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See: Ultima Online

The Game Archaeologist: Kesmai’s Air Warrior and Legends of Kesmai

Most studios would be overjoyed to have pioneered one significant advancement in video game history, but then again, most studios aren’t Kesmai. While it’s not a household name today, it’s reasonable to say that without the heavy lifting and backbreaking coding that this company shouldered in the ’80s and ’90s, the MMO genre would’ve turned out very different indeed.

Previously in this space, we met two enterprising designers named Kelton Flinn and John Taylor who recognized that multiplayer was the name of the future and put their careers on the line to see an idea through to completion. That idea was Island of Kesmai, an ancestor of the modern MMO that used crude ASCII graphics and CompuServe’s network to provide an interactive, cooperative online roleplaying experience. It wasn’t the first MMO, but it was the first one published commercially, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Flinn and Taylor’s Kesmai didn’t stop with being the first to bring MMOs to the big time, however. Flush with cash and success, Kesmai turned its attention to the next big multiplayer challenge: 3-D graphics and real-time combat. Unlike the fantasy land of Island of Kesmai, this title would take to the skies in aerial dogfighting and prove even more popular than the team’s previous project.

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Black Desert launches a cross-regional ‘Global Lab’ test server

So many games have test servers of one form or another that we seldom even need to spell out the acronym PTS – and now one more MMORPG is moving itself to that pile. Black Desert has opened up its “Global Lab,” and it actually reminds me more of something like Ultima Online’s multi-region free-for-all temporary servers, as it’ll include boosts and other tweaks for characters being played there. Nope, you can’t transfer existing characters there.

“We are launching the first Global Lab server to help improve the stability of new updates on the live servers,” Kakao says. “Through the new server we will open game content in development earlier so that we can test them as well. Thus the Global Lab server will already have characters pre-created depending on the test purpose and some game money will be provided so that you can test the characters fully. The servers settings may also be changed so that you can gain items and raise your character faster. Similarly, the Global Lab server may be reset or the service may be suspended at any time in order to analyze the feedback as quickly as possible so that we can apply the feedback as much as we can into live service.”

The test environment does require a separate client download, and apparently it won’t work for EU players, in spite of the fact that Kakao is located in the EU. Expect a reset every two weeks.

Source: Official site. Thanks, Arktouros!

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Interview and excerpt: The ‘Braving Britannia’ book preserves Ultima Online’s oral history

Earlier this week, we wrote about the launch of a new book that’s right up MMORPG fans’ alley. Dubbed Braving Britannia: Tales of Life, Love, and Adventure in Ultima Online, the book gathers together 35 interviews with players and both former and current Ultima Online devs to effectively become the first published oral history of the MMORPG that started it all.

Author Wes Locher was kind enough to answer a bunch of our questions about the book and provide us an excerpt to help you folks understand what you’re getting into if you decide to pick it up. Read on for the whole scoop!

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New Ultima Online book gathers developer and player interviews to document oral history

Old-school MMORPG players, heads-up for you: If you’re a fan of Ultima Online or wanted to hear more about the seminal MMORPG after reading our take on Raph Koster’s book, there’s another book out there you’re bound to love. We’re talking, of course, about Braving Britannia: Tales of Life, Love, and Adventure in Ultima Online by Wes Locher, whose marketing blurb describes it as

“the first nonfiction book to collect interviews with 35 of the game’s players, volunteers, and developers over more than 300 pages, revealing what they did, where they adventured, and how their lives were shaped, changed, and altered through experiences in Ultima Online’s shared persistent world. […] In a fantasy world of limitless potential, the only thing players seem to enjoy more than playing the game is talking about it, and yet, the true stories behind the avatars have largely gone unpublished for the past twenty years.”

Among the devs interviewed? Bonnie Armstrong, Raph Koster, Starr Long, Rich Vogel, Gordon Walton, and plenty more. The book is due out later this week; you can sign up on its official site to be notified when it releases.

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The Daily Grind: What’s the best MMORPG skill system that avoids the ‘illusion of choice’?

