The State of Shroud of The Avatar: A Backer’s Perspective

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To begin, I am a day one Kickstarter backer of Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar. I’ve been following along with the weekly updates, monthly playable releases, monthly post-mortems, fundraising telethons, New Britannia News Network, Avatar’s Radio, et al. I’ve increased my pledge a few times since the crowdfunding campaign began. I’ve even purchased a few add-ons, and gifted three pledges to family and a friend.

Am I invested in Shroud? Absolutely. I’ve been a Richard Garriott fanboy ever since I realized he was the creator of the Ultima series many, many moons ago. As soon as I heard Shroud was becoming a thing, and there would be a Kickstarter campaign, I was all in. I was sold before the campaign even went live. So am I a little biased in how I view Shroud’s development? Probably. But I’ll try to keep my glasses as rose-free as I can in what follows.

I want this game to be everything. And I really want Richard, Starr, and the whole gang to take as much time as they need to make it exactly that.I am certainly not one of the Lord of the Manor-tier backers, but I would say I’m pretty invested in the game overall. I have all of the Grand Tour hats back to Release 10 (including the current R26 hat.) I’ve logged in for almost every single Pre-Alpha Release since the very first one way back on December 12th, 2013, even if it was just to get the monthly hat. I am really, really anxious for this game to become everything I’ve hoped and dreamed of in a post-Ultima IX Richard Garriott game. And I am one of those people who falls more on the single player Ultima side of the coin. That said, I am completely amazed by the community that has sprung up around this game. And I fully intend to spend lots of time in the online space, as well. I do have a rent-free row lot deed, after all, and hopefully I can coerce my IRL wife into spending lots of time with me making something great out of it. I want this game to be everything.

And I really want Richard, Starr, and the whole gang to take as much time as they need to make it exactly that.

So…there: after an excessively long introduction, I’ve stated my premise. And here’s why: over the last few months, I’ve been seeing tweets and SotA forum posts complaining about the development process and how the game is taking way too long to finish. Even during Episode 19 of the Spam Spam Spam Humbug podcast (bonus: amusingly, this is the same episode WtF Dragon gave me a shout-out for some Tweets I posted about how much I enjoyed SSSH, and why I am now a part of the UDIC fan group) there was a lengthy discussion about the state of the game and future expectations.

I started to see all of this during the time period of the now-infamous Insane Membrane debacle, and yet more and more major backers seemed to be jumping ship. And everyone had an opinion why. Now let’s take a moment and refer back to the Kickstarter campaign. The estimated delivery date was October 2014.

It is now February of 2016. The game is still not finished. In fact, we just recently got the Final Wipe and Lot Selection announcement. July will be when the final wipe occurs; after that, Shroud of the Avatar will be going permanently online. Official lot selections for backers will begin the following month. And that STILL doesn’t include an official release date (during Episode 35 of SSSH, Starr Long said he hoped release would be by the end of this year, but no guarantees.)

And you know what? I am okay with that. Why? Because, in my opinion, the game isn’t finished yet. I mean really, it isn’t an opinion; it’s a fact. If the game had released in October 2014 like it was supposed to, we would all have been pretty disappointed with it. But what I really want to talk about is why I’m OK with the game not being done yet, and what I think a lot of people are missing or not understanding about the development process of this game. And I should add that I respect that people feel a little burned that the game still isn’t finished after all this time. I really want it to be complete as well, but I understand why it isn’t.

Before Shroud hit Kickstarter, I had never seen a game that pulled back the curtain as far and as early as Portalarium has. Since then, more games are trying out this approach, but I feel Portalarium really blazed the crowdfunding / crowdsourcing / crowdeverything trail.I read some comments on the forums that basically said some other game was given a deadline, and it reached that deadline as a much more polished product: more fun, more features, and whatever else. But that game wasn’t made the way Shroud of the Avatar is being made. This is a whole new world of game creation. Starr Long has tried to explain this over and over again in various interviews, Hangouts, updates, and everywhere else. And I feel like he just hasn’t quite squarely hit the nail on the head yet, because a whole lot of people still don’t get it.

Before Shroud hit Kickstarter, I had never seen a game that pulled back the curtain as far and as early as Portalarium has. Since then, more games are trying out this approach, but I feel Portalarium really blazed the crowdfunding / crowdsourcing / crowdeverything trail. It’s not just a Kickstarter project. It’s not just being funded entirely by the fanbase. We’ve gotten to see and be a part of everything since the very beginning. Every release since R1 has been built on our feedback, suggestions, and complaints. Why do we have use-based advancement now? Because the community complained so much about it that Portalarium put everything else on hold and cranked out a use-based system in one month. Was it perfect? Of course not. But it was there. And they’ve been improving it ever since. What other game developers have this kind of reactivity to their player community?

And what other game has player-made content to this extent? All kinds of music was made by the community. The musical instrument system was entirely developed by a community member (who I can’t thank enough on Twitter, if you haven’t seen my interactions with @Enichan recently.) Books, stories, art, and all kinds of other content in the live game were made by community members.

The other thing I was reflecting on while looking back at the Kickstarter campaign was the stretch goals. I had kind of forgotten about them, more or less, over the last almost three years. And almost every single one of them is in the game now, in some form or another. And due to the iterative process Portalarium is using to create features and improve on them, sooner or later they will all be in-game and complete. Musical instruments (that we can play our own music on and in sync with other musician players), pets, taming, castles, player-owned towns, cloaks, the Tracy Hickman novel, the interconnected underworld system, and so much more are already in the game. This game is huge by any standard, and the team working on it is not very huge.

Which leads me to the money part. It’s not like Portalarium is spending our money on parties and beer. They are making our game with our money. They have a vision, and it is being refined by our input. And they are making it as fast as they can with the people that they have, who are already so devoted that they’ve basically given up their own lives to get each release out to us on time every time. That, to me, speaks volumes about Portalarium’s commitment to the game and its community. While I’m certainly no expert on how game development should go or how other studios do it, the trip we’ve been on for almost three years has been worth the price of admission alone. And we don’t even have a finished product yet.

This game isn’t being made by a studio with 300 developers and a $300 million budget. They’ve made a little over $8 million in this time and have a handful of people working on the game. And the progress they’ve made since the little trek around Owl’s Head in R1 is pretty outstanding as far as I can tell.Portalarium decided to let players buy all kinds of add-ons to help fund the project. Which also meant they had to figure out how to handle all the requests related to changing, refunding, and transferring these add-ons. And someone had to do all that work. And be paid for that work. And somewhere along the lines, Portalarium had to make the decision that they were throwing way too much of our money at the problem and they needed to change their approach accordingly, much to the chagrin of a few people. It didn’t really affect me, because I have no intention of changing what I’ve already purchased. But certainly people have a right to be concerned by the sudden change in policy.

This game isn’t being made by a studio with 300 developers and a $300 million budget. They’ve made a little over $8 million over the last three years, and have a handful of people working on the game. And the progress they’ve made since the little trek around Owl’s Head in R1 is pretty outstanding as far as I can tell. I’ve read some complaints about how the dev team has handled certain things, or not been open about certain things, but think about it this way: Portalarium is making up this new process as they go. There was no manual for how to crowdfund and crowdsource a game while building it right out in the open before they started. What studio have you seen, prior to Portalarium, where the developers had to build the game with their fanbase breathing down their necks the whole time? I can only imagine what that is like for Portalarium. And frankly, my hat is off to them for doing it.

My best friend (whom I gifted a copy of the game to) won’t play the game until it’s done. The Early Access part does not interest him in the slightest. And not being an Ultima-crazed lunatic like I am, he is not in the same kind of rush to see it completed. When it’s finished, he’ll play it. And that’s fine in his eyes.

But like Starr said during SSSH 35, the usual terms for the different stages of development don’t really apply to Shroud. The game will forever be in development. The stories will be completed, but the game will be polished indefinitely. New content and features will be added every month for as long as there is money to keep the electricity in the office turned on. Release and live don’t mean the same thing. The game already is live and it has been for over a year. But with this new approach to development, when the game does become officially official, we’ll still get improvements as time goes on without losing our place in the world. We’ll continue getting new features and polish for as long as the game exists. And that seems pretty cool to me. Sure, we don’t get everything on Day 1 (which, in this context, doesn’t have any meaning.) But there’s always something new to look forward to.

So for everyone who is feeling uneasy about the amount of time Portalarium has taken to make Shroud, and whether or not we will actually get all of our promised deliverables, I ask you to be patient. Not for Portalarium. But for all of us who are interested and invested in the game. Watching all those really expensive pledges get sold off by community leaders started to make me feel uncomfortable, as though something was happening behind the scenes that I was missing. In a way, it made me start to question if I had made the right choice by backing this game, and continuing to do so unquestioningly for so long. Were conditions at Portalarium really so dire that we ran the risk of not getting what we were promised? I don’t believe so. And I’ll continue to support Shroud for as long as I can.

Of course I want the game to be what I think the spiritual successor to Ultima should be. Of course I want it to be finished sooner than later. But in order for the former to be possible, we have to concede a little on the latter. Games take time to make. Especially with a small team who essentially reinvented the way video games could be made, and they have had to continuously refine the process as they go. I didn’t back this project because I thought it would be a small undertaking. I backed it because the expectations are astronomical. And I have faith that Richard, Starr, Chris, and the whole crew at Portalarium can meet those expectations if we allow them the opportunity to do so.

Derek Gray (@darkskwerl)
AKA: Nerasus Elvenstar (SotA)
AKA: Deathblade Dragon (UDIC)

105 Responses

  1. Lynda says:

    The #1 problem with the game is the shoestring its been developed on. You just have to look at our avatars in game; their clunky animations, the way they look like something from the early 2000s (and even that’s generous when you think of the avatars in something like Star Wars Galaxies from that era). The game feels like an indie… and sometimes not even that. And yet you have all these people — true believers — who have spent *stupid* amounts of money on in-game land and buildings and my big fear for them is that the game is going to struggle to have *any* longevity despite their massive personal investments. Just look at other RG games, from big companies, with big budgets and they were shuttered with hardly a blink. What hope does a game that’s losing its audience before it even begins have? The game ultimately feels old school and while that appeals to a niche, it’s a niche that’s shrinking all the time. I have grave reservations for SotA, and I take no pleasure in saying that — it’s simply what I am seeing with my own two eyes.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      Eh, graphical fidelity isn’t everything. Most online games — there are a few exceptions, like The Elder Scrolls Online — tend to have more “dated”-looking graphics. But that’s typically a necessary compromise in order to maintain an overall acceptable level of performance. Indeed, this is something that The Elder Scrolls Online struggles with: it’s perfectly playable in the smaller villages and wide open spaces of Tamriel, but in the big hub cities the game’s performance will often slow down to the point of crawling.

      And there’s a very good reason for that: when there are hundreds of players running around an area, most game engines (none, in fact, that I can think of) can successfully pre-cache and polgyon-cull every object in view, which means that performance necessarily takes a hit as the video hardware struggles to render all of everything. So, many MMOs opt for less-than-bleeding-edge graphical quality, because in those situations where there’s a lot for the video card to do, each individual object is less taxing for the video hardware to handle.

      Shroud’s character models could use some animation tweaks; I’m with you there. But then, Portalarium is also with you on that one; Starr Long mentioned that they were working on that in SSSH 35. A bit of retexturing and some improvement to the shaders will also go a long way toward making the character models look better.

      Too, don’t discount the power of the niche. Oh, sure, Shroud isn’t going to outsell Fallout 4, but…okay, let’s think about this niche thing. You seem to regard it as a net negative. What are your thoughts on e.g. Pillars of Eternity or Torment: Tides of Numenera, both of which are arguably even more old-school (in terms of design) than SotA?

      • Lynda says:

        How do I feel about games like Pillars of Eternity or Torment: Tides of Numenera? Very favourable, actually. I backed Torment (and Wasteland 2 from the same developer before that). But those games are fairly simple in execution. SotA is trying to be something bigger, with its MMO component and, like my original post was talking about, has had people buying virtual land and buildings at absolutely stupid prices… and I don’t think those people are going to see their money’s worth. Either because the game will be shuttered at a much earlier stage than they think is possible or, perhaps more likely, has so few people playing, will basically feel like a dead world. They’ll get to walk around their house, that they paid literally thousands of dollars for, in a dead world. Only a really dedicated (and perhaps slightly unusual fan), would enjoy that.

        It’s interesting that you talk about ESO because I think ESO’s graphics are fantastic. The thing is, however, SotA is nothing remotely like ESO in the graphics department. And in a world where a game like ESO exists… a game that looks good… that has major voice acting… that has a near-Ultima style of being able to enter buildings, rifle through people’s stuff & steal it… all sorts of good features, with no monthly fee… that is precisely the sort of game SotA is up against. And, when you further consider how ESO has struggled, how do you think SotA will do?

        As I said originally, I take no pleasure in saying I have grave reservations for SotA. But I do… 🙁

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I cited ESO on purpose, because, yes, its graphics are indeed fantastic. But notice what else I observed about the game: for as good as it looks, it suffers significant performance degradation when there are a lot of players on-screen, which is especially the case in the game’s major hub cities.

        Now, some of that is just the Hero Engine being…well…the Hero Engine. I get that. But a lot of it has to do that in the highly dynamic in-game environment of a typical MMORPG, many of the little tricks that a 3D engine can use to preserve performance in single-player games when there is a lot going on just don’t work. You can’t pre-cache data for a player character whose movements are by nature unpredictable, nor can you polygon-cull the 3D model of a player character who might suddenly and unexpectedly move in a different direction, switch to a different orientation, or move much closer to you. So in general, MMOs opt to sacrifice high graphical fidelity in order to keep performance up; ESO is something of an exception here.

        So in some respects, SotA’s art design makes sense in light of this. I mean, okay, let’s grant that the models need some reworking in terms of their movements (this is actually taking place; Starr Long talks about it in SSSH 35), and they would probably benefit from some new textures and some better shaders (which are things that will probably come along at some point, albeit they aren’t the development focus at this moment in time).

        How do I feel about games like Pillars of Eternity or Torment: Tides of Numenera? Very favourable, actually. I backed Torment (and Wasteland 2 from the same developer before that). But those games are fairly simple in execution.

        And also very niche. And helpfully illustrative of how being niche can still equate to success.

        They’ll get to walk around their house, that they paid literally thousands of dollars for, in a dead world. Only a really dedicated (and perhaps slightly unusual fan), would enjoy that.

        That sounds delightful. But then, I backed SotA for the single-player component (which won’t be dead-dead; there’ll be NPCs), not the online stuff.

