Update of the Avatar #113 – 2015.02.20: Underworld Gets Tracy Hickman and Steam Greenlight, SotA Single Player Features, Abe on Overworld, Chris Talks Economy, and More!

Greetings Fellow Avatars!

Here’s what we have for you in this week’s edition of Update of the Avatar:

  • Underworld Gets Tracy Hickman and Steam Greenlight
  • Single Player Offline Features
  • Abe Weighs in on Crafting the Novia Overworld
  • Let’s Talk About the Economy!
  • SotA On The Road Again!
  • Massively Kickstarter Success
  • In-game Community Weekend Events
  • Sir Frank’s Writing Contest (with Prizes!)
  • Last Chance Exclusives
  • Gem Treasure Designs: Silver Serpent Pendant
  • Receiving Pledge Rewards and Add-On Items in Release 14
  • Changes to Store Credit Conversions
  • Steam Access Keys Available for All Backers
  • How to Cancel Monthly Layaway Payment Plans
  • Upcoming Events

Underworld Gets Tracy Hickman and Steam Greenlight


As previously reported, our long-time friend and former Origin protégé, Paul Neurath, is rebooting the legendary Ultima Underworld games with the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter campaign! It has been more than a decade long wait, but the stars have aligned and Paul has at long last freed the rights to move forward with the franchise. We’re especially excited that, just as the original Ultima and Underworld shared a connection on backstory and fictional elements, so too will Shroud of the Avatar and Underworld Ascendant.

We’re excited to announce that SotA Lead Story Designer and co-author of SotA’s Blade of the Avatar novel, Tracy Hickman, has signed up to pen an Underworld Ascendant novel as part of their $750k Stretch Goal:

tracy-hickman-150x150Tracy’s talents as a fantasy author, together with his deep experience with gaming and close collaboration on Shroud of the Avatar, a world connected to ours, make him ideally suited to write the Underworld Ascendant novel. The novel is going to be set several generations before the game takes place, and tell the story of how a band of Dark Elves from the land of the Shroud of the Avatar passed through a magic portal to make an exodus into the Stygian Abyss. It will tell of their trials in this harsh and dangerous underworld, and of how they carved out a place for themselves.  – Underworld Ascendant Update #15


It was also pretty cool to see that Underworld Ascendant was Greenlit on Steam this week:

Steam_GreenlightAs some of you already know, Underworld Ascendant has been Greenlit on Steam! Only took a week. Not sure if that’s a record, but mighty fast. Huge thanks to all the fans who gave the game a big YES and helped bring us to the attention of the tens of millions of players on Steam. We are still in early prototype development, so many months to go before we’d have a build for Steam. But sweet that we’ve got a slot warmed up and waiting, for when we do.  – Underworld Ascendant Update #16

SotA_UA_DarkElvenKinsmanBuckler_setAs previously reported, we’re teaming up with Underworld Ascendant so that backers of both games will get a special in-game Dark Elven “Kinsman” Buckler!

This buckler, inscribed with the Dark Elven symbol, has a moonstone gem inset. If a player owns the buckler in both Shroud of the Avatar and Underworld Ascendant, then the moonstone will glow with the warmth of kinship. This signifies that the Dark Elven clans, though sundered between distant worlds, still are one. The Dark Elven Buckler is currently available in the SotA Add-On Store, and as an Add-On on the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter page.

Otherside Entertainment is already at $500k of their $600k funding goal, but needs your help to reach their goal and start working toward their stretch goals! Be sure and check out the Underworld Kickstarter site, and if you are as excited about it as we are, then show your support and make a pledge to Raise the Underworld!

For more information on Underworld Ascendant, follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Single Player Offline Features

[A SotA Public Forum post by Starr Long]


Greetings Avatars!

This post is intended to be a quick update on some future plans for how we will handle Single Player Offline and how it will differ from the Online modes of play. None of this is set in stone but it is our current thinking so, as always, feedback is welcome!

