Shards Online: Pre-Alpha Preview

We spoke with Derek Brinkmann about Citadel's sandbox title, Shards Online.

Citadel Studios, with former Mythic, EA and Ultima Online developers gracing its ranks, is mixing up the sandbox MMO pot with its current title in development: Shards Online. At its core, the game features “shards” and “clusters”, which are comparable to zones and servers. A shard is a single game world with one ruleset, akin to a map or a zone in other games. Many shards of the same ruleset can connect into a cluster; clusters with the official game and rules will be run by Citadel, and specialized player administrated clusters, with their own rulesets and tweaks, will also be supported.

We sat down recently with Citadel’s founder and CEO, Derek Brinkmann, to get a look at a pre-alpha demo of Shards to get an idea of what the game will have to offer.

Citadel is offering players the best of both worlds with its shards and clusters system. By running their own clusters, the complete and official game will be available for players to run on. Modders will be happy to dive into their own shards or clusters, though. Setting up custom rules and modifying the game, while the player admin (called a God in Shards) can connect shards within its cluster through portals; the maximum number of shards per cluster is still undecided. Experience modders will be able to dive into the scripting engine to change just about anything in the game, such as adding new skills, their own stories and so on.

Over the past six months, Citadel has focused on the core technology of the game, ensuring that it has “strong legs to stand on.”  Play will be in fixed isometric; the game is fully 3D and you’ll be able to zoom in. Combat is traditional MMO-style, based on things such as positioning and equipment, while PvP combat will be akin to fighting in a MOBA. Derek stated that they were “striving for balance by working on [the] PvE and PvP combat systems at the end time.”

Abilities and skills will have a place in Shards Online. Some abilities are equipment-based; for instance, you would have Shield Bash while wearing a shield, or a Bash while wielding a maul. Other abilities are skill-based; as you gain skills you will unlock abilities and will be able to customize them.

Because of the openness that Shards offers creators, genres will be open to limitless possibilities. Citadel has a standard fantasy setting, but also gave examples of other themes they’ve been testing out, such as a Roman-era shard or an alien world.

What would it be like playing at God? Administrators of a shard or cluster have the option of creating a “God” character (the default character is Mortal), which can be used for moderating and interacting with the players on your shard. Gods are invulnerable, can change form, and can possess NPCs and monsters, which would allow for flexibility in player engagement and running events. Additional examples of God powers include cloaking (invisibility), healing, resurrecting, jumping around the world, slaying a target, a nuke that kills everything within a certain radius, destroying a single object, and a create object function, which allows you to spawn an item from a list.

Different rulesets will allow for different gameplay modes, the most traditional being PvE and PvP. An example mode Citadel showed was created just as a test of their modding system, but may be a fully fleshed out concept in the future: a survival mode. In this mode there is no money and no merchants, only other players and animals in the wild. Simply point, the point is to survive. Not eating food can kill you, but you can hunt for meat and cook it with a campfire. It is full PvP and a true survival of the fittest. While it was only a test, it definitely showed the versatility the modding will allow you to work into a shard’s ruleset.

We took a brief look at Player Housing as well. The housing is fully created and made part of the open world; it’s not instanced at all, unlike most MMOs. Entering a home you are presented with a wall drop-down cutout view, similar to how you would see your home in The Sims. Houses allow you to place storage chests, crafting areas, a farm, and so on.

Here are a few more tidbits of information from our chat with Derek:

  • The game client is written in Unity and their server technology was built in-house
  • The size of the map may dictate how many players a shard can handle, but this isn’t finalized
  • You can gain loyalty by assisting certain factions to purchase from their merchants
  • Buying items uses world interaction—not just scrolling through a merchant list, but clicking on an item at his merchant stall
  • Death can be punishing: the basic ruleset will drop items and gold to the ground, but you do get to respawn with your equipment you are wearing
  • The world will go on without players present: mobs can interact with each other, such as a cultist hunting a deer, or a bear chasing down its prey. Content happens naturally: “there’s no ‘Kill 10 Rats’ here.”

Purchasing Shards Online will grant access to the client and Citadel’s server. Those wanting to run their own cluster will be able to rent it from Citadel, similar to Minecraft or Battlefield. A single shard can be run with no additional cost. The team is hoping that Shards will enter closed alpha before the end of 2014, but at this time no definitive release schedule for the game.

Thanks to Derek Brinkmann for taking the time to speak to us about Shards and we look forward to sharing more news about the game in the future!

Born in a multi-verse of possibilities
Worlds scattered through space and time
They are the shards of reality
Mortals and gods war in a titanic struggle
of elemental magics and alien powers
Lost gateways are opening once more
Strange visitors, allies and enemies
Walk the new found paths between worlds
Armies assemble and empires crumble.
New magics and technologies collide
Existence itself lies in the balance
Travel amongst living breathing worlds
That will evolve with you and every other player
Ascend to immortality
Or even become a god

Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor


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