With the game’s 100th patch in the rear-view mirror, Ultima Online’s developers are already hard at work on the 101st patch due out in September, according to Broadsword’s latest newsletter. Notably, Bonnie “Mesanna” Armstrong says that the planned housing refresh is indeed coming that month, with new castle and keep designs on the way, subject to a player contest to decide which ones make the final cut.
Broadsword is also still working on “storage solutions” in the wake of the game’s free-to-play conversation last spring; players will be able to effectively rent 125-slot vaults for their account, shared across all characters, at a price roughly equal to $3 per month. If you don’t pay up, you lose the storage space – oh, and everything in it. It might be easier to just pay the $10-$13 sub and get a house, yeah?
Most studios would be overjoyed to have pioneered one significant advancement in video game history, but then again, most studios aren’t Kesmai. While it’s not a household name today, it’s reasonable to say that without the heavy lifting and backbreaking coding that this company shouldered in the ’80s and ’90s, the MMO genre would’ve turned out very different indeed.
Previously in this space, we met two enterprising designers named Kelton Flinn and John Taylor who recognized that multiplayer was the name of the future and put their careers on the line to see an idea through to completion. That idea was Island of Kesmai, an ancestor of the modern MMO that used crude ASCII graphics and CompuServe’s network to provide an interactive, cooperative online roleplaying experience. It wasn’t the first MMO, but it was the first one published commercially, and sometimes that makes all the difference.
Flinn and Taylor’s Kesmai didn’t stop with being the first to bring MMOs to the big time, however. Flush with cash and success, Kesmai turned its attention to the next big multiplayer challenge: 3-D graphics and real-time combat. Unlike the fantasy land of Island of Kesmai, this title would take to the skies in aerial dogfighting and prove even more popular than the team’s previous project.
Strange sights abound in Shroud of the Avatar right now. “Astronomers across New Britannia have noted that the approaching comet has agitated the creatures of Novia and Hidden Vale, making many bolder and more ferocious,” the game’s latest newsletter teases. “Rumors suggest that the aether surrounding the comet has been mutating some of the most powerful creatures into new monstrous variations.” That’s all in the lead-up to next week’s Release 56, so best get in there and try not to die. Portalarium further notes that it’s planning another stream with more info about what’s inbound to the game, including more tools for player-generated content.
“One of the new features we plan to discuss is a set of new building tools including dungeon creation (player property) and defense building (player property, castle defenses and control points). These are part of a larger effort to increase the community’s ability to craft their own adventures that includes existing tools like notes and signs but is also expanding with other new features like advanced container settings (locks, place/take settings, etc.) along with craftable/purhasable/placeable traps and spawners (spider eggs, skeleton crypts, etc.). When you put all of these things together your ability to craft adventures will be limited only by your imagination! Last livestream we also did not get a chance to talk another cool thing coming for Episode 2 which is the ability to ‘un-nest’ and/or transfer your Player Owned Town into the new lands!”
So many games have test servers of one form or another that we seldom even need to spell out the acronym PTS – and now one more MMORPG is moving itself to that pile. Black Desert
has opened up its “Global Lab
,” and it actually reminds me more of something like Ultima Online’s
multi-region free-for-all temporary servers, as it’ll include boosts and other tweaks for characters being played there. Nope, you can’t transfer existing characters there.
“We are launching the first Global Lab server to help improve the stability of new updates on the live servers,” Kakao says. “Through the new server we will open game content in development earlier so that we can test them as well. Thus the Global Lab server will already have characters pre-created depending on the test purpose and some game money will be provided so that you can test the characters fully. The servers settings may also be changed so that you can gain items and raise your character faster. Similarly, the Global Lab server may be reset or the service may be suspended at any time in order to analyze the feedback as quickly as possible so that we can apply the feedback as much as we can into live service.”
The test environment does require a separate client download, and apparently it won’t work for EU players, in spite of the fact that Kakao is located in the EU. Expect a reset every two weeks.
Earlier this week, we wrote about the launch of a new book that’s right up MMORPG fans’ alley. Dubbed Braving Britannia: Tales of Life, Love, and Adventure in Ultima Online, the book gathers together 35 interviews with players and both former and current Ultima Online devs to effectively become the first published oral history of the MMORPG that started it all.
Author Wes Locher was kind enough to answer a bunch of our questions about the book and provide us an excerpt to help you folks understand what you’re getting into if you decide to pick it up. Read on for the whole scoop!
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.
On this week’s show, Bree and Justin cleans up after Guild Wars 2’s PR disaster, chew over the survivability of Shroud of the Avatar, and commiserate about Camelot Unchained’s delay. It’s not all downer news — there’s some really great stuff happening in the MMO industry, and that makes an appearance on this extra-long episode!
Special note: If you want to skip the ArenaNet discussion for the rest of the news, go to the 50-minute mark (yeah, we talk about it a lot!). Also, please note that this was recorded before the Polygon article that came out Monday night, so it’s missing some the additional commentary on Mike O’Brien’s second formal statement.
It’s the Massively OP Podcast, an action-packed hour of news, tales, opinions, and gamer emails! And remember, if you’d like to send in your own letter to the show, use the “Tips” button in the top-right corner of the site to do so.
Listen to the show right now:
With release 55 now behind it, Portalarium is focused on the future of Shroud of the Avatar. Specifically, that means episode 2, which is basically the second season of content for the game. To fund that content, the studio has opened up what it’s calling a “stretch goal store” tied to the episode.
