Panning for Gold in Recent Streams
In a month seemingly shy on “news,” there are still several nuggets of gold we can pick out of the last two streams from the developers. And along with that are some things noticed by the community that may not be all that news worthy, fool’s gold, if you will.
The Gold Nuggets
Factions have been touted by Visionary Realms as one of those classic era mechanics that is getting an upgrade that will make it important and fun and engaging. What they haven’t given us is any examples of this that say HOW they are upgrading it. They have explained how factions work, which is relatively straightforward, and they have eluded to the sheer volume of factions they game world will call upon, even to the extent of possibly having subfactions under a parent faction. But, all of that info seems obvious. It’s not that different from EQ1. During the after-party twitch stream from Pantheon Plus’ P+U, Chris Perkins poked in during a call-in to give an example of how this can be different. He game the concept of a hermit on a mountain (one of his favorite go-to analogies) who unlocks a new faction not before known to you. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but let’s put it in context of the game. First, there are many, many NPCs already known through lore that have massive impacts on the game, staple characters, that have unknown whereabouts. The WarWizards from the Deicide War would be 500 years older by now, but they were sent by the Celestials so time really isn’t a factor. We know that the Council of Orcs is a secret organization that hides their location. We know that the Lycandrells that are loyal to Lycus have gone into hiding from the rest of the world with vast quantities of knowledge. Several gods are missing since the time of the Deicide War, and some others “thought” dead. We have mention of Keepers that are in fear of their lives and are banished. So, let’s look at his example. Factions can open up quests, special crafters, notable NPCs, locations, and even abilities given by a certain NPC that does not give out his secrets to just anyone. This means that There are secret societies in game that you will not just run across by killing the wrong character, but must be sought out and found in order to even unlock the opportunity to build your faction. This could lead to tiers of armor and weapons, or abilities that will not be even known about until all the criteria are met and you happen to stumble across someone of great importance. This is far beyond killing bandits to raise your factions with Karana Farmers for seemingly no reason. This is where you are finally worthy to be let into this secret order founded by a WarWizard and now you can start proving your loyalty, if you so choose. And to top that off, combine it with Chris Perkins’ comments that he wants the decisions you make in the moment to have lasting consequences. Will you be prohibited from interacting with the establishment cleric order in your hometown because you now claim loyalty to this secret society?
Next up, there was a specific phrase given by Adam Mostel in the Developer’s Stream. He said that the the artists are now “unblocked” due to the work finished with the pipeline efficiencies and HDRP. We know that terrain generation was cracked long before HDRP so that is not an issue. We know that assets had to be converted to work with HDRP and several months were given to converting all of these in-game assets. This means that filling out the world with content and towns and NPCs and mobs were hindered until this conversion was done. This should mean that the rate at which content appears in the sparse areas of the world we have seen in stream after stream will not start to really come alive. There was much consternation over the fact the gameworld, until recently, looked very empty after so many years. The only unknown factor now is exactly how many folks on payroll are effectively “world builders,” those designing quests and mob encounters and dungeons and such. We know that many wear multiple hats. But, we also know that a lot of the 3d artists are not worldbuilders, pointed out by the shout out to Brett Nuckles for not only being able to concept the world for the worldbuilding, but could also graybox it out for other artists to take it the last 10%. What we do know is that it just got much simpler due to the next bullet…
This is obviously a large part of this critique due to the author. Like we just stated, the concept artist give their work to the 3d artists, who in turn allow the assets to be placed in the world by the worldbuilders. The only way to ensure that this meets the aesthetic, thematic, and lore checks is to run it by the directors and managers and writers. This, apparently, has been an ongoing struggle for the team since there was no place to go to see if the answers were already addressed by these departments and available to judge their work against to get to a 95% solution instead of a 75% solution. JN Gerhart, the lead and only known writer for Pantheon, has spent a large chunk of his time this year getting secondary thoughts and notions down in digital form and organizing these in the program Confluence. For those who do not work in an office team environment, Confluence is at its core a file sharing web-based app, though it has many other features to make it easy to collaborate and talk to one another. From their website, “Spaces help your team structure, organize, and share work, so every team member has visibility into institutional knowledge and access to the information they need to do their best work.” It is used by a lot of organizations, large and small. But, in this context, it is allowing a place to organized and make available the themes and concepts of individual races, notable NPCs, history, locations, and their accompanying concept art, easy for the 3d modelers and worldbuilders to access. This make that first pass on an area much close to what it needs to be without spending time going over the same information with multiple people or perhaps iterating twelve times on a creature instead of just two or three. It is a small change that, while you may question why it wasn’t already like that, it is hard to begin a process that works on one scale and spend your time effectively redoing your processes to get them working properly on a larger scale. This agonizing process has now been done and should make, as mentioned before, worldbuilding go that much faster.
