Richard Garriott, more commonly known as Lord British to his fans, is making big plans for a spiritual successor to the Ultima series. The brand new RPG, titled Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, is the legendary developer’s first attempt back developing a new game after his 2009 trip into space. You hear that, kids? Make a popular enough game, and you’ll have enough walking around money to go visit your favorite satellite station.
Interestingly enough, the developer has gone the KickStarter route to try and fund the project, perhaps as a way to gauge initial interest. According to the page, which as of this article has already received $716,000 of its lofty-yet-apparently-reachable million dollar goal, here are some details and conceptual ideas for what the project will become:
“Shroud of the Avatar is the first installment of Richard’s new vision and represents the reinvention of the classic, fantasy role-playing which he pioneered. A fantasy role-playing game that will focus more on player choices and discovery than on level grinding.
With Shroud of the Avatar, Richard and his team will again reinvent the classic fantasy role-playing experience. Using state-of-the-art tools and technology, the game will focus on what made his seminal Ultima Series great. Once players are introduced to the game, they will discover their own story woven into the immersive world and lore surrounding them. Players may choose to follow the life of the adventurer or, if they prefer, focus on exploration and discovery. Players may even choose the life of a homesteader; either nestled within the safety of the settled lands, or on the dangerous but potentially lucrative frontier. The world is full of opportunities and challenges!
The familiar psychological profiling used to create your character, organically derived game-play responses to player behavior and fundamental virtues and consequence of actions will all play a huge role in Shroud of the Avatar. Players will be free to choose their path, but must then live with the consequences of their actions.”
Some additional key features listed are, unsurprisingly, a “fully interactive virtual world” and “deep original fiction”. The game will be a Multiplayer Online game, but will allow for an offline, single-player experience. The bit I find most intriguing is that there will also be physical game components as well, with examples listed such as cloth maps, trinkets, and fictional manuals. I’m a sucker for cross-media in my interactive experiences, when done right it can make these worlds truly immersive, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on just exactly what the team plans on offering by way of physical components.
Garriott has been making the press rounds lately, as a way to get folks interested in the ongoing project. He recently spoke to Rock Paper Shotgun to offer some insight into Shroud of the Avatar’s development process and why he feels it’s time to develop something fresh.
“It’s been about 15 years since I’ve gone back to my fantasy role-playing game roots in particular,” Garriott explained. “I think that the industry has evolved and the genre of role-playing games in particular has evolved in a direction that has left a large opening for me. I kind of put role-playing games into two general categories: One I’ll put my work into, which is sort of sandbox realities, where you get invited into this world.
Not only is there a deep, rich story that unfolds, but also you can do all kinds of things at your own pace, whether that’s to be a shopkeeper or to be an adventurer or to be a blacksmith. They’re all richly detailed ways in which to play in that world. Whereas if you compare that to, say, EverQuest or World of Warcraft, in those games, every player is first and foremost a combatant.”
Shroud of the Avatar may also surprise gamers who have been conditioned by popular MMO culture, as the game will feature very little hand-holding and expect the player to be bold enough to venture out and discover the world on their own.
“Anybody who has played the older Ultimas, they’ll get it. But anybody whose time in role-playing games has started with Everquest, or especially if their whole spectrum starts with WoW, then yes, I think they’ll be shocked. ‘Where are all my aids to tell me what to do next?’ Because we’re not going to tell you what to do next. It’s a real, living, breathing world. You can figure out what to do next.”
As for how Garriott’s latest RPG adventure will toe the line between the single-player and MMO experience, the team plans on delivering a unique experience they believe has yet to be perfected.
“Ultima 1-9 games were all single-player. Ultima Online and its various iterations have all been massively multiplayer,” he said. “But I actually think there’s a great opportunity for a game that’s neither one of those. Shroud of the Avatar is a game that first and foremost can be played both offline and online, so it’s a very high-quality story-driven single-player game. That being said, if you are online, it will also search for people you know, by whatever means it can, whether you give us access to your contacts list or your social media connections. We’ll search for people you know and automatically bring them into the purview of your game.
