Benjamin de la Durantaye sat down with Ten Ton Hammer to ask some very specific questions about how Pantheon is targeting the "niche" of gamers longing for the days of Everquest when games were harder and much more restricted. If you're a fan of the times gone when games were tougher or want to know more about how Pantheon is targeting the "niche" then this is the interview for you.
Q. I like to think of Pantheon as if the TV series “Seinfeld” returned to television. Sort of like bringing something amazing back from the past, if that makes sense. The question is:Â what modern era tidbits will be making it into the game? Keeping the analogy live, if Seinfeld began airing again, would they use smartphones or would it remain 100% timelocked to the 90s? Will we see dungeon finders or flying or anything of that sort?
There’s definitely going to be modern elements. We want to stick to the core of what made early MMOs so popular but we also recognize the need to include some modernizations. Dungeon finders and anything group-related (LFG tools, guild searches, etc.) are high on our priority list. We’re a group-centric game so we need to make sure that players have the tools to be able to find and join those groups. That being said, we also aim to innovate a bit on this front. We understand that some of these tools, as implemented elsewhere, can have the potential to break some of what we’re going for in terms of meaningful travel and immersion. So there is a lot of thought going into these tools.
There is a timeless quality with some of the themes and humor in Seinfeld. We aim to capture that concept with Pantheon too Â so the core mechanics of social gameplay and reputation are going to be a big part of the game. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use smartphones or group finders.
Q. Pantheon is aiming to take on the notion that there is a segment of gamers that want that old school difficulty in their MMO. However, many “old school” MMOs like DAoC and even EQ began watering down the difficulty after the advent of WoW. What are your specific thoughts on the difficulty iteration in previous games and how will Pantheon stick to the niche?
WoW and other games saw a need to fill a demand at that time Â and that demand was for solo-friendly gameplay. They really revolutionized the industry in that, and other ways.
As time went on I think that older games saw there was a huge market and need for the solo-friendly play. Some of those older games addressed this by adding new features to capture the interest of this next generation of MMO gamer. It made sense at the time because that’s where the lion’s share of the market was heading and developers wanted to keep up with the times and consumer demands.
Now we’re seeing such a large MMO community that was once considered a niche itself, have its own segments and niches. Now there’s so many solo-friendly games out there and very few group-centric games. So we’re aiming to fill that need, much the same as WoW, EQ2, and a bunch of other games did in 2004 and onward for the demand of solo-friendly play at that time.
Bottom line is we don’t need to make another game that appeals to the masses who want a game that allows them to solo and progress at a more rapid pace. There would be no point in us making a game like that. Those games exist, and there are several that have done it well. Our focus has been, and always will be, to stick to our niche of players who want challenge, group-focused, slower but savory progression and content. That’s our entire missionÂour entire game, and it would make no sense for us to stray from that.
Q. The industry is moving away from the holy trinity while Pantheon is rushing head first into it, which is awesome for the niche it is targeting. However, many games of old had many classes that had very small roles that they were exceptionally good at (Bards in DAoC which were only good for crowd control and a few minor buffs), but were difficult to play and not “fun” more so than “necessary.” Will Pantheon try to balance every class or will it do like games of old and have super specialized classes where the only benefit is instant group invites.
This is one of those cases where the symptom can be misleading of the actual problem. Just because a class is necessary doesn’t mean it has to be un-fun. It’s possible to have a class be necessary and fun, and every class should have both. But, on the same token, a healer doesn’t need to be able to tank to be a fun class to play. A tank shouldn’t have to top DPS to be fun or necessary. Utility classes should be a lot of fun and not just rotating buffs and debuffs.
But none of that takes away from their specializations. Roles are going to be clearly defined in that you likely won’t see wizards tanking and the like. But that doesn’t mean the wizard needs to be pigeonholed into casting the same 2-3 nukes over and over. They may opt to open up with extremely damaging spells, then switch over to melee combat to counteract the madness that sets in with magic use. Or they may opt to keep streaming magic damage at a slower pace and finish off with a powerful, maddening boom. Or they may want to shapeshift to a particular elemental to increase potency against a specific encounter. In all these cases, their role as DPS hasn’t changed, but they have enough variety within that role to be both desirable to a group and stay fun to play.
