Hello once again, dear Pantheon fans.
Today we want to share some news with you, and it felt like a great opportunity to clarify a few things as well. That’s right, today’s topic is all about Pre-Alpha 5 and the path forward. Before we get into that, though, it seems appropriate to take a quick look at the road we have traveled so far.
Since the official Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen website was erected in spring of 2014, the project has been nearly completely driven by crowdfunding. Back in those days it was a lot of sweat and tears. The crowdfunding, which was very much appreciated, kept the lights on, but it was a passion project for the team. That is to say, most weren’t taking a paycheck at all. It was a time of pure and raw dedication to launch a classically-spirited, yet modern, MMORPG. Staff and Community united to form the early concepts, toss around ideas, and start putting pen to paper. In fact, nearly the entire staff came directly from the community. This was one of Brad McQuaid’s many strengths – finding talent within the community.
As the early stages formed, the word spread. The community rallied and grew. The excitement grew along with it. Crowdfunding picked up, and some particularly excited people began making investments into the company and the game. Staff began receiving very modest pay, and more people joined the team. Pantheon was, by all definitions, taking off.
Over the next while, the game’s systems and concepts were implemented, much through hardcoding. This provided content for the community to see via streams, screenshots and newsletters. 4 Pre-Alpha phases were held, which gave the community a chance to try out the early game and also provide the dev team data that could be used to flesh out the concepts, content and systems. This time also gave us the chance to spread the word and to reach more Pantheon fans to join our community. Crowdfunding remained solid, and a couple more investments were made into the company.
As a result of the PA testing and our own list of notes and to-dos, it was very clear that to ship Pantheon sooner rather than later we were going to need to get more parties interested, get more investment, and expand the team with more talent and skill sets beyond those of our current roster.
By the end of 2018 we began work on Project Faerthale, which was to incorporate all of Pantheon’s systems into a playable version of the game. It was an ambitious project for our scrappy few, but it was the next logical step. And we went for it. All of 2019 and much of 2020 was used for Project Faerthale.
During that time it became more and more clear that we had to get out of the old client we were using. We needed to move from hardcoded, inflexible implementations to more robust and scalable solutions. Otherwise, we would have needed to come back and redo the work again later – something that our small team could not afford to do.
We realized that should we continue with the then-current implementation practices, we wouldn’t be able to ship the game. We were backing ourselves in a corner with hardcoding. Any changes had to be done by programming. All quests, all encounters, everything was hardcoded into the client. Designers couldn’t do implementation themselves, they needed a programmer to put it into the game for them. Not to mention the size of the code was enormous. Any new programmers coming in would have a hard time making sense of things or even knowing where to begin. Things had to change.
So we stopped hardcoding. We took this time to develop the actual foundation and pipelines that we were going to need to ship the game. Systems got torn out and reconstructed into a much more efficient and flexible format. Zones were harvested and replanted in expandable graybox format. Even the content, such as encounters, storylines and tasks were recreated in freshly-built tools to empower designers. From the earlier versions, we gained insight as to where these systems needed to go, and how they needed to be built. This is what was needed to move forward, to get the game built in a way that could be rapidly built upon with little wasted effort from development and to scale to the size of project that Pantheon is meant to be. The prior versions of the game couldn’t do that. It added to the timeline of Project Faerthale, but it was well worth it. This is the architecture that will take us through to launch and allow designers – current and future, to be able to add content easily, efficiently, and effectively. This will become more and more clear over the next months as you see more rapid development taking effect.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE-ALPHA 5
And this brings us to Pre-Alpha 5, the current stage of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen. PA5 is an incredibly significant stage of development in many ways. We are now working from the solid foundation of a well-architectured game client, and more comprehensive, efficient pipelines due to the work done during Project Faerthale.
Pre-Alpha 5 is the culmination of Project Faerthale. By the end of PA5, the game will encompass the actual feel of Pantheon. It includes most systems (there is still a chance that we may need to hold off on some systems for this stage, depending on timing and resources) and it will include a full progression path from 1-50. Even though we want PA5 to offer a full adventuring gameplay experience for Pantheon, it is still a pre-alpha phase. It is not content-complete and all zones outside of big sections of Faerthale are in a grayboxed state. Previously-seen zones like Thronefast and Avendyr’s Pass have been redone to graybox spec to allow for the proper pipeline and optimization.
