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Quality MMORPG

A Developer's Reference

Author: sempiternal

Why Electronic Arts' Ultima Online Sucks?

Posted by sempiternal Thursday November 8 2007 at 4:39AM
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The original producer and director of Ultima Online, Richard Garriott aka Lord British and Starr Long aka Lord Blackthorn:

Richard Garriott Lord British Starr Long Lord Blackthorn


If Ultima Online is ever going to be recognized as more than the grandfather of MMOs and the MMO with the greatest reversal of potential ever, there are two major points that need serious attention;


Believable World

When Lord British and Lord Blackthorn were in charge of Ultima Online, the integrity of the medieval virtual world was strong and healthy.  Ultima Online was at its finest, it was a believable medieval fantasy virtual world and was therefore highly immersive; more than any game previous.  This immersion is the 'magic' that current UO and many newer MMOs lack.  There were very few limits on the freedoms of players and almost all aspects of the game world were interactive and dependent upon the actions of players.  The game focused on and revolved around the players themselves, not the content.  It was the community and people that were important to the game experience, not the programmed NPC content.


Under the supervision of British and Blackthorn, UO did not have giant cartoon-like snowmen and snowflakes, rainbow colored armor, purple spikey-haired elves,  flip-flop wearing ninjas, or neon swords with statistics plastered all over them.  All aspects of the game fit the medieval theme.  Building a reasonably believable world must have originally been one of the main goals and visions for Ultima Online.


In addition, Ultima Online was a quality product and the gameplay was highly balanced; it's likely that the developers, including Lord British and Blackthorn, were experienced players of the game and used their first-hand gameplay experience to further develop UO.  Lord British and Lord Blackthorn were probably the filters that kept poor, imbalancing development ideas out of their virtual world. Because, after they left UO, the floodgates opened with all sorts of foolish game development occurring, such as mirrored attached worlds with two different sets of rules.  The original game balance and virtual world that Garriott and Long had created was quickly destroyed by the Electronic Arts Inc. employees that were appointed to take over.


The Electronic Arts replacements, Rick Hall aka Stellerex and Anthony Castoro aka SunSword:


After over seven years of poor development from Electronic Arts, Ultima Online is limping along as a hodge-podge MMO.  UO has become nothing more than a conglomeration of ideas stolen from other successful MMOs and therefore no longer offers players a unique experience.  There's very little reason left to play UO since the same PvM game designs that UO is now copying are found in newer MMOs offering better graphics and technology.  The integrity of the world is also ruined with player forcefields, connected worlds with conflicting rules, the ability to carry items in death through buying insurance, infinite NPC supplies, giant insect mounts, ridable pastel colored dogs, and even sunglasses; EA might as well add laser cannons at this point - it would not hurt the game that much more.


Clearly the goals and visions of creating a reasonably believable medieval virtual world were lost when the talent left UO and EA took over.  The virtual world began to suffer as it was torn apart and morphed into a mere online PvM content game by the sophomoric MMO developers that followed. Origin Inc., will always be known as the first company that created a truly massive online world and Electronic Arts Inc. will always be known as the first company to destroy an online world.


Heroes & Villains

 "Without villains, there can be no heroes.” A game, or any entertainment medium, is flat, predictable, and utterly lacking in conflict, tension, and suspense without a worthy intelligent villain, see The Worthy Villain .  “The villain is the main source of conflict and tension and suspense -- those necessary qualities in all of literature. Without a worthy villain, there cannot be a worthy hero. Whether the hero wants to win back the love of a woman, escape from prison, rescue a child, nail a serial killer, or save the world, his quest must be difficult and its outcome uncertain if we are to keep turning the pages. That’s the job of the antagonist. As Christopher Vogel writes in his essential book THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, “The function of the Shadow [villain] in drama is to challenge the hero and give her a worthy opponent in the struggle.”


An online world is no different, if there are no worthy villains, then there are no worthy heroes; the game lacks conflict, tension and suspense and our interest in participating in such a game is much more easily lost. When Ultima Online was a virtual world full of villain players there was always a large portion of the player base actively playing the game, even into the wee hours of the night.  It was the conflict that drove the game. The game was exciting enough to play that it was always highly populated with active players. Even though there may still be 100,000 Ultima Online subscriptions left today, it's painfully obvious that most do not spend very much time playing Ultima Online anymore.


badgerbadger writes:

Damn fine writing!

Note on part 1: As an austinite; let me tell you British used to be VERY active in the local Society of Creative Anachronism.

on part 2: again; damn fine writing.

