As I'm trying to get more and more involved and educated in Mythic's upcoming Warhammer Online - I've been bouncing around community sites such as The Greenskin - I've noticed that a lot of "old school" gamers are really keen on the game. Funny thing is, that when I saw that the author(s) obvious respect for the game that was UO, I had immediate respect for the author.
Being ex-military myself, I think that old UO players have the same sort of bond that two military veterans have for each other: a mutual, unspoken respect, hopefully sans post-traumatic syndrome. There was an unsaid magic about Ultima Online that hasn't been recaptured in any MMO. While it's true this could be first-love syndrome or some sort of newness based thing, it could also be that the pure coolness of the game was just too much for us to handle at the time.
Without much further ado, I bring you my short tribute to Ultima Online, and why I loved it.
Ultima Online was raw. A good testament to this is ImaNewbie and his infamous ImaNewbie (at least for UO'ers) adventures in Britannia. This guy was about as famous as you could get in UO due to his comics popularity. While it might be dramatized, it was completely conceivable to have situations like this happening (that is, getting your face melted for no apparent reason) . It can be argued that this line of gaming evolved into the Lineage-type games that plagued the market later, but that's another subject.
The Free-For-All PVP made people accountable for your actions. Meaning, if you were a royal asshole, you either had to befriend a bunch of other assholes and run around in a group killing everyone, or you had to be damned sure to watch your back. At the release of UO, there was no system for punishing killing - so it was pretty much as FFA as you can get. Later they implemented the murderer system, where if you killed 5 "innocent" people your name became red (and therefore, a murderer) which only time could take away.
This brought more problems, though, as people once again claimed victory over a rigid black/white system of good and evil and spit a triumphant grey-area, in your face! into the vastness of Ultima Online. Attacking players meant your player went "grey" and was open to anyone to kill, penalty free. This of course lead to drama and baiting, which most of the time worked, for good reason. The mere fact that you could no longer openly attack someone who was before your sworn enemy was enough for many players just to say "screw it" and not care about the penalties. The long term effects of being a mass-murderer were that when you did die, you incurred a horrific skill loss that would be the equivalent of going from level 60 in WoW back down to level 50 or so. Being as a players murder count lessened while not playing / not killing, it limited Red's from being really "free" in the game. And, as you might have guessed, plenty of assholes stayed "Blue" or "Anti-Player Killer" and only attacked people that were grey or red.
This system wasn't all bad, though. It did provide the framework for a good social environment. It also encouraged people to travel in packs - the MMO zerg, to say, was born.
This social environment encouraged things like Alliances throughout the servers. (Screenshot to the left) Now, for those that have never heard, played or seen a screenie of UO, your first impressions might be "EEP horribad graphics!". Yeah, yeah, whatever. It was 1998. Anyway, what you'll notice in this picture is that all of the players are standing in a nice orderly fashion. In fact, if you had a movie of the event (it was a guild coalition ceremony) you'd be surprised to notice that the players, for the most part, pretty much stood still. Recreating this situation in a newer MMO, say WoW, would take everyone standing in a particular spot and then having the server lag for like 3 minutes due to half the players seemingly having ADD. It is surprising how interesting a game still was, even having the overall content of the equivalent of a newbie zone in WoW.
A good portion of the game was spent either running after players or running from them. The game world itself was incredibly buggy, to the point where a boat ride either meant seeing a lot of blue pixels or being stuck in the middle of the Ocean until a GM got you out. The housing system in UO was immense. When it first came out, the most insecure place you could probably be (if someone wanted to kill you) was your house due to the fact that people could shoot through walls, come up through the floor and generally X-men their way through obstacles. House and Castle sieges were an every-day event, and when your arch-nemesis guild's Castle got taken over or otherwise disabled, it was server-wide news. Tactics included everything from hiding behind house walls to wait for your enemy to come out, trying to quickly run in the door before they locked it, persuading your enemies friends to obtain a copy of the house key, and even on rare events - enlisting the powers of the God's (GM's) to disintegrate your enemies property.
In retrospect, it was the danger and instability of this game that truly made it epic. As a player you had everything to lose by just existing. This made surviving that much sweeter and in the end, more rewarding. The industry, for the most part, has bowed out of this mentality and taken a strictly politically-correct approach to gaming. In the end, while we might get a better visual and audio experience, we're actually losing out on what originally made MMO gaming so damn cool: an interactive experience where something (other than annoyance) is at stake. That's my two bits, anyway.
Thanks for the good times, UO. I might have got laid more if I hadn't have found you, but at least you didn't give me VD.
You can find the original post at the r1ft gaming blog - http://www.r1ft.com