a new light, with a backstory that flowed naturally (and I hope interestingly) up to the moment you'll encounter them in the world. They've been hunted and cursed, yet they've also turned the tables on their tormentor, halted the curse, then taken an affliction and made it a delight.

But what's really different about them, aside from hairless feet and a town in the trees? For me it's their childlike exuberance. Because of the curse they are old, almost haunted souls, yet they've overcome it with a smile, a song, and a razor sharp appetite for hunting wraiths. This is their normal, and it's quite different.

Chris Perkins - Creative Director, Audio Director and Lead Game Designer: For my part, I've been hungry since we started work on Pantheon to capture the essence of things we're familiar with, but also reimagine or evolve those familiar things where possible, without losing the familiarity. This plays out in many aspects of Pantheon's game and class design, and I'm really happy to see it happening in the racial design as well.

What was your inspiration when bringing the Halflings to life on Terminus?

Forrest: It seemed like a lot of us were on the same page when it came to inspirations. We looked at a lot of tribal influences as well as the lost boys from Peter Pan, more specifically from the movie Hook. That movie had great use of colors that were so vibrant and playful that, at least personally, I wanted to attach to the characters. Also, as cheap of an answer as it might be, a lot of the inspiration really was just us riffing off of one another's ideas. I remember when we were discussing the halflings, Jared had mentioned the idea of using tree sap/amber as a type of armor or jewelry and all of us got really excited at the thought of that.

Orthographs of early Halfling concepts showing inspirations including tribal influences and the lost boys of Peter Pan.

Jared: Spot on Forrest, I know my chief inspiration was jamming with you, Chris and Justin in the Halfling racial kickoff meeting. Ideas just emerged and grew from that high energy wellspring and there is a lot to be said for simply riffing off each other in a creative setting. As we went it was apparent that our Halflings would be handled from a 'literal nature' standpoint; defined by the manner in which they utilise the organic matter of their home region in every aspect of Halfling life. Halflings in Pantheon aren't inspired by nature, they literally are nature, and this is reflected in all they wear, their methods for dwelling and architectural construction. Roof tiles are actual stripped bark sections treated with resin sap from the native trees, and leaves, timber and roots liberally coated with this signature resin formed the basis for Halfling arms and armour. It was a unique point of difference that we all seemed to embrace and run with from the get go.

Justin: Well said, gents. I remember 'Not FernGully' was said more than a few times during and after our first meeting. When you're talking about all of the elements that Forrest and Jared described it's all too easy to track into other fantastical representations that are a poor fit. So 'using nature' has its limits. We could have used a massive leaf as a roof and that would have taken the nature motif too far. Like Forrest said, Jared's idea for the sap resin really gave them a signature material that was versatile and unique. Even a detail like that helped take the lost boy-ishness beyond a group of runaways and into a people with a long and peculiar history. So a lot of the inspiration came from the effort to manifest these people authentically, not necessarily imitating one of two others.

Tell us how, respectively, the art and lore affected each other during the creation of the Halflings

Forrest: Everything is lore first, then the visuals come into play. But the lore is crucial to developing a consistent and unique race for Pantheon. It's literally the history of these people, and history can affect so much of how these people dress, act and speak.

Jared: Art and identity go hand in hand; if you want to know about a people you could study their history, but if you truly want to understand them, study their art. As a team we approached the Halflings in the same way, with the lore preceding all else, and the art and design sensibilities just emerged from that. It was such a joy to go about our work in this way and get inside the Halfling mind, and man, it sure is vibrantly saturated and colourful in there. Like a poisonous dart frog on the 4th of July!

"If you truly want to understand a people, study their art." Click image to enlarge.

Justin: Man, Jared really gets American traditions.

We've kind of developed an art direction by committee, a four headed hive-mind. Before anything is drawn we have the aforementioned kickoff meeting for the race; I lead it and try, and I really do try, guys, to keep it to a few hours. I discuss the backstory and highlight the most important characteristics of the race so the guys can inspect, poke and ask as many questions as they like. It's a foundational few hours (if they're lucky) that doesn't solve every angle of the art/lore relationship, but it gets it on very solid footing. I share some of the written lore (there is a limit on how much of that is helpful), info on their pantheon, society and so forth, as well as any visual references to augment or alter the previous concept art direction. Joppa and Daniel Krenn (our CTO) are also present. Joppa for obvious reasons and Dan in case I start leading the guys into a development-killing house of horrors. Out of that meeting comes a 2-3 week series of progressive updates from the guys with a fair amount of back and forth.

