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Ultima Online

The Game Archaeologist: The care and feeding of older MMOs

Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, Guild Wars, Meridian 59, MMO Industry, Opinion, Ultima Online, Vanguard, Free Realms, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous, Sunsets

When an MMO has reached a certain age and dwindled to a certain player population, what do you do with it? Do you put it out to pasture, nurture it, or put it down?

With some of our older graphical MMOs approaching their 20th anniversaries, the question of what studios should do with aging titles is becoming very important. It's not just important for the games in question but as a precedent to the population of games that will one day become just as old.

Lately we've seen different studios act on this topic in a wide variety of ways, all of which I find fascinating. Some of these games have seen tragic ends, while others may be entering into the enjoyable golden years. If nothing else, it's shown me that there isn't just one set answer for this and that some devs are hoping to do the right thing by their companies and their players.

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Ultima Online brings back the player counselor program

Fantasy, Culture, Ultima Online, Subscription

Ultima Online is looking for a few good men and women to sign up for a tour of duty as a counselor.

Broadsword is bringing back the game's counselor program in the near future to lend assistance to newer and more inexperienced players by pairing them up with vets. The counselor program is looking for players who are 18 or older and "have great game knowledge and a desire to work with others."

In addition to being part of this team, Broadsword said that it will give an additional (work) account to those participating in the program. Interested participants need to email the devs to join.

One Shots: Guard whacked!

Screenshots, Culture, Ultima Online, One Shots, Final Fantasy XIV, Vindictus, Miscellaneous

Ultima Online
According to Massively Law, which is as unshakable as it is awesome, if you send in screenshots from an MMO that was made during the Clinton presidency, then I'm required to feature them as a header for this column. Hence, Ultima Online.

This picture comes from reader Azzura, who found out the hard way that not everyone likes a bad guy. "This is my 'red' character, one that I used to player-kill (PK) with, strolling near town," he said. "The NPCs did not like my being around and were calling the guards on me to get me 'guard whacked'."

I mourn not for thee, but I shall be entertained by thy photographic memorial. Smite that "continue reading" button, readers, and feast thine eyes upon the glory of our community.

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Perfect Ten: MMO features that were hyped but never delivered

World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, City of Heroes, EVE Online, Guild Wars, Warhammer Online, Opinion, Ultima Online, Vanguard, Humor, Champions Online, Perfect Ten, Miscellaneous

Octonauts
Developers like to talk a big game. It's expected, it's encouraged by all parties, and it's part of the fun. When a game or big expansion is coming up, the spokespeople for studios like to hop on stage, grab that mic, and start proselytizing for all they're worth. And while some promises come to fruition, others are various shades of white lies, and still others never come to be at all.

These are the features that studios would much rather you forget were mentioned in the first place, although this is the internet and the internet never forgets. Well, players who latch on to everything devs say as absolute truth never forget.

Sometimes things happen along the way in development. Studios run out of time to get in all of the features and have to prioritize which make the cut and which do not. Features end up not testing as well as hoped and the studio quietly drops them because the PR hit for the features not going in is much less than the disaster that they might cause. And some developers like to flap their gums and spout brainstorm ideas that send the actual programmers and designers back at the company into spasms of agony when they try to figure out how to make them work.

Today let's go through 10 features that were talked up but never delivered in MMOs!

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Mythic devs form new studio, take over DAoC and Ultima Online

Fantasy, Dark Age of Camelot, MMO Industry, Ultima Online

Broadsword
Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online are moving out from under Mythic Entertainment's management and into a new studio: Broadsword Online Games.

Today Mythic announced that 14 members of its team, including co-founder Rob Denton, have left to form Broadsword in order to take over daily operations and development of Mythic's two remaining MMOs.

Broadsword will continue to work with EA for the games' billing and account services. The new studio said that it will be releasing more information about plans for UO and DAoC shortly.

Ask Massively: Giveaways, zombies, and capturing the spirit of Ultima Online

MMO Industry, Opinion, Ultima Online, Massively Meta, Ask Massively, Perpetuum, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Perpetuum
This week in Ask Massively, we're answering questions about eerily quiet games, giveaways, and capturing the spirit of classic sandboxes and The Walking Dead.