“These are stretch goals with rewards that can be used in the game now (or at least very soon),” Portalarium says. “These rewards are completely unique. They will not be sold in the add-on store, in-game nor as a bundle item. Once the stretch-goal is met we will begin work on the functionality for Episode 2 and all the items purchased would gain some function related to the goal when Episode 2 launches. For instance the foal from the Mounts stretch goal would grow into a horse that you could then ride. Each goal will have a progress bar underneath tracking the progress. General philosophy is that these items cost slightly more than equivalent items because they are linked to stretch goals.” $42,500 was raised on the last stream alone.
The company has also kicked of a new rewards program, which looks like an optional subscription to us; for $9 monthly, players will be picking up a monthly currency stipend, vet titles, dyes, potions, and $5 credit toward month livestream stretch goals. We’ve tucked the game’s latest livestream below – the beginning is worth a look for the Antiques Roadshow spoof!
Shroud of the Avatar has long been an odd bird in the MMORPG crowdfunding space. Driven by the eccentric Richard Garriott, it raised large sums of money and managed to be one of the first nostalgia-driven MMOs to make it from Kickstarter to launch – several times, we’ll note. And yet today, Eurogamer went so far as to call the game an apparent flop, citing its low Steam numbers and the layoffs we covered a few weeks ago.
Garriott has rejected the idea that the game is “on the ropes.” To Eurogamer, he reiterated Portalarium’s party line that the majority of players play off Steam and that the playerbase is “in the many thousands but not in the many tens of thousands of monthly active users at the moment.” He also rebuts the claim that half the team was let go, stating that the company went from more than 20 to a “little under” that now, not counting contractors.
So what the heck is going on over there? Garriott says Portalarium has struggled with marketing, spending on publicity that didn’t materialize; the company is “trialing new marketing internally” to try to tap into the “millions” of Ultima fans who still don’t know his new game exists.
What better way to celebrate freedom than in a game that is all about freedom to do and create as you want? Shroud of the Avatar allows players the chance to create their own content with cities, events, plays, bands, sports, and much more. Massively OP’s MJ is also free to wander the world and explore cool cities and zones, seeking out cool vistas and creatures. She’ll be doing just that while looking for some trouble to get into, so join us live at 7:00 p.m. to celebrate independence from themeparks.
What: Shroud of the Avatar
Who: MJ Guthrie
When: 7:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 4th, 2018
Over the weekend, my husband and I were chatting about playing on a Star Wars Galaxies emulator again, probably the Legends one that people keep recommending to me. And yes, it’s an NGE server. I was basically weighing all the content that was ultimately added during the six years of the NGE against the skill-on-use-based classic game. I loved the ol’ skill tree system to bits, so don’t get me wrong, but I was able to do most of the same things, eventually, in the NGE using classes and specs and secondary trees like beastmaster, and I floated the idea – horrors, I know – that maybe the skill system wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Fighting words, right? So that led us to discussing whether the original skill tree offered merely the illusion of choice. We were thinking about MMOs like Ultima Online and Guild Wars 1; only a very small percentage of skill builds in those games are actually viable, after all. The same is true even of level-based games with talent trees. Most builds are terrible, a waste of time, a way to present the feeling of lots of choices, but in the end only a few combinations are worth pursuing – so why did anyone bother designing and implementing them? And interestingly, we both came to the conclusion that classic Star Wars Galaxies somehow escaped that trap. Even weird builds were viable because the rest of the game made space for them rather than tried to trick you into bad choices.
What’s your favorite MMORPG with a skill-based progression system, and if it avoids the “illusion of choice” in character development, how does it do so?
The release of Raph Koster’s monster book of game essays, Postmortems, was of high interest to Bree and me for different reasons. For her, it was because Koster was a creative driving force behind two of her favorite games, Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. For me, it’d because Koster shares my passion for MMO history and has some unique stories touching on topics that no one has heard before.
So I combed through his collection of essays to see what I could find out on two topics of interest to me: MUDs and the elusive Privateer Online. Chances are that many of you reading have never touched a text-based multi-user dungeon, and none of us save Koster and his coworkers, ever got to even peek at Privateer Online.
Here’s a few quotes that popped out at me, and if you’re interested and have $35 to drop on a Kindle version, you can read Koster’s full collection of essays in Postmortems.
Portalarium is shaking off its layoffs and plunging onward with the release of Shroud of the Avatar’s 55th update. Release 55 should be live just as this post goes out, and it’s set to include an elaborate brewing system, the UI overhaul, new minizones, and new enemies. But the best news of the update is the fact that SOTA now has a reasonable in-game way for every single player to pick up a starter house.
“All Avatars who complete the entire story will receive a Player-Owned Town Row Lot Deed (Taxed) from the Oracle! This means completing the Paths of Truth, Love, Courage, and the Path of the Oracle. This will be retroactive, so anyone who has already completed the story will merely need to revisit the Oracle to receive their lot deed.”
This is a huge deal given that one of the biggest pre-launch complaints about the game revolved around the difficulty and grind associated with house ownership. The studio says it’s being implemented “at the suggestion of the community.” Do note that it’s not a tradeable deed; it’s “meant to celebrate a significant achievement, and as such is a retroactive reward, given to all players who have successfully completed the three Avatar paths.”