Tuesday, September 11, 2007

UO Producer Aaron "Darkscribe / Marketing Guy" Cohen Steps Down

In an announcement posted today on UO Herald, UO Producer Aaron Cohen, currently known as Darkscribe, has stepped away from the helm to move onto an "unannounced project" at EA. Here is the text of the announcement:

To The Citizens of Britannia,

It has been my great pleasure and honor to serve you these past years. Now, with a heavy heart, I must announce that I am moving on to a new adventure, a new challenge that has called me to service.

I have begun work on a currently “unannounced project” with a new EA team and will no longer be the producer of Ultima Online. I’m turning over the reigns of this magnificent game to Chris Rabideau and my friends at EA Mythic. You are in good hands.

And while I’ll be leaving you as a member of development team, I’ll be rejoining you as a player. My house for too long has gone unattended and my red friends outside of Yew gate have for too long gone untested. I will be back among you soon.

I wish you good fortune and prosperity.

See you in Britannia!

Aaron “Darkscribe” Cohen

It seems from the wording of this announcement that Chris Rabideau, one of the people behind Mythic's Dark Age of Camelot long before it was gobbled up by EA and became EA Mythic, may either be the new producer or that he is in a more general oversight position at EA Mythic and that no new producer has been named yet.

This announcement comes just before the 10th anniversary of Ultima Online, with the much - touted Kingdom Reborn client failing to live up to many fans' expectations, and at a time when the next expansion for UO, Stygian Abyss, has been pushed back until spring of 2008.

Aaron Cohen began his public work on UO from behind the scenes at EA known as "Marketing Guy", a name he certainly seemed to fit when I first met him at the UO Community Day back in 2004, where he spoke about the game's future under the direction of SunSword.

Since then, he remained largely behind the scenes during the tenure of Jessica "Lady Lu" Lewis, a very dark time in UO development history that saw the unprecedented exodus of many of UO's top developers and designers. Mr. Cohen emerged after Lady Lu stepped down as UO's producer, first making his mark by unveiling the promising early screenshots of Kingdom Reborn last year. During his tenure he has presented himself as someone who "gets it" about UO and has stated on several occasions that he was a long - time player.

Since he has moved onto another project at EA, it seems unlikely that this move is anything but voluntary. However, any real speculation is pointless until it is known exactly what it is he is working on (another Ultima spin-off MMORPG along the lines of UO2 and Ultima X : Odysssey perhaps?), and until a new producer is named and presents his or her vision about the future of the game.

Ultima Online has seen many producers come and go, from Ultima creator Richard "Lord British" Garriott (who, in spite of having long ago left EA and Ultima behind, made an appearance last weekend at the UO Town Hall meeting in Austin), Rich Vogel, Rick "Stellerex" Hall (who went on to helm the doomed Ultima X : Odyssey), Anthony "SunSword" Castoro, and finally the aforementioned Jessica "Lady Lu" Lewis.

Standard operating procedure now is for a new producer to step forward and introduce themselves, offer a fond farewell and good luck to Darkscribe, and state how great UO's future looks and that there's a bunch of special stuff coming up that they of course cannot talk about.

The problem is this. With UO producers coming and going every year or two, and with all of them saying so little about their own vision of what UO is and where it should go other than through what they actually release for the game in terms of expansions and other content, it's very very hard for those of us who invest our valuable playtime in it to feel at all at ease with any of this.

We never know what's going on behind the scenes at EA, and with every shakeup jitters are sent through the community. In addition, it's harder and harder to trust that anyone who is a producer for UO even has any vision of where to take the game, and the haphazard themes we've seen in UO's expansions - steampunk, Asian, elf - seem to testify to this wandering vision issue.

All we as players can do is hold on tight and keep logging in. Stability and leadership at EA have never been the coin of the realm, and with the departure of Darkscribe the future of Ultima Online, at its historic 10th anniversary, is once again very very uncertain.

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