Old-school MMORPG players, heads-up for you: If you’re a fan of Ultima Online or wanted to hear more about the seminal MMORPG after reading our take on Raph Koster’s book, there’s another book out there you’re bound to love. We’re talking, of course, about Braving Britannia: Tales of Life, Love, and Adventure in Ultima Online by Wes Locher, whose marketing blurb describes it as
“the first nonfiction book to collect interviews with 35 of the game’s players, volunteers, and developers over more than 300 pages, revealing what they did, where they adventured, and how their lives were shaped, changed, and altered through experiences in Ultima Online’s shared persistent world. […] In a fantasy world of limitless potential, the only thing players seem to enjoy more than playing the game is talking about it, and yet, the true stories behind the avatars have largely gone unpublished for the past twenty years.”
Among the devs interviewed? Bonnie Armstrong, Raph Koster, Starr Long, Rich Vogel, Gordon Walton, and plenty more. The book is due out later this week; you can sign up on its official site to be notified when it releases.
It appears as if Portalarium is suffering some layoffs and downsizing in the wake of the launch of Shroud of the Avatar: The studio’s Starr Long admits to “adjusting [the] team size” in a forum post written yesterday.
“Now that we are almost complete fulfilling our Kickstarter promises (brewing coming online in R55, physical rewards shipping very soon, progress being made on castle defense, etc.), we are adjusting our team size to better match our current monthly revenue. This will give us the balance we need to begin work on Episode 2 while ensuring we can support the online service. To do that means having, at least for now, a smaller team. Right now we will shift our focus from creating new content to polishing our existing systems. This means making a stronger new user experience, fixing bugs, reworking the quest system, performance improvements, user interface polish, and more. At the same time we will continue the Tier adjustments in progress which will rework our existing scenes to more appropriate difficulty levels based on our current player population.”
Fifty-four! That’s the number stamped on today’s Shroud of the Avatar release, going live at 11:30 a.m. EDT this morning. The monthly update includes two adventure scenes, an uncloned town, scene polish, new side quests, new recipes (including one for a new row house), improved player vendors, pattern removers, improved skeleton baddies, UI tweaks (like containers inside containers), and a nice buff to companions:
“Rounding out your party with the three Companions in Offline Mode will be much more rewarding in Release 54. They are more powerful as the party levels up, they have many more abilities to use, they are better at using their abilities (i.e. knowing when to heal), and they are more aware of their combat environment.”
Brewing didn’t make it into this update as planned, unfortunately; Portalarium says a lot of the “foundational” work for Brewing was completed, but the need to include containers-within-containers for the system caused a delay. It’s now expected in R55. The Chaos Magic balance pass was also delayed.
Update 52 is old news – Shroud of the Avatar is already looking ahead to release 53 and beyond. So sayeth the game’s latest newsletter, which offers a peek into the development of the bustling and cozy Viking-themed town of Westend. “Westend is located on the western end of Verdantis in close proximity to the Verdantis Shardfall. Alongside this it is in close proximity to Norgard, so for this particular uncloning we decided to bring in our Viking style architecture and improve the theme of the area as a coastal swamp biome,” Portalarium writes. “The NPC center and cluster of shops in the heart of town have now received a major makeover with multi-level platforms that rise above the swamp alongside the addition of bringing in viking themed architecture, furniture and additional propping.”
The studio is also teasing the addition of brewing and a plan to run a double-experience event thanks to the “incredible” turnout for the stress test last month. In fact, Starr Long says the team had to boost capacity on the QA server for the event: “There were so many people, 330+ at one point in three instances!”
Finally, Portalarium has a business model change on the way thanks to its move out of early access and expansion around the globe (and into new taxation territories): It’s eliminating the store credit system entirely. But don’t worry; you’re not losing anything.
Plenty of panels at GDC are recorded and uploaded to the internet weeks after the event, including this one. It’s not quite the same as being there, as you miss a few things. For example, this year’s Ultima Online Post-Mortem panel was packed. It was international. It was fun, gross, nostalgiac, and sometimes groan-inducing.
And I’d hate to just summarize the talk, especially since some of you vets have heard these stories before, but since ya’ll couldn’t make it, I’ll do it. For you. But for this particular panel, not only will I try to summarize what was said before the panel will be viewable online in a few weeks, but I’ll dish out on the after-panel chat with Richard Garriott, Starr Long, Raph Koster, and Rich Vogel, including comments from the team on bad bans, kingslaying, VR, and the state of the MMORPG.
weeks days hours to go before Shroud of the Avatar officially launches with Release 52, the crew at Portalarium are working on firming up the build before pushing it live.
So what’s on tap for the final stretch? More of the same, really. The team is working on the creation of a new zone called South Boundless Forest, which hosts ancient redwoods, kobold miners, and stag clan barbarians. Blood River Forest is another area in the making that will feature suspicious elves, a stepped pyramid, and (brace yourself) a fish hatchery.
Other projects include the new observatory home (with a usable telescope!), female shopkeeper models, custom gear for companions, and a rebuild of the town of Northwood.
Catch up on Shroud of the Avatar’s launch with creators Richard Garriott and Starr Long in Massively OP’s preview of this spiritual successor to Garriott’s Ultima franchise.
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!