“Under promise and over deliver,” is what Ryan Dancey, the CEO of Goblin Works, is looking to do with his studio’s upcoming project Pathfinder Online. Last Monday Ryan joined me for a live interview on our MMORPG.com stream channel to tell us more about Pathfinder Online.
For those of you not familiar with Pathfinder, it is a pen and paper RPG under the Open Game License. It is essentially a derivative of third edition D&D. Pathfinder Online was a Kickstarter initiative by Goblin Works to make a sandbox MMO based upon the Pathfinder IP. It was successfully funded once for a tech demo and then a second time to actually make the game. It was one of the first successful Kickstarters that eclipsed 1 million USD. Since then we have seen the successful Kickstarters for other MMOs such as Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar.
The following is some of the questions Ryan answered during the interview. Ryan’s answers have been modified for brevity but the spirit of his answers has been unaltered. If you like what you read, I highly encourage you to watch or just listen to the interview in its entirety for in depth answers to some pointed questions.
MMORPG: Goblin Work’s most recent blog post had a breakout of how much money you have spent developing the game and where the money has gone. This is not information that a developer normally shares with the fans of its games. What is transparency and how important is it to you?
Ryan Dancey: We have a unique circumstance having raised so much money on Kickstarter. We provide them (the backers) with information as we would provide a stakeholder. Transparency helps hold us accountable. This helps us make good decisions. It helps us keep ourselves honest.
MMORPG: Where are you at in the development in the game?
Ryan Dancey: When we finished the Kickstarter we figured we had about 18 months before we got to the minimal viable product. At that point players will be able to make a character and run around and fight monsters and collect resources. The most basic features will be available. We divided our timeline into 7 quarters. We are 4 quarters of the way through that. We finished our 4th quarter milestone the second week of January. We are currently in Q5. This is really an important milestone. At the end of Q4 we have enough of the tool systems built and now we are starting to make more informed decisions on what we can have done before we begin early enrollment. Q5 will be done in March and will take us into the alpha test. During the alpha test we will concentrate on the fundamental parts of the game and ensure they are working as intended. So the client and the server should interact accordingly. We will make sure the game systems work as intended. We will work on art asset integration. Q6 milestone will take us up to early enrollment. By the end of Q5 we should have a 90% confidence that the things we will be working on in Q6 will be the things we have in early enrollment. This will help shape the communities expectations of what will be available for early enrollment. Q7 Milestone will be largely in response to feedback from Q6 and early enrollment.
This is a very non-traditional way of releasing an MMO. This is not a finished product. This is not what you will pay 60 bucks for in a box in the store. This is a unique opportunity for a person to see how we make an MMO and participate. This is called crowd forging. The trade-off is that you start off with game with a minimal set of features. The upside is that you will have a greater impact on the way the game gets developed. We are not trying to get a million people to play pathfinder online the month it releases. We are going to be very happy if we have a few thousand people playing it. We have a lot of expectation management to work on.
MMORPG: Speaking of managing expectations, Pathfinder is a Pen and Paper game and won’t translate to a MMO 1 for 1. What kind of changes have you had to make to the core rule set of Pathfinder to make the game possible as a MMO?
Ryan Dancey: Pathfinder Online is a super-set of the types of characters you would play on the tabletop game. In the pen and paper game you get to play the adventuring characters. In pathfinder online you’ll get to play those and crafters. We will have interactions in the game that you won’t have in the pen and paper game.
For people that are interested in the heroic adventuring mode there are things that will not translate into the online game. The biggest difference is the pen and paper game is not time bound. There is no relationship between real time and game time. You can look up obscure rules, plot strategy, argue with the game master, or go have a piece of paper. Mechanics in the online game have to deal with players making choices that are mechanically interesting and relatively simple to make decisions about. Players get all the information they need in a relatively well packaged experience in near real time. Combat in a table top game might take 4 hours to play. In the online game that same session will take 2 minutes. There are big things that have to be changed.
There are also some licensing issues that prevent some Pathfinder things from being used verbatim but the things you are familiar with in the table top should be intuitive in the game.
We have to make a game that is meaningfully Pathfinder without being a direct copy.
MMORPG: What’s behind the hex and why is it important?
Ryan Dancey: One of the design objectives is that we wanted to have a single server that is a seamless world. We want to have as many people as possible in a shared world. We want to have one really big world. In making that design goal work we have to create a huge amount of territory. In a more traditional MMO you would have zones that were carefully crafted and replicated across all the servers. Early on in the development we came up with the idea of thinking logically about the games territory as if it was hexes in an old fashioned map. We could then figure out how much it would cost us to make a single hex and then estimate out how much it would cost us to make a bunch of hexes. We also don’t have to make them all at the start. We can add more hexes over time as the game grows.