The world of Shroud of the Avatar is an entirely new setting, and will be known in its entirety as New Britannia.
At present, only one of the continents that comprises New Britannia has been revealed. This continent will be the setting setting of the first episode in the Shroud of the Avatar series, Forsaken Virtues, and it bears a striking similarity to Sosaria circa Ultima 3. It is nevertheless (as Richard Garriott explained it) “a world which is not incompatible with what has come before, but [which] is also not derivative of what has come before.”
Maps of the World of Shroud of the Avatar
Thus far, we have only seen the first continent — the Island of Novia1 — comprising the world of Shroud of the Avatar, which in its totality is known as New Britannia:
Size of the World
As yet, we don’t know concretely just how large the world of the first episode of Shroud of the Avatar, entitled Forsaken Virtues, is. However, we do know from Richard Garriott that the world of Forsaken Virtues is only the central piece of a much larger collection of continents, which ultimately form a 3×3 grid. The other, as-yet-unrevealed continents will form the settings of the next four episodes in the Shroud of the Avatar series, after Forsaken Virtues.
Shroud of the Avatar features an open dual-scale world. What this means is that the first continent of New Britannia will be implemented as an overland map, with numerous points of interest (POIs) and variable terrain types that the player can wander through. When a POI is entered, the player will be taken — rapidly, if initial gameplay footage is to be believed, and without the use of a loading screen — to a new map in which the contents of that POI are contained in full-scale detail:
In the above example, a town can clearly be seen on the overland map, which is the picture on the left. The picture on the right shows the player now exploring the town, having entered it.
This design choice hearkens back to the earlier games of the Ultima series, and can also be found (although not always in an openly explorable context) in various Japanese RPGs, as well as Western RPG titles such as Dragon Age: Origins. Portalarium’s reasons for this design choice are many:
More dynamic world: By breaking the 1-to-1 connection between the overland tiles and the content they are attached to and generating the overland map through data instead of baked art, we are free to change up areas of the world far more easily. Things like changing out a section of the map to be infested by a plague or have a mountain turn into a volcano is as easy as pushing new map tile data and connection information. This also allows us to easily roll out new scenes as we complete them to ensure the game stays fresh and interesting on a weekly basis.
Less painful travel: As much fun as it is to be able to occasionally just wander in the wilderness, in the long run, people generally prefer to be able to get around quickly and not have to spend an hour trying to figure out what the best way to get to the other side of the mountain is going to be. That is fun the first three times and a game exiting moment on the 23rd time. Because we’re not doing our quests as “run to this X on your radar”, there will be far more detective and foot work involved and not making that travel element a huge chore was important to not destroying the game flow.
Quicker content creation: I know the average user doesn’t think about this kind of stuff but it is huge in the reality of game development. Budgets are not infinite so speeding up content creation means we get more stuff done in the same amount of time with fewer bugs and more polish. End result is we can give you guys a bigger, smoother game experience with fewer bugs and quicker fixes when we do find things!
Easier content delivery: Breaking up the world into little chunk simplifies content delivery to the end users and also patching.
Lower machine requirements: Giant seamless worlds are a challenge for even the most powerful computers out there. By splitting up the world into focused scenes we greatly lower the machine requirements.
More scaleable multiplayer experience: Most people are shocked to hear that one of the most expensive systems on large scene MMO servers, is mob/character visibility. Not the actual ray testing to see if they can be seen but the logic of figuring out which entities should be updated of others actions. Chopping the world up into smaller, bite size chunks greatly simplifies those calculations.
Allows us to more easily insert single player experiences into the multiplayer version. Because the multiplayer version of the game shares the majority of the single player quest line, there are times when we need to isolate the player from a party situation for storyline reasons. These situations won’t be too common but there are just some things that an avatar must do alone!
A World Divided
As Richard Garriott explained to Rock, Paper, Shotgun!, the setting of Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is divided into two halves by a large mountain range, which the player will have to traverse by some means:
If you look at this map, the place we were walking was these two towns. But then there’s this ridge of mountains that goes right through [the general area]. There are two dungeons. These dungeon passageways – you might think of them as the Mines of Moria – allow you to go from one side to the other. You must go through this to have access to this next area of the map. To do that, you’ll probably have to get involved in combat. So the solo player experience would require combat.