Q. CC Timers Â will these be in the game? Will they be included in the PvE portion?
There’s obviously going to be a need to have CC limited to some extent. It would be just a touch OP to let a mob (or player) be mezzed or charmed indefinitely, although that would be way cool for the enchanter. This will likely be in form of timers, yes, and the timers will scale from very short to very long depending on the level of the spell and the stats of the caster.
Q. Can players expect an auction house or will they all need to huddle within the major cities and spam chat?
This is something that we’re still working on. Our initial thoughts were to not include a global auction house, and we’re still in that frame of mind. However, regional auction houses make sense. It would still be nice to be able to barter as well, so maybe we can figure out a good way to promote player interaction here while still offering ways for players to sell items quickly, should they not want to spend a lot of time peddling their wares. Maybe this is done through quick-sell auction house options that would mean the seller gets less and the buyer pays more, while taking time to barter would mean buyers pay less and sellers make more. In any case, it still needs to be ironed out, but that’s kind of the end-effect we’re going for.
Q. In the olden days, MMOs featured “glowing weapons” due to the technical limitations at the time, simple weapon effects were considered highly desirable and unique armor skins were only given for epic loot and the class quests. Will Pantheon create that sense of “this loot is unique and awesome and rare and pretty” with the modern tools?
Absolutely! And we don’t want to overuse it. A weapon found off a low level kobold should never have amazing particle effects. The best looking weapons and armor will be highly coveted and hard to get. You’ll still see more variety in looks of weapons and armor than you may have in the old games, but the best stuff is going to be pretty identifiable when you see it.
Q. Continuing on how previous games changed as MMOs became “easier,” right now it’s difficult to find a game with that difficulty without turning to emulated servers. Do you think that Pantheon will maybe make the community see the attraction to these types of old school games and maybe even change the industry’s course back to “epicness” over “accessibility?”
It would be a bit presumptuous of us to claim that we aim to change the course of the industry but it’s pretty evident that there’s a large segment of players that want to return to a truly epic challenge and experience. Accessibility can still be important in our game though, at least in terms of how players can get access to playing the game, and system requirements, and so forth. But instant gratification isn’t in those plans.
So, will it change the industry? I don’t think it’s going to steer the entire MMO industry in a completely different direction, but I also think we’re starting to see that there is a market for several different niches of the MMO genre. Several new titles are going after very specific audiences and no longer aiming for the entire MMO audience at large. These new games are getting a lot of backing and I think, if anything, that’s what’s going to change in the industry Â game developers defining their own subset of MMO gamers and making more focused, targeted games.
Q. Assuming that healers can’t do any meaningful soloing, will there be something to help them along or make them more interesting then pressing the heal spell over and over? Will some new mechanic be given or will their reward simply be “instant group invites?”
The battle cleric is a melee healer, so they’ll be right in the thick of combat while keeping their allies healthy. They’re not going to be topping DPS charts but they will certainly be involved in the fight. The Curate specialization also has some pretty fun combat options. Shamans will also have healing abilities, though not as potent as the cleric, but they’ll have a lot of things to do in a battle.
There have been several games that have proved that healing doesn’t have to be boring. I loved my scoundrel in SW:TOR and that wasn’t a “spam heal button” class. I also enjoyed the engineer healing abilities in GW2 Â pretty unique take. The bloodmage and disciple in Vanguard were also hugely popular. So it can be done.
Q. In games like DAoC and EQ, some of the best stories were from exploration. How will exploration play into Pantheon? Will the roads be safe but the forest rewarding?
That’s the general idea, yes. The further and deeper you explore, the more cool stuff you’re going to find. There’s not going to be a huge map with glowing indicators that mark “dragon cave here.” You’re going to have to explore to find it. And there’s not always going to be a handy road that leads you right into the maw. I can’t wait until players are in game to discover some of this stuff and start posting “guess what I found!” All of that goes back to the goal to make this a truly social game. Sharing your discoveries in exploration is just another part of that.
Q. Corpse runs? Yes / no.