2001-12: GameSpy Dev Diary: Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge -- Volume 1

Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge, Volume 1

This was originally posted at GameSpy [1] as part of their Dev Diary series, where developers would write about some aspect of game development.

Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge, Volume 1

Crafting and MMOG isn't easy. Designer Jonathan Hanna details the process of creating the expansion for Ultima Online.

By Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna

All of the fiction in the world means nothing in an MMORPG if there isn't something the players can do to affect some part of the story. That's where the dynamic part of the fiction comes in. The stories have factor(s) that the players can actually change or create based on their actions in the game. For instance, in the first scenario, two warring races were fighting for control of a fort. In the final week of the scenario, using special items from previous weeks, the players could ally themselves with one of the races and help that side win the fort. In the end, whichever side the players supported more won control of the fort, making the end of that chapter in the story different.

In another story, the players had to construct a device to help them destroy magical towers in order to save an enslaved city. If the players did not give the resources needed to construct the device or if they did not destroy the magical towers, the city could not be freed. Freeing the city then allowed players to learn new skills, allowing them to create over twenty new craftable items. Future content will have similar player-affected situations, growing in intensity and scale as we continue to add more content.

To deliver the fiction, the content is broken down into episodic chapters called "scenarios." Each scenario tells a story that then leads into the next scenario. They are designed to tie into one-another, but at the same time, one does not have to participate in previous scenarios in order to get involved in a current one. This way, we create a story that is intriguing to current players, but also easily accessed by new players.

Each part of in-game content is accompanied by stories on the Website that provides clues about upcoming developments and more information regarding characters' motivations and abilities. Telling a story to hundreds of thousands of people all over the world is no easy task, and it is important to ensure that while the stories are compelling, they are not complicated to the point where players feel that missing a week or two will leave them out in the cold. The content released into the game has to tell the story, just as much as the written words.

Every MMORPG adds new content to their game, but what makes the new content added to Ultima Online unique is the fact that the content is tied to the story. When creating a scenario, we first decide what the story is going to be and how the players will be able to affect it. Once we have a clear idea of those factors, we then design the monsters, items and weapons that will appear in the scenario. Allowing the fiction to drive the content (instead of the other way around) is not something one commonly finds in most games. Doing this gives the new content a theme and a background not commonly found in MMORPGs. In the last two scenarios alone we have added a crowd of new monsters (including a new mount and player-craftable golems), over 40 items and a new land area that includes a new city. Each of these monsters and items is tied to the story and become more than just cool-looking graphics on the players' screens.

The release of Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge gives us even more content for the scenarios. Again, before we concepted these new monsters, we first designed how they would fit in with the story. After we had some initial ideas, the folks at McFarlane created the over 30 new monsters that will appear in future scenarios. Each monster will have its own set of AI and special abilities ... all tied to the fiction. As the fiction unfolds, the players will be challenged again and again to defeat the forces of Lord Blackthorn and return the virtues to Britannia!