Update of the Avatar #36 – 08/14/13

Update of the Avatar – 08/14/13: The Making of a Female Avatar, The “Double Down on Community” Mission, the $10,000 Challenge of the Avatar, and More!

We have several exciting topics to cover this update, including a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of our first female avatar, the female ranger concept art, the first Challenge of the Avatar (with over $10,000 in rewards), The Double Down on Community Mission, the new Recruit-a-Friend Reward Program, the Hearth of Britannia Telethon, and a survey for the clothing style you’d like to see in Shroud of the Avatar! So, let’s get started!

Since the update on the female avatar is a few sections down, we thought you might enjoy these teaser videos to hold you over until you read that far:

The “Double Down on Community” Mission!

We are eternally grateful to you, our amazing community, that have pledged so much support, and are contributing in so many direct ways to help us make this game great! Some have asked why we are continuing to do fundraising and why we are spending time on “special rewards”, wondering if this was delaying core game features.

We believe Shroud of the Avatar (SotA) has a strong unique feature set that will stand out sharply against even the best of the recently announced EQ/WoW clones and sequels. But those games are funded by large corporations and likely have literally 100’s of millions of dollars behind them. To help insure SotA’s success in such a market, we want to ship as feature rich as possible, and thus the ongoing fundraising.

Since so many of you have already pledged so much, we intend to keep adding value to your existing pledges while bringing in new sources of funding. We believe the potential size of our community of backers is at least twice the current number, so we ask that you join us in our Double Down on Community Mission! This mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help us double down on our collective efforts to grow our community of SotA backers from our current size of about 24,500 to 50,000 by, or before, May 2014.

The larger our community the more input we will have on game design, the more alpha/beta players we will have helping us find bugs, putting loads on our servers, showing what works and what doesn’t. When we first proposed Ultima Online to Electronic Arts so many years ago, the EA execs projected only 30,000 lifetime subscribers. As soon as we announced the game we signed up 50,000 beta testers. EA was forced to revise their estimates.  Those 50,000 beta players insured that we had enough daily players to adequately load-test our servers, and balance our game design. This is one of the reasons why our Double Down on Community target  is to have 50,000 backers signed up by, or before, May 2014. It is only through the powerful word-of-mouth efforts of each and every one of us that we can hope to achieve this mission!

And yes, the effect of a growing community will be additional funds to invest in the development of Shroud of the Avatar: bigger world, more towns, more NPCs, more Avatar types, more weapons/armor/wearables, more scenes/levels, more quests, deeper skills/crafting, etc., etc. SotA will be great even if we don’t raise another nickel, but it will be that much greater with every nickel we raise. And you can rest assured that we will invest every nickel available to us into making Shroud of the Avatar the best that it can be!

To kick off our Double Down on Community mission, we’re introducing our new Recruit-a-Friend Reward Program

Recruit Your Friends and Become a Duke!

To help us reach our goal of 50,000 SotA backers by May 2014 we’ve launched a Recruit-a-Friend program with some pretty awesome rewards!

For every single new backer you recruit that pledges at the $45 Adventure Level (or higher), you will receive a $25 recruitment bonus added to your pledge amount (* these recruitment bonuses only apply toward increasing your pledge level and do not apply toward items in the Add-On Store)! In addition to the $25 recruitment bonus you receive for every single new backer you recruit, you will also receive:

  • 1 recruit = You and every backer you recruit will receive a unique, unteachable emote! Only recruiters and recruitees will ever have this emote (we’re thinking a kind of “High Five” emote to acknowledge each other in game)
  • 5 recruits = a special, unique, hunting dog pet (available only through recruiting)
  • 10 recruits = A Darkstarr Moondial (yes, this is another chance at getting a Darkstarr Moondial)

In addition to these ongoing recruitment bonuses and rewards, we are also running a special promotion thru October 31, 2013 where the top recruiters can earn the following:

  • The Top 5 recruiters earn a Citizen Level Pledge value added to their pledge account ($550 additional pledge value!)
  • The #1 recruiter earns a Duke Level Pledge value added to their pledge account ($5300 additional pledge value!)

To be eligible for these recruitment rewards and bonuses you must be a SotA backer at least at the First Responder Level ($25) or higher. When your new recruit pledges at the $45 Adventure level (or higher) they will be prompted to enter the email address of the backer that recruited them. Please provide your recruits with the email address you registered your account with on our SotA website (or the email address of your Kickstarter account you pledged with).

