Much to do About Pantheon -- CCO update

  • Introduction -- version 2.0

    This document began as simple answer to a question on FB.  Then something hit me, an epiphany is too strong a word, but I was inspired, and I needed to write about what Pantheon truly brings to online gaming.  The target audience are people new to the community, who might not be as familiar not only with the game but also with our philosophy and methodology. 

    Fair warning, while I cover a lot, though not everything, I go places that may or may not make sense right away – you may need to process it.  You may need to re-read it.  And, of course, post if you think I should re-write a section for the sake of clarity.  Many enjoy my less compact and more meandering writing style.  And those who don’t, you guys have been very tolerant thus far – thank you.  Again, very often I start to answer one question and then I see a place where I can segue and cover even more.  If I cover enough, I usually make it a Dev Diary because not everyone is going to read my post if it’s just on a specific thread.  And given how many questions there have been, and our relative silence as of late, this is the beginning of a more concerted effort to support our core community.  You’ll hear a lot more from me and others, although I think my posts will be a bit shorter and more to the point – I love the long ones, but they take a lot of time and energy. 

    What’s both interesting and encouraging is that the vast majority of what I’ve been posting about recently covers topics I or others have already addressed, just not for a long while.  Sometimes that’s dangerous:  we assume everybody knows what we know (this even happens within the team).  But some of those posts or dev dairies were written years ago.  It’s a long game, developing MMOs.  And along this journey there have been many new people welcomed into our community.  It’s mostly to you guys that I make this effort, to re-state, clarify, to update you on what’s been core to Pantheon virtually since inception.

    Additionally, if excerpts or quotes make it out into a larger audience, that’s great too. If you like this article and think it would be impactful to an MMO fan or really anybody, please copy/paste it anywhere you want -- thank you.

    If you don't think it's a good one but have some ideas on how a better one could be put together, PM me somehow (email, etc.). and I’d love to hear your perspective.

    Much to do About Pantheon – Or a CCO update

    A look at Pantheon, the game, the philosophy, the methodoloy

    Popular Questions

    One popular is whether Pantheon is more PvE or PvP.  First, I encourage you to read the other dev diary on PvP.  What I’ll say now is this:  We don’t want it technically 50-50.  We think more PvE will be present at launch.   I also think, however, that PvE must come first to establish the foundation we have, and to provide the basis on which we need to build this game.

    Another huge cross section of posts has to do with classes, spells, and much more.  This only makes sense because people want to know what their favorite class is going to be capable of.  I think we have been very open here – Joppa has covered these topics in our newsletters and elsewhere in I think unprecedented detail – but please understand that they will continue to change, get more interesting, etc. as we move into Alpha/Beta – until then we can only hint and tease, not because we’re mean, but because there are nuances that even we don’t know yet (which is good, btw). 

    Let’s talk about questions and issues we can cover, again many/most of them having been covered in the past.  Hopefully this helps new players and provides an update to those of who who’ve been part of the community for a very long time (man we love you guys!).  First, there’s really a TON of information out there if you look for it.  Look on our site especially, but also FB, streams, etc.  Search and have a good time searching.   I do want to talk though a little more about Abilities, albeit briefly, what they are, etc. It’s important you know a few things because we’re always working on them – Abilities are one of those ‘systems’ that take a lot of effort to build, but then you must be ready to continue building, tweaking, and balancing after launch – alpha and beta, while essential, are not the end of tunnel. 

