Tag Archives: Ultima Online

Lord British has a Great Fondness for EA

“I have a great fondness for Electronic Arts – I still think they’re one of the best, most powerful and competent sales and marketing and distribution companies in the business.”

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux at EuroGamer

You will note that he doesn’t say anywhere that interview that EA can make a decent game.

In yet another interview over at EuroGamer (is that the only gaming site that will talk to him lately, or does he just have a “great fondness” for them as well?), Garriott de Cayeux continues to pour out his man-love for Electronic Arts in the hope that they will work with him by letting him use the Ultima franchise for his Ultimate RPG.

The sign of the Ultimate Ultima?

And, well, I am already two posts into this story, so why not carry on quoting for truth I guess.  I am sure that this will all seem worthwhile when I sum it up again in a year.

Unfortunately, according to Garriott de Cayeux, not everybody at EA is happy to see him.

“Electronic Arts is a big company,” he said. “There are some parts of the organisation that would love and embrace and clearly understand the logic of ‘wouldn’t it be great to work together on an Ultima’.

“And then there are other parts of the organisation who – I’m actually not sure where the resistance comes from, but it must be people who either have their own ideas about where the product should go, or have their own ideas about whether or nor I should be involved in it. And I don’t know where the counter-forces come from.

“So far we’ve not put a deal together, but of course, yeah, I would be very open to it.”

Ah well, life in the big leagues.  I am going to guess that maybe EA thinks that they have some RPG muscle in their BioWare division.

Still, EA is not the critical ingredient in this project.

“What essentially makes an Ultima an Ultima is the principles of design,” Garriott explained. “And I’m very confident that when players sit down with this new world they will very quickly recognise that, whether or not we end up doing any deal with Electronic Arts.

“This is clearly the spiritual successor of the Ultima series,” he said.

I do have to admit that his message is a bit more focused of late after recently spending some time all over the map.  I don’t know who reigned him in, but good job on that!

Anyway, the interview goes on speak of a Minecraft-like development process, getting the game into the hands of players as soon as possible, being platform agnostic, and allowing for both synchronous and asynchronous player interaction.

Now if they could just hook up an RSS feed on the Portalarium site so I would get notifications automatically, all would be right with the world.

The era of the Jesus feature is over

A Jesus feature, it emerged, is something that turns “4 loaves of bread into 50,000 new subscribers“. It’s the home run, the called shot into deep left field, the awesome idea that will solve all of CCP’s problems, carved in a stone tablet made of virgin Eyjafjallajökull lava and delivered from on high down to the adoring fish-factory devs.

Supertitans! Tech-IV! Jovians! Jovians in Tech-IV Supertitans! And they’re naked, and want your precious NEX store clothes and monocles!

You get the idea.

Trebor Daehdoow, Member of the Council of Stellar Management

The quote in the title was attributed to Hilmar Pétursson, CEO of CCP, as part of his address to the latest session of the CSM.

According to the full post, the next couple of expansions will be more like Crucible, fixing and refining.  It will be likely be 18 months before the next big “new feature” based expansion.  While the minutes of the session are not out, that seemed to be the general gist of things.  The Mittani seemed to only be tweeting about alcohol at the CSM, which I take as a sign that there was little drama.

Now, in the case of CCP and EVE Online, they kind of backed themselves into a corner.  Their last set of “big” features, which came as part of Incarna, and they failed to draw many new people while alienating a lot of veterans.

But a lot of other companies take their shots at “Jesus features.”  Free to play seems to be the big one these days.  And it seems to work, for the most part, though it isn’t really a feature of the game, just a payment plan change.

But history is also full of big feature plays that failed.  Trammel in Ultima Online and the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies, to name a couple of historical precedents.

Do MMOs just hit a point in time when the best thing to do is incremental changes and improvements?  Where raising the level cap, adding a few more zones and dungeons, tacking on a new features, and maybe tossing in a new race or class is all they can safely do?

When does the era of the “Jesus feature” end for most MMOs?

Lord British and The Ultimate RPG in a Land Which Cannot Yet be Named

Lord British’s Ultimate Role Playing Game, which may be called “Akalabeth” or may be called “New Britannia” or may be called “a name I cannot yet say as it describes the setting I am considering and think I should keep secret at least until I know if it’s likely true,” will be an Ultimate RPG.