What was your favorite part of the process in bringing this race to life?

Forrest: Colors! All the colors!

Jared: Oh man, the colours are off the hook for sure. For me it was pulling the efforts of our loremaster off the pages he'd lovingly written over many long nights and bringing as much of that into the light of day in the visual sense. That was something I'd hoped we could pull off - to honour that incredible effort and give the lore a living, breathing place in the game world, rather than just having it as shelved background information one reads about later on the forums. The art had to honour the lore and be evidently informed by it in every way possible to offer depth and believability for our treasured audience. Oh yeah and the colours.. the colours...

Justin: I think it was sorting through the female hairstyles, honestly. Is that crazy to say? Forrest had some great ideas and I was just so happy to see the Halflings coming to life. Also with Jared's environmental concepts, even the roughs, I was just in awe of how much detail he'd put into them. Couldn't stop looking at them. And most recently seeing the conceptual work begin to come to life in the 3D world. That's been a thrill.

And the colo(u)r!

Chris: Honestly, working with these 3. They are a true dream team of Lore and Visual Design.

Conceptualizing Halfling architecture in Wild's End

How do the Halflings view the rest of the races that inhabit Terminus? Are those views reflected in their outward appearance?

Forrest: Definitely a question more suited for our Loremaster, Justin.

Jared: Paging Mr. Gerhart to the service desk'.. to the service desk please, Mr Gerhart''.

Justin: Most Halflings have something of a national preoccupation with their own slice of the world. On the surface there isn't a polite society bone in their body, well not for most of them, but that isn't because they're intentionally rude or hopelessly undomesticated. They're simply preoccupied with enjoying their own people, seeking out the Wards and hunting for adventure, so their culture has developed mostly along those threads. Though they genuinely enjoy the outside world, those threads pull their focus in tight to the here and now. The rest of Terminus is seen like a child in a new town or among new people: observing differences for sure, but not in the same way an adult does, picking up on all the complex ramifications of what's new and considering how that will affect them. Halflings aren't ponderous, they just are. It's not that they are unable to think deeply, or that they're limited to a child's level of intelligence (which at times seems unlimited IRL), it's that it just isn't their main focus.

Halfling dress clearly shows how different their way of living is from the rest of Terminus, but those differences don't really register to them. They fashion clothes for function and a bit of flourish, not because it matches the latest trends in Thronefast or Faerthale. The only exception is among a faction called the Esqaps. Even from early on, Esqaps took the time to establish trade partnerships and alliances with other races, as well as providing the governmental structure for Sorhiryth itself. They harken back to the pre-curse nobility of the race, during their time as the Kiri. And because they are the ones who engage in diplomatic meetings with the international community, Esqaps have a look that is more influenced by outsiders than nominal Halflings.

Did class availability have any bearing on the look and the lore of the Halflings?

Forrest: I'd say it can on certain races maybe, but I think it's slightly different for the Halflings. It's more like the race made an impact on how the classes are represented. A halfling rogue wouldn't act or think or even dress the same as say a human rogue.

Jared: Indeed, things like the more natural materials available to our Halflings informed the manner in which the classes were represented within the race. It's more straightforward to depict a Halfling Druid in the classic stereotypical sense as we might know them, given what we have come to know of Druids and their penchant for wearing natural world components, but handling the visual treatment for a Halfling rogue with the same sensibilities in mind certainly makes for a unique racial/class combination. It was the race itself and the crafting materials available to it that largely drove the look and feel of the classes.

Justin: The lore actually led the class decisions to a degree, so they didn't really affect the lore except in a few races, but we do choose 2 classes for each race to lean on if not outright represent. Druid and Rogue are represented here, again only in part. We needed to nail the racial identity first, then pull the class identity over that. So I guess it's fair to say the class availability narrowed what we could choose from for each race.

Chris: As Justin said, we tried to lead with Lore as much as possible on all fronts. In that way, the Lore absolutely informs what classes are available to each race. But specifically in these art depictions, we wanted the visual design to be a marriage of both racial identity and class identity, and I think we've pulled that off well with the Halflings, and all the other races as well. And not just to make a pretty picture, but with attire and equipment you could actually find and wear as that class in the game.

Can you give us some insight on the day to day life of a Halfling in Pantheon? Tell us about the world they inhabit, their buildings, art, social structure and historical perspectives.