As you review this remember that Offline Mode is completely separate from Online Modes. Characters cannot move between these modes.

As we have stated elsewhere, we have to build the sandbox first and then layer the narrative on top of that. It will totally fail if we try to do that in reverse. Please be patient and know we are as committed to the Single Player Offline mode of play as we are to online, we just have not implemented it yet.

  1. Save Games: One of the benefits to our distributed server model is that even though we are a client-server game, we offload some of the server work to the local machines of our users. For offline mode, the server (including all data) will be entirely client side so we can relatively easily provide the ability for users to restore their game from backups; aka Save Games. For Episode 1 launch, we are planning to give players the ability to have multiple Save Games!
  2. Companions: In Online modes, companions will appear to the players from time to time along the story, but they will not travel with the players. We did it this way for the Online modes because we did not want clones of these key NPCs in the same party of players. For offline mode, we don’t have to worry about this though! This is, by far, the most requested feature, and we intend to provide a small set of Ultima like companions that will journey with you. They will still periodically go off to do “their thing” as part of their virtual lives, but for the most part they will indeed be companions. We intend for them to each have robust conversation and AI so that they truly feel like individuals (as they did in the linear Ultimas). In combat, they will have commands similar to the pet commands we have now. For Episode 1, we have a long wishlist of features that are probably outside scope, but…
  3. Spawn Rules: Some scenes will never respawn (creatures and resources) in offline mode (clearing a dungeon for example). The scenes that do respawn may do so on a very slow timer, or only if there is a game state change that requires them to respawn (ex. a Town Siege by the Undead). We will balance this to make sure the game feels like it is reacting to the player, but it is also providing enough resources for crafting.
  4. Content: There are a few items that we are not going to sell in game in Online mode, including the Castle and Keep sized lots. However, we do plan to make those available in Offline mode along with a handful of other items yet to be finalized.


Abe Weighs in on Crafting the Novia Overworld


The above screen shot is of the Perennial Coast located in the southeast corner of Novia, which Abe Robertson has been working on for Release 15 (launching next week). Abe recently posted to the forums about his work on the Perennial Coast. Here’s what he had to say:

[A SotA Public Forum Post by Abe Robertson]


Hello everyone, today I wanted to take a moment to share a bit of the organic process behind the construction of the Novia Overworld map, and share some screenshots that won’t be released to the public until later this evening.

Before I get into that I just wanted to quickly and informally introduce myself. I’ve been with Portalarium for about 5 months. My game career has historically been focused in level design and systems design for multiplayer shooters, but I also have an art background (which I haven’t been able to leverage as often). I love working here because traditional job titles are blurred heavily, and I’m a jack of all trades by nature so I fit right in.

One of the first tasks I was assigned when I started here was to do a polish pass to Hidden Vale. Unfortunately, the time window was fairly short and I was still learning the ropes so I didn’t have a chance to take it as far as I wanted to, as is often the case in game development. In the case of Novia, much more time was allocated, so I was able to work in some R&D to improve on all the areas I’d felt Hidden Vale was lacking in. I’ve broken it out into specific topics for your convenience.


The original Overworld trees were constructed with efficiency and brevity in mind, but were lacking in style and visual cohesion with the rest of the scene. I reconstructed these from scratch to match with the terrain texture palette, with a bit more of a stylized silhouette and colorful look. Interestingly, the texture resolution on the new trees is half that of the old ones.


Additionally, I constructed several new objects to add variety to the scene, including tree stumps, bushes, and tree size variants to break up the repetition.

Hex Visuals

This was an experiment I did in the first week of production on the Novia Overworld. It ultimately ended up being scrapped in favor of a more organic look, but interesting nonetheless.


[Click here to read the rest of Abe’s public forum post]

Let’s Talk About the Economy!

[A SotA Public Forum post by Chris Spears]


This is a shortened version of the post I made to Dev Plus earlier this week. Now for public consumption in a slightly cleaner version! Enjoy!