    • skwerl says:

      I don’t disagree with a lot of your points. Though I do disagree with the direction. I believe there are two groups of backers (or maybe “interested players” is a better term): The ones who want to participate in the Early Access period, and those who just want to play the game when it’s finished. I fall into the former category, and I know that a lot of people fall into the latter category (as I mentioned in the article, my best friend has exactly 0 interest in playing before the game is released.) As such, it’s difficult for me to make judgments about any particular aspect of the game, because everything is in constant flux. We’ll have a better idea about what our avatars will officially look like later this year. I completely agree with you that they look really crappy right now. Combat is miles from fine-tuned, but I give them the benefit of the doubt at this point that they will improve it significantly as time goes on, based on our feedback. If it still sucks at “release,” I’m certain we’ll all start complaining and then it will change again. Because being responsive to the players is the foundation of what Portalarium is doing.

      Are we a niche market? Absolutely. I 1000% agree with you there. But people have ponied up over $8,000,000 to support the project so far, so there’s a market there somewhere. I don’t think longevity will be an issue, especially with a constant stream of monthly releases to provide us new content for the life of the project. Even the big-name MMOs don’t offer that. Frankly, I’m completely shocked by the amount of money some people have spent backing this game. How can someone dump 10s of thousands of dollars into one video game? Multiple pledges, digital property, digital doodads to place on those properties… That’s some massive money to dole out. And people are doing it. I assume it is because people believe in the project and want to see it come to life, while checking off every box on their list of “Must-have features.” Not only that, a lot of people want the rewards that come with those ridiculously expensive pledges. If I had $10,000 to spare, I would absolutely love to tour Britannia Manor and have dinner with Richard and his family. For now, I’ll have to settle for a signed cloth map and a box of trinkets. All of that stuff, though, is just bonus on top of the experience I’ve had watching this game come to life for almost three years.

      Could all of this go bust even before we get to July? Without a doubt. This entire project could go belly-up today. Maybe Starr Long woke up this morning and said to himself, “This project has been sucking the life out of me for over three years, and I have so had enough of this. Eff all those people who keep giving us crap. I’m not going to the office ever again.” Then he snaps a photo of his middle finger held high, texts it to Richard Garriott, and includes a message that says, “SCREW YOU, MAN, I’M OUT.” Now, I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but who knows. And that’s part of the Risks and Challenges that were listed at the bottom of the Kickstarter page right from Day 1. We have no idea how this will turn out, but we’re backing it because we want to see it become something special. It was a risk I agreed to when I threw my wallet at my computer screen multiple times. And I’ll be ultra disappointed if that comes to pass, but I am confident we will get what we paid for.

      • Lynda says:

        Here’s the thing, however. I’ve followed a lot of games in quite hardcore ways, starting with SWG where I was in the first closed beta. That was the first time anyone public played the game and they picked 100 community members to do it for a period of time before slowly opening things up further. Since then, I’ve done a lot of alpha and beta testing because like you, apparently, I enjoy it too. So I know what goes on.

        I would say two main things in relation to all of this.

        1) I have never followed/backed a game where, for year after year, something has been presented one way, then takes a dramatic turn late in development. I have never, ever seen that happen. What I have seen is plenty of communities where there’s always talk that the performance / graphics / combat / map / quests / friend finder / whatever will be “much better” and “fixed” in the near future… but I’ve never seen it. I truly believe, when I look at our avatars in SotA, that they’re not going to improve a hell of a lot. I truly believe that, when the game launches, combat will still consist of our avatar awkwardly swinging a sword, in a very clunky animation and, if it’s near something else, there’s a kind of combat going on. I truly believe, in short, that what we see now is, essentially, the game. No matter what other promises are getting made. Because, straight down the line, I’ve heard it all before. And I’ve never seen dramatic U-turns at this point.

        2) The article takes on a position that SotA, and what it’s showing fans early, is really unique. But games have honestly done this for some time, even non-Kickstarter ones. And even if we just look at Kickstarter, something like Star Citizen (over $100 million raised), has more updates per month, more highly produced videos, a monthly e-magazine, and tons more than SotA could ever dream of. Why? Because it’s got more money and is way bigger. I get that. But the fact remains, SotA isn’t doing anything new or remarkable when Star Citizen is doing so much more. And, as I said, many other games are doing similar work to SotA as well. Now, with that off my chest I’m not saying let’s stop saying ‘yay’ for SotA in its own little way, but let’s not pretend it’s the Lone Ranger in this kind of development, either 🙂

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        You know, I have to admit I’m not so sanguine about Star Citizen. I agree that the game is marketed well, and very slickly so; the videos and trailers look amazeballs, and the little side stuff (Around the Verse, etc.) is also well-produced and engaging. But equally, having dived into the game regularly as updates have been pushed out for it, I have to say that I’m overall not terribly impressed at where $100+ million and three years has taken the project. The hangar module is okay; the ships are pretty to look at. The arena module is okay, as is the free-flying part, but the flight model is really basic; I prefer what Rockfish Games has done with Everspace in half a year and with less than one percent of the budget. And for story, well…there was the Gary Oldman trailer, but nothing in the playable game really hits at the narrative.

        Shroud of the Avatar, by contrast, has the complete Novia overland in-game, and most of the towns have at least been set in place.Some of the towns are still under construction, meaning that NPCs may have placeholder (or no) dialogue, but a good chunk of the game’s story is in place now, as are many of the in-game systems.

        We can argue about quality; I’ve certainly expressed my reservations about e.g. the combat in the game (although I have to say: the archery is well-implemented; I’ve been messing with that today). But in terms of the amount of the promised game that has been implemented, Shroud is significantly ahead of Star Citizen. Which isn’t a shot against Star Citizen, mind you; I’m not trying to echo Derek Smart here. But objectively, Star Citizen is a lot further away from being finished, and is a lot less implemented relative to all that was promised to its backers, than Shroud is. And I’m sure Star Citizen will be amazeballs when it’s finished…but I’ll probably have been playing the release version of Shroud for at least a year by that point.

    • Lynda says:

      The thing is, however, that Shroud is small-time ambition compared to SC. Yes, it’s 1/10 of SCs budget, but the game is essentially an overland map (very, very easy to make), that ties together instances. The majority of which are quite small, and many aren’t even finished, three years on. Within those instances we can do basic things like fight (not a great combat system, three years on), and buy things, and place houses on pre-determined spaces. The Shroud folks haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel here. Indeed they’re offering less than many games that have come before. As such, I think it’s unfair to compare Shroud with SC. You think of SCs solo game, Squadron 42, and the acting from the stars of film and TV… you think of the broader game and the size of the galaxy which isn’t a 100% procedurally generated thing, but planets, stations, etc, that are 100% hand designed and unique. They are doing a LOT with SC and it takes time to get this stuff right. When it’s finished, however, it will be mighty. That’s a guarantee. By the time Shroud’s finished, I wonder how many people will even be playing it. The scope is so limited and, like I said earlier, many games have done far more than Shroud, 5, 10, 15 years ago. Their ambition/output has been a real bummer.

      • Patrick says:

        Summing up the differences in the two games, Star Citizen is by far the most envelope pushing attempt at a space game ever, while Shroud of the Avatar, at best, is an attempt to recapture the spirit of those RPG’s of the 90s that preceded it.

        Not only is SC going where no space game has ever gone before in it’s feelings of “owning a real spaceship”. it also brings the promise of flying together, in real time, as a team or even a small squadron, against another team- and doing so while your team members are all looking out the windows.

        It’s the sort of “magic moment” all sim gamers have dreamed of, that all strategic/tactical minded spacemen have hope for decades.

        Persistent, deep in the cockpit, and complete with a robust economic system and ongoing story of mankind’s future crumbling space empire…..Star Citizen could hardly present a more complex basic plan and a more difficult set of obstacles to overcome.

        I always envisioned this game arriving about early 2018. I never imagined it would break the 20 million barrier in funding.

        It certainly remains to be seen just how successful the final product will be, but unlike Shroud of the Avatars general lack of vision and it’s untidy, ill-fitting combat model- at least Roberts and Co. are daring to touch the dream, to truly forge ahead in ways that WILL be remembered in decades ahead.

        I think that their place as brave explorers of the frontiers of gaming is already set- it’s just a matter now of how successful the overall package succeeds at it’s various goals.

        I’ve worked on a few games, played hundreds, and I really can’t recall any other game that was just so damn interesting in it’s breadth.

        I also think that the flight model is largely what you make of it. It’s easy enough to do basic flight, but. competing with other actual players is another matter. I get my ass handed to me most of the time, and have played my share of space/air combat games. Tinkering with the flight model is one of the easiest tasks Roberts & Co. have to adjust. More worrisome is how they will manage a really large universe, the creation of endless planets and the involvement of procedural generation mixed with a designer’s hand , and keeping some sort of handle on managing fleets of ships, each with a different internet connection.

        Star Citizen is certainly marching at the forefront of what is possible today.

        It should be interesting- especially in my Idris with a guild to pal around the universe with! (Yeah, I did!)

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        Ambition is all well and good, but it’s hardly everything…actually, in game development terms, it doesn’t really amount to much of anything. 38 Studios had a ton of ambition and a $75 million loan…what happened to them? This isn’t to say that devs shouldn’t be ambitious, but it is to say that realizing that ambition is a trickier thing than it sounds like.

        So, sure…Star Citizen has ambition, and then in spades. But it has yet to deliver thereupon; it’s a long way off from delivering thereupon, in fact. And I do wish RSG/CIG all luck and fortune in delivering upon their vision, but I don’t treat it as a foregone conclusion that they will in fact be able to do so. Anyone who preaches certainty in game development is either lying or selling something, or possibly both.

        Yes, it’s 1/10 of SCs budget, but the game is essentially an overland map (very, very easy to make), that ties together instances. The majority of which are quite small, and many aren’t even finished, three years on.

        You know, I spent two hours wandering the overland map in Shroud of the Avatar yesterday. I visited one city and three towns along the way. And I barely covered ten percent of the overland map, at a guess. So while you might blithely dismiss it as “easy” (which statement again demonstrates a certain level of ignorance where game development is concerned; nothing is really all that easy in game development, except perhaps failure), in reality it’s a very expansive feature of the game. It makes Novia feel massive…so much so that I was surprised by it.

        But then, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ultima 4 and Ultima 5 both featured overland maps as well, and likewise felt massive in scope and scale.

        As to the sizes of towns, dungeons, and whatnot, I really can’t comment. Some are small, but most feel a decent size. This is largely a subjective thing, though. I mean, sure, it’s not like we’re talking about the sort of distances involved in e.g. flying across a solar system, but relative to other medieval fantasy games, Shroud’s towns and dungeons aren’t overly small by any means.

        The Shroud folks haven’t tried to reinvent the wheel here. Indeed they’re offering less than many games that have come before.

        In some respects, yes. But is that necessarily a bad thing? It might not be the most ambitious approach to take, but it seems to have positive effects on the development pace and deliverability of the game overall. A modest game on a modest budget that tries to innovate where it can probably has a better chance of success than some more ambitious visions would have.

        I think it’s unfair to compare Shroud with SC. You think of SCs solo game, Squadron 42, and the acting from the stars of film and TV… you think of the broader game and the size of the galaxy which isn’t a 100% procedurally generated thing, but planets, stations, etc, that are 100% hand designed and unique.

        I didn’t make the initial comparison to Star Citizen; you did.

        Also, while I agree that Squadron 42 has an impressive cast lined up, that too is only good for so much. If the game never arrives, or arrives in a broken state, exactly what good is the cast of A-list Hollywood names?

        And like as not, last I had heard, RSI were using procedural generation for some planets, at least. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; No Man’s Sky demonstrates as much.

        They are doing a LOT with SC and it takes time to get this stuff right. When it’s finished, however, it will be mighty. That’s a guarantee.

        Not only is SC going where no space game has ever gone before in it’s feelings of “owning a real spaceship”. it also brings the promise of flying together, in real time, as a team or even a small squadron, against another team- and doing so while your team members are all looking out the windows.

        I hope you’re both right. But equally, I have my own doubts about it.

        Back in 2013, it was unquestionably the big dog in the room as far as sci-fi games were concerned. But it’s 2016 now, and we are on the cusp of seeing No Man’s Sky, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Everspace released; we’ve already seen Elite: Dangerous released, as well. Individually, none of these games matches Star Citizen for overall scope and vision, but hopefully you can see the concern that brings: Star Citizen now has to compete with all these games, has to do what each one does individually, but better and in a way that harmonizes all these disparate experiences into a single title.

        Even with $100+ million, that’s no easy feat. It’s ambitious, sure, but…well, we’ve already discussed ambition.

        [Shroud’s] scope is so limited and, like I said earlier, many games have done far more than Shroud, 5, 10, 15 years ago. Their ambition/output has been a real bummer.

        Shroud isn’t as ambitious; I’ve already granted that point. But I daresay they’re closer to being done — they have substantially more output relative to their original vision for the game — than is Star Citizen.

        Star Citizen is by far the most envelope pushing attempt at a space game ever, while Shroud of the Avatar, at best, is an attempt to recapture the spirit of those RPG’s of the 90s that preceded it.

        Nothing wrong with either approach, to my mind. There were some very good things about the early 90s RPGs that have largely been missing from games in the genre these days, and there’s also a lot to be said for driving games forward and pushing the envelope of what can be done.

    • Lynda says:

      It’s a bit disappointing to be told I have a, “certain level of ignorance where game development is concerned” which is, I would suggest, the kind of personal attack you don’t want others making in the comments section?

      But I’ll pick myself up and move on from that comment to simply say, on the contrary, I actually know quite a bit about game development. Maybe because I don’t have a guy’s name or a macho handle, I’m not supposed to? I don’t know.

      And what I can tell you, from an understanding of game development, is that map is very, very basic stuff. It’s a 3D map that’s quite easy to make, it utilises a scaled-down version of out avatar to move on it, and you can click on various sections to enter instances — the bane of every MMO gamer’s existence — to play in a small area. And, again, many of those areas are placemarkers, years on.

      While I’m delighted to hear you enjoyed walking around the map (I actually find it a tedious bore, given nothing actually *happens* on it), I have to say it’s not a rocket science design and this comes back to the whole point I was making… SotA hasn’t tried to advance the genre, infact it does less than many MMOs. And that annoys me.

      Now, of course, some might enjoy what SotA’s done. It seems that you do. And that’s valid. But you have to understand, there are people like myself who were “been there, done that and got the t-shirt” when it comes to the classic games and what we want in 2016 is an evolution, not a retro, hey-lets-make-a-substandard-game-and-say-it’s-deliberately-like-that-to-be-retro which is, I fear, what’s happening with SotA. We played games like this in the past because we had limitations. In 2016 we don’t have those limitations.

      I believe there’s also a section of the SotA audience who haven’t really kept up with games, indeed I’ve seen people on the official forum declare that this is their first MMO since Ultima Online. Naturally, these people are blown away. A 3D world! WOW! But for anyone who’s been gaming in the genre, or even gaming in general for the past 20 years, SoTA is a sub-par product and many, many people have sunk far too much money into this turkey to ever get their money’s worth from it.