Also necessary for the worldbuilders is the “concepts, themes, and factions” of an area in order to build them out. JN Gerhart mentioned that another time sink for him this year was fleshing out these areas for the team, ones that have not all been down on paper until recently. In a not too distant stream, JN was discussing the inclusion of an island in his Paladin story that was not expressed earlier to the team, its whereabouts or its inhabitants. It was funny at the time, but in a game where the developers mention time and again that this is a lore-focused game, players will want to traverse that particular island and perhaps see the carcass of the dragon that was destroyed there. It is imperative that all of these pieces of information are made available to the designers. Faction is definitely one of the larger pieces of this. If players are to interact with NPCs of different factions, it is of utmost importance that they have dialogue that aligns correctly with their roles in the world and can be different for those with different faction markers.
The most heartening thing about JN’s discussion was when he noted the ability now with Confluence to get the back-end info disseminated. This means that the back-end info is THERE to be disseminated. With very little insight into the progress on the writing side or how deep JN’s involvement in NPC dialogue or quest writing, this aside seemed to infer that there was a lot of information to be gleaned from the rest of the team, without telling us any details. It may be as much as we can expect to get on the writing side of the shop.
The last notable piece of info from JN was his fondness for the stories behind the Ascent and what they portend. For those without an English degree, this means basically foreshadow. The Ascent, to recall, is an area of Wild’s End previously populated by giants, some of the largest of Terminus. It is now in ruins. Chris Perkins famously noted the top of the Ascent and its terminal point overlooking the eastern ocean, opining about what may be on the other side. A bit of best guessing can lead to some likely conclusions. The race of Remnant, Ginto that had been saved by their goddess from turning into the Revenant but instead morphed into another uncorrupted race, are said to have travelled east, pursuing the Revenant after the fall of the Ravaging Lord, their god Ittero. Lands to the east are described by historians living at the time on Kingsreach. This would lead to believe there is an unknown continent that lies to the east of Kingsreach which will be added well after launch as the world’s story arc unfolds. It is very possible that the giants that inhabited Wild’s End and abandoned it may also be across the ocean, as the Ascent seemed to be a harbor of sorts looking eastward to others in trade with them. In any case, there are answers that will be in game and the pieces of the puzzle are on paper safely in the hands of the worldbuilders.
Joppa mentioned briefly that the look and feel of the “zones” in the game presently was incredible, thanks to the work of the team on biomes and the flora in them. To date, we have been told that the team has been focused in Thronefast and Avendyr’s Pass, and off and on in Wild’s End. When CP mentioned the “zones” look and feel, it gave the impression that there may be more than Avendyr’s Pass and Wild’s End that are getting love. We know that their recent hiring of several artists are making it easier to lean forward. The ability for every employee at Visionary Realms to be working full time on Avendyr’s Pass and Thronefast seems a bit ridiculous on its face. There’s only so many leaves and bushes you can design to go in an area. The notion that the work on “biomes” must extend outside the steppes of eastern Kingsreach is not a stretch. It would not be a surprise if they had dedicated effort currently underway in The Murk, The Roans, South Saol, Vae Wood, Silent Plains, or the many, many dungeons that will litter the continent, each with their own distinct biomes. This obviously is even outside underwater, which also was completely barren during the Wellpond’s update stream, although it was mentioned that the flora and fauna of the Wellpond was being worked at that time also.
Adam Mostel apologized at one point for not having made “updates” to sections of the Roadmap To Alpha on the website. This is not in the context of changing something from work in progress to complete, but in the context of the section of the Roadmap needs to be altered from its current goal to a modified goal. The strange thing about it is the first place people may ask about is the zone count which was listed on the roadmap. This was discussed separately and expressly answered as a TBD, so this is NOT the change that is needed. This means that there are going to be changes to the objectives for Alpha as currently listed on the Roadmap. Although this could be taken two ways, one being they are shrinking the requirements (cheesing the alpha from its present goal), but it was stated in a way that seemed to reflect the aspirations for Alpha would be higher than previously though possible. This may be some very encouraging news that Adam promised he would get to adjusting as soon as he had the time.