Who wants to talk about economy? Ok, to be honest, I’m going to start by talking about economy but since almost all systems in the game are linked, I’m sure I’ll wander over to other more interesting stuff before I’m done. This will be a mix of concepts that are already true (but I want to make players aware of), ideas that we have mostly locked in stone, and then a few ideas I’m just adding in so I can see if players gasp and scream. I probably won’t tell you which is which though as that would ruin my fun… Also, about 80% of this talk will apply to online stuff so my apologies to the people most interested in single player.

So the world of online game macroeconomics is different from the real world in many ways but the desired state of the market is the same. That desired state is an economy with a small, but consistent, rate of inflation. Also, just like in the real world, we know we won’t get it exactly right and that we need to very carefully monitor things to see what is causing fluctuations and have easy ways to correct things. Also, like the real world, we must have mechanisms in place that let players correct inflation through their natural behaviors and competitiveness. Before diving into the specifics of those systems though, I wanted to give a brief overview of game economies and then hit on a few ways SotA might be different.

Game economies! So for any non-barter economy to work, there must be an accepted form of global currency. For us, this is the ubiquitous gold piece. This is the only form of currency that merchants, vendors, trainers, etc will accept. I will provide reasons and examples of why players might not use gold amongst themselves later in the post.

The rough rate of inflation can be approximated by looking at the growth rate of the approximate amount of gold assets or items which can be sold to merchants for gold in the economy divided by the number of active players in the economy. For this to happen we must have fairly balanced inputs and outputs to that pile of gold. Also, for the real business guys out there are mentally correcting me, yes I realize that inflation in the real world is really based on what things costs(CPI), not the net sum of wealth but for this discussion I think this is easier to understand and helps us track what we need which is are people adding and destroying wealth from the system at our desired rate.

Again, for clarity, this is the macroeconomics level; not the market level. So that means for calculations into inputs and outputs, we only care how much gold can be created by the game to be added to that total player pool. For example, if a great brown grizzly bear is killed and skinned and a fabulous bear pelt is created the only thing that matters is how much that pelt can be sold to a merchant for. So the merchant might only pay 15 gold for it so that is how much that object counts towards the macroeconomics inflation calculations even though players might be paying 5000 gold for it on the jobs board (more on that later)…

[Click here to read the rest of Chris “Dippy Dragon” Spears’ Epic Economy Forum Post]


SotA On The Road Again!

SotA is hitting the road hard for next month, taking the message to the people about how awesome this game is (and getting better every month)!

GDC_logoRazer_logo_smallFirst up is the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, March 3-6. We will be guests of Razer at booth 602 at the GDC Expo


PAX_East_logoNext up, Richard Garriott, along with our buddy Chris Roberts from Star Citizen, is on the MMORPG.COM – Future of Online Games panel at PAX East, March 6.


Richard Garriott and Tracy Hickman will be on a SXSW Interactive panel moderated by Starr Long entitled Linear versus Nonlinear Narrative in Video Games at 3:30 PM Saturday, March 14 in the Kodosky room at the Long Center.

Starr Long will also be giving a talk at SXSW Interactive entitled Crowd Sharing: Crowd Funding and Sourcing in Games at 11 AM Sunday, March 15 in the Kodosky room at the Long Center.

Massively Kickstarter Success!


The Massively Kickstarter campaign has surpassed their funding goal and already has their new website up and running, with lots of great articles in the Massively tradition, so check it out if you haven’t seen it yet!

They’re now working toward their $75k Stretch Goal, which includes Convention Coverage. So, head on over to the Massively Overpowered Kickstarter site and if you like what you see then pledge your support!

