Greetings Fellow Avatars!
Here’s what we have for you in this week’s edition of Update of the Avatar:
- Release 10 Perspectives
- Q4 Schedule
- Duke’s Custom Avatars
- Lord Marshal’s Coronated Helmet
- Pledge Rewards: Nightshade, Mandrake, and Garlic Reagents
- Bitcoin Accepted Here
- Fandomania Interview: Starr Long on Watch Collecting
- Pen of the Avatar
- Alienware Sponsors $20 Pledge Upgrade Coupon
- Upcoming Events
Release 10 Perspectives
[A Public Forum post by Starr Long]
Release 10’s main purpose was stabilization, performance, polish, and testing. While we did accomplish this in some areas, we actually ended up adding a lot of new content. In fact, we added almost as much as we add in a normal release! This resulted in more player facing content (yay) but also more instability and lower performance (boo).
Interestingly though, most of the stability issues were not something that was visible to us internally, so even if we had spent more time on stability, we would not have had any examples to address. This “catch 22” is caused by several issues including a small team, a smaller QA team (1-2 people), and fairly homogeneous hardware on the team. Unfortunately, none of those issues are addressable in the near term. The best solution here is to increase uptime (I can hear some of you cheering) so that we are getting a continuous stream of crash data from players. The downside of increased uptime will be a steady decline in participation as people consume all available content. This means we need to put strategies in place to keep participation up despite our limited content. This leads us to solutions like Steam Early Access (potentially huge and constant influx of new players) and Monthly Exclusive items (like the Cavalier Hat reward for the Grand Tour Quest). So, now you can see how two seemingly unrelated things (stability and a fancy hat) are connected in the convoluted process that is game development.
While we are near the subject of the Grand Tour, I am happy to report that it accomplished our exact goal of increasing participation. We had a 15% increase in logins over Release 9. When we combined this with our reduction of scenes, we also increased player density in the scenes and more players were likely to randomly encounter other players than they were in Release 9.
Another issue we saw in previous releases that we attempted to address was players rushing in to claim a lot and place a house but then not decorate them… nor use them for social activities. Part of this is, of course, due to the limited window of time each Release is up, but part of it was also just how easy (free!) we made property access. This added to the perceived emptiness of scenes, and some frustration when players who really wanted a homestead were not able to find open lots. By requiring a purchase and decreasing the scenes with player housing, we were able to greatly increase the number of houses that were actually being used (versus left empty).
While we have been making steady forward progress on combat most, if not all, of the data we were using was coming from PVP. That led us to create the Challenge Dungeon so that we could more effectively gather data for PVE as well. We are learning quite a bit from that space and there is a large queue of changes we want to make to address the issues we saw. The sameness of battles against NPCs was not surprising, but the fact that it was so similar (even if on the surface the NPCs were quite different like archer vs. melee) was a bit of a wake up call for us. So one of the very first things we are going to tackle is to start introducing behavior patterns and having NPCs use more skills instead of just standard damage dealing (see Lich battles in my Q4 post here for more details).
After several releases observing PVP combat, one of the most visible issues is the fact that it has devolved into constant movement. This is bad for several reasons. Constant movement is one of the more intensive network issues you will encounter in a game. Coupled with the constant stream of combat events being sent back and forth, you can begin to see how it is a worst case scenario. One of the obvious side effects of this is that it very visibly exposes any latency players are encountering. This means players will often not be in the place you think they are. If we want things like positioning (backstabs, shield walls, etc.) and cover to be viable mechanics, then keeping player positions relatively synched visually is important (to say the least). Our current system encourages this constant movement because there are no penalties to moving while casting, moving makes you harder to target, and moving out of line of sight will break target acquisition. A great worst-use case you can see is watching the long drawn out fight between a melee warrior and a magic caster. Currently, the melee guy just has to try to optimize his path to the caster and hope he makes range while the caster just needs to stay out of melee range consistently. The result ends up looking more like a flight combat simulation than a medieval fantasy fight. To start to address this, we are going to make movement begin to affect combat math in Release 11. Standing still without moving will offer a bonus to ranged skills/spells, walking will be neutral, and running will incur a penalty.
Our community continues to prove that we have one of the most creative, cooperative, and motivated groups of players around. Of course, I am partial to the events centered around Darkstarr’s devotee Amberraine, which included her amazing sermon about Chaos in her Church of the Dark Star in Valemark (aka PAXLair), her birthday party, and her trial! The level of organization and participation in those events shows both the power of this community and the power of the sandbox we are building with you.
