Thank you to our loyal backers of Shroud of the Avatar. Release 16 access for all backers at First Responder level and above begins this Thursday, March 26 at 10:30 AM Central Time (16:30 UTC).
This access also includes anyone who signed up for free access to the first weekend via GDC and SXSW. Please note that everything you need to play is here (or linked from here). You will NOT receive a special code nor is a Steam key, your account activated via the email address that you signed up with.
We are far from launch and in a constant state of change, and we do not yet have in-game systems to inform players of these changes, or to share ways to help them to explore new content and systems. This means we rely entirely on this message, and the linked instructions and known issues to convey the current game state. We regularly have to answer questions or filter bug reports, because players elect not to read this valuable information. By taking a few moments to read through this information, a great deal of our time and efforts can be redirected to focus on new “unanswered” questions, and addressing critical issues impacting each release. We greatly appreciate you taking the time to review this post, and for all the truly valuable feedback you continue to provide.
While I am proud of how much we accomplished with our last release, at the same time I am chagrined that the cost of that ambition was an overall decrease in the enjoyability of the game. We did move over to Unity 5 (which was a HUGE accomplishment) but we only got partially there and that transitional state caused bad performance and some less than stellar visual results. We also moved the players over to Novia for the first time, but we failed to balance the first region, Perennial Coast, for new players. For all of that we are very sorry and we will work to do better. We promise to pay closer attention to balancing forward progress with playability.
Release 16 (and 17) has had to be our repayment of the debt we incurred with Release 15 (tech debt is a term often used in our industry). That means that we were unable to deliver quite as much content as we had hoped, but we do feel the game will be in a stronger state because of our focus on playability. We still made time to include some cool new things for you to play with though, including shield bashing skeletons that just will not die and the sprawling narrative of the Necropolis!
I will be posting a Q2 Schedule by the end of this week so stay tuned for more information about what comes next.
Also, remember that while we are providing new content with each release, our community is working overtime to make new events for you to enjoy, so be sure to check out a couple of the Community Events Calendars run by our community members (via in game book or the player run websites Avatars Circle Community Events and Events of the Avatars calendar).
Without further ado, here are the R16 deliverables.
- Plain Text: The original plan for the Release deliverables. We intentionally preserve the original text so that our backers can compare plan versus actual.
- Italics: Extra notes and new deliverables
- Strikethrough: These are items that did not make the release
RELEASE 16, March 26, 2015
- Steam Achievements: Players will now be able to earn Steam Achievements
- Achievements Rescheduled: Refactoring of interactive objects (see below) required us to push this to a future release
- Maps: Mainland scenes will continue to come online including Blood River Village, Vertas, and the Grunvald Shardfall.
- Region by Region Expansion: As mentioned in the R15 post, we are now expanding the scenes region by region; starting with Perennial Coast and moving north and west from there. For R16, we brought Perennial Coast closer to a finished state (minus some story elements) and moved into Grunvald (the shardfall we actually put in game way back in R14). Vertas and Blood River Village will now be worked on when we move to Verdantis near the end of our map building work (i.e. closer to launch). Please note that all scenes should be considered “in progress” which means they are simply in a functional state (and in some cases they cannot be “completed”).
- 7 New Adventure Scenes: The Perennial Coast and Grunvald regions are filled with places to adventure and gather resources. New scenes include:
- 6 Improved Adventure Scenes: We circled back to new scenes we added in R15to make them more visually distinct from each other. The modified scenes include:
- Necropolis (first pass): This city of the dead underneath the Brightbone Mountains is our very first map that is completely focused on the narrative and it is a single player instance (this is one of the few plot moments that require solitary play). It is also one of the most complex underground spaces we have ever built. We do not yet have all of the story elements working, and there are still some lingering issues with the space itself, but it is in a mostly playable space (and looks amazing for a first pass).
- 3 New Sewers: Entrances to sewers have been discovered in Ardoris, Soltown, and Solania! Rumor has it that smugglers have been seen entering in Ardoris and then popping up in the remote towns of Solania to sell their goods.
- Novia Overworld Expanded: Most of the Novia Overworld is now navigable and the scenes that are built are hooked up to their appropriate locations including Vertas Pass, Verdantis Shardfall, Graff Gem Mines, Blackblade Pass, and the Battle Camps. This also means we removed the Lunar Rift from Owl’s Head.
- Hidden Vale Overworld Rework: Abe put in some weekend overtime to bring the quality of the Hidden Vale overworld closer to the Novia Overworld.
- Overworld Travel Speeds: Overall travel speed for Novia and Vale should now be better aligned to anything that looks like a road (therefore increasing overall travel speeds).
- Soltown and Perennial Coast New User Rework: Perennial Coast is a much more friendly place for new users. Soltown is now located closer to Solace Bridge and will be the location you go to directly after Solace Bridge (reminder that Soltown is visually identical to Braemar currently). It has NPCs who will guide you through some low level quests and send you to level appropriate adventure areas nearby.
- Shop Signs: We have begun placing pictographic signs for businesses in the world starting with Braemar, Kingsport, Owl’s Head, Solania and Ardoris. This is a first step in making the game generally more navigable. We will expand to street signs next release.