In-game Weekend Community Events

Our amazing community has another great lineup of in-game events planned for this weekend. If you missed out on these player events during the previous Releases, we highly recommend you check some of them out this weekend. Here is the latest schedule of player events from the Avatar’s Circle Community Events calendar and the Events of the Avatars community calendar:

Saturday, February 21
9:00am CST – PaxLair Working Hours – Host Winfield (Valemark)
9:30am CST – All Player Towns Gathering – templates (PaxLair, Valmark; “/zone Winfield”; details)
11:00am CST – Church of the Dark Star – Saturday Service (PaxLair, Valemark)
12:00pm CST – Bear Tavern Brawl – 1v1! R14 (“/zone Archaon Avenguard or Balec deCani”; details)
1:00pm CST – Phoenix University – Beginning class: Making Money with Crafting (Kingsport, Port Phoenix, or “/zone Kazyn Phoenixfyre”)
3:00pm CST – 4B PvP Tournament (ranged) (“/zone Net”; details)
7:00pm CST – Shardfall Open PvP Event (Moongate at the entrance of Owls Head; details)

Sunday, February 22
5:30am CST – Explore Novia with royalsexy (Owl’s Head entrance)
10:00am CST – Church of Order Sermon (Kingswood, just outside Kingsport or “/zone Aquila”)
12:00pm CST – Bear Tavern Brawl – Team Brawl! R14
5:00pm CST – Feast with BMC and Grid Iron Registration (details)
6:00pm CST – BMC First Blood at Grid-Iron (details)
7:00pm CST – PaxLair Meeting (Valemark, or “/zone Winfield”)
8:00pm CST – Shardfall Open PvP Event (Moongate at the entrance of Owls Head; details)
8:00pm CST – Fishing with Winfield (some lake or pond; “/zone Winfield”)
9:00pm CST – Beach Party by BMC (details to be announced)

Be sure and check out the Release 14 Events thread in the SotA forums for additional events that may not be included here.


Sir Frank’s Writing Contest (with prizes!)

Community Member Sir Frank is sponsoring a writing contest with winners receiving a $10 Store Credit Coupon, or a Darkstarr/LB coin from Relics by Rild. March 13th is the deadline to enter your writing submission. Check Sir Frank’s forum thread for additional contest details.

Time is Running Out to Get Your R14 Grand Tour Quest Reward

Better hurry if you want to add the Hennin Hat to your collection because the R14 Grand Tour Quest ends on February 26 when we launch Release 15. If you need help getting your R14 Hennin Hat reward, then check out The Mad Hermit’s video guide to completing the R14 Grand Tour Quest:

Special Edition Jester Carnival Mask

In celebration of Carnival season, this Special Edition Jester Carnival Mask is available in the Add-On Store until March 31st! Get yours while they’re available!


Last Chance Exclusives

Every week going forward we are removing select items from the Add-On Store, so if you want them you better get them before they are gone! Over the past few months we’ve phased out over 35 items, including such items as the Scissors of Prosperity, Blade of the Avatar Cloak, and Shingle-Roof Village Homes. This week, the following items are available for an additional 20% off, and then will no longer be available in the Add-On Store.

Lord British’s Silver Serpent Necklace (digital)

Few remember the great earth snake, from whence Lord British took on this symbol. Now all those who would fight by his side, wear it, so they might know each other and recognize their mutual devotion to the lands of New Britannia!


The Tanning Knife of Prosperity

This unique, indestructible tanning knife increases the quality and quantity of items produced when tanning. While tanning knives with similar effects can be crafted and purchased in the game this tanning knife never needs repair.

Gem Treasure Designs: Silver Serpent Pendant

We may be discontinuing our in-game Silver Serpent Necklace as one of our Last Chance Exclusives this week, but Gem Treasure Designs is introducing this real world Silver Serpent Pendant, finely crafted from precious sterling silver!

Hail Avatar! From the time of legends comes a symbol of Order and Virtue – Lord British’s Silver Serpent™ pendant.

Each Silver Serpent™ pendant is made from sterling silver (.925) and has a rhodium plated finish to reduce tarnishing.

