Well, twenty-five years is a long time. Half a life, in fact!
Given that I actually started work on UO on September 1st 1995, it’s actually more than half. The fact that the game is still running is a testament to the devoted community and the ongoing maintenance over the years from countless people.
I note a lack of thinkpieces and articles, this time around. The fact of the matter is that the most frequently targeted gamer audience wasn’t born when UO came out. A lot of the folks streaming about games weren’t born yet either.
I saw a post on Reddit yesterday that asked “how come no other MMOs have done open world housing, besides ArcheAge?” Ah well….
In many ways the influence of UO is so pervasive that it isn’t visible. Whether it’s Runescape, Minecraft, Eve, DayZ or Neopets, those younger folks probably played something that was inspired by UO in some fashion, and don’t realize how big a shift from prior games it represented. These days, when people say they are sick of crafting being in everything — it makes me want to apologize a little bit. Won’t apologize for games that let you sit, decorate a house, or go fishing, though.
I’m running low on specific stories about UO and its development, so instead, I’ll just point back at older ones:
First of course, has to be the postmortem we did at GDC for the 20th anniversary:
This postmortem drew pretty heavily on the article “Ultima Online’s Influence,” published on this blog five years ago at the 20th anniversary. If you’re one of those people too young to know why UO mattered, this article is probably the place to start.
That video wasn’t the only time we did a GDC postmortem though! There was another one back at the 15th anniversary in 2012 as well, which is available on the GDCVault. The session was very informal — don’t expect a lot of actually useful development takeaways, five things that went well and five poorly in Gamasutra-approved format, any of that. Instead, it’s mostly war stories and anecdotes.
Click to go to the GDCVault… they don’t let you embed these, it looks like.
A thing you cannot see in the vid — when at the very start Starr asks how many people in the room worked on UO, a lot of people in the room stood up. And when asked who played — it was almost everyone. A nice moment.
At the twentieth anniversary, I recommended these articles in a blog post, and I think they’re still the place to go if you want to read more on this site about the game’s development, philosophy, and challenges.
- UO’s resource system parts one, two and three. These describe how the underlying world of UO works — from the “infamous dragon example” that never came to fruition, to how it still underpins crafting and AI.
- A UO postmortem of sorts, which is a written one I did and not the same as either of the above videos
- The evolution of UO’s economy. Every time I turn around on social media, I see another Web3 enthusiast saying that they are drawing all their inspiration for digital economies from their childhood playing Ultima Online. Really not sure that’s the right takeaway…
- Random UO anecdote #2, which periodically goes viral on Twitter
- Ultima Online is fifteen, which has a host of stories about the game development.
- The end of the world covers several games, but includes the story of the end of beta.
Our original tiny team. The friend is a hobbyhorse that was around for some reason. I don’t remember why I took it to the shoot.
Since that list was put together, I’d also add “A Brief History of Murder,” which is over at Game Developer. It’s an excerpt from Postmortems, my book that has a bunch more material on the history of UO.
UO when it first came out got a pretty mixed reception. Including picking up the “Coaster of the Year” award (which made more sense when games came on CDs). But it did pick up plenty of awards at the time.
But since then its legacy has gone on to be cemented by being named one of the 100 most important games in history several times over, by both gamer sites like PC Gamer and Polygon, and by big mainstream press like TIME Magazine.
The alpha logo
Not too bad, even if all the younger folk aren’t quite sure what it is.
That’s OK. Frankly, my sense is that in many ways, now is actually UO’s time, in that the ideas it represented (and still represents!) are actually everywhere in games. It just took a while for everyone else to catch up.
If you’re one of the oldbies yourself, try reviving your account over at Broadsword Games: they’re giving away a veteran reward for people who have quarter-century-old accounts.
I have some photos that various folks have sent me over the years from the early days. So here’s a few:
These first ones are all from E3 in 1997.
Me with the brochureRichard Garriott on the leftStarr Long on the rightScott Phillips demoing, Starr behind him
Rick Delashmit, myself, and Todd McKimmey taking a break from UO development to try out that newfangled Playstation