||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (September 2014)|
Original cover art
|Developer(s)||Origin Systems (1997–2004)|
|Designer(s)||Raph Koster and over 20 more|
|Release date(s)||24 September 1997|
Ultima Online (UO) is a graphical massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), released on 24 September 1997, by Origin Systems. It was the first game of the genre to reach widespread popularity and has had immense influence on all later games of this type.
Ultima Online is a fantasy role-playing game set in the Ultima universe. It is known for its extensive player versus player combat system. Since its release, it has added eight expansion packs, a booster pack, and dozens of free content updates. The release of Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn in 2007 brought a new game engine with a newer visual experience.
With 18 years of operations Ultima Online is currently the oldest active MMORPG.
- 1 History
- 2 Game mechanics
- 3 Issues faced
- 4 Expansions, sequels and other releases
- 5 Shard emulation
- 6 Clients
- 7 Awards
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Ultima Online is the product of Richard Garriott's idea for a fantasy game involving several thousand people who can all play in a shared fantasy world. There were a number of prior games that allowed hundreds of people to play at the same time, including Habitat (beta-tested in 1986), The Realm Online, Neverwinter Nights (the AOL version), and Meridian 59; however, Ultima Online was intended to be a significant improvement over the previous games, both graphically and in game mechanics. The initial team was composed of Garriott, Starr Long, Rick Delashmit and, a bit later Raph Koster, who became the lead designer for the project. Koster wrote a number of public "designer letters" and usually went by his nickname of Designer Dragon. Koster drew inspiration from a number of prior online games such as DartMUD.
The project started in 1995 and was shown to the public at E3 as "Ultima Online: Shattered Legacy " in May 1996. The development cost was much greater than traditional computer games; it relied on people accessing servers via modem. Ultima Online initial features included persistent player housing, skill-based character progression (without levels or classes), a crafting and player-driven economy, and unrestricted player-versus-player combat.
Lord British, the in-game alter ego of creator Richard Garriot, was famously killed during an in-game appearance on Ultima Online's beta test on August 8, 1997. A royal visit was conducted as a part of server population stress test. A player character known as Rainz cast a spell called "fire field" on Lord British that, surprisingly, killed him. According to Starr Long, the whole thing was just a human error: Lord British's character, like others, had been made invulnerable, but by design the invulnerability did not persist over several game sessions. Shortly before the incident, the server had crashed, and Richard Garriott had forgotten to set his invulnerability flag on when logging on again. Shortly afterwards, Rainz's account was banned from the beta test for previously exploiting bugs rather than reporting them (frequently used by his character Aquaman to kill many player characters, a purported griefing incident). According to Origin, he was not banned for the assassination but rather for previous complaints against his account that were brought to light as a result of this attention. After Lord British was killed, fellow Ultima Online developer Starr Long (also known in game as Lord Blackthorn) summoned some demons, who attacked innocent bystanders. This led to beta testers protesting both the indiscriminate killing, and the banning of the assassin. MMOCrunch calls it the most memorable event in MMORPG History. According to Wired magazine
September 1997 was the last day of the original beta test. The beta ended with a bang, as players were treated to an "end of the world" scenario with Shadowlords, demons, and other evil creatures slaughtering every character in sight.
Origin era (1997-2004)
Ultima Online opened its doors to the public in September 1997. Upon release, Ultima Online proved to be very popular, reaching 100,000 paying subscribers within six months of release, despite severe lag problems. Subscriptions continued to grow for several years, reaching a peak of some 250,000 paid accounts.
In 1998, the game expanded, and the number of users reached over 100,000 worldwide. In 1999, the game expanded to Japan in January, to Europe in May, and to South Korea in July.
In 2000 Richard Garriot resigned from Origin, resulting in the disappearance of his in-game self Lord British. In-game roleplayers came up with various tongue-in-cheek speculations as to why the king had vanished, such as him perhaps being abducted by mongbats.
In February, a massive army of undead laid siege to the once peaceful city of Trinsic. Due to the overwhelming odds, the dark army managed to conquer the city under the leadership of Juo'nar and the Dark Mistress Minax. All hope seemed to be lost, but noble Britannians from all over rallied together and reclaimed the city from the clutches of evil! The game also expanded to Australia.
In May, Ultima Online's second expansion marked the beginning of a new era in Britannia. With the splitting of the lands into the facets of Trammel and Felucca, players could choose their geography based on their play style. November 2000 marked the UO World Faire. Players from all over met and mingled in Austin, TX at Ultima Online's first official fanfest.
