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MMORPG | Genre:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 09/30/97)  | Pub:Electronic Arts
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Ultima Online Interviews: AGDC Interview with Tim Cotten

By Garrett Fuller on September 23, 2009

Ultima Online is a shining example in the MMO world. It is the oldest running MMO right now that everyone remembers. Ultima Online just celebrated its twelve year anniversary and has twenty seven active servers around the world. Many MMO companies wish they could have at type of success. We sat down with Tim Cotten and talked about Ultima Online’s rich history, its most recent expansion, and its bright future.

Tim pointed out right away that “Ultima will live on!” Despite many changes including development teams and even publishers, the game itself continues to grow. With Stygian Abyss just being added in the game has seen a resurgence of players. The team is trying to make the game accessible to new and old players alike. Because Ultima’s systems are so open, the developers look more at giving players the tools to enhance the world they have already created.

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Right now with Stygian Abyss the Gargoyles are the newest race and have grown quickly in popularity. The new skill Imbuing is a great chance for players to customize their items. Both the race and class have seen great success among the Ultima community. When Tim mentioned they are thinking about adding in another new race at some point, I pressured him heavily to make orcs a player race. We’ll see if I have any influence.

Tim talked about what elements are important to UOs longevity. Flexibility is the key and players have always had a lot of options in the game. Because of this, a player can always start on a new path to learn skills. Also players have the flexibility to change the world around them. Player housing was born in UO and continues to be popular to this day. Having both characters and a game world that you can always change gives players a reason to always come back to it.

Tim mentioned that it is very important for Ultima developers to listen to what their community wants. After all some of the players have been in the game longer than the developers working on it now and those players deserve to be heard. The Ultima team works to enhance some of the game play elements players have created themselves. Pet fighting is a big one, and players have been hosting Battle Chicken fights for a long time. The UO team is looking at ways to enhance these tournaments. That are looking at tools to help players formalize their own events across the game.

Because UO is a sandbox style game the team is also looking at ways to expand dungeon exploration. Tim likes the idea of making dungeons more in depth with puzzles and traps. He referenced the old Dungeons & Dragons module “Tomb of Horrors.” If you are a gamer and have not heard of Tomb of Horrors go look it up. It is brutal. I think they teach it in game design classes in colleges now as a lesson on how to make players lives miserable. Still, the idea of more puzzles and traps in a sand box dungeon is very cool, hopefully we will see more on that in the future.

Ultima Online has an MMO model that few games have copied over the last decade. I would say EvE Online is the spiritual successor to Ultima and look at how well both games continue to do. It is often puzzling why so many MMOs have tried the Everquest model of game design and not the Ultima model, when you look back on MMO history. I am sure Everquest still has active players as they continue to release expansions. Yet Ultima is tried and true. The stability of the game is something many MMOs wish for. As the game continues to look into the future and with the resurgence from Stygian Abyss, perhaps we will see more expansions as it grows. Thanks to Tim for taking time to talk with us, and Tim… if you add a new race, make it the ORCS!

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