Over the weekend, my husband and I were chatting about playing on a Star Wars Galaxies emulator again, probably the Legends one that people keep recommending to me. And yes, it’s an NGE server. I was basically weighing all the content that was ultimately added during the six years of the NGE against the skill-on-use-based classic game. I loved the ol’ skill tree system to bits, so don’t get me wrong, but I was able to do most of the same things, eventually, in the NGE using classes and specs and secondary trees like beastmaster, and I floated the idea – horrors, I know – that maybe the skill system wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Fighting words, right? So that led us to discussing whether the original skill tree offered merely the illusion of choice. We were thinking about MMOs like Ultima Online and Guild Wars 1; only a very small percentage of skill builds in those games are actually viable, after all. The same is true even of level-based games with talent trees. Most builds are terrible, a waste of time, a way to present the feeling of lots of choices, but in the end only a few combinations are worth pursuing – so why did anyone bother designing and implementing them? And interestingly, we both came to the conclusion that classic Star Wars Galaxies somehow escaped that trap. Even weird builds were viable because the rest of the game made space for them rather than tried to trick you into bad choices.

What’s your favorite MMORPG with a skill-based progression system, and if it avoids the “illusion of choice” in character development, how does it do so?

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The Game Archaeologist: Raph Koster on MUDs and Privateer Online

The release of Raph Koster’s monster book of game essays, Postmortems, was of high interest to Bree and me for different reasons. For her, it was because Koster was a creative driving force behind two of her favorite games, Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. For me, it’d because Koster shares my passion for MMO history and has some unique stories touching on topics that no one has heard before.

So I combed through his collection of essays to see what I could find out on two topics of interest to me: MUDs and the elusive Privateer Online. Chances are that many of you reading have never touched a text-based multi-user dungeon, and none of us save Koster and his coworkers, ever got to even peek at Privateer Online.

Here’s a few quotes that popped out at me, and if you’re interested and have $35 to drop on a Kindle version, you can read Koster’s full collection of essays in Postmortems.

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Perfect Ten: The best MMO debuts by year, 1997-2006

By now, many of you probably know that I’m the curator of the MMO Timeline on my personal blog. On this page, I’ve attempted to catalog the launches, expansions, business model shifts, reboots, platform transitions, and sunsets of MMOs by year. It certainly helps me to get a high-level overview of certain eras of online gaming history as well as to trace the development of certain titles.

For fun, because that’s a lot of what Perfect Ten is about, I wanted to start with the year that MMORPGs really took off and select one title per year over the next two decades that I felt had the best debut and was the most exciting title to launch that year. Some years it’s going to be really easy to pick, while others… man, I am setting myself up for some hate mail, aren’t I?

Let’s turn our time machine back to 1997 and get this show on the road!

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Ultima Online is getting shared bank storage after 20 years, making F2P play more viable

There’s exciting news for the 20-year-old Ultima Online this week, as the game’s latest newsletter announced an account-wide bank storage system.

“Between Publish 100 and 101 we will be introducing a new item in the Ultima Store that many of you have seen – the Vault. A vault provides storage of 125 items which is shared across all characters on a server. The vault will be available on non-abyss ruleset shards only, so Endless Journey accounts on Siege & Mugen will have their bank box limit raised to 75. We are putting the finishing touches on this new storage option so be sure to keep an eye on UO.com for when we release the vaults for testing and eventual release.”

If this works the way it sounds like it’ll work, it’ll be a huge boon for free-to-play players, who cannot own houses, meaning they have no way to swap loot between their characters without risking an old-fashioned and risky quick-swap on the floor of an inn. A shared vault (as well as a bigger vault) will basically make “living out of your bank” much more possible, and therefore improve the overall viability of playing without the subscription (although of course you’ll still have to buy it in the cash shop).

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Gran Skrea brings an indie sandbox MMO to early access

On the prowl for an undiscovered indie MMORPG these days? You might want to check out Gran Skrea Online, as it just went into early access this past weekend.

According to the team, Gran Skrea “combines a desire for new player-defined MMORPG mechanics with influences from classic RPGs like RuneScape, Ultima Online, and The Elder Scrolls.” It’s $9 right now through June 23rd, which isn’t the most exorbitant price we’ve ever seen, and there’s an official Discord set up already.

