Our regular readers will know that one of our most popular series of 2021 has been The Pantheon Series wherein on top of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen feature focuses and deep dives, we’ve heard from the biggest fantheons and the world’s leading Pantheon content creators. Well, we thought a fitting pinnacle to the Pantheon series could only mean one thing: a talk with the great Joppa himself – Chris Perkins, Creative Director of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.
We reached out on Reddit for questions and supplemented them with our own. We asked Chris about crowdfunding confidence, MMO magic, NPCs, duelling, learning Unity, pets, character creation, and more, the answers we received were thoughtful, insightful, personal, and poignant. Whether you’re a fan of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen or a fan of MMORPGs in general, this interview is unmissable. So without ado, here is our Pantheon interview with Chris “Joppa” Perkins.
"Our goal is to capture that again, the joy of existing in a fantastical world."
1. TheNathanNAPALM wrote a great guest post for us on how Pantheon emulates the sense of danger and magic of pen and paper RPGs. How have your own experiences of pen and paper games, tabletop games, and classic RPGs shaped your vision for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen?
This is a difficult concept to encapsulate, but I believe it comes down to the nature of the experiential and social properties of pen & paper/tabletop games.
To me, the experiential property we’re working to capture is the joy of existing inside a fantastical world. When you’re in the midst of a good tabletop campaign, you find yourself feeling the tug of wanting to inhabit that place again. You can’t wait to get back to talking about the sights and smells of that world and engaging in its activities and pursuing its treasures. Modern MMOs have lost a lot of this magic, in my opinion. Many of them trend more towards a “game mode” lobby approach - I fast travel through most of the world, I queue up for the area where I do my dungeons, I queue up for the area where I do my raids, I queue up for the area where I do my PvP. It works, but the result is a very specific type of game experience where the game setting feels more like a mall lobby than an immersive world. So our goal is to capture that again, the joy of existing in a fantastical world.
The second property is the social property, and this is simply sharing that experiential joy with others. There’s a reason people don’t play pen & paper/tabletop games by themselves (at least not that I’m aware of!) The power of shared experiences within a deeply immersive setting takes everything to the next level. Tabletop campaigns are so fun and memorable because they create a true sense of communal adventure within a world and setting much bigger than you are with more depth than you can imagine.
That’s the kind of magic that calls to the deep places inside of us, that resonates with what I believe MMORPGs are most uniquely equipped to do - make us want to be adventurers again.
2. It’s safe to say that crowdfunded MMORPGs have broken some hearts in recent years, but to us, Pantheon seems different. In what ways do their failings make it more difficult for you to convince people that you’re the real deal? And why should potential backers put faith in Visionary Realms and Pantheon where others have failed to deliver?
Pantheon seems different because it is.
When a crowdfunded MMORPG fails, whatever the reason, it can have a sizable impact on general confidence level towards any project in development that relies on crowdfunding to some degree. And of course the more that fail, the more the uncertainty can grow and spread. That’s some of what we’re seeing and some of the vibes we’re getting right now. And for me personally it’s an understandable feeling - I’m not sure I would feel any differently if I were simply a fan of Pantheon who was also aware of the current state of the MMORPG development space. And in a real sense, the ultimate remedy will come when Pantheon launches, or at least gets close enough to launch where the inevitability is clear.
But my encouragement to anyone who is tempted to doubt would be two-fold:
First, I’ve been blessed to become good friends with a few veterans in this industry and I’ve learned from them that many more games than we realize are started and fail before we ever hear about them. That has always been true and continues to be true. The interesting thing about crowdfunding is that it makes that start and fail process much more public and much more dramatic. Instead of developing quietly behind closed doors, projects do everything they can to grab your attention super early. However, for these failed projects the public ends up getting front row seats to not only the moment the doors close, but the process leading up to that point. Pantheon has weathered its various storms very publicly (as have all of the crowdfunded projects out there). We’ve made mistakes, we’ve had to significantly recalibrate a few times and our team still has growing to do in some key areas to reach our desired development velocity. But we’re still standing and we’re still pushing and we’re still going strong. The drama surrounding crowdfunded projects is very real, but I encourage you to peer through the drama and see that we are stable and fully leaning forward into our Alpha milestone.
