Greetings Fellow Avatars!
Here’s what we have for you in this week’s edition of Update of the Avatar:
- Release 5 Perspectives & Release 6 Revisions
- Benefactor Baron City Home
- Founder Teachable Emotes
- Recruit-A-Friend Emote
- Dev+ Crafting Table Unity Asset Pack
- Castle Stone Arena Basement
- Rustic 2-Story with Loft Village Home
- Wood & Plaster 3-Story Village Home
- Blade of the Avatar Novel: Chapter 20
- Alienware $20 Pledge Upgrade Coupons
- Upcoming Events
Release 5 Perspectives
We made it! The team was scrambling till the 11:59th hour, and the last few bits made it in during our live patches, but it all worked out! Release 5 went very well.
Once this gem in the rough was in YOUR hands though, you did some MIGHTY impressive things with it. We turned on persistent housing that would not roll-over every hour and added quite a few new player towns, and you ran with it! The RP’ers and homesteaders could finally begin to dig in, and what they created was outstanding! We even saw the 1st player town, Pax Lair, which was also the 1st player town in Ultima Online…
Because of the timing many of the most visible elements the players were in a very unpolished state for this release. In fact, even just two days before we went live the game was in a completely unplayable state. Combat didn’t work at all, AI’s weren’t working, switching maps would crash 100% of the time, other players couldn’t see objects placed on lots, all the scenes were either too bright or so dark you couldn’t see anything, and conversations weren’t working at all. So while the release was really rough for this release, I have to admit that internally we were high fiving each other that it was not MUCH worse.
…on the positive side of player facing stuff, a LOT of good changes were made to help us improve the visuals going forward. The largest was switching from gamma to linear lighting model.
Now for the less obvious stuff that is even more exciting…
Thank you everyone for another successful release. Once again you have proved what an amazing community you are and how we are on track to making the greatest crowd funded and crowd sourced RPG ever! At this point, some of you might be saying, “You call that successful? What release were you playing? Can we get that one please?”
It is important to understand what we define as success with these releases. For us the definition of success is clear:
- Create and test new content / features as they are made
- Keep team in the discipline of shipping content every month
- Engaging our backers to provide feedback on direction and improvements of the game
- Keeping the game playable for at least 90% of our backers
By those definitions we feel Release 5 was a resounding success. However we feel like the overall quality and polish of the game has decreased in many areas. Additionally we feel like we need to apply a more concerted effort on upgrading the visuals and user interface of the game. For those reasons we are in the process of rethinking our current release schedule and in particular we are going to refocus Release 6 on more polish and less content. We feel that about once per quarter we should have one of these polish releases to keep the quality of the game up to ours, and your, standards.
At this point many of you might be saying “Several systems have been pushed for more than one release now. How are all these changes affecting the stated goal of an October release?” Well thank you for the tough question. I have a mantra about ship dates: “No one remembers when you shipped but they always remember how you shipped.” With that in mind you should rest assured that we will launch when you tell us the product is ready. That might mean October is not feasible, but let’s focus on making the right product, not the when product.
RELEASE 6, May 22 – 25, 2014: Without further ado here are the details of the new Release 6 plan:
- Visual Improvements: We really want to improve the quality of our visuals to a point that we feel competitive with modern games. To that end we are allocating time each release for some ongoing work. Here is just a short list of some of the things we are working on for Release 6 in the area of visual improvements:
- Lighting Fine-Tuning: With the switch to the new lighting model we now have to retune our lighting levels across the board. Tuning and balancing the brightest day and the darkest night takes some time. It is a careful dance to get a strong contrast between well lit areas and dark shadows. We want light sources to mean something in underground areas and at night so they will be dark. This means having a torch and/or light spell handy is a really good thing. We also introduced tone mapping in R4 which is a technique that simulates your eye irising back and forth. This technique also requires careful tuning to get the brightening and lightening just right. Tune it too bright and we obviate the need for any light sources, tune it too dark and you won’t even notice it.
- Shaders: Right now we use very simple specular and bump mapping shaders. We are going to investigate some other shader types including Relief and Detail that might create more details in our textures.
- Characters: We have several efforts in progress including getting our skin shader happy with the new lighting, deformation issues with the female arms, polishing movement and combat animations, and fixing wearables sorting issues. After we get those issues sorted we can move on to making hair better but we are waiting for our transition to Unity 5 for that so we can take advantage of some new features there.
