Tag Archives: Portalarium

Shroud of the Avatar Goes… Whatever You Call It After a Long Early Access

When I saw the email from Potalarium… well, I saw it several times as I end up getting updates on three different email addresses… I was a bit taken aback at the message.  Shroud of the Avatar was on the eve of launching finally.

March 27 Launch – That is Today

I couldn’t remember if there had been some build up to this in the weekly email updates, which at this point I just skim for headlines then delete, or if this was a brand new twist.

Well, at least I moved Shroud of the Avatar to the “will ship” list on my predictions this year.  I am up at least five points today.

The suddenness flustered me a bit, and I half expected to see a follow on message announcing a delay.  But there was only a follow up about Release 52 that went through in detail what was going into this release build and linked out to the whole how to get started document for the release.

Of course here we are, just shy of five years after the Kickstarter for the project closed, having secured a little over $2 million, and I am trying to recall what this was all about again.

There was that whole Madness of Lord British season where he was talking at (not to) EA about wanting his IP back, thinking a line about great fondness might help I guess.  EA chose that moment to launch Ultima Forever, which seemed to answer the question.  So it was just Lord British talking about his Ultimate RPG, set in a land which could not yet be named. (His comment at the end of that about “ville” clones was doubly amusing given his then recent attempts to get into bed with Zynga, complete with comedy quote.)

Eventually though he seemed to get back on the rails in the right direction and launched the kickstarter to fund his project, Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar; Forsaken Virtues.   Aside from that whole “game designers suck and/or are lazy” thing (later he explained that when he said people he worked with were essentially shit he was taken out of context) the whole thing went very well.  Lord British still has name recognition and the whole nostalgia factor going for him and was able to haul in double the amount of money he was asking for.

From the official site

Since then however… I haven’t really been paying all that much attention.  By late 2014 there was something you could download and tinker with, but it was a very rough cut.  I tried it for a bit and then let it be.  There was also something about virtual real estate that came up at one point.  But other than putting it on my possible list of games to play every year for a few years, only to have it still be in development, I haven’t paid much attention to it.  Somewhere along the line I got a Steam key and activated it there, but otherwise it has just been news about the game coming along.  Even Lord British, with something to occupy his attentions, has kept his crazy side out of the news.

But today it is live.  The server status declares it ready.

Launch version has launched

I checked over at Steam and the early access warnings have all been removed and there is a launch day sale for 15% off the $39.99 price, which keeps it higher than the $30 I pledged five years back.

It looks like the the four modes originally promised are there, offline solo, online solo, online friends, and online in an MMO-esque setting.  It is also available on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.  The reviews, however, are mixed, something that seems to come from the cash shop.

And now to see how big the launch will be.  I have speculated in the past that doing crowd funding and early access means that a game’s core audience has likely already bought in by the time that launch comes, so there is no big boost at launch.  That is what we saw with Landmark certainly, and H1Z1′s recent transition out of early access was pretty much a yawn until they made the game free.  And even that only got it back up to its December numbers as opposed to its peak over the summer.  But H1Z1 has better competitors now in PUBG and Fortnite.  Still, launch alone didn’t seem to do much.

So how will launch affect Shroud of the Avatar? 

Also, when am I going to find time to play it?   I am currently still noodling around with Rift Prime, and there is Project: Gorgon now available on Steam.  It seems like 2018 is the year of stuff from five years ago.  Maybe Camelot Unchained will stir this year as well.

With the Empire Crumbling, What of Darth British?

Zynga’s Emperor Palpapincus had only just recruited Lord British, turning him into Darth British (yeah, I decided to go with that just to keep things simple), with the promise of teaching him the dark arts of monetization and giving eternal life to half-baked cow-clicking games.

You’re right Mark, these helmets are great!

In the words of recently turned gaming jedi:

“Not just Zynga’s, but lots of social games use monetization strategies that, as a hardcore gamer, I find offensive, frankly,” Garriott admits. “I really don’t like games that constantly pester me to pay. I find it radically interferes with my suspension of disbelief. So, I’m devoted in the Ultimate RPG game to finding novel monetization strategies that don’t offend me like some of these do. Yet, it’s still really important to learn those lessons, and there’s no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner.”