Second, it comes down to what my dad would always say when I was growing up… “Don’t tell me, son. Show me.” I didn’t realize how much that refrain would stick with me into adulthood, but it has marked me deeply and even made its way into my own parenting. The reality is, our measurable, demonstrable development progress will either quell concerns and increase confidence, or not. But at the end of the day, nothing I say will do an ounce of good compared to what we are able to show. I’m encouraged to see so many in our community and beyond point to the last few months’ streams and acknowledge that we are showing, not just telling.
As we keep our sights and efforts focused on that Alpha milestone and showing off our progress along the way, I’m confident the reality and significance of Pantheon will take root.
[caption id="attachment_384777" align="aligncenter" width="626"] "You can chalk a lot of that up to a tireless interest in wanting to grow"[/caption]
3. You’ve talked before about being a teacher and music composer before becoming the Creative Director for Pantheon. How and when did you learn to use Unity?
That’s a fun question to think about. I’ll start by saying one thing you get used to as an educator and a composer is the discipline of self-study. With the resources available online, self-study is more accessible than ever, and you can truly develop proficiency with most things given enough time and dedication. That’s exactly how I learned to compose music digitally - what software to use and how to use it, specific techniques, do/don’t guidelines for digital composition, etc. All of these things I learned through scouring YouTube and forums to find the best tutorials I could. In that process, I also began networking with expert composers and picking their brains on everything from software preference to specific techniques in composition to general advice about the industry. The fruit of all of that was composing my first small library of music, which funny enough would become the music that would get me hired onto the Pantheon team.
This is the context from which I would answer the Unity question. Becoming proficient in Unity has been a years-long process of equal parts self-study and learning directly from Unity experts.
In the beginning it was learning basic things like how to add music tracks or sound files to the project. From there it was developing an interest in how our zones were constructed. I asked a member of the team at the time to give me a quick tutorial - in that small session I learned the concept of prefabs, how to manipulate the scale and rotation of objects and place them in 3D space, a bit of lighting/camera/particles and several go-to best practices on piloting Unity in general. In that session I placed a few rocks, bridges and point lights, but over time that little practice scene grew into the Amberfaet zone, which is one of the many zones I’ve built or worked on in our game.
Over the years working on Pantheon, I’ve developed many areas of expertise in Unity: audio systems, world building, visual effects, animation tuning and texture/material creation, etc. You can chalk a lot of that up to a tireless interest in wanting to grow in these areas personally. And just as importantly, it makes me a better Creative Director and Producer to understand all of the various parts of the development house as intimately as I can.
4. What part of game design do you most enjoy? So far with Pantheon, what single class, race, or system has been the most rewarding to implement?
As hard as it is in the moment, I would say solving design challenges is my favorite part. When you’ve wrestled through how to implement a specific idea for a while and it keeps turning up edge cases or dead ends… sometimes you need the discipline to throw an idea out and move on. But sometimes you find that “eureka” moment where everything clicks into place and the path forward to realize an amazing idea becomes clear - those moments are always pretty special and consistently reignite my passion for game design.
5. If you could wave a magic wand and have one feature added to Pantheon with no effort, bug free, no time or investment needed, what would you choose?
Thinking purely about the biggest time-saver in a production sense, I would choose to have the world completely built. If I was limited to a specific game system, it would be the Perception system with all of its layers of content in place.
[caption id="attachment_392613" align="aligncenter" width="623"] "Pantheon seems different because it is."[/caption]
6. To help achieve the goal of making Pantheon a socially orientated game, will you include some small tavern games that would benefit grouping / downtime?
Absolutely. The one at the top of my list is a Pantheon-themed version of battle chess.