Ultima Online's second official fanfest, Online Worlds FanFest, was held in Austin, TX in January 2002. Players were able to meet the Developers behind the game, as well as special guest speaker Todd McFarlane. February 2002 marked Lord Blackthorn's Revenge. Ultima Online's fourth expansion brought players into a world under siege, replete with more than 30 new and exotic characters created by none other than Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. However, in May, Royal Knight of Britannia, leads the fight against Blackthorn and Exodus. He would be slain in June 2003.
Ultima Online's fifth expansion in 2003 was the most aggressive yet, offering players the ability to custom design their homes, the Paladin and Necromancer professions, a new land called Malas, and 13 new combat moves. In March 2003 Ultima Online reached 250,000 subscribers. Lord British returns in September 2003, the same month as the game's 6th anniversary.
Electronic Arts era (2004-2006)
The sixth expansion,Samurai Empire, launched in November 2004. Samurai Empire is a Japanese-themed expansion, offering two new professions, the Ninja and the Samurai, as well as new Japanese-themed housing tile sets. New lands, the Tokuno Islands, were added, with the cities being styled after ancient Japanese cities.
Ultima Online was the first MMORPG to reach the 100,000 subscriber base, far exceeding that of any game that went before it.
Subscriber numbers peaked at around 250,000 in July 2003, but then began a steady decline. In 2008 the game had around 100,000 subscribers. As of April 2008, Ultima Online held a market share below 0.6% of the massively multiplayer online game subscriptions. This may in part be attributed to the 2004 release of World of Warcraft, which quickly established hegemony over the MMORPG market and has attracted scores of players from all preexisting games in the genre.
Expansion number seven, Mondain's Legacy, launched in August 2005. This was the first time Ultima Online allowed for more than one player race, as Elves were added. The quest system received a major upgrade, as did the crafting system. Spellweaving was added to the skills. Many new dungeons were added to existing areas. This expansion was also the first that was only available online (offline versions on CDs could be ordered). Mondain's Legacy would be the last in the long streak of annual expansions, with updates becoming more irregular after that point.
Mythic era (2006-2014)
That month it was also announced that the anti-cheating software PunkBuster would be integrated into Ultima Online. This marked the first time PunkBuster would be used with an MMORPG to help curb cheating/exploiting. However, this was never integrated into the game, and in November 2006, Electronic Arts announced that the integration of PunkBuster would be put on an indefinite hold.
The final expansion to date was Stygian Abyss (2009), which focused on the gargoyle race.
After Stygian Abyss the development model shifted from expansions to "booster packs", which were intended to be smaller updates released more frequently. However, since the "first" booster pack High Seas of 2010 there have been no further boosters.
Broadsword era (2014-)
It was announced on 6 February 2014 that development of the game would be transferred from Mythic to a newly made studio (Broadsword) which would take over all future development of the game.
Broadsword have yet to release any new expansions or boosters.
Ultima Online continued the tradition of previous Ultima games in many ways, but due to advancing technology and the simple fact that it was Origin's first persistent online game, there were many new game mechanics as well. Partially designed as a social and economic experiment, the game had to account for the widespread player interaction as well as deal with the long history of players feeling as if they were the center of attention, as had been the case in single-player games. New to both the developers and the players, a lot that was planned never happened, and a lot that was unexpected did, and many new game mechanics were integrated to compensate.
Artificial Life Engine
Starr Long, the game's associate producer, explained in 1996:
Nearly everything in the world, from grass to goblins, has a purpose, and not just as cannon fodder either. The 'virtual ecology' affects nearly every aspect of the game world, from the very small to the very large. If the rabbit population suddenly drops (because some gung-ho adventurer was trying out his new mace) then wolves may have to find different food sources (e.g., deer). When the deer population drops as a result, the local dragon, unable to find the food he’s accustomed to, may head into a local village and attack. Since all of this happens automatically, it generates numerous adventure possibilities.
However, this feature never made it beyond the game's beta stage. As Richard Garriott explained:
We thought it was fantastic. We'd spent an enormous amount of time and effort on it. But what happened was all the players went in and just killed everything; so fast that the game couldn't spawn them fast enough to make the simulation even begin. And so, this thing that we'd spent all this time on, literally no-one ever noticed – ever – and we eventually just ripped it out of the game, you know, with some sadness.