For me, one of the most powerful expressions of this development process (and our community) that we are experiencing together is the Wireless Device that made its first appearance in Release 10. It is a piece of art created by Bubonic. It was particularly challenging to make because it had to adhere to our clockpunk, steampunk, medieval mashup that is our art style. In other words, it had to be obviously technological but executed with medieval / rennaisance level of resources. This required some detailed feedback from our Art Lead Hutch and resulted in a much clearer expression of this style. It also uses a piece of code written by Joviex that lets us stream audio directly into the game.
It’s worth noting that Joviex also provided a bunch of functionality that we did not have time to add, including muting, volume, stop/play/pause, waveform displays, and multiple channels. When we have time, we will get a user interface to access these functions. Of course, the audio it defaults to streaming (and currently the only choice) is Avatar’s Radio, which is our community driven radio station run by, who else but that Chaotic-one Amberraine. So in one little device we have crowdsourced art, crowdsourced code, and a community driven media channel!
There was a small bit of functionality that made its way into Release 10 that I failed to mention in my R10 Instructions post; the Makers Mark on player crafted items. Every item a player makes now has their makers mark visible in the tooltips. I believe this one little function will have a tremendous impact on the feel of our world and is another example of how we are attempting to make this world be truly player driven.
Thank you all for all your support. Release 10 is dead! Long live Release 11!
Darkstarr aka Starr Long
Fun was had by all at Firelotus’ Release 10 / B-Day Party at Port Phoenix (Holtrot), complete with line dancing and hot-tub high diving!
During this week’s Hangout of the Avatar, Richard, Starr, and Chris chatted about Release 10, recounting their favorite moments, while also looking ahead to Release 11.
[A Public Forum post by Starr Long]
As we stated in previous posts, once per quarter our goal is to release an updated schedule for our monthly releases. Even though these goals will likely change somewhat as we react to feedback, we feel it is important to provide you an updated roadmap periodically.
Our goal continues to be to deliver our backers content each and every month so that we can get feedback and react to it. This has already paid off, with additional game features like jumping and swimming, as well as improvements to systems like crafting, conversations, and combat. Meeting that monthly goal is our highest priority but we require flexibility in our deliverables to meet that goal. As you have seen in previous releases, sometimes we push things out but we also often pull new things in.
We are incredibly excited to continue sharing our iterative monthly releases with you and ultimately new backers coming to us through Steam Early Access (more on that below). Here are the details about Release 11 – 13 for the fourth quarter of 2014 (October – December). In addition to these official releases, we will also do fairly frequent incremental tests with our Developer and above backers. As always, all dates, durations, and deliverables are subject to change as we adjust our designs based on direct feedback from you, our backers.
RELEASE 11, October 23 – 26 2014:
- Steam Prep: We will make downloading and playing the game through Steam functional and will conduct a Steam test with our backers at Developer level (and above).
- Maps: We will continue to expand the mainland scenes to include Solace Bridge (one of the three starting maps that is the aftermath of a village defending itself against an undead army) and the Kobold Battle Camp (one of three battle camps in the game). We will also add the Swamp biome to the game, along with a swamp scene.
- Character Advancement: Our first pass at advancement will allow players to begin accumulating experience points and levels while earning skill and attribute points that can be spent.
- Spells & Skills: Death Magic will expand to include summoning skeletons (formerly zombies) and liches (formerly ghouls)
- Housing: Housing functionality will expand so players will finally be able to attach Stone & Timber and Stone style basements to their houses. This will be a first pass, so expect to see fun things like basement entrances on upper floors, on boats, etc.
- Crafting: A first pass at cooking and alchemy will come online and gear will now take damage and will be repairable. We are also going to make a resource spawner distribution pass across most maps to add new resource spawns (reagents) and balance resource distribution.
- Creatures: A pass will be made through the creatures to add more variety to them via skills and behaviors. We are going to target the Liches as an example and give them the ability to summon skeleton allies, stun/root players, and generate area of effect spells around them.
- Combat: We are going make movement have an effect on ranged combat so that running will decrease the effectiveness of ranged attacks while standing still will confer a bonus. We are also removing the requirement to equip arrows in the offhand and instead will pull them straight from your inventory.
