Catching up with Shroud of the Avatar’s Starr Long

As Kickstarter projects successfully funded via the power of nostalgia have proven, gamer loyalty can burn strong even decades after experiencing titles that make such a profound impact. For a subset of players, the Ultima franchise will forever be one of the most influential RPG series in existence, which is why thousands of them have migrated over to Shroud of the Avatar to give it such an active following during its early access period.

Shroud of the Avatar isn’t merely a game being formed, but a community coming together to live in this virtual world. Massively Overpowered caught up with Portalarium executive producer Starr Long this week to get a status check on the project and to ask a few burning questions about how SOTA plans on being a worthy spiritual successor to Ultima.

Massively Overpowered: Is Shroud of the Avatar still on track for a 2015 release for Episode 1?

Portalarium: Yes. That date remains our goal, and we feel on track to go live about that time. Yet we remain committed to only launching if the game is really ready. That means all the major features and content are complete, balanced, polished, and fun. We are in a good position because we have no retail presence, nor have we purchased a giant media campaign for launch that is tied to a specific time window. This means we have more flexibility to launch when the game is ready.

SOTA has enjoyed a long-running and rather active testing period. What’s kept the community coming back, release after release? Why would people be playing the game now if it’s going to be wiped?

There are multiple reasons a portion of the community comes back every release. Part of it is the simple fact that we release a major update to systems and content each and every month (and always on time). Then, we follow that up by really listening to the player feedback and responding to it in the very next release.

This makes players feel that they are helping to develop the game and they want to see what influence they are having each month. Some simply come back for the special hat/mask that is only available during that month’s release.

However, the biggest draw is likely the community itself. The players have multiple events every single day, including PVP tournaments, theatrical productions, dance parties, training sessions, maze building, maze runs, sermons, home decoration contests, etc. One of the newer events that I love is something called Gust Ball. This event uses the Air Magic spell “Gust,” which moves the target backwards. One player volunteers to be the ball, and the two teams try to push the player “ball” into a goal using only the Gust spell. It’s a lot of fun!

SOTA’s combat and character system is different from the MMO norm, especially with its slot machine-like hotbar. What are the difficulties in teaching this to new players? Why not stick with older proven systems (in other words, what about SOTA’s system is so much better as to require the risk of frustrating players who have to learn this system)?

It has been challenging to teach new players, which is why we start everyone with a traditional locked hotbar and only advance them later to the deck mechanic. The most consistent critique we hear is that you have to spend too much time looking at the hotbar, so in Release 18 we have made some modifications that we think address this issue and combine the predictability of a locked hotbar with the dynamism and combinatorial aspects of the deck system.

Are there ways to buy houses and housing plots using in-game currency in addition to purchasing ones from the game’s cash shop?

Yes, houses and house plots can be purchased in the game using in-game currency. It only takes a reasonable amount of gameplay to earn enough to purchase them.

For former Ultima players, what shout-outs to the series should fans be looking for in SOTA?

Fans should expect this game to feel very much like a Lord British production. These LB touches include ethical parables and a great deal of attention to details.

For instance, in our latest release (Release 18), we have added a completely functional astronomical system with planets, moon, constellations, etc; all of which properly phase in and out while moving through seasonal changes. This will in turn be tied into actual game mechanics over the next several releases. Some mechanics, like spawning certain creatures only at night, will be obvious. Other mechanics will be more interesting; like making it so you can only get a certain property on a crafted item if it’s crafted when a certain celestial configuration is happening.

How much of the game is crowdsourced? What challenges and benefits has Portalarium gained by utilizing that?

Ninety-nine percent of the music is crowdsourced and our goal is to have a similar percentage of the sound effects crowdsourced. About 10% of the world props (chairs, tents, bedrolls, braziers, rugs, etc.) are crowdsourced.

The biggest challenge is having the bandwidth to manage this process when we have such a small team. We have to give the community enough information about what we need and how we need it made. All of which has to be followed up with a review process which includes providing feedback if we don’t accept the submission “as is.” The benefit, though, is that in some cases, like the music, we get stellar results that we would literally have no other way to accomplish.

Thanks for talking with us!

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6 Comments on "Catching up with Shroud of the Avatar’s Starr Long"

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razimus
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razimus

Aenra I’m as old school as it gets when it comes to UO and yes, this is the game for old UO fans. But unlike UO which was despised by the single-player-only Ultima fans SOTA seems to be attracting them too, which is a good thing. I’m both a single player Ultima fan since 1989 and a UO fan since 1996, and I can say there is no game out there like it. The mechanics of the pledge drive are strange to some players but getting the $45 digital game is worth it. The biggest issue people have with it after getting the $45 digital game is not knowing it won’t be launched until December 2015 – January 2016 or as this article says, when the main features are fully polished. So apparently this game is drawing in a 3rd crowd, MMO / RPG fans that aren’t familiar with the alpha/beta process. So aside from that real Ultima-ness is in the way players react to the game, the community. If the community sucks the game will suck, but so far the community is pretty decent, it won’t be a copy and paste generic MMO, and it won’t be a copy and paste UO 2.0 or Ultima single player game in the modern age, but it will be heavily inspired by those.

karmamule
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karmamule

PaganRites I’m even more bothered by my character having the sagging posterior of a 90-year old from certain angles.  What’s up with that?!??!

But, yeah, overall I’m excited for SotA because of the RP/community potential, and am confident they’ll be heapin’ some love on avatar looks in the next few months, certainly before release.

PaganRites
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PaganRites

SotA is going to be the best MMO out there for RPers.  The game already has an incredible Community, as the article pointed out.

I love the game except for one aspect.  Avatars.  Avatars look absolutely awful.  I really hope Garriot and Co. will totally overhaul avatars.  At least the heads.  They are fugly.  I don’t undersstand why.  Many Uniy based games have great looking avatars.

mindshadow
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mindshadow

I’m looking forward to playing it when it’s completed.  But based on what I’ve seen of the game, they must be insane to think they can still make an end of 2015 launch date.  There’s still so many incomplete features and tons of content to create.  This is easily at least a year or more away, perhaps two years.

BigMikeyOcho
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BigMikeyOcho

Gust Ball?! That… sounds fantastic. I’m not really interested in playing in the alphas, but the creativity the community has shown has been impressive enough to make me consider it. I’m just afraid of burning out or getting too hooked, both are quite possible.

Aenra
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Aenra

One out of three projects (in total, online and single titles included) i have backed. And one i monthly upgrade, despite glaring back and forths between ideas, implementations and game philosophies that surprisingly Massively has just “failed” to notice.. even after its going “independent”. I guess some things are only good when it suits us :)

While it is not the game for old UO fans, while it is not the PvE-only sandbox many envision (you got PvP, so you got balance, so you got..well, the usual lot really, somehow we are all still fine with that? All-in, and whatever works best?) i admit i am still really looking forward to it. Plenty of positives, enough for even the cynic to maintain some serious amounts of hoping. 
That said, do be advised you need to read a lot of long, very long forum threads prior to convincing yourselves you have a proper idea of how it currently functions/plays. 
For all their highlighting of “different”, “qualitative”, “immersive” and so on, there is a lot to be dug out in between all the PR and fabricated hype. Last but not least, if you thought you had a notion of what a fanboy/girl “is”, prepare to be amazed.

Again however, really looking forward to seeing it out there. Quite literally my last hope, far as MMOs are concerned.

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