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Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter Started January 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Vanguard SOH.
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Brad “Aradune” McQuaid has launched his Kickstarter campaign to fund his planned game Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  I did not see much build-up to it, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the right sources.

Aradune's new project

The Project

Aradune, who came through TorilMUD back in the day, is best known for being one of the primary drivers of EverQuest and Vanguard.

Of course, everybody (or everybody reading this) remembers EverQuest, while Vanguard hasn’t always been… appreciated?  I hate to say winner/loser, but one was king of the genre pre-WoW and remains influential today and the other…

So this is the third try.  Can Aradune and his cohorts at Visionary Realms, Inc. (there is that “vision” word again) take what has been learned over the years and craft an MMORPG that brings back the hardcore days of EverQuest while running well and feeling up-to-date?  That certainly seems to be the target.

Pantheon emphasizes the need to adventure with others. The world is dangerous and full of unexpected challenges making it unwise to travel alone. We feel that the best memories are those shared with fellow adventurers and friends. Thus, we are aiming to create a world where grouping is paramount.

He is asking for $800,000 in funding, which if you read my predictions for 2014, means I think he won’t make it.  I figured his name and reputation was good for half a million tops, so I guess we will see if I am wrong in the next 40 days. (The timer runs down on Saturday Feb 22, 11:40am PST.  I’m in for $75.  If the ride starts, I want to be on board.)

I expect it will be a hard fight to make it there no matter what and Brad will have to be out and about and getting people interested pretty much full time.  Remember how hard Mark Jacobs worked to get to two million dollars for Camelot Unchained?

There are the usual aspects of a Kickstarter campaign in place, including stretch goals out beyond the 6 million dollar mark.  You can find all the details on the Kickstarter page for the project.  I expect we will see interviews with Brad coming up where he will have to answer some hard questions about what he learned from the Vanguard project and where something like Pantheon fits in today’s market.

The target date for the game is pegged at three years out, January 2017.

I thought I would copy these bullet points to ponder as the campaign moves on.

Game Details

  • An MMO developed by gamers who aren’t afraid to target an audience of like-minded gamers.
  • A fantasy themed Massively Multiplayer Role Playing game (MMO) with a heavy focus on character development, an immersive world, and teamwork.
  • An MMO for players wanting a challenging and rewarding experience.
  • An open world in which you explore to obtain not only more powerful items but also new spells and abilities.
  • Travel where and when you want to in a non-linear world.
  • A huge world to explore, trade, and adventure in.
  • A complex back-story that players may gradually discover as they grow in power and explore the world.
  • A constantly expanding and evolving world.
  • Group-focused social gameplay using a class based system to encourage teamwork.
  • Customize your class by bonding with the spirits of fallen warriors.
  • Reactive combat where you can determine what the NPC is doing and react to it. (move, counter, deflect, etc.) .
  • Combat will be challenging and involved — your decisions will matter and directly affect the battle’s outcome.
  • Travel the world and profit from selling exotic items collected from distant realms. Different cities and outposts may have local Bazaars.
  • Limited and class based teleportation may get you close, but in order to reach many destinations you will have to traverse the planar scarred lands of Terminus through the use of your own two feet or on the back of your mighty steed.
  • Earning experience is only part of what it takes to level up. Exploring the world you will gain knowledge and power allowing you to overcome more powerful enemies.
  • The game will run on PC, Mac, and possibly other platforms in the future.

Game Tenents

  • An awareness that content is king
  • A belief that game economies should be predicated on delaying and minimizing item value deflation
  • A commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics.
  • An understanding that a truly challenging game is truly rewarding
  • An expectation that the path of least resistance should also be the most entertaining
  • A mindset that Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds.
  • A belief that an immersive world requires intelligent inhabitants
  • An understanding that faction should be an integral part of interacting with the world and its citizenry.
  • A commitment to creating a world where a focus on group play will attract those seeking a challenge
  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared

And What of Middle-earth? January 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Lord of the Rings Online.
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Here we are in 2014 and the news coming out of Turbine is… odd.

It was previously announced that there was to be no new expansion for LOTRO in 2014, a change up from their annual ritual of hawking extra pre-order goodies and special cosmetic gear for the Super Special Collector’s Edition of whatever bit of Middle-earth is being targeted.  While the effort behind an expansion no doubt eat up a lot staff hours, those are people on staff.  Turbine isn’t doing binge and purge staffing for projects that I have heard, so there are people on payroll to do the work.   So why not set them to churning out another beautiful cash cow depicting the fields of Pelennor or the Paths of the Dead or the Dead Marshes?  Drop in a few nifty cloaks, a special mount, and another experience boosting pocket item for those who buy in big, and Robert is thus reaffirmed as your mother’s brother or some such.  Basically, the same expansion plan we have every year.

