Behind the Design: Dispositions

By Chris 'Joppa' Perkins, 03.20.19

When we say Pantheon will be a challenging game, what does that mean exactly? Difficulty can be measured in many ways and is rarely one-dimensional. Some games tune and measure difficulty in terms of actions per minute (APM) or rapid pattern recognition and response. They are challenging because combat requires the player to respond on cue to exact patterns or to fire off a rapid sequence of keystrokes in a short timeframe with little margin for error. But with Pantheon, our philosophy of challenge puts less burden on nimble fingers and more on what we call strategic depth: designing gameplay around a longer-term curve that asks players to make decisions not based purely on reaction time, but by increasing players long-term reward or lowering their long-term risk based on a growing knowledge of the game.

The Disposition system will play an important role in achieving that strategic depth and evolving an aspect of MMORPGs that has been dormant for a long time.

The Inspiration

The genesis of this idea came while mulling over the “groundhog day” conundrum of MMO content. Sure, dungeons can be extremely challenging to crawl through. Camps can be woefully difficult to carve out and hold. All of this can be compounded based on the group makeup, the group’s levels, and quality of gear. But with enough time, repetition will win the day as players learn the fights and the risks. Before long, the sameness of the experience leads to an auto-pilot mentality and the excitement and challenge is lost.

Fast forward a year or so and I find myself playing Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. One of the things that resonated with me was the trait system for the Uruk Captains and Warchiefs. It was a unique challenge every time I encountered one because I couldn’t anticipate what their unique strengths, weaknesses, and behaviors would be. It was possible I could find myself lacking the resources or the positioning to deal with a particular trait and get in trouble fast. In other cases, I might find I was able to take full advantage of particular weaknesses and charged headlong to meet them.

At some point, the two worlds collided. What an amazing way to breathe excitement, challenge, and unpredictability into the NPC landscape of MMORPGs. These were the ingredients that gave rise to the Disposition system.

The Mechanics

The Disposition system will give NPCs a chance to spawn with one of many possible Dispositions, granting them unique strengths, weaknesses, and behavioral qualities. These Dispositions will typically be portrayed by an adjective at the beginning of the NPC’s name, though there will be Dispositions only identifiable through the Perception system and rare, vision-altering Artifacts.

To share a few of the more basic examples of Dispositions, if you were about to attack a group of Lizardmen in a dungeon, you might see "A Deranged Lizardman” and “A Cunning Lizardman” in it. As a discerning player, over time you've learned:

A "Deranged" Lizardman

    • Is immune to Stun, Mesmerize, and other disorienting effects.

    • Will attempt to flee at unpredictable times and in erratic ways

A "Cunning" Lizardman

    • Can see through Stealth.

    • Cannot be attacked from behind or pick-pocketed.

    • Is vulnerable to ranged attacks.

Here is a short list of possible Dispositions you could encounter as you explore Terminus:

    • Cunning

    • Deranged

    • Predatory

    • Pyrophobic

    • Alarmist

    • Sniper

    • Bloodthirsty

    • Acrobatic

    • Truesight

    • Avenging

    • Playful

    • Mastermind

Over time, as a player learns these Dispositions and is able to associate them with different NPC types, they will become more "skilled" within our strategic depth framework of challenge. Players who choose to go the extra mile and learn, even networking with other players to learn, get rewarded with long-term, strategic benefits within the game.

Immersive Impact

As a final note, combat will not be the only place you will see unique and surprising behaviors in our NPCs. Seeing townsfolk go inside and close their doors at night. Seeing a farmer run and ring a warning bell when a wolf has wandered too close to the chicken pen. Seeing small cave creatures scatter and disappear when you pull out your torch in a dark cavern. NPCs doing thoughtful, odd, and believable things is part of what will make Terminus feel more immersive, impactful, and truly alive.

As always, thank you for reading. Until next time, onward and upward!

Chris "Joppa" Perkins