Richard Garriott de Cayeux (Darth British), on his partnership with Zynga

How often has a hero fallen in an attempt to learn the tricks of his foe by becoming what he opposes?  It certainly seems to come up a lot in juvenile pulp novels, so clearly it is a menace.

Failing to heed the warning of… well… many people… that once you start down the dark path with Zynga, forever shall it haunt your resume, the newly minted Darth British swore fealty to a new master.

And then, as the recruitment of this gaming luminary was nearly complete, Zynga totally took a dump on the living room floor.

There were $52 million in losses, layoffs, and the whole “EA is pissed and coming to sue you” dimension to what can only be seen as a setback for the Zynga empire.

Emporer Palpapincus issued a statement declaring, “While the last several months have been challenging for us, Zynga remains well positioned to capitalize on the growth of social gaming.”  He was then heard to mutter something about the second FarmVille being “fully operational” and there being “no civility in gaming, only ARPU” as he stalked off.

Which leads us to the next cliff hanger.

What course will Darth British choose?  Is he in too deep?  Has he signed in blood?  Has he committed his Ultimate Collector and Ultimate RPG to the fires of the Zynga sweatshop?

And is it ironic that EA, who he was totally trying woo… at least in the press… not only thwarted his Ultima aspirations, but has taken up arms against Zynga?

For whom will our hero(?) show a fondness next?

Quote of the Day – Lord British and a Fondness for Zynga

“Not just Zynga’s, but lots of social games use monetization strategies that, as a hardcore gamer, I find offensive, frankly,” Garriott admits. “I really don’t like games that constantly pester me to pay. I find it radically interferes with my suspension of disbelief. So, I’m devoted in the Ultimate RPG game to finding novel monetization strategies that don’t offend me like some of these do. Yet, it’s still really important to learn those lessons, and there’s no better place to learn them then by having Zynga as a partner.”

Richard Garriott de Cayeux, on his partnership with Zynga

I suppose we will see who ends up corrupting/influencing who in this partnership.

How are things with Mark Pincus?

Lord British and his company, Portalarium, teaming up with the foundering “Ville” magnate made the news a while back.  I hope he learns the right lessons for his Ultimate RPG.

I guess he must be pretty happy now that EA and Blizzard “let” Zynga have the casual market… such that it is.

Lord British is Talking to the Press, Not EA, About His Ultimate RPG

“I’m not sure what Richard Garriott is referring to.  But no one at EA is discussing partnership or licensing opportunities related to the Ultima Online franchise…”

Jeff Brown, EA’s head of corporate communications, Industry Gamers interview

Just to keep all the Lord British Ultimate RPG story in one place, here we go with an update.

Who Loves You EA?

I saw over at Massively that EA was saying they hadn’t heard a thing from Lord British about the Ultima Franchise and his Ultimate RPG.  This despite EuroGamer having quoted Richard Garriott de Cayeux saying

“We’ve actually talked to Electronic Arts about [Garriott leading Ultima Online again]. I would love to have access to the Ultima property. We’ve had discussions at very high levels with Electronic Arts about access to the property.”

Since the EA denial story broke, a spokesperson for Garriott de Cayeux offered this clarification:

“Richard is not CURRENTLY having conversations at high levels with Electronic Arts regarding the Ultima franchise. He never said that he is. I can assure you, however, that those conversations have taken place in the past.”

He added, “What is taking place right now are conversations with EA as well as other companies regarding potential partnerships/distribution deals involving our other products including Ultimate Collector and our Casino games, Port Casino Poker and Port Casino Blackjack. These are normal and expected communications taking place as we move closer to launching Utlimate Collector sometime after the first of the year.”

So we just have Lord British out there attempting to woo EA in the press by expressing his “great fondness” for the gaming giant… and then the next day complaining that their sports-game mind set ruined Ultima VIII… all without actually broaching the subject directly with EA.

