Update of the Avatar #43 – 10/10/13: Combat Sigil, Story Sneak Peek, Basements, Druid Home, Bonus Rewards, & More!

Greetings Fellow Avatars!

We have some amazing stuff to share in this edition of Update of the Avatar!  We’re revealing the awesome looking Combat Sigil, we’ve added player housing basements (and included them as bonus rewards in the Citizen level pledges and up), we have more to show on the Druid Home, as well as a long-awaited sneak peek at a snippet of the story that Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott have been secretly crafting!

Combat Sigil


Followers of the martial path use this mighty combat sigil as their symbol. The sigil shows the eight schools of combat that a warrior can follow. There are four armor schools: Light Armor (Cloth & Leather), Medium Armor (Chain & Scale), Heavy Armor (Plate), and Shields. There are four weapon schools: Blades (Swords & Axes), Polearms (Halberds & Spears), Bludgeons (Hammers & Clubs), and Ranged (Bows & Crossbows).

Stephen Daniele (lead concept artist) provided these different treatments of the combat sigil:






Story Sneak Peek

Very little has been revealed of the Shroud of the Avatar story that Tracy Hickman and Richard Garriott have been crafting. They are ready to start revealing snippets of that story a little at a time. Here is the first tantalizing morsel:

“Few know the tales of the dark times, much less what happened before them. Since the great Cataclysm 400 years ago the world has slowly recovered but much was lost…”

— Arabella

Where do we start, when telling a tale? We would start at the beginning, but so much of those days have been lost to us. We can see the fragments of the world that came before all around us; under a hill near a quiet village there might be a ruined building, made of alabaster and marble, speaking quietly of days past and glories lost. Occasionally an inscription can be seen carved in a wall, a fragment in a language similar to ours, yet different enough to be unclear.

The ruins of the world past tell us little, so we turn to myth, prophecies and legends retold. They speak of a cataclysm long ago, when the sky burned and the ground tore itself apart, and the long years afterward, the cold, dark famine. The stones of the past tell little of who survived and how. The legends tell us only that so very few did.

We know a little more of their children, the men and women who rebuilt our world from the shattered past. They were a practical people, those who passed through far more than we can imagine. They left few grand monuments; you could say that their greatest monument was their own survival.

And of their children, we know more. The desire for power and control returned, as it always does, to consume the weak and the strong. Wars were fought then, amongst the ruined cities of their forefathers. New magic came to the world then, as warlords vying for power sought any advantage over each other. New, terrible monsters thought only whispered legends began to walk the earth in those days, serving their purpose in the endless conflict, even if that purpose was only chaos.

And their children understood it could not continue, and united to defend themselves against the warlords and the sorcerers. The city states arose in those days, and we learned that together we could defend ourselves. Yet still the darkness and the chaos pushed at us.

We are still a practical people, traveller. We do not think much about the why, only the how. We are young, after all, and it has not been very long in the shape of things that we have had the luxury to breathe. We are still building our world back to where we can shape our own monuments of alabaster and marble.

Legends and myths tell us little traveller, but they are very specific at times, and those are the times when legends can frighten you. I tell you this, because there is one legend in particular that should interest you. It tells that the world will begin its next cycle, led by a power horrible and great. It is very specific as to the year, traveller. And I think you can guess which year that is foretold.

And that, traveller, is why we fear you…

Player Housing Basements

SotA_Stone_Basement_2_Floors 2-Story Village Stone Basement

During a problem solving session about cutting holes in terrain last month Starr Long proposed the notion of player basements. That night, Rick Holtrop found he needed a spot to place all the crafting stations he was working with, so he laid out a quick basement just to store his crafting stations for easy access when he needed them for scene creation.  The next morning he showed his makeshift basement to Starr, who got pretty excited when he saw it, and started a thread on the Dev+ Forums to get the community’s feedback:

Starr: Sometimes constraints can lead to some of the most interesting ideas. Case in point: cutting holes in terrain and expanding player houses.

