“Bye bye Shards Online and Legends of Aria”
We are quitting Legends of Aria - but we are not leaving Arcanima behind!
There are several reasons for the decision coming from several directions.
I’ll try to explain why I took the decision to quit, after being with the LoA project for more than 4 years now.
The decision grew slowly over the last couple of months. But recently something entirely unimportant burst the bubble and made clear to me that it is time to leave.
My team is behind me.
So I’m fine.
But my time with Citadels Project is over.
- Arcanima as a project is going to live on and we will continue to develop it until we are where we want to be with it.
- Our next iteration of Arcanima, codename “Next” will be a game in in its own right. Most likely we’ll use the Unreal Engine.
- Legends of Aria is no longer the vessel for our journey.
Before I go into the main portion of this writeup, I want to address the Arcanima community:
Gals and guys!
It’s been a long, fun, and interesting journey so far. I want to personally thank all of you for your help and support, some of you even helped us creating certain content systems.
Nothing is really lost!
Arcanima is going to reshape and use a different vessel for its journey. While this is a setback for a longer time, we will keep you updated and post development blogs occasionally. But we will not be able to entertain you or run a server for a significant time.
We will sharpen our concepts and once we have something you’ll know it and be the first to learn about it. We have no plans to found a company or make money with Arcanima - it will stay a pure enthusiast project, as it always was. There is a chance this might change in the future, but if - and only if - we feel we’ve reached a level of quality to really market it. For now this is totally out of discussion.
Should some of you have questions or want to talk to me personally about it, I’ll be around in our Discord channel to answer questions. Our Discord channel will not be abandoned - it will stay with “Arcanima Next”.
So - stay tuned - we’ll be back!
And now lets move to the really difficult part …
WTF? Why? What happened?
To understand what happened we need to go back. I’ll pick some punchlines from various past (archive.org) and present Citadel sources to discuss the discrepancy between the original vision and promises of SO/LoA and what really happened.
I also want to make one point very clear up front:
This writeup is my personal “Bye bye” message.
It reflects my personal views but, of course, also my personal biases.
The rantish style of it is not intended to harm the project, but more to act as a firm kick in the rear with a shout:
“Wake up, CS, wake up!”
And just in case someone is trying to use this writeup for a personal agenda or CS bashing I can just say: Get lost and do your own thing - this is MY writeup!
So - having this out of the way - here’s my dissection of things:
“We aren’t just building a world. We’re giving you the keys to the universe.”
There is no universe and there are no keys.
Instead there is an increasingly mainstream-type UO clone and a crappy toolset which does not even allow us to use all the assets available, due to licensing issues with third party content. You need to have some serious development skills to really do something useful. The modding is not in a state you’d safely call “approachable”. My estimate is, that CS will need at least another one to two years for that.
“Explore the Multiverse: Out of the box, it’s a complete game experience with an immersive storyline. … “
The original lore was not expanded on though it had some potential. Tim “Draconi” Cotten, one of the cofounders essentially left early on and stopped working on the lore. All in all the lore is maybe at max. 3-6 pages of writeup. Nowadays it plays absolutly no role anymore and is far from anything even remotely resembling a storyline.
“Server admins have the tools to generate content on the fly like the ability to possess creatures … “
Not really happening. Possession was not implemented for a really long time after it was promised and the implementation which was finally done is so broken and buggy that it’s unusable and no one is working on fixing it. Just one example in a long line of failures and broken promises.
“With our powerful world editor, you will create completely original game worlds. Use the built-in assets we provide or import your own. New built-in assets become available with each expansion pack.”
The not-so-powerful editor is a crappy expansion on top of the Unity Editor which barely works. Many third party assets Citadel bought didn’t find their way into the toolset due to licensing issues. Allowing the import of custom assets took way too long and once it was available, it was barely usable until recently - after massive pressure, against quite some resistance and it was delayed unnecessarily long.
“Never log off: With the Shards Online mobile companion app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, you will…”
No App, plain and simple.
“Living breathing MMORPG”
The world is mostly dead. The AI is less than basic and boring. All in all the world feels anaemic and void of interesting content.
An inspiring start and the demise of a truly powerful vision into an unimaginative mainstream product
When I started in 2014 supporting the Kickstarter campaign there was a spirit of creating something new and inspiring: A moddable multiplayer game which would allow us to let our visions of a game become a reality. We were promised tools and support, assets and an ecosystem to be creative as gamedesigners and authors. Later on there were admin roundtables and attempts to help the admins getting up to speed. That very quickly faded away and after some time it turned out that the idea of a moddable game alone would not make it a success. The pipe dream of players making the game, Citadel didn’t feel powerful enough to deliver, was an illusion.
