Patheon: Still Fallen, No Rise

Sunday, October 29, 2023

This is not my normal type of post. But I guess I do like to post about my MMORPG hobby at times. And specifically to this game... I did post about it almost 10 years ago!

So... How have things gone with this game in the past 10 years? Is it the game I wished for?

Well... I honestly can't say. Despite the typical and expected MMORPG development time before it goes to Release being 5 years, and the fact that I specifically pledged for Alpha access in order to be a part of the development process at the most key stage where everything is being thought of, added and tweaked, thus I should have been able to play the game after 3-4 years... I have not touched a single piece of the game. It's been perpetually in a fabricated phase called "Pre-Alpha". If you have been to my website before... you know that I know about development. CaVE, Unity projects, and all the way back to my start with mIRC scripts. And in all that 25 ish years... I have NEVER heard use of the phase name of "Pre-Alpha" outside of Pantheon. At best, maybe using the term to casually refer to development phases before Alpha as a whole. The only legit common development phases before Alpha are Prototyping, and Proof of Concept.

So yea... This past 10 years, I have been kind of annoyed with this "Pre-Alpha" phase BS that seems to want to never end. It feels like Visionary Realms, the developers of Pantheon, are actively trying to avoid giving me and other Alpha pledges access by inventing a new phase and basically doing in that phase what would be expected of an Alpha. Like they are sliding everything down. What would normally be a Beta, is now the Alpha, and the Beta is likely to be... IDK. Beta2? Just nothing distinct about it.

This Pre-Alpha BS has annoyed me to no end. But sadly... that's not the end of VR's fumbles.

Recently, they announced a new graphics style change. Some say its anywhere from the 2nd-4th graphics style change, but I can't corroborate that as I have not been paying THAT close attention (I got burned on Vanguard and EQNext. I wanted to stay back from this, and not follow it to closely as not to get too hyped about it... only to not be able to channel that hype into playing the game). The graphics style change is, in short, the same style that World of Warcraft uses. Its called "Hand-Painted".

Many backers are upset with this change, as before the style was more realistic. They have been posting screenshots for 10 years of a realistic style. So I don't blame people for being annoyed with it after 10 years. That said... I personally do not mind at all. I love the Hand-Painted styles. WoW's environments look great at times! It's a more artistic/creative style. Realism... often falls VERY short of looking good, more so with MMORPGs. And it does not age well. For example... EQ's art style was likely considered "Realistic" back in the day. Now? That would make most people laugh at the thought.

But sadly... that's not the end of it. If it was just the art style change... People might get over it. No... They went and even more recently announced a side project game. They called it "247". Its meant to be an "Extraction Game", with a MMO combat/quest game loop. One they are talking about monetizing as a way to further drawn in funds.

I have had a couple days to think about it myself, but the common backer response to this too is negative. And even my earlier responses were as well. But now... I am more neutral. Why?

In short... I believe them. One of the main concerns people have is "This is just using the money we pledged to fun another game". That is a understandable thought. It's been done before with crowdfunded games. But in this case? I don't think that's whats going on. What I think is going on is, exactly what they are saying. That 247 is just a creative way to compile the game in order to get people to test these gameplay loops, server stress, etc. They can learn from people playing 247 and refine it and the main game. They claim that only 5-15% of the code/content used to make 247 is unique, so 85-95% is shared with the main game. I don't think many people believe or understand that... But I do. Its like PC games that release a demo. The demos share code with the main game, but have unique code themselves. Mostly to limit them. But code is code. You could add stuff that is unique to the demo if you wanted. In 247's case, the Extraction framework. Its not THAT much of a additional system on top of the MMO code.

But... VR still F***ed up! They earned the backlash. They poorly worded things, and utterly failed to predict how the community would take this. They should have stressed it much better as a glorified demo for testing. Steering WAY clear of the idea that it might get turned into another game that the community didn't ask for. Instead... they did the opposite and said they were considering monetizing it as a separate game. HUGE mistake!

They only said "considering". Not that it was for certain. But that was enough to shoot themselves in the foot.

One way I have looked at this too is that, Extraction Games are largely popular with kids. While this type of MMO? Its main demographic is QUITE A BIT older! It's moronic to look like you are trying to attract a polar opposite demographic to mix in with the main audience. I have been around a while, and seen this type of situation before. It happened with Feminists in gaming in general. Gamers existed before 2014 and 3rd Wave Feminism. The audience was pretty well established. Virtually, 99% male. Some companies felt like trying to target a female demographic, 3rd Wave Feminism latched onto that and started trying to speak for all Gamers as they inserted themselves and their ideals into Gaming.

I bring this up because, exactly what happened with that, could happen with the mixing of 2 very different demographics in Pantheon. A bunch of kids get attracted to the game, start dictating what the game should be, and the pre-existing audience loses their voice in the matter. Kids that grew up with Fortnite and WoW, and start demanding that Pantheon be more like those games. That is a real and fair concern. The entire point of the game was to not follow the mold of other more mainstream games, and bring back the original MMORPG elements that people of that community miss.

There is one more issue with Pantheon though. It not with something they have recently said. But... well... It's been 10 F***ING YEARS! I know. I'm repeating myself. But this cant be understated. It's a real issue. More so considering that, as far as I can tell... the game is not projected to be out in even the next 2 years. So... 13 years later? For people of a game that was made and basically ended 10-15 years before this games KickStarter ever got announced? This is a real issue. Imagine all the fans that will have literally died by the time this game comes out. Because as I said, the fanbase of a game like this is a older audience. Heck! It's sad to say... but even the lead developer of Pantheon, Vanguard and the original EverQuest, Brad McQuaid... died himself a couple years ago. He didn't even make it to see his own game release. The morbid topic of death aside... simply... with such a large amount of time, people are just going to be less and less interested in the game when it is finally out. People change. Someone who may have wanted this game more than anything 10 years ago... may find themselves no longer able to enjoy a game like this. I still want it... but less than I did 10 years ago!

Despite all this... I'll still be here... Waiting and hoping. But Visionary Realms has not only failed to earn the benefit of the doubt from the fanbase... They have actively earned it less! I should have had my hands on the Alpha of this game in 2017. It should have been released in 2019. But sadly... it seems like it may in fact be in a state of Prototyping, where they keep reinventing and reconfiguring the game every couple years. Not moving forward. That's something you can only do early on. At the very least, it shows that nothing is set in stone. That does not convey "the game is far along and the release date is in sight".


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