- New Trees: One of the most important additions to Unity 5 was native support for Speedtrees! Speedtrees are both faster and better quality than the previous tree options available to us and we will be switching almost all scenes over to use the new trees! For R16, we switched out a few of the trees in Owl’s Head but for later releases you can expect to see a complete migration to the new tree system.
- Spells & Skills: Chaos Magic will expand to include more spells, and more combos will come online.
- New Spells/Skills/Combos Delayed: We made the decision to focus our tasks on shoring up skills for NPCs (see below) instead of adding more to the player skill trees.
- Housing: Permissions for property will greatly expand to better support groups sharing of property, including tools to rent rooms and set “per area/room” permissions.
- More Basements: Mine style basements and the Castle Arena will now be available in game for those who purchased them in the Add On Store.
- Decoration Proximity: Decorations can now be placed closer together to better make walls, fences, etc.
- Interior Object Culling: As part of our performance optimizations we are trying out a system that allows us to not draw any of the objects inside a player building until you enter the lot. This has a huge positive impact on performance in scenes with a lot of player housing like Owl’s Head and Ardoris
- Crafting: Crafting will now have events that occur during the crafting process that the player can interact with to influence the results.
- Events Delayed: We have a very strong design for the framework of events which we have started implementing, but it is not far enough along just yet to put in this release.
- Repair Kits Scale: Repair kits now repair items in an amount related to the value of item. This means using them on high level items will now make an actual difference.
- Creatures: Our creature list will continue to expand with Emps and Chaos Demons added to the game.
- Crocodile: The swamps now have crocodiles lurking and waiting…
- Obsidian Golem: These creatures are personifications of the rare obsidian. As if the shardfalls were not dangerous enough already!
- Sand Elemental: Scorpions are no longer the only desert dwelling creatures. Sand Elementals now inhabit these dry wastes.
- Rabbits: White Rabbits and Spotted Rabbits are now available in the game. The White Rabbit was a springtime limited time offer last year and the Spotted version is this year’s limited offer (available now in the Add-On Store).
- Combat: The cover system will be introduced that modifies attack and defense values when you (or your target) are behind cover.
- Cover Delayed: With the work needed to complete the Unity 5 transition we did not have time to implement the cover system.
- Moveable Combat Bar: The combat bar can now be placed anywhere on screen (as can the non-combat bar).
- Undead Resurrection Behavior: Undead creatures will now appear to die, only to rise again (they are undead after all). For now they will do this at all times, but in further releases this behavior will be slightly randomized and will mostly only be triggered when Undead are killed by physical means (i.e. magic will usually destroy them the first time). We will also use this behavior as the basis for the Phoenix behavior (we hope to get the Phoenix in R17). This behavior we affectionately call the “I’m getting better!” behavior.
- Damage Types & Resistances: This release we have started adding damage types and resistances to creatures based on their type. For instance Fire Elementals are now highly resistant to fire damage and they deal only fire damage.
- NPC Skills: We are slowly expanding what our creatures will do by providing them various skills. In Release 16, this includes Dual Wielding Elves, Shield Bashing Skeletons, Poison Biting / Web Rooting Spiders, and Poison Tail Attacking Scorpions (complete with a fancy new Poison Debuff icon). Weapon wielding creatures will also use skills related to the weapon they have equipped: swords cause bleed damage, bludgeons can stun and polearms can pierce armor. In future releases we will continue to expand this so that NPCs will take full advantage of all the skills players can use (based on the NPC type of course).
- A.I. and Door Improvements: Enemies will now reliably open a door that you closed behind you. Yes, this means the various clever tactics used in Vertas Pass (AKA the “hide behind the door” maneuver) won’t work anymore.
- Elven Warrior Armor: This armor was previously just a clothing item. Now it has stats (equivalent to Augmented Plate).
- Ambush Creature Nameplate Hidden: Nameplates for creatures waiting in ambush are hidden until they stand up.
- Attack Speed Skills Fixed: Any skill that modifies attack speed should now work properly.
- Double Death Penalty Fix: If you died and then resurrected and then changed scenes, the game was inflicting the death debuff and durability penalties a second time. This issue is now fixed.
- Animal Charm (now just for Animals): Players will no longer be affected by the Animal Charm spell (even though technically humans are just clever animals).
- Stealth improvements: Stealthed targets can no longer be tab targeted unless they are within a 60 degree front arc and within 5 meters of the player. This still allows tab targeting but requires you know their approximate area.
- Customization: New armor and clothing items will appear in the game.
- Unity 5 Cloth: Starting with Release 16 we are now using the Unity 5 cloth system. In addition to more controls over the behavior of the cloth, Unity 5 cloth supports cloth simulation for Mac and Linux!
- Wedding Dress: With the Unity 5 Cloth sim we were finally able to get the wedding dress to an acceptable state for wearing in the game.
- Weapon Flourish: Other players see your equipped weapon properly when you use the “Flourish Weapon” emote.
- Player Made Books: Players will be able tio write in blank books in the game, and share them with other players.