An interesting read by the way can be found at archive.org in an archived stratics.com interview page from March 21, 2014. Particularly interesting is this part:
“The concept of allowing players to run their own servers emerged as we attempted to solve the problems associated with maintaining a traditional MMO on an indie budget. We fell in love with the idea of allowing the players to customize and moderate their own game worlds as a supported feature, so we ran with it.”
It shows, that the fundamental idea behind moddable shards was not to be enablers for player creativity, but to have players solve CSs problem of not feeling powerful enough to make an MMO on an indie budget. It might have been a good idea, if CS would actually have taken the job of giving players the “Keys to the Universe” seriously. But it was a fad and my impression is, that it was flawed in a sense of being fundamentally exploitative instead of being supportive.
Broken server, broken tools: Hey CS! WTF did you expect we would do for you?
Looking at all this the current punchline sounds like mockery at the admins, especially the “fully” part:
“The first MMORPG to fully support player run servers. Legends of Aria is designed to be modded from top to bottom including custom gameplay rules, custom content, and even entirely custom created worlds.”
After understanding the original concept would not work as intended, the marketing message of Shards Online was changed into making an MMORPG instead of making a moddable game and in early 2017 “Shards Online” was rebranded to “Legends of Aria” to reflect that change and the new possibility of transparent zoning on a really big map. This was a good move, though I am not very happy about how the rebranding was done. For my taste the new Logo resembled way too much the WoW logo and the new golden coloring scheme for the UI seemed to overshine too much the lack elsewhere and also it looked pretty mainstream - fools gold? Contrarily the old blueish UI had much more personality and an almost magic touch. Also the new name Legends of Aria kinda annoyed me (I know that might sound a little silly) because it resembled too much the name of my own project: “Arcanima, the Legend”, but what was worse - it also sounded way too generic - but admittedly “Shards Online” also wasn’t overly original, so that’s maybe seen too much through my personal filter.
It took around 1.5 years to make this new possibility of large streamable maps available to modders and it only happened because of massive pressure and the commitment of a single developer in his spare time. Thanks man - you really managed to keep up my hope for a while.
The demise and the bankruptcy of the gamedesign
Further down the road the core game increasingly developed into an unimaginative UO clone. Not a “spiritual successor” with new and distinct features - rather a mediocre clone overmarketed as the next big thing without actually backing that claim up. I know some die hard UO addicts see that differently, but if the only answer you have to gamedesign challenges is “Lets make it like UO did it” then something is fundamentally wrong and lacking. Essentially it’s a declaration of bankruptcy as gamedesigners and shifts you towards dangerous “Dead on Arrival” territory.
The ironic truth is, that these days the modding possibilities are actually becoming much better, especially because of a single developer holding up the flag of the original ideals (which maybe initially weren’t so much ideals as we thought) and that person is not the CEO.
The scripting engine is decent though (not the base scripts) and the technology around it is getting better, mainly because of that single developer. He was picking up the modding program and started making things better. But the server and the technology around it - despite getting better gradually - still have a ton of problems and it will probably take another one to two years to get the technology in shape - if Citadel survives and these issues are being worked on. I know, it’s early access - the protective shield CS can now hold up against any critique, but that doesn’t clear them from the critique how much crap was coded in the precious time they already had. I’m not going into more details here, just saying early access and indie situation are not an excuse for everything.
As far as I see it, the CEO, “Supreem” has essentially morally resigned and dumped the modding program without doing so explicitly - he just announced the new direction (which all admins understood and supported) and a change of priorities and let it rot for more than a year. It seems he (and he IS Citadel!) is only interested in the success of his own game and using admins along the way. As long as the modding program helps CS marketing LoA he’s probably okay with one developer working on it. And that’s how far support for the admins gets. It’s not about helping the admins - it’s about solving CSs issues making an MMORPG.
I remember well how the question for enabling custom asset support for admins was raising concerns about the player run shards letting the base game look bad - not quite the attitude required to have player shards flourish. Fortunately this madness is finally over and after some tough fighting for it it seems proper asset support is finally coming this year.
There has always been this argument of the indie situation and the general lack of resources: I’m no longer buying these excuses for the way how the admins were treated. We were not deprioritized as a consequence of focusing on the core game - we were entirely dumped. This all didn’t stop CS from taking inspiration from admins ideas and designs and have them be useful idiots to make the CS game better. There has been quite a bunch of easy and useful fixes and additions for the admins which could totally have been done, even after focusing on the core game after the change of direction. The “indie / resource issues” argument is a foul excuse.
So - since things get better - why do you quit?
