Community Request: The plan for non-combat gameplay in Pantheon

Nephele

Administrator
Staff member
Recently we learned that Corey "Ceythos" LeFever, the designer who was working on Pantheon's crafting and gathering systems, left the team in October. I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the concerns that this has raised for many people, as well as myself.

My goal with this post is to explain the concerns that I think many people have, and ask VR to try and address those concerns in the new year. I want to be clear that we all still believe in the work the team is doing and have high hopes for Pantheon, but it's very hard for us not to question where things go from here. Hopefully, the team will be able to give us more information over the next few months and put our fears to rest - or at least, engage us in a conversation about these parts of the game that are so important to us.

Like many of Pantheon's supporters, I believe that non-combat gameplay such as crafting is critically important to the success of the game for a number of reasons. Including these gameplay spheres speaks to the ultimate vision of presenting a world rather than just a game. Crafting and non-combat gameplay enable more socialization, deepen immersion, expand the world and its lore, introduce additional things for players to do, and ultimately increase subscriber retention. Not supporting these modes of play would, in the eyes of myself as well as many others, prevent Pantheon from fulfilling the collective vision that we all have bought into.

In any software project, resources are finite. Games are no exception. Features and functionality have to be prioritized, and some things simply never make it to the launch of a product simply because there wasn't time to do them. With the departure of Ceythos, as well as other changes on the VR team over the past few months, many of us within the community are concerned that crafting and gathering systems will potentially be scaled back dramatically from what we are hoping for, or pushed off as post-launch features.

In addition to the crafting and gathering system themselves, many of us are also concerned about tuning for those systems and the economy in general. Game economies are a very tricky thing to manage and it's easy for mistakes made early in the life of a game to become massive problems later on. At the very least, many of us feel that there needs to be a person on the team who is closely watching these aspects both during testing and after launch, taking feedback, and making changes as needed. For an MMORPG of the scope and scale of Pantheon, that's not a small time commitment. With Chris "Joppa" Perkins already handling class design and combat systems design as well, we're worried that he simply won't have the time to give the non-combat areas of the game the attention they need in order to succeed.

As I mentioned at the start, this post is a request for the team at Visionary Realms to talk with the community more openly about the non-combat side of the game and what they have planned at this point. We have heard a lot about classes and races and combat and adventuring gameplay, and all of those plans sound great and have us excited. I think all of us would really like to start hearing more specifics about crafting, gathering, the economy, and the vision that the team has for the non-combat side of the game once things are back in full swing for the team after the upcoming holidays. Not only would that give everyone in the community a chance to provide direct feedback and ask for changes we feel are needed before launch, but it would also very clearly show us that non-combat gameplay isn't just going to be a side game or a forgotten ideal in Pantheon like it has been in so many other MMORPGs.

On a personal note, this was a difficult post to write. Over the past few years, I have gotten to know many members of the VR team as people and fellow gamers and I am very sure that they want the absolute best for Pantheon. However, as an advocate for non-combat gameplay and editor/administrator for Pantheon Crafters, I can't ignore the things that everyone is worried about, especially since I'm worried about those same things myself as well. I took a few days to post this because I was getting feedback from several other community members on what I'd written. The primary thing that I hope we all see is greater communication from VR around their non-combat systems, and a recognition that non-combat gameplay is a core and integral part of the Pantheon experience as well.
 

vjek

Apprentice
It's a great idea, but I don't think you're going to get a satisfactory response from Visionary Realms.
Since Feb 22, 2014, they have shown exactly one consistent public facing attitude, and that's hubris.
Currently, they have evidently no interest in soliciting opinions or in iterative communication. They have, evidently, no interest in crowdsourcing development. They have their vision, and they're sticking to it, regardless of logic, reason, finances, or history.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, that's pretty harsh, vjek, why would you ever say such mean things? "You're mean, vjek, and that's not constructive."
Only because history has taught me, since 1995, that to varying degrees, this attitude of hubris is present within every MMO development team.
Personally, I have met several of these teams, face to face, over the years. Their lead developers have a certain.. personality that is consistent.
They need to be able to ignore any and all interaction, communication, and criticism in order to bring their vision to fruition. It's a requirement of the job.

If lead developers listened to everything with equal weight, scope creep would, guaranteed, doom a project to never finish.
You can't add years of effort to a project that needs to be done in a few years to avoid the bankruptcy of debt load servicing.
And we're almost there. Conservatively, even if wages alone were less than 1M per year, we're creeping up on 6 years of effort for Pantheon. Debt servicing cannot be ignored.
On February 22, 2020, the entirety of the effort put towards Pantheon (yes, I'm keenly aware of the retconning going on in the community regarding when development REALLY started) will be 6 years.
Everquest was developed in three years. If graphics aren't the primary concern, that is, if the VR team learned anything from Vanguard, then we should have a game with more depth, more detail, and more group-based and social mechanics than either Vanguard or EQ1, given twice the time has passed for one, and an extra year for the other. (Vanguard started development in 2002 and launched in 2007.)

