The Elves of Terminus


Posted date / 02.14.18

Part of the allure of creating a high fantasy game is that there is a seemingly endless supply of material from which to draw inspiration and so much room to add your own unique twist to the genre. Here at Visionary Realms, we have been fortunate enough to be blessed with a team of extraordinary vision and imagination as we have crafted a world that is both highly unique and yet, at the same time, familiar enough to feel comfortable from the moment you first set foot in it.

Perhaps the race that most accurately mirrors that duality in Pantheon is the Elves, a perfect blend of tried and true concepts with a new twist that keeps them feeling fresh and exciting.

Join us now as we gather up several members of our creative team, lock them in a room together and force them to reveal their secrets as we bring you a sneak-peak at the Elves of Terminus;

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

Forrest Imel - Concept Artist: I mean the common tropes would be what? Wood Elves, High Elves, maybe some sort of Arcane/Magical/Night Elf. In a way our elves are kind of a splash of all of that. All the way down to the attitude of Ashen Elves being similar to High Elves in most fantasy depictions and the Ember Elves being the more light hearted Wood Elf of the bunch (Not to mention they live in a tree). Luckily, we're all nerds here, we've seen Elves before and can maintain a familiarity as well as bring a touch of unique qualities to these guys that maybe haven't been seen before.

Jared Pullen - Senior Concept Artist: There are nine races in this world of Terminus, each of them unique and equally challenging to pin down visually, and there is perhaps no more crowded a space in fantasy, both modern and old, than that inhabited by the Elf. We could have said "OK, break out the 'Elf-Kit' and play this completely straight up" (and of all the races we've explored, the Elves are perhaps in tune with that statement to some degree) - but we didn't. There's still a Pantheon twist, and a lot of what makes them unique comes from what lies under the (Ranger's) hood so to speak. We see a duality at play within the ranks of the Elves, between those inward thinking members weighed down by many sorrows - the Ashen, and their bolder, more proactive counterparts - the Ember. While the former reside in tranquil solitude within Faerthale, reflecting on immediate surrounds, the Ember smoulder away in remembrance; burnt by tragedies suffered long ago that forced their remnant race to flee. Not cowed by sorrow, rather they are powered by the memory of it; burning with desire for a return to glory. The Ember aggressively seek out and destroy any threat to Elven life - and they have a fire in them that underpins the emergence of a social divide in Faerthale between the two classes. Indeed it is this notion of 'fire' as a key design hook that separates Pantheon Elves from other tropes in the field, and you'll see the inclusion of more statement reds and saturated autumnal tones with them, as opposed to the standard faire of leafy greens and muted forest greys. We still have those in the mix, no question, because it's important to have familiar touchstones that our audience can wrap themselves up in and feel comfortable with, but the inclusion of this fiery aspect is a key point of difference. You'll see this in Faerthale's towering red leafed vegetation, in it's pearlescent stone architecture with striations of contrasting red lichen, and in the garb of the Elven peoples themselves. I'm so thankful for our Lead Writer Justin - he took on possibly the most daunting challenge in modern fantasy lore writing and made Pantheon Elves breathe on their own, and Forrest followed through to render them so spectacularly, bringing his own trademark brand of brilliance.

Justin Gerhart - Lead Writer: Oh, Jared. You know how to make me blush.

I hesitate to call it the "most daunting challenge" in modern fantasy, but I'll admit I was intimidated when first considering who our Elves truly were. I'll leave inspiration in the apportioned slot of the interview (and not commit the error of answering a question before it's asked), but it's no secret that a lot of creative ground has been covered under the heralded banner of "the Elves". I mean my favorite fantasy book is mostly all about them.

Because of that I felt a strong desire to authentically know the Elves of Terminus. While I'm not knowledgeable enough to address "how these are different from those" across the board, I can tell you a few things about those who carry that namesake in our world.

The Elves of Faerthale are in conflict with themselves. They are unsure of how best to understand the horrors of their past and divided over how to step into their future. Punctuating this divide are two significant branches of the race: Ashen and Ember. These two are not subraces, they are not openly hostile toward each other. No, Ashen and Ember are more like siblings born of the same mother, but only two children among a total of five or six.