      • Patrick says:

        Speaking from the point of view of working in the industry for umpteen years now, the difference between a “good” game and a “bad” game often comes down to how well the designers of the game achieve the basic goals of the design document. It’s one thing to cram a system into a game, and say “voila”, and it’s quite another for the game to achieve it’s basic premise in a manner that is fun and succeeds at it’s purpose.

        Great games have parts that add up to something bigger, more interesting, and somehow grander than their individual parts. If each part of the game adds a bit to the “goal”- the purpose of the game is raised. A games’ sections- it’s exploring, fighting, building, inventory, etc. all need to support one another and “serve the game’s goal”.

        In the case of Star Citizen, everything about the game needs to reinforce the elements of enjoying your ship and it’s adventure. The economic system, the planets, the weapons, the aliens- everything pushes towards the goal of making ship ownership believable, fun to participate in, and make owning a spaceship something you want to revisit over and over again. Each part of the game works together towards this goal. If a system fails to do this, the game is less than it could have been.

        In Shroud of the Avatar, the entire point is belief in your character’s life, and wanting to see them face mortal danger, survive, advance, own more stuff, learn to craft and basically make you the player believe in the “life” of your ‘toon.

        If a head designer loses focus and forgets the basic goals he or she is working towards, there is a great risk of getting lost in the trees. You start thinking a system is fun unto itself, outside of the overall goal. That is a recipe for disaster.

        Some ideas “fit” into a game, and some do not. What might be great for Star Citizen with it’s focus on ships, might be lousy in a game like Shroud of the Avatar, with it’s focus on your social little ‘toon’s life.

        There is currently no reason that I can see to question Star Citizen’s systems as they stand. It obviously has just so much that functions at the moment, and everything that does “work” seems to nicely serve the games master plan. It seems to this conceptual artist that those who jump on the “Star Citizen is DOOOOMED” bandwagon tend to demonstrates a certain level of ignorance where game development is concerned, or, they tend to be members of a jealous rival gaming company that naturally would like to have backers throw tens of millions of dollars their direction.

        Star Citizen’s creators have stepped on a lot of toes in a business model where most of the money that is “earned” in gaming happens betwixt creators and audience. Advertising, marketing, lawyers, bean-counters- these guys are the bankers of the gaming world, and they suck up money like there is no tomorrow.

        SC’s model at least partly does away with a significant sector of the business model, and friends, there are a LOT of people who don’t like that. You can feel it on the wind, so to speak, when you talk to gaming publishers, advertisers, and so on at shows. It’s real.

        Thus, there is some nasty press, and, in my opinion it is entirely unwarranted.

        Who knows, maybe down the road the folks at RSI will drop the ball, forget the game is about our personal spaceships, and wander off on some awful tangent- but currently, they have not, the game is still being made, progress reports are forthright and often, and I feel….content…..to wait.

        Shroud of the Avatar, much further along, to me, clearly suffers from the sin of the forgotten goal- which would be that this is a game created with roleplaying in mind. UO was quite wonderful in that it was a bunch of often nearly invisible systems that supported roleplaying. It was beautiful in the streamlined simplicity of play. (Yeah, it was laggy as crap at times, but that’s another story!)

        The greatest single element of UO was it felt like a toolshop for roleplayers with towns as a backdrop for players to revel in as they created stories. It was almost as if the gameworld was a stage, with the games various elements invisibly serving the players.

        The less you feel and see the men behind the curtain and their machinations the better, in an old school RPG.

        In it’s joy at abstracting combat and making it overt and obvious, SOTA, (again in my opinion), has fallen off it’s course, and dragged designers, players, avatars and all, into the whirlpool of combat that is just boorrringg. It diverts the players attention from the world and the monsters one faces in ways that UO never, ever did. It is just extremely bad game design.

        I think Lynda is generally astute in her comments. Richard Garriott has no bigger fan than me, when it comes to his earlier games. UO, in particular, offered me more downright fun than any game I have ever played on a computer. I was a Beta backer, and played nightly for years. Most likely, my branching out from drawing comics for Disney to also working on games came about in part from my interest in his Ultima titles.

        But, sometimes the Emperor misplaces his shirt, and it’s best, I think to tell him honestly, rather than to pretend he still has it on. That will just lead to more embarrassing nudity down the road.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I’ll just preface this by saying that I’ve had numerous discussions with female developers; I had quite a bit of contact with Carrie Gouskos and Kate Flack during the Ultima Forever development cycle, and I’ve also had a few back-and-forths with Sheri Graner Ray (of Serpent Isle fame). So when I read this:

        It’s a bit disappointing to be told I have a, “certain level of ignorance where game development is concerned” which is, I would suggest, the kind of personal attack you don’t want others making in the comments section?

        But I’ll pick myself up and move on from that comment to simply say, on the contrary, I actually know quite a bit about game development. Maybe because I don’t have a guy’s name or a macho handle, I’m not supposed to? I don’t know.

        …I can say with no small amount of confidence that it has nothing to do with names, sex, or gender. But I would — and this applies to Patrick as well — expect that people who ostensibly have significant experience with game development to be a bit less susceptible to the hype surrounding Star Citizen. Or, for that matter, to make statements like this one:

        And what I can tell you, from an understanding of game development, is that map is very, very basic stuff. It’s a 3D map that’s quite easy to make, it utilises a scaled-down version of out avatar to move on it, and you can click on various sections to enter instances — the bane of every MMO gamer’s existence — to play in a small area. And, again, many of those areas are placemarkers, years on.

        Maybe I have a different understanding of what quick and easy means, but to my mind, a thing is neither quick nor particularly easy when it takes multiple developers multiple months of coding, world building, art development, and polishing to make a thing work as intended. Because that’s what the Novia overland took, as can be confirmed from information made publicly available in the weekly updates posted to the Shroud of the Avatar website. And that doesn’t even get into the initial cloth map/pop-up book version of the overland map, and the threatened lawsuit associated therewith.

        To me, that sounds neither quick, nor particularly easy.

        As to the number of areas that are still placemarkers, I’m sure that’s true of the player-owned towns, templates for which are still being developed. The plot/NPC towns are basically all in place, although (yes) the NPCs therein may still only have placeholder dialogue. The plot is still being worked on, so that’s not really a surprise. Remind me again how many single-player missions one can explore in Star Citizen, as of today?

        I believe there’s also a section of the SotA audience who haven’t really kept up with games, indeed I’ve seen people on the official forum declare that this is their first MMO since Ultima Online. Naturally, these people are blown away. A 3D world! WOW! But for anyone who’s been gaming in the genre, or even gaming in general for the past 20 years, SoTA is a sub-par product and many, many people have sunk far too much money into this turkey to ever get their money’s worth from it.

        This may well be true; the UO community has shown a certain intransigence where 3D has been concerned. It’s not my circumstance personally, however; I loved Ultima 9, and have consumed no small quantity of 3D RPGs since it was released. I’ve talked at length about my enjoyment of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and I’m currently chewing through The Elder Scrolls Online.

        And sure, in various respects, these other games eclipse what Shroud of the Avatar is doing. The combat system in Reckoning, for example, has largely spoiled me; I find combat in a lot of other games tedious now that I have it as a basis for comparison (and yes, I’m mostly not a fan of Shroud’s combat as it exists today). And TESO is a sprawling (though still area-based, and probably instanced — albeit subtly) game that is graphically gorgeous. So, sure, Shroud isn’t the pinnacle of the MMO (or single-player) RPG scene.

        But I didn’t back it expecting it to be. I backed it expecting to find some of that old time Ultima flavour, something I think has been missing in a lot of RPGs since. Have I found that in the project as it has shaped up? In some ways, no, but in other ways, yes.

        Shroud of the Avatar, much further along, to me, clearly suffers from the sin of the forgotten goal- which would be that this is a game created with roleplaying in mind. UO was quite wonderful in that it was a bunch of often nearly invisible systems that supported roleplaying. It was beautiful in the streamlined simplicity of play. (Yeah, it was laggy as crap at times, but that’s another story!)

        Shroud isn’t just intended as a successor to UO, though; there are also nine numbered single-player Ultima titles (and between ten and fifteen such games in total, depending on which ones you count and don’t count) that it aims to homage.

        The greatest single element of UO was it felt like a toolshop for roleplayers with towns as a backdrop for players to revel in as they created stories. It was almost as if the gameworld was a stage, with the games various elements invisibly serving the players.

        Shroud does have to aspire to that, admittedly, and there does seem to be a fairly substantial RP community forming within it. But at the same time, it also has to cater to the expectations of a different fanbase, one that wants a single-player RPG experience with a lot of sandbox about it. Shroud isn’t just being compared to UO, then, but to Ultima 7 as well.

        But you know, that isn’t the most unfavourable comparison. Ultima 7 probably offered more in terms of overall world simulation, although Shroud could still conceivably catch up to that. But Ultima 7 also had the dubious distinction of having combat that was even more janky than Shroud’s. And given the improvements to the archery system that have taken place over the last few months, I actually do think there’s a respectable chance that other schools of combat in the game will see similar improvements and streamlining.

        I mean, it probably won’t ever match the combat in Reckoning…but what could, really?

        Who knows, maybe down the road the folks at RSI will drop the ball, forget the game is about our personal spaceships, and wander off on some awful tangent- but currently, they have not, the game is still being made, progress reports are forthright and often, and I feel….content…..to wait.

        As do I, as it happens.

        The three points I want to emphasize here are:

        a) Let’s not give in to hype where Star Citizen is concerned. Yes, it’s an ambitious game, and yes, it has been wildly successful as a crowdfunded venture. Yes, there was a lot of promise to it back when it was pitched in 2013, and it was the coolest-looking thing in the PC gaming space at the time.

        However, assuming that the $3 million/month burn rate that has been suggested for RSI/CIG is in fact accurate, even the $118 million the game has raised only goes so far (specifically, it goes as far as 3.3 years, which is actually some months in the past). Now, RSI/CIG have obviously secured outside funding for Star Citizen as well, so even this isn’t a doom and gloom observation. But it is an observation of the fact that game development is expensive, and that even a particularly well-funded game development endeavour can only go so long before the funds run out.

        Patrick, you said earlier that you felt 2018 was a reasonable delivery timeline for Star Citizen. That sounds reasonable to me as well…but that also (assuming the above burn rate is accurate enough) means a total development cost of (up to) $216 million. Which means that either Chris Roberts has basically secured outside funding to the tune of $1 for every $1 that he gets via crowdfunding, or else he needs to sustain and even grow his crowdfunding revenues over the next two years. Either of which is possible, sure, but neither of which is a certainty.

        b) When it was pitched in 2013, Star Citizen had no obvious competitors. Now, in 2016, it has several, both in terms of game content and graphics. In 2018, it will have even more titles to compete against. I’m not saying it can’t do so, and I’m not saying it can’t keep pace with what other games are doing in terms of graphics and gameplay mechanics…but equally, it means that RSI/CIG will have to work that much harder to make sure Star Citizen stands out and differentiates itself…or, it means accepting that in its own way, Star Citizen will suffer from some of the same things that Lynda and yourself point out about Shroud: a gameplay model that feels dated, graphics that are last-gen at best, and fewer mechanics and systems that really differentiate it significantly from what all else is out there.

        And finally, and this most importantly:

        c) There seems to be a real tone of Shroud vs. Star Citizen animating this discussion, which I think is unwarranted. Certainly, RSI/CIG and Portalarium are on friendly terms; there’s even promotional packages and items shared between the two games’ crowdfunding stores.

        In the end, Shroud and Star Citizen — to my mind — represent an attempt to bring back a little bit of that Origin Systems magic: Richard Garriott making RPGs on a modest enough budget that offer some unique world sim features, and Chris Roberts making bombastic space sims on a rockstar budget. Can’t we just celebrate both projects and wish them all success in the tumultuous market that is game development? Is there really a need to lambaste Shroud in order to build up Star Citizen?

      • Patrick says:

        Hey there, WtF Dragon- You state in the last post that “There seems to be a real tone of Shroud vs. Star Citizen animating this discussion…”, and you are right.

        But consider that it is largely your own positions on comparing both games that is continuing the debate and comparisons between them.

        You are the one who says they aren’t “sanguine” about Star Citizen, which is quite unfinished- it’s in mid-production- and you don’t offer any compelling reasons that I’ve seen to be doubtful of the game’s outcome. Not trusting a game’s future outcome based on it having too much money for the designers to work with doesn’t strike me as a logical position- it’s really more of the propaganda element that the media likes to toss around. Larger budgets don’t sink games, from my experience- it’s tiny budgets that hurt a project.

        So, it’s really not time to pass verdicts or have doubts about Star Citizen. We should wait until the game reaches a final point where it is being released, unless we can point out dire problems with the current workings of the game. Which- none of us have done.

        My current feelings about SC aren’t based on hype. They are based on my feelings when I play the current game, as were my feelings about SOTA, as I tested sections of that game, and reported back to the makers. I actually have played more RG games than CR games in the past, so my “favoritism” towards the makers leaned towards CR. I’m more a role-player than space sim player.

        Which brings us around to Shroud of the Avatar- which is approaching a state of being “done”.

        It HAS reached a point where the main points are in place. Where major systems in SC are still being revamped and tinkered with, SOTA is likely stuck with it’s combat, housing, crafting systems.

        You make the following rather keen observation about SOTA that is worth reconsidering.

        WtF Dragon-“Shroud does have to aspire to that, admittedly, and there does seem to be a fairly substantial RP community forming within it. But at the same time, it also has to cater to the expectations of a different fanbase, one that wants a single-player RPG experience with a lot of sandbox about it. Shroud isn’t just being compared to UO, then, but to Ultima 7 as well.”

        You are correct that comparing Shroud of the Avatar and Star Citizen isn’t really fair, with their vastly different budgets and goals, isn’t – and that runs both ways, since Shroud is a much simpler game to make, which accounts for why one is finished before the other.

        But, it is very fair to compare how Shroud plays out compared to UO and Ultima 7, and that is where Lynda and I both are coming from.

        The majority of complaints about Shroud have originated not from new, younger players, but from the more hard core RPers of the older games. I say this because I actually polling people midstream in the game’s development as the weak combat system began to fester in people’s comments.

        In my opinion, and it’s only my own thought, I think that someone decided originally that they would try to
        “please everyone”, old players, new players, single players, multiplayers, those who like RPGs, those who like card games- all equally.

        Generally speaking, game designs “aim” at groups and have “secondary” groups added into the fray. A good example is Neverwinter Nights from Bioware. The idea was always for a primarily multiplay game. The single player game was more of an afterthought in the original design document. It grew to a “main feature” on the game box, but it was such a mighty multiplayer building system because right out the door, that was it’s primary goal, and the designers never lost sight of that.

        It went on to become a real classic- about as close to pen and paper in a computer game as you could find- even still today.

