Mitch's Blog: Shroud of the Avatar Video Transcript #1


Shroud of the Avatar Video Transcript #1

Shroud of the Avatar Ustream transcript 2013-03-08 (38:05)

Richard Garriot: RG
Chris Spears: CS

If it doesn't DIRECTLY involve the game (anecdotes and flashbacks of old times) I will simply paraphrase.

RG: Talking about original game on teletype...1500 lines of code...DnD#1....First ever fantasy role playing game written on a computer...instructions, character class, weapons, mantle of first fantasy based role playing game on computer...etc...

RG: Wrote Akalabeth on the Apple II, first time to see graphics, mother helped with art and father helped with mathematics of corridors...First ever 3d graphics in any fantasy role playing game...summer job @ computer land store...published Akalabeth...invested $200 in ziploc bags and xerox sheets...sold 12...Still have the disks and manuals for all unsold Akalabeth pirated in contacted me to sell the game for $ $5 per game...$150,000

RG: Started making a new game called Ultimatum...needed a new name...Ultima...sold for $40, sold 50,000 of the first ever game developers...creating virtual world...wanted games sold in a box, not a plastic bag...wanted crazy swag like cloth maps...most publishers said forget it, Sierra agreed...started Origin with brother...published Ultima 3...started work on Ultima 4, wanted it to be different, no more min/max'ing, introduced consequences of cheating, best seller...Ultima 5 had better storytelling, Ultima 6 got better, Ultima 7 went to a new level of depth in world interactivity...

RG: Began using the term Avatar, based on the idea of your projection of you in the world, not role-playing a "hero," you are you...bad deeds affect your karma…researching virtues led me to hindu texts that describe avatar…physical diety on earth, or of a thought/ideal…your avatar being projected in new world…you want to be the best avatar that embodies the virtues of the game…tried to trademark “avatar” couldn’t happen…

RG: Ultima online discussion…pretty good game…Akalabeth flash back, found old notebook, all puzzle based…six sided star…insert gems into star…good things, bad things happen based on puzzle…attempts at puzzles and diverse interactions are attempted in everything I do…back to ultima online…always trying to make multiplayer games…dial up AOL, 1 to 10,000 players for text or graphic MUD…UO was an early idea, party of npcs always interesting…advent of internet led to UO, EA meetings to lobby to make UO…wouldn’t take no for an answer. Please let us go over budget on U9 in order to prototype UO, bastard step child project…took bottom of the barrel employees that put together $250,000 prototype UO, beta tested game for $5. EA projections of lifetime units to be sold were 30,000 units…In 1 week, 50,000 people signed up…EA didn’t want to admit it was a great idea…tons of new employees, budget went up…etc…fastest selling EA/Origin game at the time…some great things in UO, some terrible things…

RG: Aspect of multiplayer…Pking…UO remains most open pk experience, newbies were being slaughtered, worked against success of the community…we have to get PKing right in a new game…after we launched U9 and UO, that was the end of EA wanting us to develop games…wing commander online proposed and shot down by EA…Shit hit the fan, company blew up…15 years have passed…Ultima fell into disarray.

RG: We have to go back and raise the mantle to the newest generation of gamers…most role playing games recently have been chasing the EQ model, not the Ultima model…too much min/max’ing…we want to bring back the golden age, story driven, largely solo player experience that tries to bring that success to multiplayer environment that is ABSOLUTELY NOT an MMO, a world that grows and changes with the interaction of other players. To be played with friends and strangers when desired, let’s start answering questions…

What have we been meaning or describing as “solo player” and “multiplayer” and “online” and offline”?

RG: Let me do my best to try to clarify what we mean by that, first of all this game is first and foremost a PC game, a pc downloadable, executable game. We are making it so that it will be available to download on our site or others. The game is a story driven game and the game we currently believe you’ll be able to play completely offline, meaning you never have to connect to the internet; you won’t be forced to connect to the internet. Now that’s our intention, we’ll see how big it gets and see if we actually need some server contact periodically just for patches and other things that require you to connect. The intention is that it really feels like something that is completely solo player and me as a player, I do a lot of playing offline just for practice and I’m often away from a connection, I’m very personally motivated to make sure that this remains true.
But in addition to it being a story driven game for you to proceed through, while you are online the game will automatically not only patch itself but the world is also persistent and can be impacted by other players. What I mean by that is if you go into cities and towns, and you can see this in the videos online, the cities and towns have a core infrastructure that we’ve created that make sure that if you’re playing solo you can go there to buy and sell things, the basic shops that are required to proceed, but in those cities and towns there are plenty of empty lots where you can buy and build a home or business and so as long as you’re online it will constantly update. For example, if you’ve built a great blacksmith shop in the center of town, every player going in and out of that town will walk by your blacksmith shop, talk to your vendor, and buy or sell the things that you have made and therefore we believe it will spread your good name and bring economic value to you, the blacksmith who built that shop.