Smooth.

As to how we got to this state of affairs, it is hard to tell.

Visionary people often project what they plan to do into sounding like it has been done already or connect unrelated things to sound like a single narrative.  I’ve lived that routine a few times.  This might just be Lord British in space… again.

And then there is the editorial reputation of EuroGamer.  They have certainly gotten confused by gaming honcho statements before.  Remember when they said that PlanetSide 2 would SHIP in Q1/Q2 of 2011?  Yeah, they’re good like that some times.

Anyway, this seems to be Lord British month.  Stay tuned for updates.

Lord British: About Tabula Rasa… and Ultima 8…

“since Ultima Online was a fair time back and Tabula Rasa had its troubles, it makes perfect sense that people would go, ‘I’m cautious as to what my expectations are.'”

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux, EuroGamer Interview III – Exodus

As noted at Massively (thanks Syp), the interviews with Lord British continue over at EuroGamer, this time focused on what went wrong with Tabula Rasa and Ultima VIII.

Not his best work

I swear, I thought he was done.  He sounded done.  He probably should have been done.  But apparently he was not done, and I’m on the Ultimate RPG train, so I am going to stick with it!

Anyway, Lord British takes full blame for both games not being up to par.  Sort of.

“Too bad, spilt milk,” he rued, “I get the blame – I get the appropriate blame, I’m the top of the food chain. It was my decisions. But that’s my excuse or rationalisation.”

And then he does go on to rationalize… or rationalise.

Essentially, it was the same problem in both cases, being forced to ship before they were done.

With Ultima VIII, the big problem was, in his view, the sports-game-centric mentality of EA, which insisted that they ship the game when they said they were going to ship.  This lead to a giant miss in the market according to Lord British.

…if we’d really just finished it properly – even the movement, the jumping that was in the game – had we done it less hacked and more accurately, we would have had a Diablo-style success a year or so before Diablo.

There but for the EA mindset, they could have beat Blizzard and their hugely successful Diablo to the punch.  I wonder if Rob Pardo is going to publicly scold him now for ceding the hack and slash RPG to Blizzard ala something Lord British said recently.

Missed opportunities though?  Was Ultima VIII really a potential competitor to Diablo?  I never made it to Ultima VIII, so I couldn’t tell you, but it seems unlikely to me.

And then there was the tale of NCsoft and Tabula Rasa.  According to Lord British, the team blew the first two years of work and had to start again from scratch, something about which NCsoft was not happy.

And whenever you start a game that is two years out of position, you’re basically already up a creek, if you know what I mean. Because what the company is not going to do is forgive the two years and forgive the millions of dollars that have already been spent. You basically are two years late and what’s taking you so long – let’s get the game out.

I’ve read more detailed insights into what transpired.  To say NCsoft was impatient is a bit of a simplification.  And from the outside it looked bad as well, what with Lord British in orbit while Arieki and Foreas burned.  15 months was all NCsoft could put up with before closing the game down.  And, in an all time class move, they fired Lord British while he was in space.  I wonder if that was a first.  He should have that on his list of accomplishments.

All of this wraps up with another mention of Lord British’s goal of the Ultimate RPG, his company’s current venture, Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale, and the previously mentioned new development processes and dedication to modern platforms such as Facebook and mobile devices.

I guess he felt the need to clear the air on past issues… though Ultima VIII was shipped more than 17 years ago, so it might be time to just let go… and he did steer clear some of his past strange statements.  He managed to stay pretty much on message while trying to explain away what went wrong with these two releases.

I’m just not sure that the end message (big bad companies made me do it) was all that helpful or if he needed to bring this up at all.  I think he would have been better off if he had stopped at the previous interview and his professing great fondness for EA, an expression somewhat undone by this interview.

Lord British has a Great Fondness for EA

“I have a great fondness for Electronic Arts – I still think they’re one of the best, most powerful and competent sales and marketing and distribution companies in the business.”

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux at EuroGamer

You will note that he doesn’t say anywhere that interview that EA can make a decent game.