Holden asked, "Why has Perpetuum dropped off the map? I never hear about it anymore. The only time I even remember it is when I am doing searches for (more) robot/mech desktop wallpapers. Once monoclegate blew over, it was as if Perpetuum fell of the face of the earth, but it seems that it is still around from glancing at the website."

This was such a good question that we went digging for an answer before we even added it to Ask Massively. It had been a long time since we'd reported on Perpetuum because it had been a long time since Perpetuum had made a big splash in the news. Readers speculated that the game's playerbase has shrunk over the last two years, but in fact over the winter holiday, developer Avatar Creations posted a dev blog detailing plans for a newbie tutorial island intended to bolster the new player population. Hopefully Holden and other fans of the game will enjoy this "island of noobs" (Avatar's words, not mine!).

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EVE Evolved: Designing EVE Onland, part 2

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, EVE Online, Economy, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, Endgame, PvE, Opinion, Ultima Online, EVE Evolved, Sandbox, Dungeons, Player-Generated Content

EVE Evolved title image
When it comes to living sandbox MMOs, there really isn't a bigger name than EVE Online. Throughout its decade-long history, EVE has produced some huge gaming headlines, delivered record-breaking in-game thefts and heists, and played host to the complex political machinations of dozens of warring alliances. EVE's sandbox design has even made it remarkably resistant to changes in the market, with subscription numbers remaining relatively stable in the face of new releases and the free to play phenomenon. It comes as no surprise then that the sandbox genre is seeing a triple-A revival, with games like Star Citizen, EverQuest Next Landmark, and Camelot Unchained on the way.

With the sandbox genre due to explode back onto the fantasy scene, I've been left wondering how much of the core gameplay that makes EVE tick could be easily adapted for an avatar-based game on land. Even features such as EVE Online's trademark territorial warfare and player-run economy have roots in classic fantasy MMOs like Ultima Online, so they should be easy to convert to modern fantasy equivalents. Last week I started this game design thought experiment with a territorial warfare system and free-for-all PvP with harsh consequences for attackers, but there's a lot more to a good sandbox than smashing people's heads in.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I delve into the hypothetical world of EVE Onland again and tackle issues of realistic world scale, exploration, economics, and the evils of global banking.

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EVE Evolved: Designing EVE Onland, part 1

Sci-Fi, Dark Age of Camelot, Darkfall, EVE Online, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, PvP, Endgame, Opinion, Ultima Online, Shadowbane, Mortal Online, EVE Evolved, Perpetuum, Sandbox, Player-Generated Content, Subscription

EVE Evolved title image
When I'm not playing or writing about EVE Online, I can usually be found huddled over my computer typing lines of code into a compiler and chipping away at bugs that make varying degrees of sense. Designing my own hardcore space game is a really fun challenge and very fulfilling work, but I have a dirty little game dev secret: I've actually always wanted to make a fantasy game. While the budget and personnel required to take on a project the scale of an MMO remain quite far outside my grasp for the moment, it's still fun to think about how I might design such a game if the opportunity arose. The MMO genre seems to be heading for a sandbox revolution this year, and there's no bigger sandbox than EVE Online, but could all of EVE's gameplay translate to a fantasy game?

EVE is probably the most atypical MMO out there, maintaining a subscription-based single-shard PvP sandbox in a genre that's typically headed in the exact opposite direction. There are several new sci-fi sandboxes on the way that may or may not qualify as massively multiplayer titles, but the vast majority of MMO gamers still prefer to keep their feet on the ground in fantasy lands. I often find myself wondering how much of EVE Online's core gameplay is possible only because of its setting -- and how much could actually be applied to a fantasy MMO. Not only should it be possible to adapt most of what makes EVE great to a modern land-based game, but many of the mechanics sandbox gamers now attribute almost solely to EVE actually started life in classic fantasy MMOs like Ultima Online.