By the time you read this the SotA website will be accepting recruiter email addresses at the point when new backers make their pledge. It won’t apply if you try to recruit yourself, as we won’t count email addresses that are identical to the account making the pledge.

We’re sure there will be more details we’ll need to address just as soon as we publish this update and questions come flooding in. We’ll create a page on our website this week that outlines the Recruit-a-Friend program details, as well as any additional details of the top recruiter promotion running through October 31, 2013.

The $10,000 Challenge of the Avatar: 48-Hour Scene Creation Jam!

We are also excited to announce our first Challenge of the Avatar: 48-hour Scene Creation Jam! With over $10,000 in rewards! We’re still working out the exact details, but the challenge will work something like this:

  • At 6PM CST on a Friday we will announce the details of the challenge for the weekend. We will post a link to a YouTube video and documents revealing the details of the challenge. Think Iron Chef meets game scene creation!
  • You will have until 6PM CST on Sunday to start uploading your completed scene!

There will be 4 challenges on every other weekend starting September 6th and going through October 18th. The Friday after each challenge we will reveal the scenes we have chosen. On October 25th, we will select the overall best scene created during any of the 4 weekend challenges.

The list of rewards will likely keep growing as we attract more sponsors but for now here is what you can receive:

Weekly Rewards

  • Shroud of the Avatar KNIGHT Level Pledge ($800 value! Can be divided into smaller pledge tiers for multi-person teams)
  • Shroud of the Avatar T-Shirt

Grand Reward

  • Shroud of the Avatar DUKE Level Pledge ($5300 value! Can be divided into smaller pledge tiers for multi-person teams)
  • Unity Pro 4 license!! ($1500 value!)
  • UnityVS license!! ($249 value!)
  • Occulus Rift Dev Kit! ($300 value)
  • Shroud of the Avatar T-shirt signed by the dev team

Dates, details, and rewards are subject to change over the next couple of weeks, but as soon as they are locked down we’ll publish a special KS Update (and SotA web page) with the final information. So stay tuned!

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice?  Not For Our Female Warriors!

Isaac Oster (character modeler; known as ioster on the SotA forums) has been charting the progress of our first female avatar in a great thread in our Developer+ Forums. Here are some excerpts from that forum thread…

Isaac: “Stephen [lead concept artist) has a lot on his plate right now, so we decided to forego a concept and use google to find what we need. My impulse with this kind of thing is to work towards a balance between athletic and feminine. The first part of the process is to spend some time doing image searches. Looking for photos of pretty girls on the internet is tough, but somebody has to do it.”

Isaac: “Once I’ve collected some reference, and the relevant folks have signed off on the overall direction, its time to build a basic base mesh and start sculpting. Zbrush provides a great set of tools for building base meshes, so that part of the process is pretty easy. The sculpting is the hard part. Here are a few screen shots of the sculpting process.


Isaac: “The base geometry created by zbrush is good for creating an initial form, but the lines of the geometry are arranged in a grid, which doesn’t support smaller features like eye lids or nostrils. In order to create these elements, it’s necessary to retopologize the model. Topology is what we call the grid lines that make up the edges of the faces. Retopology is creating new geometry that maintains the shape of the mesh with correct edge flow. This is done by clicking on the surface of the original geometry, building a new mesh vertex by vertex. This is a pretty big bottle neck in the modeling workflow, and the folks who make zbrush have put a lot of thought into automating this process. The resulting tools work fairly well, and allow me to push the sculpting pretty far before to having to get in and retopo the whole thing. With something as complex as a face, there’s just no substitute for doing it by hand. Here’s a shot of the original geometry, the automated retopology, and the final retopology.


Isaac: “In the example above I called out the face, but I end up retopologizing the entire body, to make sure the poly count stays at a reasonable level, capture the silhouette in the low poly, and ensure predictable deformations at the knees, shoulders, and elbows. I also made sure the hands have enough geometry to maintain finger volume. They’re just tubes, and tubes like to flatten out when they bend. Here’s a shot of the high poly model in its latest incarnation. There’s still some sculpting required for the hands and feet, and general subtle tweaks all over. Once the figure is complete, we’ll add some underwear – Shroud is a family friendly undertaking : ) – and start building her outfits. We’re still planning how our outfit system will work, but the first one is going to be a suit of armor done in the same style as the current avatar. Should be pretty cool.