In yet another interview over at EuroGamer (is that the only gaming site that will talk to him lately, or does he just have a “great fondness” for them as well?), Garriott de Cayeux continues to pour out his man-love for Electronic Arts in the hope that they will work with him by letting him use the Ultima franchise for his Ultimate RPG.

The sign of the Ultimate Ultima?

And, well, I am already two posts into this story, so why not carry on quoting for truth I guess.  I am sure that this will all seem worthwhile when I sum it up again in a year.

Unfortunately, according to Garriott de Cayeux, not everybody at EA is happy to see him.

“Electronic Arts is a big company,” he said. “There are some parts of the organisation that would love and embrace and clearly understand the logic of ‘wouldn’t it be great to work together on an Ultima’.

“And then there are other parts of the organisation who – I’m actually not sure where the resistance comes from, but it must be people who either have their own ideas about where the product should go, or have their own ideas about whether or nor I should be involved in it. And I don’t know where the counter-forces come from.

“So far we’ve not put a deal together, but of course, yeah, I would be very open to it.”

Ah well, life in the big leagues.  I am going to guess that maybe EA thinks that they have some RPG muscle in their BioWare division.

Still, EA is not the critical ingredient in this project.

“What essentially makes an Ultima an Ultima is the principles of design,” Garriott explained. “And I’m very confident that when players sit down with this new world they will very quickly recognise that, whether or not we end up doing any deal with Electronic Arts.

“This is clearly the spiritual successor of the Ultima series,” he said.

I do have to admit that his message is a bit more focused of late after recently spending some time all over the map.  I don’t know who reigned him in, but good job on that!

Anyway, the interview goes on speak of a Minecraft-like development process, getting the game into the hands of players as soon as possible, being platform agnostic, and allowing for both synchronous and asynchronous player interaction.

Now if they could just hook up an RSS feed on the Portalarium site so I would get notifications automatically, all would be right with the world.

Lord British and The Ultimate RPG in a Land Which Cannot Yet be Named

Lord British’s Ultimate Role Playing Game, which may be called “Akalabeth” or may be called “New Britannia” or may be called “a name I cannot yet say as it describes the setting I am considering and think I should keep secret at least until I know if it’s likely true,” will be an Ultimate RPG.

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux on The Ultimate RPG

I don’t think we’re out of the woods quite yet when it comes to the Madness of Lord British, but at least we have some more details.

In an interview over at EuroGamer, Garriott de Cayeux gushes about Portalarium’s first non-casino related game, Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale, a Facebook game expected to be available some time in 2012 and which seems to be somewhat inspired by Garriott de Cayeux’s own collecting mania.  The game boasts the following bullet points:

  • A collecting and shopping social media game
  • From hall of fame designer Richard Garriott
  • Decorate your own house and show off your collections
  • Shop and collect from garage sales, markets and auctions
  • Go shopping in-game at nationally known retailers
  • Playable on a PC and available on Facebook in first quarter of 2012

This, as with the previous casino games, is Portalarium’s way of financing the development of the technology they will need to create the Ultimate RPG.  We will have to wait to see how it fares.

This all comes with a serious, professional upgrade to the Portalarium web site, including a new logo and motto.

We Take You There

And, thankfully, they removed that 20+ year old picture of Garriott de Cayeux.  That was influencing how seriously anybody could take this venture.

The Ultimate RPG is still out in the distant future, but Garriott de Cayeux offers these inspirational words.

So when traditional gamers look at all the “Ville” clones out there in the world, take heart! See not what is popular now, but rather what is happening in this new era that also would benefit them! A great game, like a great movie, need not be inaccessible to the masses. Great story and depth need not come at the cost of up front effort, pain and cost. Free to play does not mean the game has to be riddled with advertising and calls to spam your friends.

But, for those unwilling or unable to pay fairly for what they now play, asking them to work for the developer and find us players is not unfair. Great games can and will be made in this new era, to the benefit of all, traditional and new players. We intend to be a leading maker of such games.

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux, again on The Ultimate RPG

There, does that make everybody feel better?