In this week's unusual EVE Evolved, I'd like to start a game design thought experiment as I delve into the hypothetical world of EVE Onland.

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Free for All: Ten of my favorite in-game items

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, EVE Online, Culture, Ryzom, Opinion, Ultima Online, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Mabinogi, Allods Online, Free for All, Battlestar Galactica Online, Miscellaneous, PlanetSide 2, Sandbox, Subscription

RuneScape inventory screenshot
I love things. Truly I do. Only specific things, though. Over the last year I have doubled my efforts to catalog most of the best things in my life, from pictures and artwork to writings and songs I have played on. It's a sort of meta-hobby. As part of the effort I want to organize many of my favorite MMO in-game items, simply because I have played MMOs for so long and they are such a part of my life. I have a lot of favorite items, but some tend to stick out in my memory like a favorite smell or place.

After I finished an initial list of MMO items (it was well over 50 items in the beginning), I was surprised at how much variety there was in the items and in the games I listed. I think it reflects my character a lot, but also shows that I am a sentimental plod most of the time. I cut the list down to these 10, but I am sure I will wish to adjust the list again in the future. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section!

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The Soapbox: Seriously, we have enough fantasy MMOs

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Aion, City of Heroes, EVE Online, Fallen Earth, Lineage, MMO Industry, Opinion, Ultima Online, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, DC Universe Online, RIFT, World of Tanks, TERA, EverQuest Next, The Soapbox, Miscellaneous, MOBA, Neverwinter, The Elder Scrolls Online, MMORPG, Buy-to-Play

Aion
Let's play a game. I'm thinking of an MMO that features magic, monsters, humans, and a vast fantasy world full of steamy swamps, grassy plains, and deep, dark dungeons -- can you tell me which MMO it is? If you answered RIFT, you're right. You're also right if you answered TERA. Or World of Warcraft. Or Guild Wars 2. Or Neverwinter. Or... you get the idea.

We're people who play MMOs. Our hard drives are practically bulging with games featuring wizards and warriors. We've plunged our swords into millions of orcs and gnolls. We've looted more imaginary copper pieces than anyone could possible imagine. We've even slain so many dragons that you have to wonder why dragons even bother showing up anymore.

It's not the gameplay but the setting that can make the whole exercise so soul-crushingly boring.

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The Daily Grind: Is the mystique of MMO questing lost for good?

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, EverQuest, Culture, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, Ultima Online, The Daily Grind, Miscellaneous

World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft is often credited with inserting questing into MMORPGs, but veterans know that classic MMOs like Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron's Call all featured quests, be they simple escort quests for gold or elaborate multi-week quests for epic weapons that required a few dozen of your mates to lend a hand. Those ancient quests weren't designed as "content," exactly; they were a means to an end, and the reward was the point. Quests were just a unique way to gather money or special loot when you weren't hunting or camping in dungeons working on skills and levels.

What WoW did was popularize the idea that quests should be the primary method of leveling up through an MMO. WoW's quests provide experience above all else; few WoW quests award gear worth using at endgame, and most rewards are vendor trash. Now, as quests have slowly become core content across many themepark and sandbox MMOs, we even hear gamers refer to "quest grind," when the reality is that quest-driven leveling was intended to replace something far more boring: mob grind.

By turning something special into something mundane, have MMO developers shattered the mystique of The Quest as a roleplay and storytelling element? Are you sick to death of quests (and dynamic-events-that-are-really-just-quests) as a character development prop? Can designers make questing feel epic once again, or is it simply too late?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

Jukebox Heroes: Ultima X Odyssey's soundtrack

Fantasy, Opinion, Ultima Online, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Jukebox Heroes Ultima X Odyssey's soundtrack
Out of all of the MMOs that never made it to launch, Ultima X Odyssey could have really been something. It had a wonderfully stylized look, an immense amount of resources and talent behind it, the Ultima franchise legacy to draw upon, a cool morality choice system, and a pretty strong following. All of that fell apart when EA pulled the plug on the project in 2004, leaving fans in the lurch.