One of our community members, Phredicon asked: “…how does creating an avatar like this fit in to a design of having character customization (like height, weight or build)?

Chris Spears explained: “As for the tech behind different sizes, the easy solutions are to do uniform scale on the character for tall/short etc. That works fine. To make players stouter the easy way is to scale only in 2 dimensions to make them thicker. This never really works though. The real longer term plan is that we will likely be using morph targets. Using those we give a thin version and a thick version and interpolate between them. So the above model would probably be 95% of the way to thin and 5% fat.

Here are more works-in-progress (hair and bikini roughed in to see what she looks like):

Yeah, we know, the fingers look a little weird in this version! Isaac fixes them later.

Isaac: “The low poly game mesh is ready and UV’d. Total tri count with the eyes and mouth interior is just south of 7k. I’ve also finished creating the normal maps and the ambient occlusion bakes. This process essentially captures the way the surface would be lit as though it was surrounded by light. The ambient occlusion will form the foundation of the color texture. I usually create the textures at 2048×2048 and derez on export. You can always go down in resolution.

Isaac: “We’re going to need to use the head with different body types, as well as switch out different gloves and shoes. As a result, the model is broken up into individual pieces and assigned unique textures. I will need to add an additional mesh and texture set to handle the hair.

Isaac: “I’ve been working on the face and hair. These renders are out of 3DS Max, and don’t have the spec maps set up. I’ve applied a global spec setting to the materials, just to get a rough idea of how it’ll look. Most materials have a uniform specular highlight, so if you were to assign it to a sphere, you would see a circular highlight between your eye and the light source. Some materials are made up of tiny fibers or grooves running in the same direction, which changes the behavior of the specularity. This results in a more linear highlight, which tends to stretch out along the flow of the fibers. This behavior is called anisotropy, and hair, compact disks, and brushed metal are all examples. Setting this up correctly makes a huge difference in the material looking the way it should, and we’re still in the R+D phase. We decided on a pony tail as the starting hair style. We’d ultimately like to have a variety for you to choose from.

Isaac: “…this is getting pretty close to being done. There will be lots of tweaks as the project evolves and we become more comfortable with the engine. For now though, we have a base mesh that Bren [Wilson, animator] can begin animating, and I can get started building armor and outfits for her. I’m about to start a set of armor that looks similar to what the current male avatar is wearing, and I’ll keep you posted on the progress. I hope you’ve enjoyed watching the process, and thanks for your support!

She’s Alive! She’s Alive!

Isaac then passed the model over to Bren Wilson (rigger/animator) for animating. Bren rapidly prototyped our new female avatar shooting a bow, which came out pretty darned good! Check out this video:

Hey, How About Some Clothes!

Isaac started a follow up thread on the Developer+ Forums, Creating the First Outfit for the Female Avatar. Here are some excerpts:

Isaac: “Hey everyone! I’ve been working on the high poly geometry for the female avatar’s first outfit. I got the thumbs up on it yesterday and have started on the low poly retopology. I’ve included a few shots below. Stephen [Daniele, concept artist] did a concept for the male that I used as a reference. We modified it to include taller boots, and I added a few extra details to make it as visually interesting and believable as possible. We’re treating armor as a separate asset we’ll be able to use across a variety of different outfits, so that will come later. There is also an exploded view of the high poly model, with all the various pieces spread out a bit. It’s much easier to create a model like this by creating separate pieces than to carve it out of a single mesh. I’ll be helping out with Pen of the Avatar later today, and will be happy to answer questions or demo modeling techniques. I hope you like the progress so far!

Isaac: “The low poly geo, UVs, and bakes are done. I spent some time working on a nice chain mail texture today, so look for a post on that soon. This is the low poly, retopologized in Zbrush and UV’d in 3DS Max. I did the bakes in Max as well. The tri count is around 5300. The torso and skirt on one texture set, and the boots are on another. Currently both are at 1024, but that will probably drop for the boots. We’ve kept the boots separate so we can use them independently of the torso.

Isaac: “Here’s the same geometry with the textures, which are a little lower down in the post.

Isaac: “I’m always kind of amazed at how much difference the textures make. Here’s a detail of the low poly geo with and without the textures.

Isaac: “Here are the torso textures:

Isaac: “Here’s a near final version of the first outfit for the female avatar. Hope you like it!”