     

    Abilities

    Most Abilities are what makes up a Class, what they can do (and not do), and eventually a tapestry of options you will choose from carefully, especially before a significant encounter.  The first version of the classes showed promise throughout the pre-alpha sessions we’ve had, demonstrably better each stage, but we still learned so much from the pre-alpha sessions, etc.  Abilities are already capable of so much more, with tons of promise with more familiar Abilities but likely with a different take or approach, but then spells and abilities you’ve probably never seen.  Our most mature tool. called DDT. allows the designers, especially Chris Perkins, to go pretty crazy and one of our tools programmers, Jason Weimann, is the architect and he and CP continue to brainstorm and implement abilities and new functionality.  They’re always thinking ‘hey, other MMOs have done this, or even better, does it fit in Pantheon?  If so, how would we do it in a way that fits cleanly into Pantheon, that is also compatible with the Vision?’.  That, or we’ll often have an idea in our heads dating back a decade or more, an ability or more significant system that’s pretty unique that we never had a chance to get into a previous MMO.  I know there are a lot in my head that have been there quite some time – and many involve taking MMOs in a much different and hopefully more satisfying way relative to where most recent MMOs have gone.  Back to Perkins and Weimann:  They’ll look at it and see if it would fit in the world and if it makes sense to assign it to one of our classes (if it was an ability – systems are handled differently). Let me also better clarify something at this point:  again, keep in mind that what we call an Ability can ultimately be a spell, stance, unique boss move – it’s really both flexible and powerful.  As mentioned, NPCs work much the same way, both with common abilities based on the race, class, level, etc. assigned to it but also with special, even unique, Abilities if it makes sense.

    Hopefully knowing what we mean when we say Ability is helpful.  Like I said, they’re an endless pursuit but then we also have a well thought out plan of what to accomplish and what to push to a later date. All that said, the rate at which things are progressing makes me feel very good.  But it’s not just new Abilities but ideas and sometimes epiphanies that trigger something broader, more out there, different.  But it’s the unexpected that is impactful. Especially when a mob casts something nobody has seen before -- we sincerely hope you will be surprised and even put into a position where you have to re-plan your tactics. 

    Interweaving Single Player Game Theory into MMOs

    Let’s dive deeper and talk about something more of a theory and approach than a specific system:  I hope no one gets spooked but one of CPs passions are semi-old console RPGs (it’s actually an experience and perspective, one of many, that make him perfect as Creative Director and Lead Designer). What you grew up playing affects your perspective, especially if you are the analytical type.  Just as I studied MUDs in detail, trying to determine what made them tick, how they were games but so much more, we’re lucky enough to have not only old geezers like me but team members all the way down to GenZ people and a bunch in the middle (all united behind the Vision).  The trick is to interweave compelling game theory, regardless of genre, into the Vision.  For me, it’s MUDs and the early successful MMOs and then also attempts to bring some of that back (WoW Classic, for example).  Perkins brings into the mix, amongst other things, fantastic analysis of what made early, single player RPGs really tick and what might translate into MMOs, living open worlds, in a way no one has tried before.  Yes, in a manner most have dismissed because MMO developers too often ignore other genres.  Yes, they’re single player, you are on a linear quest, you are by yourself or have AI companions, everything leads to conquering the game, beating the final challenge.  You win. MMOs are fundamentally different – they go on, they grow and innovate, for as long as possible.  On the surface, they’re not compatible.  Looking deeper at compelling mechanics and systems?  Lots to learn, lots that might indeed translate not just into Pantheon but may well move the genre forward if developers have an open mind.

    Single Player Tech & Familiarity

    Some of this not only consists of translating ideas, but there’s also the technology side of things.  We were extremely limited in 1999 but still accomplished something most thought impossible (or at least improbable).  Pantheon must be just as daring – we need to use newer tech, tech often found in other genres, or game design from older games seemingly limited to single player but actually something an MMO can now do. Lastly, Pantheon needs to not only incorporate these newer ideas or tech, as long as it always adds to the FUN, but the fundamental feel needs to stay familiar, stay intuitive.  We frequently bring experienced MMO players in to play.  No directions, no guidance.  In minutes they’re good with movement.  Then they scan their abilities and try them out on a nearby mob.  The mob dies, and they loot it.  Yes, fundamentals, but the key is that it feels natural, it feels familiar.  This is as important as the more daring systems – again, foundation, then innovation. Onboarding, making friends, then a vast, dangerous world to explore.

