Thursday, March 14, 2013

Shroud of the Avatar Video Transcript #2 (Part 2 of 3)

(31:00 - 1:01:15)

RG: Character dialogue I see in there. Character dialogue is something we’re working on too. You’ll see some samples in our screenshots and video clips that we’ve put out. It’s very simple menu based at the moment, but what I’m trying to simulate is fairly old school Ultima. We still working a little bit on it and here’s one of the guys working on some of those conversations right now.

*Rick Holtrop enters*

RH: Hello!

RG: Rick is also the dragon tamer guy that we were talking about earlier although this is something that you’ve done recently on the side.

RH: Yea at a moment to have some fun and that just kind of organically fell out. It was a lot of fun.

RG: Why don’t you tell these folks what you do. One of the only designers on the team but also is one of the, as you may know I am very critical of designers in this industry because I think that becoming a designer in the gaming industry is kind of a subtractive process, most designers become designers because they are not artists and because they are not programmers and they think that games are cool, so they become a designer. This doesn’t mean that they are a good designer; it just means that they aren’t good programmers or artists. One of the great credits to Rick is that, didn’t we start working in QA?

RH: Yes that’s how we got started was QA ’96. It was on Ultima Online and U9 we were together in QA.

RG: One of the other amazing things that Rick did even early in Rick’s career is he went master programming and he is a fantastic programmer and we have even moved him into the programming task. He’s not a bad artist, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you paint from scratch but you are certainly an excellent decorator and to me the best designers are the ones that are multi-talented. You’ve got to be able to be a really good designer you really need to code at at least reasonably well and this guy can definitely outcode me at this point, not that that’s a great thing to say because I don’t really code anymore…it’s been a while, but the point is he is a very confident programmer and a quality visualist and an outstanding designer.

RH: Well thanks.

RG: So tell us what you’ve designed, tell us about the scenes in the game you’ve put together and what are the tasks you’ve taken on.

RH: The 2 main scenes I’ve had the opportunity to work on in the last month are the Gypsy Camp scene, which is a highly social scene, there’s a little bit of combat that goes on there but it’s mostly to prototype our conversations and stuff, that’s where you got most of the conversations in. The other scene is the town siege scene, which is very combat oriented and although it’s not social there are still conversations going on in there and what we see as quests going on in there. We don’t have a quest log, there’s no thing above her head that says I need help. You can easily see she needs help, she’s quick to let you know that her sister is in town and she can’t get back in to town so she needs your help. Quickly you see that the town is under siege and it’s being bombarded by catapults and flame and that particular part was not something that I worked on, it was a quick tech demo that somebody put together and said hey look we’ve got catapults going and I was handed that scene. It was a lot of fun to have that blank slate that was this town and some fire and have a look at it and begin to visualize what could happen here.

RG: And that scene became the inspiration for telling the part of the story that I have said publicly, and maybe you haven’t heard this but I’ve told this publically that the malevolence that has risen in the world isn’t just waiting for you to come defeat them. They are active in the world, they have a plan that they are enacting which involves them laying siege to town after town and not just killing people because they’re evil but they’re actually looking for something very specific. So for you as a player you need to discover both the pattern of their activity and the goal of their activity but if the city was your city, if you lived in that city that was under siege and you were going back to your house, for example when you came in all the shops were boarded up and closed, all the NPCs that might give you information are removed and even your house might not be accessible, with a lock on the door and the roof on fire or something. If you’re going to drop off some loot or pick up some equipment, sorry it’s off limits right now and only if you deal with that siege will the fires diminish and the workers go back to work and you regain access to your house. So we’re trying to make the world alive in that sense.

RH: And that’s one of my favourite parts of this approach is the round robin approach and I wish I could take full credit for the siege scene but it started off as a tech demo from a programmer who came over to me and Richard got to take a look at it half way through and his mind exploded with ideas that really shaped the conversations and the flow of the gameplay and even then we aren’t done with that scene sitting here right now I wish I had my notebook to take down notes as we talk about it. It’s been a lot of fun to work on that.

