Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Ultima Forever

I like Paul Barnett, and continued to like him when he fell out of favor with the crowd. The man certainly has artistic vision, great enthusiasm, intelligence, and is great fun to watch. These qualities might not be matched by an ability to actually turn all that artistic vision into reality, but it would be unfair to put the whole blame for WAR not living up to its promise and "bears, bears, bears" only on Paul. So I think we should give the man another chance and see what he will make out of Ultima Forever. Already it can't possibly get worse than Lord of Ultima. And I'd rather see Paul Barnett trying to revive the Ultima brand than Richard Garriott.

Skeptics will point out that Ultima Forever will be Free2Play, and is already using stupid marketing tricks like a fancy official "U4E" abbreviation. Shouldn't that be "U4E4"? Anyway, for me this is a sign that U4E is an attempt to make a far more modern version of Ultima. Let's face it, beyond a few diehards most people would consider the original Ultima IV as well as Ultima Online to be unplayable these days. And a lower budget game with a Free2Play business model might actually give the developers more freedom to create something new than a full MMORPG with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars.

So I signed up for the beta, and will give the game a try when I get the opportunity. Maybe Paul infected me with this optimism, but I think both the brand and the man at least deserve that I'll take a look at that game.

Yeah, I am going to hold on to a faint glimmer of hope for this one. Ultima Online is frequently trotted out by any sandbox afficionado when citing examples of mechanics they like, and there's no way the devs could be unaware of that.

Whether they pay attention to that expectation is another story altogether. Look at The Elder Scrolls Online. It's going to be a WoW/EQ/GW/SWTOR/I'm not doing this for any exmaples clone, with an Elder Scrolls lore coat of paint. They've said this, they know this, they're overly-defensively unapologetic about it. All the interviews I've seen were with major game sites that know fuck all about MMOs. Pretty sure that's intentional.

This pretty clearly says they really don't want to make a game for current MMOers. They want to make one to attract the people who go, "Hm. Skyrim Online? I've never tried a MMO but I love Elder Scrolls, so OK..." It's a cheap move, but it's a safe, easy one. Tap more untapped market instead of competing against industry giants for a slim market share of jaded game-hoppers.

Only it won't feature any of the features the Elder Scrolls games are known for, either. Open-ended levelling systems, exploration focus, heavy customization and freedom, etc.

Following in this same vein, I can't help but wonder if the Ultima devs will be consciously deciding to ignore the 'artistic ideal' of a UO successor that the notoriously divided and already-niche sandbox crowd are despearate for (full-loot PVP! Non-instanced housing! Realm vs Realm! Permadeath! F2P? More like P2Win! EVE allows massive griefing and it's hugely successful, why can't everyone else? Thinking of the arguments these few hundred people will cause with each other over each one of these subjects makes me want to avoid game-dev even more than I already did). It'd be much easier to go with a cash-grab that's aimed at the MMO-curious casuals raised on smartphone/tablet apps.
Also, I’m in favour of Paul vs Garriott, but less out of respect for Paul (no matter how much he deserves it), and more out of disdain for Garriott. He’s almost in my Peter Molyneux category, now. A has-been. Yeah, he made some great games. And I played and loved Tabula Rasa – I wasn’t around for the disastrous launch, I jumped in six months after, when they had started to get their shit together and the overall experience rivalled anything I’ve played since. (Still haven’t found anything that captures the feel of fending off the waves of alien invasions over the capture points. GW2 tries, but fails.) He might’ve been blind-sided by NCSoft while he was chasing his obsession with going into SPACE (a fact which dominated everything he did leading up to it and everything he’s said or done since), but his response was to go work on online gambling and exploring social media through geocaching, claiming it as the next big thing… While, I fully expect, secretly loathing himself for not having the nerve to play with the big boys again. It’s like watching a star athlete trying to encourage everyone to get in on ostrich farming with him.

Anyone who sticks their name in the title of a game deserves much the same.
Thanks for posting about this, being a long time Ultima and UO fan it certainly has my attention now. :)
Have you become so jaded and cynical about the hype cycle that you have come out the other side and emerged into a magical land of fluffy rabbits, rainbows, golden galleons and hot air ballons?
"Overdefensively unapologetic?" I'd say it might not be too easy for the developers to find any stance that Cam @1 would find acceptable!

I disagree that a game in the vein of WoW etc. is not targeted at current MMO players, as well as Elder Scrolls fans. What it is not targeted are are people who are jaded with current MMOs. That may be smart of them, because those people will be very hard to satisfy.
@Gerry Quinn: Actually, GW2 and TSW spring to mind immediately as examples that are acceptable. They have been excited and positive. They weren't over-defensive about their approach.

Defensive language is all about taking on perceived attacks or criticisms and addressing them. In the case of TESO, they were making these defensive remarks before hardly anyone had seen anything, as if they were ashamed of what they were producing and felt the need to justify it before anyone could start calling them out on the obvious disappointments.

We'll have to agree to disagree on the target market, but we both agree that it's smart of them to reach out to someone other than myself and my longer-term MMO-playing kind, because of the difficulty in satisfying us.

Especially when it's so easy to simply carbon-copy what's already out there and try to tweak it in places. It's like they're making cars with shinier paint jobs and more cup-holders, compared to other folks who are working on inventing power-steering and air-bags. (And all while the public wants to know when we're getting flying cars.)

Source, re: Defensive language:

""What we had to do to make it an MMO is to kind of evolve over to the multiplayer side and there are some things that come with that," he admitted. "Since we have a PVP component to our game, it's very difficult to make a skill-based game like in Skyrim.""
(Yes, there is heavy editorial bias in this excerpt, but it effectively highlights the point. The full PC Gamer interview, linked on that page, is a wordier way of reinforcing this.)
Sidenote: Not inappropriate to the analogy, everyone knows that flying cars are a horrible, horrible, horrible idea. People can't bloody drive the cars that only travel horizontally as it is.
Somebody disposed more positively towards the developers might consider them to be responding pro-actively to probable criticisms or misconceptions. For example, it's entirely plausible that an Elder Scrolls fan, naive with regard to the balancing problems of MMOs (especially MMOs with PvP) would expect a skill system of the kind he is used to. Look at all the semi-coherent nerd rage in the comments section of the article you linked, after all.

The game will be what it will be - why not wait for the reviews, then play it, or not?
Quick update on U4E:
Includes screenshots.

Cute sort of 2D, top-down, hand-painted iOS casual affair, with cash-shop.
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