    How to describe something so complex:  Pantheon

    It’s difficult.  It’s more difficult to do in a paragraph.  It’s why we’ll soon show what the game does, not tell  In the meantime, for the newer community members, Pantheon is an unabashedly open living world that’s challenging, and requires you to find friends. Accomplishing goals requires planning and teamwork.  You are rewarded for exploring and experiencing the world.   The world itself often engages you, not just NPCs.  Situational awareness is key.  Having the right gear and abilities ready will truly matter.  It’s an online game using Unity as the engine and over time we’ve become better and better partners and friends with the Unity teams. 

    There are no mandatory treadmills, no instancing, no pay-to-win.  Pantheon is most certainly NOT on rails.  Go where you want to go.   Co-op play is rewarded and encouraged, with a focus on memorable experiences, especially shared memorable experiences (the kind you don’t forget, whereas as you grow older you forget plenty of things). A crazy world where earth, buildings, native beings crash into the planet often surviving and even bringing their Pantheon of gods with them. This is why we named the game what we did – the gods are angry.  The thunder god of one people group will be different than other people groups.  This doesn’t create an environment of peace and joy by any means.  The gods clash and earth feels it, as does its inhabitants. What happens in the heavens may affect YOU.  Sometimes in a good way, sometimes bad.  Legends say it was much worse in the past, the Deicide War, where god-kings roamed the world, vying for power.  All seemed lost, but then they were eventually stopped by the WarWizards, humans of unimaginable power and from where they came nobody knows.  They also disappeared once the war was won.  It’s a great mystery, and a tired one.  Great risk and reward await the player as he explores Terminus. 

    Choosing the right engine for such a Project

    Having a close relationship with Unity, using their updates along with our own, to keep the game looking great, knowing from inception that there would be tech that didn’t exist yet and that we couldn’t even guess as to what it was.  Yes, we’ve made MMOs before, and the planning we did at or near inception isn’t just the Vision from a gameplay standpoint, but also an attempt to create a game that would keep adapting to technology long after launch.  So, along the way, we continued the path of not just making an MMO but a living and open world (and those aren’t buzzwords).  Having an online game with lots of people online used to be amazing, cool, unprecedented, etc.  But returning to 2019 there is a lot to consider. 20+ years of MMOs must be looked at.  For example, we can make incredibly large worlds with not just horizontal size but verticality as well – we’ve teased early tests in streams.  Importantly, we just updated to one of the latest versions of Unity and it took days not weeks or months.  We can innovate while still be current.

    Beginning your Journey

    In any case, when you’ve begun your adventure, when you’ve left safety, you’ll find that personal survival is left to the individual – the game doesn’t hold your hand.  Success will depend a lot on who you are, your race, your class, and most importantly the tactics you employ.  Most races you’ll encounter will remember the war.  The details may be hazy, and people might quarrel over details, but depths of lore can be uncovered as well as a world filled with quests and challenges to conquer.  Not long after your adventure begins and you’ve found friends to join you, you’ll find either confrontation or unity with a Planar Fantasy world where geography, architecture and inhabitants fill you with both surprise and intrigue.  It doesn’t take long before you’re somewhere, likely bizarre in appearance.  In any case, don ‘t worry -- No UFOs, starships, or anything like that, not much beyond medieval technology.  Expect rather lore unfolding worlds with depth enough to satisfy players who love real storytelling. 

    Planar Fantasy, at least for us, still means there are certain lines we do not cross.  Obviously familiar settings, religious and other sacred symbols and sigils are verboten.  Nothing from the real world and nothing specifically from similar games are allowed. As stated, medieval level tech in almost all scenarios.  No symbology from any other game, novel, movie world, etc.  Terminus is yours to tackle, however you do so, likely dying quite a bit (which you’ll soon realize is one of the best ways to learn). It’s about adventure and exploration, bartering gear in a city, forming a group and besting powerful boss mobs, or holding a position deep in the depth of a dungeon until your party has the item they seek.