There has been discussion about the character models and why none were shown during either stream. Though none were, it was confirmed that several have been finished already and are “in game but not plugged in.” This may have caused some confusion with a few people. Just as there was a push to get the art assets made to date pushed up into HDRP before they could be used properly, there is a step of getting any art assets in game, which means their code is part of the game world now. That does not mean they are able to be “called” through a command. The developer tools in game allow them to build in 3d instead of writing code for a chair in the corner of the room. In the same way, the game has to be told to call up the model you would like to use for a human or an elf or a dark myr. This is the piece that has not been done. The game has the ability to call the new models, but is still calling the old version for these newly updated races. So, be heartened, it is literally a few keystrokes away from being in game for PA testers, and instead of seeing a spinning model in an art program, wouldn’t like the reveal to be a decked out Myr warrior killing some Wos Che?
Poor, poor rangers and summoners. The wait has been so grueling. How many times have you been told your class is just around the next bend? How many nights have you cried yourself to sleep with no pet to comfort you? Well, classes also got a shout out during the stream. While the news was not, “Rangers and summoners will be in next Tuesday,” reading between the lines was comforting. VR claimed that balancing the current classes damage given and received, and the effects of stats on a character’s feel, would be best settled prior to the inclusion of any more classes. They would have to go back and balance each ability individually, seemingly, each time they made changes to these weights. If that is the case, that means that they don’t have base equations being called on different abilities with minor tweaks to the specific ability, but that possibly the abilities are getting their own individual equations based around a template for differing levels. This is about how much damage this level spell should be doing compated to this melee attack at the same level. Now, what was said afterward was that once the tweaking of numbers was done, the developers already had every tool they need in order to create the abilities for each class. As you may remember, a couple years ago new programmers were brought on board that assisted with building out tools for the developers to use in worldbuilding. It was a big deal because it would make developing so easy. So, it would seem that the ability to create the pets, which was said to be hindered by zone population pre ViNL and HDRP, is already inherent in the tools available. This means every piece is now in place after the last PA test session to create these classes and no other programming hurdles need to be solved to bring pets in game. This will also affect enchanters who VR has been hinting will be able to possibly use some mezzed foes as pets of their own. Your wait is finally coming to an end!
There are a couple items mentioned on the streams that some have made a big deal about that probably shouldn’t be worth one’s time. First, the progeny system will not be in at launch. And the real question is who cares. Progeny, more often than not, is a end game mechanic. The progeny system is going to allow for race/class combinations that are not possible from a normal character creation system. The goal of the developers is to stretch out the time that it takes for you to be able to fully traverse the world and build the meta for whatever character you are building. It should not be a surprise if it takes a full year before someone has the proper prerequisites to allow for the progeny system kick in. From all we know of the developers, it will most likely not be as easy as reach max level and now progeny is available. There should be other criteria.
Next is the fact climates will not be the strongest on any continent at launch. This seems like a let down since there will be no place to go to see how harsh this may be. But, as was pointed out, traversing the harshest tiered climates, especially with multiple climates happening all at once, there will be no way for a character in the new game world will be able to handle the climates until much, much later in their character’s life. There is plenty of runway before it is necessary to throw out the big guns. Now, a nugget of gold found inside this fool’s gold is in order to utilize these stronger climates, the dev team will need to add to or alter the world as it is at launch in order to get them in game. This means they are thinking about expansions and story arc even in the game mechanics they hold back from launch. This is very prudent and it will make the game stay fresh.
The last one is the lack of gameplay vids or screenies. With a hiatus during the dev stream AND the Parting the Veil stream AND no set plans for the next PA session, many have turned back to the attitude that the dev team is goofing around and not producing. The acquisition of new artists would counter that, as would the sneaky way in which they show off things in the background that may go unnoticed. Take the last announcement, fore example.
Has anyone seen this concept art before? Thhis author hasn’t. This is an entrance to a dungeon that we do not know about. The concept art at this time is feeding the artists that have been recently hired. This location is perceivably being worked right now. Remember the ultimate quote from Chris Perkins, “Content is king… and it always will be.” There has been a growing concern that content is what is being put off and that comprises 90% of the game. But, if content is being produced, the only thing to show from that is a 3d modeled oggrym (Pantheon’s take on the bear kind). Who is going to be happy with that? If you want them working on content, there will be less to show.
Hopefully, this article has brought out some information the reader has missed during the stream. This author has a strict “No beans left behind” policy which will continue to be adhered to.
Leader of the Resistance Against the Corrupt House of Amensol