There were two features we discussed wanting for Shroud. The first was the ability to cut holes in terrain that would allow us to make transitions to underground areas seamless from the surface. The second was the ability to expand / modify player houses. After a week of technical exploration of various tools we determined that for several reasons (performance, amount of world building time required, etc.) cutting holes in terrain was just not going to work for Episode 1. This means that for Episode 1 going underground will require a teleport / map load (we promise to make them fast!). Don’t worry though! The interiors of buildings (including player houses) will still be contiguous and not require map loads.

We also read the thread about player housing customization and we agreed with the general consensus that it leads to very inconsistent visuals. We also thought that because of the limited number of lots in the game most people would only be able to have one lot (and therefore one house) at any given time. In the case of most individuals this would not be an issue but for some individuals and for some groups (i.e. guilds) this limitation might be stifling.

So then we realized if we have teleports to underground areas could we not use those to allow players to expand downwards underneath their lot? That is when the idea of player basements appeared. The idea would be that you could basically add another story (or multiple stories) below your house!

Let us know what you think of this idea and we will consider pursuing it further.

And, boy, did they let us know what they think! That thread exploded into seven pages! As a result of that community design collaboration, we decided to add basements to player housing. Basements will come in 3 sizes just like lots (Village, Town, and City) and will come in variations of materials, floors and layouts. As an extra bonus to our amazing backers we’re adding Stone basements to the Citizen Level Pledge and above:

Bonus Pledge Rewards:

  • 1-Story Village: Citizen and Edelmann
  • 2-Story Village: Knight
  • 1-Story Town: Lord
  • 2-Story City: Baron
  • 3-Story City: Duke
  • 4-Story City: Lord of the Manor

Village Stone Basement

Bill Kirkman got busy crafting a variety of basements. The image above shows his 2-story Village Stone Basement, sitting beneath the Shingle-Roof Village Home.

As you can see from the following overhead view, the Village Stone Basement, including stairwells, is almost as big as Village Lot!



Here is a sample interior view of a single floor that Bill decorated:


As this view demonstrates, your basement can be decorated to suit any variety of tastes or purposes:


And here is a view of entire 4-Story Village Stone Basement:


Village Stone & Timber Split-Level Basement

In addition to the Village Stone Basement, Bill crafted the Village Stone & Timber Split-Level Basement, available in the Add-On Store in two, three, four, and five story configurations. Here’s a view of the 5-story configuration, nestled beneath a Shingle-Roof Village Home:



Here’s a perspective view of the 2-story configuration:


And here are a few interior views that Bill decorated for demonstration:



Oh yeah, everyone needs a hot-tub in their basement!


City Stone Arena Basement

Next up, Bill and Scott Jones went way over the top with this grand City Stone Arena Basement! Here is a side view, positioned beneath a Lord Home on a City sized lot:




The enormous central room can be utilized to host combat tournaments (hence Bill’s naming this dungeon the “Arena”), or as a Grand Hall for Lordly feasts!




Over the course of the project we plan to add more basements of different sizes and styles, allowing players a multitude of uses.

The Village Stone & Timber Split-Level Basement and the City Stone Arena Basement are available at an introductory 25% discount in the Add-On Store!

On the basement forum thread, one of our community members posted his intended use for the basements:

smack: More storage space you say? Yes…….I have no need for your innovative and elegantly designed home decorating system. I just need….space.


Druid Home

In our 3-month demo video premiered at RTX 2013 back in July, we included a cool looking tree house in the town of Owl’s Head. We called it the Druid House.

Isaac Oster documented the development of the Druid House in a Developer Blog posting (with the collaborative thread in the Dev+ forum):

Isaac: Hi everyone, we’re committed to bringing you exciting in-game housing, and today I’m going to walk you through the progress on our Druid house. The original idea was that the house would look like an old stone structure that had been almost completely overgrown by a giant tree.


