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Bazgrim's 08-JUN-18 VoT Dev Q&A Summary - Lore and Design

    • 2886 posts
    June 12, 2018 7:23 PM PDT

    Recently, two developers from Visionary Realms sat down with the hosts of the Voices of Terminus show on Twitch to discuss the rich lore of Pantheon and how it fits into the development process, among other things. The developers in question were:

    Chris “Joppa” Perkins - Creative Director & Lead Game Designer

    Justin “Istuulamae” Gerhart - Lead Writer

    Pantheon has frequently touted itself as a very lore-driven game, in that the lore heavily influences design decisions. Balancing the two can be a difficult process, but with both of these guys being the chief developers in their areas of expertise, they were the best ones to be able to shed some light on it. The VoT hosts took turns asking the devs questions. Keep in mind that the questions and answers may have been paraphrased or omitted for the sake of clarity. In chronological order:

    How does the depth of the lore benefit the development of Pantheon?

    Justin: Part of the challenge for me has been figuring out how detailed the lore should be. I could provide an almost infinite amount of details about things, but that would eventually become cumbersome and unhelpful. Because I actually don’t have much experience with MMOs, I don’t have any preconceived notions about how much lore these games usually have. So once I figure out what the reasonable limits are, I think that allows me to actually go a little bit deeper than most games would.

    What is the lore writing process like?

    Justin: It all depends on what the need is. There could be a number of things that the lore has to serve. Overarching zone design works one way, while intrazone processing works another way. For example, if the design team just needs one more POI, faction, item, etc. in a particular area, they come to me for ideas and I will try to come up with something that makes sense with the lore. In those cases, it’s very spontaneous, but also has to connect with the rest of the world. If someone else has an idea, I may take that and modify it so that it fits into the bigger picture. But if we’re starting a new zone or region from scratch, we start with drawing up a big map and marking major POIs and naming them. Then, like an archaeologist, I’ll slowly dig deeper into the history and characters of that area. I keep asking questions, such as “Why would this be here?”, “Who did this?”, “When did this happen?”, and then determine which details need to be highlighted and which secrets need to be kept. So mainly my creative process is just asking myself questions. But sometimes there are eureka moments too.

    How important is lore in the development of Pantheon?

    Justin: It’s important primarily because Chris, Brad, and the rest of the creative team have made it important. If they didn’t value it and want it to the basis of everything else, then it wouldn’t have a place, regardless of how much the writers and players were passionate about it. It seems like a lot of games don’t take lore very seriously because they think most players don’t care about it. That kind of surprises me because I think it is the best genre to really immerse you in the lore. I think we take lore more seriously than most other games - it really is the foundation of everything. All the zones, NPCs, POIs, names, etc. are all rooted in the lore. But at the same time, hopefully it doesn’t come across that everything is weighed down by pre-planning and reason. It should feel very natural so you can explore it organically, even though everything has been hand-placed intentionally.

    Chris: I want to emphasize that just because there is all this information, planning, and story, that doesn’t mean players are always going to know that. Some of the things that stick with me most about my time in EverQuest were the things that I had no clue about - things that made me wonder who they were and why they were there. Because I couldn’t know, it was really intriguing and added to the mystique of the zone. The way that Justin has done the lore, you know that everything has a story, but not everything tells its own story. That really makes the world feel magical. That’s how the perception system interacts with someone that wants to know more - there needs to be all those layers that can open up over time and surprise the players, and Justin has done a really good job with that.

    Justin: In short, the lore doesn’t tell the designer what to do, but it is a resource that has a lot of applications and is always there for them to leverage. They have the freedom to decide when and where to apply it.

    Can we expect all of the zones to have a wide level range?

    Chris: Yes. There will be some variation in the degree of that spread, but you can expect a pretty wide range. In Halnir Caves, it’s there, but it’s currently harder to see because the zone is actually not finished yet. There are more parts of that zone that are going to be opening up because we don’t have systems in place yet, such as interactable parts of the environment. For example, there may be walls that you can break, or tight spaces that you have to shrink down to fit through, or spells that allow you to become intangible to pass through walls. Once we do finish that zone, you can expect it to have a wider level range, much like Black Rose Keep. The same principles apply for overland dungeons as well.

