Need a podcast with a world sampler? Look no further than this episode, where co-hosts from the USA, Switzerland, and New Zealand join forces to discuss the Ultima Online games -- and yes, there’s more than just one! Scott AKA Mylin subs in for Steff this week as the Battle Bards explore three Ultima titles and the fantastic music behind each.
Battle Bards is a bi-weekly podcast that alternates between examining a single MMO’s soundtrack and exploring music tracks revolving around a theme. MOP’s Justin co-hosts with bloggers Steff and Syl. The cast is available on iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, and Player.FM.
We’ve got Episode 84: Ultima and the show notes for you after the break!
One of the reasons that I grieve the premature loss of Ultima X Odyssey was that the devs had some truly intriguing ideas of how to incorporate choices into players' quests -- choices that would have consequences. That's right: Years before SWTOR, Ultima X was already rife with nail-biting choices.
"Questing in most online RPGs unfortunately involves sending you on countless errands, requiring you to run for 10 to 15 minutes (sometimes more!) at time," lamented Lead Designer Jon Hanna back in 2004. "Nothing ever happens during these quests. There are no surprises, no decisions, and no opportunities for role-playing."
How could modern MMO quests become more than they are in respect to player decisions? How would you like choice and consequence to play out in your games?
Whenever I compile lists or run articles on MMOs that never made it out of the gate, it seems as though talking about it puts people in one of two moods. Either they're keenly interested (as I am) into these fascinating glimpses of what-could-have-been, or they become depressed and a little sore that I reminded them of the toy they'll never have.
I don't mean to prod sore spots with these, I hope you understand. It's just that part of my job as a game archaeologist is to uncover and document all of these older MMOs, even if they come with a lot of emotional baggage (say, from being killed in development). To the sore folks, I apologize in advance, because this week we're going to take another video tour, this time to look at MMOs that never launched.
"Wait a minute," you say out loud to your computer. "Western MMORPGs aren't a thing, except in my fondest dreams. How can you write an entire column on music from these imaginary games?"
It is true, there really aren't many (if any) "wild west" MMOs, but that isn't to say that we are lacking for western areas and themes in our games. The American west makes for a great backdrop when its fictionalized into games, whether they be fantasy or sci-fi, and composers do love to sneak in a western-sounding track or two into their albums as well.
Today we're going to be listening to a wide range of MMORPG soundtracks that would be comfortable on the frontier. So pull a log up to the fire, take our your harmonica, and think of a home on the range!
As an MMO fan, there are few things as sad as a promising game being killed in development without seeing the light of a full release. Those nagging "what if?" scenarios can drive a fan mad and keep one up through the wee hours of the night.
And while I don't have the power to resurrect these MMOs through my sheer force of will and present them to you wrapped in a bow, I can perhaps deliver a consolation gift by pointing you in the direction of some of these games' soundtracks.
Many MMOs that were nearing completion or in development for a long time already had work done on their in-game music. And some of that music has escaped the long, cold fingers of cancellation thanks to composers and fans who wanted to preserve the score. So while it may be bittersweet to listen to the following six games' scores, it's also a small triumph that we can do so at all.
I think any MMO veteran has a private list of prematurely canceled games that he or she deeply wishes had been completed and launched. I wish we lived in a world where Project Copernicus was a joyous fantasy world rather than a sour news story or where Interplay had free reign to make Fallout Online.
But perhaps one of the greatest "could have been's" is also rarely discussed these days due to the passage of time: Ultima X Odyssey. The second proposed sequel to Ultima Online showed true promise, an intriguing morality system, and an art style that still holds up today. The more I've learned about it over the years, the more I mourn the fact that it died before it was ever born.
So what made this game so special? What are we missing today by not having it? Let's take a trip back to the early part of the 2000s to discover this Ultima successor.
I know it's an old hat at this point, but I'm still quite appreciative that Star Wars: The Old Republic
made an effort to give my character choices in dialogue and story actions. I feel more attached to my characters as a result and enjoy having a say in transpiring events.
However, I also recognize that linking story choices with a morality meter (in this case, light vs. dark side) complicates matters. Players might vote against their inclinations just to get more points for a preferred side, for starters. Then there's the issue of developers assigning choices as either good or bad; it's easy when it's a black-and-white decision, but more tricky when the issues are nuanced. What happens when a player strongly disagrees with a dev's take on a quest and is penalized in-game for it?