The game began with a single world, with specific expansion packs adding additional territory and new worlds. Beginning with the first expansion (Ultima Online: The Second Age), the original world gained the "Lost Lands", with additional land, dungeons, creatures, and terrain. It was only by the second expansion that a second and separate world, Trammel, was introduced. This led the developers to distinguish the original world by making the environment more grim, and naming this world "Felucca".
There are 2 kind of servers, Normal servers with both Trammel (consensual PVP) and Felucca (non-consensual PVP) ruleset and Siege servers, that is, advance servers with non-consensual PVP and no item insurance. The Siege servers are limit to one character slot on an account, limits to ways of traveling and there are some other limits too.
The worlds in Ultima Online include:
- Felucca: The original world. Once Trammel was created, developers added dead trees and tombstones to Felucca to distinguish it from Trammel's lush environment. This was to reflect Felucca's harsher rule set where player killing is more common.
- Trammel: The second expansion (Ultima Online: Renaissance) introduced Trammel, a second world geographically similar to the original world. Two player demands were satisfied with the addition of Trammel: a rule set that does not allow non-consensual PVP, and additional open land for player housing.
- Ilshenar: The fourth expansion pack (Ultima Online: Third Dawn) introduced Ilshenar, along with new dungeons and monsters. Originally accessible to only those who purchased the expansion, all players were granted access with the next expansion, Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge. This further expansion also added new land to Ilshenar, as well as more than 30 new creatures designed by Todd McFarlane.
- Malas: The fifth expansion pack (Ultima Online: Age of Shadows) added a world called Malas, including a Player versus Player arena and space for 1500 new homes. It features Dungeon Doom, the largest dungeon in the game to date, and two cities: Luna (the "City of Paladins") and Umbra (the "City of Necromancers"). Malas is a series of islands floating in a starry void, and is distinguished by a darker artistic style. Malas has been praised for its variety of creatures and geographic features.
- Tokuno: The sixth expansion (Ultima Online: Samurai Empire) added Tokuno, a group of islands based on Feudal Japan.
- Ter Mur: The most recent expansion (Ultima Online: Stygian Abyss) added Ter Mur, the land of the Gargoyles. The capital, Ter Mur, features space for player homes.
Since the designers wanted to provide a great deal of freedom and sense of agency, it was important to allow players to act in a villainous role. However, since the repercussions for attacking or stealing from other players were relatively mild, antisocial and disruptive behavior became rampant, creating an unpleasant experience for many players. The consequences of in-game criminality were adjusted over time, but maintaining the general commitment to player freedom. As explained by designer Raph Koster, "Being safe from evil is, in my mind, an uneven tradeoff for the fact that you don't get to be heroes anymore, in that you can just opt out of fighting evil. It may be nobody wants to be heroes except when it doesn't count, when it isn't challenging, that people would rather fight 'pretend evil' than the real thing, but I don't personally believe that. I still think people are better than that."  Eventually, the Renaissance expansion created large areas of the game in which it was not possible to harm other players. A significant spike in account reactivation was attributed to this aspect of Renaissance.
Ultima Online was sued by former player volunteers ("Counselors") and settled in 2004 without admitting wrongdoing. AOL had their volunteers train customer service personnel it hired, then shut down the volunteer program. Concern over future lawsuits led Microsoft to shut down their volunteer program for Asheron's Call.
Expansions, sequels and other releases
Throughout Ultima Online's history, there have been many major additions to the game. Two sequels were attempted and expansions have been released regularly.
Expansions have been released regularly, all of which add new content in the form of landmass, art, quests, items, or game mechanics.
