Stuff of Mystical… ness?
Developing a method of creating persistent revenue that doesn’t rely on the backer-model of crowdfunding is an indication that the team behind Shroud of the Avatar are taking the coming transition to a permanent world seriously. That long-term thinking and expectation of continued support suggests a certain confidence in the product’s sustainability. Also, I’ve kind of cheated and done my share of corporate shoulder-surfing to determine if the internal sense of the game matched mine, and I’ve never seen anything to make me worry too much. Some backers have also trended donations and made that data available, data which further supports Shroud’s long-term viability.
Then, major changes in things like targeting systems, story development, and cloning scenes demands a conservative look. On the surface, all three should create some concerns about the health of the project, but I think we can take the targeting off that list. It was without doubt a bad time to make that adjustment, though the new system is fleshing out well and it doesn’t appear to have had any massive lingering negative effects on the game. It’s also pretty common for major swings along those lines to occur in later stages of development, so I think we could chalk that one up to a scary moment that’s been dealt with.
The other two concerns, story development and scene cloning, are a bit worthier of exploration, and both actually are indicative of the same possible mistake of overly ambitious planning. The difference between the two is that the story problem has been adjusted for, while the scene issue has not, and it’s partly that difference that demands we look at them separately.
With respect to story development, the team caught a mistake in planning, perhaps a bit later that they could have, but have adjusted resources and redirected effort into a solution. I want to give Portalarium the benefit of the doubt and say the Love storyline will be ready for final wipe, but I honestly don’t know enough about that particular process to guess. They’ll certainly have a lot more done, and it’ll be in far better shape now that the developers working on story aren’t splitting their time between three different paths.
I don’t think it matters as much as Richard and Starr may think it does, though. Richard’s still stuck on the standards he upheld with the Ultima series, and that’s definitely a good thing. That said, I think those standards need to be mitigated with an understanding that this team is creating a sandbox MMO. The virtuous paths are stories players will only experience once, if ever. The interactions with each other and drama generated by other players will be a constantly refreshing story that unfolds perpetually, though. Whether they succeed in completing the one story or not, I believe the team will feel frustrated at missing a self-imposed mark, and there’ll be plenty of loud voices to beat them up about it. They’ll all be wrong, because players will generate their own storylines beyond anything the developers could do.
I’d say the more important issue is this system of cloning scenes, which I don’t really have a personal problem with. To my mind, anything that allows the world to be a little larger is good, and I’m willing to accept a few sub-par scenes in the backwoods of computerized civilization if it means I’m not bumping into other players like a Mario Kart race for resources. I expect the community feeling is rather split on the subject, though.
There’s certainly a valid point to be made that the team should have stuck to the area around the Perennial Coast and focused on making a microcosm of the larger game in that smaller region before expanding outwards. To some degree, that’s what they did, and expanding outward was as much to support the extra storylines as it was to help create the economic regions necessary to support the in-game economy. Some players will find those under developed areas, and whether or not they realize those places aren’t indicative of the finished product, there could be some frustration and disenfranchisement that there wouldn’t have been had those scenes just not been there at all.
In order to help players to realize that some scenes aren’t up to standard and that they will be addressed, the team has rolled out construction signs. I don’t think I like this solution. Some players just aren’t going to like cloned scenes, and I don’t believe construction signs will make much difference to their feelings on the matter. What they do accomplish, is create a bit of a break in immersion. God doesn’t go around dropping in “Coming Soon” signs to make sure folks know to visit geographic regions again for coming attractions. One day the ground just explodes and a new mountain is created.
I think a better idea would be to just trust the players to know some scenes are place holders, and replace them as new ones are ready. In game “acts of God” could even be used to explain sudden new features and topology changes, which would actually make for some interesting new side stories or provide hooks into future major storylines.
In the end, Shroud of the Avatar is moving forward at a solid pace, and while there’ll still be plenty more to do post final wipe, the major systems and environments will be in the game and available to players. With the team giving good thought to long-term revenue and making value to the players a critical part of the conversation, I’m not too worried about the health of the project.
There have been a number of great successes, and a few missteps along the line, but Shroud is breaking new ground in a lot of ways. Crowdfunding and open development are relatively new concepts in the gaming industry, and developers are still working out how to best work with them. Portalarium continues to be a key player in this brave new world, and I’m excited to watch as they develop more undiscovered country.