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Shroud of the Avatar

Keith currently works for Portalarium on Shroud of the Avatar as Lead Quest and Level Designer.

 

Ulfheim Reimagined

September 26, 2019

Keith constructs the new Ulfheim. Click to watch the video on YouTube.

The preceding video was originally Livestreamed at Twitch.tv/shroudoftheavatar (now archived at YouTube) as part 5 of 5, in which Keith described the new Ulfheim during its construction.

Keith recreated a scene named Ulfheim intended for veteran players in Shroud of the Avatar that included recreating the scene from the ground-up, including terrain editing and other world building, enemy spawning, resource spawning, creating three wave battles, and quest creation, among other level design elements.

Veteran players need great threats to throw themselves against and choices that affect how they can approach those threats. Ulfheim was intended to be such a place, but started as a duplicate of another scene with slightly different enemies. Keith re-imagined Ulfheim to be a core experience for players looking to great challenges.

Keith recreated Ulfheim from the ground up to be a multi-level experience. Players looking to hunt and harvest can do so in the open wilderness areas. Seasoned players can venture through the gates into the cannibalistic barbarian community and engage in three wave battles, each one more difficult than the last.

While fighting through the barbarian community, players can complete activities like free "Mistreated wolves" from cages or break totem sculptures to change the composition of enemies in the final battle and affect their virtuous reputations. A group of veteran players seeking the toughest battle can bang drums to alert those in the final battle that they're coming, nearly doubling the enemies in that final fight.

But Keith also kept in mind that many players enjoyed the old version of Ulfheim for its existing enemies and resources. He made sure the same wolves, bears, and tree-like Reapers would remain in Ulfheim, as would all of the iron ore and other resources. In fact, the new design allowed him to add more of them, and he was able to add them in "cluster" groupings that are highly praised by players.

Prior to the release of the revised Ulfheim, most players were optimistic but a few were concerned that the new scene wouldn't be as appealing as original old version. After the scene was added to the live server, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

"[T]he new Ulfheim is AWESOME! I'll be playing that a lot! This is the best adventure added to the game in a looong time -- you rock!!!"
—Elgarion

"[L]ove this scene! Love the diversity of mobs, the danger and what I love most is the design nice density of mountains, tree's and what not. Thank you. Hope to see more of these."
—Feeyo

"Way better than the old version, lots of satisfying [barbarian] smashing instead of just the handful on the road. The progression/choices/etc. were a nice change of pace. I like that you have a defined progression/goal instead of just sitting in one place or going in circles.

"I had a glorious time outside the bandit area, in the big valley of endless maple trees, cotton bushes, and iron nodes, reapers and obsidian creatures. It is a harvesting extravaganza. For me, having the occasional reaper or wyvern was a bonus ... but definitely requires you are more 'on your toes.'"
—kaeshiva

Tags: livestream, multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Dragon Wave Battle

April 25, 2019

Northern Grunvald Barrens dragon wave fight on YouTube. Click to watch the video.

The preceding video shows a player fighting waves of scavengers and, eventually, a dragon in the final wave.

Just before a new release went live, a simple fight with a dragon (high-threat/good reward) was identified as a possible exploit situation. The dragon was always available when the players entered the area and he normally took 8 minute to respawn after being killed, but some players had found a way to re-engage him more frequently. Keith need to make simple changes fairly quickly, with the knowledge that these would be permanent changes, so he changed this fight into a wave battle that began with aggressive human scavengers picking through the dragon's nest.

The scavengers were "aware" of their specific situation, shouting that only they should fight the dragon and the players should leave. Between waves, players had a moment to mine high quality resources and loot the scavenger corpses. The final wave included a dragon. Previously that dragon was only an adult red or black dragon, but Keith took the opportunity to add in a rare chance that they could be young dragons instead. Since there was now appropriate challenge more often, he was able to reduce the reset time to be much shorter. The final result changed a simple monster fight into a wave-based battle that gave context and offered less downtime and removed an exploit. Often, players are resistant to change, but the feedback was positive.

"I really liked trying to mow down all the guys as fast as possible, and to me, this was a lot more fun than any dragon killing I have done in a while."
—Lazlo

"[T]he banter is cool and the timers/spawn number are appropriate and well done."
—Jason_M

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Krampus, Seasonal Boss Fight

December 13, 2018

"Krampus" seasonal boss fight on YouTube. Click to watch the video.

The preceding video includes a group of players fighting Krampus and his "Naughty Brat" minions in his base of operations.