- Control Point: Vertas Pass will become our first prototype of a control point. If you manage to defeat the Dark Elves holding Vertas Pass, then you can attempt to hold it against increasingly difficult waves of Dark Elves.
- Customization: Hair will now play nice with helmets and hats so you will no longer suddenly become bald when you equip headgear.
- NPC Conversation: When you talk to NPCs they will now become the focus of your screen (blurring out the background) with a dedicated chat window for the discussion.
RELEASE 12, November 20 – 26 2014 (and then 24/7 starting Dec 1) :
- Steam Prep: Uptime will expand to 7 days and we will conduct a Steam test with all our current backers followed by a launch on Steam Early Access Dec 1st.
- Maps: We will continue to expand the mainland scenes to include The Necropolis (the main underground Undead area in the game), The Graf Gem Mines surface area, and the Tower of the Shuttered Eye. We will also add the Desert biome to the game along with a desert scene.
- Character Advancement: The advancement system will expand to include Skill Trainers
- Spells & Skills: Life and Death Magic will expand to include more spells. The combat schools of Tactics and Polearms will also expand and more combos will be added to the game.
- Housing: Lot Deeds will be introduced to the game so property claiming will first require purchasing a lot deed in the game (just like house deeds worked in R10)
- Crafting: Crafting skills will start to come online and be used during crafting to modify results. We will also be adding more Cooking and Alchemy recipes and ingredients including the ability to put enchantments on gear.
- Creatures: Our creature list will continue to expand with Ghosts, Fauns, Emps and Wisps added to the game.
- Combat: The cover system will be introduced that modifies attack and defense values when you (or your target) are behind cover. The Death System (including ghosts) will come online and PVP will expand to include an Open PVP flag players can set on themselves. Ranged ammo types will now be linked to Ranged skills. So Piercing Shot will require Bodkin Points (armor piercing) for example.
- Customization: New armor and clothing items will appear in the game.
- Overworld: Traveling across the overland map will incur the chance that you might have a random encounter that pulls you into a scene. We will also release the first version of the overland map for Novia (aka the mainland).
- Guilds: Players will now be able to start forming Guilds in the game with basic functions like Guild Name, membership, and Guild Officers.
- Pledges Tied to Game Account: Your pledge will now be tied to your game account. This means you will start the game with your pledge rewards in your bank storage
- Banks: Players can now start storing things in the bank. This is also where all your pledge rewards will be at the start of the game so you won’t start so encumbered that you cannot move.
- Encumbrance: The weight of items will now factor into how much you can carry. Your carrying capacity will be derived from your Strength stat.
- Tutorials: Tutorial text will now start appearing the first time you attempt an interaction (moving, talking, crafting, fighting, questing, etc.)
RELEASE 13, December 18, 2014
- Steam Early Access: This will be our first update after launching on Steam Early Access on Dec 1st.
- Maps: We will continue to expand the mainland scenes to include Brightbone Pass, Resolute, Xenos and the Paladice Shardfall. We will also add the Shardfall biome to the game along with a shardfall scene (this is the biome for our Open PVP scenes).
- Spells & Skills: Air, Earth, and Sun Magic will expand to include more spells. The combat schools of Ranged and Shields will also expand and more combos will be added to the game.
- Housing: Permissions for property will greatly expand to better support groups sharing property, including tools to rent rooms and set “per area/room” permissions. Property ownership will now incur regular fees (unless you are using a tax free deed from a pledge). If the fees are not paid the player will lose their claim and their possessions (including the house and decorations) will be moved to their bank. As part of all this, we will also begin facilitating storing and moving houses (with all associated decorations).
- Crafting: Crafting will now have events that occur during the crafting process that the player can interact with to influence the results.
- Creatures: Our creature list will continue to expand with Air Elementals, Earth Elementals, and the Phoenix
- Combat: Stealth mechanics will begin to appear.
- Customization: Clothing and Armor will now be dyeable.
- Overworld: Roving encounters (patrolling creatures) will now appear on the overworld map and can be engaged (pulling you into a scene) or avoided if you wish to sneak past.
- Player Titles: Players will now be able to display their title in the game (including guild affiliation).
- Emote Teaching: Emotes will now be teachable to other players. Some emotes (like the ones tied to pledges) will only be teachable by the original owner.
- Player Made Books: Players will be able to write in blank books in the game and share them with other players.