- Player Books Delayed: Player books were another victim of Unity 5 transition. We plan to circle back to them in Release 18.
- Localization: We will begin crowdsourcing the translation of the game into various languages
- Localization Delayed: We have been in the process over the last couple of releases of refactoring our dialogue and quest systems. In the long term, this work will make localization easier, but in the short term it means we have to delay work on Localization.
- Discovery System: Some points of interest (such as scene exits, merchants, banks, trainers, etc) will display icons on the compass showing their direction once you discover them. Not all scenes have been updated to include discovery items but will be in future releases.
- Razer Chroma Support: Razer approached us recently about partnering with them to show off their hardware and peripherals. In exchange, we would get the opportunity to be at trade shows (ex. GDC) with them and be promoted by their PR and Marketing teams. Our first project was to integrate the Chroma SDK, and it only took a few days to implement. The Black Widow Chroma keyboard by Razer is now connected to game state so that it changes colors based on what the player is doing. It is also linked to combos (corresponding numbers light up of spells that can be combined together) and hints (corresponding keys related to the system light up to teach players which keys do what).
- Death View Cleanup: All player parts, creatures, and equipped items should now be properly invisible when the player is dead.
- Random Encounter Assistance: Party members can now join fellow party members that are pulled into random encounters.
- Shader Rework and Fully Deferred Lighting Model: In order for Unity 5 to look and run best required us to move over to the Fully Deferred lighting model. Additionally some fundamental changes happened with shaders that required us to touch almost every piece of art in the game (hundreds of them). This was a MASSIVE task and there are still many items we missed, so please report anything you see that looks “wrong” (examples include: too shiny, too wet, looks wrong at certain angles, too sparkly, too dark at night, etc.)
- Interactive Objects Refactor: Each release starting with R15 we’ve devoted some time to refactoring systems to improve performance, stability, security, and functionality. For Release 16, we focused on all interactive objects. The most visible change is that many of them now synchronize properly over the network which means you can see others crafting for instance.
- Performance: This represented the second largest amount of tech work in R16 and has resulted in a major increase in performance. In some cases we have increased frames per second by more than 50%. Also, performance is not as dependent upon shadow distances any longer, so these have been increased. Additionally load times should be generally better (and will be much better in R17).
- Pledge Reward Recovery: When you delete a character, any pledge rewards in that character’s inventory is now returned to the local bank.
- Data Rate Reduction: The game now uses less data once a scene has been joined.
- More Responsive PC and NPC Movement: We redid a large chunk of our update logic for both PCs and NPCs to remove most of the artificial lag we were introducing. Expect a few visual anomalies while we tighten this up a bit, but both should be much closer to real time with our latest changes!
- Grand Tour 16: As with each release, we will have a grand tour that will take players through the new scenes and scenes that have changed the most. Completing this quest is the ONLY way to gain a rare reward. The hat for this release is a Black Lepus Mask that we hope you will all enjoy.
So, now that it is clear what you can expect, we should also be as clear about what you should not expect:
- Performance: We have only done rudimentary optimizations, and we do not yet have a full suite of performance fallbacks (LODs, etc.). This means the game will be quite slow on older machines, and due to memory usage, and might be unstable in certain conditions (like densely decorated areas). With each release, we will be doing further optimizations and adding to our fallbacks to improve performance.
- Crafting: The crafting system is in the game as a framework, but is still missing some key components like events. Skill checks are only in for Gathering, so results are always 100% successful for Refining and Production. Long term, the percentage chance to make items will depend on a myriad of variables and can result in a variety of results including: making the item desired, making a simpler version of the item that will need to be enhanced, or making a damaged version of the item that needs repair.
- Game Loop: Release 16 is a further iteration on our rudimentary game loop, but is still missing some key components like Crafting Skills for Refining and Production. Expect this to expand with each subsequent release, but it won’t be truly complete until we hit Beta later this year.
- Advanced Player Housing: There are some advanced features for player housing, including advanced permissions (renting, locking, etc.), guild housing and ceiling decorations that are not yet integrated. Expect to see these appear in future releases.
- Visual Quality: Efforts to improve visual quality are ongoing. We will continue to iterate on these until we have highly competitive visuals.
- Pledge Rewards: Pledge Rewards that have been built and have tech to support them are in the game; all other rewards are awaiting either content creation or tech support (ex. vendors).
- Persistence: As part of development we will need to periodically wipe data including characters, property, etc. As we near official launch the frequency should decrease, but there will definitely be a wipe right before launch. So consider everything gained during early access temporary.
Here are links to instructions and known issues. Thank you again for your continued support. This is truly the most amazing community we have ever worked with, and we are proud to be on this journey with you.
We need all your help with testing the new patches, putting more stress on our multiplayer servers, and testing the new game content, so please join us in playing Release 16!
If you have not backed the game yet, you will need to register and login at www.shroudoftheavatar.com, select the “Pledge or Send Gift!” button in the right side-bar, and purchase a pledge at the $45 Adventurer level or above. The basic Adventurer level pledge is also available on Steam Early Access.