Shroud of the Avatar's Richard Garriott and Starr Long on how SOTA wins at player-generated content

Garriott and Long show how Shroud of the Avatar wins at player-generated content

When you sit down to talk with Portalarium's Richard Garriott and Starr Long about Shroud of the Avatar, you hear much more than can possibly fit in just one article! Even though its currently in development, there's a lot to this title. Last week's Some Assembly Required focused on the upcoming sandbox's community aspect; as promised, this week's edition delves into SotA's amazing player-generated content capabilities. It's not surprising that PGC would be so prevalent in-game when these two devs have emphasized the importance of making a living, breathing, immersive world for players. When you get a great community together and then give it tools and freedom to create, what happens is phenomenal. As Long put it, "It's really humbling for me and the team to see what these players are willing to do... what they're doing with what we're giving them."

Read on, my friends, and see why Shroud of the Avatar may very well be the reigning king of the PGC hill even before it actually releases! (There might be a few morsels about upcoming development thrown in as well.)

You've heard the phrase "the community makes the game"? With Shroud of the Avatar, that's actually literal. SotA takes player-generated content to a whole new level! Many aspects of the game are not only influenced by but outright made by players. Yes, you heard that right -- made by players. And we're not just talking about decorated houses (although that's pretty awesome too!). Long pointed out something most games can't boast: All of the in-game music happens to be player-made. So what you are listening to when galavanting around the countryside came from fellow players.

Since we brought of the topic of housing, it's worth noting that SotA definitely has it -- it's just not all about houses. Garriott told me that the most exciting thing for him was "seeing the users begin to create the world around them themselves. From chapels to theaters to mazes, the players are doing more than just inhabiting the world; they are creating it." Creativity can certainly find expression with this feature. Of course housing can found in differing degrees in many other titles, even themeparks.

So what exactly about Shroud of the Avatar surpasses the rest? That's best illustrated with the following story shared by Long. Consider this staple RP event: the performance. Plenty of games have events where players put on some kind of play or production in game. But not many can say they are as immersive and truly player-drive as the New Britannia Theater Group's presentation of "They Who Dwell In Darkness." Immersion was truly kicked up a notch. Not only was the play written by players and performed by characters in game using and chat bubbles and action emotes, but players also recorded the lines and broadcast the speaking parts from a special device set on the stage. Players are the ones who came up with the idea for in-game Aether Amplification Device (a steampunk radio) to stream radio-type programming, and a player actually coded a plug-in for Unity that allowed for it. Even the stage the performers stood upon was constructed by players! You can't get more player-generated than that.

To sum it up, Long said, "It's a player made piece of art using player written code streaming content from a player-run radio station, and the content that they're streaming is a player written and recorded play. [...] It just blew me away how much players can do already and how much they are doing already -- and the level of dedication to do that -- for nothing more than just to entertain each other."

Players also contribute plenty of other ideas to the development of the game. Garriott emphasized that backers, many of whom are old Ultima Online players, have even bringing back old ideas that Garriott himself had forgotten. One example is the players' push for flying carpets.

Remember Garriott's vision for a completely player-based economy? That's closer to coming to fruition. He offered this update:

"We're already banking all the things players make, and so we're already beginning to reduce the amount of things the game needs to create. With the exception of some possible plot items, ultimately everything that exists will be player made: all tools, all weapons, all home decorations. Everything."

This even extends as far as actual coinage! Garriott described how players will have to take the gold ore they mine to players who have the dies used to mint coins in order to convert the ore into coins.

Garriott also described how each player-made weapon will all have a history that follows it through its in-game journeys on top of having the crafter's name attached. For instance, if a sword was used to kill many bears, the sword could be known as the bear slayer. If a magical enhancement is added later, if could be the Fiery sword of Bear Slaying!

And probably the best music to crafters' ears something Long told me: "You're never going to find anything better than you can make." Player-crafted items are the best! Long is personally very excited about expansions coming up to crafting and the economy. "We've got a nice solid base to the combat system," he said. "Now it's really more about refining and filling in content and adding more features."

Another big PGC element will be player-made books. If you've dreamed of being an author or even running a little bookstore, here's the perfect chance. And while players can pen whatever they want, that doesn't mean that inappropriate material will be allowed to stay in-game. Single editions of these volumes of prose and poetry will rely on moderation instead of approval; if someone reports a book, devs will investigate and alter or remove it if need be. Large-scale printing, however, will be previewed by devs before printing for a mass market will be allowed.

A final reason SotA reigns at PGC is that the devs truly support roleplay instead of just giving it lip-service; it's not a byproduct or an afterthought but an integral part of the living, breathing, immersive world Portalarium is focused on creating. Garriott and Long both spoke of roleplay and roleplayers many times throughout the conversation and the attention given to developing tools for them. The fact is they want players to feel they are immersed and living in New Britannia.

Although player input does have influence as the game continues to develop, part of the course is laid in. "We've got a nice solid base to the combat system," Long said. "Now it's really more about refining and filling in content and adding more features." Release 13, which went live on December 18th, introduced new skills, playing as a ghost, combat combos, and a desert biome. It changed the skill bar from static to dynamic (meaning players have to preselect their available skills) and introduced Steam trading cards (requested by backers).

Long stated that once every quarter, a release is dedicated to polish and bug fixing, and that's what January's Release 14 will do. In Release 15, players can look forward to a bunch of new skills in both combat and magic skills, including shield and ranged skills. Long also noted that the hope is to get more combat mechanics like stealth and cover. "And by that time we will probably be using Unity 5, which will allow us to update our cloth sim."

Slated for the February/March time frame are new creatures, player-made books, and new functionality for housing including upkeep costs and the ability to make rooms. Garriott told me, "We will get to ships, we will get to horses, we will get to combat pets -- the only question is when." Long is personally very excited about expansions coming to crafting and the economy.

Long also talked a bit about the sieges planned for even later, where NPCs will lay siege to towns for actual story reasons. When this happens, all shopkeepers close up and hide out as siege engines move about the city destroying it. Players will have to break the siege to get the shops to reopen and quest givers to come back. As for pure player sieges, Long said the mechanics would be more like Lineage II, where a guild will hold a fortified structure and can defend it from other guilds.

Sound like your type of game and want to get in on the PGC action? You can throw your two cents in and start influencing things (or maybe even creating in-game stuff yourself) by backing the game on the official site or through Steam's Early Access. Do, however, keep in mind that SotA is obviously still in the development phase. As such, there will still be some wipes going forward, but Long says that "hopefully they won't be as frequent as they were."

Once in a blue moon, Massively's Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!