Krampus is one of several seasonal boss monsters that players can encounter in Shroud of the Avatar. Each seasonal boss monster is available for two months and then goes dormant, although their bases of operations remain populated by their respective minions all year long. In some cases, players can stumble into a random encounter near a seasonal monster's base which will include that boss and their minions.

The Krampus and his minions are typically fought in their home of Krampusgarten, and small village in the East Sanctus Forest that Keith created specifically for this purpose. It includes abandoned viking-themed buildings, harvestable coal resources (a signature gift from the Krampus), and, of course, waves of enemies. The Krampus draws power from his Naughty Brats, so clever players will eliminate these minions to help them defeat this boss monster. Optionally, players may also run into these foes in a Snowy Mountains random encounter variant, which was also created by Keith.

Keith created the conversations for all related creatures as well as the quest that directs players to confront the Krampus. The quest is optional; at any time, players can fight these enemies in their base or associated ranom encounter. Players who defeat Krampus while following the quest will get a special reward.

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

SotaCon 2018

October 11, 2018

The SotA Con 2018 logo.

Keith participated in multiple panels at SotA Con 2018, a community-organized convention celebrating the Shroud of the Avatar game and its players. His "World Building, Deco, Houses, Towns, and the Community" panel was on October 12 and his "Storyline & Quests" panel (alongside Richard "Lord British" Garriott was on October 13.

In addition the panel, Keith joined in office tours and chats with players, as well as "breakout sessions" where he joined players in talking about game development and philosophies.

Tags: appearance, multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

SotaCon 2017

October 13, 2017

Keith explains a puzzle design. Click for a larger image.

Keith led the "What the Puzzle?" panel at SotA Con 2017, a community-organized convention celebrating the Shroud of the Avatar game and its players. The panel focused on puzzles within Shroud of the Avatar and he was joined by fellow level designer Dan Brennan. Other discussion points included worldbuilding, spawning enemies, and connections to quests.

In addition the panel, Keith joined in office tours and chats with players, as well as "breakout sessions" where he joined players in talking about game development and philosophies.

Tags: appearance, multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Brittany Sewers, Boss Fight

July 28, 2016

An evil ritual in the heart of the Brittany Sewers. Click for a larger image.

A great evil lurks deep in the heart of the Brittany Sewers. Exploring deep into this massive underground scene reveals greater and greater challenge, culminating in a unique boss fight.

Dropping into boss fight room, the first thing players see are several shadowy figures performing a ritual, complete with candles and corpse. Next, they might realize the only way out is a locked door on the far side. They've entered a "kill or be killed" situation with no options in-between.

Approaching the ritualists starts the fight scenario--the entry is blocked (no reinforcements allowed!) and the enemies begin fighting. When the ritualists are defeated, another, greater threat appears out of the sewer water: animated skeletons. Defeating the skeletons catches the attention of their three masters, the ultimate bosses of the room.

Dying at any point resets the boss fight scenario, but defeating all enemies opens up the locked door mentioned above. Past the door is a tunnel that leads to a treasure room and an exit back to the main tunnels of the sewer.

Keith designed the boss fight, room and its new combat system which is used to manage waves of enemies and the rewards following the defeat of each wave (for example, unlocking a door).

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Brittany Sewers, Dockside

June 30, 2016

Entering Brittany Sewers from Central Brittany puts you here. Click for a larger image.

Entering the sewers from Brittany Alleys puts you here. Click for a larger image.

A flooded room includes a subtle jumping puzzle. Click for a larger image.

Smugglers gather between the "Central" and "Alleys" exits. Click for a larger image.

A steam-based puzzle controls access to the sewer center. Click for a larger image.

The capital city of Brittany in Shroud of the Avatar was conceived as a single scene but became several neighborhoods by the time it went live, each with its own separate scene and personality. Underneath the city is Brittany Sewers, an exploration area that needed to reflect the massive scope of the city above.

Several times larger than nearly every other underground scene in SotA, these sewers will ultimately connect to each Brittany neighborhood. Connections are set up in pairs: the "dockside" tunnels connect to Central Brittany and Brittany Alleys, the "catacombs" section will link to Brittany Graveyard and Brittany Wharfs, and the "caverns" section will exits to Brittany Estates and Brittany Fields.

Each section has its own personality, enemies, unique puzzle, and connection to all other sections. The sewers grows more dangerous as one journeys toward its center, culminating in a special, high-threat boss fight.