This Silver Serpent™ pendant is a 100% replica, using the exact measurements and personally approved by Richard Garriott.

This replica has a bail to enable the purchaser to suspend the pendant onto any chain type and length they desire. By adding a bail it makes the pendant more versatile.

**Sterling silver is a soft metal thus allowing it to be easily scratched. To reduce scratching, store sterling silver in a separate container so it doe not rub against other items. Even though the pendant is rhodium plated, this may only help reduce tarnishing. Tarnishing is a natural process of oxidation that may occur with sterling silver. The scratches can be buffed out, please keep in mind buffing will remove the rhodium finish. **

Used under license from Portalarium.

From Shroud of the Avatar, “Few remember the great earth snake, from whence Lord British took on this symbol. Now all those who would fight by his side, wear it, so they might know each other and recognize their mutual devotion to the lands of New Britannia!”.

This finely crafted Silver Serpent Pendant is now available at Gem Treasure Designs

Receiving Pledge Rewards and Add-On Items in Release 14

SotA_Bank_Interior2As mentioned in previous updates, backers will start receiving their pledge rewards and Add-On items in-game when they log into Release 14, which launched January 28. For all the previous Releases we would freely populate these reward items throughout the game for anyone to find. But those reward items are no longer freely available. Instead, you will be able to find your Add-On items and the rewards included in your pledge tier at the new banks. In R14, there will be a banker NPC in every map where there is player housing because when you switch houses or unclaim a lot, all the decorations will go to your bank. In most locations the Town Crier is now also a banker.

Banks are local only. You can see your items in other bank locations (they appear in location tabs), but you can only access the items in the bank you are currently at. Pledge rewards are an exception to this and can be accessed from any location.

[NOTE: there are some Add-On and Pledge reward items that have not been built yet so you may notice some of your items not showing up in your bank. If you delete your character, all equipped and inventory items, including pledge reward items, will be deleted and cannot be recovered until the next wipe]

Changes to Store Credit Conversions

If you wish to convert any of your purchased Add-On items to Store Credit, you will need to do so before logging into Shroud of the Avatar.


The instant you log into the game all of your available Pledge reward items and available Add-On items will be flagged as “claimed” and deposited in your in-game bank. Once the Add-On items are “claimed” they cannot be converted to Store Credit until the next wipe (which is currently unpredictable). After you’ve logged into SotA, the “Convert to Credits” button on your account page will be deactivated for all those items available in the game, so if you had any plans to sell back some of your Add-On items, make sure you do it before you log into the game!

We intend to change the claiming process in an upcoming Release so that items are not automatically claimed when logging in, but will require you to actively claim them in your bank before they can be used.

If you purchase any new Add-On items, or upgrade your Pledge tier, those new items and upgraded rewards will automatically appear in your in-game bank the next time you log into the game (providing those items are available in the game).


Steam Access Keys Available for All SotA Backers

SotA successfully launched on Steam Early Access on November 24, and we’ve made Steam Access Keys available to all our backers as part of their basic pledge rewards! Once you’ve redeemed your Steam Access Key you’ll have the option of playing SotA either with the Steam client or the regular game client (or both).SotA_SteamTradingCards2_small

Click here for instructions to redeem your Steam access key and installing the Steam SotA client…

If you play SotA on Steam you can collect the SotA Trading Cards! Collect a full set of SotA trading cards to earn SotA badges, profile backgrounds, and emoticons that help you customize your profile and show off your Shroud of the Avatar gameplay. Check out Steam’s trading card FAQ for more information.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Our goal is to make Shroud of the Avatar the best game we can for you, our backers, and the best way we can do that is by growing our community of backers through the power of word-of-mouth marketing. That’s where we could use your help! With essentially no marketing budget, we rely on things like press coverage and friend-to-friend networking on platforms such as Facebook and Steam. Here’s how you can help us with your word-of-mouth efforts:

Facebook_LikeIf You Like SotA then Like Us On Facebook

Current Facebook Likes: 5,532

Facebook can be a powerful word-of-mouth marketing tool at very little cost, but only if we can reach a large enough network of Facebook users. You can help us to reach a larger Facebook audience simply by going to the Shroud of the Avatar Facebook page and clicking on the “Like” button. If every one of our 50k backers gave us a “Like” the marketing reach of our Facebook posts would be incredible!