        However, when you take too much on there is a tipping point if you start including systems that clash, and simply are not complementary to one another.

        I suspect that is what happened with SOTA. The abstractions of the original combat system with it’s jarring cards and clanky interface badly interfered with the basic proposition of people wanting to roleplay and believe in their character. Instead of recognizing and doing the right thing, someone liked card games a bit too much, and dug their feet in. They must have been high up enough in the pecking order for it to hold.

        I don’t like the map system either. It’s cute and all for a brief time, but really, it offers nothing substantial to the game other than adding a time element in getting from point A to point B. I guess it’s there to make up from the fact that much that happens in the game is so abstracted. I can understand this, it’s a matter of budget.

        But if you really think about it, the map offers nothing that a more traditional paper map couldn’t. You can’t fight or pick berries or play the flute whilst on it. So really, it’s trappings only, an illusion that there is more of a world to “do things on” when really, there is not.

        I could live with the map, however, if I could fight stuff and have fun/sense of belief in doing so.

        THAT is where the game simply collapses in a very unfulfilling and fruitless way.

        And it NEVER happened in UO or U7- even though those games were in a sense “more abstract” because of the limitations of the tech back then.

        I think this has turned out to be an interesting thread, one that is worthwhile and where a person can learn a thing or two about game design, people’s expectations, and how tough it is to make good games.

        It’s not all negative, nor is it trash talking. The posts are mostly reflective and balanced.

        Good stuff.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        Actually, Patrick, I wasn’t the one who brought Star Citizen into the discussion, nor was I the first to make the comparison between it and Shroud of the Avatar. Nor, as I have repeatedly stated, is my intent to foment an air of doom and gloom with regard to Star Citizen, or to wish for its failure.

        However, I don’t think Star CItizen’s success is a foregone conclusion, and as time rolls on it seems to be a bit less ground-breaking even to me (and I pledged day one of the Kickstarter campaign, after being blown away by what I saw).

        And frankly, I do think I’ve offered sufficient reasons to defend my being less than wholly sanguine about Star Citizen, having noted the changing gaming landscape and the growing number of competitors that offer features that at one point would have been unique to Star Citizen, and having looked at the budgetary requirements for Star Citizen based on what information is available in the public realm (which, granted, is not much, but one works with what one has).

        But I bear no ill will toward Star Citizen; I’m not making the argument that it’s a disappointment. I’m simply noting that total confidence in its inevitable success (or, now, its uniqueness in the gaming space) is unwarranted. Contrast that with what’s being said by yourself and Lynda about Shroud of the Avatar.

        I could live with the map, however, if I could fight stuff and have fun/sense of belief in doing so.

        THAT is where the game simply collapses in a very unfulfilling and fruitless way.

        And it NEVER happened in UO or U7- even though those games were in a sense “more abstract” because of the limitations of the tech back then.

        I agree that most of the combat in Shroud is sorely lacking, with (again) the caveat that the archery system has improved to the point of being not only useable, but also effective. Which is something of a first, for me, actually; I’ve dabbled in archery in a number of other fantasy RPGs, and have always put it down again in favour of swords and other close-range weapons.

        Where I’ll disagree (because I do) is that Ultima 7 didn’t collapse in the same way that Shroud does. At least as far as combat goes, Ultima 7 does collapse when the fighting starts, in almost exactly the same way that Shroud does; Ultima 7 has terrible combat which is, at its very best, a tedious bore, and is at worst an experience-breaking thing.

        But then, I’m speaking from my experience, as you are from yours. And herein lies the problem: one user’s subjective experience doesn’t map to another user’s subjective experience. So where Shroud falls down for you in a way that Ultima 7 doesn’t, I find that Shroud falls down as well…but I also find that Ultima 7 fell down a bit more, at least where combat was concerned.

      • Patrick says:

        Hey WtF, we all play games, we each are entitled to come to our own conclusions, and really, as long as we have fun and enjoy whatever game we play, that is the ultimate goal. eh?

        In response to your last post. What new upcoming, unfinished game has success as a foregone conclusion? Isn’t this rather an unfair way of putting things?

        Name one upcoming game that is deep and complicated, which features higher end graphics, that does not have to compete with other games of it’s genre.

        Neither of your two arguments are really sound because this applies to all games equally. All companies have to decide on a game engine, and all of today’s games take years to complete. Star Citizen, once one realizes it’s production has been all “in the open” isn’t taking any longer than a traditional game of it’s size and breadth. Dev time is about average, by my caluculations. It’s how I landed on 2018 early on. By the time a game is released, there is a newer game is being advertised that has better looking graphics with all games.

        It’s been the case since the dawn of gaming, and change keeps coming faster every year.

        This is why graphics in games- and special effects in films, are of secondary importance to the aesthetic of how the game or film plays- it’s view of the human condition. Along with pure fun or entertainment, games and films balance art and simple enjoyment.

        If new games were based solely on graphics, I certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with the gaming world.

        This is what I meant, when I took your assessment of SC to task. I didn’t mean to insult, if I got under your skin. I mean, if you really think about it, both SOTA and SC were begat at about the same time. Do you really want to question SC’s viability of it’s graphics, and hoorah SOTA at the same time?

        Obviously, there is more to gaming than just pretty graphics.

        A good example in film are the LOTR movies. There have been lots of advances in special effects since my pal Richard Taylor and Weta started out in 1999, yet, Fellowship stands up hugely well to any fantasy flick of the past couple of years. That’s not because the effects are better- it’s how the screenplay, directing, art direction, editing and effects all add up to something greater than it’s parts.

        You may be absolutely right about combat in U7- damn- it’s been a while.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        Patrick, I don’t disagree with much of what you say. But, let me just draw something out here:

        In response to your last post. What new upcoming, unfinished game has success as a foregone conclusion? Isn’t this rather an unfair way of putting things?

        And then let me refer back to an earlier comment of Lynda’s:

        You think of SCs solo game, Squadron 42, and the acting from the stars of film and TV… you think of the broader game and the size of the galaxy which isn’t a 100% procedurally generated thing, but planets, stations, etc, that are 100% hand designed and unique. They are doing a LOT with SC and it takes time to get this stuff right. When it’s finished, however, it will be mighty. That’s a guarantee. By the time Shroud’s finished, I wonder how many people will even be playing it. The scope is so limited and, like I said earlier, many games have done far more than Shroud, 5, 10, 15 years ago. Their ambition/output has been a real bummer.

        It’s comments like that which irk me, especially when words like guarantee get so casually thrown about. Because there aren’t any such guarantees; we can’t say for certain that Star Citizen will be mighty, or even that it will one day go gold. Certainly, we can hope that it will be, and we can offer it what support we can to reach that goal. But it’s a game still in development, it has competition now, and it’s a couple years (at least) from being released; there are no guarantees here.

        But I think you get that.

        A couple other sundry replies:

        This is why graphics in games- and special effects in films, are of secondary importance to the aesthetic of how the game or film plays- it’s view of the human condition. Along with pure fun or entertainment, games and films balance art and simple enjoyment.

        I also didn’t bring graphics into this discussion, and I agree with what you’re saying above. I mean, clearly, I am mostly supportive of Shroud of the Avatar, even though its graphics are decidedly last-gen. And I’ve argued before, in print and in podcast episodes, that graphics only count for so much; the systems and mechanics of a game are what will make or break the experience of playing it.

        This is what I meant, when I took your assessment of SC to task. I didn’t mean to insult, if I got under your skin. I mean, if you really think about it, both SOTA and SC were begat at about the same time. Do you really want to question SC’s viability of it’s graphics, and hoorah SOTA at the same time?

        That wasn’t my intent; rather, my intent was (again) to argue against this attitude of certainty — certainty that Star Citizen will be mighty, as was said — with respect to Star Citizen’s design and future market performance. I mean, sure, it could be all that; it could release in 2018 (or whenever) and be the most graphically intense game going, with a really tight gameplay experience, a compelling narrative in Squadron 42, and a host of in-game systems in its persistent/online world that attracts millions of players.

        Or it could be somewhat less than all that. It’s still years out; we can’t know what its fortunes will ultimately be.

        And the same is true of Shroud: maybe it will fizzle out after its version 1.0 release, and maybe it’ll attract and be sustained by a community of players who love it. Even though its release is closer to us, in time, than Star Citizen’s, it’s also too early to say what Shroud’s fortunes will be.

        No guarantees; that’s the only guarantee.

      • Patrick says:

        I see that we do come together on your last post. I agree there are no guarantees with Star Citizen- I don’t think I ever implied there were, game design is a dangerous business to say the least. All games can fail, for a wide variety of reasons.

        Also we agree totally that graphics are not as important as content and systems design within a game, which of course, is where my problems with SOTA arise. UO was a brilliant multiplayer game for it’s time. I wish Shroud of the Avatar had followed in the spirit of UO to provide a stage for RP that was simple and friendly. I find that the game being offered, in the area of combat specifically, directly opposes the notions of immersion in the world and belief in my character, making an entire crucial section of the game unplayable and not fun.

        I am sadly not alone in this belief. Legions of us who loved UO are falling by the wayside as we encounter that awful combat wall in SOTA. I’m sorry to say I haven’t claimed my Founding Knight lot, nor do I have plans to do so in the future.

        If you aren’t having fun, it’s sort of….pointless, aye?

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        It is, by and large.

        I haven’t hit the point yet where Shroud is entirely un-fun for me. I was almost there, but…okay, the archery drew me back. And I did place my house, so there’s that as well.

        But equally, I do have a family (including three kids). I have a day job. I’m a Scout leader, and I run two podcasts. Time is limited, and a game that doesn’t hit a particular threshold of engagement will get discarded soon enough. Shroud is close to that line, but it hasn’t quite crossed it.

    • Lynda says:

      For mine, the Shroud/Star comparisons have come about via them being crowd-funded games under construction simultaneously for a few years. It’s hard not to compare games being made alongside each other, each based on a relatively small initial crowd fund, then making lots and lots of $$$ — relatively — based on sales of digital items (houses and all sorts of fluff for your character in Shroud; spaceships and all sorts of fluff for your character in Star). I agree in many ways it’s not useful to compare, indeed, the only real comparison I seek to make ongoing is the lack of ambition Shroud displayed from the start. It was truly surprising to me.

  2. Baja Resident says:

    Well said, Lynda.

    • Lynda says:

      Thank you. I feel I’m just saying what I see, without fear or favour. Whereas, as objective as the post writer might want to be, being on a site dedicated to Ultima, and wanting a RG game to succeed does, I think, colour the whole piece. That said, I’m an Ultima gamer from way back, I was in UO from the start… so I understand the landscape. I’ve just never felt as pre-disposed to giving RG a pass on whatever he does, and trying to big it up, no matter what. I look at what he’s doing on SotA and I think it’s sub-par on the whole, and a bunch of people have thrown way too much of their personal money at it to ever get their $$$ worth in the year(s) ahead. There will be tears before bedtime, I’m afraid.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        In the interests of fairness and disclosure, I merely offered to give Derek a place to publish his thoughts, whatever they were. It turns out they were very much on the side of Shroud and Portalarium (and I gather the piece has been well-received indeed by many members of the team).

        But it could just as easily have been an airing of concerns. I’d have published it either way, because I made him that offer and I would have stood by it.

        All of which is to say: don’t let the venue colour your impressions of the piece overmuch, because I don’t think that’s fair to Derek at all. These are his earnest thoughts, and I don’t think the fact that I happened to be the one to offer to publish them actually colours them in any significant respect (whatever the optics of the situation might be).

  3. Joseph says:

    I’m looking forward to the game and can surely wait if it means they can make something awesome to play. Making an ultima game that matches today’s expectations is no easy feat. If anyone can pull it off it’s them.

  4. Sean says:

    The graphics are one thing, but I feel the gameplay is what will keep most non-fanboys(and girls) away. Combat simply does not have any of the magic that Ultima Online had- and lets be honest, everyone will and is comparing it to UO. Crafting and the world in general can be tweaked and improved, but I feel that at a base level the combat is simply not fun. Nothing feels fast-paced or satisfying. Just looking at UO PvP videos on youtube, you can see skill at play with even a basic understanding of UO gameplay mechanics. Here’s hoping there is a complete overhaul of how combat is done, otherwise I likely won’t play any more.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      As was noted, they did speed up the combat significantly in the most recent Release.

      Combat has been my major issue with SotA to date as well, and I haven’t yet had the chance to dive in and check out the recent improvements for myself. What few people I’ve talked to, however, seem pleased with the changes.

      • Lynda says:

        I think combat is still, essentially, its own clunky thing. There was that time they experimented with the card deck… that seemed to come and go and, even when it was there, combat wasn’t that different. Even sped-up, it’s still an avatar awkwardly swinging a weapon and, if near someone else, maybe connecting… it feels incredibly budget. And unless they do something extraordinary in the near future, which I doubt, this is pretty much combat as we know it. It’s in front of our eyes right now, regardless of what promises and rumours go around the community. The same promises and rumours that have already been floating around for some years…

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        Eh, I’m spoiled where combat is concerned after playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. That’ll be tops, in my books, for the foreseeable future; nothing else comes close.

        And yeah, SotA’s combat doesn’t rise to that level. I have found combat in the game to be tedious in the past, though I’m hoping the increase in speed at least partly mitigates that. As noted, I haven’t had a chance to test it for myself.

        That said, as long as it’s better than the combat in Dragon Age: Origins (which I cannot stand) or Ultima 7 (which I tolerate only because of its brevity), I’ll be willing to put up with it (most likely). As long as there are ways to avoid engaging in battles when I want to, as long as combat isn’t a key progression mechanic, it shouldn’t be a blocker.

  5. Grant Preece says:

    I think combat has made a major advance in this last release. My frustration right now is how open ended questing is (no way to track progress, find quests or even know if you are on one). But that does not reduce my enthusiasm for a product that I am planning on playing for years. Just have to understand that right now, it truly is in a pre-release state. Like the article!

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      I’m not sure the intent was to ever really have any formal means of quest tracking in the game. Kind of a throwback to the Ultima series, that.

      • skwerl says:

        There is the in-game Journal, which I find atrocious at the moment. But I expect that it will get some attention soon enough. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to make a pretty UI before all the bits and pieces are in place that it needs to pull data from. Then you spend all of your time going back to tweak the UI so it works correctly. The journal just needs a little better navigation, then I think it would be good. I don’t expect a World of Warcraft-style quest log.

  6. Thanks for the write-up, Deathblade. It was an excellent read, and I pretty much agree with you. Unless one’s a developer, it’s hard to understand just what it’s like projecting how long a project, especially a complex one, will take. In a word, it’s impossible.

    • skwerl says:

      That is precisely my feeling. I have never made any sort of game before, therefore I will be the last person to start making judgments about how long specific things take. The team has also been highly responsive to our feedback, which adds to the time as well. And I appreciate that they are willing to take our suggestions during the creation process, as opposed to most companies that put out a game and then have to scramble to address customer uproar when something isn’t the way they want it.

