Today’s update touches on both design and lore -- so this one is a joint effort between J. Todd Coleman (Creative Director) and Thomas "Blixtev" Blair (Lead Designer). This write-up will focus on character switching, meaning “how the player changes between one character and another.”
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
First, let’s do a quick refresher on character swapping.
Most MMOs, of course, offer the ability to create and play multiple characters… but they generally don’t bother to describe this very strange (and fairly miraculous, if you think about it) activity in terms of the games’ narrative. You simply jump from playing a male Dwarven Cleric to a female Elven Ranger and the universe chooses not to comment on this bizarre act of spiritual reincarnation.
In our case, with skills tied to the account, we saw an interesting opportunity! Why not tie this miraculous trick into our game narrative? Our backstory already revolves around divine champions, immortals eternally reborn to fight for the Gods… so if that is our core narrative, why not give it some weight?
And, thus, our vessels system was born! The vessels system is exactly what it sounds like: an acknowledgement-and-explanation of the idea that you, the player, choose an “avatar” (in the mythological sense of the word!) to embody – and that you can change to another incarnation in a completely different host body, carrying your memories and skills with you into that new manifestation.
The vessels system, when we first announced it, was a bit polarizing. Some people loved it! As promised, it turns a dry and typically unexplained game mechanic into something more meaningful. Some people hated it! They felt disconnected from the character they were playing, and the idea of possessing a series of bodies is… well… creepy.
Both of these are fair points! So how do we fix this conundrum? How do we keep that strong narrative tie, but make the system more palatable to people who find the idea off-putting?
Our answer is “provide this depth for players who seek it out -- but don’t force it on everyone else.”
HOW IT WORKS
In the current playtest, you enter each world as a “Crow” – a spiritual manifestation of your eternal champion. In spirit form, you fly up to a statue in the Temple and interact with it to initiate character creation and create your first avatar. This process works, but it’s clunky and counter-intuitive. And it means you are forced to have a different avatar on every world that you visit.
Going forward, we’re going to change that: you enter character creation before you first enter the game world, and you only turn into a “spirit crow” when your character dies.
We’re also fixing the different-avatar-for-each-world problem. We’re revisiting the way our universe is structured to allow you to walk seamlessly from one world to the next, with the eventual goal of removing the Lobby completely. Assuming this technology works as expected (fingers crossed!) we will allow you to walk from one world to another with your avatar, your items and your equipment intact – subject, of course, to the embargo rules of your origin and your destination.
This means that players who want to play a single character in the Crowfall® universe -- and not jump between multiple incarnations like a shapechanger – will be able to do that.
WHAT HAPPENS TO VESSELS?
The short answer is: we still have them, but you can elect to use this system… or not.
In game terms, a vessel is still a body that begins “inert” (meaning it’s cold and lifeless) and with no gender or customization. In this state, the item can be picked up, carried around, sacrificed, traded or sold through vendors.
The pipeline is largely unchanged: new vessels are crafted by Necromancers, using body parts that are harvested from graves using skills in the “Gravedigger” Profession. These items are not created equally, but are endowed by their creators with certain unalienable attributes, among these being Life (Constitution!), Liberty (Dexterity!) and the pursuit of happiness (uhh, maybe Spirit…?).
One change that came as a result of the recent Race/Class split: a vessel only represents the Race of a potential character; you can use that vessel to create a character of any Class supported by that race.
Additionally, vessels are only tradeable up until the point they have been equipped once – at that point, they become locked to your account and are no longer treated as an inventory object.
THE CRYPT (AND THE RETURN OF CHARACTER SLOTS)
We’ve come back around to the idea of giving each account a limited number of “character slots”.
Once you use a vessel in character creation (or use a default, if you don’t have one) to make an avatar it changes from an item into a character and from this point there is no going back.
Additionally, we’re moving the “character switching” interactable away from the Temple (where it was causing a lot of confusion) and moving it to a new point-of-interest, the Crypt, which you’ll find near beachheads and scattered throughout the various Worlds.
Here’s what a Crypt looks like in the game right now.
…and here’s a piece of concept art, to show you where we are going.
That’s right! Reincarnation is a way of shortcutting death, so it’s only fitting that it should fall within the domain of the goddess known as Yaga the Crone.
AVATAR SELECTION IN THE CRYPT
Inside this Crypt, you’ll find an interactable that allows you to view, select and delete any of your active characters:
You may notice there is a max number of vessels the player can have. We are allowing all players to have access to 6 slots as a baseline. You may also notice 3 locked slots which were available for Kickstarter packages that were Silver and higher. For those who missed the Kickstarter opportunity or didn’t get all 3 extra slots, don’t worry we will offer them in the store.
If a player goes to create a vessel in an empty slot, they will be prompted with the character creation screen. This time however you may notice that the screen is looking through their inventory and offering the use of vessels from the inventory. In our screenshot example you can see 4 available inventory vessels under the Human section.
Once the player makes it through the customization phase, the vessel is removed from the inventory and consumes an avatar slot.
Note that Campaigns will of course continue to enforce limitations – such as as level pre-reqs (1st level characters only, racial pre-requisites like “Elves and Centaurs only”, etc). These limitations will be enforced both on world entry and on avatar selection and creation in the Crypt.
Additionally, note that some Campaigns will still require characters to be locked there for the duration of that Campaign. This doesn’t mean the player can’t leave that world – they can! – but any locked avatar cannot advance outside of that World or take out/bring back any items outside of the normal embargo rules. The goal was to make the universe feel more like a universe, but Campaign restrictions will be enforced to the same degree as before.
In addition, we may lock particular races inside of Campaigns to a specific Crypt -- so that, for instance, “the only way to bring a Centaur into this world is to find the Crypt of Balu Xal, the fallen Centaur capital city.”
This idea would encourage exploration of the map – and it would give players another strategic location to fight over!
As always, we’re continuing to refine our game loop… and, as always, we will continue looking for ways to overcome our original design limitations where possible.
Soon we will see the addition of Crypts where you can swap avatars – and in the (hopefully) not-too-far-distant future, we’ll enable you to walk between worlds so that our game will start to feel more like one enormous, connected persistent world universe!
More exciting things to come, as the game moves ever closer to Alpha! As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the forum… until next time – see you in game!
Thomas "Blixtev" Blair
J Todd Coleman