Avalon Keep: An Interview With Heavy Water’s Stephen Grose

by Burbie52, HSM team writer, with information and video provided by Stephen Grose, Heavy Water producer

Recently, we’ve been analyzing the conundrum that personal estates in PlayStation Home appear to have reached a saturation point. Many people whom I know personally and who have bought all of the estates in Home up until the past few months are not opening their pocketbooks for new ones. They have become too cliche, and unless they offer something new and different to us, many won’t spend another dime on them.

Enter Heavy Water, with Avalon Keep.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week or two, all of you have probably heard of Avalon Keep by now. This phenomenal new personal space came to PlayStation Home this week with the new update on Wednesday morning. If preliminary consumer reaction is any gauge, there’s quite a bit of enthusiasm for this new estate, as the idea of owning a castle seems to be a universal desire.

I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to ask Stephen Grose, producer at Heavy Water, a few questions about this innovative new space they have decided to bring to us.

HSM: Heavy Water has worked in the background as well as the forefront of the Home community for a long time now; when did your involvement in PlayStation Home begin?

HW: The company has been involved with PlayStation®Home for a long time – pretty much from its inception. The founder of the company, Matt McDonald, worked on the content for the EA Sports Complex which included the well-liked poker game. Ever since then, Heavy Water has seen the potential that PlayStation®Home has and the great number of possibilities to enjoy oneself. Since the beginning, we have made a lot of content behind the scenes, but now we are looking to make an even bigger splash with more of our own content.

HSM: You are known for your edgy take on the products you create for Home, most notably the various avatar tattoos that are currently available. However, Heavy Water has also produced some breathtaking personal estates, such as the Chamber Apartment. What made Heavy Water decide to create a personal estate that looks like it’s right out of a medieval fairy tale?

HW: Our brands have their own feel and we like that we can be who we are and produce what we think would be enticing to the user. Avalon is definitely a part of that. Avalon has been slowly percolating within the company for some time now and we finally came to the realization that we just need to sit down and do it. We love the style and all the possibilities that it offers for us to explore, and we have collection of lore pieces adding to and expanding the Avalon universe that we will be releasing on our blog in the coming weeks over at http://www.blog.heavyh2o.net/, so be sure to check that out. We decided to make a personal estate because we knew that we could offer a great experience with an enchanting environment that no one has quite seen before. The great thing is: the private estate is just the beginning. There are a lot of great things we want to do within the realm of Avalon. Avalon is coming Home!

HSM: Avalon Keep allows you to change the interior colors and crests – a nice bit of versatility which few estates offer. What made you decide to do this?

HW: We listen to the community and see what people are asking for. The things that come up most frequently were customization, interactivity, and a non-static environment. We tried to deliver on all those fronts with this personal estate, and we have more plans in the near future to facilitate these requests. A nice aspect of the ability to change things within the Avalon Keep is it frees up some of the furniture slots by allowing the user to theme the space without necessarily having to use up crucial slots. The color changes occur on all carpeting, drapery, stained glass, banners, flags and even the guards’ uniforms, inside and out! We definitely have plans on expanding this feature down the road.

HSM: The PR copy says that there will be a default color scheme for the estate, but it also says that there will be furniture to buy that matches the other color changes. Will there also be an avatar clothing line to go along with this theme?

HW: Great question. We are releasing 56 pieces of furniture, split across the four houses of Avalon, with the launch of the Keep. The following weeks will see some weaponry for the hands, a silver suit of armor – akin to the Gold Knight items currently previewing n x7, and two more furniture packs that are just medieval themed but not specific to the styles of the four noble houses. The number of virtual items option for the first release of Avalon is over 100 items. We hope there is something for everyone!

We do plan on releasing various clothing pieces, armors, and more that will lend itself to each noble family of Avalon: the Dumont, Grimoult, Raleigh, and Thaon houses. We have created a short online quiz [http://www.blog.heavyh2o.net/?p=66] for users to take to see which house best fits their personality, or they could just pick based on the color scheme. At the moment, picking a theme is purely cosmetic and for personal preference, but it will start to do more sometime in the future!