Yet the tension carried between these two siblings twists and turns throughout the entire family. The Ashen/Ember fracture originates in an old but common cultural conundrum: how do we survive in this hostile world? For Ashen that answer can only be found in an earnestly devout and studiously insulated culture. A culture that carries the sorrow of their past on their very face, cradles it in their heart and meditates on it in their mind.

For Ember, that approach sounds like a well bodied creature stepping into a coffin and calling it a suit of armor. This is not because Ember are careless or flighty. In fact they draw on an even more ancient heritage of Elfdom, an era when the race stood alone as masters of an entire hemisphere.

So the conflict of the Elves is not one of Past vs Future, but rather of Hope vs Hope. Nevertheless the consequences of this divide are very real, and fate will not let this peaceful discord abide forever.

Chris Perkins - Creative Director, Audio Director and Lead Game Designe: Responding last means there's so much I don't have to say!

I'll keep it simple - having played so many MMOs personally, the major things that differentiate our elves for me are:

- The uniqueness of the Ember and Ashen backstory and setting. We are used to Elves being either High or Wood or Dark, having totally different cultures, living in totally different establishments and having little to do with one another. I like that our Elves dwell together, come from the same stock, but yet have visual and cultural distinctives. And then being able to choose to play as either an Ember or Ashen elf adds a nice layer of depth to player choice and immersion.

- I like that our Elves don't live in a forest! Near one, yes. But not in one. Being able to explore a more mountainous Elven race has been a fresh pursuit for us.

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

Forrest:  Our lead writer Justin did an amazing job at describing the world to us and the Elves' history and current culture. Hearing about what the elves had gone through and how their day to day lives were really got the inspiration juices flowing. Ideas of them being so attached to their history and the pride of their own race made us want to show that through their posture, clothing, architecture, etc.

Jared:  Hands down Justin's lore - from start to finish :) With that as the anchoring reality for every brush stroke, iconography began to emerge that told the story of the Elven people, their Anadem Council and their way of life. Pantheon Elves don't live in trees - however they are a mountain people living beneath the grandeur of one. Sculpted stone, typically associated with fantasy Dwarves, became the medium in which to deliver Elven dwellings and structures, like the fabled S'iolaen Gate and the ancient Towers of Faerthale, while the iconography of the Lucent Tree (their greatest love) was to be ever present - like a shrine wrought of precious ores, layered in flourishes and embellishments into stone itself. We worked under the catch cry of Elves being 'representative nature' too. Unlike the Halflings who literally 'are nature', Pantheon Elves express their love of nature through representation of it using advanced crafting materials. They won't use leaves adhered with tree sap to fashion a wall, but their mastery of stone masonry is such that they'll carve subtle flourishes resembling leaves from the great Lucent tree in silvered ores, flourishes only properly revealed under the right lighting conditions... Elves celebrate nature figuratively, not literally. There is a great deal of subtly and visual narrative present in every piece of Elven architecture, and the possibility of pulling off structures with that level of detail and craft deeply inspired me throughout!

Justin: Good thoughts, gents.

A lot of inspiration for the Elves came from a need to authenticate their own history. I didn't have a really specific template in mind or strong cultural footprint I wanted us to imitate. There are notes of nordic peoples and Native Americans. Actually there was one modern trait I wanted to shift our Elves away from: the sunlit, gossamer aesthetic.

In order for the weight of their tortured past to feel legitimate, Elves of Terminus had to come across as hardy and tested. Weathered and yet undiminished. I remember saying to CP, "I don't want to hear a choir and see a shaft of light on the back of their head every time an Elf shows up." (Mostly because that's kinda hard to program.) For the Elves to feel convincingly burdened they couldn't have the appearance of angels.

