The Kickstarter campaign for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen launched earlier this week and, as an old school Sojourn/TorilMUD and EverQuest player, I have been quite interested in this project. Long time visitors know I am big on nostalgia for past games, returning to things like Leuthilspar tales or Fippy Darkpaw Progression Server coverage on a regular basis. So a game promising to reignite some of that style of play is right up my alley.
As part of the campaign there has naturally been a lot said about various aspects of the game. There is a list of game design tenets that will guide the project. There has also been a lot said about very tactical things, like combat and grouping and exploration. And all of that is both necessary and good. But I felt something was missing from the mix. I wanted to hear about how he expects his team to get from funding to a finished product that we will want to play. My specific question was this:
How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?
For me, that question needs a good answer. After more than 20 years in software, I am well aware that good ideas are never in short supply, but time and the skill to implement them are. During my career I’ve gone from idealism to being the guy in the room that wants to eliminate any open-ended, ill-defined feature.
Fortunately, I was in luck with my question. Brad McQuaid, taking on the endless work that is driving a Kickstarter campaign, showed up in the comment thread on my post about the realities of Kickstarter, so I was able to pose that question to him directly. This was his response:
The main response I have to this is that EQ 1 was made by 23 people in 3 years for $8M. Now I realize that was in the late ’90s and it’s a different world. But we have some advantages now that did not exist with EQ 1 (and even Vanguard).
1. We are using the Unity engine which makes it orders of magnitude faster to develop. The game is already being developed, and we have a rough prototype up right now, with our new combat system already working. 10 years ago it would have been impossible for 3-4 guys to do that.
2. This is a game with a targeted audience. We are not trying to make a game that is all things for all people (WoW, SWTOR, etc.). We don’t need 10s of millions of dollars to do this.
3. Take a look at our stretch goals (which need some work — we’re going to have a revised and better set of stretch goals up by next week). You can see that big systems, like crafting, PvP, etc. are all stretch goals. We’d love for these systems to be in the game, but we can also make a great game without those systems.
4. Our team is very experienced (we have 10 or so on the team now, but another 10-15 ready to jump ship once we have funding). This isn’t their first BBQ. We’ve learned a lot about building MMOs and this allows us to work smarter, making fewer errors, and to be more efficient.
So, if we make the $800k, we will likely have to get additional funding elsewhere (this is addressed in the FAQ on the KS site). We may reach out to a publisher, or investors, or both. But having $800k will make this much easier, because we’ve shown that there is definitely a demand for a more ‘niche’ game. I’d prefer to fund the entire game via Kickstarter, but I’m also being realistic about it.
That does answer my question. The stretch goal thing still makes me a little squeamish. I am not sure I would have PvP listed as a possibility in any form, as it feels like a distraction from the core vision of the game, something that contradicts the attempt to not be all things to all people.
Then again, I do not have fond memories of PvP in EverQuest. As amusing as tales of Fansy the Famous Bard were, PvP held no interest for me in EQ. And EverQuest II is still struggling with the idea of PvP to this day. The last time I checked, they had gone to a system where every skill has a PvE and a PvP effect, successfully making each skill tool tip just that much more complex.
Crafting is also one of those things that I imagine can swallow a lot of development time for little real benefit. I am guilty of always indulging in whatever crafting model an MMO offers, but I am not sure I have come out the better for it. Except for fishing. I still love fishing. But I’d be willing to give that up and live the TorilMUD model, where all gear comes from drops and the rare epic quest.
But the other aspects, the use of the Unity Engine, which will limit the amount of heavy lifting to be done, and having an experienced team (I hope we’ll see bios soon) do move towards what I was driving at. And we may never hit the stretch goals, so unless additional funding is needed and can only be secured by adding something like PvP, they may not enter into the equation.
As for now, the Kickstarter campaign has reached about 15% of the $800,000 needed to make the basic funding goal, with nearly 1,000 backers so far. The campaign has another 37 days to run.