November 16th Livestream Transcription
– Steven joins the Ashes Pathfinders Podcast for their 100th Episode.
Simurgh: What influences did you draw from and feel that they have directly contributed to the origin story and the world of Verra’s universe coming to life?
Steven: It’s hard for me to pinpoint any one specific influence when I created the world of Verra and the Ashes Campaign. I would say that there were staple and fundamental ideas that were had. I am a big lover of fantasy and there’s a lot of stories that I pull from, but one of the things I thought was interesting is the way that I had my adventurers back in the Pathfinder campaign arrive and move around the world. The kind of inspiration that came from the idea behind the Divine Gateways was essentially a method of travel that correlated through, at least what I was inspired by, the Stargate SG-1 Universe. I thought these were great stories being told and I did use a little bit of that.
For the people who haven’t played DnD or Pathfinder, there is a type of transportation or teleportation that exists between, not just areas on the material plane, but also many different types of planes. While Ashes does have the concept of these planar realms, there is also, as shown through the Divine Gateway, the idea of separate planets that exist as well. So if you think of your DnD and Pathfinder campaigns, where you have travelled to these other planar realms, you can think, just in the correlation between Verra and Sanctis, that there is this potential. And the ways that the Ancients travel through the material plane, being in those Harbingers, that’s another point of thought.
Daedelus: Will every God in the Pantheon be open for players to align themselves to? And even those ones that are considered corrupt or evil?
Steven: So the Others, as they’re known, there will be questlines and certain actions that players are capable of taking to pursue the darker side of this metaverse. Originally, when I took the Ashes campaign I had created for Pathfinder, all of this stuff existed on a high level point, but as I formed Intrepid, there has now been an opportunity to collaborate on these stories, to bring in other voices, writers, and influences. And that really allowed me to flesh out what has been the metaphysical understanding of the Ashes universe, into more elaborate and individual stories. And through those individual stories there are implications that occur on the metastory itself. So part of that is the darker side and there will be the availability for players to pursue allegiances within one of the great religions, but there will be an opportunity for players to also explore the darker side of things if they should(n’t)¨ choose.
Faisal: Can you explain to us how ship mechanics are going to work when it comes to combat?
Steven: I previously said there’s not going to be gunpowder in Ashes, but what there will be is something very similar to gunpowder, but it has more of an arcane nature to it. So it’s not necessarily going to be explainable through the conventional means of chemistry and physics; but rather the Essence as a core component to many types of magic, one of which is going to be an evocation type magic and that evocation can have explosive tendencies. So yes, there’s going to be ship barbandments that are capable, there’s going to be weaponry along those lines.
The idea behind the ship itself, from a mechanic standpoint, is very similar to how players construct caravans. In a caravan, we described that there are many components to crafting a caravan, per se, those components will have implications on the damage mitigation, on the speed, on the turn rate, on the ability to offroad, on the total hit points, on the cargo capacity. And as players progress within certain professions to create these types of additional components for the caravan, the same is true for the shipbuilding side of things. So you can have the base value of a hull and that hull might have certain placements that are available when it comes to utility slots and/or weapon slots for the ship, but you’re also going to have that hull itself be augmented by constructables via the ship building profession.
Faisal: So fairy dust with a Dawnbreaker mount horns and hooves, put it in a cannon, and fire away.
Steven: Exactly, fire away and let the magic happen. ｡･:*:･ﾟ★,｡･:*:･ﾟ☆
Simurgh: When you brought up the Light Pact again, they reminded me in some ways, not directly like the fellowship of Lord of the Rings, but it’s like “let’s gather our champions, our people, that are gonna figure out what these Harbingers are, what’s going on” and it seemed like overtime the role evolved into trying to maybe stop. And so I perceive them as almost like being this group that was aiming to try to save everybody and I guess… I don’t know if I’d say that they’ve failed? Do you feel like that’s an accurate statement?
Steven: The term failure in my mind implies a finite end to a challenge and/or mission. While it was most definitely a setback that their endeavour to stop the Apocalypse failed, there is a longer game at play. And there are certain individuals that exist either within the Light Pact itself or within the higher-ups of the particular religions that have a longer objective at hand. That ties into more closely what the overarching metanarrative is or the reason why you’re returning to Verra. And it’s that long play.
When you think about the Light Pact and their affiliation with the different governments as well as the different religions, the inspiration for where that comes from is a lot of the old Cathlic stories; the idea of these Knights, Templar, Holy Grail, and that kind of stuff; kind of this Legendary, old idea of good vs. evil, forces that occur in the Illuminati and other organisations that not a lot of people know about. In that sense, you can kind of take inspiration where, maybe, the Light Pact came from in that regard; these are an affiliation of orders. Orders that exist to different temples and religions of the primary Gods and even though they have different focuses and reasons why their followers worship specific Gods, at the end of the day, they’re all a Pantheon of good. So there’s a reason for them to work together to subvert the goals and/or aspirations of the Others and the Ancients. And those who seek to pervert what the Essence is capable of through the means of Corruption.
