Come gather round my friends. Sit by the fire and have a hearty mug of ale. Let me regale you with a tale of deception, treachery, lies, deceit, vanity and ego. It happened right here, in these lands, not that many years ago…

Like so many others, I had huge excitement over Shroud of the Avatar and joined the Kickstarter campaign without hesitation. I was a big fan of the Ultima series, with Ultima III, IV, and V being my personal favorites. They were interesting and unique for their time, and great single player adventure games.

Ah, the joys of playing single player games on the Apple II.

The Kickstarter had the startup atmosphere with the community getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the people making the game, the studio, and key players. It felt very close knit and kept the excitement going.

Of course, the more people that joined Kickstarter, the more outrageous the promises of what the game could deliver. If you give us money, we’ll give you this…

But still, in game the pledges. In game the stretch goals.

Finally, there was much rejoicing as the campaign not only met the goal, but doubled it.

The game was going to be massive. It was going to be an epic experience, pulling in the best elements of previous Ultima’s and bringing in MMO specific mechanics.

Then reality set in.

When we got the first build it was clear that Garriott and his team had no idea what they were doing. This wasn’t a game close to completion with the Kickstarter money bringing in the final touches and server machines powerful enough to host everyone. No, what we got was an absolutely, hardly playable, not even ready to be called a demo, alpha build.

It was hot garbage.

Make no mistake, I know how software is developed. I’ve been on teams building apps and websites from the ground up. Shroud was a mess.

The combat mechanics were terrible. The NPCs were dead and lifeless. None of the quests made sense. The story was non-existent. There wasn’t a shred of cohesion in what they were building.

During that Kickstarter, it really came across that Shroud was a year away from completion, and the main area of work was the backend, to put the O in MMO. That was clearly not the case as they obviously didn’t have a line of code written before starting Kickstarter.

Ok fine, there was a misunderstanding and Shroud needs more work before it’s complete. We were placated with an inside look at the studio, design session, and Live Stream talking about how great the game was and how much progress they’d made. The team used smoke and mirrors and the promise of “rare” hats to keep people from taking up pitchforks.

Those hats are “rares” and will be worth something one day. Don’t lawyer me bro.

Make no mistake, they were still raking in money through monthly telethons, each one pulling in around $100k. And the more you donated, the more ridiculous shit you got!

It became obvious that Shroud was willing to sell anything to anyone for a price-bigger plots of land, towns, pets, plants, clothes, dyes, and real world money for digital houses.

They were now spending all their time making these damn trinkets instead of the game.

Meanwhile, the Shroud community forum began to grow and became a toxic cesspool. People complained about everything. What they didn’t complain about, they argued over. Every comment was turned into a debate. Every question was answered a litany of requests for justification.

Along with the constant, petty bickering, it was obvious there were favorites, and the more money you handed over, the better treatment you got. The game direction clearly changed because certain people handed over sacks of cash. It basically became the “whale” problem.

That aside, everyone in the forum wanted “their” game. They put in money so they should get certain mechanics, abilities, or the story should be shaped a certain way. When they didn’t get their way, they stomped their feet and went on childish tirades. Hundreds of forum posts either started with or ended with, “This breaks my immersion.”

It took years to get to a persistent world where progress would be saved and character development wouldn’t be wiped out. And then the endless, mind numbing grind began.

The “skill tree” is a convoluted mess where it would take real life days to grind levels to gain a 0.1% increase. It was also obvious they didn’t think through the level progression and thousands of people, myself included, obtained dozens of Grand Master, Level 100 skills before hitting the end of episode 1.

From the days of old, Level 99 was the pinnacle, making you an unbeatable force. It was actually an Int issue where the next level would be 00 again. There was nothing more to learn, no new skills to max, you had it all.

Not in Shroud, they just added Level 101, and said screw the GM moniker. So, by the end of Episode 5, your character is level 500? 600? Grand Poobah Uber Master +3?

It took 8 years to develop Episode 1, the amount of time they originally said it would take to release the entire series, Episodes 1-5. That’s 8 years of development to create 40 hours of game play. I don’t see how this game could be completed in 40 hours without cheating, help, or, knowing all the items ahead of time. It’s too vague and far too grinding.

Reality was, people had invested over 2000 hours in Episode 1 and had completely destroyed the game mechanics. They’d taken so long to get the game out, players crashed into every ceiling. Their stats were off the charts. They maxed everything, with devastating results.

Well, just fix the problem by adding creatures that are 100x stronger. Give it 50,000hp and call the problem solved. Nice scaling and balance.

Further, in those 8 years, the game was nothing like the Kickstarter marketing. Most ideas had to be scrapped because they didn’t think the idea through before speaking. Conversely, some rewards were so shit they didn’t last 10 minutes.

Take the Founders Armor, where players would get a head start by having upgraded weapons and armor. That armor was so marginal as to be useful for about 10 minutes before being put aside and never used again.

Haha! A normal sword has a damage of 3, this magnificent Founder Sword has a damage of 4! Although it does swing slower so you’ll take more damage by using it.

Other ideas turned out to be a total disaster. One simple point, the dead and useless property vendors.

If you pledge at this level you get your own tax free vendor to sell all your fabulous goods!

Oh, that will be so cool!

Except it’s pointless. Vendors can’t see merchandise from other vendors, and there is no centralized list, so you have to check each one individually. Unless I specifically stumble on your plot of land, and take the time to look at what your vendor is selling, I will never see what you have for sale.