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux on The Ultimate RPG

I don’t think we’re out of the woods quite yet when it comes to the Madness of Lord British, but at least we have some more details.

In an interview over at EuroGamer, Garriott de Cayeux gushes about Portalarium’s first non-casino related game, Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale, a Facebook game expected to be available some time in 2012 and which seems to be somewhat inspired by Garriott de Cayeux’s own collecting mania.  The game boasts the following bullet points:

  • A collecting and shopping social media game
  • From hall of fame designer Richard Garriott
  • Decorate your own house and show off your collections
  • Shop and collect from garage sales, markets and auctions
  • Go shopping in-game at nationally known retailers
  • Playable on a PC and available on Facebook in first quarter of 2012

This, as with the previous casino games, is Portalarium’s way of financing the development of the technology they will need to create the Ultimate RPG.  We will have to wait to see how it fares.

This all comes with a serious, professional upgrade to the Portalarium web site, including a new logo and motto.

We Take You There

And, thankfully, they removed that 20+ year old picture of Garriott de Cayeux.  That was influencing how seriously anybody could take this venture.

The Ultimate RPG is still out in the distant future, but Garriott de Cayeux offers these inspirational words.

So when traditional gamers look at all the “Ville” clones out there in the world, take heart! See not what is popular now, but rather what is happening in this new era that also would benefit them! A great game, like a great movie, need not be inaccessible to the masses. Great story and depth need not come at the cost of up front effort, pain and cost. Free to play does not mean the game has to be riddled with advertising and calls to spam your friends.

But, for those unwilling or unable to pay fairly for what they now play, asking them to work for the developer and find us players is not unfair. Great games can and will be made in this new era, to the benefit of all, traditional and new players. We intend to be a leading maker of such games.

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux, again on The Ultimate RPG

There, does that make everybody feel better?

The Madness of Lord British

Oh the wacky things that come out of the mouth of Dr. Richard Allen Garriott de Cayeux!

(Please note/respect his name change)

The first image from the Portalarium site

Now maybe the press is just catching him at the wrong moments, but I am having problems parsing the meanings of his statements of late.  He seems to be all over the map.

About a month ago he was scolding EA and Blizzard for “letting” Zynga have the casual market, which seemed to me to be like scolding Peterbilt for letting Daihatsu beat it in the Kei car market in Japan.  And on thinking about it, since he is all about the whole casual game scene at the moment, he seems to be complaining that EA isn’t in a position to kick him in the ass yet again.

Then he starts talking about his ultimate RPG game, all the while hinting that if only EA would hire him back and give him creative control, (or at least just let him use the name and IP) he could banish elves and ninjas and make the Ultima franchise great again.  But that didn’t sound very casual.

This was followed up by the big interview over at Industry Gamers where, after comparing himself to Tolkien, he goes on to say that gaming consoles are doomed… we MIGHT see one more generation… and that the future is in portable devices, which coincidentally happens to be a platform he is targeting.  At least that seemed to be clearly self-serving in a Bobby Kotick sort of way.  I can grasp that, especially when I recall him saying at GDC 2007 that MMOs were the way to go… because, of course, he was making an MMO. (He’s done with MMOs now.)

On top of that, add in the background noise of one of his manors going up for sale, which includes some stunning amenities, winning his lawsuit with NCsoft, where his last big effort, Tabula Rasa  went live 4 years ago and closed 16 months later, his space faring ventures, which gets played up a lot, the rather limited focus of in his company, Portalarium, with its loathsome twitter feed, the big output from which appears to be online Poker and Blackjack, and how he runs the company via robotic interface… and an appearance with Martha Stewart

and…

well…

…you start to wonder how seriously you should take the guy these days, at least when it comes to computer games.

You cannot take away what he has accomplished.  The Ultima series of games was huge and innovative and influential and in ways remains unmatched to this day.  But even that series seemed to be faltering until Ultima Online came along.  And since then his efforts on the gaming front seem to have dissipated.

Thus while the thought of EA bringing him back and, say, teaming him up with BioWare to produce the ultimate Ultima RPG is a great “What if…” scenario, it seems only just slightly more likely to happen than EA handing Richard Bartle a pile of money to create the ultimate virtual world.

So if he is serious about building his dream RPG, it seems like it will have to be in a land besides Britannia.