    Where do you get your inspiration for the lore?

    Justin: For a long time, I didn’t know what inspiration was. It’s hard to define that sometimes. But there’s something satisfying about the creative process itself. I am a creative being, and as long as I’ve known I can do this, I've had an inherent desire to just create worlds. When you have that, the important thing is to just keep doing it and never stop. I don’t know how many times I’ve told my wife over the past decade that I’m done because it’s so hard to get any traction. But then, fortunately, this project dropped in my lap. So if you have that desire, keep pushing because you never know what will happen. Other than that, ever since I was 10 when somebody taught me about Ancient Egypt, I have loved studying world history, I love the mystery of mythology and the way cultures have changed over the years. There is a wealth of information about history that's available now and I draw on that for inspiration because it really intrigues and excites me. Also, on this project, the passion of the team and the fanbase is an inspiration for me because I know that when I write something, it’s going to be taken very seriously. So I want to do my absolute best.

    Will certain quests and NPCs be available only during certain times of day?

    Chris: Yes, one of the things we’re working on right now is the day/night cycle. Black Rose Keep is a zone where we decided to focus on working on the night lighting. There’s a lot that goes into setting up a day scene and a night scene, and then getting them to transition properly. But once we get that working, the plan is definitely for there to be things that you only discover at night and things that are only out during the day. That could be unique NPCs, or even townspeople going inside at night. We need to determine what level of realism is fun though. For example, it wouldn’t be fun if you can’t buy any wood from the woodworker for an hour because he’s off chopping wood. That can be cool in some situations, but we need to find a balance. And even if an NPC is always out, its behavior may change depending on the time of day. For example, you’ll see guards lighting torches when the sun goes down. That sort of thing is huge for immersion.

    How will players experience the lore?

    Justin: It’s important that players be able to encounter and learn about the lore through the perception system. There are certain parts of the system that allow you to engage with hidden histories and stories, and learn from NPCs that aren’t necessarily a part of a quest line. That allows you to get more information about an area or a place, almost as if you are having a conversation with someone in the world. This way, you can learn without feeling like you have to memorize every detail in order to know what to do next. At the same time, there will be other ways that allow you to get smaller doses of information, such as through books or letters in the world. Plus, if we’re doing our job well as environmental storytellers, just looking at the world itself should teach you a little bit about what’s going on in that area. If you want, you could just hack and slash your way through the world and never look at anything and still have a great time. But all of those things together will give people a lot of points of interaction where they can be involved with the lore in a way that’s more engaging than reading a novel.

    Will characters be able to learn more about themselves by experiencing the lore through the game?

    Justin: I want to strike the right balance between class identity and race identity while being able to feel a part of it. Chris has put as much logic into the class identities as we have on the racial identities, but the racial identities would probably still need more help. That’s because the class identity is so strong, and you experience your class identity just by playing the game. But when it comes to racial identity, there are less opportunities for the player to get feedback, so we need to be really intentional about showing that. For example, learning about the Ashen and Ember elves is going to be a big part of the storylines in Faerthale. But at the same time, we don’t want to overburden a storyline in the Tower of the Reckless Magician with getting a Dark Myr in touch with itself. Therefore, opportunities to experience your racial identity will probably be pretty regional. As you branch out, they will be more limited and very carefully placed.

    Will AoE’s be telegraphed in Pantheon?

    Chris: I am generally not a fan of telegraphing. But I am a fan of being able to know what’s happening around you. There is a difference. When there is an AoE ability that is damaging you, it’s nice to be able to see where the boundaries of that are. It doesn’t have to be a solid glowing line. It can be a little blurry. But that’s still not the same thing as when before an ability goes off, you see this big blinking circle telling you where it’s going to land - that I don’t like. What I would like is that there would be certain enemies that have a devastating ability they can use - even ones that could potentially one-shot someone. Whether it’s a magic or melee ability, it will have a clear animated tell that you can learn over time. I think there’s room to have some sort of telegraphing, as long as it’s organically connecting to what you’re seeing the mob do on the screen. For example, we’ve talked about a Summoner NPC that might be on the backlines sending things in, but then you notice them doing a long incantation with a portal that’s slowly getting bigger. You would be able to discern that this mob is about to unleash a devastating ability. So you’d have to decide whether to run, prepare, or try to interrupt it. I think those moments will be really tense and exciting, and it allows for telegraphing that makes sense.

