Ultima Online - A Tribute to the Awesome

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 | 38

Some people have accused me of being too negative.

God forbid someone who runs a blog called "I Hate MMORPGs" would mostly reflect on the low points of the genre, but what can you do? As an objective Video-Game Historian™ I'd like to point out a MMORPG that I have many fond memories of. I think I'm getting too soft in my old age...

Ultima Online - The Original Gangsta

Legend tells of a MMORPG that was created before epics and elite mobs. Lord British said unto the internet, "let there be a game without restrictions or kid-gloves", and it was good. Ultima Online should take full credit (and blame) for the old and disgruntled veteran gamers who expect MMORPGs to be fun.

Home Ownership and Economy

In Ultima Online you could own a house on any clear spot in the actual world. This type of direct ownership hasn't been duplicated or improved on by any game. Once the world was full of homes, good locations became income opportunities. This type of high-demand property enabled in-game brokers who got rich buying and selling property.

The free-market economy in Ultima Online would make Ron Paul proud. Upon finding a powerful item, you have numerous options on how to turn a hefty profit. You could use the item to earn money hunting monsters, place a vendor on your property to sell your wares to players who wandered past, or just sell it first hand to players hanging out in populated areas. Everything breaks eventually, so a salesman will always have a market.

Did I mention that there was an underground thieves guild relocating gold in all major cities? Yeah, awesome.

Player vs. Player

Ultima Online's Player vs. Player, if recreated today, would be more innovative than any current game on the market for one reason: It emphasizes player ability and tactical decisions over epic-gear and time-invested. Players who wanted to live outside the law could earn a decent living, but the repercussion of being an outlaw was incredibly harsh. This type of risk-reward system hasn't been reproduced or improved upon by any modern game.

Want to kill people, but don't like getting your hands dirty? Ultima Online was the game for you! A skilled tinker could craft traps that killed any unsuspecting and greedy treasure-hunter instantly. Hell, my mad-bomber killed hundreds of people before being tracked down and put to justice. Awesome.

Crafting wasn't awful!

Crafting in Ultima Online was a career, and not an afterthought. A good blacksmith was always necessary to repair valuable weapons and armor before they permanently break, or create mid-high end gear for warring guilds and adventurers.

Instead of forcing carebears to delve into the wilderness and gain arbitrary levels so they could become master craftsmen, Ultima gave them the comfort of the city, and a healthy economy to run. Awesome.

Want to play? Too bad.

Like all good things, Ultima Online no longer exists as a great game thanks to whiners and bureaucracy. I'd like to think that it would still be popular if it existed today, but I'm not sure this new generation would be able to handle the original griefer's paradise. Oh well... Time for some action!


  1. Have you ever heard of Shadowbane? It was an awesome early mmorpg unlike any of today's WoW cookie cutters. It had a very complex system of character building where depending on how you wanted to play, you ran the risk of gimping your build. The world was free-for-all with open PVP and player killing. One could go out farming to gather loot and help level your friend's lowbies, or go out hunting for these farm/xp groups. There were player owned cities and player run politics. I'd love to hear your review of SB.

  2. I beta tested Shadowbane way back when. The main flaw with their whole system was that there was never any safeguard preventing super-guilds from taking over the whole world. I revisited it a couple years ago and discovered that the gameplay by today's standards is far too painful to enjoy.

    Developers sometimes have a singular good idea and over-emphasize it to the point where it doesn't appeal to any broader audience. Part of the reason I enjoyed Ultima Online was because it had a very healthy mix of all kinds of players that ran an extremely complex economy.

  3. There will be a game called Salem maybe you will think it but prolly not lol

  4. Salem is being developed by a team that is currently prioritizing innovation over polish. I always respect those projects, but their failure is typically with quality control.

    That being said, Salem 'sounds' good, but I don't get my hopes up anymore (thanks Darkfall...)

  5. "In Ultima Online you could own a house on any clear spot in the actual world. This type of direct ownership hasn't been duplicated or improved on by any game."

    Actually Star Wars Galaxies did it pretty well ... loved SWG such a shame they killed it just to have .01% more SWToR players.

  6. I actually never got into Galaxies because by the time I was done with other games it was already ruined. I find it very difficult to support any Star Wars themed endeavor because of George Lucas' mishandling of the series.

