Ultima Online isn’t considered the progenitor of the MMORPG genre for nothing: It’s closing in on 20 years of operation next week, to be celebrated at a real-life event outside of Washington, DC, this very weekend, with Broadsword devs and original Origin devs, including Richard Garriott and Starr Long, in attendance.
“The team and I are working hard to finish up the second part of Publish 98 which includes Holiday gifts, new Artisan Festival Rewards and new Veteran Rewards as well as several bug fixes,” Broadsword Producer Bonnie “Mesanna” Armstrong writes in this month’s newsletter. Some of those fixes revolve around the enhanced client, the current version of the upgraded client that Armstrong has said half of the playerbase uses; specifically, performance during live, studio-run roleplay events is an issue, both in terms of graphical effects and loot.
Shroud of the Avatar’s equity crowdfunding venture has gone rather well: Portalarium declared last night that it has “exceeded [its] SeedInvest target and [is] now reaching new heights,” meaning it’s raised $570,913 toward its original $500,000 target minimum ($465,000 from small-scale investors and $105,000 from higher-end accredited investors), with a potential round size of $2M. There are just over three days left for investors of all stripes to jump in. Don’t miss our interviews with Richard Garriott and Starr Long if you’re still on the fence!
Meanwhile, Portalarium has announced that with the release of R44 last week, it plans to “experiment with extended postmortems that are also Mini-Telethons.” If it proves popular, it’d potentially mean a switchover from the exhausting 12- or 24- hour telethon stream the team does quarterly to a monthly 4-hour fundraising session as the team delivers its release recap and Q&A.
Yesterday, Shroud of the Avatar’s Starr Long announced a change to its testing forums that has ruffled more than a few backer feathers.
“Due to the potential economic and gameplay advantages of access to the QA server, QA Bug Forums, and Release Instructions prior to a Release we are no longer going to make those exclusive to Dev+. Starting with next release (Release 45) access to the QA server, QA Bug Forums and early drafts of the Release Instructions will be available to ALL paying backers regardless of level. This will put everyone on a level playing field and remove any potential advantages. […] Dev+ Forums and access to them will remain unchanged. Only access to the QA servers (and associated bug forums) is changing.”
Long apologizes for the fact that the “previous policy has allowed some players to gain advantage over others” — according to Reddit, those amounted to insider trading and economic advantages akin to those enjoyed (and exploited) by Guild Wars 2’s secret tester program.
But some long-time backers are annoyed, arguing that they’ve now lost one of the perceived perks of their support and will now see more competition for the bug reports they were incentivized to lodge. However, in statements to Massively OP, Long pointed out that QA access itself wasn’t part of any pledge purchase and that Dev+ forum access will remain intact.
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).”
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.
Following Ultima Online’s most recent update, animal training is at the forefront of many adventurer’s minds. The overhaul to the system has received a lot of feedback, some of which the team is taking to use for adjustments. One of the biggest of these is a 50% reduction in damage when a pet attacks a player.
Speaking of updates, Publish 98 is on track to be tested later this month. The team isn’t talking much right now about what that patch will contain, but hey, it’s coming!
Ultima Online’s 20th anniversary party in Virginia this September with Richard Garriott and Starr Long is currently at capacity, so the organizers are asking attendees to inform them ASAP if they are no longer coming so as to free up their spot for others. The team will be raffling off three grandfathered castles to the entire community at that point, attending or not.
This week in MMO crowdfunding, Frontier launched Elite Dangerous for the PS4, complete with relevant adjustments for touchpad controls and a “fast headlook” mode for wireless controllers.
Meanwhile, we hosted a double round of podcast interviews with MMORPG developers, all running crowdfunded games: Ashes of Creation’s Steven Sharif and Shroud of the Avatar’s Richard Garriott and Starr Long.
Oh yeah, and there was that mess with Star Citizen fending off claims that it had been sold to a bank.
Read on for more on what’s up with MMO crowdfunding over the last week and the regular roundup of all the crowdfunded MMOs we’ve got our eye on.
