Ultima Online is 20 Years Old, and Heeeeerrrre Come the Memories!
I received Ultima Online unexpectedly as a Christmas present in 1998. My brother recommended it to my parents as something that he thought I would like.
He didn’t know what he was getting me into.
Ultima Online was one of the first massively multiplayer online role-playing games, taking the lore and settings of Richard Garriott’s Ultima series and adapting it to massive online play. At the time, I was a regular online player of Diablo, Quake, and Starcraft. Competitively speaking, I wasn’t very good at any of them, and our not-great-even-for-a-rural-area internet connection further handicapped my play. Nevertheless, online gaming was a new and exciting experience, and I was having a blast playing over the internet with friends and strangers alike, even the ones whose usernames were just mashups of profanities and pot references. Well, except when I would get killed by cheaters in Diablo. That wasn’t fun, but there was only so much you could do about that. It was the frontier days of online gaming, with no checks in place to fight the outlaws, and minimal punishment for those who did not play by the rules.
Ultima Online was a deep dive into an even more robust, immersive online gaming experience: a persistent online world with its own evolving culture and economy. It was exciting, if not a little intimidating, to step into a game world that never stopped, even when you logged out. Adventures were had, business transactions made, towns were overrun by skeletons, and so on, all while your character slept peacefully in the inn as you lived your real life, logged out of the game. Instead of being the core figure in a grand, world-sweeping adventure, I was but one of thousands of players, all inhabiting the same world at the same time, all with their own goals, schedules, skillsets, and more. It was a completely different dynamic from any other RPG I had played.