  7. I was also thinking of Shadowbane when I read this entry (never played UO and I'm not keen of real life speculation on game pixels, honestly). SB had most of what you mention here (instead of homes it was city states, as the game was guild-oriented), had better graphs for what I can see in the video, was for free, you'd get to max level in no time (so the PvP and GvG fun began fast, no silly grinding - unless you wished to), it was 100% PvP open except for a few safeholds... what else?

    Ah, it can be played again as the Shadowbane Emulator has entered its beta phase.

    Of course it had faults and what not (who doesn't) but it's the only MMOG I have tried that was really different and you could really play and not just grind ad infinitum.

    "I beta tested Shadowbane way back when. The main flaw with their whole system was that there was never any safeguard preventing super-guilds from taking over the whole world".

    When I played that happened only in one of three servers (it was dominated by a single ethnic Chinese mega nation), the other two were playable.

    "I revisited it a couple years ago and discovered that the gameplay by today's standards is far too painful to enjoy".

    In some matters indeed. Not newbie-friendly at all. However once you got into it it was very friendly, allowing for solo and (generally better) for guild gaming. You really got a "toon" (not "char", not in SB) ready for combat (maxed) in a week easily, you only grinded for gold and gear.

    I only played year and a half but I ended loving it and experiencing its end (did not make money). All players would agree that it was the best game ever and that it had spoiled them for MMOGs forever. Luckily now it is back in community-built form.

  8. Ultima Online had a much better economy and social structure. Darkfall did a lot of things right, but the fact that they ultimately went F2P sort of says it all.

  9. Don't we all? You can't get that kind of mixed community anymore without going text-based...

  10. Ultima Online still exists in all it's prior awesomeness... UOSecondAge.com is a shard that recreates the T2A era with NO exceptions... Check out it, high population and ton of fun.

  11. Trust me, I've played SecondAge, IPY, and UOG. The classic UO doesn't exist, and will never exist again.

  12. lol UOG and IPY? pfft. UO Second age is the best one. The only difference is # of players.

  13. The people are the reason why it isn't the same. UO just doesn't attract a variety anymore.

  14. UOSecondage is pretty close. The whole game mechanics of UO in T2A era are still there, and there's plenty of people playing to keep it interesting.

  15. I don't mean the number in the population, I mean the quality of the population. In UO during T2A there were thousands of people who played just to run merchants and participate in the economy. In private servers, the majority are asshole griefers (like us?) and it isn't attractive to non-assholes so there are fewer of them.

  16. I can agree with your sentiment as a generalisation, however UOSA has all types of players, many of them just playing UO for the first time.

    Contrary to every other private server, UOSA has one goal which is to recreate the era completely, so there are no surprises and you know exactly where future changes are headed.

    There are, of course, no shortage of clever thieves, griefers or pks, however noobie PvMers, big time merchants, and roleplayers are in abundance as well.

    UOSecondAge.com Don't suffer from UO withdrawal any longer.

  17. Honestly, on UOSA there's a surprising diversity in the population; lots of crafters, merchants, miners; but yes there probably is a greater proportion of the nefarious types. I am glad to hear you tried us out. I absolutely agree with the premise of this site though.

  18. Oh, I know. I played the hell out of UOSA, and I may again. IPY fell flat, and UOG is for hardcore griefers only. Are you an admin for them?

  19. I'm the Owner; sorry we didn't meet in your time there. One of our long time players mentioned this article and site to me.

    Generally I do agree with the disappointment that it'll never be what it was, but we'll do our best to keep the brutal spirit of pre-UO:R alive (mostly by staying out of the players business).

  20. You basically hit the nail on the head with what makes a sandbox-style MMORPG great. It's all about having a free and open world where players can live (or die) by their own ingenuity. Second Age (as an era) basically epitomized the final time-frame before the developers began to try and correct the inequity in the game...

    Doesn't this sound a lot like something else that's going on right now?

    I'm always willing to support causes I believe in, and until a game comes out that is officially "better" than classic Ultima Online, I'll defend it to the death.

  21. I think it's very easy for policies to creep in over time that make the game more artificial and restrictive. Even knowing that creativity, risk (and the suffering of failed gamble) are essential components of what UO is, when the player that had his every penny scammed away on a house deal, or became stranded as a ghost on some remote island full of snakes and other cretins; it's hard for any mortal staff not to sympathize and start conjuring up ways for those things not to happen. When that's coupled with the commercial interest of retaining players it's easy to see how today's games have become what they are. It's only usually in retrospect that people may realize what a great time their brutal punishment of a gaming experience has been.