    Pantheon is and isn’t like other Games

    This isn’t a traditional MMO by any stretch of the means.  There’s the intensity of Survival games minus the permadeath and session-based limitations -- Pantheon’s persistent eco-system means you can really build your character up over months, even years.  That said, most of the world can be approached approximately two hours at a time – we recognize that players don’t have the time anymore to play deep into the night.  Death stings – currently you leave a naked corpse and lose a lot of experience. But your worn items are still with you.  If you died in a party it should be fairly easy for them to bring you back to recover your items and some of the lost experience.  Experience will be partially restored but not all of it – you’ll still want to avoid dying if possible.  What then if your entire party wipes out?  That’s when it can get really sketchy – Pantheon definitely assumes you won’t be doing this often and total wipes relatively rare.  It’s really up to you and your group and how seriously you take the danger around you.  Playing smart will reward you, playing carelessly will not. There will also be multiple safeguards against a full wipe – play smart!

    Is all of this set in stone?  No, and it won’t be until beta.  The penalty could be worse or it could lessen.   What the community wants is going to influence us a lot, as long as it doesn’t violate the Vision. The Vision is the core game and what it entails – please go to pantheonmmo.com to see a lot of which is not covered here.  Any other details may change and likely will change – again, many MMO systems may sound great on paper, or even fun with a small group of testers.  You may think you know the MMO you’re creating, but until you really expose the game to a critical mass of players you won’t know it well enough. Your theories either really work or fail.  Truth is revealed.  It becomes time to tweak and balance, to test code that is much closer to release than ever before.  Both internal and external testers will be paramount. A long enough alpha and beta means more than almost anything when it comes to successful MMO development.

    My hope is that what I described, especially to someone new to Pantheon, is helpful – at least a good starting point.   

    A little more about Visionary Realms

    We’re an indie studio that’s built itself up slowly but surely, lean and mean.  We take everything about running an MMO development venture very seriously.  We have a CEO and CFO with years of business acumen.  I was a lead designer and Producer of EverQuest, later VP of Premium Games for Sony Online Entertainment as well as CCO.  Our team consists of industry veterans as well as people new to the industry but overflowing with passion and creativity – and the ability to think outside the box.  We’re funded by private investors and, equally important, crowdfunding.  Our PR outreach plan will continue to expand as the game progresses.  Right now it involves streams with major influencers, active community presence, and word of mouth – never underestimate world of mouth. It’s so simple yet one of the most powerful ways to spread the news when you don’t have a major publisher behind you.

    We understand if you’re a fan or a skeptic – you’re welcome to our community regardless.  We know a lot of indie games don’t ship and that’s created a lot of people who feel burned.  Why should you believe in VR? First, we now have more than a 20-person team, even though we started with nothing.  We built the company up, and while doing so we’ve already created a playable MMO, one that might see some success were it released but it’s only the foundation of what we all want to ship.  It’s playable, we’ve already had four pre-alpha tests with hundreds running around the game.  The world is decently large enough for perhaps a couple, three weeks of average/normal play.

    What’s the plan for 2019?

    We took part of 2019 to build critical systems and mechanics, most that make Pantheon unique

    The game is already a lot of fun.  We are in pre-alpha.  We are working on the next major task after establishing a foundation:  focusing on the game’s identity.  Streams are resuming very soon, and in a new and different format.  But what’s important to the skeptic can be addressed by heading to our YouTube page to watch some videos with full gameplay.  If you have the time, watch the older ones, then slowly move you way up.  You’ll see the game evolve in every way, visually, mechanically, and even gameplay.  We do rely heavily on pledges and if you haven’t at least checked out the Pledge page, please do so.  Likewise there’s a way to get to a page if you are a larger investor and want to move Pantheon along more quickly and to help build this massive, epic world.  

