I often joke with our readers that Massively OP is not an MMO uptime monitor, but darn if we don’t feel like a Richard Garriott uptime monitor lately — love him or hate him, the man is on one hell of a PR tour for his book and Portalarium’s crowdfunding. So what’s one of the founding fathers of the MMORPG genre and the current boss at Shroud of the Avatar doing today? Boosting Neverdie Studios.Project Entropia player bought an asteroid in the game for $100,000 and then flipped it a few years later for more than six times that, ultimately setting a Guinness record and claiming to be the “first gamer to make a million dollars inside a virtual world”? That player was Jon “Neverdie” Jacobs, and Neverdie Studios is his real-world secure bitcoin-like-trading venture promoting “Etherium Blockchain Gaming,” which amounts to peer-to-peer online money trading and is of particular to interest to online gaming studios. The company has apparently already raised $2 million in a pre-sale and has now launched an “initial coin offering” (ICO) whereby people can invest in the tech.
See: Shroud of the Avatar
If you haven’t figured it out, Shroud of the Avatar and Ultima Online’s Richard Garriott is on a press tour lately for his new memoir, Explore/Create, in which he talks about his interesting life of video game development, adventuring, and even space travel.
As part of that tour, Garriott penned a piece for NBC news in which he goes more in depth about his stint as an astronaut that was sent up to the International Space Station in 2008. While the game designer paid a large sum of money for the privilege of the space flight, he pushed back hard against any suggestion that he was nothing more than a tourist.
“Please don’t call me a ‘space tourist,'” he wrote. “I was not a tourist. I got the same training NASA (and Russian) astronauts get. In orbit, I worked hard to complete those experiments both to offset the high cost of my flight and, more important, to build the businesses that will take me (and you) back to space and ultimately help humanity escape the cradle of our existence.”
Watch out, Comic-Con: Shroud of the Avatar’s masterminds are on their way to rock your geeky world. Richard Garriott and Starr Long will host a panel on the upcoming game this Thursday, followed by a discussion of Garriott’s memoirs this Saturday. All publicity is good publicity, right?
While the big dogs are away, the cats will get back to work polishing up the MMO. The team reports that it’s been hard at work improving the visuals for three key cities that includes the full interior of a castle. Past that, two scenes are in the making, the former battleground of Hallowed Plains and the finale zone of Grannus Colossus.
“This Colossus map is located in northern Novia, and houses the giant Colossus statue of Grannus, titan of courage,” the team explained. “As Boreas was to the path of truth, with solving puzzles and using clues to progress to the colossus, this area is to courage (pitched battle against barbarian cannibal tribes of the north).”
Barreling toward this month’s Release 44, Shroud of the Avatar is (ahem) fleshing out its Elven population with better models and even female models. Elf-lovers need not soil their breeches in excitement, as these are (for now) solely NPC models and nothing that players can take out on the town for mailbox dancing.
In addition to polishing the Jaanaford scene and reworking the Boreas boss model, the team has activated a nearly month-long trial of the game. That means that now through July 26th, you’ll be able to test-drive Lord British’s newest fantasy realm.
Didn’t Shroud of the Avatar just have a telethon? It did! But this is a special one in honor of Portalarium founder and MMORPG genre stalwart Richard Garriott and his birthday. Technically, we already celebrated his birthday by blowing up some explosives and grilling burgers on July 4th (that was why we did that, right?), but July 6th works just as well for this event.
The fundraiser kicks off today at 4 p.m. EDT as this post is going live (you can watch it down below) and as usual offers special Lord British-themed stretch goals for donors as well as closes down some past rewards. Plus, “For every $2,500 donated, all developers on camera have to either dance, sing, or drink a shot of alcohol.” Devs will also be answering player questions submitted on the official site.
Fundraising efforts on the studio’s SeedInvest portal continue as well; yesterday, Portalarium added several dozen new screenshots and updated its 2016 financial statement (they’re down under “data room”). Of note, Garriott still maintains a 52% controlling interest in the company, which has spent $18M on the game and deferred $11M in revenue.
The one thing that I thought we could all count on forever was that the MMO life cycle was pretty easy to understand. A game is launched, then it runs for a certain amount of time, then it shuts down. That last part kind of sucks, but the point is that you know when it’s time to move on. The life cycle is clearly one of creation, then life, then death, like a potted ficus or a cheap desk chair you get at Target.
But then sometimes you have a cheap desk chair that breaks in a crucial way, but you manage to screw the right sort of braces together so you can keep using it for another year after it should have been thrown out. And sometimes an MMO is born, and then it lives, and then it… doesn’t live, but it’s not actually shut down or in maintenance. Or it isn’t clear what’s going on with it, due to what seems to be total abandonment. Or it updates more than games which are supposedly live.