  22. Great site. I definitely agree with your perspective on UO and MMORPGs in general. The freedom of UO was what made it such a great game and the best MMORPG that I've ever played. I wish that more people appreciated that more freedom is definitely worth it in spite of the fact that there is inherently more risk; indeed, I wish they could see that it is the diversity in experience created by both the great freedom and risk together that makes a great MMORPG (one like UO that had my brothers and I reminiscing over our exploits YEARS down the road)... I'm not sure if it is because most people have been fed only theme-park MMORPG's or whether it's just that I'm wired differently from them, but regardless, it's a cryin' shame that MMORPGs have gone in the direction they have.

    I quit UO not long after Trammel (aka care-bear land) came in (because 90% of the server population hung out there--a fact that makes me think it might just be that I'm wired differently, hehe. Mostly, I think it's because there wasn't enough guidance for the majority of the population to enjoy the freedom that they had... and lost).

    I would sum up my MMORPG (and world) perspective thusly:
    - underlying a game (and real life) is a set of mechanics
    - mechanics provide a framework upon which to build your in-game character (or your life)... you must learn to work within that framework. Those who are not willing to learn and adapt do not generally have a "good" experience.
    - the mechanics will either force you into a particular behavior (which may be enjoyable, depending on the kind of person you are) or enable you (when the mechanics are more free and open) to determine what you enjoy most and to pursue that path. However, when more freedom exists, there is more opportunity for people to step on your toes (which they will... sometimes just for the enjoyment).

    I believe UO (in the pre-UOR era) provided the most excellent MMORPG framework to-date for doing what you find most enjoyable. It can be a school of hard knocks, since you learn the hard way what you should and should not DO, and since UO let's you DO a lot of stuff, there's always room to learn and try new things.

    My brothers and I found UOSA 8 months ago and have enjoyed UOSA a lot (Derrick and staff do an excellent job with it, and especially they don't sell-out in any way like lots of F2P). It is true that UO on UOSA isn't exactly what it was, mostly because by now most of the nooks and crannies in the game have been explored by a lot of the people who play it. HOWEVER, my brother's and I are still finding a lot of enjoyment in thinking up new things to do (and yes, discovering things that may have never been known to any UO player before in the history of UO). I also enjoy writing up some of our "adventures" on the forums (I'm glad UO allows you to do things that are worth writing about, instead of something to the effect of "Hurray! I killed the Lich King(TM) in a cookie cutter instance that has been conquered by millions of other people! My name will now forever be remembered as one of the 1337 cr3w!".

    Click my name "the bazookas" for a link to the UOSA forum where I posted some of our adventures. I also highly recommend chumbucket's Tales of Adventure. Some might consider us griefers (chumbucket more-so than I, at least in my humble opinion), but there are plenty of stories out there from people who don't subscribe to our particular path--which is the glory of UO. A glory which I fear may never be repeated.

  23. ERR... I clicked my name and the link appears to have gotten muffed up (it appears that the URL has some escape characters that are getting in the way). The link is

  24. I just got back on UOSA after Derrick commented above. I think the last time I quit was for IPY which in my opinion destroyed the UO sandbox experience and created a strong anti-pk sentiment. I couldn't bring myself to continue playing UO after that abortion.

    Either way, I still contend that no MMORPG will ever have the type of diversity that the T2A era offered (mostly due to a lack of better options). Games like Warcraft have fooled people into thinking that living in the safety of a theme-park is better than owning your own destiny. bla bla bla rant rant...

  25. I found this site after googling "i hate star wars old republic". I haven't even installed the game yet, I've just shelled out the cost so I can play with my friends. I know it's going to be a shitty WoW clone - a game which I managed to bear, so I could play with my friends... for one month.

    Unfortunately I just don't think a game CAN ever exist like UO did in 1999. Being the first of it's genre, everyone who wanted the MMORPG experience was crammed into this game and forced into a giant social experiment. The griefers won, nearly anyone with power in that game DOES play evil, as it's more fun. Meanwhile the good guys (or weaker players) keep having to pay out $10 a month for the priviledge of being constantly fucked over. Not everyone is interested in that, funnily enough.

    It's not a surprise when the dreaded trammel patch came, 90% of the playerbase flocked there... and to Everquest, WoW, whereever came next. Being a mighty warrior fighting a dragon in Destard is more fun than staring at a black and white screen, or standing around at the bank in a death robe.

    I've been playing on UOSecondAge for more than 2 years now, and it's a great shard. It's not quite 1999, but the closest thing you can get to it on a smaller scale. There's a great sense of community there.