  7. thuaners says:

    Awesome article! I love your attitude! I too backed the kickstarter as soon as i heard about it, because i love ultima. And im happy to wait also, ill just play it when its released and thankful that richard and team are making another ultima for me to play 😀

  8. My perspective as a Knight level Founder and also a pro conceptual gaming designer of some 25 years.

    In my opinion, Shroud never needed to have first rate graphics, nor state of the art, ground breaking design features. It just needed to follow in the spirit of RG’s prior successful classic games- the Ultimas and especially UO.

    As someone who loved those older games and was in UO from Alpha, it feels to me that Shroud has already failed miserably in the area that is most important- which is giving the player an immersive experience which makes you care about your character.

    It’s the combat system, in each of it’s rotten incarnations, that really wrecks the experience. Instead of a system that focuses on your character fighting the monsters with sword or spell, the overarching concept involves brutally removing the player from the game world with a jarring, abstracted card system which directly competes with your view of your avatar battling said monster “in world”.

    This concept is utterly at odds with the ideas of immersion and belief in your character, and thus, is dreadfully inappropriate for the genre of the game itself.

    It’s called “Shroud of the AVATAR” for a reason- that being, you are roleplaying the part of your avatar.

    The housing and crafting and people interaction systems are much like UO and are basically RPG friendly, unlike the combat idiocy.

    However, for the life of me, I cannot play the game for longer than 20 minutes at a time, because whenever swordplay or spells are called for, any semblance of fun goes out the window. It’s just anti-roleplay at it’s very worst.

    I’ve written scores of notes, posts on the forums, letters to the company to no avail, as whomever created the moronic combat system is high up, stubborn, and dull when it comes to listening to the RPers who bought into this over from UO.

    The last poll on their own forums resulted in upwards of 65% of those who post there hating the combat system- and that is a poll among the loyalist of fans.

    I’ve given up. I asked for a refund of my 800$ pledge because of the lapse on the promise of a RPG game grounded on UO- but I have never even received a note in reply.

    It’s as if those at the company don’t care enough about their core backers to ever politely decline such a request.

    Sometimes game companies lose sight of their basic audience and wreck what might be a great game through incredibly stupid design concepts- by stuffing things into a game not because they work or suit said game, but because one of the designers likes swiss cheese, or Siamese cats, or card games.

    This, I think, is one of those cases, and, it’s a pity.

    It’s sad because RG in the past has created truly memorable, classic games we played forever.

    I can’t even make release on this one.

    • Lynda says:

      Yup, the combat is pretty shocking. And the fact we haven’t seen huge changes in it — ever — not only plays to your comments that, “whomever created the moronic combat system is high up, stubborn, and dull when it comes to listening” but also to my comment that, in so many games I’ve followed, I’ve never seen big U-turns on stuff, no matter what is rumoured, or even promised by devs, as the game is made. I see people in this string of replies who are under the belief that a lot is going to change in the game and “everything will be alright on the night” but what I’m saying is, no, it won’t. The game you see now, people, is pretty much the game that’s going to go live. I’d bet real $$$ on that.

      • I played UO nightly for over six years, and I was about as enthusiastic for Shroud of the Avatar’s potential as anyone. It’s tragic that so much talent and time gets put into a game like this, only to have it ruined by an abysmal choice like the dreadful combat system found in Shroud.

        The developers act as if polish/finishes can take what is a deadly flawed scheme and turn a bad idea into a wonderful vision. I’m sure many of the people stuck with the terrible task of using the extant concept are pulling their hair out and that they understand how out of sync a non-roleplaying friendly system works against everything else about the game- but in the end, it’s only the people at the top who can own up to their bad choices and salvage the game by tossing out what simply does not work.

        Richard Garriott is the one with his name written on this game. If I were he, I would step in and make the hard call. The resulting game’s quality is more important than the pride of one producer/creator who can’t see past his own ego- and Richard has to live with how this game is received, forever more.

      • Lynda says:

        That’s precisely it, Patrick. There’s this vibe being given off that polish/finishes will fix everything. And it just won’t. People might point at someone like me and ask, ‘Well, what do you know? Have you made a game before?’ and I would say no, but I’ve certainly played a lot in my time, and followed even more, and I know when something is fundamentally flawed and awful, it takes more than a tweak or two in some future release to change it completely. And again, I see people in these replies who think that’s precisely what will happen. I am worried for those people’s happiness when what’s going to happen, finally happens :-/

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I aired more than a few concerns about combat in Shroud in SSSH 17, some of which echo your own concerns here.

        The one point I made…ah…a point of highlighting, though, is that it can still be tolerable if a game has crappy combat, so long as combat is not a key progression mechanic or content gateway in the game. If combat is at least semi-optional and can be avoided in all but a few circumstances, as is the case in e.g. Ultima 7 (which has terrible combat), then it’s not a big deal. If, on the other hand, the combat is not avoidable in most cases and is, in fact, a persistent and constant facet of the came (as in Dragon Age: Origins), then there’s a much bigger problem there.

        It’s a bit too early, for me at least, to assess just how pervasive combat will be in Shroud. Not that I don’t hope they improve the combat system; I do. But if that isn’t a thing that transpires, then as long as I don’t need to plod through every fight I come across, it won’t be as big of an issue.

      • Lynda says:

        I’m not sure how well you can do this, but read your response as if you were someone else; perhaps someone sticking their head in for the first time, today. What do you think they’d make of a situation where, at best, something is so awful, the best you can hope is you don’t have to do it all that often in the game? That seems bad enough, but when that thing is combat… in an MMO… that’s a pretty mind-blowing thing. (And yes, I know not everyone will play it as an MMO, but I think an awful lot will.) An MMO with sucky combat is just… it’s hardly worth contemplating.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        Heh…well, combat is only one part of a game, ideally. Certainly it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of a game like SotA.

        So to respond to your challenge, I would conclude that there are issues with the combat, which all sides seem willing to acknowledge. But I’d probably wonder what else about the game prompts people to defend it.

        And like as not, many other systems in SotA, as important to the game experience (if not more so) as combat, are pretty good. The crafting, the music playing, the housing…all quite good.

        Too, it’s not so mind-blowing that a game, even an MMO, has terrible combat. I mean, the combat in any of BioWare’s Aurora Engine games (up to DAO) was plodding and horrible…but those games are otherwise highly regarded. The combat in SWTOR is so-so, but the game is otherwise excellent and is doing well.

        So…combat. It’s not the best in SotA. Totally grant that, I do. But equally, it’s not the end of the world. Not yet, at least.

      • Lynda says:

        I think combat is important, not because I’m some crazed PvP type (infact, I don’t even like PvP), but I think when a game is less than sandbox (and SotA is certainly less than sandbox, even if some elements are sandbox-ish), combat is one of the main things, I believe, players want to do. Sure, there are people who say they just want to fish, or explore, or make wooden boxes, or whatever, in these games… but they’re the minority. Even in RG games. Combat was huge in the days of UO and it’s going to be more important to an even larger percentage of SotA’s audience.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        See, I don’t come from the UO side. And sure, combat was a thing in the early Ultimas too, as it was in all RPGs of their day.

        But in U6 especially, and the games that followed to lesser or greater degrees, combat wasn’t as much of a thing. Indeed, in U6, there are just three fights that are unavoidable…the game can otherwise be played pacifist-like. And U7 is a highly regarded game that has utterly terrible combat.

        So I guess I just don’t come from the part of the Ultima fandom that views combat as being as important as other “world sim” features. I’ll forgive a game quite a lot of terrible combat if the game world feels alive, the NPCs have their own schedules, and there is a lot to interact with.

      • Lynda says:

        To me, it’s a broader thing than just past Ultima games though, whether UO or the regular series. There hasn’t been an Ultima in so long and, to be honest, I’d be interested what % of SotA gamers have never even played one. Given the amount of time that’s gone by, and the young(er) age of some of the community, I’d wager it’s significant enough to notice. And for those people, especially, raised on MMOs and indeed RPGs where combat is pretty much key to everything, even in PvE situations, they are going to get a taste of this combat, never return, and tumbleweeds will blow through the multiplayer game within 6 months.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        You may be right. I really can’t say, because the sum total of my MMO exposure is ESO (which I play for the story, and play solo) and SWTOR (which I play with my wife). And I don’t play either game heavily. I’m way more invested in single-player titles, and generally more invested in game systems other than combat.

        So…you may be right. You may not be. I’ll be playing SotA in one of the single-player modes, so I’m unlikely to notice either way.

        But I intend to enjoy it on its merits as much as possible, given that.

      • Lynda says:

        I think playing it as a single player game will be a whole different experience despite experiencing all the same things people experience in the MMO. I think it will afford to be played in a way that’s far, far different to how the MMO version will be played.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I should hope it to be different!

    • Hey Patrick. I think your point is good regarding combat in SotA. All games are an abstraction so it’s really a matter of consistency and recognizability. For example, you can have hyper-realistic graphics but extremely abstract gameplay if the player recognizes the convention, for instance a board game. Chess with realistic graphics (like a modern Battle Chess) works because people immediately realize it’s chess and won’t mistake it for an FPS or flight sim despite the realistic presentation. SotA presents itself visually and mechanically as a semi-realistic real-time simulation, much as Ultimas VII – IX and the Underworld games did. This is great, but presenting combat as a “Magic the Gathering”-style card game, while certainly recognizable, is not consistent with the rest of the game. It makes combat more of a mini-game, where the mechanics are often completely different than the main game.

      To a degree variations in presentation and mechanics for different systems are absolutely necessary as they offer a more efficient way to interact with those systems, for example with crafting in SotA or designing a home in UO. This will remain true until we have near-perfect, 1:1 interface peripherals such as the Oculus Rift and Kinect to remove interface abstractions and allow natural (as in full use of both hands) manipulation of the game world, and even then the convenience and efficiency of interface and presentation abstractions will keep them around. Combat, however, is a fundamental element of most game genres and nearly every Ultima and Ultima spinoff ever made. I don’t think SotA can afford to relegate it to a mini-game which shoehorns in an entire genre (card games), which is heavily at odds with the rest of the game.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember the initial decision to use card-based combat was due to network stack limitations, meaning the design of the client/server architecture didn’t support an elegant real-time, twitch combat solution. There was also some talk about attempting to offload as much back-end (server) operations as possible to game clients to avoid having large server farms keeping everything running. While this is a can of worms unto itself with respect to potential security/cheating issues, I do understand the logic of leveraging the power of client machines to keep long-term operational costs to a minimum. If this is the case, the problem is that design choices should always be given priority against technical obstacles like hardware and budgetary limitations. You make an initial design choice based on how you want your game to play, independent of potential implementation hurdles, put on your genius cap to figure out how to make it work (or if it can work at all), then make the decision whether or compromise the initial vision and if so how much. Only in the worst-case do you scrap your original design choice entirely, allowing technical and budgetary challenges to win the day.

      What I’d like to know is are the technical challenges facing the team with respect to real-time, twitch-style combat, either due to Unity or their (in)ability to design and implement efficient network code, so insurmountable that they’d risk disaster by continuing to refuse to resolve them? Was the decision to implement combat as-is made too lightly? If the technical issues are hard barriers (tough to imagine but possible), is there a better system than the current one that can be implemented without pushing any harder against the limitations? With respect to the last question, as a classic Ultima fan I’d prefer a turn-based combat solution similar to that of Ultima V or VI than a card-based abstraction, but that’s just me.

      Anyway, I’d hate to see a potentially great game brought low due to the momentum of a design choice influenced by technical challenges. It would be like watching a beautiful palace slowly fall apart for the single mistake of building its foundation on the sand instead of the rock.

  9. It needs mountable vehicles ahh reckon, such as a magic carpet before I needs be playing it!

  10. autodeath says:

    I’m a new player and my second impressions (after entropy of my understanding of the system descended) is that I actually like the combat system. Well, the card terminology is not to happy chosen but … I can imagine and put it from the view of character as a ‘wizard’ having abilities, skills to reach into semivoid space of magic energy and to pull (create, prepare) spells based on the energy and his skills and set it up for an early use: he’s got an ability for some limited time to be able to keep them prepared in a inter-space, something like a vestibule before the application of a spell, he can in a limited way to manipulate them, to stack them (pump them with an energy) and to use them. I like the concept and I like the variability impact on the actual magic fight…

  11. ikazuchi01 says:

    As much as I love Ultima and Richard Garriott and supported him from my days on a C64 and an FM-Towns in Japan, this game still feels a lot to me like …. Ultima 9. Many barren spots (under construction) and clunky animations. But that’s not the issue. It’s the way the engine plays and feels that kills it for me. I am not sure even the community involvement can overcome an engine that feels older and choppier than World of Warcraft in 2004. It needs to be fun to move around and get things done – easy even, not a chore. Right now it’s still a chore to play and confusing. For example, I’m supposed to find an Oracle in the next town over, and its not very clear. I played Ultimas before the “M” for Map button and quest markers, but times have changed, and I don’t have hours to search. Anyway, I am hopeful for engine optimization, but for now it’s not enjoyable for very long beyond the initial “that’s nice” factor and some neat Ultima-ish references.

    That said, Ultima Underworld kept going for a long time, so really what it needs is optimization, optimization, optimization — if the choppy graphics can get smoother, and if the quests and map locations make more sense, then it will be quite playable and a good platform for a nerdcore community to develop further.

    • Lynda says:

      Agreed, after three years they finally went persistent (a long time after they were supposed to launch properly), and the game’s still half missing. And, you are right, it’s unclear on what it wants players to do, or how the game should be played in general. When you have to jump on a forum and ask total SotA nerds who have figured out stuff my trial and error how to do some remarkably basic things, it’s clear the game has bad tutorials, a confusing interface and is generally not what most people expect in a 2016 release.

  12. Patrick Block says:

    I was a Knight level backer of Shroud of the Avatar, and I work in gaming myself as a conceptual artist. I loved UO and was probably one of those hoary old loyal fans who played it longer than I care to mention.

    It’s a pity that the designers of Shroud completely lost sight of what their game was about when designing the combat system. I don’t give a whit about modern graphics, and I don’t mind older style design, as long as that design SUPPORTS ROLPLAYING style adventuring.

    This means each system needs to make you feel like your character lives and breathes. Shroud is capable enough when it comes to home building and living. It does a nice job with interaction with your “stuff”. It is admirable enough with it’s crafting element, and it’s reasonably competent with interaction with other players.

    Where the game fails- and fails miserably, is when you step out of town and take your avatar on an adventure into the unknown. I never feel like my avatar is endangered by monsters. Swords, bows, whatever feel tactic-less and pointless. I don’t feel like my environment matters in combat. The monsters feel dead- they might as well be cards.