RG: Ok so what’s next? Obviously you didn’t mean to tackle pets but now you’re the pet guy…

RH: A lot of interesting ideas have flowed out of that and we’ve been talking all about that over the last couple days that came to mind with that to throw past Richard to see what comes of that. I think there are some really interesting things that will come from that. Things that people don’t really expect.

RG: And of course that’s one of the things that people will really enjoy. Back on our SotA website we’ll probably open up a dialogue specific to non-combat professions that you guys can help us sort out.

RH: And that would be my favourite kind of stuff, I’m not much of a you know, back at the beginning in the hay day of UO, sure I tried being a PKer or a griefer for a little bit but I soon became the carebear and more interested in housing and the non-combat role kind of stuff so I look forward to discussing the story stuff with Richard some more and figuring out what that means not just for the scenario but for the grand build up of it, from the macro to the micro. So that’s next.

RG: Well thank you sir.

*Rick Holtrop Leaves*

RG: Let’s see here, NPC schedules, yes so we don’t have a specific plan on that, it’s definitely something we’re thinking of and I agree oh right I was talking about the sky and astronomy before Rick walked in, which is there is a day/night cycle, there is weather and astronomical changes. I think that gives it a lot of opportunity for change.

* Brandon Cotton Enters*

RG: Bee the Conceiver! Please describe a little bit about yourself and your history.

BC: Sure! I’m Brandon Cotton. Everyone just calls me Bee, I’ve been at Portalarium since the start, previously I was at NCSoft and Dungeon Runners, I didn’t directly work with Richard there but I certainly encountered him so at the end of NCSoft that was when Portalarium started up, which is how I kind of got on here and my primary background is more of a technical designer and world builder and just generally take the view that in design you kind of have to do a little of everything and so I just changed my skill set to match with what was needed, if we needed more world building I’ll do that, if we need programming I can do that. So like most designers I try to be as flexible as possible and to be the glue that fits everything together.

RG: I would also say that you are particularly strong at systems, game systems and earlier when I was talking to Rick, I was discussing how I think the best designers are people who are not just designers they have to be at least technical and a little artistic. You are capable of being a front line programmer, your technical skill is as good any other programmer but then the fact that you’re willing to jump into the design side so strongly is a real asset to, systems design especially, on this project.

BC: Yea and as a designer you have to do everything you can and so from my perspective I’d rather be a good designer that can program ok, than having to focus on programming all the time. As a programmer and an artist you get to see one aspect of the game, you get to work on that, tweak that and make it perfect but as a designer you get to bounce around and I love being in this role because I get to be applied to anything on a needed basis and also it changes every day you just kind of move to whatever the project needs.

RG: He’s also been tackling one of the harder problems recently, when we started to design this map, it was easy to make a mountain pop up everywhere we went, there’s a mountain, there’s a mountain, there’s a mountain, there’s a tree, there’s a tree but you don’t want it to look like a mountain, and a mountain, and a mountain, you want it to look like a mountain range. He’s been working a lot on these bridges you might say that bring these mountains together at the top to make the ranges seem more continuous. You and Lauren and I’m not sure who else is working on coast lines and the edges of all these things to put them all together, which is actually a very complex problem to make a map that we can just re-edit oh change that to water, change that to land, and then have everything refit itself back together without requiring a ton of hand massaging (to fix it).

BC: Yea Lauren’s done a great job of putting together the technical side of putting it together and then I take over and create the assets, create the height maps, tweak it, get the textures from our artist, and put that stuff in so from my perspective it’s just a really fun awesome thing being able to piece together the overworld of Ultima, I mean I’ve played those while I was a kid too, so it’s nice to have that realization that you’re crafting the overworld that all the players will play in. Moving forward I’ll get applied to other stuff but I’m really enjoying working on that overworld where you’re setting up encounters, setting up scenes, sort of tying together the work that a lot of people are doing and making that big world exciting. That’s a great thing to, I get to work with Lauren who does great stuff and has a programming background and a technical background I kind of off load some of the stuff from him. Let’s just get it to a point where it works and then I can take it from there so moving forward I’m excited about the overworld, being able to bring Richard’s map, the cloth map and all these things to life.

