Developer Insights – Outside The Keep


One of the scenarios we are building starts with the player outside of a once-abandoned keep. The dark forces that had lain siege to this keep, eventually overtaking it, now defend their spoils against your attempts to retake it.

Below is the latest concept art from Stephen Daniele depicting the Fallen Keep. If you look closely, you will see that while it was under siege, one of the towers was badly damaged. This will allow the clever player (with ranged attacks) to attempt to drop the drawbridge by destroying the crank seen through the gap at some angles. There are other, less obvious ways, into this keep, to be discovered by the more exploratory player. Those other ways may leave the keep more defensible when the tides are turned yet again!

Richard “Lord British” Garriott

Developer Video Blog: Dual Scale vs Mono Scale Maps

Today’s Video Blog is brought to you by Chris Spears, Tech Director for Shroud of the Avatar.

One of the hot topics that has come up in the chats and forums is the choice of dual-scale vs mono-scale maps. Ultima 1-5, Dragon’s Age, most JRPGs use the dual scale system, where you have an overland scale and then a encounter scale. Ultima 6-UO used a mono-scale map. After looking at the pros and cons of both systems we decided to go with a much improved version of the dual scale map.

We are expanding on this as well so that areas you enter are truly more movie scene like that than just a space to fight in. Don’t think of them as a simple instanced dungeon like you might find in WoW or a dungeon from Skyrim but instead a smaller, focused 3-30 minute experience of some sort which is not necessarily just go in here and kill stuff. Many scenes will involve specific story driven moments and puzzles with no combat at all.

In addition to staying true to Richard’s earlier works, the dual scale system allows the following benefits:

More dynamic world: By breaking the 1-to-1 connection between the overland tiles and the content they are attached to and generating the overland map through data instead of baked art, we are free to change up areas of the world far more easily. Things like changing out a section of the map to be infested by a plague or have a mountain turn into a volcano is as easy as pushing new map tile data and connection information. This also allows us to easily roll out new scenes as we complete them to ensure the game stays fresh and interesting on a weekly basis.

Less painful travel: As much fun as it is to be able to occasionally just wander in the wilderness, in the long run, people generally prefer to be able to get around quickly and not have to spend an hour trying to figure out what the best way to get to the other side of the mountain is going to be. That is fun the first three times and a game exiting moment on the 23rd time. Because we’re not doing our quests as “run to this X on your radar”, there will be far more detective and foot work involved and not making that travel element a huge chore was important to not destroying the game flow.

Quicker content creation: I know the average user doesn’t think about this kind of stuff but it is huge in the reality of game development. Budgets are not infinite so speeding up content creation means we get more stuff done in the same amount of time with fewer bugs and more polish. End result is we can give you guys a bigger, smoother game experience with fewer bugs and quicker fixes when we do find things!
Easier content delivery: Breaking up the world into little chunk simplifies content delivery to the end users and also patching.

Lower machine requirements: Giant seamless worlds are a challenge for even the most powerful computers out there. By splitting up the world into focused scenes we greatly lower the machine requirements.

More scaleable multiplayer experience: Most people are shocked to hear that one of the most expensive systems on large scene MMO servers, is mob/character visibility. Not the actual ray testing to see if they can be seen but the logic of figuring out which entities should be updated of others actions. Chopping the world up into smaller, bite size chunks greatly simplifies those calculations.

Allows us to more easily insert single player experiences into the multiplayer version. Because the multiplayer version of the game shares the majority of the single player quest line, there are times when we need to isolate the player from a party situation for storyline reasons. These situations won’t be too common but there are just some things that an avatar must do alone!

Developer Insights – From Vision to Virtual Worlds

Shroud of the Avatar: Gypsy Camp

This scene started from conversations with Richard about the gypsies who will live in this world. A very early first pass resulted in a large camp where many gypsies lived and sold their wares.  Richard felt that this didn’t quite match what he had in mind for this. Instead he had envisioned a much smaller, temporary encampment, possibly even a single gypsy family.