Continuing on with this idea, Garriott explains that, “You will literally be able to see them walking around in the world with you. You don’t have to party. You don’t have to group. It just happens automatically. So it’s not exactly massively multiplayer. We’re not going to bother putting 10,000 people you don’t know on screen in front of you. But if we can’t find anybody you do know, we will put some people you don’t know on screen in front of you, so the world feels rich and full. But it’s in this interesting line. It’s not, strictly speaking, single-player, but definitely not massively multiplayer.”
Bucking another trend of the MMO genre, Shroud of the Avatar is also unique in that, “it is a single persistent universe. I won’t see a version of a town where you own that corner and [another player] sees a version of the town where someone else owns that corner lot. If you own that corner lot, that is universal.”
As for who is developing the game, a studio under the name of Portalarium Inc., the team is comprised of a group of well-versed craftsman.
“To help Richard build his new masterpiece, a team of proven industry veterans has been assembled. The average team member has more than 10 years experience and a half-dozen shipped games to their credit. More than 50 titles have been shipped between the team, including almost a dozen games that reached number one on the sales charts.” These games include Dragon Age: Origins, Guild Wars 2, City of Heroes, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Sims, and obviously, the Ultima series.
Finally, one of the most intriguing things about the Ultima series, a trend which will continue with Shroud of the Avatar, is that the game will constantly monitor the decisions you make. Not just the major story decisions, mind you, but even the little details about how you behave in the world.
“Ultimas, especially Ultima IV, tended to watch your behavior, but not tell you how they were watching your behavior. In this little example, I can come over here, and you’ll see that this woman Susan is saying, ‘Man, those wolves over there that I just go baying are really scary.’ That’s a subtle hint that says, ‘Hey, maybe you should go over to help them clear out these wolves.’ Once I clear out the wolves and come back over to her, she says, ‘Wow, it looks like our luck is turning around. We’ve been having a hard time. Thank you very much for saving us from the wolves. Look, I’d be happy to give you my wedding ring as a reward for helping us out.’ Now, I can either take it or not. If you’re purely interested in min-maxing, take it. However, once you realize that I’m watching your behavior, you might not want to. That’s a pretty dang big reward. A bit lopsided and very personal thing for just having gone and axed a couple of wolves for these people.
The game is building a profile of what kind of person I am. If you think about most MMOs, or frankly most role-playing games, you’re the hero because it tells you so,” he admitted. “You’re going to kill the bad guy who’s waiting for you at the end and generally doesn’t do anything but wait for you to come kill him. We try to do something much different.”
It sounds rather ambitious, but with 27 days left on the KickStarter page, and nearly three-fourths of the goal already met, it seems Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues will be Lord British’s return to his fantasy RPG roots. Some of the pledge tiers include various accesses to the game, whether in the form of Alpha and Beta access or special privilege to a “Developer’s Blog” page, where early screenshots and information about Shroud will be posted before it reaches the general press. Alpha testing is projected to be available sometime around December 2013.
I’m personally interested in some of the concepts floating around the discussion here. I love games that factor all of my choices into how the world is presented to me and therefore how I perceive the world, and as I mentioned before, the idea of physical components being a part of the game to expand the world is also something I’m going to follow up with. Of course, until we see some real footage in action, it’s hard to tell exactly what parts of this are mere fluff to generate interest and early support and what parts will actually go from concept to game mechanic, so for now all we can do is play the waiting game.
What do you lords and ladies think of all this? Are you fans of the classic Ultima series? What would you like to see from an old-school RPG vet like Garriott trying to introduce new conventions to the multiplayer online genre? And, perhaps most importantly at this stage of early development, do you plan on pledging to the KickStarter campaign? Share your thoughts in the comments below.