Checkin' in with Daniel Krenn

Posted date / 04.11.18

For many, the idea of being a game developer is a pie-in-the-sky dream job, where your days are filled with Segway rides around the palatial office, Dance Dance Revolution battles in the break room and bleeding-edge computers attached to a bank of multiple high definition monitors. While some of that is pretty much how we spend our days here at Visionary Realms, the actuality of the job is often one that's far less glamorous. Now don't get us wrong, it's a great gig if you have the skills, but our team, like most developers, is full of great folks who put in long hours in a relative state of anonymity. We do like to pride ourselves as one of the more transparent and accessible game development companies and, in that vein, we recently sat down with Daniel Krenn to shed some light on the work he has done to help bring Pantheon to life.

Inspired by early 3D MMORPGs, Daniel jumped into the gaming industry and amassed an impressive resume of contributions to many of the top console games, but creating an immersive MMO was always his true passion. Luckily for us, he put his own project on hold to offer his services to Visionary Realms, and the results speak for themselves.

Join us now as our Producer of Promotional Content, David Schlow takes some time to Check in with Daniel Krenn;

Q: You're kind of the team's residential ninja, and arguably, the general public has no idea how important you are to the team. What exactly is it that you do?

A: The scope of my work is quite broad. I've touched every major and minor system in Pantheon, and I'm not sure I can fairly quantify how much of the code I've written - we're a team, and as a dedicated team member, I'm doing everything in my capacity to make Pantheon as good as it can possibly be, so let's just say that I've done quite a lot.

As well as being the lead programmer, I've been a key member of the the design team since I started. We're always in discussions, and working through new systems together. If you have a design team that works independently without the inclusion of programmers, the system creation process can become inefficient. If you're working hand in hand, you can quickly identify whether a feature is feasible or not, ultimately leading to a much cleaner workflow.

I do a little 2D design work, which is mostly UI related. To date, the entirety of the UI (with the exception of a few nice quality of life additions by Tod) has been created by myself over the course of the project (with the exception of the original Kickstarter era UI elements that is). The UI will continue to improve as the project moves forward, but at this stage it's a work in progress, favoring functionality over aesthetics.

There is a lot of art and design work on top of the programing, especially when it comes to integrating new NPC models, zones, and visual effects. I'm also responsible for setting up Player armor, as well as Player and NPC animation controllers and related scripts.

Overall, I work on systems for UI, messaging, grouping, general gameplay, combat, special effects, physics, inventory management, environmental interaction, server back-end & networking, as well as the many smaller complimentary systems that tie the game together client-side and server-side.

Like I said, I have my hands in pretty much every system in Pantheon (laughs).

Q: Brad has mentioned that you like to keep a focus on optimization throughout development. Can you explain a little more about how that happens?

A: Usually with a large project you've got strict deadlines and milestones to meet. Many developers end up being pressured to get new systems in place without necessarily having the time to optimize as they go, and they end up with a game with crippling performance issues.

The developer then needs to retroactively fix and refactor many months worth of work when they could have just spent a little extra time optimizing as they went. I've always seen that as a detrimental way to work, because you never know how milestones are going to shift as the project moves forward.

As a developer, you need to be able to step back and refactor systems on a regular basis. Without doing so, if your release date is brought forward, you can end up in hot water.

Q: So you're trying to avoid the downfalls and mistakes of some other games?

A: Yes. Even though there's always pressure to move forward, you have to take the time to pause and optimize, and make sure all systems are running efficiently.

Q: As CTO, what aspect of your job is the most time consuming?

A: It changes over time. Initially, I'd say the creation of game systems and keeping those systems up-to-date was consuming most of my time, but we've managed to add a few new programmers and a fair amount of my time is now spent both in meetings, and in making sure everyone has what they need to do their jobs effectively. That said, I still spend a large percentage of my time actively engaged in programming.

Q: Why was Unity the right choice for Pantheon? Or does that pre-date you?

A: The choice to use Unity was made prior to my coming onto the team, but I had been using Unity full time for many projects since 2009. Because of this, I was able to hit the ground running. It was quite fortunate that a lot of what I had already been working on was being handled the same way in Pantheon (networking, UI, etc.). So it was a relatively painless transition for me. Unity was definitely the right choice for Pantheon, and the innovations and improvements the Unity team are bringing to the engine are a godsend.

Q: If we were starting today, would Unity still be your engine of choice?

A: Yes, most definitely. Unity's team of engineers are actively engaged in moving the engine forward version after version. There is so much more that we can do today that wasn't possible when we first started. There's a lot of new tech coming out in the next couple of years that is going allow us to push Pantheon even further. It's really been a fantastic journey.

Q: What games have been the most memorable for you, and why?

A: First and foremost, EverQuest. It left you with a feeling of immersion where you often forgot that you were playing a game. The way the community worked, and the way people came together to help each other out was something very special to me. There were real consequences, a fear factor, and a perfect level of tension that gave you respect for the game world. I have played many games, but none have come close to giving me the same feelings I had in EverQuest. World of Warcraft does come second for me, but for different reasons. I did have a lot of fun with Vanilla WoW. Blizzard made some really great innovations, and their quality of life features made the game a very pleasant experience.

Q: Of the systems we are innovating on, what's your favorite?

A: Our ability system. We're really pushing it forward and doing a lot more than what's been done in the past. I believe the way we are handling class interdependence will be rewarding.

Q: What class will you play at launch?

A: That's tricky because I've developed a fondness for all of the classes - they all have a unique and exciting feel to them. I've always had a fondness for the Shaman and the Druid though, but we'll have to wait and see.

Q: What's your Favorite Zone?

A: Halnir Cave. It's been great experiencing the evolution of the zone, and it's going to continue to grow in some new and exciting ways. I'm quickly becoming a fan of Black Rose Keep now too.

Q: Is there anything else you'd want the Phantheons(very clever David - ed.) to know about you?

A: My passion lies in 150% in making our players feel at home in Pantheon, much in the same way our first MMOs did for everyone. That's what drives me. That's what really motivates me to work 14-15 hours a day 7 days a week to help make this project a reality. Wanting to do right by the community and giving them a game they actually want to play rather than giving them some sell-out game that's driven by marketing departments. I want to give them a genuine gaming experience.

Speaking of Black Rose Keep... Let's Check it out!