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Soulbound Studios Wants to Bring Meaning Back to MMO Life

William Murphy Posted:
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A couple weeks ago we got a chance to sit down with new Indy game studio Soulbound Studios to talk about their new MMORPG, Chronicles of Elyria. Never heard of Chronicles of Elyria or Soulbound Studios before? That’s OK, we hadn’t either. Although you haven’t heard of them before, with an impressive team of seasoned developers and a collection of features even we’ve never seen before in an MMO, we’re certain you’ll hear a lot more about them in the coming weeks and months. Read on to find out more about the team behind Chronicles of Elyria, and what makes it a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale market.

Who is Soulbound Studios and where did they come from?

Soulbound Studios is a new startup game company from Technical and Creative Director Jeromy Walsh (Liquid Entertainment, Pandemic Studios, and Microsoft) and Art Director Eddie Smith (FASA Studios, Bungie, Microsoft, and Sony Online Entertainment). The two of them have teamed up, along with a growing list of veteran game developers, designers, artists, and animators in order to develop the kind of MMORPG many only dream about. They reached out to us at MMORPG.com to make their first foray into main-stream media and we have the privilege to be the first news outlet to talk about this compelling new game – and boy is it compelling. In addition to this article, from now until PAX East, Jeromy himself will be communicating with you via developer journals and forum posts to go in-depth about what makes Chronicles of Elyria unique and to talk more about the features they’ve shared with us.

As to where they came from - back in the early 2000s Jeromy was busy playing MUDs, reading a lot of Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery books like Wheel of Time and Dragon Prince, and playing MMOs like UO, DAoC, and EQ like so many of us. The whole time wondering what kind of MMORPG he’d make given the chance. He began journaling in hard-back sketchbooks, illustrating design ideas, mechanics, and the features he believed necessary to make a truly dynamic, immersive world. But like James Cameron and Avatar, the state of the industry wasn’t ready for his ideas, technology hadn’t yet caught up with his vision, and frankly, publishers were hard pressed to take the risks necessary to see his vision become a reality.

Fifteen years later, the industry has slowly started embracing some of his early design ideas, and crowdfunding has made it possible for people with good ideas and a willingness to take the necessary risks to create something truly amazing. With an initial seed of around half a million dollars of his own money, Jeromy believes Soulbound Studios’ new Chronicles of Elyria will re-define what it means to be an MMORPG.

With Chronicles of Elyria, Jeromy asks what if a skill-based system like Ultima Online had been the most popular game of the early 2000s. What if player skill, rather than itemization determined the success of combat? What if players had to take risks and be truly heroic for their characters to be heroes? Most importantly, what if characters aged and died rather than hitting a level cap?

Let’s get on to why Soulbound Studios’ ideas hit all the right notes.

So what is Chronicles of Elyria, and why should you care?

Each of the systems I’m about to lay out for you are just the tips of many icebergs. Jeromy has a massive design document he shared with us, and his own developer journals will go into these systems (and more) in greater depth.

To begin with, what makes Chronicles of Elyria tick is a new game engine called The Soulborn Engine. The Soulborn engine is something Jeromy designed himself and is built on five basic game design principles. These are:

  1. The world must be dynamic. If something in the world can change, either over time or through player interaction, it probably should.
  2. Hero status must be earned. Players must take risks, be heroic, and put their wealth, prestige, and even life on the line to be a hero.
  3. Skill is not just a character attribute, it’s a player attribute. Every action a character takes that requires a skill, must require some degree of player skill.
  4. There must be something drawing a player into the world. Each time the player logs in there are local, regional, and national conflicts unfolding that guarantees there is always something for players to participate in.
  5. Realism. The world should behave more like a simulation than a game, adding elements of risk and uncertainty, which evolve into dramatic situations and conflicts.

These all sound compelling on the surface, but how do they manifest into actual game mechanics?

Souls, Aging, and Dying

To get started, you, your friends, and all the people of the game playing with you will grow old, you’ll die, and you’ll live on reincarnated in families of your own design and choosing.  You’ll have kids, they’ll grow old, and they’ll die, and so on and so forth. Yep, you read that right. There’s permadeath in CoE, but Soulbound Studios has found, what we believe is, an effective way to solve the problem lots of people have with permadeath. 

No one wants to lose their progress. We know life is finite in reality, so why would we want our escapist entertainment to remind us of that nagging fact? Well when your character dies in combat, you’re not permanently dead right then and there. Instead, you knock years off your life, and eventually when those years run out, your character will be permanently dead. If you spend your entire time as a baker in a peaceful village, you could live a long healthy life. If you’re always out looking for trouble, you will likely die a lot more, and wind up permanently dead sooner.

Everything you do will factor in, and taking the bigger risks will result in bigger rewards. But don’t fret, when you finally do kick the bucket permanently, your soul carries on from life to life, taking with it a large part of what you learned from past lives.  If you were an epic swordsman in a past life, you’ll be way more efficient at learning those swordsman skills in your new life. Since Chronicles of Elyria is skill-based like UO, and not based on levels like EQ or WoW, you can spend your time doing whatever you like to do in the game, and each new life will have a bonus from the previous life’s activities.

While it is slightly random, and largely based on player choices, characters will live approximately one hundred in-game years. That amounts to about one real-world year. And yes, you’ll age even when offline. You could log in one day after months away to find your character has passed away. It’s something Soulbound intends as a way to keep the world fresh and growing. In CoE, your legacy, your role in the overall story, and the wealth and prestige of your dynasty defines success - not just the life of one character.

Another cool feature of the soul mechanic is that each soul, unbeknownst to the player, will have a destiny. Some will play a pivotal role in the overall story, some will be catalysts for major world-altering events five years from now, and some will be more acutely attuned to magic than others. While every soul will have a destiny, players may not learn what that is for years down the road. You might think you’re just making a humble blacksmith, but in reality, you could wind up triggering the end of the world as you know it.

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William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.