Sunday, September 23, 2007

10 Things That Are Gone From UO That I Miss

Ultima Online has seen many changs over its ten year history, and many things that were a part of the game have been removed as well. It's the nature of an evolving MMORPG, but on this tenth anniversary I'd like to take the time to remember ten things that are gone from the game that I miss very much.

10. Tillerman Stories
Just three month after the release of UO, the stories that tillermen used to tell from time to time were removed from the game, apparently the first victims of localization. I had started playing a month later, so I never knew about them, until I had read about it online.

Years later, in an interview with my friends at the Fishing Council of Britannia, Designer Hanse talked about the tillermen stories and listed them all. They were usually humorous little anecdotes about life in Britannia. And for a brief period in 2004, when all the server boundaries had to be closed for a few weeks, Fertbert put the stories back in the game, adding a few of his own about ferrets, of course.

Life at sea is very, very dull these days, and I wish the tillermen would break the silence from time to time.

9. Seahorses
Okay, they were never actually put into the game, but the player-rideable seahorse, a sort of jet-ski water transport that was promised with the UO:Third Dawn expansion, would have been extremely cool.

They were intended to be the only way for players to navigate the hidden waterways of the Ilshenar facet, but were delayed from the release of UO:3D and promised later. As the months passed, and I bugged the developers about the missing seahaorse, the promises continued.

Finally, a year or so later, they scrapped the idea, with Hanse calling them "an exploiter's dream", and too difficult to implement. Only one screenshot of someone from the dev team testing them on a test server ever was shown, and it looked like he was having a blast with it. It's hard to miss something you never had, but in this case, looking at the screenshot, it's actually easy.

8. 8 x 8
The way players gain skill in UO has always been tedious, so players used to macro unattended in their homes to work up skills. Realizing this, the developers made it so players had to move around to get the gains, and the next gain was always to be had about eight tiles away, within an invisible grid across the world of 8 x 8 squares.

Once players realized this, they set out to sea and unattended macroed there. It's not the skill gaining system of 8 x 8 I miss, though - it's the fact that it populated the Feluccan seas with easy (albeit boring ) loot for my pirate after the Trammel facet had drawn away everyone else.

My friend Crazy Joe called it the sea trance - players at sea who would not respond to roleplayed pirate threats and just stand there repeatedly doing whatever skill they were training with the 8 x 8. When 8 x 8 was finally removed, the last vestige of any real activity on the Feluccan seaways was gone as well. That's why I miss 8 x 8.

7. The Room Under The Lake

In January of 2002, vast changes took place on the newbie island of Haven in the Trammel facet, including the addition of an all-new island off the south coast. There were all sorts of little monuments to the developers around the island and curious little landmarks.

During my exploration of it, I found a small pond and decided to see if I could place a boat on it. I was successful, and when I went to get off the boat, I walked off the plank and fell through the lake into a secret, easter - egg room under it. It had some stone walls, some dirt, and the remains of a partially buried boat. I was able to mark runes there, and soon announced my discovery to the world at large.

A few weeks later, access was cut off by the gamemasters for reasons that were never made clear. Also, most runes were blocked, including my own, but I later found someone on Atlantic who had one that still worked and regained access to the secret room. I kept visiting the room, just for fun, and when I quit I logged off most of my characters in that room.

The room, and the entire southern island, was removed earlier this year with another sweeping change to Haven. I miss the one spot in the game I could go to get away from it all.

6. Summoned Ham Buoys
Long ago, the summon food spell summoned only one thing - hams. In addition, it gave the caster a targeting cursor so they could summon the hams exactly where they wanted to, for some odd reason.

This lead to my pirate's early discovery that they could be summoned onto the surface of the water, and when they did, they blocked ship movement. With my small pirate crew, it became our opening shot against those we encountered at sea, blocking them from sailing away.

Imagine that - you're sailing along and suddenly a boat a PKs sails up to you and instead of seeing Corp Por (energy bolt) you see In Many Ylem (summon food). Ah, the fun we had with that, creating confusion of that sort. The summon food spell was later changed to summon random food into one's backpack, and that ended the era of the ham buoy tactic. I sure miss it.