RG: That brings up something, I saw a question go by says are we going to have ships, is there going to be a sense of exploration and cartography, so let me talk about that for a minute first, this two piece map is actually map number 1 of the outdoor world and we actually built that and implemented it, it was actually running in the engine or an earlier version of the engine and this was 16x16 hexes. When we looked at it we thought that it did not give you that sense of exploration, the points of interest were so close together and you could see on one screen maybe a quarter of the whole world and it did fine as a travel map but it did terribly as a place to explore and so we moved up and we doubled it to 16x16 (I think he meant 32x32) of the world and we still felt it wasn’t big enough. So then we went up to 96x96 and you can see that the resolution is getting very small there, and that is the world that we’re playing on right now and we think that it makes it sufficiently large and it gives you that sense of true exploration, you can at least see as far as the next point of interest and not more than one and with the introduction of the fog of war, you really do feel like you’re exploring. There are plenty of places to go and get lost on the way and to as well find your way.

BC: And one of the things I don’t think we’ve really gotten into yet is having it be dynamic, more changing and evolutionary overtime, that’s always a fun thing that NPC schedules and creating a living world is creating these things that change over time so we’re still designing exactly what that means and we definitely know we want this overworld map to be something that is dynamic, not just where are my friends and where are the enemies, just this fact that this meteor is here now as much as we can get in these big events that are representative of this big world.

RG: And getting back to the maps again, if you pledge enough to get you one of the cloth maps that will be a cloth map in its original state. Not only will the world change, we might destroy cities, we might bring in new islands, we could have a flood that gauges a new river through the continent but if you pledge a level that gets you a cloth map, we will actually make that many cloth maps but no more. Then when we get around to episode 2 that will release a whole new land mass, each episode we think will double the total lands and even between episodes we will expand the land space, so each new episode we’ll print a map out that includes the totality of the reality, it’ll be a snapshot of the reality at that time. And when we get to episode 3 it’ll be a snapshot of the reality of that time. And so these first episode maps really should become a good collector’s item because they represent a clean start, a blank slate, the tabula rasa of the new world. The only way to get one is to be with us from the very beginning.
BC: Thanks!

*Brandon Cotton Leaves*

RG: Will there be teleporters to get around the world? Yes if you look at our kickstarter or the SotA website you’ll see some of those gateways, we’ll call them lunar rifts, they can take you from place to place they actually change, their pattern changes based on the phases of the moon and we even have a technologically way where in some cities they can actually change the patterns of those connections, but I think the question really was will there be teleport stones or runes where you can magically decide to teleport somewhere and the answer is probably, we haven’t actually crossed that bridge but it’s a reasonable suggestion and there are good odds we’ll have it. Let’s see what else we have here going, is there an end to the single player game? Yes there is absolutely a linear story that comes to a conclusion and then it has an epilogue which is where you can reasonably stay involved in the game beyond that or at least hang out after that and not feel strange about it. The story is absolutely a singular story, written for you, the player. So it will feel like, if you follow the story it will feel like a traditional solo player role playing game. Again that being said, we do have a persistent world that is changing based on everyone’s contributions and you do have the ability to commonly and often purposefully play alongside friends and sometimes strangers within the world.

*Mary Rose Monkowski Enters*

RG: Come in, come in, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history.

MRM: Hi I’m Mary Rose Monkowski and I’m the UI artist here and doing design work as well. For this project I’ve also done a lot of the website stuff primarily so kind of on the peripheries of doing stuff. Hopefully I’ll get back into the game stuff soon. Before I was here I worked at another company working on an MMO doing UI work and before that I was an exhibit designer.