What Jared pointed out is critical as well: there's a very deep trait of mastery in the blood of the Elves when it comes to architecture, art and preservation of culture. They are brilliant at imbuing their history into everything they touch. Elves are "hands on historians", whether Ember or Ashen, and believe that teaching another Elf how to properly treat the blade of a knife is a preservation of their people. Therefore, cultures that organically pass their cultural heritage from one generation to the next provided a model for how the Elves might do the same.

Chris: It really does come down to the power of Justin's imagination - he did an excellent job taking something so thoroughly familiar and trope-ridden, and creating something beautifully unique that we could all get behind. Kudos to him.

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

Forrest: They constantly run in tandem to one another, we can't do much really without first checking and asking Justin "Would that make sense for an elf?" It's a tight process, and from an outside perspective, it might sound like we're limited as artists, but really those limitations have produced some challenging, but amazing ideas not just for this race, but all the other races as well.

Jared: The two are one really; parts of the same great tree. (Zen levels rising… sound of one hand clapping...) In many ways the lore is like the seed in the soil, waiting patiently for its' moment, right Justin? ;) It lacks for nothing; the information to grow is inherent within, but with light and water it burgeons into a mighty oak. Forrest and I work together with Justin, drawing from that well sown seed to help the plant break soil and emerge. It's such a Team effort. When I'm helping to bring a concept to life, words for me are like treasure, and every nugget of it sparks a visual idea. The lore precedes the art, the core DNA of the thing in question is established but from there new visual possibilities often emerge, and directions previously unknown become apparent.

It's also like assembling a puzzle; there are certain hooks that emerge from the lore that grab you as an artist, and it's your duty (and pleasure) to embrace those in return and do your best to showcase them in compelling ways that make sense within the context of a given race. For example, the Lucent Tree is so central to Elven living in Pantheon that it is adored above all else… it represents the third incarnation of 'home' for the Elven people, all such places having been ravaged by pestilence or desecrated by fire previously. That hook became the driving force behind the Elven racial emblem, in which three seeds are depicted, aligned one on top of the other, each diminishing in scope and scale with each incarnation as they rise beneath the motif of the Lucent Tree, cradled in the stylised arms of the Roan Mountains. It was Justin's lore that revealed the path for me to take, and the pieces were fitted with his lore in mind.

Justin: I usually just sketch some stuff on a napkin and post it in our chat and ask the guys to "make it like this but good." Then I'll find some of my old journals and try to make sense of the tear-stained poetry by yelling it up to my children from the bottom of the stairs. If that doesn't work,  I'll watch some cartoons until I'm out of ice cream, then call a meeting so we can sort everything out. But to match the sobriety of the Elves that madness just wouldn't do, so I started with the meeting and things turned out pretty okay (though we still ran out of ice cream).

One of the most heartfelt compliments I can pay these two artists is to highlight their dedication to represent even the subtle minutia of each race. They truly want to know, as Forrest said,  "Would that make sense?", and are perfectly willing for me to say, "No, it doesn't." The Elven emblem and motif was one point we went back and forth over, because it needed to carry all the weight that Jared described without being a gaudy picture book. Because of their considerate approach they've created a roster of fresh identities and set Terminus on its best visual footing ever.

What emerged specifically for the Elves that I am really excited about is their representative architecture, especially in civic spaces. The "hands on historian" concept goes from a sapling to a redwood when you witness how they tell their story through reliefs, statues and mosaics. The Elves want to walk among their past while in the present, and there should be some wonderful experiences for the player within the heights of Faerthale.

So the relationship between art and lore for the Elves is inseparable. Art pronounces lore more efficiently than words and delivers ideas to your imagination instantly. It is a language without need of translation. Just as the initial story concepts were the seed of art, art has influenced the story concepts as they continue to grow and bloom.

Chris:  It's imperative that Lore drives the Art process. It's how we approach everything we do, because we want the content and visuals of our world to be believable and identifiable.

I find my main role is often one of helping these three to be disciplined in their imaginings. We're not writing a novel, or painting on canvas, or making a film. We're creating an immersive, massive online game world. There are limits to what we can and should do in details, depth and breadth. So maintaining a good balance between Lore and actionable Art is key to making sure every nook and cranny of Terminus gets the same treatment.

