Just how much he's relying on both the recognition factor and good old-fashioned nostalgia to enthuse potential backers of Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen becomes almost painfully clear as you peruse his proposal and pick your way through the pledges and stretch goals. There came a point last night as I was scrolling down the increasingly unfeasible list of financial milestones when I wondered if I was in fact reading the design brief for EQ3.
You have to wonder, just how happy are Sony's lawyers to see Brad promoting his new Druid class (ours for just $1.8 million dollars) with the pithy tagline "Got SOW?", for example. That seems to go a step further than the typical, industry-wide "common influence" of "Halfling: Hairy feet, Outrageous appetite" or "Ranger: The guardian of the woods. The stalker of the forest". I suppose they have bigger things to worry about. Let's hope so, for Brad's sake.
Wilhelm and Keen both have discussions up and running and the topic of these stretch goals is a hot one. It certainly does raise an eyebrow when you see an MMO staple like crafting included only as the eighth stretch goal (a steal at $2.5 million) and one has to wonder at the designer's commitment to PvP when it doesn't appear on the list until 13th place, just behind a mobile app. Although come to think of it, having PvP only as a half-hearted afterthought would be very much in keeping with EQ tradition...
Kickstarter proposals often invite more questions than they answer. The fundraiser runs for a month and continual engagement with potential backers is part of the process. Expect to see many explanations, clarifications and amendments over the next few weeks. Even so, opening with a list of stretch goals most of which would appear to be things that anyone interested in the game in the first place might reasonably consider to be core components does seem to be offering up a whole bunch of hostages to fortune.
One doesn't want to harp on about it (especially not with the Bard class coming in at a cool $3.2m) but the longer you study these stretch goals the less inspiring (some might say the less palatable) they become. $1.4m gets us "New Content: Adventure Area. An amazing new area unique to the world of Terminus. Offering more content and things to discover." Come again? You're offering a zone as a stretch goal? With content and things? Let me get my wallet!
Backing cautiously away from the stretch goals, the basic premise has a certain appeal. In a long list of bullet points Brad describes something that resembles a cross between Everquest and Vanguard with a nod to Rift's back-story. How did that get in there? Of all the MMOs you could have looked to for inspiration when it comes to lore I wouldn't have thought Rift would even be on the list, let alone at the top, but :
"The player is a legendary hero, stripped of his or her powerful relics and left to explore the dramatically diverse and epic regions of Terminus with hopes of reclaiming their relics and those of lost heroes." Pantheon
"As an Ascended, you can draw on the Souls (and powers) of champions from Telara’s past." Rift
Perhaps not exactly separated at birth but can you deny there's a certain family resemblance?
Moving swiftly on (again) a few things stand out as warnings, at least to me. The tedious adherence to the new orthodoxy demands "Reactive combat where you can determine what the NPC is doing and react to it. (move, counter, deflect, etc.). Sadly it's an approach that seems likely to infest all MMO combat forevermore but it will probably bother few and attract many.
Then again, Brad believes that patient waiting is good for the soul. Here's his philosophy on that: "Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds." Call me cynical if you like but I'd guess that "designed downtime" in 2017 will mean tabbing out to play another game, web browse or watch streaming video. In 1999, when we all sat for several minutes after every fight while our mana and hit points restored themselves (oh so slowly) you couldn't even run Everquest in a window, legally at least.
It's very far from all bad news, though. Most of the proposal makes Terminus sound very appealing, with its "open", "non-linear", "huge" "constantly expanding and evolving" world, where you can "Travel where and when you want" to "explore, trade, and adventure". Taken as a whole it does sound very much like a game I'd at the very least want to try, which brings us to the Pledges.
Unlike the stretch goals, the pledges seem well-thought out and rather inviting. A mere $20 gets you a beta invite with $45 letting you in for the alpha. Not only is that very reasonable by current industry norms but I would be amazed, assuming Pantheon ever does launch, if six months later people weren't claiming it was so much better in beta. They always do and in my experience they're usually right.
Even if that's not the case, that $45 dollars also includes a digital copy of the game plus the first 30 days of game-time. That's not so much a pledge as a pre-order. $100 gets you all that plus a pet and a mount and a second copy of the game "for a friend". I can't help comparing that with the $200 plus tax Landmark is going to cost Mrs Bhagpuss and I for approximately the same deal for a supposedly free-to-play game.
Those pledges, in fact, are so attractively priced that I may well grab either the $100 or two of the $45 packs before the month ends. Only two things are holding me back. Firstly, I'll be surprised if Pantheon meets even its base Kickstarter target. Brad's counting on support from a niche that's already been heavily mined by recent Kickstarters and I'm not convinced there's enough ore left in that seam. Secondly, 2017...
All the pledges have January 2017 as the estimated date of delivery. Even if that happens, and these dates have a tendency to slip, three years is a long time not only to defer gratification but to predict what both my and the industry's circumstances might be. I don't plan anything on that kind of timescale, not even still being around, let alone what MMO I might want to play.
That, however, is a problem with funding Kickstarter projects in general rather than this one in particular. I'd far rather decide in January 2017 whether I want in, not try to guess now how I'll be feeling then. But if we all took that view no Kickstarter would ever fund. Oh the responsibility...
Oh well. If nothing else it's going to give us all something to talk about until Landmark.