  26. I'm not sure if you played UO back then or not, but MOST people didn't PvP at all, and were perfectly content just playing the game. The penalty for being evil pretty substantial.

    When you dangle the Trammel carrot, it would be irresponsible for everyone (not just non-pks) to migrate there because the yeild was higher and there were more housing spots available.

    The problem these new games that are trying to capture Ultima Online in a bottle (Mortal, Darkfall) is that they focus too much on the worst aspects of Ultima without generating features that appeal to a broader audience. You know, you can't even set items on the ground in any modern MMORPGs... What the fuck?

  27. I started playing in early '99 so I was a bit behind the curve until late into T2A, but I absolutely loved the game. I was really bitter for years afterwards about the trammel patch, as they killed the best game ever.

    But I disagree with the fact that most players were content with UO in 1999. There was just no alternative. It's hard to say whether people would have played it if there was a UO like clone which has consensual PvP. Do you think UO would still be alive today if the designers had gone down a different path?

    My opinion is that if there's ever going to be a game like UO again, its fanbase is mainly going to be ex-UO players. My friends who play(ed) WoW and think it's a great game have all done dumb shit like go out and grief players in the PvE+PvP zones (which of course, simply stops the players from questing in that area). Yet I could not get them to understand the merits of the harsh penalties of UO 1999, they just think it's stupid.

  28. I'm not exactly optimistic about the premise of renewing innocence lost. Consumerism has dictated that more people like garbage than gold. This is why I write instead of playing MMORPGs.

  29. I agree on the comment that newer sandbox MMOs (mortal/darkfall) focus almost entirely on the aspects of sandboxes that the majority of players disliked, such as pvp etc...

    PVP certainly isn't the best in UO, but as a pvper I will always pick UO first simply due to the diversity in the game.

    When Mortal (if) gets it's shit together and adds a lot more to the game than just PVP, I'll re-sub... Unfortunately wtih things like AI guards and territory control, detrimental to sandbox IMO, it would seem that they are going the opposite direction.

  30. Mortal won't improve if for no other reason that developer incompetence. They've clearly shown that they're not in control of their own code-base and remove broken features (horse jumping) instead of fixing them.

  31. I fucking dream about a exact replica of UO with modest 3D graphics ala Dawntide. If I won that lotto, thats what I would fund.

  32. I'm with you, but I'm not sure the online community would ever accept it. People are way too comfortable with the "casual" MMO model... and of course by casual I mean pussified.

  33. I played UO from beta and then the next 5 years. Greatest game ever made without even a second thought toward any others. It was that good. If you missed the first 3 years, you missed it. There is no going back to the beginning, I'm sorry. It was a time when the internet and PC were just gaining wide popularity (which is why it never could have the numbers of today's games). It had all the wonderfully articulated qualities that the blogger has credited. These made it challenging with many varying dynamic risks and rewards that were world driven, not preprogramming. Before the training wheels were put on MMORPGs, people weren't told what to do, but put into an open world were things were happening around them and they had to figure it out. There was a lot of real problem solving, skill involved with pvp, and real political and social networks that made a huge difference in the environment. None of that exist today, and like the blooger, I too hate MMORPGs and games in general now... Fun and design have fallen to market and greed. They have lost their way and I can no longer defend or promote their cause.

    However, if you're still reading this then you deserve the right to know my real reason for responding; UO is still alive and well in one of its greatest eras: UO t2a! (the second age). A free server exist that is about all anyone who used to play or is new to the game could ask for. Its been running stable and and strong, boasting the highest clients for a FREE shard. People are nice and the rules are prefect... Hello HallyMage! Long live Lord British!

  34. If you scroll up, you'd see that a large amount of people have already plugged UOSA, and I personally had a castle on that shard over a year ago. Sadly, the population simply can't replicate early UO because of the implicit lack of "hardcore" players that can't exist today.

    It would be much harder to make a game like UO today than it was all those years ago because most players now enter games with the "know it all" mindset and are no longer trying to create their own experiences.

  35. Good News for All - Old School UO Still Exists!

    Look up Ultima Online Second Age. It is a free shard you can play on. I was an original UO player, back in 1997. I've tried nearly every other RPG / MMORPG out there since and have been disappointed. Everything gets compared to Ultima Online. Over time the game became lame, but luckily the original (after a few patches) has been restored. Check it out.

  36. You UOSA spammers need to quit.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.