The aim of my Blogging From A to Z Challenge is to find the origins of online games, some relatively modern and some with ancient roots. Gaming might well be a modern take on an art that is almost timeless – storytelling. A perfect excuse for a writer to delve a little deeper.
[Visit here for links to other A to Z participants.]
Game: Ultima Online (UO) is an MMORPG set in the Ultima universe. A spin-off of the main series, it has become an unexpected hit, making it one of the earliest and longest-running successful MMORPGs of all time.
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. Prior games 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 significantly outdid these games, both graphically and in-game mechanics.
Release Date: September 24, 1997
Developer: Origin Systems
Genre/gameplay mechanics: 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, many new game mechanics appeared. Partially designed as a social and economic experiment, the game had to account for widespread player interaction as well as deal with the tradition of players feeling as if they were the centre of attention, as had been the case in single-player games. It is also known for its extensive PvP combat system.
Setting: Ultima Online began with a single world, with specific expansion packs adding additional territory and new worlds. Felucca, the original world, evolved to include dead trees and tombstones to distinguish. It has a harsher rule set where player killing is more common. The third world of Trammel did not allow player killing and was geared towards fighting monsters. Felucca adopted a darker, more foreboding look and kept its player vs player roots. The worlds were called Felucca and Trammel, after the two moons in Ultima’s Britannia world.
Storytelling: Its lore retconned the ending of Ultima I, stating that when the Stranger shattered the Gem of Immortality, he discovered that it was tied to the world itself, therefore its shards each contained a miniature version of Britannia. The player characters in Ultima Online exist on these “shards”. From that moment of shattering, their histories diverged and each ‘shard’ became home to their own unique people, places, and traditions. There are different guilds and different player organizations on each.
Releases + Expansions:
Since its release, Ultima Online 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 upgraded visuals.
Formats: Microsoft Windows, Linux
- June 1981 – the release of Ultima, later known as Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness or simply Ultima I, was created by Richard Garriott and first published in the United States by California Pacific Computer Company Since its release, the game has been completely re-coded and ported to many different platforms. The 1986 re-code of Ultima is the most commonly known and available version of the game.
- 1979 – Akalabeth is considered the first published Computer Role Playing Game. In the fall, Garriott entered the University of Texas at Austin, and later joined the Society for Creative Anachronism. He created Ultima I while at the university. It was published by California Pacific Computers and sold in Ziploc plastic bags, as was common in those days. While not explicitly stated, Akalabethis seen as the first game of the Ultima series, and was, therefore, included as part of the 1998 Ultima Collection where it officially picked up the nickname Ultima 0.
- In creating Akalabeth, Garriott was primarily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, for which he held weekly sessions in his parents’ house while in high school; and the works of J R. R. Tolkien, which he received from an in-law of his brother.
- The name derives from Tolkien’s Akallabêth, part of The Silmarillion; though the game is not based on Tolkien’s story. In the original game, the last monster on the need-to-kill list is called “Balrog”, like the demonic monsters from The Lord of the Rings, and unlike the later name for the monster in the Ultima games, Balron.
Adaptations set in the ‘Ultima’ universe – beyond the extensive video game series:
- NOVELS – Several novels were released under the Ultima name, including: The Forge of Virtue (1991) by Lynn Abbey; The Temper of Wisdom (1992); Ultima: The Technocrat War by Austen Andrews; Machinations (2001); Masquerade (2002); Maelstrom (2002)
- JAPAN – Three manga comics, an Ultimasoundtrack CD, two kinds of wrist watches, a tape dispenser, a pencil holder, a board game, a jacket, and a beach towel were released. There was also an Ultima anime cartoon.
Recommendation: According to an Origin employee, Electronic Arts initially expected a maximum of 15,000 subscribers for Ultima Online. Between Ultima Online‘s launch on September 25 and November 13, the game sold 65,000 units. In Japan, its initial shipment of 5,000 units had sold out within 15 minutes. Origin announced that it was the company’s fastest-selling title ever, and the fastest-selling online-only computer game of all time. Ultima Online reached 150,000 simultaneously subscribers by February 2000.
Alternative ‘U’ thoughts:
U is also for the 1995 movie Usual Suspects
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