Forrest: *cough* Justin *cough*

Jared: (Hands Forrest a glass of water) Maybe they like to start the day with a steaming hot cup o' dragonfly pulp and cruize for a bit in an animal hide hammock, who can say? Maybe that is an especially effective way to playfully unwind after an exhilarating nights' outing hunting Wraith kin? Maybe they enjoy a good game with the pigskin ball on the upper platforms of verdant Sorhiryth, or pressing exotic flower derived pigments with their feet in large wooden tubs? Again who can say? Again, perhaps the loremaster can'

Justin: Oh man, you guys really set me up here. Too kind. Don't choke, Forrest. Water is good for you.

Well of course dragonfly pulp is liberally ingested and the hammocks are swung in with impunity. Beyond those universally shared enjoyments, Halflings break into three distinct groups: The Nothi, Maidyn Clan, and the aforementioned Esqaps. The Nothi draw on a deep vendetta against Molsth the Wraith King, who cursed them ages ago on their home world. They are the standard bearers for a lifelong campaign of retribution against wraiths, and slyly usurped the Esqaps in picking Wild's End as a home -- just to be close to a high population of wraiths in the Gate. For Nothi life is the hunt, mixed with playful relaxation and training. They are self-sufficient and may be gone for weeks at a time, yet they run the risk of being tainted by the Wraith's Ill, which is a sort of metaphysical madness that comes from the wraith's own unbroken curse. There are dire consequences when Wraith's Ill runs unchecked, so Nothi also seek a balance between their fervor and the need for recuperation. As for history, well, Nothi pretty much live moment to moment and don't have a great love for 'the study of old things'.

Maidyn Clan are the spiritual heartbeat of the Halflings. They are easily the most reserved and contemplative of the race, seeking to find, follow and know the Six Wards that guide their people. The Halfling Pantheon is different from the other refugee races, and may allow for interactions with the Wards that are different from other races as well. Maidyn Clan takes its name and motivation from the first Maiden Lyone, who is famous for outwitting Molsth and halting the effects of the curse, but was also a voracious student of Kiri history, Kiren the Ward of Flame, and culture in general. She knew her people would no longer exist in a few generation's time, so she dedicated herself to stewarding all she could about them. This base of knowledge is what allowed Lyone to be successful in defeating Molsth, and that is what Maidyn Clan seeks to imitate. History is far more important to Maidyn Clan than Nothi or even Esqaps.

Am I out of time? It feels like I'm out of time. I've spoken about the Esqaps a bit, I'll just add to what I said about their outlook of 'harkening back to the pre-curse nobility of the race'. That was when the Halflings were called the Kiri. During those days the people who became the Halflings aged to full maturity, and had a modest kingdom with a hereditary monarchy and a noble court. Many of today's Esqaps claim to be of the bloodline of those nobles, and their desire to lead flows from that lost status. Some demand the recognition, while others feel a sincere responsibility to their people. And this has all undergone a few hundred cycles of Halfling generational wash, so it's appropriately different from an actual class of nobles within the race. But don't tell them that.

Oh no. Everyone's asleep.

We may be a little biased, but these might just be the coolest looking halflings ever. What are you most excited about, design wise, going forward with this race?

Forrest: I'm biased as well, but I do think these guys turned out very cool. I think even though I'm primarily the character guy I'm just excited to see how their world develops, fleshing out their city and towns and seeing how their culture impacts certain parts of the world.

Jared: Forrest has had so much to offer as the character guy, and has in many wonderful ways driven a lot of the look and feel of this fresh and unique styling for the Halfling race in conjunction with the environmental treatments. They're undeniably sylvan in nature, yet there is a wild and playful amplification of these qualities as showcased through the tribal application of natural materials that sets them apart'. for what they lack in stature they certainly make up for through a bold and vibrant application of personality. We're so thrilled to bring these Halflings into the world of Terminus for everyone to enjoy.

Justin: When little Halfling feet patter across the heights of Sorhiryth, and groups of Nothi are terrorizing the halls of the ancient Gate. When the Mad Moor is explored and the depths of the Wellpond are encountered. When the light of many Wards shines softly on Maidyn Clan faces, well I'll be a very merry boy inside a middle aged man. Until that wonderful day I must dry my amber tears and bid you all adieu!

Chris: As they stand, they are one of my favorite races - very excited to play one. Design-wise, I'm excited to get a shorter race into the game and examine how the game world feels from a different perspective. And there's always something special about seeing new races begin to populate the game world.

Halfling Model Renders

Below are some renders of the female halfling as it has progressed. These renders are representative of a work in progress. Keep on the lookout for more on the halfling in the weeks to come.

Female halfling render - pre-texturing

First Pass skin textures

Second Pass skin textures, added hair base

Rough hair blockout

Read On!