The Lore Master - An interview with Justin Gerhart
Posted date / 03.08.17
Making an MMORPG, or any large scale game for that matter, is an incredibly complex process that requires a diverse and dynamic team to meld its many facets into a cohesive whole. While no one member or division of the team is more important than any other when creating a living, breathing world - perhaps one of the most critical and often overlooked elements is lore. Lore is the very air of our game; the invisible force that surrounds everything and keeps it alive. The man in charge of that indispensable respiratory system for Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is Justin Gerhart. We recently sat down with Justin to gain a deeper understanding on what it takes to create the foundational bedrock that Pantheon is built upon.
Most of us have been playing MMORPGs for as long as they have been such a thing, or as long as we have known about them, and our passion for the genre is what has led many members of our team to a project like Pantheon, but Justin followed a different path to the game.
“Much of my gaming experience comes from single player space or Star Wars themed RPGs. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, Star Wars was a big passion of my gaming and creative life,” says Gerhart. Justin was recruited to the team by Creative Director Chris Perkins who knew his passion and creativity and thought he would be a perfect fit for the vision of Pantheon. We are certainly thankful that he chose to join up with us. The one common thread that ties every member of our group together is the desire to create an immersive world that begs to be explored, and his writing has certainly given us a marvelous framework to build upon as we begin our journeys through Terminus.
While Justin is an avid reader, fantasy novels aren’t necessarily his bread and butter.
“I really love Tolkien, and my favorite book of his is The Silmarillion, but my favorite genre overall is Historical Nonfiction” he explains.
Justin's favorite race, the Archai (right), along with gnome and human allies.
Justin wrote for a small newspaper and had been working steadily on two fantasy series of his own that he hopes to one day publish but the work he is doing on Pantheon will be the first large scale fiction project of his career.
“I never imagined I would ever be doing anything in gaming, but I have always wanted to do creative fiction, both science fiction and fantasy. I want to do screenplays and direct as well.”
Creating the story for an MMORPG has many similarities to writing a serialized screenplay, as you continually move the narrative along and to shape the theme of the world. Justin’s main inspiration in creating the lore of Pantheon was to craft something that would be interesting and meaningful to both veterans and new players alike, and would continue to be engaging no matter how far into your journey you were. One of the main Pantheon differentiators is our Perception system, and lore plays a massive role in that system. It will really reward those players who take the time to gain an understanding of the world around them. If you take some time to read through the lore that has been published to date, you will begin to notice the attention to detail and how expansive the backstory to Terminus really is, which is a key component to not just making a game, but making a world. Here’s an excerpt from a slice of one of the stories of the world, ‘The First Keeping of Castigue’.
At your request, this is our most current translation of the document we have named “The Dragon Accord”. While I must stress this is a fallible and incomplete effort, we feel an accurate, yet disquieting picture is emerging… The accord precludes even your race’s arrival. This is perhaps a narrow revelation to you, or none at all. Yet it bears our attention, as distant drums hail the approach of battle. To such depths we were given exceptional aid by the Dwarves of Khadassa - that is... at first. They shared a number of parchments, maps and drawings which gave us the initial footholds into the Dragon tongue's nuances. Without these pieces we would be sifting tomes amiss, or worse, brazenly incorrect. However, this connection has since been severed - I fear the growing conflict may have reached them sooner than they anticipated.
The Myr have been largely unreachable. Quite unobservable, in fact. How they can suffer to dwell so close to the Ogres is a mystery. Even so, I am doubtful they would contribute. We had planned an expedition to the east once the snow thaws. Our aim was to reach the tribes of Ginto - I am referring to The Remnant. It is a dimming hope - our most recent reports of their settlements are nearly 3 years old, and they seem a reclusive order focused on the realms even farther east. I am convinced they would illumine much if we could but lay the writings before them. I doubt we will have such opportunity, however.
</p>We also spoke with Justin about some of the current discussions that are directly influenced by lore, such as our numerous races, the recently revealed class/race matrix and which race(s) he most enjoyed creating. He didn’t hesitate when the question of his favorite came up.</p>
“It’s definitely been the Archai, and not just because of their uniqueness, but because they were the first race I was asked to write for. When I came aboard they were a very nebulous entity and lacked any real definition, they were just some vague ideas and I was able to take those concepts and really run with them. Before I knew it I had 4 pages of lore for them.