Why am I talking about this? Because there are a few proven models for online game development, since Kickstarter became fashionable.
One of them is to completely use the most cost effective method, setting aside custom art and custom content building. " Art and content building is by far the largest bottleneck to getting a game done. " (Tod "Zippyzee" Curtis, Oct 2019)

What many people maybe don't know is that the Unity store has all the art and content assets available to make an MMO. All the animations, particle effects, models, non-world assets, buildings, weapons, armor, trees, everything. But you have to be willing to use them, only, to gain from that path.
If you buy into the idea that Unity was chosen to speed up development time, then they should have used ONLY Unity store assets, before securing funding or charging an early access subscription. Why?
Because that's the most cost effective solution, when spending and time are your two biggest enemies. It's not good, but it's cheap and fast.
They had the opportunity, and seemed to be following it, from 2014 to 2016, whereby they generated a few zones, and implemented the basics of exploration and combat. The 2016 Amberfaet videos certainly show a game that was 95% Everquest, mechanically, despite looking vastly superior, graphically.
Hell, everything outside of combat zones could have been greyboxed and left to be done later. No-one in the primary target demographic would have cared, if gameplay truly trumps graphics.

Now, there seems to have been a philosophical shift at this point, graphics superseded gameplay as a priority, and they started down the path that has led them to burning over 1.5 years on Project Faerthale. What most people seem to be ignoring are the goals of Project Faerthale, as set out in June 2018:

" In other news, we are working on a new zone: Faerthale, the starting cityzone of the Lucent, Ember and Ashen Elves. Faerthale rests on the western border of Kingsreach, opposite Thronefast in the East.

What many of you will be interested to know is that we have decided to make Faerthale our Reference Zone. Technically, that means a lot of things. But to put it simply, it means Faerthale will be the first zone to have all of our gameplay systems completely integrated. Or you could say, the first zone where the “Pantheon experience” will be able to be fully experienced.

This includes the foundational gameplay systems you are used to seeing in streams, but everything else as well: dynamic day and night cycles, time of day governing events and spawn cycles, Atmospheres that will require artifacts to overcome, Extreme Climates that will require players to Acclimate themselves, the Perception system woven throughout and the ability to become a Keeper, NPC Dispositions widely applied and appropriately unpredictable, Crafting and Harvesting elements, climbable surfaces, interactable objects in the environment - I think you get the picture!

As our Reference Zone, Faerthale needs to have all of the gameplay systems intact and functioning properly, with all of their various parts, so that we have an accurate picture to reference when we begin implementing all of these systems into the rest of our zones. It’s quite exciting, and I can’t wait for our testers to get their hands on it.
" (Brad confirmed work started in June 2018 "As for June 2018, that was indeed where we started work on it" - Oct 2019 )

That includes the economy, crafting, harvesting, and all other non-combat systems. They're included. Crafting and Harvesting, are explicitly included. So now that Corey is gone, we can only presume what he designed (but never demonstrated, publicly) went into the reference zone. Without a single Pre-Alpha play test session. Without a single public: video, screenshot, clip, or subsequent solicitation of feedback post.

The entire point of project Faerthale is " to have all of the gameplay systems intact and functioning properly, with all of their various parts ".
If Crafting, Harvesting, and the economy are not included in Project Faerthale, it failed in it's purpose. If any of the gameplay systems are missing, it failed in it's purpose.
If large scale or significant changes happen after Faerthale, it will have failed in it's purpose. The whole point was to burn the time now, to save the time later. If they don't gain any time by burning over 1.5 years on this, they will have burned HALF the time it took to make Everquest, and gained nothing, time-wise.
Ultimately? If Crafting & Harvesting (and the resulting economy) aren't in Project Faerthale, it will have failed, to some degree. If they are in Project Faerthale, they're implemented. As in, mostly done. As in, generally feature complete, or " all of our gameplay systems completely integrated ". I would expect considerable resistance to change requests, if that's true.

Evaluated through the eyes of history, they have made some objectively poor decisions. The design goals of the original Kickstarter failed. They didn't follow the "cheap, fast, not good" philosophy through to completion. They dug their heels in with Project Faerthale, after it exceeded the original time estimate by over 1 year. What little they have revealed about non-combat systems are illogical, unreasonable, and historically proven to fail, in the sense that they will be repeating history.