- Localization: We will begin crowdsourcing the translation of the game into various languages
We continue to be incredibly thankful for the support we receive from this amazing community. While the funding you provide makes all of this possible it pales in comparison with the faith you have in us, the feedback you provide us, and the content you are making for everyone to enjoy. We are humbly grateful and we cannot wait to see you again in New Britannia!
Before I go I wanted to include an excerpt from my original post about our Early Release Schedule that is important to set the framework for our ongoing schedule:
As a crowd funded and crowd sourced project, we feel it is incredibly important that we provide our backers with information and access well before game studios would normally do so in a traditional development model. Traditionally, the players are given information and access only after the development team has already decided exactly how things will be done, and at times, even after it has already been implemented. By the time the public normally has access to the product, there is usually no time to meaningfully react to the public feedback.
Shroud of the Avatar is different than the traditional model, as we intend to offer our backers extremely early access to information and even the game itself. With that said, we also want to be very careful that we only provide access to portions of the game when they are ready for a wider range of feedback. If we can play it internally and we know it is not ready, then there is nothing to be gained by having a wider audience come to the same conclusion. In fact, it could be quite damaging to do so.
Our strategy over the next few months is to provide you with focused and iterative releases of content. Your feedback during these releases will be critical to making the final product the best it can be, and we appreciate that you are all so willing to devote your time to helping us. With each release, we will have specific tests we will ask you all to make. As we get closer, we will send instructions on how to download, install, report bugs, etc. After each release we will review the results and reevaluate the plan including the duration of availability of each release. Please note that game data will be wiped periodically during early access.
It is important to note that all dates, durations, and deliverables are subject to change.
Shroud of the Avatar
Duke Pledge Custom Avatars
Included in the Founder Duke pledge rewards is direct interaction with the dev team artists to model custom character features for your avatar’s head, different from the avatars of all others (can be based on your own likeness or any other image approved by the dev team).
Two of our backers that were among the first to visit with the Portalarium Dev Team were Duchess Miriam Safady (aka Elizabeth) and Lord of the Manor Francisco Vigil (aka Espada). Here are examples of their custom avatars and the photos used as models:
Lord Marshal Coronated Helmet
Included in the Lord Marshal pledge tier is this unique, starting level helmet with crown, imbued with precious metals and jewels, suitable to hold enchantments. Comes with a permanent enchantment to act as a light source.
Pledge Rewards: Nightshade, Mandrake, and Garlic Reagents
The Citizen, Knight, and Lord pledge tier basic rewards includes your choice of one of three reagent plants: nightshade, mandrake, and garlic! Water your plant each day to receive its reagent the next day. Here are the nightshade, mandrake, and garlic reagent plants:
Fandomania Interview: Starr Long on Watch Collecting
Starr Long shares his passion for collecting watches on Episode 3 of Fandomania’s Favorite Things Podcast.
Pen of the Avatar with Stephen Daniele
Join Concept Art Lead, Stephen Daniele and Community Manager/Writer, Gina Dionne Tuesday October 7th at 12:00PM CST for Pen of the Avatar: Character Armor Variations II! Stephen shares his passion for creating art through insightful demonstration of tools and techniques in a fashion easily accessible for novices and professionals alike. Pen of the Avatar is live and unscripted, and community involvement is a must as input and commentary are shared throughout the show. We will be focusing on the process of bringing one of last month’s suggestions to life, so join us for our next show and add your voice to the creative vision of Shroud of the Avatar!
If you missed any of the Pen of the Avatar episodes, you can watch them all at: https://www.shroudoftheavatar.com/?cat=9
Bitcoin Accepted Here
We’ve received many community requests to support Bitcoins for pledge and add-on purchases, so we’re happy to announce that we now accept Bitcoins as a full-payment option for pledges, Add-Ons, and Player Owned Towns!
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]
2014.10.07 – Stephen Daniele’s Pen of the Avatar: Character Armor Variations Part 2!
2014.10.09 – NAAEE Conference
2014.10.23 – Release 11 Access
2014.10.24 – SotA at Captivate
2014.10.29 – Monthly Video Hangout: R11 & R12 Discussion
2014.11.03 – SotA at GDC Next
2014.11.14 – Duke & Lord of the Manor VIP Design Roundtable with Lord British and Portalarium Studio Tour
2014.11.15 – HoBLotH II: Legends of the Hearth
2014.11.20 – Release 12 Access
2014.11.26 – Monthly Video Hangout: R12 & R13 Discussion
2014.12.18 – Release 13 Access