  You know; Like the tangent on "make it accessible" I htink alot of people actually don't want a worthy challenge - they want hordes of patsy monsters that will die before them to stroke their egos...


Thu Nov 08 2007 6:38AM Report
Laserwolf writes:

It's the whole Villains and Heros aspect that made UO great for me. The only other MMORPG that came close in regards to this was Shadowbane but it just had too many other short-comings.

I had a hell of time at one point creating an Anti-PK Guild to protect the outskirts of a particular city. We were all Newbs but we did take out a few well known PKs and just had fun feeling like heroes to those players who could not fight(Trade Skills Only). This is another aspect that is necessary in a Hero Vs Villain Game and UO was one of the very few to have non-combat oriented players.

Thu Nov 08 2007 8:14AM Report
Xix13 writes:

Actually, I think I disagree with almost everything here, well written though it is.  Now, I didn't play UO in the "Great Olde Days" of open PK and full loot.  No way I was gonna touch a game where its creator could get randomly griefed.  Trammel came into being to attract a lot of folks like me into the game, while keeping Felucca for those who like the PK/full-loot style.  So, my question has always been, why didn't all of you just play in Felucca?  Nobody's ever provided a satisfactory answer.  They kinda just skip by the question and continue complaining.  More recently, I add the additional question:  OK, so why aren't you all on Siege Perilous?  Another question never answered.

I tried Siege for about a week, to see just what this adrenaline rush style of play was that I'm missing.  I couldn't leave Minoc with my pickaxe and 5 reagents I'd scrounged off the ground because at any time of day there was a high level mage sitting by the moongate who killed me and looted what little was there.  Obviously I couldn't return to my corpse, even if there WAS something there, because he would stand right over it.  After a week of subjecting myself to this torture, I went back to my familiar shard.  A worthy challenge is one thing.  A newbie being killed by a GM mage is quite another.

Furthermore, UO is still, and always has been, a sandbox.  Hence, no scripted plot, no hand-holding you through your imagination.  And with so many of those either closing or being destroyed, it's very nice to have a non-scripted world in which to play.  It's also nice to have a crafting system.

And I've noticed recently that a lot of folks are returning to UO.  Just last night, on an East Coast server, my fire beetle died at around 2 AM from a Blackrock Ele,  I headed to Luna, and found it was packed with folks, and a friendly tamer rez'd Golden Slumbers for me immediately as I stepped out of the gate.  Yes, UO is showing its age.  But, other than EVE, there aren't any real sandboxes left.

Thu Nov 08 2007 8:24AM Report
Jeraal writes: Very good writing indeed. I agree with pretty much everything you said. Uo in the good days is still way ahead of the current games imo. Sandbox is the way to go. Thu Nov 08 2007 8:50AM Report
JB47394 writes:

badger, the vast majority of people just want some entertainment.  Not a challenge.  Just an opportunity to swing a sword or cast a spell and watch monsters fall over.  It's not a visceral, gut-wrenching, deeply-emotional experience that they're after.  Part of it is a lack of imagination on their part.  Part of it is a lack of willingness to immerse themselves.  A big part of it is a lack of desire for more challenges than they already have in life.  Being so serious as to want an immersive, challenging adventure is so rare that companies can't make the money off them that they can off the carebears.

And I'm a carebear, through and through.  You want an adventure with a worthy challenge?  Do it in the real world.  Then you too will want somewhere to go where you can cast a spell and watch a monster fall over.

Thu Nov 08 2007 9:14AM Report
Roguewiz writes:

If a game doesn't offer me enough challenge to where I feel a sense of accomplishment for completing a certain quest chain or dungeon, then the game isn't for me.  When a father can tell his 5 year old daughter,"ok honey, press this button until daddy comes back" in a game, it is too simple.  Perhaps I am being too narrowminded, but I feel a game should require a bit more skill then mash a certain key.  Anyone can do that, even a small child.  Everquest 2 offered me, at the time, alot of enjoyment.  But people whined and got things changed, because the game was too difficult.  Dungeons and Dragons, as another example, requires a bit of skill to play "effectively".  People complain, saying,"OMG, this is too tough.  WTH were you thinking?!?"  So, Turbine changes X Quest to be easier.

I'm not saying it should require a PhD to play a game, but it should at least require a bit more attention than "auto-attack" and such.

Thu Nov 08 2007 1:25PM Report
joslin01 writes:

There's probably so much more you can say along that. They spit in the face of Origin's original great MMORPG not once, but twice by releasing what is it? Ultima Online Kingdom Reborn? It's NOTHING like the old UO.

Thu Nov 08 2007 9:19PM Report writes:
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