Category Archives: SotA

Three future Kickstarter MMORPGs the World almost forgot

Or maybeee it’s just me but really, what’s going on with Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained and that Pathfinder MMO? Are they still happening, where are they in development and who’s holding their breath? Let’s have a look at some status quos!

Shroud of the Avatar
The assumed comeback of Lord British was successfully funded on Kickstarter in April 2013 and has since raised a total of $4,852,936 according to the official front page. For a while after Kickstarter, there wasn’t much to look at except for some worrying ingame “footage” of its pre-everything development stage, accompanied by an excited Garriot’s commentary. In general, lots and lots of Garriot appearances on twitch hangouts and other outlets. The official forums hit it off ever so slowly, with veterans of UO glory days tossing around ideas about features that should go into this new title (naturally, lots of notorious player killing and housing). Lo and behold, already at the end of last year the first playable build was announced to backers and more updates have followed since. This September 2014, the latest test build was released with promises of new polish and stability improvements. I’ll say no more than that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and SotA should probably suit a diehard UO or Darkfall audience just fine. The game was recently approved for Steam via Greenlight and you can read all about its spin on “single-player narrative meets sandbox MMO” there. According to the Wiki, we are looking at an official release end of 2014.

Camelot Unchained
Camelot Unchained’s Kickstarter followed one month later in May 2013, beating SotA by 300k in funding raised by significantly less backers. After closing, an additional $3 million was contributed to the project by private investors, including $2 million directly coming from studio founder and MMO legend Mark Jacobs. From the very beginning, MJ made clear that this was gonna be a very PvP/RvR-centric title that welcomed an oldschool, non-compromising approach to player versus player. Over the course of this year, features such as the combat and crafting system and the somewhat uninspiring RvR map were revealed to assure the playerbase in wait things were moving. In the latest September 2014 update on their official page, MJ was happy to announce the imminent first round of non-public pre-alpha testing, with access for backers on the horizon soonish. In his words, the team has stuck to schedule thus far and having reached this first milestone, CU finally looks like a “real game rather than an engine build”. While this is probably welcome news to some, it also means that for the time being fans of the project and DAoC-hopefuls must remain patient for any actual glimpses of the game.

Pathfinder Online
Possibly the least visible title of the three, Goblinworks’ and tabletop Publisher Paizo’s Pathfinder Online only just made its second Kickstarter goal in January 2013, raising $1 million. Yes, lots of “fantasy open world pvp sandbox”-funding going on that year! After creating an initial buzz with a fairly decent looking and playable tech demo (also previously kickstarted), dazzling artworks and interesting details such as limited small-size servers, PO soon dropped below the radar. Undoubtedly the last year was spent “doing things”, polling the community on core features like respawns and permadeath, revealing war towers and the crafting system. That last one always seems high on any developer’s list. Finally in June 2014, the first friends & family alpha was announced and a trailer soon followed. After delaying the original date, the Alpha 9 patch finally went live this October 6th with future stress testing and “early enrollment” aka early access in mind. It’s safe to assume that Goblinwork’s FAQ page will see several more updates in terms of the still far off official launch date sometime in 2016.

It’s interesting to see several Kickstarter MMOs that were all crowdfunded early 2013 making their individual journeys. Shroud of the Avatar has taken a clear lead in terms of official launch at least, with Pathfinder Online closing in on that early access. As for Camelot Unchained, fans will clearly interpret slower updates as a sign of the devs taking time that will pay out in the long run. I keep my fingers crossed for everyone curently waiting; having no intentions towards either SotA nor CU, I remain at the most mildly interested in Pathfinder, assuming I can still remember its name in 2016. And then it’s probably still going to feel and look like something that should’ve come out 10 years ago.

Marketing and the Hype

As somewhat of a connaisseur of MMO hype machines, I’m also not convinced the fairly low profile approach all these projects seem to follow is such a good thing. Sure, some players are tired and disillusioned with alpha/beta and MMO launch hypes but keeping things down is risky business (hello TSW) and really takes much of my personal enjoyment in Vorfreude away. Carbine/Wildstar and SOE/Landmark have taken a very different road in making their games visible and transparent to a wider audience early on and that’s still something I personally appreciate. Sometimes the best thing about an MMO launch is the rush and excitement that goes on beforehand. Right now, I’m just not feeling any of these upcoming titles.