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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Construction continues apace at Shroud of the Avatar, where the team reports that two new areas are being crafted for future releases. There’s the Sepent’s Spine Mines, a Kobold-infested underground space that will be one of the game’s “most vertically oriented mines to date.” Then there’s The Fall, an open PvP area named after what you’ll probably be doing when you are foolish enough to wander around in its dark spaces.
In this past week’s newsletter, the team also showed off the technological arsenal of City Kobolds (and players will be able to loot and use some of these weapons!) as well as the wearable outfits of the Obsidian Cabalists.
On Friday, March 17th, SOTA’s Starr Long will be talking at SXSW Gaming on the subject of “Is video game early access too early?” According to the description, “This talk weighs the pros and cons of early access using Shroud of the Avatar as a case study.” Looking past that, Release 40 for the game is scheduled to arrive on March 30th, followed by Release 41 on April 27th.
If you’ve been following Shroud of the Avatar a while, you know that Portalarium periodically puts on wild telethons for its Twitch viewers, streaming deep-dives into game content, Q&As, and dev antics while attempting to raise money for development. Yesterday’s “Spring Telethon” event raised a cool $142,000 from gamers, unlocking in the process a ton of “stretch goal” style in-game rewards for folks who pledged as little as five bucks, from masks and lanterns to fountains and thorn-themed gear.
Alas, the $150K “Mini-Mushroom Psilocybin Monster Pet,” which “sends out cloud of spores that makes avatars drunk,” didn’t make the cut.
The whole telethon is available for viewing on Twitch and below, but we would be remiss not to include the requisite picture of Starr Long dancing too. If you catch only one part of it, hit the part about an hour in when Richard Garriott is discussing critical feedback — and how not to give it.
We’re counting down Massively OP’s weirdest MMORPG stories of 2016!
And the #1 weirdest MMORPG story of 2016 is…
… that time when Richard Garriott sold his blood for Shroud of the Avatar, as we wrote in a pair of articles over the summer.
The real story is a little bit more complicated, of course. Shroud of the Avatar’s Richard “Lord British” Garriott and Starr “Darkstarr” Long donated their blood to be used in 10 pieces of “blood reliquary” artwork created by Steve Brudniak; the artwork was then put on Ebay for an initial bid of $5000, though they were moved to the game’s website following what was likely an issue with Ebay’s rules. The price has increased as each one sells, and they do indeed sell; as I write this, in December, only one Lord British reliquary remains for sale (at $13,000), while two Darkstarr pieces remain (at $12,000 and $13,000).
Proceeds from the sales benefit both the game and a designated medical charity, which is actually pretty cool.
Autumn has returned to Shroud of the Avatar in the form of Harvest, a Novia region being rebuilt with a more “agrarian theme” for release 35.
“Harvest is located across the channel from Estgard,” write’s Portalarium’s Esteben “SorcerousSteve” Zaldivar. “It is an area primarily focused on agriculture nestled along a red/yellow countryside that has recently come under occupation from Norgard forces. As an occupied town it has taken on some of the symbolism behind the color yellow and Norse influence of its Norgard conquerors. Inspiration for Harvest was obtained from the Autumn Season and Upstate New York (Letchworth).”
Got a housing lot in the area? Don’t worry. Lots aren’t changing; the studio assures player it’s making only “cosmetic changes of building styles, terrain, and foliage.”
Shroud of the Avatar has the honor of being one of the first MMORPGs to tease Halloween content this year, meaning it’s only about two months behind all the damn retail stores. Why am I even bitter? Halloween is awesome! SOTA’s latest newsletter highlights ghost pets, burned down homes, dead foilage assets (your very own Felucca, perhaps?), Halloweeny emotes, and a creepy spider leg cloak, all en route to the game — and that’s in addition to the city of Estgard, which is also on the way and gets a deep-dive and a slew of images in the piece.
The devs continue to plug SOTA Con, what it’s calling “the first ever community organized convention for Shroud of the Avatar.” The Baltimore-based event will be attended by both Richard Garriott and Starr Long and runs November 4th to 6th.
The newsletter also highlights a certain MOP streamer’s brave forays into the current build of the game. Check that out, plus the newest screenshots, below. Arachnophobes should probably stay away!