Archive for August, 2014

The Eight VirtuesAs you may have noticed by now, this site’s tagline is ‘”Forsaken Virtues” is right.’ You’re also more than likely aware that the subtitle of Shroud of the Avatar is in fact Forsaken Virtues. Fitting, isn’t it?

With those same keen observational skills, have you not noticed a pattern emerge in the way Richard Garriot (AKA Lord British), Portalarium, et al have handled and conducted themselves since the promising yet humble beginnings of this game and its community? Can you honestly describe it as virtuous?

I can’t. What I’ve seen is time and time again is dishonesty, the opposite of honesty, one of the eight virtues from the Ultima series.

Why?

For starters, it’s because they’ll tell you their game is not pay-to-win. They’ll tell you they are not selling advantages. They’ll tell you houses are not an advantage or that they are not the main point of the game. Why do they do that? Why deny the reality they have created? I’ll tell you why. It’s because they know the majority of players hate pay-to-win, because not everyone can spend thousands on a game. Some people have rent, mortgages, utilities, children and other expenses that take priority and their disposable income does not allow for such things. So Portalarium wages a campaign of propaganda and censorship to try to prevent their game from being labeled in ways they deem undesirable.

Now, even some of the highest pledgers and the most dedicated fans are starting to figure it out.

And sure, if you watch their videos, they’ll tell you how important your feedback is and how they value their community. Then, they’ll turn around and ban you for giving honest feedback. Don’t listen to what people say. Watch what they do.

Next, they’ll tell you you’re going to get something and then not deliver it and try to stealthily hide the fact by revising the record of their earlier commitments.

Clearly, judging from just a small sampling of the mountain of available evidence, there is a level of dishonesty at play and a clear pattern.

The next forsaken virtue is sacrifice. It was replaced by greed, its opposite.

What sacrifices has Richard Garriot made for this game and its community? He owns mansions (yes, that is mansions with an ‘s’), he traveled to space (one of only 536 to do so), he won a multi-million dollar lawsuit, and he has a priceless collection of antiques. Yet he wants the community to bear the burden of funding the game and to contribute their work for little to nothing in return.

He also terminated a passionate, well-known and well-liked employee (Joseph Toschlog / Rustic Dragon, founder of Hearth of Britannia) who dropped everything and moved for the lifelong dream to work for his hero, Lord British, helping to create Shroud of the Avatar for what turned out to be less than a year of employment, even though there is still much work to be done on the game. Joseph sold his own meager collection of Ultima memorabilia in the process and I can only imagine what he’s going through now as he is probably one of the most passionate Ultima fans in existence, if not the most.

For those of you on the Shroud of the Avatar e-mail list, can you remember an e-mail that wasn’t about pushing the latest housing or add-on store promotion and actually had some decent content about the game? I think most of us just stopped reading them after a while.

I believe games are an artform and an elevated and advanced form of expression. Well, at least they used to be. Today, with games designed purely to hook players into spending money on frivolous microtransactions they probably can’t even afford by exploiting their psychology, the artform has been polluted by greed and barely survives.

Originally, what morphed into Shroud of the Avatar was going to be one of those type of games. Instead, the developers stumbled upon a more sinister idea that hadn’t been attempted yet–sell virtual real estate just like Chris Roberts selling virtual space ships and model the scheme after the Oklahoma land rush of 1889.

It has been clear for a long time what is driving Richard Garriot and his associates at Portalarium, and it’s not the virtues, nor a passion for the vision to create a worthy spiritual successor to the Ultimas. What’s truly driving them is greed. Just look at the stark difference between the Ultimas of yesteryear and this farce of a spiritual successor we are stubbornly clinging to out of nostalgia today.

Ultima and the spirit of Ultima are both casualties to unrestrained greed which has overcome the games industry. It is sad to see it make its way to the Kickstarter/indie scene via Portalarium and Shroud of the Avatar, as indies are our best hope to reverse the trend.

I will close with those now all-too-familiar words:

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.

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Everyone is familiar with the concept of triple-A studios. Now let me introduce to you a new kind of studio, the triple-I studio.

Triple-I stands for:

  • Incompetent
  • Ineffective
  • Inefficient

Now let’s go over why Portalarium fits this description perfectly.

Incompetent

 

Do you really think old-school game developers that suddenly resurface after years and years of obscurity have the skills to survive in the current games industry? Change is rapid in this industry, and skills not only atrophy, but also become outdated. I don’t care how many years someone has been in the industry or how many games they’ve shipped. If they’ve been away for 10+ years, either because of the pursuit of other interests or a waning career, their skills are largely irrelevant.

Richard Garriot is the prime example. He has not had a successful game since the mid 1990’s. After his second high-profile failure in a row since then, Tabula Rasa, he was not heard from again for many years until the events that lead to his current project, which we all know as Shroud of the Avatar. He apparently still thinks he has what it takes, but his former CTO and Portalarium co-founder thinks he’s full of shit and the results speak for themselves–the game is clearly lackluster when viewed from any angle.

Next up, Chris “Dippy Dragon” Spears, technical director at Portalarium, who worked with Richard Garriot on the failed Tabula Rasa game and a small number of other games no one has ever heard of, has put his incompetence on display many times. By the way, I don’t even know why I have to ask this, but why is a technical director fumbling around trying to make maps when Portalarium supposedly has environment artists and world builders? His chosen moniker of “Dippy Dragon” is quite appropriate within this context.

Last but not least, Gina Dionne, AKA “FireLotus,” is the community manager at Portalarium. She is yet another staffer pulled from the failed game, Tabula Rasa. Again, the results speak for themselves. One need only spend 5 minutes on the Shroud of the Avatar forums to realize their community management is inept. If you’re still not convinced, stop by InsaneMembrain’s blog which continues to chronicle the saga as it unfolds.

Ineffective

 

The original goal Richard Garriot had was to create a spiritual successor to the Ultima series and The Ultimate RPG.

Now let’s look at the definition of the word ineffective.
in·ef·fec·tive
ˈiniˈfektiv/
adjective
  1. not producing any significant or desired effect.

Clearly, Shroud of the Avatar meets this definition, as does its development team.

What about Portalarium’s other games, Port Casino Poker and Ultimate Collector? Yes, those too were failures according to the originally stated goals.

Inefficient

 

As of the date and time of this post, the Shroud of the Avatar campaign stats indicate that $4,611,854 has been raised to fund Shroud of the Avatar. Have you ever seen a game raise so much money on Kickstarter yet look so awful and be so hollow and empty over 1 year later, almost nearing its originally forecast release date?

Just look at the long list of employees and compare it with what actually is being produced. With so many employees and so little being produced, and what little is being produced being of such low production value, the value for the dollar just isn’t there. This same money would have definitely been better spent elsewhere, perhaps on a smaller and more skilled development team instead of one that doesn’t even pull its own weight.

And there you have it: Portalarium, the world’s first triple-I game development studio.

“Forsaken Virtues” is right.