Shroud of the Avatar: Making You the Developer

The team behind Shroud of the Avatar aims to not just make an amazing game, they want to empower the community around them to become a part of the process.

Shroud of the Avatar Logo

Richard Garriott and the team at Portalarium have been working away on their new game Shroud of the Avatar since they met their crowd funding goals a few months ago. Like several other recent games, SotA is taking some unique approaches to development. Today we’re going to take a look at some of those new ideas and what they may mean for the gaming industry, you the players, and possibly for those looking for a way to learn more about being a developer themselves. …sound a little boring to you? Well, maybe I should also mention that they’re also giving away some serious prizes for those that decide to get interested.

It Pays to Give

During a recent trip to Austin, I had the opportunity to walk around with Executive Producer, Starr Long. As Starr walked me around the office introducing me to the members of the team and giving them a chance to talk a little about what they were working on, something started becoming readily apparent. With this team, one of the fundamental components of their effort is their desire to improve the community around them.

That drive manifests as they proudly tell you about the system they’ve implanted for when they buy basic assets from the Unity Store. They purchase the initial assets, work with them to make them better or create multiple versions of the asset, and then they turn around and send a copy of the improved or expanded asset back to the original author. Thus the person who created the item doesn’t just make a little cash on the sell; they now have an even better item or more versions of it that they can distribute to the community.

Shroud of the Avatar Village

Like nearly every game, some scenes in SotA start off as canned content from the Unity Store, but I’ve never heard of one that sends the improved assets back to the original creators.


The result is an improved and stronger community, and a better development environment for future indie games. Shroud of the Avatar could cease to exist tomorrow and the industry is better for it having been here, and that’s not something that can be said of very many games and probably not any recent ones. But this is some of the same people behind thirty years of Ultima, so I don’t think it’s much to expect SotA will be giving back to the community for quite a while yet.

This method of giving back is important because it was my first glimmer of understanding what I now realize is a deeper culture at Portalarium. It matters to we gamers because it tells us a lot about what this team feels is important, and gives us an idea of where they may go with the game. Specifically, I think we see a team that’s very interested in empowering the community, and especially the players, to build a world they can all be proud of.

Community Developed

That brings us to the next point, which has to do with the fact that Portalarium isn’t getting all of their assets from the Unity Store. Obviously a lot of them have to be developed by hand and in-house, but they also have another important source for that sort of thing. They’re giving the community a chance to be involved with that process as well. At first a simple announcement on the forums indicated that the community could submit art and assets for filling out houses. If you think about it, that’s the perfect place for a budding developer to begin to learn the ropes, and it’s a great way for people to be involved with creating a game.

Portalarium shared out a document with a list of assets they need and are more than willing to allow the community to produce for them. I really do find myself excited at the idea that I could create something and then soon find it in a game. It ought to give a person more ownership in a game when the book or chair they designed pops up occasionally in random houses as will happen in SotA.

Shroud of the Avatar Dungeon Skull

Of course, dungeon crawls may start getting a little long if we have to stop every few turns to admire someone’s hand-crafted skull that made it into the game.


Oh, and while I’m sure a lot of people would get involved just for the sake of seeing their handiwork make its way into a game, Portalarium is paying you to do it. Among the list of assets they’re looking for is a column listing the bounty they’re willing to pay for items the community develops that meets their standards and is accepted. Not only do those interested in participating in the development of a game now have the chance to do so, they can get paid to do it. More importantly, the system is set up so that the turned in work will specifically be looked at by professionals in the industry.

However, beyond simple props, Portalarium is also hosting a contest with some seriously hefty prizes. They call it the Unity Scene Jam, and seeing some of the submitted scenes is what actually inspired this article. I’ve been a fan of game mods for a long time, and seeing the quality of work being turned in for this contest was really a treat. Seeing the development team’s excitement at the work submitted in to them was what made it worth writing about.

Catapulting the Crowd Sourcing

But there’s more to this contest than just excitement. Portalarium developers are actually offering tutorials on how to produce better assets. As crazy as it sounds, they’re teaching you how to win the contests and earn the bounties offered on new assets. Yeah, Richard Garriott is crazy like a fox.

For one this is a win because once again, Shroud of the Avatar is creating a better community and environment just by existing. By educating the community on how to create a better product, they spend less time doing touch-ups and perhaps inspire more people to create submissions. So sure it helps them, but it also gives a lot of people a glimpse into what the world of video game development looks like to those who may never see it otherwise. Perhaps even more significantly, it offers a chance for some people to even get a little experience and resume fluff.

Shroud of the Avatar Scene Jam

The Unity Scene Jam contest has turned out some fantastic community-created content, but just as cool at the developer-made tutorials on how to get better at it.


Even if a person weren’t interested in this particular game, I can’t see how anyone interested in the industry wouldn’t take the opportunity to learn techniques from the professionals. Watch videos on how they do their magic, submit your attempt and get a little feedback on it if it’s close to what they’re looking for. You’d normally have to pay a lot of money for this sort of thing, but these guys are giving it away for free.

Got My Eye on You

With everyone churning out games cut from the proven mold, it’s been a little hard to get excited about a new MMO in the fantasy genre. I’ve been a Richard Garriott fan for years, but that didn’t keep me from being skeptical. Until now I have to admit that I’ve really only been that excited about Shroud of the Avatar because of the name attached to it.

My recent trip to Austin sort of started changing my mind, though. I’m a big fan of the open-source movement and what I see here is something cut from the same cloth. It’s not enough for the guys at Portalarium to just make a game, they want to empower the community around them, and that’s something I can respect.

It may seem odd to some folks for that to be the sort of thing to change a person’s mind, but to me it shows a guiding principle that I’m glad to see the game being built around. A game that empowers the players to take ownership of everything from development to eventually creating their own story is the sort of game that I’m really excited to see made. Plus, the spirit of community you find in the development team is definitely something I think worthy of a little support.

The development practices weren’t all that impressed me on this trip, though. Stay tuned next week as I go into the crafting system in Shroud of the Avatar and take a look at some of the ideas that might change how we think of crafting in future games. In the meantime, enjoy making a little cash on your own digital crafting.

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