HSM: Lockwood, SCEA and others have previously experimented with gifting, and now Heavy Water is jumping into it with Avalon Keep. What made you decide to do this, and will the gifts being offered periodically change?

HW: We know that there are popular trends within the Home community, and gifting is one we are happy to participate in. Users love being able to gift items to their friends, as the popularity of the Lockwood Gift Machine can attest to – those tokens appear on the top 10 list often! So, we thought it was a natural fit and we wanted to support the generous nature of the Home community. We do have an update planned to allow users to add more items to the gift machine, not to mention additional gifts based on expansions to the space!

HSM: It was hinted that the user will be able to gift him- or herself as well, yes?

HW: Of course! What’s theirs is yours!

HSM: Will there be any expansion packs made available to this space like perhaps a stable, kitchen or bedroom areas? Avalon Keep appears to be quite enormous.

HW: Oh yes, definitely. We have purposefully left room for expansions. A bedchamber is planned, as are a few other areas. What helps us the most in these cases is feedback. People need to let us know what they like or they may never see it! Get involved in the Avalon community and share your ideas!

HSM: The NPC guards within the Keep who can actually speak to you and your guests is quite a rarity in personal estates. What made you decide to add them to Avalon, and what do they in turn add to the Avalon Keep experience?

HW: We wanted to have the space feel more alive, not just a nice collection of walls and furnishings. Having the NPC guards adds to the theme and overall atmosphere, as each are individually named. Who knows what guard might have a developing storyline or might start a coup d’état. There are a lot of possibilities there.

The female NPCs are facilitators for interactivity within the space. We thought it would be much more interesting to interact with a character rather than an inanimate object, especially with the Scavenger Hunt. Such things allow us to add personality and humor into those interactions, since you are interfacing with an NPC.

The shopkeeper within the space will add to the list of interactivity in the future, and who’s to say what other NPCs might visit your space?

HSM: The scavenger hunt looks to be a lot of fun, and should provide long-term value to the space. Will this be updated with new rewards from time to time to keep it fresh?

HW: Absolutely. We treat the Scavenger Hunt as a fun mini-game as well as a secondary gift machine. Right now, it is all very straight forward, but you never know what kind of quests Gisele might send you on in the future and what you might discover about your Keep and Avalon.

HSM: At what point was the Dragonfly concept hit upon, and how technologically difficult was it to pull off what amounts to nearly a “God camera” for an estate?

HW: I don’t really recall where the Dragonfly idea came from, but it evolved naturally from the design choices of the personal estate. We wanted every aspect to be modeled and created, and the only way you can appreciate that is with a dragonfly’s point of view! No cut off areas, no half-finishing geometry – you can experience the environment in its entirety with the Dragonfly!

HSM: Can you disclose at this point what plans or features Heavy Water may have to maintain the long-term replayability and value of Avalon Keep? This already appears to be far more than just another static setting. Is Heavy Water going to be committing resources to this estate for the long run?

HW: We are definitely committing resources to this for the long run. We have big things planned, including multiple expansions to the space, updates to current features, and a public space to just name a few. We have the beginnings of the Public space as seen in the screenshots as well as a few games. One of our games is shown in the preview video for the public space: Ballista Fields!

This, of course, doesn’t include the virtual clothing and items that will allow users to personalize their Keep and avatar even further! We know a lot of people have wanted these types of spaces and now is the opportunity, for Heavy Water and the community, to explore a magnificent medieval setting in Home. And, of course, with a Heavy Water twist to it!

All I can say at this point, as a Home journalist, is wow. I’ve personally wanted a castle in Home for a long time, and Heavy Water has provided several things that we have all been wanting; interactivity, innovation, and continual upgrades and content input. I must say that they have produced in Avalon Keep a product that will become one of the must-haves in Home and will be a huge hit with the community.

Many thanks to Stephen Grose and Heavy Water for taking the time to let us all in on the future of Avalon Keep; I believe it will be a bright one.