RG: Oh wow so you came to us from a whole other industry!

MRM: Yes, using the same tools but this is way more fun.

RG: Good to hear and it’s good to see that UI is one of those areas that only in the last 5 years or so have companies really realized how important UI is, I don’t care how good your game thinks it is, if you don’t get a good person to work on your UI, the game will suck to play. It’s been great to see your contributions to our games over the last year or so now but in these last few weeks where you’ve been getting all these sites up online, boy we’ve thrown a lot of work your way.

MRM: That’s very true!

RG: Trust me it was well noticed the crunch you had to go through to get all the proper pieces and all the proper formatting and all the proper ways that you go things up and in any case, thank you very much, especially for these last few weeks but for the rest of the time as well.

MRM: Thank you!

*Mary-Rose Mikowski Leaves*

RG: How about the rocket from Ultima 2? It’s funny you should ask I was just thinking about how I asked Chris Roberts if I could borrow some ship models from his game and make a little link that I don’t know if you remember but in Ultima 7 (*SPOILER ALERT*) I think it was we put a crashed Kilrathi ship outside a major town (Britain) to the North East (More like just East). And we had the Hoe of Destruction which was the only way to kill off the Kilrathi warrior that came out of it but that’s a little side story there. (*SPOILER ALERT ENDS*) When are the developer forums going to open? Good question, I’m not sure exactly, they’ll open before the end of the month to be sure but I don’t know if they’ll open before that. I know the site is up but based on the comments I’m seeing the forums themselves are not open, I should have asked Geena, she would have known exactly when those forums go live. Please come on in.

*Ryan Caltabiano Enters*

RG: Come in, tell us a little about yourself, what you’re responsible for?

RC: Hi I’m Ryan Caltabiano, I’m a game programmer, one of the engineers, programmers whatever you want to call us, the code monkeys, this is year number 5 now in the game industry for me, programming for most of it, worked on several MMOs now as well as some other projects, started off as an intern on Shadowbane, worked on Faxion Online and a couple others from there.

RG: So what from the demo can you say that that work was mine, my initials are on it.

RC: So all of the monsters and characters that are hooked up have been rigged up on my computer and running around the world, the combat, the health bars, a lot of the initial UI coding was hooked up by me. The previous person you had in here Mary-Rose, did all the artwork, let’s see hooking up the powers, getting that stuff working.

RG: How good are the powers? That’s something we only showed a tiny little bit of because sadly your work was some of the cutting edge pieces that we decided not to expose at the time of the kickstarter. It’s going back to some of those combat things we’ve described theoretically that you already have running on your machine, but we just didn’t think it was quite ready to expose but he’s been doing those more sophisticated combat powers. You can see one of the powers, we’ve hooked up a short cut to it, that roundhouse sword attack.

RC: Yes that was the powered whirlwind.

RG: Yea we just hooked up a number key that we used to invoke that one since it already has some nice animations in it and we needed an area of attack an area of effect combat maneuver so we hacked one in, but yea I’m looking forward to showing off more of that stuff, hopefully during this kickstarter phase.

RC: Yea it’s been a lot of fun hooking that up, it was a fun challenge. It’s really tweakable for the future so we can do a lot of fun stuff with it so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what we can pull off with that. Thanks!

*Ryan Caltabiano Leaves*

RG: Let’s see here, will teleport runes be available? I already answered that question! Europe is waiting, well we just did some press stops in Europe and hope to support Europe heavily. In fact, England, France and Germany represent 1/3 or maybe even ½ of the total market, well with Japan, without Japan I suppose it’s a 1/3, so fear not Europe we will be there with you. What do I think of JRPG? It’s interesting because there have been a lot of not just Japanese but Asian MMOs that have come out across that have been free to play and to be honest I’m somewhat critical of them in that they look really beautiful but all the ones I’ve seen follow the Everquest or what I call the World of Warcraft model. Even if they are beautiful, if they are just another MMO that you get dropped into you know follow the arrow on the map until you get to your destination, it doesn’t really inspire me much and so this is actually been one of our motivations is seeing some of what has NOT been coming out and really wanting to make a difference again so to speak.