Keith created the overall concept of the sewers, the dockside section, and the catacombs' graveyard entrance. The dockside embraces the concept that smugglers from the faraway Hidden Vale are committing crimes in the maintenance tunnels right under the noses of New Britannia's rules.

The doors throughout the dockside section are steam-powered, each opened by the turn of a wheel on a steam pipe. These steam-powered doors are a precursor to the more complex steam-powered puzzle that blocks access from the dockside section to the center of the Brittany Sewers.

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Balloons as Teleporters

May 26, 2016

Several examples of teleporter balloons. Click for a larger image.

The world of Shroud of the Avatar is divided into many adventure, town, and story scenes. Exiting a scene can be as simple as walking to the edge of the play area, but SotA also includes many interactive teleporters. The visuals for these teleporters are important. If a player is fictionally traveling along a dusty road then the interactive teleporter is probably a caravan wagon. If a player is being sent across an ocean, then a teleporter that looks like a ship is called for. Going underground is accomplished by clicking on a hatch. But SotA didn't have the perfect teleporter for all situations, such as when a player wanted to travel from an island to a land-locked mountain.

Keith conceived of the teleporter balloon. Based off existing house-sized dirigibles used in the game, these new balloons were smaller with one-occupant baskets. He added two scripts to perfect the balloon visual: one to make the balloon float and another to dynamically spin the balloon depending on the direction of the wind in the scene.

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Control Point Perks

April 28, 2016

In Shroud of the Avatar, Control Points mark contested locations where players are pitted against waves of non-player enemies. Each wave of enemies is more powerful than the last, and waves come with ever-increasing frequency. It's a high-level activity intended for a seasoned group, although these locations also draw highly-skilled players who enjoy taking one-person "endurance tests."

When Keith inherited this system, he noted that surviving against difficult enemies is satisfying, while defending a Control Point against waves and waves of enemies was a monumental achievement that deserved additional rewards. Working with the programming team, he added "perks" to this system. Perks would be activated during certain waves and would include access to locked rooms that included special treasure chests. Where once surviving against the Control Point waves meant bragging rights and normal loot, now it also meant access to better and better treasure perks. Perks allowed Control Points to become more solidified as a true end-game option in SotA.

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Underground Passages

April 28, 2016

A view of the Spindrift Passage scene. Click for a larger image.

A view of the Paladis Passage scene. Click for a larger image.

The Shroud of the Avatar team wanted to interconnect all of its underground scenes in a vast network. A few of SotA's dungeons, sewers, and mines were already interconnected, but a primary goal was to allow players to cross the continent of Novia entirely through underground scenes.

Keith divided existing underground scenes into small, natural groups or "sectors." The enemies and harvestable resources in each scene were updated to better reflect the distributions on the surface world. He created several new underground scenes (such as Brittany Sewers) to add more substance to each sector. Players may freely travel across scenes linked within a sector.

Then, Keith created special passages to connect each underground sector to at least one other sector. Each passage was locked to keep the rate of underground travel on par with overworld travel. Players could only access a locked passages by first defeating a rare key-bearer in a free-travel scene and looting his key, then using that key to access the nearby passage to the next sector.

Each locked passage is moderately-sized and designed to fit within the fiction of its part of the world. Because Spindrift Passage lies under the large Spindrift Bay, its dripping caverns are full of deep, swimmable water, harvestable resources related to its connecting points, and water elemental enemies. Underneath a monumental lava-filled rift lies Quel Passage, with its blackened tubes, pools of lava, and fire elementals.

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

Tier Markers

September 24, 2015

Examples of Tier Markers in several scenes. Click for a larger image.

Players should have indications that they scenes they're adventuring within are appropriate for their abilities and experience. Many games display the power-level of enemies with a combination of level numbers, icons, and colors. However, Shroud of the Avatar downplays UI indicators and focuses instead on experiences. In other words, players should learn how difficult an enemy is through personal experience and not from a display.

Embracing SotA's experience-based philosophy, Keith created "tier marker" scene decorations. He added a tall spike and five skulls by the entrance of every adventure scene as an in-character solution that hints at the challenge level of each scene. Players could get an understanding of the difficulty of nearby enemies by referring to the tier markers; the more skulls on the spike, the more challenging the enemies. For example, one skull on the spike and four remaining on the ground suggested the area was fairly easy, while all 5 skulls moved to the spike meant it was one of the most dangerous.

Tags: multiplayer, Portalarium, single-player

 

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