    What is “Aevozul?”

    Justin: Aevozul is a name for the planet, but it is also more than that. I can’t go into detail, but suffice to say that at that founding of the Dragon Accord, the planet “became known as Terminus.”

    Where do you get inspiration for the music?

    Chris: The first time that music really moved me was in EverQuest. The way that music was married to my experience really affected me. That feeling has stuck with me through World of Warcraft and other games with wonderful music. But after that, I began to write music as a singer/songwriter and that became my main expression. Among other things, that taught me that the melody is the most important part because that’s what gets stuck in your head. So now when I’m composing music, I start with a melody and build the rest of the song around it. I can’t really read music, so I rarely have a good picture of where it’s going from the start. I just go by feel and it comes together as I go. Although, if I did have to name one, I do listen to a lot of music by Hans Zimmer while I’m composing instrumental pieces.

    What does the arrival of a new race on Terminus look like?

    Justin: Without giving away any secrets, the best example is the Skar. They have the Dead Shear, which is a monolithic chunk of a mountain that was planted into what is now Skargol. So there is definitely a physical transfer that takes place. I’m not going to get into the means of how and why that happens, but it’s not like crashing landing a spaceship.

    Can you explain the process by which you determined the race/class matrix?

    Chris: When it comes to the way lore has intersected design, I think the race/class restrictions have been one of the most difficult decisions. I let the writers take a stab at it first without my input and then we worked together through areas where we disagreed, and it took several iterations. For example, at first, the idea of a Dark Myr Bard was hard for me to wrap my head around. But the lore justification was there, and even my view of what a Bard should be has changed over time. It’s important to remember too that the race/class restrictions are technically not set in stone. There are a few where we still need to make sure we made the right decision. And also, with the way our game is set up, we have the option to open up new possibilities in the future.

    Justin: This is one of those areas that, because I don’t have any expectations, I have a more open mind and feel free to mess with conventions a little more. I can see some opportunities for narratives that would be very fun to explore. The community has a lot of great ideas as well, and Chris is very gracious with different ideas, even if he disagrees. So through testing, we’ll be able to see if there are any gaps left.

    How many dragons are left in Terminus?

    Justin: I couldn’t put a number on exactly how many are left, but I would say there's still a good number of them left. It’s understandable that the community has a perception that Terminus is really young, or that it’s been so affected by these new additions that the older history is completely dormant. But there is a lot of history before the Deicide War and Ages of Collisions. A lot has taken place and the dragons are a big part of that. The dragons are now not in their normal places of authority, but they’re definitely out there and they’re significant players in our world.

    Is there a dragon pantheon?

    Justin: There is a dragon pantheon of sorts, but I won't say much about it right now.

    Are dragons affected by the Celestial Barrier?

    Justin: Yes, one of the ways you see that is that they have a lot of power. There are other ways they are affected, but it has enhanced their stature in the world, even though they no longer dominate the landscape. Unless they kill a Reignborn, they have a lot more free reign.

    What are the different ways that players will be able to trade with each other?

    Chris: We really try to emphasize social interaction in every aspect of the game. So we are working through some different ideas for systems that allow for players can trade in such a way that truly makes it possible for tradesman to be a real identity in the game. There’s a lot that goes into that, which I can’t go into detail about now, but overall, we want to take some of the charm of person-to-person interactions, and allow that to occur more frequently or easily with ways that help you promote yourself as a tradesperson.

    Were Khazas and Rhazik always rivals?

    Justin: Yes.

    Did Rhazik cause any trouble in or from the Tenebrous Tundra during his imprisonment?

    Justin: Not directly.

    If the current year of the game is 987 IH, aren’t we approaching Rhazik’s release?

    Justin: It’s possible.