Once I started to visualize the scene in that way, ideas came to mind much quicker and more easily. This is a family that would almost certainly come under siege by a small group of monsters, they probably don’t have much in the way of money, and they probably had their own family issues to worry about.

We settled on two stories to represent here, one “local” and one “global.” Locally, the family comes under ambush from a pack of skeletons just as the hero arrives. This is a nice, quick little piece of gameplay that leaves the player feeling a sense of reward and accomplishment.

On the “global” scale, one of these gypsies has a wedding ring and offers it to the player as a reward for helping.  On the surface, this appears to be an easy, extra reward for the player, but there is actually a great deal more happening here.  The player has found himself or herself  in an ethical dilemma, and that’s only apparent once the player has explored more of the world and uncovered more of the ongoing story. In this very organic way, quests can have both a long term and immediate consequence for players, and represents much of what questing means in a “Richard Garriott RPG”.

Rick Holtrop

Shroud of the Avatar Developer

What is a Lord British “Ultimate” Role Playing Game? Day 4

The Second Grand Era of Games – Massively Multiplayer

Starting with Ultima III, Ultimas regularly simulated multiplayer, by providing you an artificial Non Player Character party of friends to “share” the experience with. {Trivia: Ultima III’s working title was Ultima 3D/4P, for 3D dungeons, and a party of 4 Players (all run by the one real person at the keyboard)} True multiplayer connectivity and richly detailed and varying interconnected roles were the chief contributions of Ultima Online! Multiplayer was a great boon to game play and popularity, but a great challenge from storytelling standpoint. Multiplayer is desirable and very challenging in any “Ultimate RPG”. Read more…

What is a Lord British “Ultimate” Role Playing Game? Day 3

Ultima IV, V, VI – The Hero’s Journey: Reflecting player behavior in values, virtues and social issues.

With Ultima IV I began my first strong effort to craft a unique world not drawn on movies, books or other games to the degree I had in my previous work. Thus the first incarnation of Britannia was born. Originality in world craft became an important element to my designs, as did the social and virtuous context of the stories found within the game. I became a student of story craft and the works of Joseph Campbell. Living and playing through detailed realistic worlds with stories about virtue and social issues, became the central essence of my “Ultimate RPG”. Read more…

What is a Lord British “Ultimate” Role Playing Game? Day 2

Ultimas I, II & III – Learning to craft a game and a world

With the success of Akalabeth, I decided to start fresh with my first work intending it for public consumption. I began a game originally entitled Ultimatum! Built on much the same code base as Akalabeth, It continued to refine the Richard Garriott virtual world building techniques. The game maps were largely based on the D&D worlds I created called Sosaria. When finished we launched it under the name Ultima. The tile graphic world, would become common and a useful tool in Ultimas to facilitate the detailed world interactions where you could touch and interact with everything you saw, not just the monsters, that were pivotal to my design philosophy. Detailed world interactions are part of the essence of “Ultimate RPG”. Read more…

What is a Lord British “Ultimate” Role Playing Game?

Lord British here!  Welcome to my vision of the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game.  In this 4-part blog, I will share my insights into what makes a great role playing game by reflecting on the past and looking towards the future.  So, without further delay, we will begin where many great stories do, in a Kingdom long ago.

 It begins before personal computers

I was attempting to make the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game before they were called Ultima and will continue long after they have been called Ultima.

I began my pursuit of creating the “Ultimate” Role Playing Game (Ultimate RPG) around 1974 while in high school. It’s been 36 years but it feels like yesterday. 1974 was an auspicious year for me. In 1974 my sister in law gave me a copy of The Lord of the Rings, the first fantasy fiction I had ever read, and I was instantly hooked. Soon after, I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons which had just been released. I quickly built one of the earliest and largest gaming groups which brought together 30-100 people most every Friday and Saturday for all night gaming sessions in many rooms throughout my parent’s home in Houston.  Read more…