Partially-grayboxed render of Hangore in Avendyr’s Pass
Secondly, this experience is needed so it can be shared with potential partners. Publishers and investors need to see what Pantheon is, how it plays, what it’s all about. Several parties are interested in the concept, and now we need to show them that it’s a reality. We are, and always will be eternally grateful for the kindness and generosity of the community and our early investors in getting us this far, but we’re going to need more resources to get Pantheon done sooner than our modest team can realistically do by themselves in a reasonable timeframe. PA5 serves as a testing area for this evaluation build. Testers help in putting the best possible experience in the hands of the people who can accelerate development the most.
Lastly, PA5 lays the foundation for Alpha. Sure, it’s grayboxed and not art-complete, but the PA tester’s feedback at this stage directly affects the experience of the Alpha testers coming in. And there are lots coming, so we want to make sure they have a complete experience to test.
THE PA5 PLAN
The two shakeout sessions are now behind us and helped identify several key issues we needed to address on the account/login/server level and in some of the systems. And now we are ready to begin Pre-Alpha 5.
This is the arc of the Pantheon legacy thus far. The end of PA5 is where it all comes together in a playable game. It is the part where Rocky stops at Father Carmine’s to get a blessing on his way to the fight.
Pre-Alpha 5 is a collaboration between the dev team and the community. The dev team has the advantage of rapid iteration to help get us to Alpha quicker, and the testing community can help get us to Alpha by testing productively.
PA5 is a multi-session phase. Each session will have new features and/or content to test. Due to the updated client and pipelines, development during this phase will be much more rapid than in the past, so there will be substantial differences between builds. For example, Shakeout had 2 available playable classes. The next session will have 4 and include several new systems (more on this later for our pre-alpha testers). Zones will be added over these sessions as well. By the end of PA5 you can expect to see a 1-50 Pantheon experience with all classes available and most systems for launch in place.
“PA5 Proper” was a term that caused more confusion than it was meant to, so we are no longer going to use it. It was a reference to the bulk of PA5 sessions. Please don’t expect all of PA5 to be available on the first session – it’s just not possible.
Early sessions will be shorter – usually 2-3 hours, give or take depending what needs testing. Expect these types of sessions to occur roughly every several weeks, for the most part, to start. There may not always be a need for external testing, so the schedule is evaluated internally on a weekly basis. As testing continues, the game becomes more stable and more fun, leading to more sessions and more flexibility. A large number of the testing sessions will be focused on specific areas of the game, but as we progress, the realms will open up to more open and organic gameplay for some sessions, so that testers can just play Pantheon organically every once in a while.
The current focus is features, functionality and core loop play. Art finish comes later, so, testers: expect grayboxing. It’s an essential part to get us where we need to go. Expect bugs. Please help us by logging in at the session times and tracking them down. And expect progress. You will see measurable differences and significant progress as we move through PA5 sessions.
So when is the next Pre-Alpha session? Next week! Wednesday October 21 and Thursday October 22 at 9am-12pm, 2-5pm and 7-10pm PDT. Pre-alpha testers will receive an email this week confirming the testing slot and realm they are assigned to. You will then be able to change your preferred slot and realm, if needed, by opening a support ticket. We understand that for some, a week’s notice may be difficult to plan around. Our apologies for any inconvenience. There are many more sessions on the horizon and we will do our best to keep the schedule updated as early as possible, but please keep in mind that with more rapid development, some sessions may pop up and need to be done sooner rather than later.
Now, onto Alpha. We do not have these dates yet as there are a lot of systems and content to test in PA5 and PA5 will last “as long as it takes.” We certainly are not going to spend years in PA5, but we will spend the time we need to get the game in a state where it is a playable, enjoyable game that covers a full progression path from 1-50. We are actively taking steps to improve our communication with you, so please know that when we are nearing the completion of PA5 we will make it abundantly clear. In the meantime, even if you are not a pre-alpha tester, we will be sharing the progress with you routinely.
We say it a lot, but we can’t say it enough: Thank you all once again for your support. We are a small team without the kind of funding that some other studios are able to start with. Only through your continued support have we been able to get to this point. This is as much your game as it is ours. We are all in this together, and thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
We know that there has been a great deal of confusion around Project Faerthale and Pre-Alpha 5. We did a poor job at communicating the nuances, and the amount of work that was needed to get us into the workable state we are in now which left you in a long period of wondering what was going on. We can’t undo that, but we want to do better going forward. So our deepest and sincerest thank-you to those of you who stuck through it. And to those of you whose belief in us has wavered, we hope through our actions we can earn your confidence again. We’re crazy excited about where we are now – amazing things are ahead, and we want to share this experience together. After all, taking the journey with friends, isn’t that what Pantheon is all about?
Project Producer, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen