Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
03 March 2008
Two steps forward, two steps back
I'm as big a fan of Moore's Law as the next guy, but I'm not sure why it needs to apply to the latest engine rebuild in Ultima Online.

Here's an Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn client Ultima preview from Ten Ton Hammer via the Wayback machine set to Jan 28, 2007:

Like the legacy client, 'Kingdom Reborn' is targetted [sic] toward a very low system spec. [UO producer Aaron] Cohen joked that the new client 'would not melt your videocard at all,' estimating that any computer bought within the last five or six years would run the new client, no problem.


No, it doesn't do a thing to my videocard, but it grabs over three-quarters gig of my memory all by itself. That's not cool, and I've had it crash once already in less than three hours of play. The claim a five or six year-old computer would run KR "no problem" is absolutely bogus. My poor, poor spinning hard drive.

I hate to continue the downer thread I started and amended slightly over in the Game Journal, but seriously, the biggest shock to me playing last night was just how daggum similar the Kingdom Reborn client experience was to playing my Second Age client from 1999 (Exhibit A). I don't see that the UO team has found any distinct advantage of using 3D. The game is as it's always been. The problem's not the video, but the bloat of the code's inefficient foundation, I suppose.

Honestly, I'm happy to see Ultima Online's still alive. It's a great monument to the birth of the commercially viable MMORPG. I'll readily stipulate the user interface improvements are a huge change and somehow worthy of all the time that was required to recreate every freakin' tile of art for the new client, but for the life of me, I just can't yet see it. Third Dawn, UO's first shot at a 3D client, was a starker, more noticeable change than this. Love it or hate it, at least there was a discernible difference, noticeable within seconds of launch, that accompanied the sluggish performance. Then, you could at least put your finger on what you were waiting on Moore to speed up.

And as I pointed out in my Game Journal entry, what is the appeal for old-timers to return if they haven't purchased expansions since, say, the Second Age? I download gigs on gigs of new client, receive the same -- make that more sluggish -- play experience as 1999, and can't even see one new land or one new dungeon from when I played nearly a decade back unless I shell out the equivalent three months' virtual rent (ie, $30). Without the now long-delayed Stygian Abyss expansion, Kingdom Reborn is nothing more than an extended beta test accessible to those still willing to give UO a shot for old times' sake. I've finally begun to believe Lord British's leaving did shoot the game in the creative feet.

Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn feels like we're treading water, and I'm surprised that's enough to keep the game afloat.

EDIT: I found a quote from RPG Vault attributed to J.P. "Grimm" Harrod whose titles at UO range from "2004 to present as Character Artist, Senior Artist, Art Lead, Lead Character Artist, Associate Art Director, and now, Associate CG Supervisor". That's a pretty good list. In any event, the quote makes me hope there's a future for UO:KR. Here tis, slightly truncated.

I was hired on during the development of Samurai Empire... This was one of the first expansions, so we found ourselves having to reverse engineer a pipeline in order to get new assets in - and with no tools and no blueprint to follow.
...
The second thing was the development for Kingdom Reborn. As far as art goes, this was the renaissance for UO. We had an established pipeline and evolving tools, we had migrated to the latest versions of 3D Studio Max, and we finally had the opportunity to break the limitations of the 2D client that we had been confined to (nine year-old limitations, mind you).


Obviously KR is more about opening up the client for modification than any sort of graphics improvement. Heck, KR even has a 2D compatibility preference, where you get to use ports of the old art in the new client. There's a reason the memory management is so poor; it's the innards have been rewritten like mad, opening it up to the XML, lua, etc toolbox that not so coincidentally matches World of Warcraft's.

KR now becomes an impressive, extremely long-term gamble that people will continue to appreciate what remains for all practical purposes a two-dimensional game, but at the same time will, for the first time, intentionally open the game up for the same sort of freely given, end user labor that's made World of Warcraft so popular. Take a look at the items at thottbot.com, for heaven's sake. This stuff, from prices at auction to stats, I think, are all the results of having good, standardized hooks for people to write add-ons into seemingly every facet of the game. Where is UO's thottbot equivalent, presenting easily searchable, extremely detailed information culled from the game and players on every item that's been in the game? Where is the "Auctioneer" mod that makes creating wealth in WoW a breeze? Without KR, such mods would never happen. Now, the technologies are there.

But will the players stay?

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--ruffin at 12:42
Comment [ 2 ]

Comments on this post:

I can't say I'm up on UO aside from knowing what it is in a general way. I did just want to indicate I did read what you had to say and tried to nod sagely when it seemed appropriate.

By Blogger MonkeyKing1969, at 04 March, 2008 19:09  

Ha, that's better than I could have hoped. It was the perfect storm of playing UO for the first time in two and a half years, Matt being silent for way too long, and remembering that this was a blog, not really a place where what I wrote had to be edited or make sense.

That last part I've done well, I take it.

By Blogger ruffin, at 04 March, 2008 20:15  

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