    Has Rhazik influenced or been influenced by the zealots of Rha?

    Justin: He has not been influenced by them, but he has indirectly influenced them. In short, the act of imprisoning Rhazik has had an affect on the world.

    Is it possible to swim from one continent to another?

    Chris: With the way our zones are set up, you should be able to do that. But I think that you should fear it. You may get swallowed up by something. In Pantheon, there will be myths and legends about creatures or things in the water that you'll think you see, but you’re not quite sure. So I’m not sure you would want to swim from one continent to another, even though you theoretically could. When it comes to being deep underwater, the Pressure and Anaerobic climates come into play. Dark Myr may have a racial passive that gives them an advantage with that, but regardless, you’ll always want to be on the lookout when you’re in water.

    After the strengthening of the Celestial Barrier, is descension still possible?

    Justin: Yes, it is possible. But there is a lot that goes into it. If you look at the lore that we’ve published, there should be some trends that you can observe that show that it is not an easy thing to do.

    What are you currently working on in Pantheon?

    Chris: Right now, I’m wrapping up the class reveal for the next newsletter. I don’t think there has been any point in development where I’ve been so busy because the class design requires so much thought to take 20 years of MMO design into consideration, and then come up with class identities that are fun, engaging, and unique, while still somewhat familiar.

    Other than that, we’re currently working on the elven home city of Faerthale. Faerthale is what we’re calling our “reference zone.” It’s a zone that, from beginning to end, will show how all of our zones will be built. As you know, we’ve been very forward-facing in our development. But with the development of an MMO, things change a lot - there’s new tech, new people, new realizations, etc. A lot of the zones we’ve shown have been around for a while, and when we first started, there were a lot of things we didn’t really know about optimization to make things look good and run well, which we’re committed to. We’ve also learned a lot about how that ties into design. So Faerthale is going to be the first zone that, when it’s finished, will cohesively bring together world building, art, game design, and implementation to show complete systems, such as atmospheres, perception, climbing, interactable objects, etc. That way, we don’t have to keep saying what it’ll eventually be like. Instead, we can actually just let players experience it entirely. It’ll be a huge milestone for us internally because it'll be the first time that we'll have a zone that is launch-quality. That’s really exciting.

    Who or what corrupted Ittero, and when did it happen?

    Justin: I can’t give any info about that because that’s actually a really important detail that you’ll have to learn later.

    Why is Haethus-Kevgrejl called the “Dead Heiress” if she’s only rarely seen?

    Justin: That title refers to her position within her pantheon, not her current actual state. Specifically, it’s a reference to her backstory within the Archai pantheon. She had a place of prominence there at one time and she lost it. She was on the good-neutral side of the pantheon and shifted away from that. In doing so, she lost her place of succession (heiress) and was disciplined for how she acted.

    Why did Ossari dislike the Humans so much?

    Justin: While Haethus-Kevgrejl is a complex entity, Ossari is just a being that was conceived in rage and has always been that way. He was essentially locked away and his anger of course didn’t dissipate, so he simply seized an opportunity to act on his anger through descension.

    Is the Red Raven a human god?

    Justin: No, the Red Raven is a faction.

    Was the Power of Unknown Origin the source of the howling from the corner of the battlefield in the eyewitness account of Marthos Bosamir?

    Justin: I can say that it was not the Power of Unknown Origin, but I can’t say anymore than that.

    *After the Voices of Terminus hosts were done asking the devs questions, they opened it up to Twitch chat for a quick miscellaneous Q&A session:*

    Will VR be at Gamescom or PAX West?

    Chris: I don’t know. Ben Dean is currently looking at all of the upcoming tradeshows and deciding which ones make the most sense for us to attend. There is currently a 3-year waiting list to get an exhibit at PAX West. We are on that list and will get there as soon as we can, but it won’t be this year, unless, for some reason, a lot of people cancel.

    Will any of the ancient characters we hear about in lore actually be seen as NPCs in-game?

    Justin: Yes, there will be some.

    Are there plans to showcase underwater zones before Alpha?

    Chris: I don’t know for sure if any will be shown before Alpha, but we are definitely working on areas of the world that have underwater content. So it's possible.

