If you missed it, Shroud of the Avatar pushed out its November update pretty early this month due to the Thanksgiving holiday (an action that the team will repeat next month as well).
Before the team takes a break to feast on the carcass of an oversized bird, it wanted to go into greater depth on some of the big changes with Release 48. Some of the updates this time around included improvements to artifacts, virtue gear, and enchantments.
“Release 48 is chock full of stuff,” said Starr Long. “We got more work reducing the load times, we got a new lighting model in there, more side quests, more story polish, more unique components, audio polish, video effects polish, UI polish, holiday items, and the long-awaited tree and grass mover.”
There’s an hour of dev chat waiting for you after the jump, so get started already!
Shroud of the Avatar has rolled out Release 48 as of early this afternoon, which may just upset your internal clock a bit, since usually they happen at the end of the month! Holidays are pushing the schedule up, however, which is good news for anyone who wanted to actually play through Thanksgiving week.
R48 reflects Portalarium’s focus on its launch priorities checklist. “We continued to make strong progress on load time reductions, story polish, and creation of new scenes,” the studio’s Starr Long says. Expect updates to the in-game map, UI, holiday items, item decay on death, load times, lighting, all four story paths, artifacts, loot, and worldbuilding passes, including new mines and scenes, although not the rebuilt Novia additions, which have been postponed. Check out the screens below for a tease!
Following the release of its October content update a few days ago, Shroud of the Avatar’s weekly newsletter delivered a hodge-podge of smaller news pieces. These snippits include a spoilery look at the climactic setting of the Oracle Temple, more Make a Difference charity sale items, an announcement that the team will host a panel at SXSW in March, and the introduction of SOTA’s new web developer, Kory Kirk.
Portalarium said that it will be rolling out its next free trial in a few days, which will run from November 1st through the 15th. At this point, why not leave it on for good, really?
Developer Starr Long also informed players of one big change that will come in the November 16th update: “Artifacts will undergo a major refactor in Release 48 in order to better align them with the rest of the economy. In order to not have them directly compete with crafted goods they can no longer be repaired like regular items. Instead they will only be able to be repaired by salvaging other artifacts to get ‘Artifact Essences’ that will be used in Artifact repair. This will cycle Artifacts out of the economy and require players to re-acquire them periodically or destroy other artifacts (thereby simulating ‘production’).”
It’s almost the end of the month, and you know what that means: Shroud of the Avatar’s monthly update. R46 is due out this Thursday, a day after the current free trial period ends. Portalarium has posted a top 10 list of priorities for updates, the current version of which highlights load times, client FPS, loot rewards, story polish, AI, UI, the newbie experience, locatlization, launch prep, and improved player direction, something our own Eliot Lefebvre isolated as a problem during his recent CMA series with the game. As the studio put it,
“Currently we rely on some very subtle and ‘immersive’ indicators for information in the world (ex. piles of skulls to indicate scene difficulty). We are going to provide much clearer indication of information. For example, on the overworld all towns will have clear indicators of their town type (POT, NPC, etc.). We will also indicate whether you have a quest in a scene, a clearer label of the scene’s difficulty, perhaps even an indicator of what services a scene might provide (bank, mail, blessings, etc.). We will also start providing more on screen indicators of this information, so that while you are in a scene you will better know what kind of scene it is, what difficulty it is, whether you have quests in the scene, etc. We will also work hard to polish the maps and compasses to better guide you to and from your quests, homes, services, points of interests, scene exits, etc.”
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.