The reasons lie in the overall direction the game has taken, the mindset of the Citadel leadership and the feeling that the admins are essentially being exploited as betatesters and idea givers for the core game, while official CS support for the admins is minimal and mainly based on the commitment of a single Citadel employee, though admittedly in the meantime some time has also been assigned by CS.
All in all this is not a sustainable model of cooperation. As much as I appreciate the recent developments I do not trust a situation where a single person is the only resource we can rely on, while the leadership essentially has given up.
It’s about the spirit of CS and the spirit of the ecosystem, including the community - which brings me to part two of this thing here:
The ecosystem as a whole: Citadel, the player community and the admin community
At some point, somewhere in 2016 / 2017 IIRC, there was a big influx of former UO players who were thrilled about the game. This brought in some money and of course helped CS. So far - so good. What happened was, that more and more PvP oriented players came in, many of them nice people, but amongst them was a significant portion of straight assholes who started a ton of flaming and demeaning of less PvP oriented players. CS let things go on for a long time and many PvE oriented people just left disappointed. CS started to cater more and more to that crowd and let the zealots do their thing. It gained positive feedback from that (pretty loud) portion of the community while others silently left. The direction became clear: SO/LoA was drifting more and more into a pure naked monkey PvP game, survival of the strongest, etc, yadda yadda … This also somehow swapped over into the admin community and the official admin channel turned into an asylum where mostly bloated egos and trolls played their games for a long time.
I don’t want to drop all the nasty details here, but the time of the naked monkey had come and the boundaries of civilized behavior were melting like butter in the sun, sometimes slyly covered under a thin layer of powdered sugar with a smile. This happened in both parts of the community - players and admins alike.
CS did nothing to stop or limit that, until a new community manager joined Citadel in early 2018 (way too late). She did a great job working on the community, but unfortunately she quit a couple of months later …
So again - since things are getting better for modders - why in the nine hells do you quit?
After watching the overall development for a long time (4+ years) and biting my tongue into a bloody goo, always supporting the game and blaming the indie situation and lack of resources for everything I feel my time with the Citadel project has come to an end.
I was wrong not seeing the deeper attitude problem behind what I considered normal development issues for a really long time. It was not just a lack of money and resources (which admittedly plays a certain role - but just a ~certain one), but also a fundamentally wrong mindset, lack of vision and imaginative power while constantly overselling what had been achieved and painting a picture of the game which was and is far from reality. Tons of vapor and pointing at “the potential of the game” without actual delivery. Instead CS shot themselves in the knee constantly (must be a millipede to survive this) and failed to shape the spirit of the ecosystem as a whole - instead they constantly damaged it by overpromising, ignorance and turning a blind eye.
The “Living and breathing world” CS claimed to create is not even remotely there, and many of the marketed features are there just enough as much to be able to claim they are in the game without it being a blatant lie, while their implementation and designs are sloppy and superficial. It’s an overmarketed game for what is being delivered and while the graphics quality is constantly improving (at least technically) and the technology slowly getting better the game itself is anaemic and lackluster. Tons of blurb and attempts to wrap junk in pink paper.
This is not just “normal development”. It’s a fundamental lack of proper judgement, honesty and the ability to acknowledge what’s possible and what not. The leaking ship is not just leaking, but it caught a mold which now is creeping everywhere. I decided for myself that it is time to jump this ship, despite things are getting better for modders.
The original spirit has faded away, but maybe it never was really there and just served as a cover-up for an essentially abusive attitude - all that, of course, is subject to personal judgement and nothing I could prove with hard facts which lies in the subjective nature of the matter.
As it currently seems to me LoA is very likely to fade into the insignificance of a niche game for some die-hard retro-UO community zealots. No longer my cup of tea.
Sad - really sad … what a blowup of a great opportunity to create something truly unique!
I have tried as much as I could to help making the game better, but I clearly feel my time here is over and it’s time for me to pack Arcanima and move on. I don’t feel like expanding a lot on what I did for the game or the community, most what I did was under the radar anyways, but I am indeed dissolving a strong bond which had grown over the years through many little activities and interactions. However - no need to get overly whiney - despite it being a big loss for me (yes, I feel not only angry or disappointed, but also somewhat sad), I also have a really good path ahead of me - gotta learn UE4 and some serious C++ now - so along with the loss comes a win and a riddance of opportunity costs. I’m okay, really. :)
What I wish for the game is, that the problems are being addressed - not only the technical challenges, the lack of content and creativity, and the missing community management. It’s also a lot about the overall mindset and spirit that shapes everything and attracts certain people while it’s alienating others.
Derek - wake up!
Anyways - I’m saying “Goodbye!” - we are now going to sail in different waters.
Good Luck - You’ll need it!