Isaac: Stephen created the concept above, which I used as reference for a sculpt in ZBrush. Because the tree is so large, we were going to have to use tiling textures, rather than unique textures. Without getting into too much technical detail, we like to have a minimum texture density on our models, and in order to get that the tree would have required a HUGE texture. With tiling textures, resolution is easy to get, but we can’t capture any detail that doesn’t show up in the low poly geometry. As a result, the high poly sculpt was relatively simple. I used it to create the overall shape of the tree, without worrying about bark texture, leaves and small branches, stone work, etc.

We also had to think about the interior space. After talking with Michael Hutchison, our Environment Lead, we decided to expand the house through the back of the tree, to increase the living area as much as possible. We also added a ramp around the side of the tree to make accessing the second floor possible, without having to take up valuable interior room with a staircase.


Isaac: Once the high poly sculpt was finished, it was time to retopologize the model, in order to create a low poly version for use in the game. I paid special attention to the undulations of the trunk and branches, in order to capture as much of the large shapes as possible. We have a trick called vertex coloring, which allows us to add a color overlay per vertex on top of the texture, even if the UVs are set up for tiling. This will enable us to darken the crevices, so long as the geo is set up correctly. It’s essentially creating the appearance of ambient occlusion.

The small branches were made in 3DS Max, and the leaves were created by applying a texture with transparency to a plane. Most images have three channels: red, green, and blue. Each channel is capable of creating 256 different values between black and white, with 1 being black and 256 white. When the three channels are combined, there are around 16.7 million possible colors. Some images contain an additional channel, called an alpha channel. It has the same amount of data as the other channels – 256 possible values – but generally is used to control transparency. The game engine looks at the alpha channel, and if the value is black, the associated geometry is clear. If it’s white, its opaque. For performance reasons, we usually don’t use any value other than completely black or completely white. This is why you sometimes see aliasing in transparent stuff in games. Aliasing looks like little stair steps. Those steps are the pixels in the alpha channel, controlling transparency.


Isaac: Once the low poly geometry is more or less finished, the next step is to layout the UVs and start looking at different textures. Unity comes bundled with a lot of great textures, but it can take a bit of experimentation to find the ones that work the best. Not all the geometry has to use tiling textures, either. We still need to add lots of little details, like vines, doors, and chimneys, not to mention the interior. Most of these items will have their own unique textures. The image below is a snap shot of the tree as it is. We’re still actively working on it, and we’ll try to post updates as the Druid House progresses.


Lead artist, Michael Hutchison added to the thread:

Michael : “We’ve been continuing work on the Druid Tree, and I thought I’d show you how it has come along. As Isaac mentioned above, one of the techniques we have in our toolkit is to use vertex coloring on our models, and one of the things we can do with vertex coloring is to paint in shadows and highlights on 3D meshes to simulate “ambient occlusion” (the play of light and shadow over a surface from a generalized scene lighting). This technique is an efficient way to simulate lighting for scene performance, and is especially effective on very large models (like the Druid Tree), which are too big to have a unique texture and which must rely on tiling textures instead, and where it would otherwise require lights to be placed in the scene nearby in order to pull out the contours of the model.”

“I asked Jay Reichman, one of our team artists, to do a vertex color pass on the Druid Tree; I also asked her to add some vines to the tree and to modify some other details to make the whole thing feel more organic. Next, I did some work on the bark using a different material shader that enabled us to blend between different textures on the same object… all put together, we have the latest results below!”


Community member bdo7 posted in the forums that we should make the Druid house available as an add-on. We thought this was a great idea, so we did a little more work on it, and have included it in the Add-On Store.

The Druid Town Home, is a cozy two-story dwelling with an open-air deck on the second floor, and an external spiral ramp leading to the second floor. Here is a view of it positioned on a Town Lot:


Here is a side-by-side view of the Druid Town Home, Tower Town Home, and the Viking Village Home (Tower and Viking also available in the Add-On Store):


This is an overhead view showing how the Druid Town Home, Tower Town Home, and Viking Village Home fit within a town lot:


And here are views of the first floor, second floor, and upper-level deck:




The Druid Town home is available in the Add-On Store at an introductory 50% discount!