Additionally, and by the way in those towns, unlike in UO where we had open housing where you could literally just go out into the forest and plop down a house, in SotA we have a dual scale map, so there’s outdoor travel mode like in earlier Ultima and then you zoom in when you enter a town or an encounter at a point of interest into a 3rd person over the shoulder view and it is in that view area when in towns and villages that you can build a shop or house. That means by definition there are only a limited amount of places to build a house, that doesn’t mean that any of you that are for example from the group The Syndicate or from any other meta group that you might consider yourself a part of, it doesn’t mean that we can’t go build a town just for you so we can have both open housing or open up new townships so to speak, new places to build. But because each one of those only has somewhere between 12 and 150 houses in it maximum, it means that housing is always going to be scarce and while we intend to make sure that we release them into the player base at fair price, just like in UO whatever town has become the most popular for people coming in and out to drop off equipment or buy new equipment, that’s where you’re going to want to own property if you want to be a blacksmith and that’s why we really think that the homes or lots to build on that are in the major cities are so much more valuable than lots in towns or villages, frankly even in villages they’re still valuable because there just aren’t that many.

We don’t anticipate that everyone playing the game will have a house. Houses are not only a place to decorate with your trophies but also a storage place where you can take your booty or equipment that you’ll take out on your next adventure. Our current plan is that we will let you sell your house where it was originally founded and take it with you so to speak and drop it down in another empty lot in another town if as the game progresses you change your mind as to what city you want to live in.

So I’ve gone from that solo player to that persistent world that you can see the persistent results of each place, I see some people asking will you be able to have a vendor and I think it comes by default if you set up as a blacksmith for example I think you have to have a vendor because that’s the way the majority of people will interact with you as a blacksmith is through your vendor because most of you won’t be able to afford to be online 24 hours a day.

But let me get back to how we’ll include the real time multiplayer, now if you think of an MMO, in a massive multiplayer game, every person connected to that shard, and I’ll get back to how we invented the word “shard” in a minute, but if every player on a single shard dog piles into a single place like Lord British’s castle, the MMO’s servers will do as good a job as it can to manage everyone being in the same place at the same time so the servers begin to bog down and even for you who are in the scene when 1000s of people cram into the same scene at the same time, the render pipeline on your side of things begins to bog down and that really means you spend a ton of money and time on trying to solve that problem technically and so it really represents a problem that we don’t think adds much to gameplay but is very difficult and very expensive for us to overcome and it will take us not only a lot of money but a lot of time to deal with well.

So we think it’s better, we know it’s better for us but we also think it’s better for players to instead be chasing being an MMO, we are not making an MMO, what we are making again is a solo player, hand crafted story-based experience that has this persistent world and does what we’re looking for a good term and we’re open to suggestions, a term for something like ad-hoc multiplayer and what I mean by that is that when you are playing we will look for friends of yours in the game, so if you’ve told us who your friends are then we’ll look for those people, if you’ve given us access to your g+ account or your facebook, or wherever you might keep a friend’s list, we’ll pull those names. What we’ll do is if any of your friends are playing we will do our best to tell you what they’re doing, hey your friend just put up a blacksmith’s shop go check it out or if your friend is in the same geographic area you’ll actually see them, you’ll see them moving around in the outdoor map, you’ll see them moving around inside that town and if you see your friend have an encounter in the outdoor map you’ll see some crossed swords on that map and you think that oh my friend’s in there having an encounter and you can just walk over to those crossed swords and jump right in with them. If they’re visiting a gypsy, maybe they’re having their fortune read or you might see them attacking a gypsy, you might see the gypsies attacking them, but whatever’s going on you can just walk in behind and see what’s going on…

I’m seeing a lot of people asking me: How do I feel about UO gamers? Well of course I love UO gamers, why you don’t even need to ask, of course, but as I was saying, *thanks Chris Spears* Chris has been the main man to keep the drum beat going and bringing all this stuff up, he got the stream going too, the team has done exceptional work to get this ready for bringing it live to you guys. Did I clarify the solo player vs. multiplayer? That seemed to be the main thing that seemed to be misunderstood or at least to be one of the things that people are debating online so I hope that you can spread the word of what we are really creating, the way I want to describe it again, this is really a solo player experience, it is a story-driven game, that you will follow the plotline through. That being said there is a persistent world that changes based on all the players impact on the persistent world and we are going to bring in at your choice, players that you know so that you can see them and be told about them and we’re also looking at bringing to you players that are on a counter-purpose and I’ll take this time to transition into the PvP question we were talking about.