    What is your class design philosophy?

    Chris: I try to design every class in a way that makes me want to play them. If I come away from a class design session unexcited, then that means I’m not done yet. I do get input from other people on the team, and even the community. But whether that changes my direction with the class or just reinforces it, my principle is that I need to be excited to play it, even if I’ve never played that class in any other game.

    When will we be able to watch regular people play Pantheon?

    Chris: Soon. I’m really excited about our streamer program. I think it’s the next step for us, and I don’t think we can get there soon enough. When regular players play the game, it looks totally different from when the devs are playing it. It comes across much more authentically.

    Will there be skill chaining?

    Chris: I strongly dislike traditional skill chaining systems, but there are a few somewhat similar mechanics in play in Pantheon. Pay attention to the ability descriptions in the class reveals and you may be able to see what I mean.

    Will there be hell levels?

    Chris: I don’t know. Hell levels in EverQuest were not originally intended, but they ended up being an iconic part of the experience as a kind of rite of passage. I like the premise of hitting a point where you really have to muscle through, but that might not even necessarily be done through leveling. And if it is, there needs to be a good reason. There should be something on the other side to reward you. So we would only do it if it’s appropriate.

    Will the game lore be fully available in-game or will we have to reference external sources?

    Justin: Firstly, you can play the game and enjoy it without paying attention to any of the lore. But if you want to be well-versed on it, it will come from both in and out of game. There will be eventually be more long stories available outside the game that go more in-depth on certain details. But you can also become very familiar with the lore of the world just by playing the game and picking up little clues over time.

    Will the landscape of a zone change to open up access to certain areas that are not available all the time?

    Chris: The gameplay area that players have access to will typically not actually be the entire gameplay area. Sometimes you’ll be able to tell where there could be more and sometimes you won’t. Those areas will be built in the development process of the zone, but not accessible to players at first. There will be a variety of ways we could open them up, whether it be an event, a group activity, weather, or an expansion. We want to be able to unlock new areas in ways other than expansions, so that it can happen more frequently, and so that players keep a sense of anticipation about when a new area might open up.


    Thanks to Voices of Terminus for hosting this and thanks to the devs for coming out to talk. I hope you all found this summary helpful. If you want to watch the full episode, you can find it here:

    As always, thanks for reading!


    This post was edited by Bazgrim at June 13, 2018 8:28 AM PDT
    • 263 posts
    June 12, 2018 7:42 PM PDT

    Thanks @Bazgrim for putting this together! Brilliant write up and summary!

    • 1785 posts
    June 12, 2018 8:44 PM PDT

    Thanks so much Baz for the writeup.  I had to listen to the show in bits and pieces because of work and life, and so it's nice to be able to come back and spot stuff I missed when I was constantly being distracted :)

    • 1479 posts
    June 12, 2018 11:25 PM PDT

    Thanks VoT & VR for the roundup and QA, and thanks Bazgrim for writing it down. Awesome informations.

    • 2756 posts
    June 13, 2018 12:28 AM PDT

    Thanks Bazza, VoT and VR folks :) Good stuff!

    • 77 posts
    June 13, 2018 3:00 AM PDT

    Good on ya mate!

    • 37 posts
    June 13, 2018 5:28 AM PDT

    Great as always! Thank youuu! 

    • 3852 posts
    June 13, 2018 9:19 AM PDT

    The write-up is much appreciated.

    • 259 posts
    June 13, 2018 12:10 PM PDT

    Great show,

    My kids interupted my watching it live so I had to watch the recording. But I still enjoyed it as though I was there. Great write up!

    • 55 posts
    June 15, 2018 11:03 PM PDT

    Thanks for the info about the dev's being on VoT, and thank you for taking the time to do the write-up Bazgrim, very helpful!



    • 14 posts
    June 23, 2018 7:42 PM PDT

    Nice write up! Thanks.

    • 844 posts
    June 23, 2018 10:56 PM PDT

    I think someone needs to start listening to more music by "2 steps from hell" and back away from Zimmer.

    This post was edited by zewtastic at June 23, 2018 10:57 PM PDT