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Chronicles of Elyria by Soulbound Studios

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Chronicles of Elyria will use the Unreal Engine and SpatialOS to deliver a living world where characters age, die, and shape their legacy through multiple lifetimes as different characters in an epic, ten year story. With a closed economy, finite resources, non-repeatable quests, and a fully destructible environment, each character’s journey is uniquely impacted by world events and the choices of other players. But what choice will you make? Will you follow a path of virtue… or something darker? Here, Soulbound’s CEO Jeromy Walsh, explains the game.

Einstein’s Dreams

Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.” Designing Chronicles of Elyria has been like that – 15 years thinking about the problem and two years, thus far, working on the solution.

The spark that led to Chronicles of Elyria was the idea of creating an MMOG that was fair but not equitable; to create a world where every player would not have the same experience; where some players may discover they have unique abilities and others would not. As an example, magic users might only account for 5% of all player-characters in the finished game. The world would be populated by both the mundane and the powerful, all working together – or against one another. The imbalances would not be a cruelty, but rather an opportunity for emergent stories; to add interest and conflict to the world.

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The Pillars of Design

What came out of all these years of design are five key pillars for creating Chronicles of Elyria:

Dynamic and Immersive

In Chronicles of Elyria, if something in the world can change – whether through player interaction or naturally over time – it probably does. The most dramatic example of this is the player characters themselves. Your character begins aging from the moment they’re created, growing older and eventually dying. This encourages you to think beyond your character to their role in the larger story. Of course, actions you take as a player can dramatically shorten your character’s lifespan. So, act carefully.

Heroes Must be Truly Heroic

In Chronicles of Elyria, the player must take risks, be heroic, and repeatedly put their character’s wealth, prestige, and even life on the line to be considered a true hero.
In Chronicles of Elyria, you can become the most renowned blacksmith in the world, a feared assassin, travel places where few others dare to travel, or become a sorcerer of legend.
But such rewards always come with substantial effort, and frequently with great risk. The most dangerous of which grant you the opportunity to change the course of history. But in such times, failure could cost you everything.

A Blending of Player and Character Skills

At its most basic level Chronicles of Elyria is a fully customizable, skill-based Action RPG in which the absence of classes means you can create any character you can imagine.
But there is more to becoming a master blacksmith than waiting on a progress bar. Requiring fast reflexes and good hand-eye coordination, skill based mini-games for non-combat skills means that, for every action the character takes, some degree of player skill is required.
The era of auto-attacking is over. If your character effectively swings a sword, it’s because you chose the precise moment for them to do so. If your character cuts a Master Emerald, worthy of sitting on the crown of the King, it’s because your own nimble fingers made it happen.

Story and Event Driven

Chronicles of Elyria is the first MMORPG to feature an advanced, AI controlled story-engine which is constantly monitoring the state of the world. Player actions such as killing another character, amassing too much wealth, and getting lost in the desert brings the AI to life, causing it to spin intricate story arcs unforeseen even by the developers.
In addition, a closed economy, finite resources, and a fully destructible environment means that each time you log in there is something for you to participate in. Local, regional, and national conflicts are continuously unfolding, giving birth to repeated opportunities for you to change the course of history.

Dramatic Realism

In Chronicles of Elyria, mundane tasks typically abstracted away are brought to the forefront as a way to create tension and dramatic situations. In place of mailboxes you’ll find player-ran delivery services. Worried about the courier making off with your parcel? You should be – and he’s worried about the highwaymen!
To travel in Elyria is dangerous, and those who wander too far from town or too far off the beaten path risk being caught out with no food or water. With only hand-made maps to rely on, a journey into the wasteland could mean it’s time to move on to the next character.
But realism is not all bad. From the moment you enter Elyria you’ll be greeted and supported by your player-run family. Work as a team to develop your noble house, increase holdings, and improve your collective wealth. Or, when the time is right, set off on your own to adopt the life of an adventurer. Earn your own noble titles and slowly work your way up to running an entire kingdom.
Some of the features we are developing to support our Design Pillars are: the character lifecycle, including aging, dying, and souls; survival elements that go beyond just PVE and PVP; lasting legacies for characters through their family, land, and housing; skill-based character development that reward the failure associated with learning; and game-enforced player contracts that put the creation and enforcement of laws and economics into player hands.

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Engines of Creation

Because the game has been designed for a lot longer than it’s been in development, we’ve gone through a couple of different engines on the client-side. Now we’re using the Unreal Engine because it gives us the best visual fidelity and performance for what we are trying to do. There is also the reputation that comes with using Unreal – we’re an indie studio (currently 17 personnel) but we want to be thought of as a AAA. Now that Unreal works with SpatialOS, it seems quite achievable.

We discovered SpatialOS via a video of a tech conference that Herman (Narula – CEO and co-founder of Improbable) spoke at. I had been doing service-oriented architecture at Microsoft, and had begun implementing a similar system on my own time. When I saw the demo, I realized that someone was already making it and that the solution had a certain elegance in its implementation. In addition, there is a shared vision and passion for what we are creating in CoE and what Improbable wants to achieve.

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The current state of the realm

Right now, SpatialOS is a good platform for building simulations but, at this point, there hasn’t been an RPG on SpatialOS with the depth we require. To remedy this, we are building the Soulborn Engine – a C#/C++ custom RPG-engine that sits on-top of SpatialOS – which is comprised of around 40 custom Worker processes which will enable this rich feature-set.
We are working on great variety of features in this engine: access restriction, account management, achievements, artificial intelligence, character creation, characters, combat, communication, contracts, crafting, crime & punishment, ecology, economy, environment, equipment, families, government, housing & structures, identities, inventory, itemization, land management, life cycle, locomotion, magic & rituals, navigation, organization, parties & grouping, pets, physics & collision, procreation, reputation & fame, research & technology, besieging, settlements, skills, souls, story engine, survival mechanics, transportation & mounts, tunneling, world building, world interaction. Just to name a few!

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Chronicles of Elyria is still early on in its integration. What SpatialOS provides us is not just a technical solution – a platform on which to build – but a partner in Improbable whom is dedicated to our success as much as we are. That’s thrilling for our future and for future generations of games.

You can read more about Chronicles of Elyria at www.chroniclesofelyria.com. Discuss this article on the SpatialOS community forums.

Read more about Improbable’s plans for Unreal Engine and SpatialOS integration in our blog announcement.

We’re going to GDC 2017 – find out about our planned talks, booth and evening events.