Not that there are not some issues with business as usual.  There is the ever higher pile of levels and Turbine clinging onto the “you must buy every expansion” attitude that I think even EverQuest started to shed this many expansions in by offering “catch-up” bundles of all previous expansions.  Even Blizzard is doing that with their WoW Battlechest at this point (you could have had everything through Cataclysm for $5.00 over the holidays), while SOE went to a model of “the latest expansion gets you all previous expansions and the base game” back when they were a subscription only model, and moved to selling only the last two expansions and offering up everything else for free after the F2P conversion.

That whole thing is getting in the way of Turbine selling you an insta-leveled character, as they seem reluctant throw in an expansion or two with the deal, which leaves them stuck at boosting you to level 50 in a game already at level 95.  I suspect Turbine will see the light on this at some point, but it does call out how the baggage of so many expansions can restrict their options.

But there will be no expansion this year, so compounding the levels/expansions issue has been deferred.  So they must be working on something else then.  What could it be?

Pengail Attacks!

Making Pengail hate goblins eve more?

According to a recent LOTRO event, summed up at Contains Moderate Peril, no new dungeons or raids are planned.  Nor will housing see much attention nor kinships nor any such related items.  There was a mention of a potential revamp of one of the base game regions, though no region had been picked at this time.  There is still some tuning being done on the big skill and specialization revamp that came with the Helm’s Deep expansion.  But this event, taken with the producer’s letter from last month, certainly makes it feel as if Turbine doesn’t have much planned for LOTRO in 2014.

All of which makes me wonder if we are hitting a point of decision when it comes to the game.  As I noted way back in 2008, Turbine and Tolkien Enterprises signed a deal that gave Turbine rights to the property out through 2014.

And here we are in 2014.  How did that happen so fast?

So Turbine has been sitting on those rights for over seven years now.  But now we are at a renewal point.  Turbine has an option to extend to 2017, but the details around what rights Tolkien Enterprises might have at this juncture are unknown.  I suspect they have some ability to deny the extension, for a price, which would certainly leave Turbine in the lurch if that came to pass.  For money makers Turbine pretty much has LOTRO and Dungeons & Dragons Online, another licensed IP.  Meanwhile, Tolkien Enterprises, with part three of the movie series ostensibly based on the book The Hobbit coming out in December, might very well be wondering if their interests might be better served by selling whatever exclusive rights Turbine has been granted to some other studio.

Not that Tolkien Enterprises isn’t making money off of Turbine.  LOTRO has been successful enough when measured against a backdrop where EverQuest is the top dog, peaking at 550K subscriptions.  But few care about where EQ peaked in 2003 since World of Warcraft passed the 12 million subscriber mark post-Cataclysm.  Even the Turbine team is pretty blunt on that point when asked about subscriber numbers, with Sapience saying,

Unless we can say we have 10 million players and are bigger than WoW, what’s the point?

Life in the shadow.

So, do I think LOTRO is doomed to shut down this year?  It doesn’t seem highly likely.  Unless Tolkien Enterprises has another paying customer lined up and ready to go, LOTRO is still a revenue stream.  But I am going to guess that there are some negotiations going on as to the future of the license.  This in turn might mean some uncertainty for Turbine who, quite rightly, might not want to invest time and effort into a game whose future is in doubt.  Since the resources for projects are shared across teams, it might be better for them to bet on something with a more secure future.

But what will a quiet year of minor changes mean for LOTRO?  What will drive revenue if there is no expansion and few changes?

And do you think we will still be able to play the game in 2015?

Addendum: Contains Moderate Peril has a statement from Turbine about having an agreement that goes out until 2017.  “The license was renewed” was the phrase used, but some think there is some wiggle room in that, and it still doesn’t explain Turbine’s seeming mild interest in LOTRO for 2014.

Quote of the Day – SimCity to Become a SimCity Game January 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
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We look forward to getting Offline for SimCity into your hands as soon as possible.

-Patrick Buechner, General Manager of the Maxis Emeryville studio, in an official blog post

After all of the protestations that SimCity really needed to be an always online experience, which helped feed unrest as part of the disaster that marked the game’s launch, EA has finally seen the light as to what made past SimCity games enduring classics.  Beuchner goes on in his blog post about the offline mode to describe pretty much a baseline of expectations fans of past SimCity games might have reasonably expected to find in the game at launch.  Soon to be available, just a year late.

Of course, not everybody is happy and there are still plenty of problems to be fixed in the game, like city sizes and performance.

SimCity in 2013

SimCity in 2013

But with offline mode I might consider the game… if only it were free of the Origin malware content delivery system required to purchase and play it.  Always another hurdle with EA.