3D OR NOT 3D [Author: arcadian del sol]

One thing all the prognosticators seem to agree on is that Ultima Online: Third Dawn will include a new interface using 3D acceleration. The question is, what exactly does that mean? Nobody really knows. Deus Ex and EverQuest are 3D games, but then, so is DiabloII, in all it’s spritely glory. It could be that UO:3D will simply be the same isometric, dimensionally challenged game we have today, only with crisp lines and colored lighting effects. Or we might end up with a game that for all intents and purposes, is EverQuest. As for me, if it is the former, count me in. If it is the latter, email me to buy my accounts.

Those who play UO purely for the PVP experience will be the first to tell you that if you want to compete, you better be prepared to spend some money. Ultima Online has followed the same evolutionary path as Major League Baseball. What once was a gentleman’s game is now a “spend to contend” miasma of cable modems and SCSI hard drives. If you sloth along like me on a 56k modem and a seventeen inch display, prepare to be ganked inside-out by a cable jockey on horseback. Prepare to be at 35 hit points by the time you realize that you are under attack. I know what you’re going to say: “Arcadian stop being a crybaby newB and buy a cable modem.” Well, I’m going to be moving soon and I currently rent in a location where I don’t have such modern luxuries at my disposal. So for the time being, I have to suffer the slings and arrows of those who pay for premium internet connectivity. People in the back row, let me hear you testify!

So it is already a given that He Who Has The Best Connection Rules The Nation. It is the first law of online gaming. This law has a sub-article that goes something like this:
“In the event that said nation is conceived and perceived in the graphical representation heretofore known as “Three Dee”, He Who Has The Best Connection will find competition with He Who Has The Fastest Processor and He Who Has The Latest Video Card. He Who Has All Three Will Rule The Nation, according to established precept.”

I hardly have a fast processor. I have a Pentium II 300. I have a TNT2 video card that is as old as my television. I have a monitor that is large, but not the fastest gun in the west. I was able to play DiabloII but every “foozle” killed me three times while I waited for the new location to load. It was a minor annoyance. I was able to play Deus Ex, but there were moments of sputter and hesitation when massive numbers of “chodes” chased me through the Chinese strip club. Fortunately, they were simple minded AI bots – and not thirteen year old (emotional age, not physical age) gank-whores who play the game like an online laser tag.

“Well if you love the old client so much, then keep it, Arcadian! Cry more, newB!” Sure, sure – that sounds good. Unless you consider the rumor that there will be regions of landscape unreachable by the old client. Remember when The Second Age was released? You didn’t have to buy that either. The fallout is that we can’t ride llamas in Britain, and you can’t enter The Land of the Lost without it. Landscape is the least of my concerns however. I’m more concerned at the widening gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged players. How many of you are using “tiny UO” setting in order to get a display that is three tiles wider? I am. Why? Because when you are not the red PK gank-whore, you are already at a disadvantage. You don’t need more of them, such as being visible to an opponent who is not visible to you. The sacrifice is that UO runs a teensy bit slower now, but you do what you must in order to maintain a somewhat level playing field. Nobody is arguing that a new 3D client will be superior – and naturally those who use it will gain yet another advantage.

What does it all mean for me? Well, there was a time in UO, just before Tyrant arrived and started scrubbing the walls of Sosaria with disinfectants, when I was teetering on the edge of canceling my accounts. Suddenly, there were alternatives to UO, and many players moved off to those new games. I was tempted, but once I saw what they looked like, I decided to stay with UO. I still enjoy the isometric “god view” when I play games. It makes me feel like I actually control my character/party. In the 3D perspective, the environment controls you. I don’t like that. I also don’t like how horrifically ugly 3D graphics are. Want to know how “cutting edge” 3D graphics are? All they do is make a basic geometric shape, and wrap it with a picture. That’s all. Want to know what 3D graphics look like? Cut out a picture of George Clooney’s face from People Magazine and wrap it around an egg. Voila, You now have Clooney 3D! Give him a katana and you’re ready to go kick some dancing Meerling ass!

I would be remiss, however, if I did not say that of the screenshots I have seen, the new online product from OSI does look prettier than the current assembly of 3D titles. But then again, the fruit fly larva is prettier than any other maggot in the animal kingdom. That doesn’t mean I want one as a pet. EverQuest and Asheron’s Call will always be there to love me. Like harlots in a bordello, all I need is a twenty dollar bill and I can buy me some love. But I haven’t been to see them yet. I have a nice UO to come home to every night. She might not dance and sing and strut like EQ and AC, and she might not be the red lipstick and mascara type, but she’s got what I need, and she’s the one I took home with me.

Players are passionate about online games. The players who aren’t don’t stick with them for longer than 3 months. Currently, the field is limited to three games, and the communities have their reasons for selecting one over the other. My reason for sticking with UO has been the interface. EQ and AC look like an origami puppet show on crack, and UO has a familiar, comfortable isometric display I prefer to this day. Yes, it’s three years old – crucify me. I also prefer three year old port to port bottled two days ago. I guess I’m crazy that way.

And that’s the rub: for different reasons and different purposes, each one of us is crazy. I just spent a small chunk of my life writing an editorial about a game. You just spent a small chunk of yours reading it. But to those who think we both just wasted our time, I hope someday you too can find something to be passionate about, and when you do, be prepared to defend it to someone like you.
I can think of worse things than Ultima Online to be obsessed about.
Baseball Cards come to mind.