The day is finally arriving: Shroud of the Avatar is formally launching next week. It’s been a long journey. The path to this new old-school MMO started back on Kickstarter on March 8th, 2013. Now, five years almost to the day, SOTA is emerging. On March 27th, release #52 will be the official launch of episode 1. And fans didn’t have to wait until the end of the month to celebrate; Portalarium hosted a launch party this past week in Austin, Texas.
Besides hanging out with devs and fans at the shindig, I visited the studio’s offices for a tour and interview with Richard Garriott and Starr Long. There, I got to see memorabilia from the very beginnings of Garriott’s game-making career as well as a sneak peek of the events that will occur at SOTA’s launch. After that, it was celebration time at the awesome From Pong to Pokemon exhibit at the The Bullock Texas State History Museum (which happened to have a display of some of Garriott’s early gaming goodies!)
Shroud of the Avatar’s next-to-last newsletter before its final launch is here, and it’s chock-full of release 52 teases – that’s the patch that’ll signal the launch. The team features multiple new and redone zones, a new observatory home, and female player vendors, as well as promises framerate boosts, new crafting patterns, heraldry, new companions, and offline spawning.
In other Shroud of the Avatar news, if you happen to own the western version of the game but aren’t actually located here right now – say, you’re stationed overseas – you might have found yourself caught up in the recent account migration. It’s apparently of particular concern for military service people stationed in regions where SOTA accounts are being migrated to SOTA’s Russian publisher, as service people have been instructed not to interact with Russian internet services, so there’s been a bit of a panic on the official forums as people tried to get that sorted out.
When we covered Shroud of the Avatar’s newsletter yesterday, one of the tidbits we mentioned was the plan for craftable housing. In response to a question from a player, Starr Long essentially announced that in the launch patch next week, Portalarium is planning to tweak that system, which has long provoked claims of pay-to-win.
“Yes we are going to be expanding the number of craftable houses soon. In R52 in fact we are adding a craftable inn.”
So what exactly does housing entail? A helpful Redditor linked to a helpful thread on the official site just a few weeks ago breaking down how exactly you can buy property without handing over your credit card because you definitely can – that’s the good news. If you’re not a crafter yourself, you just need a specific currency, Crowns of the Obsidians, which you can buy with gold.
As Shroud of the Avatar surges toward its formal launch later this year, the devs are continuing their stream of weekly newsletters. This week, they’re talking up their updates to the South Midmaer Way, construction on new map South Fetid Swamp, and bears. Kind of a lot of bears. In fact, all the bears have been “completely rebuilt.” Bears bears bears. OK, I’ll stop. They are pretty cute!
In patchy news, Portalarium is also working on the planned player vendor revamp coming in R51. “The first thing we will try to improve is visual variation,” Starr Long explains. “Long term we plan to support customization of vendors via equipment choice but for now we are focusing on providing that visual variation through our pattern system. These patterns will include a female version of the current vendor, a completely new outfit based on Victorian shopkeeper uniforms (with gender and skin tone variations), and a cash register that will act as a fully functioning player vendor (even though it does not appear as an NPC).”
Focusing on its top launch priorities for Shroud of the Avatar, Portalarium pushed out Release 50 today with tons of balance tweaks, optimization improvements, and polish passes for its community to experience.
Players should find that the framerate has taken “another step forward’ with this build. Release 50 also contains polish for all of its starting scenes, the rebuilt Sunless Barrens and South Drachvald Spur, a huge expansion to the crafting system, better NPCs and animals, UI tweaks, and a big rework of the math driving its combat system.
Not satisfied with Shroud of the Avatar’s storebought wolves (seriously), Portalarium decided to breed, er, rebuild its own creatures from the ground-up. The new and improved wolves, who will most definitely huff and puff and blow your $500 house down, are coming in this month’s Release 50.
In this past weekend’s developer update, the team also discussed the making of the lava-strewn Sunless Barrens and showed off the new Watermill home that’s being added to the game store.
And how about some incredibly pink Valentine’s Day decor? A few items are being included in Release 50, such as a heart-shaped tub and gift boxes. The patch is already in testing and will be coming to live on Thursday, January 25th.
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.