“I also really liked the Dark Myr, who were just the Myr when I started, but the creative team thought we were lacking a race that had a multi-layered backstory, one that might appear evil, but had some depth and circumstances behind it that made it more nuanced.”
Another hot button issue was that of the lack of a Cleric or Paladin class available to our Elves. While the superficial answer of “think of them as wood elves, not high elves” makes sense to most veteran gamers, there is a deeper lore meaning behind that rationale. Justin explained that the races that were prone to produce Clerics and Paladins were ones that were deeply connected to their deities, and that relationship was one that was central to their daily lives. The Elves are a bit different in that regard.
“While their pantheon is important to the Elves, their response to several tragic and divisive historical moments has superseded the way they see themselves. To a degree Elves have become more ideological than religious. While some races are separated into different factions based on which deity they worship, Elves are split between two extremes (Ashen and Ember) and the nominal middle called Lucent. Those division represent the way they think is best to protect and prosper their people. Is it interwoven with their worship? Yes. But faith isn’t the first-thought focus of their life. It’s fair to ask if that is an imbalance for them” It is also important to note that many of the lore based decisions on which race can be which class are also dictated to some degree by overall game representations and balance, and more importantly that just because something is currently so, doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t change in the future. Elves are a good example here, as while they currently don’t produce the pious classes, they may, through future events or interactions, develop a sect that takes up that mantle.
We will have to keep a close watch on the lore to see what might develop in the future.
We want to thank Justin for taking time out of his busy schedule to give us some insight into his creative process, background and inspiration for the fascinating world of Terminus and its varied citizenry.
Here we grow again! Pantheon has added three new team members in the past few weeks as we continue to ramp up production. Robert Crane - Robert joins the team as a Senior Programmer. Robert has been writing games professionally since he was 21 (he is 45 now) and has been a senior developer for most of his career. He focused a lot on tools development but also excelled in rapid game prototyping and his focus in Pantheon will be to divide and conquer tasks with Daniel Krenn our CTO among other things. He is a big fan of fantasy novels and of course, loves gaming, whether it be creating his own games or playing them and he now looks forward to helping us work on Pantheon. Nick Reynolds - Nick a.k.a Jimmayus, joins the team as a Lore Historian. A diehard fan of the older era of Final Fantasy 11, he originally became interested in researching and writing explanatory essays on Pantheon's lore forums as a way to blow off steam from his job as an attorney. His primary responsibilities will include populating the dev-facing bestiary, lore glossary and timelines, writing explanatory memoranda and serving as a general living lore encyclopedia. He looks forward to working with both the team and with helping to grow the Pantheon lore community. Aaron Thomas - Aaron joins the team as a Web Developer. Aaron has gained extensive experience throughout his professional life, he’s been an app developer, a web developer, a systems developer, and a project manager. He is passionate about all gaming whether it be AFL footy, soccer, card games or MMOPRGs. Aaron played a few MMOs starting with Ultima Online and continuing through EQ, DAoC, EQ2, WoW, SWG, Rift, ESO, EVE, SWTOR, FFXIV, GW2, etc. now he is excited to be part of the Visionary Realms team. Jacob Williams - Jacob joins the team as a Web Developer. Jacob was working as a senior level software engineer prior to joining the team. He focuses on the back-end of applications, database architecture, server management & optimization. Jacob spent the majority of his formative years in Norrath and started his MMORPG career with Everquest when he was 11 years old. His first character was a Dwarf Warrior named Haminn.
Just the FAQs We have made some pretty big changes to our FAQ page and spent a lot of time including some of the burning questions that the community has been asking. This FAQ is a living, evolving document. While we certainly endeavor to make the answers as accurate as possible, we also reserve the right to change or modify these answers as we get closer to beta and release. Some details are also intentionally left out because they warrant testing and tweaking during beta before making those details final. We will also be adding new questions as they occur to us and come from the community. It's getting wild in here While we release many screenshots throughout the month, these beauties from the Halfling city of Wild’s End seemed to generate the most buzz.