What do I mean by that? If tradeable currency exists in a virtual economy, it will be, forever, the target of malicious individuals who take advantage of that virtual economy. Yet, since the very beginning, Brad was insistent on an economic design whereby equippable items drop directly from creatures, along with currency. That model, without mitigations, is 100% guaranteed to ensure mudflation, gold farming, RMT, money laundering, and every other economic and social ill that has been demonstrated in the past 20+ years. Despite those warnings, they are set on their vision. They are going to put in place every non-combat system that has failed, historically, for exactly the same reasons, and expect history won't repeat itself. Evidently, they are absolutely certain, despite the absurdity of the claim, that 17 developers have more knowledge and wisdom than 20,000+ potential customers.

In my experience? They only have more hubris, and they will likely never fully answer the questions you're asking, Nephele. You might get a few unconfirmed vague platitudes, but you'll never get the design goals, in writing. They don't even follow the tenets, with respect to social gameplay, for harvesting. They are still undecided, after 5.5+ years, about one tradeskill profession per character. There's no plans for dedicated crafting gear (ala VG), despite it being a generally great system, after balancing. Clearly, up to this point, communicating about Crafting and Harvesting is not a priority, especially when the logical criticisms are so self-evident. Personally, I would be embarrassed to publicly reveal what they have so far, given how anti-tenet and illogical many of the systems have been.
 
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Fragile

Novice
@vjek That is probably the best post on any forum I have ever read. I had to register here just to say it. Everyone needs to read and understand exactly what you have said.

I went through and looked at what Brad said on Oct. 4th again, and the big one for me was: "phase 1 happens soon however I can't detail or list what's in it, what we're showing, etc. "

Obviously Brad died in November, but before that VR put in the newsletter that they realized they would be missing their internal dates so they had to stop the 'dark age' of what has been the Project Faerthale nightmare. That is why we have seen the changes to the newsletter and more "streams". A lot will be riding on this Dec. 12th stream, as it will finally be new combat/gameplay as well as a few new systems at work.

As you stated, I am also afraid that things may fall short and due to the decisions that were made and the way they decided to develop PF, may have been the wrong one(s) - thus leading to a lackluster experience and a slow burn to the next EQ: Next.
 

Nephele

Administrator
Staff member
@vjek I get where you're coming from and even share some of your frustration. As I see it though, short of somehow funding a new game to compete with Pantheon, there's not really any other option at this point than to make the request and continue to hope for the best.

From the conversations I had with Corey before he left the team, the biggest hurdle he was facing was just getting programmer time to build UI for the things he wanted to do. He had lots of design ideas sketched out but without a way to implement them and have them tested, he didn't feel comfortable saying they were the right way to go or not.

Regardless, I would encourage everyone who reads this to head over to this thread on the official forums and simply say "I would like to see more communication from VR too" or words to that effect. There's no need to go into details or try to explain why - it's more simply to show that there are more than a handful of people in the community that actually care about crafting and gathering.
 

Barin999

Journeyman
The primary thing that I hope we all see ….a recognition that non-combat gameplay is a core and integral part of the Pantheon experience as well.
This seems a vital wording of your elaborate post there.
If anything, it would be this topic where I find information is falling short. But immediately stating that this is a personal opinion here and I have by no means influence on the management of information by VR.
I'm a big fan of the non-combat side of this game. I see why they chose to work with adventurous information as it would nourish the most souls within the community. And especially it appeals even more to people outside this community. You just attract a bigger crowd with it, simply said.
Is information relating crafting or other non-combat long overdue? Well that's all about personal opinions but not our call to make. I don't think, that the devs are oblivious to the fact that their community will consume any and all information they present and still remain a hungry crowd to manage.
Slamming your fists on the table holding knife and fork won't make the food appear faster, unless you want it half cooked.
I do mean that in the most gentle of interpretations.

PF might be their biggest project so far. And if you're going with their official statements, it is because many if not most aspects of the game are aimed to be implemented within this project.
How long this project takes is not known. Is it testing the patience and trust of the members of the community? Sure. Official statements thusfar, still state that development is moving forward and information is being released in a matter of days. And each time the community calls out for confirmation, the devs try to reassure those in doubt that the visions are still held up high and the game itself will still be launched at some point in time.

@Nephele I believe you can answer many of your own concerns already. You seem to have a fairly good finger on the pulse of the dev's comings and goings. How does one manage these insights without jumping on the waves of the community as a whole? Even after launch, the hunger for change or information about the game will not be saturated within the community. Perhaps it is more about how constructive/productive can I be to unburden the devs from stressors outside the development of the game itself?
 

