1999-10-18: The Recent Past

The Recent Past

Oct 18 1999 6:45PM

This was originally posted to Development at [1]

On October 10th, I attended Ultima Online Players’ Lunch at the Texas Renaissance Festival (near Houston) for the second time. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet new players, talk with them about the game, and hear their ideas. I returned to work the next day with a renewed sense of commitment, knowing that our efforts over the last year have truly made a difference.

I have been thinking about how much the game has changed since the first lunch a year ago. At the time, I had only been a designer on UO for a few weeks, and things were quite a bit different. This year’s lunch was twice as big as last year’s, and I attribute a part of that to the constant growth our game has seen over the past 12 months. When I began working on UO in October of last year, there were less than 100,000 active players. Since then, we’ve grown to over 135,000 and they just keep coming. We’ve become an international success and expanded the game to new markets including Japan, Korea, and Western Europe.

Players’ biggest concerns back then were blue player killers, house security, and general housing issues. Things have changed quite a bit since then. Blue player killers used to be a constant problem for our community because anti-social players would avoid the constraints of being a murderer by “macroing” as a ghost. To remedy this, we implemented a “long term” murder count that took 40 hours to complete. This extended the amount of time it took to become blue again, thereby reducing the frequency of blue players killing others. In addition, we added a “ping-pong” counter to help identify players who displayed a pattern of becoming a murderer and then going back to being blue. If they did it too often, the “Ping-Pong” counter would flag them as permanent murderers. These changes, in addition to a few smaller ones, have caused the blue player killer to fall right off the list of top player concerns.

Houses have also undergone a series of changes that has improved the situation quite a bit. Before last Christmas, as many of you remember, houses were constantly broken into through a variety of exploits. There was very little in the way of ownership, and no real way to manage how friends could use a house. It was also almost impossible to walk across the world of Britannia in anything resembling a straight line. There were houses and tents built directly next to each other creating impassable walls. Players would place tents around the outside of their main house to form an impenetrable “courtyard.” And because there was no limit to the number of houses a player could own, the countryside was littered with buildings owned by a very select few. In January of 1999, we instituted changes to improve the situation. “Phase 1” of the housing improvements included the ability to lockdown and secure items in the house, house banning/ejecting, ownership, a friends list, and a variety of other utilities that made it easier to manage and protect houses.

We also made it so that a player could only own one house per character, which served to distribute houses more evenly. The rules for house placement were changed so players had to leave some space between new houses and their neighbors’ houses. Finally, player owned tents were removed altogether because they were deemed to be nothing more than a nuisance. Once again one could walk through the countryside without encountering “The Great Wall of Tents”!

Indeed, there are still some concerns surrounding houses, and I’ll talk more about them in the near future, but I believe we have come a long way in a year. Player killers are almost always red these days, so you at least know what to expect from them. Houses are much more secure, and are more manageable for groups.

Last year Dupre, Designer Dragon and Faceless led the charge to get housing and player killing under control. This year Runesabre, Toad and I will lead the charge to expand housing, improve player interaction, and give players more control over their characters. Expect grand changes in the future.

Next time, we will talk about the present situation of Ultima Online, and how things are changing under new leadership. In the meantime, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has participated in the “Clean Up Britannia” campaign. You have all helped make UO a better experience.