The sandbox MMORPG sends players “to create their own destiny in an original world of medieval fantasy.” This apparently means a mixture of quests, “ruthless” PvP combat, guilds, and economy. There are already quite a few features in place, including player housing, a criminal flagging system, lots of crafting, and a game world with plenty of lore. There’s more to be added in the early access program, so features such as territorial warfare, auction houses, and naval warfare are still in development.

Get an early look at Gran Skrea after the jump!

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Ultima Online’s publish 100 hits the test server, Broadsword seeks paid event moderators

One hundred! Classic MMO Ultima Online has pushed out its 100th major update to the test server this week. It’s primarily a bug-fixing update, riding on the heels of the game’s spring free-to-play conversion. I’m not going to lie: The thing I’m most excited about is the fix for specifying how many seeds to remove from a seedbox. I love my seedbox you guys.

But of course, the update also fixes exploits with active masteries and soulstones, dye bugs, artifact drop bugs, the Wind entrance bug, yarn stacking bugs that I am pretty sure are literally 20 years old, and the faction city battle instakill bug. It’ll also allow players to swap their Cleanup Britannia points between toons (yay!) and tweaks the heck out of pets and pet training.

Meanwhile, if you’ve always thought it might be more fun to be a tabletop gamemaster in a digital space than a player, you might want to take a peek at the help wanted announcement Broadsword posted this week. The studio is looking for contractors to serve as paid Event Moderators – those are the lovely folks who craft and carry out live storytelling events on different UO shards. I know, live studio-hosted roleplaying events in 2018. Crazy.

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‘Magic through serendipity’: Raph Koster on the glorious mess that was Ultima Online

I was a wide-eyed, naive kid when I first stepped into Ultima Online in 1997, and as it turns out, the developers were too.

That’s my takeaway from reading through the Ultima Online chunk of Raph Koster’s new book, Postmortems. Koster, as any dedicated MMORPG fan will recall, went by “Designer Dragon” back then as the creative lead on the game. Having come from a MUD background, he and his wife Kristin Koster were instrumental in shaping Richard Garriott’s seminal MMORPG and therefore the genre as we know it.

Koster kindly sent us a preprint of the book, unwittingly robbing himself of $35, as I was going to buy it anyway, and it’s massive, folks: over 700 pages spanning three decades and the majority of the online games Koster’s worked on during his long tenure in the gaming industry. Some of those games are definitely of more interest to our readers on Massively OP, in particular Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. It’s the Ultima Online chapters I aim to cover today.

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The Daily Grind: What’s the best MMORPG vet reward you’ve ever gotten?

CCP Games rolled out a pretty sweet veteran reward for EVE Online vets this week ahead of the game’s anniversary: Everybody who’s been playing since the game went free-to-play in 2016 picked up a tier one Abyssal Filament.

That got me thinking about vet rewards in general. It’s actually become a pretty rare concept in MMORPGs, largely because they were originally intended to reward people for being loyal subscribers, but of course, fewer and fewer MMOs have subscriptions anymore.

I’ve picked up some really good rewards over the years that actually made me want to keep my sub going. Remember the vet reward resource crates in Star Wars Galaxies? My favorite might be my ethereal mounts in Ultima Online, or maybe my seed box (it holds hundreds of gardening seeds to cut down on the inventory mess).

What’s the best MMORPG vet reward you’ve ever gotten, and what did you have to do exactly to earn it?

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The Soapbox: Do MMOs still fall victim to the copycat curse?

When Radical Heights launched, I was inspired to put together a whole Perfect Ten about why trend-chasing doesn’t work for online games. Obviously, my chief focus was on games that wind up being developed at a rushed pace to cash in on trends and then run face-first into problems with chasing momentary trends, which… you know, you can just read the article; it’s linked right there. But it also prompted a follow-up question by longtime reader Sally Bowls asking why, with all of these issues, why the same rules don’t apply to MMOs.

The answer? Well, there isn’t one answer. There are three answers, all of which are part of the same set of considerations. For one thing, there’s the difference of development time and depth. For another, there’s the time before grinding. And last but not least, well… they do apply, really. But let’s take this piece by piece to talk about why trend-chasing for MMOs doesn’t quite provoke the same immediate reactions as it does for, say, MOBAs.

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