|Ultima Online: The Second Age||1 October 1998||A new area of land called the Lost Lands, along with an in-game chat system and new creatures. Also known as T2A. It was released in two boxed versions with the first having different artwork and a single manual.|
|Ultima Online: Renaissance||4 May 2000||Doubled the size of the world, as there were literally two copies of it. The worlds were called Felucca and Trammel, after the two moons in Ultima's Britannia world. The Trammel world did not allow player killing and was geared towards fighting monsters. Felucca also adopted a darker, more foreboding look and kept its player vs player roots.|
|Ultima Online: Third Dawn||7 March 2001||Included a 3D client to compete with 3D competition like EverQuest. Also, a special Third Dawn only land was created, called Ilshenar. It was accessible only to 3D clients until the release of Lord Blackthorn's Revenge.|
|Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge||24 February 2002||Brought "a dark new world based on new characters from Todd McFarlane" to Ultima Online with improved game artificial intelligence, in-game help, and improved character creation.|
|Ultima Online: Age of Shadows||11 February 2003||Brought the landmass of Malas with space for new housing, two new character classes (Paladin and Necromancer) and the ability to customize house designs. The item system was completely reworked with this expansion. Armor resistance was split into five types of resistance, and many new properties that affected game play were added to weaponry. As good equipment became vital, this expansion also brought with it item insurance. Subscriptions reached a peak of over 250,000 accounts following the release.|
|Ultima Online: Samurai Empire||2 November 2004||Brought ancient Japanese mythology and folklore to the game, two new classes (Ninja and Samurai) and a new area to explore, the Tokuno Islands. The new class skills shifted the balance of player vs. player combat away from mage dominance.|
|Ultima Online: Mondain's Legacy||30 August 2005||Introduced a new race, elves, and a new skill, spellweaving. Several dungeons were also added.|
|Ultima Online: Stygian Abyss||8 September 2009||Featured a new playable race, the Gargoyle; additional play areas; and three new skills: imbuing, throwing, and mysticism. Stygian Abyss also featured significant upgrades to the Kingdom Reborn client, which has been renamed to the Enhanced Client. The original client is still supported.|
At a public relations event on 28 August 2010 it was announced that the development team was moving to a "booster" style development process. The stated goal was to release two boosters per year.
|Ultima Online: High Seas||12 October 2010||Focused on additions to fishing, sailing and the pirate skill. Four new ship types, improved ship movement, pirate NPCs to hunt, and new boss encounters are introduced along with improvements to the fishing skill like new types of fish and crustaceans to catch and an increased skill cap.|
Two sequels were planned by Electronic Arts, but both were canceled during development so that more focus could be spent on the original game.
- Ultima Online 2 (UO2), later renamed Ultima Worlds Online: Origin (UWO:O) was announced in 1999. It was to add steampunk elements to the fantasy setting, set in a world where the past, present and future of Sosaria were merged by a mistake made by Lord British while attempting to merge the shards of the Gem of Immortality. Todd McFarlane was hired to design original monsters and regions for the game, as well as help shape the story. It was cancelled in 2001 before its release, citing the competitive nature of the massively multiplayer online gaming market—Electronic Arts feared the sequel would harm Ultima Online's subscription numbers. Some of the monsters and art made for the game were later used in the Ultima Online expansion Lord Blackthorn's Revenge.
- Ultima X: Odyssey was a new MMORPG to be set in a world named Alucinor, created by the Avatar after the events of Ultima IX: Ascension. It was cancelled in 2004 when Electronic Arts closed Origin. The UXO team was invited to move to the Bay area to finish the game. However, only a small number of people on the UXO team accepted the transfer. In the end, UXO was cancelled because the development team dissolved.
Ultima Online has had several special releases which were not expansions, but came with boxed or in-game extras.
- Ultima Online: Charter Edition (30 September 1997) was available to pre-order from Origin Systems at the launch of Ultima Online and in small quantities alongside the standard retail box. It included a signed lithograph of the Ultima Online artwork by the Hilderbrandt brothers and a pewter pin badge bearing the Ultima Online logo. The box was not signed by Richard Garriott but simply bears a digital print of his Lord British signature. The Charter Edition also included the cloth map which was also a feature of the standard box.
- Ultima Online: Discovery Edition (1 February 2000) was release to the Australian and New Zealand markets at the same time as the launch of the Oceania server for the region.
- Ultima Online: 7th Anniversary (25 September 2004) was a special release of the game to celebrate Ultima Online's seventh birthday. Like all of the items listed in this section, this release did not bring anything new to the game and is not an expansion, although it did include a more recently patched CD; the Age of Shadows was still the most current version at the time. This release was contained in a small cardboard box containing a triple-CD jewel case, featuring Ultima Online: Age of Shadows, but also included Ultima IX: Ascension install and play discs as a special bonus. A glossy booklet showing the history of Ultima Online expansions was included which contained historic art and an interview from the Ultima Online team and community leaders. Also included in the package a code for an in-game gift, one of which was Ultima Online's famous Hilderbrant print, an extra character slot (a total of six characters was now available) and 7 buddy registration codes.
- Ultima Online: Gold (18 July 2005) was a special release sold by Wal-Mart and includes the same content as Ultima Online: Samurai Empire. This edition also comes with an Advanced Character token code, and quick-start manual.