    The entire game is hinged on believing in your avatar. The combat is not just clunky- it is overly abstracted to the point that it pulls you out of the game world.

    And that is a complete game breaker for this player. I went to RG’s worlds to be entranced by a real feeling place where I could experience life as someone other than myself.

    When I play Shroud of the Avatar, I achieve this until I leave town for the excitement and danger of the unknown- only to have the rug pulled out from under me, each and every time, and am bored to tears as my belief in the game world is destroyed by the poorly considered combat system.

    It’s a disaster of an RPG- maybe those who have never played a “real” RPG just don’t know what they are missing, by for myself and a 8 or 10 people I personally know who pledged early on because of RG’s brilliant past work, we have remorsefully moved on.

    The problems are not the fault of those designers who were forced to use the current combat foundation underpinnings- it’s the fault of whomever made the terrible choice to cram a very not-at-all RPG friendly combat design. It’s like a film that is burdened with a rotten script. Good actors, directing and camerawork can only overcome so much terrible writing.

    Sadly, the fans of UO and RPGs who backed Shroud repeated their concerns thousands of times over years of development. We were told the combat system would be redesigned, if it worked out to be functioning poorly. Polls on the Shroud of the Avatar Boards showed upwards of 7-%-80% of those responding hated the combat system, and it was the only section of the game with such concerns.

    Instead of acting as promised, they decided to keep fiddling with details in a system which simply was ill-fitted to the game it was crammed into. I suppose it came down to personalities at the top, and, as always with little games, to money issues.

    Still, this might have been a wonderful game, and it’s a sad state of affairs for all concerned.

    • Lynda says:

      You are right that the avatar never feels in danger because, essentially, all they’ve done in three years is build really small scenes, tied together by that silly overhead map. It’s not even a real MMO. And even when you’re in those scenes, the enemies have such basic AI, it’s embarrassing. I still don’t understand how people who have been in the industry a long time didn’t do better with this. Maybe their actual skills and programming knowledge slowed down or stopped in the 1990s? Maybe they hired some dud people on the team? I really don’t know. But when a lot of people are sitting out here querying how bad the game is, how can the SotA devs not see that? 🙁

  13. And Lynda’s comment has been deleted because I’m not keen on personal attacks in my comments threads.

    Keep it clean, kids.

    • Lynda says:

      You’re kidding? The guy calls *me* stupid and when I reply with a bunch of reasons why he’s wrong, and just happen to use the *same* word in reply, I get deleted and his comment stays? Well, we know what side you’re playing now, don’t we.

    • Lynda says:

      I mean, let’s get real here, if you have a policy against personal attacks, why isn’t that comment of HIS deleted? Come on.

    • Patrick Block says:

      Its rather clear that tooter up above made a quite personal attack on Linda initially. WtFD. Why are you so keen on letting “tooter” attacking others and calling them “stupid”?

      As far as Star Citizen is concerned, it is the other game I have heavily backed as a Kickstarter. Currently, the game is in a very fun, playable form. You can own a number of ships, all of which are incredibly, beautifully rendered in ways no other game offers. You can team up with others in the game, and set out and explore various abandoned stations, have repairs made to your ship, wander around with guns drawn or fight from the confines of your ship with your buddies manning the stations. Space feels endlessly vast and the player feels tiny.

      The game is not yet complete, but is playable and actually “fun”- which to me, Shroud of the Avatar is not.

      As someone who contributed heavily to both games, it’s pretty obvious that Star Citizen is already a success- since it’s already a great time well before final release, and Shroud of the Avatar is an extreme disappointment, since I can’t even force myself to play through it’s combat segments- and it’s supposedly further along in it’s development.

      Star Citizen, while it’s taking a long while to get there, has thus proved to be exactly what it described itself to be. There is no game with anywhere near the attention to details, owning realistic spaceships and exploring, fighting, updating the ship has always been the point from day one. It succeeds in this and is actually more realistic and interesting than I had envisioned.

      Shroud of the Avatar tripped badly when it forgot it was supposed to be a roleplaying game where you believe in your avatar’s existence, when it came to combat. It’s never recovered from this poor early decision.

      These are just my opinions of course- but they do come from someone who backed as founding members in both games, and contributed heavily at that.

    • Lynda says:

      Thank you, Patrick. It’s still a great mystery as to how tooter calling me stupid is fine with WtFD, but when I called him stupid by way of reply, the whole post — 99.9% of which was simply about SC, much like yours — got deleted. Like I said at the time, it seems WtFD is playing sides in this, rather than being impartial. Not cool. You covered most of the stuff I said as well, Patrick, but I also added that it must be some “scam” to have Mark Hamill, Gary Oldman, Gillian Anderson, etc, acting in it…!

  14. Lynda says:

    Seriously, you let the guy say, “Its obvious your too stupid to notice it…” and that’s OK, but when I reply with all the reasons he’s wrong and comment that clearly the only stupid person here is him, my comment has to go, but his is fine? Check yourself, mate, seriously.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      I missed tooter’s comment because I didn’t read it. The WordPress mobile app shows comments in chronological order, with the most recent first. I read as far as your reply to tooter, and then I had to put the phone away.

      Surprising as it may seem, I don’t (and can’t) moderate the site 24/7. Sometimes I’m lucky to get 2.47 minutes to devote to it. Which means I clean up what I can when I can, and clearly there was more to clean up here. So, tooter’s comment is now gone as well, and I’ll further be pruning any references to it when I get a moment to do so.

  15. WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

    I have to wonder: Why all the renewed interest in this post? It was written half a year ago, after all…and it’s rare for a thread to come back to life like this. Did it get linked in some Reddit thread?

  16. Patrick Block says:

    Shroud of the Avatar is officially persistent and “real” now, with people claiming their land plots and such. That is likely explanation for the renewed interest. I replied simply when people began re-commenting.

  17. Brent Glines says:

    I think the biggest problem lay in trying to compete head to head with games with a $300 million budget and a staff to match on an SotA budget and staff. That, and the feature creep that comes with trying to please everyone.

    Perhaps what should have been done was to get a 3D UO released quickly (to the limit allowed by copyright), monetize that to fund a slightly more ambitious project with increased staffing, and work up over a period of years with finished released games rather than struggle for even more years with no finished game releases.

    • Brent Glines says:

      I and many others would have supported that vigorously. Instead, I and many others have stopped supporting SotA.

    • I was just talking to Starr Long yesterday; you’ll get to hear his comments in SSSH 52 next week. But one thing he noted was that SotA couldn’t necessarily compete with larger-budget titles on a lot of levels, and so the team were really focusing on elements of the game that are relatively unique in the MMO market today, especially stuff like the role-playing elements. So in some respects, you and Portalarium are in agreement.

      There’s been some feature creep, certainly, and some of that has driven the ongoing funding of the game. But at the same time, Portalarium have done a decent job of triaging features, and the game is certainly well on the way to shaping up for release at this point. It’s still a construction zone for now, and has its rough points…but fewer and fewer with each successive monthly Release.

      That isn’t to say that I necessarily agree with every design decision they’ve made along the way, of course, but…progress is being made, even so. It’s there to see.

      • Lynda says:

        IMHO, by the time the game launches (that is, by Portalarium’s measure; most people rightly regard the persistent world as a launch), it will have less people playing it than are playing it now, which is already down on the overall number of people who backed. I think it’s been a disappointing flop and no matter how people spin it, because they don’t want to admit it’s a flop… it’s a flop.

      • That’s certainly one possible outcome; it’s a risk any game faces at launch, especially an indie game.

        But we shouldn’t ever hope for that.

      • Lynda says:

        Just to clarify, if needed, I don’t ‘hope’ for it — I dropped a good chunk of change into the game. Not as much as some, by any means. I’m not one of those $10,000 I-had-dinner-with-Richard-and-tell-everyone-about-it-ad-nauseum people. But I dropped some decent money in and, honestly, I would be overjoyed if they had done something interesting. I just feel that they haven’t and that the game is falling over as we speak. I know people who are way into it can’t see that (or maybe don’t want to see that), but it seems very clear to me that the game isn’t going to work out.

      • Starr Long mentioned…well, something along those lines last night as well. Or, rather, he felt that they didn’t do a great job of communicating with fans about the accessibility of the game, the difficulty therewith…basically, that they should have managed and set expectations better. And to a degree, that’s probably true of e.g. the Final Wipe. You said yourself that you’d consider persistence akin to a launch; maybe they should have communicated better that it shouldn’t have been interpreted as such.

        Is the game failing? I don’t see solid evidence to support that; Portalarium are pretty happy with the numbers of people accessing the game daily, given its Early Access state. Obviously there’s concern about what kind of audience it will attract once they hit a release state and start marketing the game, but they seem to have a good idea of where they can compete, what features differentiate the game from others. That’s no promise of success, of course, but they seem aware of which hills they can and can’t choose to die on when it comes to SotA’s market positioning.

        So…I’m not convinced the game isn’t going to work out. It might not, but…gun to my head, if you asked me to pick today which project out of SotA, UWA, or SC stood the best overall chance of a) being completed and b) achieving a measure of market success, I’d probably go with SotA.

      • Lynda says:

        The problem I see with their stance on launch is this: every MMO in the history of the world has been a persistent game, with constant updates. Shroud, meanwhile, wants to be a persistent game with constant updates… but is still trying to convince everyone that it’s not live. I understand *why* they are trying to use this position; it’s so the game can be sub-standard and they can say, “But hey, we’re not done yet…” yet it doesn’t wash in the face of, like I said, the fact every other MMO is in exactly the same situation as Shroud but is happy to call itself live.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        That’s a very negative view, and rather cynical as well. Partly, this is because it misrepresents MMORPGs somewhat (in that not all of them offer persistent worlds per se; in a game like e.g. SWTOR, any individual player’s impact on the world is all but invisible long-term, apart from an instanced player home that other people can be invited to visit under tightly controlled conditions). And partly, this is because Portalarium have been up front about the fact that the game would be persistent before hitting its 1.0 release state.

        And for good reason: they want to build a world in which the players contribute materially to the lore and economy of the game, so having this persistence in place even as they are continuing to work on the game gives them a head start; by the time the game hits 1.0, it should have a significant body of internal folklore (for lack of a better term), as well as a fully-established player economy.

        Will it work? We’ll see in a few months. But I think it’s rather unfair and, again, cynical to state that Portalarium’s main motive here is to provide themselves rhetorical cover.

      • Lynda says:

        Don’t confuse persistence with the ability of a character to change something in the game world. They are two radically different things. All MMOs, unless they are wiping characters, etc, are persistent. And those MMOs update over time. That’s all Shroud is doing too… it’s persistent and it’s updating over time. Yet the devs want people to think it’s some kind of new and special snowflake, different to the rest. I know fans will buy into anything Garriott and Co, say but take a step back, out of the reality distortion field, and Shroud is the same, right now, as any live MMO. It’s a persistent world, that will update over time. That’s why many consider it live, no matter what silly spin the devs are attempting. I don’t see how this is a “negative” view when it’s simply the reality of the situation…!!!

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I think you’re making a lot out of little more than semantics here. I mean, if you want to quibble, you could argue that it has been live for over a year now; the first several Releases were of limited duration, but for over a year and a half, the game has been on and accessible basically 24/7; one Release blends into the next, basically.

        Is that not also a definition of “live”?

        Like as not, with Shroud, world persistence is inextricably tied to the ability for players to visibly change the world…hence the land rush. So, they’re at the point now where Backers can begin to populate the world, without fear of a future wipe…and this is happening while the game is also still being worked on. It’s a different approach, maybe, but it’s not a bad thing. I don’t get why you see it as such an issue, such a bad sign for the game.

        I know fans will buy into anything Garriott and Co, say but take a step back, out of the reality distortion field, and Shroud is the same, right now, as any live MMO

        Apart from that it’s still in development, that its systems are still being iterated upon and its scenes and areas still being refined/adjusted, you’re right. But I submit that, over here in reality, those factors I just enumerated are rather significant things. Like as not, making the comparison to other MMORPGs isn’t a wholly valid tactic to employ here, because Shroud is — really, if you think about it — one of the first larger-scale crowdfunded multiplayer RPGs anyway. It’s not really surprising, is it, that its development is being handled somewhat differently, and perhaps not in the order one would traditionally expect in an MMO development cycle?

        I don’t see how this is a “negative” view when it’s simply the reality of the situation…!!!

        It’s not what you are saying; it’s how you’re saying it. Facts are what they are, but you seem bent on turning the facts of the matter toward a very gloomy conclusion; it’s like you want to read imminent failure into every step Portalarium is making.

      • Lynda says:

        No, the game wasn’t “live” in the past, as it was constantly getting wiped. That’s not live. Now that the game isn’t getting wiped, it’s persistent. That’s what persistence is. And at the core of that persistence is the character. It’s not about world changes — although you can factor those in at another level — because it’s actually all about the character. And why? Because plenty of people don’t have things like housing. Whether someone else has a house or not, or where they placed it doesn’t matter one jot to those people. They couldn’t give a damn that someone else have a house; it’s whether *their character* is persistent and not being wiped. That’s the starting point of persistence.

        As for this, “it’s still in development” line… like I’ve said, the same can be applied to every MMO out there. What is an MMO getting a huge patch? Is that not development? What is an MMO getting a big content update? Is that not development? What is an MMO getting an expansion pack? is that not devbelopment? What is an MMO that raises its level cap? Is that not development? All MMOs are in development, unless they’re in their death throes and about to close.

        And that’s what’s so annoying about the position of Shroud’s devs. Are they really so hipster, they think they can have a persistent live game, yet declare it’s not finished… but somehow see that as different to any other MMO? It’s. Not. Different. At. All.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        Like I say, persistence in SotA is a bit different. For a lot of players, having their houses and vendors set up is what counts now; characters are still a bit ephemeral. Oh, I’m sure many people have created characters now that they’ll continue to use for as long as they play the game. But many other players I’ve heard from are planning to delete their characters later on, especially if more customization options or refinements are added to the game. For these (myself included), it’s all about the land and the house at the moment.

        Again, I think your quibbles here are mostly semantic. You’re determined to see negativity and indicators of failure pretty much regardless. That’s your prerogative, but we’ve hit a point now where the discussion is only going to get more perfectly circular. Further engagement on my part would be unfruitful.

  18. SotA is shit! says:

    I was a big fan of UO and would definitely wish to see a spiritual successor to come out.
    People argue that graphics isn’t everything…yes…only if it has a great gameplay – but SotA DOES NOT have anything interesting to offer.
    – Graphics: It looks like a game that was made in 2000.
    – Gameplay: Characters can’t even move up the stairs easily. Are you kidding me?
    – Mechanics: It has interesting concepts but it DOESN’T WORK!

    Overall this game is just a major shit show.

    • I don’t know…I was playing 3D RPGs in 2000; not a one of them looked as good as SotA. I mean, sure, SotA isn’t The Witcher 3, but it’s certainly not turn-of-the-century either.