5. My Old Murder Counts
There was a bug a few years back that accidentally gave out some murder counts to the wrong players. Instead of fixing just those players, they took the easy way out and wiped everyone's accumulated murder counts.

I only lost a hundred or so, but others lost many more. For me, it really took the wind out of my sails, and I never approached playing my pirate PK with as much zeal. This came at a time when the number of potential victims was dwindling rapidly, so I never came close to achieving my old murder count.

The last time I checked, my pirate was at 17 long term murder counts, with only one kill since I returned to the game. If I had those old counts behind me again, I might be more enthusiastic about the long hunt at sea for potential victims again.

4. Moonstones
Back when Trammel was opened up, a new item appeared in the game called a moonstone. By placing it on the ground, a gateway to the other facet would appear. You needed a Felucca moonstone to go to Felucca and likewise a Trammel moonstone to go there.

It was a very covenient way to get around, and offered a way to go the exact same point in the opposite facet (Trammel was a mirror copy of Felucca in most respects). It was particluarly useful for treasure map hunting, as one could go to the spot in Trammel and use a moonstone to get to the exact map spot in Felucca.

In the aforementioned room under the lake, if you used one, you actually ended up under the sea in Felucca, since there was no island there, in total blackness unable to move. Moonstones were removed when all the moongates gained cross-facet funtionality, but I sort of miss using them myself. I'm not really sure why.

3. The Scenario Team
In May of 2001, a small team of desingers headed by Calandryll unleashed the Orc Scenario on us, introducting new items and new enemies for players to enjoy, and providing some much-needed fictional backstory to UO. Each week, there were new things to discover and new items to figure out, and the players, myself included, just ate it up.

The scenarios keep coming, with some breaks here and there, until the fall of 2002, as the team geared up for the Age of Shadows expansion. UO during that time felt really alive, and the accomplishments of the scenario team live on to this very day. The current team seemed to be doing a lot of things along those lines up until recently (about the time I returned to UO, of course), and it is hoped that they resume that sort of work soon.

Still, I miss those old scenario days when one would log on and never know what town was being invaded, or what new item would appear as loot.

2. Vanquishing Anything
Before the Age of Shadows expansion turned all the game's items into lists of stats and percentages, there were words like might, invulnerability, and the best, vanquishing.

A vanquishing sword (now called damage increase 35%) was the best sword in the game, and so rare that you almost never used it if you had one. In the five years I played before the Age of Shadows expansion, I had probably acquired about 5 actual vanquishing weapons - that's how rare they were. Keep in mind that this was also before item insurance, too, so using it was risking it's loss.

Ooooh, risk. I miss that too. Because these highest-of-the-high-end-items spawned so damned infrequently, and it was a risk without insurance, and because they wore down if you did use them, it was all a very different game in the days of vanquishing. Now, with each new expansion or in-game event, items far superior to my old vanquishing scimitar come raining down like mongbat dung, instantly getting insured and dusted with powder of fortification (sort of an item-decay prevention version of Armor-All).

I'll never know the thrill of opening a shipwreck chest and seeing that long sought-after halberd of vanquishing again. Back in those days, with every chest, you hoped to see those words. I miss it.

1. Felucca's Population
Contrary to what some say, Felucca in not deserted. On any populated shard, all the good housing locations are still taken. Champion spawns are still popular and hunted for their powerscrolls. The Feluccan cities, however, are pretty much toast.

Mirrors of each of these cities (except for Ocllo) exist in Trammel, and even most of those are deserted. There are simply too many cities, and not enough players. I wish they would do something unique with Felucca's towns to draw people there again, but I admit to having no ideas myself.

But it's so odd - to go to the West Britain Bank in Felucca, once swarming with players going about thier business, and see it totally deserted. It's the same feeling one would have returning to a deserted, run-down theater years after starring in a show there. Empty and hollow.

I miss the days of a bustling Felucca, especially the towns. Back then all of them had some activity in them, but now it's over.

You can't turn back the clock on UO, but it's never a bad idea to stop and remember some of the things we've lost along the way. These are mine.

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