- Ultima Online: The Eighth Age (25 September 2005) was a boxed game CD with an array of in-game tokens. Though not bringing any new features, the release was to celebrate Ultima Online's eighth birthday. The box included an updated game CD (with more recent patches), a glossy booklet featuring an atlas of Sosaria, in-game tokens for an anniversary gift (choice of 8), a character transfer, an advanced character and a 45-day free trial code. Also a time-limited blue soulstone was included.
- Ultima Online: 9th Anniversary Collection (31 October 2006). Formerly known as "Eve of a New Age." This came with an in-game upgrade code which redeemed 9 "Heritage Tokens", "Crystal" and "Shadow" items which matched new housing tile sets in the game, and attendants, which took the form of NPCs. These could be set to announce a player's presence in a house or to follow the player around on the map. The Heritage tokens could be redeemed for several kinds of items including special armor, weapons, and many house decoration items in various themes (3 fruit trees, a set of rugs, tables, a broken furniture set, a "dark" or evil furniture set and more).
- Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn (27 June 2007) introduced a new client with new graphics and interface. This client was never finished and was replaced by the Enhanced Client in 2009.
Fans of Ultima Online have reverse-engineered the game to produce server emulators of the original Electronic Arts servers. With the modern emulation server software available today, it is possible to customize most aspects of the game and support large numbers of concurrent players on a single server.
Electronic Arts provides the standard clients with which players are allowed to connect to the Ultima Online servers, though some third-party clients have also been made.
The original Ultima Online client is 2D and, while it was state of the art when released, it is intended to be used on low-end machines that cannot support the more taxing 3D client. It also presents a crisper, simpler artistic flavor that some people find more attractive than the 3D client. Many of the graphics used are high-resolution versions of graphics used in Ultima VIII: Pagan.
Ultima Online: Third Dawn client
The 3D client was originally released as a part of the Ultima Online: Third Dawn expansion, but has received poor reviews from both veteran and new players alike due to a large number of performance issues (especially memory leaks early on) and what many see as sub-par graphics. An update to the 3D client was made on 30 January 2006 when characters and creatures from the game were scaled down to smaller sizes.
As of early May/Late April 2007, the Third Dawn client is no longer supported by Electronic Arts, and focus was shifted to the Kingdom Reborn client and its successor the Enhanced Client. Electronic Arts Ultima Online servers will no longer allow the Third Dawn client to connect.
Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn client
Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn was announced in August 2006 and was released 27 August 2007. The new client, according to the Ultima Online team at Electronic Arts, was created for the purpose of modernizing the game's look, making it easy to add new content without backsliding through outdated and outmoded art, while maintaining the niche market as an MMORPG that can be run on lower-end computers. Electronic Arts has referred to the Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn client as "2.5d," meaning that it was written in 3d and then effectively backslid into 2d to make it, in theory, easier for lower-end computers to run. The client is available as a free download for current players of the game.
Statements made by Electronic Arts originally stated that the Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn client would replace the long-standing Ultima Online client. However, at the first of several Electronic Arts-sponsored players' conventions referred to as "UO Town Meetings," in Atlanta, Electronic Arts representatives suggested that the two clients would exist side-by-side until about 80% of the players had switched over to the new client. The support for this client is ended on 9 September 2009, to streamline the patch process prior to the release of the Ultima Online: Stygian Abyss expansion.
A modified version of the Kingdom Reborn client, renamed as the "Enhanced Client," was introduced as part of the Stygian Abyss expansion. It was released as an open beta in July 2009 and the changes included enhanced macro abilities, a more configurable interface, changes to the mapping system, and graphical improvements. The enhanced graphics of the Kingdom Reborn client had been retired in favor of lower resolution original graphics that more closely resembled the original 2D client. This graphic set was based on the Third Dawn client and was previously available in the Kingdom Reborn client as optional original graphics.
Ultima Online's success resulted in Guinness World Records awarding the game 8 world records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. These records include "First MMORPG to Reach 100,000 Players", "Longest Running MMORPG", and "First and Only Person to Kill Lord British", which was done by a player named Rainz during a server reset which turned off his invulnerability.
In May 2001 Ultima Online won the MPOGD game of the month award 
In 2010, Ultima Online was the first inductee into the Game Developers Choice Online Awards Hall of Fame.
In 2012, Stratics presented Ultima Online with a "Historic Achievement Award" to commemorate "fifteen years of innovation, imagination, and dedication in support of the Ultima Online community." Time designated it as one of the 100 greatest video games of all time in November 2012.
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- Interview with Dave "Cathat" Brown, Character and Environmental artist.
- 2nd Interview with Dave "Cathat" Brown, Character and Environmental artist.
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