      Gameplay and mechanics are still in development. Expect improvements to both. The game is still a ways off of being done, so it’s not surprising that aspects of it are still rough around the edges.

  19. Patrick says:

    The core mechanics in Shroud are quite set- established, and aren’t changing. The base combat is horrendous for a roleplaying style game, be it an older style, or newer one. It simply is terrible game design from it’s initial concept, which, apparently, was created with the idea of a more trivial tablet style of play.

    When you consider just how badly the abstracted combat plays out on the computer, the way it drags you “out of character”, removes you from belief in your character, what they are fighting, and the “world” you are supposed to be engaged in, there really is no defending the play.

    It’s significantly inferior to the streamlined combat found in UO, and, to what purpose?

    I’m a conceptual gaming artist, and I don’t at all mind SOTA’s general “look”. The graphics are fine. However, some of the core game mechanics are rotten ideas….and no amount of icing on the cake polish is going to fix these dreadful, game breaking features.

    At least, for me.

    It’s too bad. The gaming world could USE a spiritual successor to UO….it’s the reason I pledged hard for Shroud.

    Pity it’s a disaster, when you actually play it.

    To tell you the truth, I simply CAN’T play the game for very long- the combat is so weak, and the instancing and map are such immersion breaking- crushers, compared to hoary old Ultima Online, that I get bored, frustrated and so upset that just throw up my hands and go and play something else.

    There was nothing quite like the nearly invisible combat system of UO, nor the way the world was “real” in the way monsters could pursue you like they actually existed, anywhere you went, to make you “believe”.

    With Shroud, it’s all yawns and instances and a constant disruption of the feeling of fantasy everytime one waggles a sword- which as all good designers know, is the moment you want your player to be most invested in caring about the life of their character.

    RG seems to have forgotten the lessons about what exactly made UO so great.

    • Lynda says:

      Well said, Patrick. When I see people on the SotA forum defending the combat in the game, I ask myself whether they are someone who has invested enough money that they are too embarrassed to admit they backed a turkey, or whether they maybe haven’t played enough games before to be able to objectively see SotA combat for what it is? I don’t discount there could be people who actually like it, but surely more people are in the aforementioned camps than actually, genuinely, enjoying it? The game upsets me so much… which is probably why I keep wanting to talk about it. Wasn’t it Frued who came up with “the talking cure”? Maybe I think my getting all my thoughts out, it will help me get over a game i wanted to really love?

      • Patrick says:

        Agreed, and I feel precisely the same way. I threw a huge amount of money at SOTA because of RG’s involvement and promise of a throwback to a time when RP gaming was deep and rich in character and setting. Instead, this feels like the same old shallow World of Warcraft-instance based setting, except that it has particularly dull and frankly stupid combat.

        It’s hard to drop hundreds on a game, and then really open one’s eyes to the truth when it turns out an awful mess. Unfortunately, great games are rare gems, and having a past proven talent aboard never guarantees a new game will come close to the glory of games gone by.

        It will get decidedly mixed reviews when it is in final release. It’s housing system is nicer than most games of this ilk- sadly it’s one of those titles with parts that mix quite badly, and the whole will never live up the potential to the game systems in it that are good.

        My opinion, of course.

      • Lynda says:

        Yeah, stuff like housing is well done. That said, not exactly a huge achievement when Star Wars Galaxies did it even better, and you could place houses anywhere on the map (for free!), back in the early 2000s, but i take your point that it’s better done than most (which is a sad indictment on modern MMOs, I know). The only problem is, people can have a nice house in the game, but if no-one (relatively) is playing it, they’re going to be sitting on their little throne, in their house, and no one will care. Not that many people truly care about other players anyway, but there’s going to be even less people to show off houses, wealth, server firsts, etc, if most people give up on the game early on. Many have already. How on earth they’ll get to an Episode II I have no idea. There’s going to be tears before bedtime for some.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      I’m with you all on the combat; I tend to shy away from battles in Shroud precisely because the combat system irks me greatly to have to interact with. Mind you, it’s not the first game I’ve had that particular struggle with, and it remains to be seen whether combat will be an integral and unavoidable aspect of progressing along Shroud’s plot. I’m willing to abide a bad combat system if I have the option of avoiding most fights.

      Which was manifestly not the case in, say, Dragon Age: Origins, which game I false-started a number of times.

      But:

      It’s too bad. The gaming world could USE a spiritual successor to UO….it’s the reason I pledged hard for Shroud.

      RG seems to have forgotten the lessons about what exactly made UO so great.

      Let’s recall what Shroudwas pitched as: “the ‘spiritual successor’ to Richard’s previous work in the FRP genre. [Portalarium’s] primary objectives are to tell a story even more compelling than Ultimas IV-VII, create a virtual world more interactive than Ultima VII, develop deep rich multi-player capabilities beyond combat akin to Ultima Online, and offer a bold new approach to integrate them with ‘Selective Multi-Player’.”

      The whole Selective Multi-Player concept was under-explained, but heavy use of instancing was always going to be part of the design; this was never going to be a massive game with hundreds of players interacting with each other in any given area. The design was always focused on smaller groupings of players, sixteen (at maximum) in a scene. Obviously, Portalarium make exceptions to this rule, for e.g. those big release parties we always see screenshots of. But the general plan was always focused on smaller group play, rather than on massive-scale player interaction.

      If you pledged to the game expecting something other than this, you didn’t read the explanation of what the game was closely enough to comprehend what was actually being pitched.

      And while I do agree that the combat is rather pants, I do think that in other respects Portalarium are delivering on this vision. Both you and Lynda, for example, agree that the housing system is done well, which it is. The crafting systems in the game area also pretty deep, and while I’d prefer to see them realized in a way that is closer to the object interactivity of Ultima 7, I can understand that the menu/gump-driven system they’ve opted to use instead is more practical for people who plan on crafting in significant volume.

      The conversation system is meh; I think they need to get conversations (with NPCs, at least) out of the chat window and into their own overlay. The story, or what little of it I’ve engaged with, seems okay, so there’s that at least. But equally, the jury is still very much out on story, as it’s not complete yet, and it’ll be a while before we see how the entire narrative plays out. World interactivity in the multiplayer modes has been deliberately limited, but Portalarium are still committed to allowing single-player (offline) players to experience it to a higher degree. There too, the jury is out; we’ll see what the 1.0 version of the game offers us in that respect.

      So, to recap: combat is pants, and the dialogue system needs to be handled differently from a UI standpoint. Crafting is good, housing is great. Story is still too early on to judge fairly, as is world interactivity. Relating this back to the Kickstarter pitch, Portalarium aren’t actually doing a horrible job of delivering on the game they pitched to us. They’ve made some missteps, surely, but they’ve also done not badly in realizing their vision (outside of, again, the combat).

      And since I keep mentioning combat, I’ll just note again the marked improvement that the archery system saw a few releases ago. While I’m not totally sanguine on the manner, seeing those improvements does give me some hope that they’ll be able to do more to overhaul the remainder of combat in the game by the time it hits a version 1.0 state. Certainly, they’re aware that it’s a weak point in the experience.

      It’s hard to drop hundreds on a game, and then really open one’s eyes to the truth when it turns out an awful mess.

      This may prove to be good practice for Star Citizen, then, if Kotaku’s recent article series on that game is at all accurate.

      I threw a huge amount of money at SOTA because of RG’s involvement and promise of a throwback to a time when RP gaming was deep and rich in character and setting.

      The RP community within Shroud seems to be pretty healthy and active, all things considered; they’re certainly having a ball with the game. But this doesn’t surprise; combat is only a small part of RP, and Shroud’s other systems seem to allow for a fairly large degree of freedom in terms of allowing players to act out fantasy lives for their virtual avatars.

      • Patrick says:

        Star Citizen seems to have none of the problems with terribly designed core systems in the way that Shroud of the Avatar does. I play it all the time, and while there are only so many actual planets/stations/moons to visit at present, everything seems reasonably balanced, fun to play, and works together, as opposed to at counter purposes to one another the way SOTA’s various systems fatally clash and destroy immersion.

        I saw a magazine article complaining about the realism of the camera view in SC; I have to say I don’t have a clue what the reviewer was even talking about.

        Being involved in game design myself, I am relatively attune to actual problems in games. While most players “know something is wrong”, but often can’t quite put their finger on what it is that irks them, I guess I’m more in tune with spotting flaws and weaknesses in the overall game.

        I see no major design issues with SC myself. It’s a huge effort, and, thus far, it appears to function spot on. The ships themselves are clearly the finest “feeling” most realistic ships ever designed for any game in any genre- and it’s incredible how “different” each one looks and flies. The character models keep improving, fighting on foot and floating around are both fun. The ideas of missions seem to be working out well, and the character communication devices really work splendidly, and are key, to keeping everything moving along in a believable way.

        I play with mouse and keyboard and also with an X-65F Saitek stick and throttle, and, truthfully, my biggest problem with Star Citizen right now is deciding which input method I prefer. The various voice programs for the stick and mouse both work well, making flying easy.

        With problems like that, Star Citizen looks poised to be the largest and most successful Kickstarted game of all time, forever.

        The naysayer crowd, I assume, simply don’t play the game and represent the interests of triple AAA companies that are fearful of a huge, successful game which is produce sans the heavy advertising and bean counting executives that suck so much of the money out of the gaming industry.

        It’s rather easy to see why these corporate bigwigs want SC to fail- after all, so much of what makes Star Citizen unique is the reduction of middlemen and the closer relationship betwixt designers and fans.

        You could say the same about SOTA on a smaller level, except for the fact that RG and company have ignored it’s most loyal fanbase all along it’s journey. Thousands of us have asked for a different combat system- right from the start when it obviously didn’t fit with the genre the game was designed around.

        It was always, “Wait until the next build and it’s improved” until it eventually became “It’s too late to change it.”.

        That’s no way to communicate with your backers, and, that is the sad truth about Shroud of the Avatar.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I seem to recall seeing one article about the camera system in Star Citizen that had something to do with birds. I didn’t click through.

        Star Citizen seems to have none of the problems with terribly designed core systems in the way that Shroud of the Avatar does. I play it all the time, and while there are only so many actual planets/stations/moons to visit at present, everything seems reasonably balanced, fun to play, and works together, as opposed to at counter purposes to one another the way SOTA’s various systems fatally clash and destroy immersion.

        You and I must be playing different games by the same name, then.

        I see no major design issues with SC myself. It’s a huge effort, and, thus far, it appears to function spot on. The ships themselves are clearly the finest “feeling” most realistic ships ever designed for any game in any genre- and it’s incredible how “different” each one looks and flies.

        Uh-huh. Honestly, I’ve not noticed anything particularly stand-out about the flight model in Star Citizen, at least not that substantively differentiates it from, say, Elite: Dangerous.

        I see no major design issues with SC myself.

        Really? Okay, then.

        With problems like that, Star Citizen looks poised to be the largest and most successful Kickstarted game of all time, forever.

        I’m rather less sanguine about it, personally. It’s got a lot of neat stuff to it, but it’s also feeling more and more behind the curve. Star Citizen is trying to be a lot of things, and it’s setting itself up to be bested at all of them by games that are either already out (Elite: Dangerous) or nearing release (Mass Effect: Andromeda, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare). And yes, none of these games is as all-encompassing as Star Citizen aims to be…but I worry that in trying to be the jack-of-all-features, Star Citizen will lose market space to players who would rather play a more masterful execution of a single, favoured feature.

        The naysayer crowd, I assume, simply don’t play the game and represent the interests of triple AAA companies that are fearful of a huge, successful game which is produce sans the heavy advertising and bean counting executives that suck so much of the money out of the gaming industry.

        Really? The naysayer crowd are all just corporate shills?

        That sound you can’t hear, because this is the Internet, is me downgrading my estimation of your objectivity here.

        It’s rather easy to see why these corporate bigwigs want SC to fail- after all, so much of what makes Star Citizen unique is the reduction of middlemen and the closer relationship betwixt designers and fans.

        If you Google around a bit, you’ll find more than a few stories — and this without having to pay Derek Smart any attention, mind you — of that closer relationship breaking down, though.

  20. WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

    My gosh, people, what is it about this necro-thread that keeps it lurching back to life?

  21. Lynda says:

    Having just watched the latest ‘CitizenCon’ video from Star Citizen, a “fan” would have to be a deadset nutcase to have a broken down relationship with the game. As just one example, of many, the extensive demo, on the desert planet, with speeder bikes, nomads, sandstorms, etc, was INCREDIBLE. It’s not even worth comparing it to Shroud; it makes Shroud look like it was made by learning-deficient Kindergarten kids. And that’s being generous. This was a seriously amazing example of where part of the game is going.

    • And how much of all that great stuff is a) playable now, and b) expected to be playable by the end of the year?

      Because really, that’s one of the things SotA does right: stuff that gets announced gets added to the game pretty soon thereafter, usually within one release cycle.

      • Patrick says:

        The fact is, SotA IS unplayable to a great many of us who expect a strong roleplaying friendly environment. I suppose that people who never have actually played an online MP game of the quality found in earlier efforts don’t know what they are missing, but that’s a pretty sad state of affairs, in mo.

        It’s also quite likely that the awful facets in Shroud’s gameplay are there for good- since the defects are not about polish, but about basic bad decision making in the game’s concepts and outline work, which were designed originally with casual tablet play, rather than a more hearty computer play in mind.

        On the other hand, Star Citizen’s showcasing it’s absolutely jaw dropping procedural work, amazing attention to detail, and spectacular adventuring is a future addition to an already well balanced and extremely playable extant game. There is no crippled combat system that pulls you bodily out of character, and the various “parts” fit together admirably.

        It’s obviously true that a game like SC, with a budget 30 times larger, (or whatever it is), is not fair to compare with SotA in a comparison of breadth- nor should one compare success by which ships first….SotA OUGHT to be completed looong before SC due to it’s meager goals and the fact that it breaks no new ground at all,

        However, it’s perfectly fair to compare playability, fun factor, and balance within the game’s parts.

        And SotA fails badly along these lines- most especially in it’s basic design concepts.

        Do you really think it’s fair to judge SC by how much of it is finished by the end of the year? SC is a huge game, and by my reckoning is following a quite average progress, compared to how long other large games take to complete. It’s in no way overdue, and the fact it is taking as long as it is, is obviously due to having expanded it’s original ideas as it’s budget was magnified by 50 fold, allowing for amazing technological advances with accompanying needs for more advanced facilities.

        As long as progress is rolling along, (and man, it is really showing incredible progress), and as long as what we currently can play is well balanced and very fun, (and even current the build delivers a LOT more capability than was initially promised), I don’t see a reason to kick,

        When I play SC I see nothing but thrilled, excited gamers agog in game. I have never once heard anyone call it lame in the game itself- and there are tons of players. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for SotA. I’ve had a couple of score of folks complain to me about various aspects WHILE IN GAME without me mentioning my own feelings about the play- back when I was still attempting to glom some joy from the game.