That’s what this column is all about. MMOs in a weird sort of limbo, where some facts are clear, but the results or the overall trajectory make no sense. Sometimes it’s not even clear if the game has actually launched or not. It’s weird.
Shroud of the Avatar’s 43rd release dropped over the weekend, boasting tweaks to the Path of the Oracle, performance updates, a balancing pass for the offline economy, the new mail system, and a whole bunch of new and rebuilt locations, including the previously previewed Celestis, Libris Ruins, Boreas Colossus, Sequanna Colossus, and Bloodriver Outskirts.
Also in the latest newsletter is a quarterly update from Portalarium. “Our priority continues to be to deliver new content to our backers each and every month so that you can give us feedback that will help us iteratively improve Shroud of the Avatar,” writes Executive Producer Starr Long, who notes that the studio’s focus right now is on game performance, the new user experience, and whipping the game’s story into shape. As outlined, the next three releases – scheduled for July 27th, August 31st, and September 28th – should further those goals, along with updates to player towns, rent, combat, LFG, the economy, crafting, the UI, and the offline ruleset.
Massively OP reader and Patron Avaera has a thoughtful question for the team and readers this week. “I wish more virtual world games thought deeply about what impact they can have for the better,” he writes.
I posed Avaera’s question to the whole team for an intriguing Overthinking.
There’s a path forward for Shroud of the Avatar, and it includes the game’s story being done in July. Well, not totally done; the plan is currently that everything beyond one outskirts map will be in Release 44 in July, though. That’s one of the big parts of the game’s development roadmap for Q3 2017, covering the next three patches in July, August, and September as the development team rolls along.
Performance and the new user experience will also be major priorities for updates through the quarter, with plans to keep polishing the user interface, balance for online and offline play, and general quality of life features. Of course, all of the development plans are subject to change over time, so the update shouldn’t be read as a firm set of dates so much as a set of targets for the game to hit. Feast your eyes on all the planned changes in the full dispatch, and get ready to play the game’s story from start to finish in the very near future.
On this special bonus episode, Justin catches up with Richard Garriott and Starr Long about Ultima Online’s spiritual successor, Shroud of the Avatar. How is this project shaping up now that it’s nearing launch? Listen and find out!
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One of the big complaints about Shroud of the Avatar during its lengthy testing process has concerned poor optimization and clunky, laggy gameplay. These issues might start becoming a thing of the past, thanks to today’s Release 43.
“Release 43 contains both a huge amount of new content and a major improvement in performance that will generally improve everything about playing the game (and I do not exaggerate),” wrote the team. “Framerates have been improved in every scene, doubled in some! This really will make playing the game feel so much better in every way.”
The update also adds the huge Blood River Outskirts scene, fleshes out the Path of the Oracle, expands the mail system, and balances the offline economy. The team said that it will be putting out its Q3 2017 roadmap tomorrow for fans.
We’re nearing the end of another month, and that means, like clockwork, another Shroud of the Avatar patch is almost upon us. Release 43 lands this Thursday, bringing with it updates to the Isle of Storms, the Crypt of the Avatar, the Graff Gem mines, and the Asian-themed city of Celestis, all of which are previewed in the game’s latest newsletter.
Following this week’s update, Portalarium has two events planned: a “special mini-telethon around Lord British’s birthday” on July 6th and a free-trial period that’ll run most of the month of July, beginning on the 3rd.
Stay tuned for later this week; we’ve got an in-depth sit-down discussion with the SOTA leads on the way!
In yesterday’s comments on the Shroud of the Avatar AMA article, MOP reader squidgod2000 drew everyone’s attention to an overlooked bit in the Q&A that discusses nutrition in the game. I knew that food was intended to be a big deal in SOTA, but I had no concept of how far the game might eventually go — apparently a complicated system of calories, fat, and salt that affects a player’s stats. Richard Garriott says it’s all still a work in progress and only slowly being addressed (that goes for barfing up your food if you eat too much too!).
I love playing cooks in MMORPGs — let’s be honest, games are the only place I’ll ever be a great chef — so I most definitely want to see game mechanics in my sandboxes that make such consumables matter. I didn’t mind the various versions of “stomach capacity” Star Wars Galaxies implemented, for example. But I’m going to have to draw my personal line at counting calories in a freakin’ video game. Sorry, SOTA, but most of us have to do that and worry about our health or our relatives’ health in the real world.
And that leads me to today’s Daily Grind. How much realism is too much in an MMORPG?