Sometimes games in the past have tried to shy away from heavy emphasis on religion because of the parallels that can occur between what is in the real world and this fantasy realm. I don’t really subscribe to that theory. I think that religion plays a very significant role in the story of what Ashes of Creation is about and it is very much this almost monolithic idea of good vs. evil. So that is really at the crux of what the overarch narrative will be in the game. And I’m not trying to pigeonhole players into” everyone has to be good”, like I said earlier, there will be opportunities for players to deviate from that, should they so choose to RP in the regard.
Daedelus: Is there a Tulnar or Underrealm religion? If so, is it tied to the Corruption?
Steven: Essentially, the progression of the Tulnar, while there are still the staples of what were once the primary Deities of the good Pantheon remained for the Tulnar over the time they existed and evolved into the society that they are at the return to Verra, it’s much more similar to the way the Creole religions advanced, with using components of the Christianity as well as Voodoo and other smaller, more “paganesque” religions, and incorporated them into one. To that degree, you can correlate the way that society around the Tulnar has this almost combination of what were Pagan beliefs from the minor races as well as the introductions of the major beliefs and religions from the major races, because they all came together in the underrealm and survived in that regard. So you’re gonna see naturally a combination of those two things.
Faisal: Most of the creatures have been clear hybrids of IRL animals; which hybrid combination is the ideal/favourite?
Steven: Answering which hybrid is the “best” would be highly subjective, but I would say that it’s an accurate observation that many of the creatures that have been seen thus far have been an example of merging of different types of animals. Don’t read into that too much, even with the most recent reveal of the last weekend with the Ancients, you’re starting to see perhaps an influx of completely unique creatures. As we move forward in development past A1, you will see more unique creatures get defined. Part of the reason why you’re seeing more combination oriented creatures is that, initially, in animation, from a developer standpoint we want to establish base skeletal rigs. These skeletal rigs adhere to specific types of species, whether they’re bipedal, quadra-ped, unique skeletons, flying skeletons, dragons, etc. We’re establishing the baseline when it comes to rigging and animating the special skeletal meshes and as we work through the process of creating these 3D models of the creatures for the character team to give to the animation team, they’re doing so in order that accommodates the skeletal rigs that have been made.
So that I think is just a happens stance and I wouldn’t read into that too much. And when I say “skeletons” I mean the bones and joints that exist under the character model that you can’t see and when the animator animates a creature, they’re taking those skeletons and they’re capable of deforming and moving the mesh around via the use of that skeleton. So what happens is that you get similar run cycles, walk cycles, and idle animations that get applied to the skeleton, and those types of animations make sense for, lets say, a lion and a cougar or a hyena. There’s a blend of species where you can share these animations across the different meshes. And that’s really one of the most effective ways of creating an NPG because there’s so many creatures that exist – you have to share where you can. There’s a lot of fun stuff that’s planned, especially with the way that animal husbandry is intended to work. There has to be combination points where the creature gets cut at the neck or the leg or wherever and there are swaps that are capable. Animal husbandry is meant to be a pretty diverse profession, one that has a significant importance because players in MMO’s love their mounts and we wanted to do something unique in that regard.
Simurgh: What was the reason for the Gods to create the Divine races after what happened with the Ancients? What’s the reasoning with the souls being something that can be manipulated as a Conduit?
Steven: To touch on this lightly, souls acting as Conduits is a very integral component of some broader features in the storyline. If you think about souls being a Conduit for Essence and you think of the Gods as masters of the Essence; if you think of the Essence being separate from the Gods (let’s say they’re parallel to each other), one didn’t create the other, but they coexist in this almost symbiotic form with one another, almost to the point where their manipulation of the Essence is perfection – they can perfectly manipulate it. And lesser beings, and I say “lesser” in a sense of their alignment or closeness to Essence, they’re still perfecting that manipulation and some never achieve perfection, almost to the degree of ascendency or enlightenment, Essence being that sort of Chi that exists. In that regard, when a perfect being, such as the Gods, and I’m not saying “perfect” as the correlation between sin and not sin, I’m thinking perfect in the sense of how you can control and manipulate the Essence, that control is perfection from them.
When you think about souls being a Conduit, what are Conduits used for? Conduits are passages, they’re methods by which Essence can travel between realms, between planes. And there hasn’t been any definitive understanding of just how many planes exist, we understand that there is a disparity between the planes when it comes to their connection to the Essence, and because Essence is so powerful, and it flows through these planes almost like a river, you can think that Conduits help to maintain that flow and/or even exaggerate the flow. And there might be something at play, that I don’t wanna touch necessarily, as to why one would want to create these types of Conduits, these souls, this creation on the material plane. Something of significance.