        And most of the complaints are about the frankly terrible combat system.

        There comes a point where you have to face facts, and recognize when the emperor is running around sans his toga, WtFD.
        Maybe that point has arrived?

      • I’ve never had a problem acknowledging the faults that I perceive in SotA; why do you keep acting as though I have? Granted, I do also have a measure of hope that some improvements will come along, but those tend to be grounded in observation and based on changes that have already happened in the game.

        SC looks incredible. It really does. And honestly, I hope it is. But it’s also mostly just hype at present…pre-rendered “in-engine” (which is not the same as “in-game”) sequences and discussions about things that won’t be in the live game for a long time still. And the live game itself looks pretty good, sure, but there’s not a lot to it overall…and what is there is often wildly glitchy. This isn’t surprising, necessarily, since the game is also early on in development. But let’s at least admit it is there, eh? (In like manner, if you honestly expect me to accept that you’ve never heard players talk down about SC, you must keep to a fairly insular online community.)

        Speaking of overdue, I noticed today that S42 has been delayed to at least 2017. I’m assuming we will see similar announcements about SC proper next year, with the game itself being delayed until 2018. At which time, I’m sure you’ll be here to explain again that it’s not actually late or behind schedule.

        Point being: you’re good at pointing out the nudity of my emperor. But have you taken a look at yours lately?

      • Lynda says:

        A game of SCs size and scope is easily a 5 year project at a major studio, set up and ready to go from the start. SC kicked off in late 2012 with absolutely nothing, so 5 years isn’t up until the end of 2017, call it the start of 2018. Factor in the way it’s had to build *everything* unlike those established studios that take 5 years and for SC to launch in early 2018 would be miraculous, versus the industry standard. The end of 2018 would be, I believe, on par with the industry (once all the other factors, like having absolutely nothing in late 2012 are taken into account). So why would myself or Patrick think “our” Emperor has no clothes, when there’s still tons of development time left before it’s “late”, and the game itself looks amazing. Space combat has looked amazing for ages, but this new iteration of ground combat was mind-blowing.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        Point of order:

        Space combat has looked amazing for ages, but this new iteration of ground combat was mind-blowing.

        The space combat does look good, albeit there’s not anything in it to differentiate it from what’s on offer in Elite: Dangerous or Everspace. In fact, gun to my head, I’d say Everspace offers an even more intense space combat experience, and then one that is rather easier to control absent a joystick.

        Which is not to say that SC doesn’t offer a tight space combat experience; it does. But it’s hardly ground-breaking anymore.

        And on the ground combat front, the story is much the same. I’m sure SC will offer a pretty tight experience there, too, but there probably won’t be anything to it to differentiate it from Infinite Warfare. And if pressed, I’d put my bet on Infinite Warfare being the one to offer the better experience overall, if only because the studio behind it has a significant amount of FPS experience already, in the sense of having shipped several such games as a studio.

        Factor in the way it’s had to build *everything* unlike those established studios that take 5 years and for SC to launch in early 2018 would be miraculous, versus the industry standard.

        Everything, eh? Is that almost an unspoken admission that they’ve been having real and substantial issues with CryEngine?

        The end of 2018 would be, I believe, on par with the industry (once all the other factors, like having absolutely nothing in late 2012 are taken into account).

        That is, I agree, a realistic timeline. But it comes down to how you define “late”, I suppose. Do you define “late” as being “past the point at which a product was promised”? If so, then SC is late, and is only getting later. And if not, if your definition of late is based on other considerations, then it would be helpful for you to state what your understanding of lateness is.

        The challenge to you will be to do so in a way that applies to SC but does not easily apply to SotA.

        So why would myself or Patrick think “our” Emperor has no clothes, when there’s still tons of development time left before it’s “late”, and the game itself looks amazing.

        Leaving aside the obvious distinction between what a thing looks like in promotional materials and what a thing actually ends up being upon release, I’ll just point out that while the game certainly looked amazing back when it was first pitched on Kickstarter — and while it certainly still looks pretty darn awesome overall — the looks are also relatively meaningless on a 5+ year time scale. Come 2018, what looked amazing to us in 2012 or 2013 will seem a bit dated, and at some point even CIG/RSI’s incredible budget is not going to support constantly refactoring and updating textures and models to meet modern standards.

        As noted before, back in 2012 and 2013, there weren’t a lot of other games — none of significance, really — that were doing anything that SC was aiming to do. Now, there are several such games. True, there’s no one game that combines the entire gamut of features and experiences into itself in the way that SC aims to do, but against that observation stand two considerations: 1) if gamers are looking for one feature in particular (e.g. pulse-pounding ship-to-ship FPS combat), there will be other options they can gravitate towards that will be out well in advance of 2018, and 2) who is to say that the now-promised “minimum viable product” that CIG/RSI are aiming for will deliver all of the features at a level of quality that meets or exceeds that of these other games?

        Even the term “minimum viable product” must trouble you a little to hear, no? I mean, that’s the difference between the base model of a car, with no installed options, and the top-tier trim option with all the bells and whistles.

  22. Patrick says:

    One of the most interesting things about comparing SotA and Star Citizen’s actual development comes from seeing how close their time in production and how similar their financial backing system have been. Both games were announced quite close together, using the same means of raising funds.

    Both “looked back” at a successfully past game by their creators, and both promised to revisit what made the older game a success, and bring it spiritually back to life in a more modern way.

    In the case of SotA, this meant creating a RPG friendly multiplayer game which offered the players a creative playground which matched the fun found in Ultima Online. That game was specifically held up to the backers as an example of a wonderfully successful world background where players could RP and create whatever sort of adventures they wished.

    The goal was to match UO’s seamless and simple method of letting the player build houses, explore and fight monsters and mine and craft goods in a way that the underlying systems were invisible, and the play and “rpg believability” – the same realistic interactivity found in UO being the goal,(according to Richard G at the time).

    Along the way, this vision seems to have become shrunken and lost. Perhaps it is partly due to a lack of the funding needed to bring a more realistic sense of combat “within the world” into the game- but interviews seem to indicate the combat was set into place very early on, when the game was envisioned to be a “tablet” game.

    SotA’s current combat design certainly seems more tablet friendly, than pc RPG indicative.

    With Star Citizen, the “look backwards” was to the game CR designed- the Wing Commander series. He envisioned bringing the concepts he introduced back in the same era as RG’s UO to modern fans with today’s technology.

    The difference in the two games is primarily due to the support of the fan base. SC caught on, where SotA languished and frankly, lacks much vision or founder voice at all. Roberts quite early on tied the Kickstarter to a smart looking website and managed to create a snowball effect by showing genuine love and enthusiasm for his product. Much of the games success is due directly to just how excited and INVOLVED Roberts genuinely is about his game.

    As a result, the basic premise of Star Citizen- allowing space combat between planets with ships in a hyper-realistic fashion was expanded in meaningful, amazing ways never discussed in the original design documents.

    Consider that the Kickstarter for Star Citizen never included any of these immersive and impressive facets.

    1. Realistic planets that have no skyboxes, have actual atmospheres, that grow larger as a ship approaches them.
    2. Atmospheric travel via ships to anywhere on a planet’s surface- with gravity effects, wind shear, and no “cheating”.
    3. Procedural generation for the creation of different sorts of perfectly realistic looking planets.
    4, The ability to land on, and explore on foot, these planets.
    5. The ability to fight on these planets on foot, from your ship, in buildings on the ground.
    6. Advanced damage states for all ships that have astounding levels of detail.
    7. Complex mining, refining, scientific study, farming, advanced economic trading and business models, and more “job” related crafts never discussed initially in the design.

    All of these things are huge additions to a game that was basically fighting with realistic ships in a large and extremely realistic looking mini-universe.

    As each of these aspects were added to the game, of course it was going to alter the initially considered timetable of development.

    It doesn’t take much of an IQ to grasp this- and everyone I know who pledged to SC understands this simple concept.

    Frankly, I’m actually surprised at how hard you are on SC, and how incredibly easy you, WtF Dragon, are on SotA.

    As a conceptual gaming artist and writer/comic artist who has worked with the largest entertainment group in the world for 25 years, it seems extremely obvious to me that Star Citizen is setting precedents already, that it’s created a whole new interest in space games via it’s financial success, and that this is due to Robert’s willingness to do more than sit on his past laurels.

    Star Citizen isn’t some corporate funded lawyer’s scheme- like so many modern games are. It doesn’t copy the same old crap that’s already been done- it’s boldly moving towards Robert’s dreams towards a hyper-realistic game about owning, tinkering with, loving and flying your own space ship.

    Everything is aimed at “supporting” this basic vision, and I, as a writer who appreciates a clear story or vision, am gratified to see someone in the gaming field willing to shoot for the stars as Robert’s is doing.

    Too many of todays games are just safe repetitions of the same old formula. Almost all let the bean-counters do the controlling of the product. Here, Roberts hasn’t settled for a cheap combat system that doesn’t fit the game it sits in. He’s willing to take risks, he lets the fan base call quite a lot of the shots and keeps them more informed than any game ever.

    The result is more fan support for this game, than any game ever- and a lot of inner industry worry that SC could cause loss of income for a great many promoters and leech-like corporate middlemen, if his vision succeeds.

    Sure, it’s still up in the air just how well the final product will turn out.

    But as a long time professional in this field, my money is certainly on Roberts to produce a gloriously visionary game of spaceship ownership and exploration with vast appeal, extraordinary distant vistas of far off planets, and plenty of kick ass fun.

    The man has a crystal view of what he wants to accomplish, he knows how to get there, and he has the funding and the team in place.

    Do you really want to bet against this, with the game’s various facets looking the way they currently do?

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      You say either, and I say either, as the song goes.

      Consider that the Kickstarter for Star Citizen never included any of these immersive and impressive facets.

      1. Realistic planets that have no skyboxes, have actual atmospheres, that grow larger as a ship approaches them.
      2. Atmospheric travel via ships to anywhere on a planet’s surface- with gravity effects, wind shear, and no “cheating”.
      3. Procedural generation for the creation of different sorts of perfectly realistic looking planets.
      4, The ability to land on, and explore on foot, these planets.
      5. The ability to fight on these planets on foot, from your ship, in buildings on the ground.
      6. Advanced damage states for all ships that have astounding levels of detail.
      7. Complex mining, refining, scientific study, farming, advanced economic trading and business models, and more “job” related crafts never discussed initially in the design.

      All of these things are huge additions to a game that was basically fighting with realistic ships in a large and extremely realistic looking mini-universe.

      I’ll grant that this extra stuff is going to be nice to have when and if it arrives (well, at least inasmuch as it will be reflected in Squadron 42; I don’t care as much about the online/persistent world stuff), but it also represents a huge amount of scope creep for the game, which is having a profoundly detrimental impact on the delivery timeline — and perhaps the deliverability in general — of SC as a whole.

      And there’s reason and room to be concerned about that scope creep, as there should be in any project.

      As each of these aspects were added to the game, of course it was going to alter the initially considered timetable of development.

      And the cost.

      It doesn’t take much of an IQ to grasp this- and everyone I know who pledged to SC understands this simple concept.

      There’s a difference, though, between understanding that a thing has been done (and, indeed, understanding the impacts of that thing), and thinking that the thing was good to do (or necessary) in the first place. I’d have been happy with Star Citizen as-pitched, personally.

      Frankly, I’m actually surprised at how hard you are on SC, and how incredibly easy you, WtF Dragon, are on SotA.

      I don’t need to be harder than I am on SotA; plenty of people have that covered. I’m hard on it when I need to be, about those aspects of it that I find troublesome; listen to some SSSH episodes to hear what I think about the combat system or the dialogue system, for example.

      And I don’t mean to sound as hard or as down on SC as I know I do sound in this discussion, but…look, all I’m going to say is that you and Lynda seem to have some pretty significant blind spots in how you think about SC. I love your enthusiasm for it, but there’s a profound inability to think critically about the game and its ongoing development on display. And in trying to balance that out, I end up sounding like a hater, which isn’t what I aim to be.

      Hey, I loved the CitizenCon video too; it looked amazing. But what’s the key word there? What a marketing presentation looks like, and what the actual product ends up being…there can be (and often is) a significant delta there. And for all the pomp and flash of the CitizenCon presentation, production of Star Citizen is still — for now, at least — a race down to that “minimum viable product”, which may not deliver on all of what you’ve enumerated above.

      I, for one, certainly do hope it does. But I’m not dead certain that it will. I have concerns, some of them significant in their scale. Am I to honestly believe that you don’t have any major concerns about SC?

      As a conceptual gaming artist and writer/comic artist who has worked with the largest entertainment group in the world for 25 years, it seems extremely obvious to me that Star Citizen is setting precedents already, that it’s created a whole new interest in space games via it’s financial success, and that this is due to Robert’s willingness to do more than sit on his past laurels.

      Sure, I can grant that. But equally, for all the success he may have had in inspiring a new generation of space-centric games, there’s now a risk that his project will end up being surpassed and exceeded by the very titles it helped inspire.

      Star Citizen isn’t some corporate funded lawyer’s scheme- like so many modern games are. It doesn’t copy the same old crap that’s already been done- it’s boldly moving towards Robert’s dreams towards a hyper-realistic game about owning, tinkering with, loving and flying your own space ship.

      Is this all that different from what’s available in Elite: Dangerous, though?

      Look, I don’t have a quarter-century of industry experience to draw upon here, but I do have access to a lot of internal documents from Origin Systems, including budget data. Chris Roberts had a penchant, let’s say, for budgeting low and spending high; if memory serves, his initial pitch for Wing Commander 3 proposed a budget of less than $1 million. The man’s ambition can’t be denied, but it nearly bankrupted Origin; it would have done had EA not bought the company when it did.

      And I think, at some level, that Roberts kind of needs a publisher — or, at least, some sort of oversight — to rein him in periodically. I mean, look at the scope creep you outlined above; that’s a pretty good example. Because yeah, those are all awesome features…but if the game runs out of budget before they can all be implemented, and if the “minimum viable product” doesn’t include half of them, what good are they?

      Like as not, Roberts had the chance to partner with EA and develop Star Citizen under the Wing Commander IP. He didn’t go for it, because he didn’t like the timeline…but if he had, we’d likely be playing Squadron 42 now. Sure, it wouldn’t be quite as grandiose, but it would be released. And surely, if you’ve as much experience as you claim, you can appreciate that sometimes that’s the more important thing.

      Do you really want to bet against this, with the game’s various facets looking the way they currently do?

      I don’t gamble, except with my life. I want SC to be as awesome as possible…but more than a grand vision, I want to see it released. And I am not as sanguine as some that it will be, given the amount of scope creep it has seen (among other acknowledged issues).

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