We don’t want to do open PvP like we did in UO, but we also don’t want to do opt-in PvP, like going to a shard that is a PvP shard, we don’t have shards, we don’t want to do that, we don’t want to have to have a flag that you set or that if you’re evil you’re set to PvP. We’re thinking that we’ll make it story-based if for example you get to a point in the game where you take on a task that asks of you to move something like contraband from one side of the world to the other, you’re told upfront that by the way since this is contraband you will have a price on your head during that run, which means you’re open for PvP and people who are on that same path will be told that there’s a guy running contraband and that maybe they should track it down. That means that you the runner will go maybe I shouldn’t take the main roads because people might be waiting there, hunting me, instead you’ll take the back roads but that maybe has you going through dangerous swamps or deep forests that will be full of other perils and the hunters will know that you have to come through a pinch point, maybe a valley, so they’ll camp out and try to catch the runner there. In any case this is what we’re toying with, this story-driven PvP as opposed to open-PvP but we’ll set up a whole debate on this, on the SotA website, just talking about PvP, so that we don’t upset either camp of extremes but that we also make it compelling enough to be desirable, we want to make it so even the players that normally wouldn’t be interested are enticed to try it and that it is sufficiently deep and allows that full looting that I see some people are talking about and maybe we can include full looting if the people understand that they are at risk of this and that the reward is encouraging enough to enter into it. We’re toying with that and we’ll figure it out together, we’ll figure out PvP.

Someone is asking: Will the game require a subscription? The answer is no, our current intention is that the way we’re planning to launch this is as a digital download game, we’ll also sell a premium, “collector’s edition” with all the physical components but when you first download it it’ll be a trial version, that you can at least get into the game and explore the foundational aspects of the game for no charge but as soon as you want to explore the skill trees, you can pick up a sword and wave a wand but as soon as you want to learn fancy sword moves that would allow you to engage in significant combat, you really have to buy the game. They’ll be a normal premium product price to unlock the main game. Then we’re currently planning 5 episodes, the map you’ve seen is really the 1st episode that’s about 10% of the total world space and on a yearly schedule we’ll release large installments of new content but we’ll be releasing new content constantly and a lot of that new content, new islands, new towns, will download to you ad-hoc while you play but it could be that we release big pieces of content which we will charge for, optionally for a fee if you choose to buy them. For example if we don’t launch with an alchemist, if we create a skill tree for alchemists, to buy into that class or have access to that tree, there may be a price and so what we’re not going to be doing is small micro-transactions, we are not doing a facebook game, we are not doing a “ville” game, we are not doing a social media game, we are making a story-driven, character-based, role-playing game delivered for you on PC.

We’re developing in the UNITY engine, and one of the advantages of UNITY is that it cross-compiles really easily. So with the change of a compilation variable we can tell it to develop output for a PC, Mac or Linux, it’s a little bit more than that but I’ll wave my hand and it’ll magically appear on Mac and Linux. The other thing is as a gamer, I play at least half of my games on tablets and just because they’re really convenient for me to take when I’m on travel and often those tablets are offline and also with UNITY and even more effort we could tell it to compile for a tablet that however is a considerably bigger stretch. To run on a tablet, first it has to fit on a tablet, in the memory, and the graphics engines are usually not nearly as powerful, and so we’re not sure what throttling down the game into a tablet would entail, but for me, as a player I would love to play it on a tablet, not some sister product of the auction house or something, I want to play the full game or nothing as far as I’m concerned but for me personally I’m hoping we can still shoehorn it in onto a tablet but we are 1st and foremost making a PC game.

So let’s see here, let’s keep looking at questions coming through the pipeline here.

*Chris Spears speaks up*

CS: For the tablet version, I think the big thing is we don’t want to…I tried to tackle the questions on my own and they wanted us to hug earlier…

*Video stops*