Lord British discusses SotA's release date, combat system, business model, and how player-made items can have real history.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Richard Garriott, the legendary designer of the Ultima series, as well as more than a dozen other successful RPG and social games. For those of you who are unfamiliar with "Lord British", Garriott launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year for a new game called Shroud of the Avatar, which met with resounding success. In addition to expanding on some of the details from the six-month progress update, Garriott and I discussed some of the other features coming to the sandbox RPG.
Our conversation began with a look at what Shroud of the Avatar is. SotA draws from all of the work that Garriott has done previously, with plenty of added flair. "It [Shroud of the Avatar] is the spiritual successor to all things Ultima, and even more broadly, all things Lord British. It's a much stronger story-based game than UO, and even we're even taking the best parts from Tabula Rasa, like Control Points. So it's a combination of the best practices of the past as well as some great new design and technology that we're bringing to bear."
One thing that really piqued my interest is the fact that the game itself will need to create almost no items throughout its life. Though there will need to be some initial items for players to use in order to craft other items, after a certain point, every item players interact with in Shroud of the Avatar will be player-generated, even those found in dungeons.
Garriott explained that drains on the economy are an important part of maintaining balance, but destroying player-made items that have a history would be a complete waste. Instead, those items will be recycled back into the game for other players to find and use. "If someone's ever killed 100 orcs with a sword, that sword would have the tag 'Orc Slayer'. All of that data is already on the weapon, so why destroy this thing that has this real history? So why not recycle that right back into the game? And that way the actual sword, the actual history, is still a part of the game. You can go find the person who made it."
Another compelling aspect of Shroud of the Avatar is its multi-player system. While most MMOs have many shards that players can choose from, SotA will have only one server, with multiple mini-shards that are constantly being created and collapsed as players use or leave them. All of the shards have the same houses and shops, but the number of players in each shard will be determined socially. Each of these mini-shards will group players together based on a number of variables, mostly related to the 'Friends Graph', a game system that gives players weights for whom else they'll see in town.
"...If you've marked someone as a friend, they have infinite weight. It [the Friends Graph] also puts a pretty heavy weight on friends of friends, because of friends of friends are probably your acquaintances, you might've met them in the real world...then we go to a more subtle series of weights. We're going to look at things like having a joint purpose or opposed purpose." Lord British gave the example of someone getting a quest to smuggle illicit goods through a city. As one player was given a quest to smuggle the goods, another player would be given a quest to find someone who is smuggling goods through the city, creating a purpose-driven PvP system that works based on the Friends Graph. Even more interesting, once two players have had an encounter such as this, the weight will remain on each player's Friends Graph, so that their rivalry can continue into the future.
Shroud of the Avatar will also allow non-MMO players to fit right in, with the ability to play in a solo world. In the solo world, other player's homes, shops, and contributions are still around, but without the physical presence of other players. "You can choose to play solo player...but I can still see your house, I can still see your farm stand, I can still give you money, I can still see all the NPCs, I'm just playing by myself...but I just don't have any other people. So it's like single player online." Shroud of the Avatar will also likely feature an offline mode that is separated from the game's servers, for players without a stable internet connection or who prefer single-player content. That said, the game's single player offline mode seems like the perfect compromise, allowing players to take part in the social world (arguably one of the most important features of the game) without having to interact face-to-face with other players.