Shard Mechanics in SotA: No country for Strangers?

Nobody was more surprised than myself to see Shroud of the Avatar, one of the most horrible name-givings in MMO history surely, reach its one million goal with an added extra of 30% on kickstarter. I know some players are desperate to bring “anything a bit like UO” back but still – surprised! And what better figurehead to sell that promise than Lord British, Richard Garriot, or Lord Snakependant as I like to call him. He and his eye-catching accessory seem to appear everywhere of late. Where can I get my fortune read, please?

This Tuesday night, Grakulen from had the honor of interviewing Garriot on twitch and get some of the fan-base’s more pressing questions answered. For some obscure reason I found myself following that show, bravely ignoring the trashtalk going on in the live chat window. Now, I have no idea if any future version of myself would even consider playing SotA, nonetheless some of you might be interested to hear the following “news” or tidbits which were elaborated on by Garriot:

  • SotA will be all about meaningful, moral choices; players will supposedly be challenged in various ways and have to live with the consequences of their actions (taking extenuating circumstances into account). Tricky.
  • Outdoor player housing is back! While houses will be more exclusive than in UO and bound to designated town zones, players will not only be able to own public buildings but set up shops and vendor NPCs. Wahey, right? Also: you can choose to play a pure “farming” character.
  • There be world events; for example, towns will be besieged in various intervals (“every new moon”) and players will need to band up in order to save their infrastructure and NPCs. We’ve seen hubs taken over in Rift, so personally I hope there will be more drama and significance to this in SotA.
  • As SotA won’t be featuring different servers but one global mega-server, a sort of culling-mechanic is in place to reduce the amount of other players you can see at any given time. It’s not actually “culling” the way we have it in GW2 but rather dynamic instances (or shards) of the same server that players play on in order to avoid heavy traffic. Shards aren’t exactly new, yet in SotA the system ensures that friends will always end up on the same shard. The more removed an acquaintance, the less likely you will ever see them (however, those “invisible players” would still be able to access your shop as customers, since you are strictly speaking playing on the same world). The friend-feature aside, players will be “re-sharded” pretty much all the time, says Garriot.

This last part is where it got complicated. I understand it’s becoming trendy for MMOs to re-introduce that “one world feeling”, the way it’s also been announced for the Elder Scrolls Online. While I’m certainly pro server mechanics that ensure friends can play together (although there’s this wild thing called server transfers), the whole concept loses much of its appeal when we’re back talking about different layers/instances/shards and invisible people. Not such a big world after all?

Before I was able to formulate an even bigger concern however, another viewer in the twitch audience, Garbrac, beat me to it in live chat:


“So if I have no friends, will I be playing the game alone?”

Ever since MMORPGs have come out of the shadows with World of Warcraft, new games are being created under the solid assumption that players will show up “with friends”. You don’t make online friends in MMOs any more – you’re supposed to bring them. You can see it in game design too: the learning curve, jumping into medias res and the leveling journey become ever more trivial. At the same time, endgame challenges and/or difficult group content persist; big world or guild events require functional communities. Tough luck for the one who travels those first bits of the game alone! With little hardship comes little cooperation. Cooperation is where chance encounters transform into lasting bonds and guild invites (or creation) are generally the consequence.

Mind, I am not talking about enforced role setup and I am happy that new MMOs allow for playstyle variety. But if cooperation is a core value of high level content, it needs to be a requirement on low level too! Otherwise there’s a clear issue in preparing and setting up new players for the whole journey. And there’s an even bigger issue if server mechanics prevent soloers from ever meeting the same people twice! I cannot imagine anything more dreary than playing on a server that constantly changes my social environment! How on earth am I supposed to establish connections here? High level group content yay – but erm, can I please find some companions first?

Anyway, I can’t wait to hear a solution to this from the guys at SotA (unfortunately it was not addressed in the twitch talk). I don’t know about you, but I am not looking forward to MMO worlds that are constantly re-sharding me anywhere, unless I bring existing friends and family along!