Like the rest of you, when I heard that UO2 was cancelled, I was stunned. Shocked. Apalled.
But unfortunately, not surprised.
I had heard from folks at EA that EA.COM was due for layoffs this week (which we duly posted about)… and Origin was one of the largest links in that particular chain. Also the only one that actually had a hope of generating income, but logic never drives desperate accountants.
And UO2 or Ultima: Origin or Ultima: Nexus or Ultima: Woo or whatever it was called this week (the inability to even think up a simple name for the game betrayed the utter incompetence Origin’s upper management could seemingly never exhaust their supply of), after years of development, was supposedly only weeks away from beta, and months away from release. Some rumors had it that the game itself was an unplayable mess; others insist that it was ready to go and as revolutionary as was promised. We’ll never know, now.
Because EA, in their again infinite supply of wisdom, decided that aborting one MMOG in the womb, and handing OSI’s largest competitor a pre-built development team, wasn’t enough insanity for one fiscal year. No, in addition, it was decided that it was time to flush years of development, toil and sweat into the toilet. Because, you know, Origin might not be able to run more than one game at a time. And UO is making money at the moment. Making money in a dot.com is a rare thing these days.
So OSI once again turns to Ultima Online, as the standard bringer and now apparently the only project in their shop (an anonymous source described OSI’s place in the EA.COM hiearchy as “the server farm, nothing else”).
Too bad they don’t have a clue what to do with that, either.
Third Dawn is a technically amazing feat of engineering. It’s on a par with taking your old COBOL systems and teaching them to store dates as 4 digits instead of 2. But is it something that will compete with the latest and greatest from Verant, Turbine, and elsewhere?
Of course not.
I say this with a great deal of sadness, not because I personally like UO (I haven’t played it seriously in over a year now) but because it is the greatest example of what might have been. It betrays so much promise it’s almost criminal. UO could be the greatest MMOG out, of ANY of them. It would be so goddamned easy. All it would take is courage, and trust, and the willingness to take risks.
Leave aside the unbalanced PvP system, or the lag-happy networking code, or the omnipresent bugs, or even the recent hell-with-it-just-make-everything-a-number attempt at localization. Those are all technical issues. Those can all be fixed. What can’t be fixed is a lack of vision.
OSI’s finest hour was the Battle of Trinsic. And it also was its greatest failure.
In one brief moment, as the storytellers at Origin did their best to fling challenges great and small at the UO playerbase, people felt like they mattered. That the world actually responded to what they were doing, that they were no longer “just in a game” but in a world, a world that could possibly be shaped by their actions.
In that moment, UO held the greatest possibility of transcenedence — the ability to grow beyond its designers, that the fate of the game – the world – would from that point on not be in the hands of the caretakers, but the inhabitants.
But it was an illusion. The story was pre-written, and badly at that. It rapidly became obvious that OSI had no idea how to finish what they began, and as the events around Trinsic grew beyond their control, the story line just ….stopped. All of a sudden, it was time for UO:Renaissance (the fact that the battle of Trinsic was supposed to explain the events of UO:R was convienently forgotten) and the players didn’t matter. There was a game to ship, damn it.
It is no coincidence that the one part of UO:R that took the longest to actually make it into the game was also the one part that involved trusting the players to shape their own world. And as the faction system wound through developer after developer at the revolving door that was Origin, the ability of players to change their world was surgically removed, until the faction system itself was no longer a venue for storytelling, or a means for “PvP that mattered” (sadly, Origin’s words, not mine) but simply, in one last, final joke on the players, a way to dye your stuff purple.
There hasn’t been a new American server since shortly after UO launched (not counting Siege Perilous, and judging from its exclusion from most of UO3D, it really doesn’t count). There hasn’t been a major story-driven event in UO in months. While EQ launched two full CDs worth of expansions and AC delivered downloadable updated content on a monthly basis, UO managed to deliver one dungeon through creative hacking.
Supposedly, UO3D will change this.
Supposedly, we were supposed to have a new magic system called “Necromancy.”
Supposedly, we were supposed to have a revamped alchemy system.
Supposedly, we were supposed to have auctions for player property (and no, eBay does not count).
Supposedly, we were supposed to have a compelling faction system. Supposedly, we were supposed to have a working player economy. Supposedly, we were supposed to have an environment free of exploits and confused volunteers and uncaring overworked gamemasters. Supposedly. Supposedly. Supposedly.
Perhaps, as the localization changes that were rammed down the complaining playerbase’s throat suggest, Origin simply doesn’t care about the American market any more. We whine. We rant. We are unappreciative of all the hard work that goes into keeping a four year old collection of spaghetti code up and running. We’re a pack of ungrateful bastards. But, you know, Origin’s awful big in Japan. They probably think Richard Garriott still works there.
We know better.