Citadel Studios, a game company founded by three former Ultima Online developers, is currently working on a multiplayer role-playing game called Shards Online, which focuses on giving players power and freedom, according to co-founders Tim Cotten and Derek Brinkmann.
Speaking to Polygon, the developers said Shards Online is Citadel Studios' answer to letting players decide how they want to play. Brinkmann described the game as a player-run MMO, which means at the highest level they can run their own servers and change the settings of that world, altering how long nighttime lasts or how quickly players can gain skills.
On the next level down, server administrators can take the form of god characters, who can spawn monsters in the world, create items and launch live events. And in the level below that, players can modify the gameplay code.
"Shards Online is truly the first player-run MMO in the sense that we give the players the ability to run their own servers," Brinmann said. "They're no longer bound to the ideas that the game developers have about the game. When the game launches, you will have access to running your own server and you'll be able to customize that server on many different levels.
"This allows communities to really customize their experience the way they wish to play the game."
The game is set in a multiverse, where players can travel through different worlds. While all the worlds are unified by the same rule-set, Cotten told Polygon that they are each themed differently, and these themes will offer players a different experience. There's a world inspired by high fantasy. There's a world that is coming out of a steampunk industrial revolution. There's a world that consists of a colosseum in which players can fight each other in player-versus-player battles.
"All these worlds have their own stories," Cotten said. "It's a role-playing game, so it's a lot about character development. We have an open-ended system with lots of different skills you can learn, and what worlds you travel to determines what skills you have access to."
Cotten said the desire to create a highly customizable world that allows players to experience it the way they want was inspired by the team's time working on Ultima Online. The developers were able to create monthly events for players to enjoy, add new non-playable characters for the community to interact with, and they were able to burn entire in-game cities to the ground so that players could loot it as they wished.
"We did all sorts of fun things, and we came away from it thinking why can't we do this with modern tools? Why can't we do this with modern technology and give more stuff directly to the players? Why can't we give that same feeling of power and extraordinary fun to the players themselves if they want to have it?"
Shards Online is currently in development for Windows PC, with Linux and Mac versions being considered. The game is expected to reach alpha by the end of the year.