Simurgh: Are the souls of the Tulnar any different than the other races? Do souls exist the same on Sanctis and other planes?
Steven: Can’t answer the Sanctis one and I would hate to answer the Tulnar one, but I will say that the Tulnar have souls and their souls act as Conduit as well.
Daedelus: Similar to the Ancient monsters that were revealed on the Extra Life stream, as you gain more power, they had abilities to shape shift and form demonic wings, are you planning to have a similar shape shift capability, even if it’s in a limited form as players gain more favour with their religion or their Deity?
Steven: Any form of changeling or shape shifting that’s capable is done so through the Essence. There’s a few ways that a soul can become attuned to a specific type of magic in manipulating the Essence. And overtime as you manipulate the Essence in the same way, your soul can start to develop a tendency to gravitate towards that type of magic. So in that sense, those shape shifters and/or changelings that are capable of changing their form, they do so because they have mastered, to a degree, that type of magic and their souls have become attuned to that type of magic. The Ancients, on the other hand, their body forms are less changelings/shape shifter oriented and they are more sedentary in their physical form, meaning, they don’t change them often; but the reason why they look different from one another is overtime that perversion does manifest itself, not in the same sense as shapeshifting does, where you can change at a snap of your finger, but rather through generations of honing their specific castes, because it’s a caste-based society. They are literally bred into a role, and that role has perfected over time because through the delineation of specific subsects of the soul of the Conduit, that this race has, those different castes become tuned to different roles; that’s why they are traditionally in a caste society.
And that is also going to present itself in a physical form, so you’re going to see grunts that are specifically geared towards type of combat, or type of magic utilization, or specific climate and environment, you’re going to see lieutenants, captains, generals, and raid bosses and they’re all going to take different forms because their whole perversion of Essence through the corruption is to take creation on the material realm, that the Pantheon of good Gods did, and twist and bend it to the corruption that exist within an Essence. Because they view that as a more powerful form, a more raw and arcane form of what magic is meant to be used for. There’s no point in these false constructs of morality when utilising and harnessing the power that comes from the Essence. That is a social construct that was created by inferior Gods, according to the Others, and it limits the ability of their creation to really capitalize on what the Essence is to be used for in its pure, enate nature.
Faisal: When it comes to the Freehold skins, does it apply to every tier? And when it comes to immersion, does it break the immersion if you use different race housing skin in areas they would normally not be seen in, e.g.: how would an Orcish or an Elvish Autumn skin look like in a desert biome or a snow biome?
Steven: So the artists are really good at what’s called Blending. And when you consider these assets on a Freehold and you understand the size of the Freehold, which are fairly sizable, there’s an opportunity there that the artists have in blending different types of influences, from the artistic direction of these particular assets, with each other. I can’t necessarily give you a definitive answer on that, until you guys can actually see it and be able to understand it, because I can’t explain it in words. There is obviously going to be some competing visual aesthetics with regards to these different types of skins, but I think it will look appropriate. And I think the art team has done a very good job in creating a visually aesthetic world and they will continue to do so with the differences of the cosmetics that are available, you’ll just have to wait and see.
Simurgh: Will Faisal see a bunny outfit in the game?
Steven: I do not think there is a bunny outfit, in the sense that you’re thinking. Not a mascot-looking-furry cosmetic. This game is a little more on the realism side, unlike most eastern games with some not-realistic looking costumes, where the immersion can get broken when you’re a serious looking paladin walking past a dude in town wearing a tanktop, jeans or a giant bunny outfit. That’s not to say you can’t have fun. And Monster Coins exist, where you can literally become a monster – and there might be some crazy looking bunny monster – and maybe, through the progression of monster coins system, there will be cosmetics that you can achieve which do reflect the monster itself, to a degree, but it’s not going to be what we’re accustomed to in games like, for example, Archeage.
Simurgh: Do the Ancient beings, showcased in the 24 hour livestream, have so tie to the Monster Coins?
Steven: Traditionally, the Ancients are not going to be part of the Monster Coin system. These are the primary antagonists of the story. From a lore perspective, and one of the reasons why they’re not a part of the Monster Coin system, is because their souls have really developed almost to the point of perfection in manipulating the Essence for more corrupt uses, they haven’t quite gotten there, and who knows if they ever will, but that kind of attunes them out of the possibility… the reason why the monster coin system is possible with other creatures.
Simurgh: Is there a chance we’ll have a guild calendar built into the game? If so, will it have any functions?