*Chris Spears Enters*

RG: Player community events. Yes absolutely why not? I mean in fact if you look at one of our higher levels of contribution you’ll see that we already have planned, we go to a lot of the game shows, game developers conferences and to do some player events along side whether it’s a comic-con or a dragon-con, it’s really something we want to do with players and especially since we’re skipping past the publisher relationships and going straight to a relationship with you. You are our bosses, we are putting this game together for you, you are putting money into this game, we owe you answers to your demands on what you want out of your game. It used to be that we’d have to listen to our sales department at our publisher’s who would say look if you’re using our money to make this game we demand that you ship it before it is done for example. And now if you tell us to ship it before it’s done, if it’s really what you want, we’ll do it but I suspect you’ll want it to have the features that you want in it at the time we ship it and so we’ll let you into the betas early, we’ll call it ready to go when you all help us to decide it’s ready to go. Are their regional server limitations? And again don’t forget we’re not doing this as client-server, so there is not MMO-style centralized server to which everyone is connected in that same way, rather it match-makes on the fly to decide who are your friends but your question is still interesting, which is how far globally do we think that friend can be? Chris might be a good person to ask that question. Do you foresee we might have any limitations to geographic location?

CS: It’s not the traditional massive server, in that everyone still connects to the main server, there are servers obviously, there is matchmaking and elements of transactional stuff but anyways, it’s not the traditional server. Not an MMO server so to speak. It should not be any different than if you’re playing unreal tournament or whatever you can play with those people across seas. We should be more lag-friendly because of the more strategic, less frantic combat style that we use.

RG: Let’s see, can you describe how a primary craftsman’ lifestyle will play out? Absolutely, one of my greatest points of pride about UO was that in contrast to EQ or WoW style of alternate activities, I’d say that if you play WoW, you are first and foremost a combatant and you don’t go anywhere without being a combatant. You don’t go on in the game without combat, but in UO while I’d still say 2/3 of the population were combatants, there were another 25-35% of people who never engaged in combat. If you were a Blacksmith in UO, you really were a Blacksmith, you weren’t concerned with combat you were concerned about your skill in Blacksmithing and you’d forge things out of the materials that people would bring back in to town like a real Blacksmith. You’d make things for people who could then go back out and fight. That is our target interest, our target desire, that people who devote themselves to those alternative professions outside of combat can have a completely rich experience that does not involve going forward with combat. I’ll talk a little bit more about crafting, at this point a lot of this is just written down and it’ll still need to survive contact and execution and therefore could change but we want to make crafting into a system like we’ve done in the past which I call recipe oriented crafting and that contains the tools or ingredients that might be consumed, an object you might craft or enhance and the result, it might also contain a certain skill level on yourself, some tests of your own attributes. That being said there is another form of crafting that I really like, I’ll broadly call it the crafting out of minecraft, which is a very simple user interface oriented crafting. I wouldn’t push so far the minigame crafting, although I like the idea of making bacon by flipping it on a little skillet before you throw it in a bowl, before you do, before you do, before you do…Those are just very labour intensive, we’re trying to find a middle ground where you still have to fulfill the recipe for crafting and then potentially do some geometric or task oriented thing but that task can still be universal enough that it can be reskinned for all the different forms of crafting and we haven’t found that yet, that’s what we’re in search of. I’m guessing it’ll take a few months to figure that out. That might be another good thread for our forums but I’m guessing we won’t really tackle that, at least not very significantly for a couple months here still.

*End of Part 2 (1:01:15)*

Stay tuned for part 3 of 3.


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