Lord Britsh and Dupre telling stories!

You asked for more Companion Interviews.  Well, this one is EPIC! Richard “Lord British” Garriott sits down with long-time friend Greg “Dupre” Dykes! You’ll never ask, “What’s a Paladin?” again!

Developer Video Blog: Selective-Multi-Player Means Multiple Ways to Play!

Shroud of the Avatar has an innovative Selective-Multi-player system, which allows players to select the play experience they want; from a completely offline solo player mode, through a solo player online mode where you can view and contribute to the persistent world, multi-player online modes where you can select whom you explore the game with. We think this lets people play the game in a way that can feel very much like a traditional MMO, or solo player as they desire.

Here are the ways we anticipate the game can be played:

Single player offline:
This is the DRM free, completely off-line version of the game.  Your character is stored on your computer and can not be used in any of the online modes.

Single Player Online (SPO)
In the SPO mode you connect to the server, receive content updates, and can see the long term changes others are having on the world.  However, you are not visible on anyone else’s screen, nor for grouping, and you don’t see anyone else in the world.  You can switch from SPO to FPO or OPO modes whenever you like while in a city or overland map.  Some parts of the main storyline quests may temporarily force the player into SPO mode for some parts of the quest.

Friends Play Online (FPO)
In friends play online, you only see people you have flagged as friends in the game and only they can see you.  Like single player, this is just a server side filter.  For those who prefer the quieter game with friends or maybe for those who prefer a more focused role playing experience, this lets you enjoy a more limited online experience. You can switch to SPO or OPO modes whenever you like while in a city or in the overland map.

Open Play Online (OPO)
In OPO players will see everyone that the server thinks they should see.  This will not necessarily be all people in the area but should be people you care the most about based on what we believe is their relevance to you.

For the most part, OPO will feel like an MMO.  Lots of social interaction options with friends and other players.  We are trying to distinguish ourselves from traditional MMOs only in that, unlike a normal MMO players are frequently connected directly to each other instead of all data flowing through our servers. We believe this will provide numerous advantages to both players and our service, but does differ from a traditional MMO in that the upper limit of players simultaneously on one map may be restricted.

Tracy Hickman, New York Times Best-selling author of Dragonlance and Deathgate series, joins the Shroud of the Avatar team as Lead Story Designer!

Two Legends of Gaming join forces! International and New York Times Best-selling fantasy author Tracy Hickman is pleased to announce that he is joining Richard Garriott’s team as Lead Story Designer for ‘Shroud of the Avatar.’

“There is a tremendous opportunity to create something meaningful, challenging and wondrous in Shroud of the Avatar,” Tracy said. “I’m thrilled to play a part in it.”

“Tracy is not only a good friend, but also a master storycrafter whose writing I’ve greatly admired for over twenty years,” says Richard Garriott. “Tracy’s talent will add a unique richness and depth to Shroud of the Avatar.”

Tracy is known world-wide for creating the incredible worlds and stories of Dragonlance, the Deathgate Cycle, the Annals of Drakis and ‘Wayne of Gotham’. He, with his wife Laura, pioneered the use and integration of story into role playing games. He currently has over fifty books in print and is also a pioneer in the New Media publishing world of e-books and online serial publishing.

“Join us,” entices Tracy. “We’re taking adventure to a whole new realm.”

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…