If You Like SotA then Write Us a Positive Steam Review

Current Positive Steam Reviews: 293

One of the most important word-of-mouth tools on the massive Steam platform is their user reviews. Many Steam users rely on a game’s Steam reviews to help them decide if they want to play a game or not. If you feel positive about SotA, or feel positive about what SotA may become, even if you have concerns and issues, then please jump over to our Steam Store Page and give us a positive review (and feel free to include your concerns and issues in that review as well)!

How to Cancel Monthly Layaway Payment Plans and What In-Game Rewards to Expect

Remember that Pledge payment plans are not canceled automatically after reaching the desired pledge. You must manually cancel your monthly payment plan, which can be done at anytime on your SotA Account page. We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause, but it is a result of how recurring billing functions with PayPal, Amazon, and Stripe (our credit card service).


If you are on a monthly payment plan, the rewards you receive in-game may not reflect the final pledge tier you are making payments toward, but will reflect the rewards for the current pledge tier that your cumulative monthly payments have reached (your current pledge tier is shown on your Account page on the SotA website).

Upcoming Events

2015.02.26 – Starr Long delivers Keynote at ICPHSO’s 2015 Annual Meeting and Training Symposium
2015.02.26 – Release 15
2015.03.03 – SotA at GDC
2015.03.06 – SotA at PAX East
2015.03.10 – IGDA Austin Meetup at Tech Ranch
2015.03.13 – SotA at SXSW Interactive
2015.03.26 – Release 16
2015.04.03 – Duke & LotM VIP Design Roundtable w/Lord British and Portalarium Studio Tour
2015.04.23 – Release 17
2015.05.21 – Release 18
2015.06.16 – SotA at E3
2015.06.25 – Release 19


  1. Baron Drocis FondorlatosBaron Drocis Fondorlatos

    I’m very excited about Tracy Hickman being involved with Underworld Ascendant. I hope we can hit the stretch goal and make that happen.

    1. Logain

      I upgraded my pledge by $10 (Buckler and Novel) there, so yes, I hope they can make it happen. I have little hope though, I’m not even convinced yet that the Kickstarter as whole is going to succeed :( Pity, since the main selling point would have been coop play to me an d that is definitely out of reach now.

  2. Blood0menBlood0men

    Great update, Debating on getting the necklace or not.
    I am wondering, Since I can Not ask Tracy directly, But what happens if they do NOT make it to the stretch goal of 750k during the KS campaign??
    He’ll consider joining later? Or “Well, they couldn’t make it so ill not join??”

  3. smacksmack

    Great to hear that Tracy will write an Underworld Ascendant novel if the stretch goal is met! Let’s rally to make it happen everyone!

    Tracy is going to be really busy! He has two more Blade of the Avatar novels lined up, and the three Sojourner Tales Story Modules for SotA! Maybe he can do some story modules for Underworld too? :)

    The overworld map for Novia is looking better and better! Great work Abe! We can see what appears to be Grunvald Shardfall in the distance in that screenshot, but I don’t see any other POIs like Ardoris or The Tower of the Shuttered Eye.

    And thanks Dallas for another great Update!

  4. Koveras

    I am happy to finally hear some news about the single-player mode. Unlike 99% of the community, I am not a MMO fan and plan to only ever play the game offline. :)

  5. Kendric Darrow

    Thanks for the update Dallas and its great news about Tracy Hickman and Underworld.

    All the dev+ topics have been mighty interesting to follow this week, thanks for posting!

Comments are closed.