Richard Garriott on how players ‘destroyed’ Ultima Online’s ecology

    
53
I cannot adequately express how much cleaner these screenshots look than my actual play experience.

With a couple of months to go before its official launch, Shroud of the Avatar has more than a few challenges to overcome to deliver a solid, full-fledged game that appeals to a crowd outside of the small-yet-loyal community that has been financially floating this title for years now. But challenges are what Richard Garriott is all about, and the video game creator is not shy about sharing his long history of overcoming these in the industry.

In a recent Ars Technica interview, Garriott shared his war stories about the creation of Ultima Online and the surprises that the community whipped up along the way. The story he tells here focuses on the automated virtual ecology that was made for the sandbox. This carefully fine-tuned system was destroyed virtually overnight when player hordes came into the game and slaughtered everything.

Out of this (failed) experiment came a funny story and some useful lessons that the team used to shape MMO sandboxes thereafter. Check it out after the break!

Source: Ars Technica. Thanks MinimalistWay!

53
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
socontrariwise

That is missing basic lessons in introducing a pest without natural enemies in a system. If you are looking for something to do while sated, even cats kill EVERYTHING just because they can. It is a major problem for bird populations.
And of course cats don’t go for other cats or dangerous critters, they go for what is easy and gives reward without much risk or pain.
I’ve seen that solved rather nicely on a German UO shard many years ago where the herbivores did what they do in nature too: they were incredible hard to spot (freezing and mimicry) – or they were just nuts agile and scattering from a wide distance. Took me nearly half an hour to manage to kill a rabbit because I just couldn’t even get close enough to it.

Reader
Robert Mann

I still think they should have gone with it. Let the players suffer for a while, but have a slow recovery happening. Yes, the people who literally cannot control themselves will leave, but it adds a whole new level and flavor to the game when scarcity comes into play, and criminal justice for causing it start showing up (as an example of what was in part lacking) with some actual BITE rather than just the barking of most games.

Of course, the problem was people needed to level combat on them…

Veldara
Reader
Veldara

Ha, I remember being in a lecture that discussed this very topic. See, their mistake was assuming the players would behave rationally to begin with.

Reader
Nathaniel Downes

Players behave rationally? Clearly they never worked in QA

Reader
John Wilkinson

There are a number of fixes (From a GM).
1. Make some base creature visible but immortal or valueless – like ants. Allow those to do the job of the herbavores at a slower rate.
2. Make a powerful creature (Forrest dragon) that has no interest in the herbavores but slaughters the player if his herbavore death count gets too high
3. Protect the herbavores in other ways, such as high level guards and what not protecting “the kings deer”.
4. Create plagues, locusts, some problem from killing too many – making the difficulty level MUCH higher (this is the preferred penalty). It would be great to even make an ecology for this where the difficulty can be so high as to be life threatening to the village and the player beyond the max level. So when you have dragons, they consume predators and players but not herbavores. This then allows the grass to grow, combats disease and if the players continue to threaten the area then the problem becomes the dragons – which will play itself out among the top level characters. But the lower level characters will get tired off being killed and leave the area along, the dragon population will lessen and the players involved will learn a lesson. Or not and the cycle will continue.

deekay_plus
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_plus

you are putting more thought into this than gariot and crew really at all put into it 20 years ago.

the story gets better with every retelling as they say.

Reader
John Wilkinson

It was just idle thought, it took more effort to actually type it out. I’m an Ultima 7 pt 1 & 2 fan myself.

Reader
Jokerchyld

I agree. I dont think the ecology was the problem, but that it wasn’t balanced. The herbivores ate the vegetation. The carnivores ate the herbivores. But there was nothing to balance (or gate) the players, allowing them free will to slaughter everything. Like John said you would have needed another element (such as a dragon) that would deter humans from killing the other two elements thus having a balance.

But even then I believe players would be creative enough to get around it.

Reader
John Wilkinson

Thank you! You can let them get around it and show them the consequences. Like desertification or less of a given species or more dangerous ones. Another solution would be to have a base state – have rabbits spawn from stumps or some such, wolves from caves – some place where the player cannot slaughter all of them.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
François Verret

Very interesting, but oh Ceiling Cat that pipe! So disturbing.

Reader
Arktouros

Haha I went through like 80% of this video like, “What the hell is he talking about…I don’t remember any of this.” only for him to say they removed it.

What I do remember, however, was the game did have many dynamic encounters in the game and those hooked me pretty good into the genre. While there were always the random houses/towers with NPCs to defeat and loot my favorite by far was the Cove orc fort invasion. Periodically the Cove orc fort would over flow with orcs and ettins and spill out into the surrounding Cove area and travel along the beach all the way to Vesper. You would have to fight through hundreds of Orc and Ettin spawns all the way back to the fort only to find a Lich in the middle of the fort defending it like it was some sort of evil Lord.