However, since UXO was far enough along in development, it's one of those cancelled MMOs that has an actual soundtrack (just like Project Copernicus, which I talked about a few weeks ago). Composer Chris Field completed and recorded an album for the game in 2003, and although it was never released, it was distributed into the wild for free, and certain portions of the soundtrack were repurposed for the game Lord of Ultima.

I have to say that it's a good (possibly even great) score, and it's a shame it didn't get to be in an MMO for us gamers to appreciate. That doesn't mean we can't have a listen right now and speculate on what players in parallel universes might be enjoying right now, yes?

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The Game Archaeologist: Classic servers and you

World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, Opinion, Ultima Online, RuneScape, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

The Game Archaeologist Classic servers and you
Sometimes players don't want progress into the future; they want to regress into nostalgia. I've always seen this undercurrent of desire for classic servers run through the MMO community, manifesting in lengthy discussions about how cool it'd be to play a game the way it was "way back when." I also imagine developers reading those discussions with a combination of shared nostalgia and anxiety over the work required for such a project.

I can understand this desire. We form attachments to MMOs based on several factors, not the least of which are when we started playing the game and what we remember most from it. While we generally applaud the change brought about by content updates, bug fixes, expansions, and the like, there's always a part of us that won't let go of the past.

That's where classic servers come into play. Here and there, studios have recognized and responded to this desire for gaming the way it used to be by creating servers that deliberately call back to the past. It might seem to fly in the face of common sense, but I don't think it's that strange when you look at the larger video game community and how strong nostalgia gaming has taken root there as well. So what do classic servers have to offer you and where can you find them?

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The Daily Grind: Should MMOs put an end to veteran rewards?

Fantasy, Business Models, Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Opinion, Ultima Online, The Daily Grind, Miscellaneous, Anniversaries

EQ2
In previous Daily Grinds, we've asked you whether you sub for veteran rewards, whether they should be recycled, and whether they should be more awesome, but we've never asked you whether they should exist in the first place. Massively reader The_Grand_Nagus wrote to us pointing out that while old-school gamers, accustomed to playing a single game for years, take for granted veteran rewards and expect them from studios as something they "deserve" as compensation for their loyalty, other players consider that attitude to be selfish and entitled, believing that what vets got for their loyalty and money was the game they paid for and that they deserve nothing more, certainly not rewards that future players or new players can't realistically earn.

The Ultima Online community, for just one example, spent the summer storming over whether new players should even be allowed to use veteran rewards purchased from actual veterans. Some players genuinely believe that all new players should wait another 16 years to erect a garden shed in their yards. Garden sheds are serious business. It all starts to seem a little silly in the context of our modern, free-to-play, game-hopping MMO culture, where veteran rewards teeter on becoming an outright waste of developer resources since few people stick around long enough to become vets (and games seldom stick around long enough to accrue such devotion).

What's your take? Are veteran rewards a product of a bygone era of subscriptions and loyal communities? Should studios do away with them? Or should modern MMOs use veteran rewards to encourage loyalty in a market that seems to provide fewer and fewer reasons to stay faithful?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

The Game Archaeologist: Classic MMOs in October

Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, Lineage 2, News Items, Ultima Online, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

The Game Archaeologist Classic MMOs in October
You think your fancy modern MMOs have the patent on Halloween? Mister, classic games own this holiday. They were out picking pumpkins and decapitating spooks long before you were a twinkle in the character creator's eye.

Halloween's back in many of our older titles this month, and for those of you who have been away from a beloved classic, it may just be the best time to return for another go. Anarchy Online not only has the return of Uncle Pumpkinhead but some pretty good subscription deals right now. EverQuest has the Haunting of Norrath, Pixel Pirates is offering seasonal items in the store, Guild Wars probably toggled its Halloween 2013 switch, RuneScape's got a brand-new questline, and Dark Age of Camelot is up to its standard tricks with the Pumpkin Moon.

Of course, October wasn't just about trick-or-treating; plenty of other events have happened to the classic MMO collective. From a record-setting expansion to invasions to a very happy birthday, this month kept hopping (and growling, slithering, and lurking). Let's check it out!

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