Housing Bonus Rewards

Exciting news for everyone that pledged at Edelmann level and above, you will now receive all the homes from the lower level tiers! This means, for example, if you pledged at Knight Level, you will also receive the Edelmann and Citizen level homes! All of these homes will be part of your inventory upon starting the game, and you can swap them out on your property as much as you please!


Example: Founder Knight Level Pledge Receives these three homes: Founder Knight, Edelmann, and Citizen

Congratulations to Tracy & Laura Hickman For Their Successful Sojourner Tales Kickstarter Campaign!


Tracy & Laura Hickman’s Sojourner Tales Kickstarter campaign was successfully funded last night at $55,651 in pledges … 214% of their original funding goal!

It was an exciting countdown for the campaign! They achieved the $50k Stretch Goal in the final minutes, but it didn’t look like they had enough momentum to reach the $55k Stretch Goal that included the three SotA-based modules. In the closing moments of their campaign, a big pledge from an anonymous patron of Shroud of the Avatar pushed them past the $55k stretch goal! Thanks to this anonymous patron, everyone who backed Sojourner Tales will receive the three Sojourner Story Modules that will be set in the Shroud of the Avatar universe!

If you missed out on pledging to Sojourner Tales, they are still accepting pledges on the Sojourner website.

Congratulations Tracy & Laura!


  1. Nymphonomicon

    I don’t know if anyone’s asked this but I’ve been wondering for a while; will that statue from the e-mail banner be present in the final game? It is a rather striking piece of art and I’d love to see it in the game.

  2. SeirSeir

    Wow! So much gets done so quickly!

    Love the story and sorta want to hear more (but sorta not too much to spoil it), liking the way combat is being arranged, love the basements (!!!) and love the tree house; just built one this summer for my 4 and 9yr old…nothing so grand but they enjoy getting to run the 200ft zipline from the treehouse to the house :)

    Was excited to see Sojourner move beyond $55K, excited to see that project move forward now.

    Thanks for the extra houses, variety is a great benefit!

  3. Sir_HemlockSir_Hemlock

    Phenomenal! I loved reading the story reveal and am looking forward to future ones. The game is looking amazing, every part of the entire update. I would also like to extend a congratulations to Laura & Tracy Hickman on achieving their stretch goal.

  4. DeliverenceDeliverence

    That was a huge update, lots to read through and excited to see the new basements very impressive work.
    Thanks for the hard work this gaming is shaping up very well, I’m glad I supported this project.

  5. jhovgaard

    Amazing! Didn’t even expect graphics to be this good and authentic. Awesome work! One thing I noticed: The Tower Village isn’t really working. It looks like something from Disney – too cartoonish :-/

    1. Forest_DwellerForest_Dweller

      So does the Wizard’s Tower, Jhovgaard. I almost expect it to start dancing down the road and the wizard calling, “Come back! Come back!” The cartoony look is kind of risky. The more real things feel in-game, the more I am immersed and the more I enjoy it. I did buy the Druid’s home, however. I love the researched and authentic look of the other homes. Most of them work well together.

  6. Selat

    This Project is just the must for 2014! i cant wait to see the world, some information about the adventure, ingame.

    The houses, amazing!

  7. SmyrnoSmyrno

    Wow a lot of stuff in the update! All very exciting stuff.

    Dallas, you always do a fantastic job of writing and formatting the updates, the quality really shines through and we all appreciate it.

  8. Lord_ToastLord_Toast

    I can’t wait to read the story. I’m almost drooling. My only question concerns the Combat Weapon School, does range cover ‘gas-guns’ and ‘lighting guns’? Or did the Developers cancel those ideas during my mini-sabbatical?

  9. TammenTammen

    Awesome update! Basements will definitely be a great addition for storage and I would guess some mischief. Never know what someone will be making down there!

  10. Shades2585

    Will we be able to buy the basements with in game money and not real money? Or basement expansions?

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