Steven: Two weeks ago, we brought on an outsourcing company to help with a lot of the website related backend stuff that have needed some updating. And a part of what, I think, their objective is going to be is also to work a little bit on the mobile companion app as well. And to elaborate a little bit on calendar specific dates that you can have running as reminders in your guild UI, this will also be something that I would like to be available on the mobile companion app as well. So essentially you can receive notifications via a calendar update on guild events that the leaders or the officers have the ability to pin within the game will also give you notifications on the mobile app as well. That’s my intention at least, that’s what I’d like to do. For me personally, being a guild leader of a very large guild in the past, these types of administrative functions are life savers for guild leaders; just to take a second here real quick, guild leaders are a very important part of the community for MMORPG’s in general and the reason for that is – think of it like a queen on the board: “I bring order to chaos”. To a degree, guild leaders are that order to the chaos, they help organise, they do so through lieutenants, they delegate responsibilities, there are good leaders, there are bad leaders, but essentially it’s a highly social environment and if you can find a good guild and that guild is augmented with complimentary services from the company, from the game itself, it just makes that life easier and allows them to execute better, so in my opinion that is an important aspect.
Sigmurgh: When finding the team to make this project, what was the most inspirational thing that you told other developers to get them on board?
Steven: I think what was captivating were probably three things: one they weren’t going to work for a group of investors or a company board, or some baggage that had existed with lots of what’s in the industry. Two: My approach to the company from a culture standpoint is really more family oriented. We have a relatively flat structure and there’s an opportunity where I’m working very directly with the individuals and I have a very clear vision of the design of the game, and the story of the game that I think gives a sense of steadiness because, maybe, other developers are used to constantly changing directions and, from what I’ve heard, it can be very interruptive to the process. And I think that the third thing that struck home with people is: here is an opportunity to be a part of an MMORPG at its ground level, at its inception level. And that’s always a fun idea, because as a developer, oftentimes, you come onboard a project and it’s already an established process, there’s already an established codebase, and who knows if you can even find your way around that. There are things that really take the creative voice out of being a developer on a project because that creation has already occurred. And the way I approach developing Ashes is I like multiple voices, opposing voices, all possible avenues that can be taken in development, not just from the community, but in the developers as well. I want my team to feel invested in the project both, not just from a working standpoint, but from a creative process, from being an architect of this vision.
That’s something that’s important to me and I think that it gives a good sense of fulfilment, especially to those who have more passion and are creative. I always make it a point to talk to them on their interviews about what motivates them to apply to Intrepid and why they want to work on an MMO, because and MMORPG is a giant project, it is the largest game development that’s really possible and ours is just an extra pinch of awesomeness, because it’s just that ambitious. And oftentimes, when I interview people now, and we’re almost at 100 strong full time developers in the studio, my final line of defence for a newcomer is: are you sure you want to be a part of this project? Do you understand the commitment level and what it takes? Because it is no small cookie. There are so many moving parts, it is easy to get lost in that regard. But I think just being at the ground floor opportunity of something that’s going to be pretty big is a huge inspiration for people.
Daedelus: Will a Bard equip instruments like a weapon or are instruments connected to particular skills?
Steven: That’s something we are still theory crafting with. We haven’t touched the Bard yet. We have a lot of different prototype designs that we want to try first and we can prototype very quickly in the A1 process to get them up and running; my initial idea is that the bard instrument, and that instrument doesn’t have to be musical, it could be literary, vocal, instrumental, or gambit of what makes a bard traditionally a bard; a lot of people associate it with music, but it can also be story driven. My initial idea is that this particular item will have a unique slot only to the bard. And in that sense it creates a very specific economic impact on these items, per se, because they’re inherent only to one class, but there’s a way we can step that up in some different areas, but this could be a quill, a journal, a book, an instrument, a sheet of music, etc. And each of them can have specific benefits that relate to the bard skill sets, so that’s kind of my initial direction. There’s some competing ideas and the way we go through these archetype prototyping is we segment the design or engineering team into pods and they can go out and stand up within the week the prototype of the class. And then Jeff and I will sit down and we’ll take a look in the editor what this feels and looks like and give direction, scrap it or move forward.
Faisal: Could Tulnar look Avian, how much will they look like the ancients, if any?
Steven: There’s not really an avian influence and there’s a specific story reason why. When the Apocalypse occured, the Avian races that were considered sentient or minor races in Verra, really didn’t think to go into the underrealm. Their first inclination was to take to the sky, so there are bastians that existed of the Avian-like races in AoC on Verra before the Apocalypse and before the remaining major and minor races fled to the underrealm, that held out for a period of time, but there’s specific reason why in A0 one of the first races you experienced as monsters or NPC’s was an almost humanesque avian bird race. This particular race is I think indicative to what happened to those races because they chose not to go to the underrealm and there are specific war reasons as to the leaders of those minor races that chose not to do so which will be revealed in future stories and questlines.