All of which still leaves me in kind of a “what the hell?” state of mind.

Would you want to play Mr. Garriott de Cayeux’s ultimate RPG even if it wasn’t set in the lands of Ultima and he had to place himself in game as… I don’t know… Seigneur Cayeux sur Mer?

Would you play it if it was only on Android or iOS?

Would you play it if it involved talking to trees?

Has anybody checked the color of his urine lately?

So Where Exactly is This GDC Online Hall of Fame?

As far as I can tell, it is online.  Which I suppose is appropriate.  And it certainly makes it easier to visit.

I was wondering about that since a number of headlines have popped up about EverQuest being inducted into the Game Developers Choice Online Awards Hall of Fame.

Which is cool.  Yay EverQuest and all that.

And, in each account I have read, it has been mentioned that EverQuest joins Ultima Online in the hall of fame.

And there they are.

The two of them.

Alone together in that virtual hall.

Because this is only the second year, and they only induct one game a year, so there are only the two games.

And for two games representing the world of online games, those two represent a somewhat narrow demographic in online gaming I would say;  online, subscription based, fantasy MMORPGs released between 1997 and 1999 and still running today.

Not that I would deny either game belongs on the list, but when you are admitting one game a year into the hall of fame, “Get all the MMORPGs out of the way first” doesn’t seem like the best plan of action.

Ah well.  They do also induct people into the hall of fame as well.  Last year it was Richard Bartle, so I guess the committee figured they had MUD1 covered as well with that.  Still kind of virtual world oriented there, but at least it is old school, text based stuff.  Real history or whatever.

And this year there was a two-fer, with the induction of Kelton Flinn and John Taylor, co-founders of Kesmai back in the day, and both responsible for a few games which ought to be inducted into the hall of fame at some point, like MegaWars III, Air Warrior, and Island of Kesmai.

Along with the hall of fame, there are various yearly awards voted on and given out.  Last year it was League of Legends that came out as the big winner, grabbing the top spot in most of the categories.  In categories for which they were nominated, they only lost out to EVE Online for the “Best Live Game” category. (Categories with definitions are here.)

This year it was more mixed, with only Minecraft and Rift capping two categories apiece.

All in all, another set of awards.  While I am sure they are all quite meaningful for the recipients (who does not like to be acknowledged for their work?) I do sometimes wonder what such awards really mean in the big picture.  What impact does such an award have?

And, more importantly, which game and person do you think will (or should) be inducted into the hall of fame next year?

I Didn’t Wreck Your Game, Honestly!

Syncaine has something of a rebut to some sentiments expressed in Shut Up We’re Talking #17. He started off by pointing out that for a group talking about PvP, we were pretty PvE oriented.

And he was pretty much right. The cast was an older group and, while I cannot speak for everybody, it was mostly a group influenced heavily at some point by Dungeons and Dragons.

D&D is, of course, all about cooperative PvE (The DM is the environment), so go figure how we all ended up being about PvE.

Again, not speaking for the others, but for me computer role playing games, then MUDs, and now MMOs, were a way to get past the heavy lifting involved with table top role playing games, the throws of the die, the rule checks, the source books, and the need to get three to seven people together in a single room for at least a four hour stretch.

While some of the play flexibility (okay, a lot of the play flexibility) of those days is missing, it still gives me a taste of gaming adventure. And while the greatest amount of fun still seems to require getting five people together for 2-4 hours, at least we can be scattered across the country.

So yes, PvE at the core. That is me, and probably a lot of people like me.

Still I think as a group we had all had some PvP experiences we had enjoyed and none of us are die hard opposed to PvP in general. I even have a post here about how PvP should be the richest play experience available.

And while Syncaine’s article has some good points and some agreement with what we said, as well as some issues with PvE players that are valid, the whole thing lost me with the line, “…you should not force your PvE views on a PvP focused game.” The post then goes on to fret about how the PvE community might “ruin” Warhammer Online.

Not to go full slam on Syncaine, but this is one of my pet peeves.

I shake my head when I see somebody go on about how some other group, PvE’ers in this case, might “ruin the game” by expressing their opinions. (And I have seen this argument pointed at players who like to raid, solo, group, role play, not role play, and so on.)

Let’s face facts. In the end, it is the devs and the company at large creating the game in question which makes that choice. The company can say “no” to people. They often do.