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

Forrest: Probably working on the culture. Seeing Jared bring their sigil to life and relaying that into their clothing and armor makes me so excited. I think that is the secret sauce to all of this really, maintaining a strong identity for each race so they can all stand on their own two feet (visually speaking).

Jared: Simply put; working with the guys! It truly is like five good buddies shooting the breeze in a back room. We know there's a party outside, but we're all together having our own ;) We come to this place of work well prepped, lore in place, sketching and reference gathering as we listen to Justin lay it down, as we hear Chris speak of keynote design markers and Dan weigh in on technical constraints. I'll come at it from a cultural viewpoint, looking for rules and hooks that stand out in the lore, and Forrest has a keen eye for what is already in existence in the MMO genre and always brings originality and freshness to the party... it's a holistic process. At turns there are jokes about making 'Ferret people', plenty of puns revolving around said 'Ferret People' and lots of crazy that comes out of that. There's plenty of fun banter to be sure, but also strong results that come out of a happy environment, given that we begin each session with a goal. The Elves were all about having that familiar touchstone while bringing something fresh to the table. It has been a pleasure to play a part in fulfilling that goal with these talented guys.

Justin: Yes, the work itself is just a lot of fun. I mean really it's the sort of thing I've dreamt about being apart of, but I don't think I believed would come about. Such a humbling position to hold.

I'd say the whole experience of watching the pieces come off the line, bit by bit, was the best part. Even though we weren't remaking the wheel I had some doubts that we would be able to create an authentic identity for the Elves. That's not a commentary on the artists -- it's a commentary on my ability to discover, develop and express a creative vision that the artists could manifest. That's a challenge of this role that I wouldn't have known about until I acted in it: you've got to know what's important to be able to share what's important with others.

Chris: As I said last time, I love being able to watch these three work. Listening to the conversation when we do our visual design meetings is a joy, and watching the sketches that come through along the way - starting to visualize these things for the very first time is an amazing moment.

Also, I enjoy folding the Class considerations into the visual design. When we decided the male Elf would be a Wizard and began to portray him as such visually, that's when the race felt fully at home in Terminus for the first time.

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

Forrest: Psst… Justin… You're up!

Jared: Perhaps something of this can be gleaned from the way Ashen and Ember Elves view themselves? From an art perspective there were definitely palette-set rules emerging that saw Ashen Elves garbed in muted greens and greys - the most solemn of their number to be dressed in ash white in remembrance of their ancient grief. By contrast the Ember are a vibrant lot, driven to pre-emptive strategies that ensure security for their people as a whole. As such they are kitted out in stand out reds. However, as far as their outward facing view of Terminus goes, one must defer to the timeless wisdom of The Loremaster...

Justin: I dipped a toe in the pond of this question on the "How are they different" response, but I'm happy to go up to the ankle. The Elves are not two branches, but three. The third and most numerous is the Lucent Elf, and they run a pretty wide range in the space between the Ashen and Ember. I'll look briefly at how each one competes with this question.

Ashen are generally cold and dispassionate toward outsiders. This isn't because they think everyone beyond Faerthale is the Revenant or Tohr'mentirii (read the lore), though there is a distrust toward non-Elves that can lead to suspicion. Instead the Ashen have cultivated an intense preoccupation with their own world. They have no great trouble acknowledging the good of others, but they are reluctant to see the merit in embracing them. If the Elven way is the best way then any way that's not Elven is, by default, not as good.

For Lucent Elves, the Ashen heritage of suspicion toward outsiders is distilled down into something more like reservation and caution. They don't all have the same thoughts toward outsiders, but generally speaking they have no abiding fear of other races or overwhelming concern about their presence within Elven territory. But they still prefer the woods of their home to the wilds of elsewhere, and if they travel beyond Faerthale it is most often out of need instead of adventure.