This is actually one of the big reasons that GW2 appealed to me, because it has that same kind of “dynamic” encounter mechanics in an open world. It wasn’t a huge focus on just speed running dungeons and raids alongside a static story line but rather about a living, breathing open world. Shame they decided to stop focusing on that and kinda am hoping one day another game will go back to focusing on that style content.

deekay_plus
Reader
Patreon Donor
deekay_plus

odd thing is gw2 never felt like a living breathing world past 2 hours into beta. the events were on reliable timers. the npc chatter and routing was on too short a schedule and overly repetitive.

meanwhile i yearn for the sort of dynamic encounters you’ll see in skyrim and rdr i think tjey could liven things up alot.

Reader
connor_jones

Agreed, the random encounters in the Bethesda open world RPG’s were sometimes great.

Concerning GW2, I was still a bit of an mmo novice (I loathe the word ‘noob’) when I started playing it, and at the time I thought it was so wrong that people would give event timer info in gen chat. To me it seemed very immersion killing and unnatural, like they were players trying to break the game.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

(I loathe the word ‘noob’)

“Newbie” is the usual, non-pejorative term for a new player. “Noob,” on the other hand, is used to imply that the player not only has as little knowledge as a newbie, he/she also refuses to learn.

Reader
John Kiser

Yep. Basically someone that has been around the game long enough that they should know this or that (i have no problem if someone doesn’t know this or that myself other than them trying to act like they do)

Reader
Arktouros

It’s truly difficult to design a truly dynamic system. Once players have gone through things enough times and figured out the mechanics behind it enough times it becomes predictable even if what’s chosen isn’t. I can still rattle off a number of the “random” encounters in a game like Skyrim after the hundreds of hours poured into it. It’s just a list of specific things that happen based on various events that have been triggered in game.

There’s also people who are interested in “metagaming” the system for their own profit which is what you see in GW2. They’ve figured out how and when these events will occur and have them on timers to min-max their reward income. However this has occurred after years of playing and at game release there was much excitement when events would occur until people figured out the encounters more.

Reader
Arktouros

That’s why I put the word “dynamic” in quotes because anyone who’s played GW2 long enough recognizes it’s not truly dynamic about it’s encounters and it’s triggers. Many are on timers (as said below) and/or are part of direct chains that can be actively triggered.

However the base concept of running around and battling open world events that would spawn is a far cry different than take, for example, WOW (in the past) where open world you’re largely just following quest line of static encounters already present in the world (IE: go kill X mobs already always at Y location regardless if you have quest Z or not). More importantly with GW2 those events open to everyone who showed up all fighting off a particular open world event and rushing to work together rather than competing against each other over kills that lead to loot. This part was, ultimately, more my point than quibbling over the word dynamic.

wandris
Reader
wandris

Savages.

Reader
Rolan Storm

Indeed.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
camelotcrusade

Lol, my quick read of the headline was that players destroyed the economy so I came here with my popcorn. When he spilled the money on the table I thought “finally!” and didn’t realize, until the very end, my brain was aggressively on (failed) auto-correct. :p

semugh
Reader
semugh

I have done this too. Tho you quickly graduate out of animals. As soon as you can kill your first mongbat you should go to Britain’s graveyard. When you can kill the wraiths there you’re ready for endgame.
I don’t think he should blame layers tho…

Reader
neves_meid

This guy destroyed UO and the Ultima IP when he sold out. Ever since, every title he’s put out has been an abject failure of a game. He should have stuck with what he knew and what worked and he wouldn’t have to reminisce about Ultima, he would still have a decent game and the backing of its fans. Too bad, really.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Nah, EA was intent on acquiring the Ultima and the Wing Commander franchises, so it did everything it legally could to force Origin into a position where the company could either file for bankruptcy or sell itself to EA. Origin wasn’t well managed — it was manned by passionate and talented devs, not businessmen — but what pushed it over the edge was EA successfully attempting to push them out of the market to force a sale.

Funny thing, if EA wasn’t intent on curbing creativity inside Origin, a few other famous games might have been created by Origin and published by EA. For example, when EA decided to cancel Privateer Online (based on Wing Commander Privateer) and move its developers to Ultima Online 2 (yep, asking hardcore spaceship fans to make a fantasy game), much of the team left EA, got hired by Verant (later renamed to SOE), and started integrating their ideas into the project that became Star Wars Galaxies. Also, City of Heroes had among its devs quite a few Ultima devs that left EA over how the company was treating the franchise, including Richard Garriott as the executive producer.

Reader
neves_meid

Whatever the explanation for their ineptitude, Origin made a deal with the devil, chose to sell instead of innovate, and EA destroyed the franchise.

Reader
Roger Christie

It’s almost as though they wanted to (gasp) make money!

Reader
neves_meid

lol AKA sell-out

Reader
Roger Christie

Why yes. That’s quite often the goal of someone who creates and builds a business. To sell it to (gasp) make money!