Look at EverQuest. People have been screaming from day one for more solo oriented content. Go to Mobhunter and see what EverQuest Lead Designer Travis “Rashere” McGeathy had to say just a few months back when asked about solo content:

EverQuest is a group-based game, so we don’t specifically design content for soloing.

Holy Crap! In this day and age, in the era of World of Warcraft, when everybody seems to agree that to attract and keep players you need to give them something to do when they cannot find a group, the EverQuest team just says, “No.” Love it or hate it, they have a vision and have pretty much stuck to it for more than eight years now.

And, on the flip side, the team at Origin could have easily decided that Ulitma Online should have been all Felucca and no Trammel, a dark brooding world of danger. If that was the game they wanted to make and you were upset about being ganked every time you stepped out of a safe area, they probably would have told you that perhaps it wasn’t the game for you.

So with Warhammer Online, what it comes down to an essential: Does the team have a vision they believe in and will stick to, and will EA back them up on it?

And, of course, is that vision your PvP dream, my PvE desire, or some third route altogether?

But if it ends up being CareBearHammer Online, make sure you put the blame where it belongs:

On those furries in SecondLife!

On the people who made the game!

Play Money

I recently finished reading “Play Money: or How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot” by Julian Dibbell.

Actually, I recently finished listening to it.  It was available on Audible.com and I took it as one of my two monthly titles.

Often listening to a book like this, one containing some level of detail, can be a bit annoying.  Having somebody read off numbers or statistics doesn’t work well for me, especially if they change over the course of a book.  I always like to flip pages to compare these sorts of things.

“Play Money” is a little bit different, as much of the numbers read off are available online.  The book is based primarily on a series of blog posts from 2003 and 2004 by Mr. Dibbell.

You can actually get the basic information the book delivers by just reading his blog.  But you would miss out on some of the cool stuff in the book.

What the book delivers is the story behind the blog entries.  What drove particular entries, who he was working with, what he was thinking at the time, and what really goes on… or went on… with gold sellers in a virtual world.

The virtual world in which this all takes place is that of Ultima Online.

This actually struck me as odd at first.  With the time frame set mostly in 2003, I tend to think of UO as past its prime at that point.

But UO had one advantage when it came to an external, real money economy:  Mythic Origin did not take a hard stance against selling in-game currency and items for real money.  So, unlike SOE, Blizzard, CCP, and other companies, Mythic Origin did not spend time shutting down eBay auctions, banning gold selling accounts, or any of the other activities that we generally see today in response to the sale of in-game currency.

That lax attitude by Mythic Origin made for a vibrant external economy even when the game was past its heyday.

The book itself is woven about three things.

First, most of the book goes into the methods and dynamics of the gold and item trade; bots, exploits, scams, cartels, trade wars, alliances, and Chinese gold farmers.  You will recognize some of the players in that trade including Brock Pierce, who founded IGE, and Markee Dragon, once a big gold selling site and now one that sells, among other things, EVE Online Game Time Cards… and has a tutorial on how to trade them for ISK.  Where have I heard that before?

Second, the book also goes into some detail about the game itself, something I found at least as interesting as the dynamics of the external trade.  I never played UO, and probably never will at this point, but the book gives some fairly rich views of the world of Sosaria that I quite enjoyed.  If you played the game these sections will probably bring up a good deal of nostalgia for the game.

Finally, the book tries to make a few over-arching points about play, the future impact of virtual work and virtual economies, and the tax implications thereof.  While the theories of play and the studies of virtual economies are interesting, the author, in my opinion, never quite completes any of the big points he starts out to make.  Even on the tax implications, something that you would think might be cut and dried (unless you actually do your own taxes), he comes up empty, though only after an amusing set of encounters with the IRS.

While the book does not makes its case for existence with any sort of big picture conclusion, it is quite an enjoyable read for those interested in the smaller picture dynamics of the gold trade and its interaction Ultima Online.  The characters the author meets, their motivations, and how the game itself becomes nothing more than a backdrop for the “bigger” game of the gold trade make for a rich enough story.

I am tempted to pick up a hard copy of the book just to go back over some of the Ultima Online chapters.  That is the problem with audio books, you cannot flip back and re-read sections very easily.  There is a soft bound version available at Amazon.com now.