Bren didn’t waste any time hooking up his bow-shooting animation to the newly clothed female avatar:

If you’d like to learn more, check out episode 8.6.13 of Pen of the Avatar (PotA) where Isaac gives a live demonstration of some of the techniques used to create the female avatar and her armor:

View PotA on YouTube

Thunder Chicken’s Wife Inspires Female Ranger Concept Art!

Those of you following the last couple of Pen of the Avatar (PotA) episodes know that Stephen Daniele (lead concept artist) has been working on the concept art for a female ranger avatar. In the final minutes of the 7.9.13 PotA, Stephen and Gina Dionne (SotA Community Manager, aka firelotus on the forums) requested photos of headshots from our female community members that we could potentially use as models for any of our game characters:

We received some great photos from our community! One of our members from Dallas, Texas, known on the forums as Thunder Chicken, submitted headshots of his wife, Lisa, which Stephen chose as the facial model for his female ranger concept art. Here is what Stephen had to say about his choice:

Richard [Garriott] first expressed his idea for 4 avatar archetypes early in the Kickstarter process. These archetypes would be the visual starting point for avatars in Shroud of the Avatar. Fighter-Melee, Fighter-Ranged, Wizard-Offensive, and Wizard-Defensive, both male and female.

“When I started the fighter-ranged character I wanted to concept a woman. Richard’s inspiration for the avatar was a female version of Aragorn; strong, capable, rugged, alone, attractive and someone you don’t want to mess with. My first thought of that kind of character was someone like Xena or Wonder Woman. A raven haired woman with dark expressive eyes. A woman that leaves no doubt she can take care of herself.

“During an episode of Pen of the Avatar, I asked the community to submit photos of those who fit the description that I would base the concept on. We received some excellent examples of strong capable woman. One of our community members, Thunder Chicken, submitted photos of his wife, Lisa, who I felt was the most appropriate for our fighter-ranged avatar.

Here is a sample of Lisa’s photos:

Thank you Lisa and Thunder Chicken! Here is Stephen’s final concept art for our female ranger:

If you are interested in watching Stephen’s creative process for the female ranger concept art, then check out episode 7.23.13 and episode 7.30.13 of Pen of the Avatar:

Hearth of Britannia Presents: Telethon of the Avatar!


On August 10th (and completely independent of Portalarium), the great folks over at Hearth of Britannia announced a very ambitious 24-hour Telethon to help bring in new backers and raise more funds for SotA game development! The Hearth is even adding their own rewards to the pledge rewards that we provide! How cool is that!

This is exactly the kind of community support that can help us achieve our Double Down on Community target of 50,000 backers! The Hearth didn’t require any help from us regarding special rewards for their Telethon, but we plan to reach out to them and see what we can do to help!

Check out their site, the telethon FAQ page, and Facebook event to learn more! Here’s a video of Rustic Dragon telling you more about it:

POLL: Vote for the Clothing Style You Want in SotA!

We finally have the first of several polls where you can vote on the Clothing and Armor styles you would like to see in Shroud of the Avatar. Richard (“Lord British“) and Gina (“FireLotus“) went though all of your submissions and there were so many good ones they decided to break it up into categories rather then just picking the top 3. The first category to be voted on is clothing. Per Lord British himself, “Clothing is meant to provide some, but minimal protection, and would often be worn just for style.

Here is the forum thread to enter your vote!

  • Clothing Style 1 – Colorful Court Clothing
  • Clothing Style 2 – Romantic Renaissance
  • Clothing Style 3 – Aristocratic Victorian
  • Clothing Style 4 – Gothic Highwayman
  • Clothing Sytle 5 – Gypsy Pirate
  • Clothing Style 6 – Tribal Warrior

Please Register on SotA and Link Your Kickstarter Account!

Stay on top of all the latest game development news by registering on our website, https://www.shroudoftheavatar.com. And if you have not already done so, please be sure to Link your Kickstarter Account, so we can ensure that you receive all of your backer rewards as soon as they are ready to roll out!

The Grand Finale!

For all of you that made it to the end of this very long update, here is a special treat! A video of the latest male avatar by Geoff Mellon with a sword attack animation by Bren Wilson! Enjoy!

[This edition of Update of the Avatar written by Dallas Snell, COO/Co-Founder, Portalarium]