This is one example among dozens of ideas that totally flopped when they tried to implement them in a system they never ironed out.

The community driven economy is the biggest folly and greatest downfall of Shroud. It’s an interesting idea, and players being able to craft the best weapons sounds quite tempting. However, when you go up against characters that are levels about you and you defeat them to get a reward of shoddy sword, you get kind of pissed at the game.

Since you can’t find player loot, the game needs to generate some decent ideas to keep people interested and grinding. It doesn’t, so the game is an Epic Fail in the loot department.

What was one of the main draws to Diablo and Diablo II? People would happily grind for days in the quest for epic loot.

The game was sold on Kickstarter with 1% of an idea of what the game would become with everything else being added by the seat of their pants.

It’s also obvious the game has no development or story direction. Story elements were added all left and right, then left for dead. Characters were introduced, never to be written about again. Story ideas were presented then forgotten. Quest lines totally fizzled with one dead end idea after another, not to mention story elements that contradict each other.

Yes, history is written by the winners, and you can have contradicting story elements, but this is piss poor and sloppy writing, not the use of clever historical viewpoints.

Garriott and Starr felt they could turn over the story elements to the community by throwing out the term sandbox. They got Tracy Hickman to get the ball rolling, but where is he now? He spewed out that first Blade of the Avatar book, another bungled pledge reward by the way, and then distanced himself from Shroud.

We’ll give you this limited edition, expertly bound, keepsake book. Nevermind, here’s a PDF, that’s close enough.

You can place items on the ground, it’s a sandbox!

You can write it books and make your own adventures so we don’t have to!

You can write your own NPC dialog, because we don’t know how!

The story and dialog that did make it into Shroud was atrocious. It was broken, had missing links, plot holes, copy/paste errors, didn’t respond correctly, or concluded the wrong way. All this despite using a tool, Inkle, that’s been used to develop other story driven games by studios that know what they’re doing.

That’s part of the problem, even though Portalarium was using off the shelf dev tools that have been used to make hundreds of other games, nothing worked correctly for Shroud. Hundreds of games use Unity, except Shroud can’t make it work. Inkle is used in dozens of games, even ones published at the same time as Shroud, but they can’t make it work. It’s good enough for you guys to follow the docs and write stories and make awesome adventures, but it’s not working for the main story.

Along with that, they hired people that were cheap rather than good. This dev team, including and especially Garriott, don’t have the chops or design skills to make an RPG let alone MMORPG.

They aren’t using tools, they’re doing everything by hand. Building worlds in other games takes minutes, even seconds, using procedures and algorithms. Shroud devs place items on a grid, block by block. I’ll make a volcano by placing every rock by hand!

Let’s also note that Garriott is rehashing tropes from 20 years ago. He’s stealing obvious elements from movies and TV, like he did when he was 18. In the 80s that was middle funny, even eccentric. Now it looks cheap and cliche as hell.

On top of that, the game puzzles, which have now become the staple when they run out of ideas, don’t make any sense. You come across something in the game and literally stop in your tracks and ask, “Why the hell would anyone build something this stupid?”

None of the puzzles are clever, interesting, or fun either. All you have to do is look at the end game quest against a dragon that reads off riddles stolen from the Internet. It’s pathetic.

In reality, Shroud of the Avatar is a total shit show. It’s a game cobbled together without direction or leadership. It’s a game that’s collapsed under the ego, pedantic behavior, and squabbling of its developers and community. Everyone wanted their game element implemented and threw a fit when it didn’t happen. It’s a game of broken promises behind the catchphrase of, “Don’t lawyer me bro.”

Here we are 10 years later, so let’s take a tally.

I would say 95% of the original backers of the game, people like me, have left Shroud and did so years ago. That void has not been filled by new players.

Almost the entire original team, including Garriott himself, have left.

Neither Garriott’s name nor Lord British appear.

The game and all assets have been transferred like a dirty diaper.

Portalarium doesn’t exist, and some documents suggest maybe it never did.

Even at Free to Play, no one is playing.

In summary, there is no reason to care about Shroud of the Avatar. There is nothing unique, interesting, or innovative in anything they’ve brought to the table. It’s a dull and boring game with over complicated mechanics that drive people to rage quit. It’s not even an adventure game, it’s Medieval Sims, and a lackluster ripoff of that. There’s nothing to make you care about the game, the characters, or the story. Hell, I doubt people can even explain what the story of Shroud is.

At this point, I play the game for less than 10 minutes a month, the amount of time it takes to log into the slow ass servers, wait for the graphics to render, pay the property rent and wait for the funds to show up. I have no interest or patience to play any longer. And as you can tell from my stories, I have an in-game town and multiple properties, all of which cost me a small fortune.

I could literally write a book on how bad this game is, all the flaws, all the pointless design decisions. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does. Through the Moongate was close, but wimped out before dealing with Shroud.

I should have bought a Mac Studio instead.

When Shroud was announced, it was the talk of the Internet. The gaming sites flocked to cover this new chapter in the tale of Ultima. Fan sites by the hundreds popped up with people discussing the game, showing off videos, and showcasing their towns.

Today, they’re all offline. That’s the legacy for Shroud of the Avatar and Richard Garriott.

As I said before, I will never support Richard Garriott in any business venture. He has ruined his reputation, proven he is a terrible business manager, that the debacle of Tabula Rasa really was his fault, and he’s taken a giant shit all over his Ultima legacy. Plus, he’s ripped off tens of thousands of people and won’t miss a wink of sleep.


More brilliant musings about my adventures in New Britannia

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