We covered Citadel Studios’ Shards Online when it was announced at PAX East 2014, and we quickly fell in love with the concept: an endless series of interconnected worlds, run by players, filled to the brim with as much lore, roleplay, and intrigue as the community can muster. It immediately made us think of Ultima Online’s heyday, which should come as no surprise as Citadel Studios is comprised of designers from UO and DAOC. Following the recent quick success of their Kickstarter campaign (which still has about 20 days left to go), we caught up with Founder and CEO Derek Brinkmann to talk about the game and what the team’s been up to since the announcement in March.
The game seemed surprisingly far into development back in March, when we saw a very early pre-alpha build. But as you can see from the Kickstarter campaign video below, the visuals have come a long way and give off a very clean artistic look with the bird’s eye view that fans of Ultima will know and love. The overall look is much more finished looking and yes folks… the female playable characters have been finished and are in-game as well. Rejoice! Derek also tells us that you won’t be seeing nearly naked women warriors in Shards either. The armor and clothing is all of proper coverage and usefulness.
Now, it’s important to remember that Shards Online’s world is not going to be one large massive Citadel-hosted campaign. Derek and his team are making a main official world, but they largely expect most players to gravitate towards their own worlds, where they can make the rules, play the dungeon master, and be gods (either malicious or kind). In Citadel’s mind, player-made shards will unify the greater universe across itself. Depending on what size server (shard) players maintain, a shard could hold over a hundred people or as little as 16. If you’re running a shard off of your laptop for instance, don’t expect to fit many people in your little burg. Meanwhile players with big systems, or using hosting services will have nice-sized communities at their disposal.
With the server select UI, players can review shards, rate them, and with a Reddit-like algorithm the best and most revered creations will rise to the top. The Shard owners will set the rules, from open PVP, to RP, and everything in between. What’s more is that players will serve as the Gods on a shard (which ties into the overall lore of the universe), spawning monsters, creating community events, wreaking havoc, or guiding quests. One example Derek gave was the idea that the omniscient god could see his community in town, and take over control of the Blacksmith (like a spirit possessing a host). As the Smith, the god could converse with the players, tell them his wife has been kidnapped and taken into a local cave by ogres. The players then will accompany the blacksmith on a quest to save his wife. The god only has the powers of the Blacksmith, so he may not be the best fighter. Along the way, the god is spawning ogres, dropping treasures, and creating the entire random adventure for his players.
If you’re thinking that this sounds like a lot of work for one person, you’re not wrong. But Shards and their gods can recruit Demigods as well, who can be given powers by the Shard owner to help run the shard and give players content. Shard owners can create different kinds of games, ongoing wars, RP and farm-life havens, or even recreate long-loved areas of their favorite games. Derek expects all of this and more to come when the Alpha launches in March of 2015. Player-run shards, housing, and all the tools needed to create and script events and modify worlds will be there. All connected to each other, to the main Citadel-run Shard, and running their own stories and battles and adventures.
The extended goals for the final weeks of the campaign are not just “add-ons” that the team already planned on adding to the game. These are features they’re going to be able to deliver in time for the Alpha launch in March. Emotes for RP purposes are already in (funded at 60k), and further stretch goals include an extra map to build with (as opposed to waiting until later in Alpha, the extra money will allow them to finish it early), permadeath rulesets, fishing and cooking, and a story-editor toolset. Again, all of these features will make it into the game eventually either way. But by hitting the stretch goals, fans of Shards can ensure they’re in the game in time for Alpha.
Also coming down the road is a mobile companion app that allows you to stay connected while away from the desk, send your hirelings on errands, receive in-game notifications about what’s going on in your shard, and more. The Citadel team is well on its way to delivering one of the most unique MMORPG experiences in years, and with a tiny team that has the agility and bravery to build what they want to see, and not worry about suits and their bottom lines.
I’m very happy, personally, to see Shards get its Alpha goal funded. Hopefully a few more stretch goals will be met too, and we’ll have a robust RPG come March. If you haven’t yet, be sure to head to ShardsOnline.com and check it out. There’s a very active IRC there as well, one that can make some live MMO chat channels seem dead, if we’re being honest. Keep an eye on this one folks. For those wishing for an updated UO, you just might get it as a surprise in 2015.