- Environment Art: For performance optimization we had originally kept the number of triangles in our buildings, walls, dungeons to an absolute minimum. Recent performance analysis suggests we are not bound by this constraint so we are going back through and adding geometry to some assets so that they will look better in lighting. For Release 6 we are focusing on Dungeon and Castle Walls to make them not be such flat planes.
- Player to Player secure trade: Did you discover something cool you wish to give your friend? Need to share some potions with a party member? Did you craft something amazing you want to sell? Secure trade is the answer and will allow you to make exchanges of goods between you and other players.
- Crafting: We now have specific animations and tools for each crafting table so we will replace the default animation in Release 6 with these specifics. We will also take a pass on alignment and sorting issues related to crafting tables. As a stretch goal we may try to add some more sound and visual effects to crafting and harvesting
- Combat: Our first pass at abilities in R5 did not include secondary effects like stun, knockback, root, etc., nor did many of them have visual effects. And in some cases they didn’t work at all (I’m looking at you Light spell!). For R6, we will be finishing out those abilities and adjusting the casting animations to work better with equipped weapons. We are also fixing some blending bugs that prevented many of the weapon animations from displaying properly. Once we address all these issues, we can resume work on card combat, deck building and the death system for Release 7 and 8. We are also going to take a pass at better color coding for combat floaties. Finally we will work weapon sheathing and unsheathing functionality so that we can explicitly know if you are ready to talk or kill!
- Looting: We are making some architectural changes to how we create, store, and transmit data in containers (chests, corpses, player houses, inventory, etc.) that should fix some of the looting exploits, like the one where all players could loot the same corpse equally, and corpses could be looted multiple times just by exiting and reentering a scene. We are also going to work on fixing issues related to targeting a corpse.
- Emotes: We will be working on some improvements to emotes that include looping emotes (dancing, conversation, etc.) as well as adding audio to them (clapping, laughing, etc.). We will also make it so when you are chatting we will play the convo emote automatically.
- Animals: Currently all our animals (bears, wolves, etc.) are purchased assets and the skinning, rigging, and animations for them is not meeting our quality standards, so we are going to reskin and rig them so that we can redo their animations.
- Dialog: We are going to do an overall sanity pass on all dialogue, making sure it meets our standards on quest accessibility, making NPCs respond to more things, and that as many responses as possible are accessible through the dialogue tree.
- Navigation: We will continue to iterate on the overworld map with more animations, texture improvements and party member locations when they are inside a scene. We are also going to introduce a standard visual for entrance and exit locations on maps. For now that will take the form of an archway.
Release 5 is dead! Long live Release 6!
Darkstarr aka Starr Long
Benefactor Baron City Home
Next in our parade of homes is the Benefactor Baron City Home, included as a reward in the Baron level pledges. Bob Cooksey and Michael Hutch have outdone themselves again with this magnificent dwelling, custom-crafted to befit a Baron’s regal status. A spacious three-story mansion with four entrances, twelve rooms, four open-air decks, and a secret room!
Here is the Benefactor Baron City Home side-by-side with the Founder Baron City Home:
Founder Teachable Emotes
Get ready to show off (and teach) your unique emote, included in the Founder rewards of every pledge tier! Here are three of those emotes:
Recruit-A-Friend Two Thumbs Up Emote
As part of the Recruit-a-Friend rewards (see Update #36), you and every backer you recruit will receive this unique, unteachable emote! Only recruiters and recruitees will ever have it, so if you want it then go recruit a friend!
Dev+ Crafting Table Unity Asset Pack
James Cousar (aka “Thud” in the forums) posted the availability of Crafting Table Pack on the forums (included in the Developer pledge rewards, and above):
Hey folks. We’ve put up a decent selection of places to live, but how do you plan to pay rent? Why don’t you get a job with our crafting table pack? From smelting and smithing to cooking and tailoring there’s something for everyone. If you’ve ever wanted to work from home or upgrade your place of business you should pick up the crafting table asset pack today!
If you missed the previous Asset Packs, Dev+ members can download them here:
Castle Stone Arena Basement
Continuing our Arena Basement line is the Castle Stone Arena Basement! This gargantuan 3-level basement spans the entire length and width of our tremendous Lord of the Manor Castle Lot. The enormous central room can be utilized to host the most magnificent combat tournaments or invite the entire town for a Lordly feast!
