Staying Power

Barry White - a true classic

Barry White - a true classic

“I’ve got staying power
Just when you think it’s over
I’ll come right back again
I’ve got staying power”
-”Staying Power”, Barry White

Back in June of 2007 I wrote an article for Virgin Worlds entitled “The Future of MMOs – Staying Power” (Available here).   Recently, Electronic Arts released thier latest expansion for Ultima Online (UO) called “The Stygian Abyss”  – an event that certainly demonstrates that UO has “staying power”. 

UO has been around for a long time in terms of Online Games.  MMOs have come and gone since then ( Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa spring immediately to mind).  They have certainly progressed graphically since then. Some games like World of Warcraft (WoW) are designed to run on an older computer while others push the envelope (and the wallet) with graphics that would take a Cray supercomputer to run on the high setting.  With all that, here is a game that is still around that uses the isometric view of the world:

The Stygian Abyss
The Stygian Abyss

Ultima Online has been around since World of Warcraft was a chimp and the “big man on campus”, as grandmother used to put it, was Richard Garriott (whom we all knew as “Lord British).  I remember growing up in a household that couldn’t afford blue berries let alone a computer that would play UO. I would see pictures of the game in magazines and read about players being able to set up their own shop in their own home and only dream of such a magic place.

Yet all this time later – mere years in actual time but an eternity in terms of gaming – the game still has a loyal fan base, still has an expansion come out, and still holds its magic.
Like someone who ponders their childhood days, I find myself wondering if I can “go  home again.”  There were many good times and I have many fond memories of UO: being part of a player run city on the Origin server and meeting friends (some of whom I still maintain contact) are just two of them.
There are many people who  will be quick to point out what they consider the game’s “short comings.” Some will point to a lack of an auction house (which I presume the game still lacks). Still others will point to the megalopolis that was the result of non-instanced player housing. But seen in a different light those were assets and not drawbacks. A lack of an auction house resulted in an open air marketplace outside the bank where the community gathered each day.  I spent many hours just riding through the virtual landscape searching for the “best deal” on a new purchase. Non-instanced housing meant I could actually talk to my neighbors across my virtual back porch; something that Everquest 2 players can only dream of doing.
But for all of this, what has allowed the game to pass what Paul Barnett (Creative Director for Mythic Entertainment) called the “generational test” on a recent No Prisoners, No Mercy show?  (see interviews on shows 38, 39 and 40 available here)  There are some in the mmo community who would have you believe that any game that lacks a rigid character leveling system and instead depends on a skill based system is an automatic strike against a game (as in “three strikes and you are out”). Yet UO proves this theory wrong doesn’t it? The biggest, newest thing in WoW are faction changes, with class changes a players hope for the future.   Yet players in UO have always been able to change their characters as they see fit. Don’t like being a fighter? Set your skills in fighting down and point your skills in crafting up and change things. While most games on the PC are so rigid and linear they make me feel trapped, games like “Fallout 3″ and  “Oblivion” from Bethesda AND ULTIMA ONLINE from Electronic Arts are “sandbox games.”  There is no virtual hand that stears my character in the “proper direction”.  Those virtual worlds are big open places where I can do what I want and go where my imagination takes me.  UO is a place where lore grabs my attention and holds it – and draws me  into the game.
And that, my friends, is “Staying Power”…
See you online,
Julie Whitefeather

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