7. It has been mentioned before that Amberfaet is on the continent of Whitethaw and that the goal for Alpha is to complete the continent of Kingsreach. Seeing as a lot of time has been spent working on Amberfaet, will it somehow be accessible during the Alpha? If so, how and why?
You will definitely see Amberfaet available in Alpha. As I mentioned earlier, Amberfaet was a zone I built very early on in the project and it has seen quite a bit of iteration and improvement since then, but there are a few specific reasons it is staying relevant in our Alpha roadmap even with a focus on Kingsreach:
A certain percentage of Amberfaet will be a raid area. As I’ve said in the past, we plan to launch with at least 3 raid areas fully developed. So Amberfaet’s ongoing development is part of ensuring we meet that goal.
It is imminently relevant to Alpha because it gives us a high level, entirely icy/frigid biome to develop our relevant gameplay and systems around (slippery ground/wall surfaces, Frigid climate, cold climate Dispositions and Traits, and dialing in the overall aesthetics of this specific biome). These are all things we want to have testable for Alpha, and Amberfaet is the obvious choice to do the deepest dive in. All of this will be critical when we shift our development focus onto Whitethaw.
8. While granted these are decisions you likely won’t be making for some time (we really respect your under-promise and over-deliver approach), what is the general consensus for depth of character-creation customisability? If we take WoW as a middle-ground and FFXIV as an example of high-level customisation, do you have an idea for where you’d like Pantheon to sit?
Great question and something we will admittedly devote more attention to when we’re further down the road towards launch. But I can say that based on the internal discussions we’ve had so far, we’re looking to push as far beyond the middle-ground baseline as possible, without unnecessarily inflating our production timeline.
One example of how that could look would be in facial customization. You could see something like the ability to choose between a number of different facial presets for an Archai female, but once a preset is chosen, you would have some individual sliders and options to further refine that look (with constraints to prohibit extremes of scale, positioning of features, etc.)
We’re not looking to set the new bar for character customization, but we do want to give players as much freedom as possible to make their character their own.
[caption id="attachment_392615" align="aligncenter" width="622"] “That’s the kind of magic that calls to the deep places inside of us, that resonates with what I believe MMORPGs are most uniquely equipped to do - make us want to be adventurers again.”[/caption]
9. What kind of functionality will pets have? Will we be able to implement basic “If x, then y” macros, similar to the recently showcased NPC AI? Will they have special abilities, such as taking hits for their master or being able to backstab?
The primary pet class in Pantheon will be the Summoner class, so I’ll use them as the context for what our pet system will ultimately be capable of.
Players will be able to give their pets standard commands via a dedicated pet UI - things like commanding your pet to attack, to back off, to follow you, to guard a specific area, etc. Additionally, pet abilities will be categorized in two ways: pet activated and player activated. The pet will automatically use the pet activated abilities, either by activating them on cooldown, or via a passive chance to proc during combat. For the player activated abilities, players will have to decide whether to include them as part of their personal Action or Utility bar loadout in order to use them in combat.
In contrast to other pets in Pantheon, the Summoner pets will function much like secondary characters that can be developed in many of the same ways players can. These pets will gain experience and level up, gaining access to new and stronger abilities along the way. The pets will also have their own unique stats, armor and weaponry that will be managed via a pet inventory window.
I can’t talk about pets without talking about the Charm ability though. When an NPC in Pantheon is charmed, they effectively become a pet of the player who charmed them. That means you will be able to give them the same standard commands you would give any pet. But additionally, you will gain access to a subset of that NPC’s abilities, allowing you to wield those abilities as you please while the NPC is charmed.
10. Has the Visionary Realms team duelled in-game yet? Who came out on top?
I’m not one to brag, so...
Read the rest of the articles in The Pantheon Series by clicking right here. And don't worry, we're not done writing about the upcoming MMORPG yet, there will be plenty more Pantheon articles to come. Be sure to check out Pantheon's website too.
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