Nephele

Administrator
Staff member
@Nephele I believe you can answer many of your own concerns already. You seem to have a fairly good finger on the pulse of the dev's comings and goings. How does one manage these insights without jumping on the waves of the community as a whole? Even after launch, the hunger for change or information about the game will not be saturated within the community. Perhaps it is more about how constructive/productive can I be to unburden the devs from stressors outside the development of the game itself?
Understand two things, please :)

1) My role when writing posts on this website (and usually on the official forums) is to try and represent our community of crafters, gatherers, and others to the best of my ability. I take that role seriously. Every thread that I start is generally either an attempt to do so fairly and objectively, or an attempt to generate discussion and get ideas flowing. I usually do not post my own personal opinions on things, at least not without a disclaimer.

2) I really do not have special access to information most of the time. While it's true that I occasionally get to talk to people in VR informally and provide them with feedback, there's no secrets being shared, and even if there were, I would not turn around and disclose those things here or anywhere without permission. Trust is important, and if VR trusted me enough to give me "inside" information on something (which they haven't), you can be assured that I wouldn't disclose it without permission.

I appreciate your opinion Barin, but this thread is not about any single person. You must recognize that even if you think everything is fine there are many others in our community who are deeply frustrated and worried. In the absence of any information to the contrary, their concerns are valid, even if you don't share them yourself.
 

Barin999

Journeyman
No worries, @Nephele . I understood your OP correctly. By your reply, I can see my choice of words did not do justice to what I wanted to get across. But that's irrelevant here.

Once you start to turn your back from parts of your community, that's a definite turn for the worst. So yes, the community must let themselves known. As you might have noticed on the official forums, I too support your call for information.
I can only wish that VR takes up these concerns before people lose faith or drop out. There isn't much one community member can do to comfort the other, that's why I'm just staying positive.
 

Nephele

Administrator
Staff member
Ladies and gentlemen, we've had an official response from Ben Dean over on the Pantheon forums:

Hi Nephele and all.

Although Corey has moved on to other projects, he left us with a very healthy chunk of design docs and implementation. More than we were even anticipating for at this stage of development. That left us in a good spot because when we are ready to head back into Crafting and Harvesting we'll have a leg up.

We are a small team and as you noted that means resources ARE finite. At this stage of dev, there's simply no way we would be able to give any one system full time attention from any one of our developers, be it crafting, economy, combat, perception or any other system. But we also don't need to right now. What we are focused on is getting the base systems in. Once these systems and tools are in then we can focus more on fleshing them out and tuning. We're just not at that stage of development yet, is all. But it's coming. (Also, the basic crafting and harvesting systems are in as planned for this milestone).

There's really no reason for us to believe that any of this is going to be cut for launch.

And quickly on economy: this is one of those things that we are thinking about with everything we do. Just like exploration or creating social opportunities, or depth of the world, or longevity so we don't get bored after a month - we think about these things every step of the way. It's an ingrained way of thinking rather than a one-person job.

To clarify that last point: it’s more than a one person job. That doesn’t mean we don’t or won’t have resources directly working on it.
 

Fragile

Novice
"What we are focused on is getting the base systems in. Once these systems and tools are in then we can focus more on fleshing them out and tuning. We're just not at that stage of development yet, is all. But it's coming."
This has me wondering where they are in development, is it close or far away from PA5? It's a lot of words, without a lot of information. What are the base systems? Which systems are not done yet? Which systems are done? What is the timeline looking like? Fucking public relations bullshit drives me crazy.
 

vjek

Apprentice
It's why I phrased my question to BenD the way I did, Fragile. And also why, likely, he's ignored it so far. It forces a statement of commitment.
His responses are.. political, as you've pointed out. He's the producer, so, as with all producers, you're not going to get straight answers. It's like trying to grab a greased eel.
It's frustrating beyond words to anyone who is remotely critical of their lack of progress since 2014, and you can see the weasel words in every phrase. Yet, for some, it's enough.
Taken various ways, his responses would be appropriate in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, this year, or next year. Terribly unclear, to me and mine.
 

Nephele

Administrator
Staff member
Personally, I'm happy that he at least acknowledged the concerns. He also responded again today to say that he would try to address some of Fragile's questions in the January Producer's letter. Ben has always been one of the most cautious people on the team about revealing information - probably because a lot of his job as producer is to care about the marketing and PR side of things. Him responding directly means that he's recognized this is a big deal for the community, and so at least there's that.

What I hope for is not that we get an amazing producer's letter that lays out a roadmap to Alpha (though that'd be nice) but that we get video newsletters in January/February that talk more about non-combat systems in general. If you all will recall, that was what the original request was really for.
 
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