August 15th, 2012 by | 8 comments
Burbie52 is a 62 year-old published author and founder of the Grey Gamers group within Home. Born and raised in Michigan, she has lived there her entire life, with the exception of a twelve-year residency on the Big Island of Hawaii. She enjoys reading and writing, as well as video games, especially RPG's. She has one son in his twenties.

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8 Responses to “Avalon Keep: An Interview With Heavy Water’s Stephen Grose”

  1. Phoenix says:

    This is a wonderful article Burbie!

  2. ted2112 says:

    Great interview Burbie, This space I think will be a must have

  3. Godzprototype says:

    Very excited to get this space! Great interview!

  4. RiverCreek says:

    Excellent Burbie!

  5. wylds says:

    Awesome interview Burbie so whats hw have for us next lol

  6. riff says:

    Wow this is terrific!
    In keeping with Mr. Grose’s request what I truly love is:

    1. the dragonfly
    2. The ability to change the setting quite easily
    3. The ability to gift my friends
    4. The ability to play a game with my friends

    Pointers… as pointed out previously the graphics could be better -esp with the furniture. Currently it looks a little Disney- which is not bad, but it would be nice to see it more adult. The gears above the doors and the such the candlelight- these are things I found redeeming graphically.

    It would be nice to be able to choose questions and an answers when talking with NPC- I like that they are named after the knights… but I would like to see them have more distinctive personalities.

    I love the idea of fealty. I love the quiz… that you have a personality type that fits within a certain fealty is actually pretty cool. I would like to see it expanded.

    I wish they would bring back the chamber apt. I have seen it and love it and would love to buy it but of course it is not currently available… or maybe as a prize in one of the Avalon games have it be a reward.

    I like the mythical creatures. I would like to see them become NPCs -and have a series of costumes based on these. How cool would it be if I could be a satire, a centaur, an elf or Tom Bombadil

    What if the Lake was actually a gateway to a different realm- as in traditional Celtic lore…

    What if their were rewards for assisting and helping as much as for fighting or shooting?

  7. Bobsfed says:

    Great q&a Burbie! I know that the Avalon Keep is somewhat old news and all. But I’m planning on getting it very soon. I already had a tour of it and loved it!

  8. Riff, Thanks for great comments and the art critiques above.

    I see that other companies already offer fantasy style furniture themed in an “adult” fashion.

    There is a a reason that I designed the environment and furniture as I have.

    As Stephen states above we do have our own style in HOME. My personal direction in design choices is that there is so much content available in HOME It is really important to me that each of our content offerings can be viewed by HOME users individually and just by design the user knows it was made by us.

    I do understand your comment though. I’ll keep it in mind next time I design furniture sets for the space.

    I am actually glad you say Avalon looks like a Toy. I intended it to be toy like. I have a tendency to design things somewhat Toy like. I have always loved the big over-sized/distorted features of old Disney and Hanna-Barbara cartoons. those soft shapes take me back to a time when things were much simpler.

    I also have fond memories of a Fisher-Price Castle set my wife and I bought our oldest son. After I put it together for him on Christmas day, He and I spent the entire day painting it. Although he is now 14 we still have it. I see it almost everyday on a shelf in our home. It makes me feel good remembering that Christmas day. Some of that same feeling went into building Avalon Keep as well as the upcoming public and private offerings.

    I Intentionally designed each piece of furniture as if it was hand crafted from clay in by a giant. The smaller details would have to be enlarged so the giant could place them on the model with his giant fingers.

    Walk around Avalon and imagine the entire environment was made by a giant artisan in clay. This might give you some insight to the feeling I was going for.

    I agree about the questions and answers with the NPCs as well as the lake taking you to another realm.

    Riff- have you been the fly on the wall? Why else would the lake be there? Its not like there needs to be another reflecting pool in HOME.

    Avalon is the first project that we have been able to make for Home that was what WE wanted it to be. Not what we were directed to make by “the client”

    It trills me to see that it has been so well received by the community.

    Please feel assured that we have all your statements above in development for future releases.

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