Thursday, August 4, 2011

I don't know how it is with you, but for me there are many things I just can't bring myself to let go of.  One of those things is Ultima Online.  Over the past few years, I've seen my interest in logging in decline, my disenchantment with the game rise, and my attitude towards it's parent company reach a level that can only be described as being just short of rage.  I don't know why I simply can't let go of the game, is it nostalgia,hope that something might change, or is it that UO is sort of like a first love, you might loose them, but you'll forever carry a part of them with you.  No matter what it is, I feel compelled to express my thoughts on the current state of the game, as it effects my game playing experiences.

I'm honestly at a tipping point, part of me wants the game to regain it's former relevance in the MMO worlds and flourish with millions of players.  Another part of me realizes this isn't really realistic and wants to see the slow decline of the game end abruptly if possible.   Yes I said abruptly, a clean cut heals soonest, and for many of the diehards or the people who can't let go of that first love no matter how much we've grown apart, it might be best in the long run.


Now I'm no newbie to UO, I've played it for about a decade, and that's no small period of time in the MMO world, I've seen games come, and I've seen games go.  I've seen the market shift directions and stagnate into a pool of uninspired games that seem to bubble up to the surface and then vanish just as quickly.  Through it all Ultima Online has chugged along forging it's own path that no one else has successfully followed and for the most part hardly anyone wants too.  No where else do you see the blend of freedom and choice in an MMO that you see in UO, and unfortunately no where else do you see such rampant cheating, and exploitation when you consider the size of the player base.  The bad part about forging your own path is sometimes it's harder to avoid the brigands, than if you follow the well worn paths and make the occasional left instead of a right when the path forks.


Ultima Online needs a true rebirth, in the past few years we've seen 2 new clients released, the Kingdom Reborn client that promised High Res graphics with a better user interface only to never see it leave Beta.  And we've seen the Enhanced Client released with the Stygian Abyss Client that uses lower resolution than the KR client, and the same UI systems as KR, yet it still has sever stability issues on many end user systems, even those that far exceed the recommended hardware requirements.   UO's rebirth can not begin with a client, that has become obvious since it's major issue is using a graphics engine designed for textured graphics to push around sprites.  It's major hold up for a rebirth is the server side design, and the unwillingness of either EA or UO's development team to let go of it's original client program.  I can already hear the screams of,  "The CC is the only True UO Client if they shut it down I'll quit!", to that all I can say is "So what?".

I know that might sound a bit rude but what else is there to say if you have any real understanding of how UO was built.  Now I'm not nor have I ever been a coder for UO, but they have over time released little bits of information that help make the picture a bit clearer if you know what you are looking at.  When UO was starting development a new programming language was just coming onto the scene Java.  Ultima Online uses a modified version of  "Wombat" (Java based scripting engine) for it's server side scripting, if you don't know what Wombat is look here.


What you have is a MMO that technologically isn't much more advanced than this...

And this is why I firmly believe that the Server Side of UO has to be overhauled completely from the ground up if it is to ever have a chance of revival.

A fresh start has other benefits, they could overhaul the Classic Client to work with a more modern world environment, but at the same time they'd have a slate to work on that can take full advantage of the newer graphics engine the EC uses.  Not only that but you'd kill all third party software, that is being used to cheat virtually over night, none of it would work until the new data encryption methods are broken again, and you'd have a chance to combat them as they are rising anew instead of trying to figure out how to deal with them all at once.

A new server side can provide new tools to the developers allowing them a greater range of creativity, that currently is impossible with the limitations of the current system.  Sure you can argue the Java is an extremely flexible language, but you also have to remember that Java's write once run anywhere mantra also often makes it take twice as long to yield the same result as some of the other languages out there.  Java just does not have the ease of use that many languages out there do and UO in many ways pays for it, especially when you look at the very small number of programmers working on UO.

Speaking of having a low number of programmers, why is it that EA's most successful MMO to date, considering it's life cycle, has such a small development team?  It's almost like EA is setting UO up to fail in the next few years by consistently cutting back the work force dedicated to it.  How can they expect the game to progress when it's all the current developers can do to work on new content and bug fixes?  It's unfair to the Developers working on the game because they take a lot of abuse from players because of it, and it's unfair to the players because they are not receiving the quality they expect.  Our horizons, and expectations as players have been greatly broadened since 1997, yet the capacity for UO to attempt to meet those expectations has continually shrunk in the same time.  It's not fair to us as players, it's not fair to EA's employees assigned to working on the title either.

All things considered though my personal situation and view could be best defined as this,  I still love UO as a game, but I've come to realize I'm no longer in love with UO any longer, and in order for that passion for the game to be rekindled, as the title of this post hints at:  All good things must come to an end.  Yet that ending could be used as the starting point for something even greater, with a overhauled modernized Server Engine UO could once again become a game many of us want to play other than one we simply can't stop playing...
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