     Wrapping it Up

    To wrap things up, I do feel it’s important to note here how much we appreciate our pledgers, our community, our extended family, extended by the love of these worlds – yes, I didn’t say game, and I shouldn’t say game because it’s already much more than that and on the road to where it speaks for itself.  All that said, we don’t just appreciate our community because they’re awesome and because some help us test basic stuff, providing us the numbers of players we need, letting us know what they enjoy and, frankly, what they think sucks.  It’s hard, pre-alpha is hard.  Alpha is still a way out, but it’s like the North Star in my brain, always there, always bright.  To make it happen, to implement core systems unique to Pantheon, or even similar systems found elsewhere that we think are great, is going to take a lot of work.  We’ve made some hard calls, and we run the company lean and mean.  We’re lucky to have an amazing CEO and a very approachable CFO.  What they do and what they have accomplished is mind blowing.  But my point is that Visionary Realms is the real thing.  We already have a board.  We already have advisors.  We already have and maintain closely the road map to shipping, with alpha and beta along the way, and that which needs to be done, how long it will take, and where in the vast world of priorities does everything sit.  Honestly, that’s one of the tricks of making MMORPGs – you have to know when something is good enough so you can move on and not slip or stall.  All too often smaller companies get paralyzed by perfection.  Or there’s more drama than development.  We are a team that works together, even though many are remote.

    New stuff IS coming.  Of course, I won’t give a date – I am no longer allowing myself to ever give a date as to when something related to this game is supposed to be done.  That’s externally of course, player facing.  Inside VR, well, people know what they have to do and why it’s important to move forward the best we can without violating the Vision.  And making sure our visuals get closer and closer to any other AAA game.  We can do all that.  And we can still run on slow machines.  We have ingenious network code.  You could be in a typical location with good framerate but then round a corner and encounter a guild meeting.  Perhaps an in-game wedding! If you’ve selected to maintain your framerate, the more complex objects will simplify as necessary, including other characters.  Or choose to always show the game at maximum fidelity and your framerate may indeed go down.  The choice is yours.  But the point is that Pantheon scales and doesn’t require an expensive gaming rig.  We want YOU to be able to play the way you want to.

    Epilogue

    Writing this was a challenge.  There’s so much to say, so I had to choose what and what not as well as almost completely re-write it – version 1.0 was a mess.  Still, the document jumps around a bit in term of topic – it doesn’t flow that well.  But I do think a member of our community, especially a newer one, will find quite a few of their questions answered. Questions don’t always flow together either – what’s important to you as a gamer is what I tried to cover. That said, I know I missed some questions because I couldn’t answer them all.  

    If you want to dig deeper you are in great shape:  go to pantheonmmo.com and read up on the game, covering what I didn’t have time to do.  I may do a 2nd or 3rd of these if they are popular.  Regardless, go to our page, read the game summary and differentiators.  For more info, go to the FAQ.  Beyond that hit our message board and ask questions.  If you want to dive deep in certain areas, check out the dev dairies.  Reach out to us on our FB page.  I also run a Pantheon page on my homepage and my newer page, Brad McQuaid – Pantheon.  We do read the messages, but as with anything communication could be more frequent, happening more often.  A huge goal we’re working on is getting the game to the point where experiencing it should tell you more than I can, and more convincingly.  A short video should grab your attention.  A long stream or youtube video should give you clear insight into how the game is played and if it’s something you think you might enjoy.  Importantly, if you find yourself unsure, that’s when we ask you to reach out.  Perhaps FB or twitter. Tell us what in your mind is still missing.  As the question we didn’t answer.  We’ll do our best to notice you and answer to the best of our ability.  Hopefully by now you are at least curious about the game and want to learn more.  If you are then this document served its purpose. 

    -Brad McQuaid

      CCO, Visionary Realms

      Executive Producer, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen

    Pantheon streams and other videos:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4MbaiykerIrjKWRA6407tQ

    Pantheon FAQ

    https://www.pantheonmmo.com/game/faqs/

    Facebook

    https://www.facebook.com/pantheonmmo/

    Crowdfunding

    https://www.pantheonmmo.com/join/

    Investors (Peferably accredited, though other options might, at times, exist -- reach out!)

    http://visionaryrealms.com/company/investors/

14 comments