Why all the excitement? It would be easy to single out Lord British's Ultima pedigree, but it's also worth noting that the project itself seems to be aiming for those old-school gamers who are feeling a little left out due to the homogenization of current-gen MMOs. Garriott recently spoke to GamesIndustry.biz and elaborated on Shroud of the Avatar's mechanics, which he described as "personalized multiplayer" rather than massively multiplayer.
The game is "the antithesis of what people have been doing with MMOs these last few years," Garriott explained. "They not only build every stitch of technology from scratch, they build a giant world, and they build them all in the exact same horrifically difficult but no longer impressive model. At one time it was brilliant, but now they're all the same."
Shroud will have Garriott staples like a classless character system, virtues, housing, and extensive crafting, but it won't have thousands of players thrown together on a typical MMO-like server.
There is no server where everyone that is connected that happens to walk onto the same map will all see each other. If you do that it's terribly complicated and it's largely a waste of time for you. If you're walking on the streets of New York you don't really care about most of the people going by the other way. The only people you care about are the people you've met before or you are likely to meet again in the future. We can determine that by whatever information you're willing to give us, and if you're not willing to give us information we'll use a heuristic to pull people into your current play space. It's much cheaper, for you and for us, and much more likely to be relevant to you."Garriott also says that while you can play Shroud of the Avatar offline, it will still be persistent. "Everyone's in the same world," he notes. "If you log on just once a month, you'll have downloaded the current state of affairs of ownership and the current blueprint of people's houses. Everyone who has a shop that sells things, whatever it is that has been built up in the world you'll get to see. Your world will advance because of the contributions of other players."