The Ember cut a path far beyond their siblings due to a zeal that lives just below the skin. It isn't a passion of affection, but a fervent desire to visit death upon would be harmers of their people while they are still far away from Faerthale. I think this is where a misconception can occur in who the Ember are, because they are not simply the more relaxed and fiery cousin in the family. They don't necessarily trust outsiders any more than Ashen, but they do see the merit of exploring and engaging the vastness of the outside world. The Ember have an aggressive concern for their people that manifests in a hunter's heart, rather than a priest's piety.

Chris: Refer to my earlier statement about going last...

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

Forrest: Absolutely, you can't design a race without thinking about what they'd be best at in the world. Seeing their class availability already starts to paint a picture at what these people value and are skilled with.

Jared: All I can say is that I'm excited about playing an Elven Ranger. Most likely an Ember owing to a Ranger's wide roaming tendencies. A humble bow, hewn and hand crafted as a loving tribute to the Lucent Tree, a clever albino ferret in a belt pouch and a stealthy forest lynx with fur like woodland grasses at my side… so good. I'd be a very happy guy!

Justin: Yes, along the lines of what Forrest said. Creative limitations allow us to tailor the look and feel of a particular race, whether that's geographical location, class structure, native abilities or so on.

It all works together. Lore guides everything from class options to art, so there is a natural tributary of identity flowing out in multiple directions

It also let us get Jared his ferret.

Chris: In MMOs, it can be argued which lends the most identity - race or class? But ideally, you don't want these two things competing with each other, but complimenting. Our general process for every race is this: we start with the Lore - in this case, the whole backstory context of who the Elves are, why they are here on Terminus and what it is they have set about doing in the world.

Once that racial context is planted and fixed, we look at what classes are available to the Elves based largely on who they are (though this does not exclude exceptions, some unexpected race/class combinations will certainly exist!) We then decide on a unique class for the male and female to represent in the concept art. In this case, the female Ember Elf is a Ranger, while the male Ashen Elf is a Wizard.

Going back to the identity question, once we determine the classes we want to represent in the piece, those class considerations take a large role in governing the pose, the armor/weapons and the general presence of each character.

When you look at one of our Race Concept pieces like this Elven one, we want you to get a good sense of what an Elven Ranger or Wizard will look and feel like in Pantheon

What are you most excited about, design wise, going forward with this race?

Forrest: I can't wait to start digging in to their city and all the people that reside in it, but honestly even more excited to see what Jared draws up for the city itself. We discussed some incredible ideas in our first design meeting and I can't wait until that gets fleshed out some more.

Jared: I'm just excited in general really, because the soil we're tending as artists is so rich -  it makes every day in the role that much more fulfilling. The visual possibilities are energising… so many beautiful structures in Faerthale to realise, and the award for 'Most exciting' could go to any of them when we're gifted the opportunity to do it right. Seeing the S'iolaen Gate built and made game ready by our talented Environment Artist Jerry Kuklis lit an even brighter flame in me for the Elves (if that were possible) and the Towers Of Faerthale are coming along as we speak. Elven dwellings have been designed and rendered up, now build-ready, and I cannot wait to jump back on Elves again for locales like the Anadem Council Chambers, the waterways of Faerthale's biome beneath and the magnificent Lucent Tree itself. There's so much to be excited about!

Justin: Faerthale. I have dreamt more about that city than any of the other nine, and working through the environmental art has only made me more excited. I don't hope it only pleases me, I hope Faerthale is an intimate and iconic home for many, many people for a very long time. I hope the effort to consider details big and small creates a place that everyone can cherish, no matter how little of the story they care to know.

If Faerthale speaks for itself, we've done our job of telling.

Chris: Certainly it is Faerthale. This Elven, mountainous city promises to be so fresh and compelling - I can't wait to see it.

Thanks for sitting down with us today gents, the Elves of Terminus sound, and look, amazing and we can't wait to see more of them! We also know how much the community appreciates the work you've been putting in and we're so glad we got the time to pull back the curtain and get a look at the progress so far.

We also want to thank you, the community, for your continued support of Pantheon, everyone here at Visionary Realms is truly grateful and awed by your passion and enthusiasm. We hope you have enjoyed this preview of the Ashen and Ember Elves and we can't wait to bring you more!

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