The Castle Stone Arena Basement is available at an introductory 25% off in the Add-On Store!
(NOTE: You will need a Castle Level Property to place the Castle Stone Arena Basement in-game)
Rustic 2-Story with Loft Village Home
Continuing our line of rustic homes is this quaint, 2-story, 3-room, 1-closet, village home, now available in the Add-On Store:
Get Your Rustic 2-Story with Loft Village Home Now for 50% off!
For a limited time we’re offering 50% off this home! Reserve yours (or send as a gift) at the Add-On Store!
Wood & Plaster 3-Story Village Home
Next up in our line of Wood & Plaster homes is this 3-story, 6 room, village home, now available in the Add-On Store (this home was also used as an Inn in Owl’s Head and is included in the City Lot Property Deed in the Add-On Store):
Get Your Wood & Plaster 3-Story Village Home Now for 50% off!
For a limited time we’re offering 50% off this home! Reserve yours (or send as a gift) at the Add-On Store!
Blade of the Avatar Novel
The latest installment of the serialized SotA novel, Blade of the Avatar (BotA), written by Tracy Hickman & Richard Garriott, is now available for download! If you are a Founder, or you purchased BotA in the Add-On Store, then you will find a download link for the current installment of the novel on your personal SotA account page (log into SotA website and click on “Account” in the top-right corner). If you are a Kickstarter backer you’ll need to have your Kickstarter account linked to the SotA website (click here for instructions to link your Kickstarter account).
Here is a brief excerpt of the latest installment (illustration by Denis Loubet):
Chapter 20: Collateral Damage
Aren threw himself down into a chair against the wall in the commander’s chamber of the barracks. He cast a baleful eye at the commander’s own empty chair, situated behind the massive table still covered with maps of the city and the surrounding region. With a heavy sigh, Aren leaned onto the back of the chair.
Syenna had followed him down the curving length of Muse Way, the entire distance from the shattered Field’s Gate past the Storm Gate, and finally to the barracks at the base of the Longwall. Neither of them had said a word the entire distance. Now she stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame as she looked down at Aren.
Aren pulled out the sword, gazing at it.
“It’s an interesting thing to me,” Aren muttered at last as he turned the blade in his hand. “just how deeply swords can cut. I don’t think I really knew it before now, but these sharp edges sever more than skin, muscle and tendon. I’ve seen swords separate a body from its life. Surely that is deep enough for any keen edge. But even that is not deep enough – not for true warriors or the empire’s they serve.”
The sword flashed in the warm light of the burning oil lamp as he twisted it. The blood streaking its blade looked nearly black in the dim light.
“No, Syenna,” Aren continued, his eyes unexpectedly welling up, his voice shaking. “The swords and knives and every other artifice of death slice down through a person’s soul. It separates the living from their past; the leaves, twigs and branches from their roots. It neatly draws and quarters the conquered from who they were. Their history and their stories, their writings and what they hoped to be. Then after it has carved out the guts of their civilization, the conqueror promises to make up for this vivisection by transplanting their own pride, legends and beating drums in its place. Then they hope – hope mind you – that their prey will be grateful for this new ‘life’ they never wanted or needed.”
Aren looked up at the Shieldmaiden. Syenna’s breath was coming in shallow gasps.
Download your copy of the latest installment of BotA to read the rest of this exciting chapter!
For your map puzzle collection:
Alienware Sponsors $20 Pledge Upgrade Coupon
Alienware’s powerful gaming rigs are a perfect match for Shroud of the Avatar! To show their support, Alienware is sponsoring $20 SotA Pledge Upgrade Coupons to members of their Alienware Arena community!
These coupons can be used to start a SotA pledge account (for new backers), or to add $20 to an existing pledge account. If, for example, you have a $90 Royal Artisan Pledge, you can use the Alienware coupon to bump you up to a $110 Virtual Collector Pledge.
Pretty sweet deal, right? So, hurry over to the Alienware Arena website and get your $20 Pledge Upgrade Coupon now!
[NOTE: Only one Alienware Pledge Upgrade Coupon can be used per account. Coupon does not apply to Add-On Store items]