Ultima Online shard emulation
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Fans of Ultima Online have reverse engineered the game to produce server emulators of the original servers, now owned by Electronic Arts. With the modern server-emulation software available today, it is possible to customize most aspects of the game and support large numbers of concurrent players on a single server.
Shard emulation for Ultima Online got its start during the beta-stage of the game's development in 1996 and 1997, when a program called Ultima Offline eXperiment was released that allowed the players to set up offline servers the game client could connect to. The source-code for version three of this program was released under the GNU General Public License sometime in 1998, which spawned a host of forks, clones and complete reimplementations.
From the time the first shard emulator software appeared and until late 2005, more than 40 shard emulation projects for Ultima Online came into existence, though in 2008 only a handful of those were still active.
Some third-party servers claim to maintain high numbers of active accounts (upwards of 60,000 active accounts), online players (upwards of about 500 to 1000 average), and content (between 6 and 7 million items), rivaling Electronic Arts servers. It is possible to find complete and well-populated servers emulating the world as it was in the days before the Renaissance expansion pack as well as servers that provide support for all expansion packs to date. Some also provide a unique experience. The original branch of the popular RunUO server emulator will not be supporting Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn, so many shards may remain as they are. Sphere, another popular emulator, has limited UOKR support, the same goes for the (less widespread) POL.
Today, it is commonplace for many custom servers to not only feature custom game play, but also custom media, such as graphics and maps, as well. Almost all of the Ultima Online client files have been reverse engineered and editing software now exists to ease the development of custom media so that people can script, program, and develop their computer and networking abilities.
Operating or playing on an emulated server may be in violation of the Ultima Online terms of service, though some see the laws relating to this as being ambiguous and varied between countries. The creators of other games, such as World of Warcraft and EverQuest, on the other hand, have had some success in shutting down emulated servers and have been actively doing so . The reverse engineering required to bypass the packet encryption may also be in violation of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States, though many of the file formats were publicly posted before the DMCA took effect.
- Joe Blancato (2 Aug 2005). "The Highest Form of Flattery". The Escapist. Retrieved 2006-08-11.
- "UO Terms of Service". Electronic Arts. Retrieved 2006-08-11.
- United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (2005). "Davidson & Associates DBA Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.; Vivendi Universal Inc. v. Jung et al., 422 F.3d 630 (8th Cir. 2005)" (PDF). USCourts.gov. Retrieved 2006-03-22.