Ultima Worlds Online: Origin

In this upcoming sequel to Ultima Online, adventurers will find that the land of Sosaria has changed considerably, as steam-powered technology will be as prevalent as magic.

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2655124Ultima Online: Third Dawn , Ultima Worlds Online: Origin will be the next online role-playing game to bear the Ultima name, and though it's officially a sequel to the original Ultima Online, it'll be a decidedly different game. It will still be a massively multiplayer game that will let thousands of players explore a persistent world simultaneously, but it will feature a number of changes from the previous game. For starters, Origin, as it's called, will feature a fully 3D graphics engine, and it will use motion-captured animations to animate its detailed polygonal characters. Many of its characters and monsters won't copy standard fantasy archetypes, but will instead be completely original creations inspired by comic artist Todd McFarlane, who is acting as an artistic consultant on the project. Origin will also feature a new, simpler interface, multiple character races, and more and more complex character skill sets. Furthermore, the game's timeline is decidedly different from that of the traditional Ultima universe.

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Ultima Worlds Online: Origin will take place on the planet of Sosaria, but in an alternate timeline than Ultima Online or any of the previous Ultima games. A terrible cataclysm has befallen the realm, and in the wake of it, some have embraced the ways of technology over magic. In some parts of the land, huge, steam-powered cities have replaced Brittania's customary stonewalled townships. This land of technology will be governed by Blackthorne, a powerful non-player character knight and the villain of the original series. However, Blackthorne was never corrupted in Origin's timeline, and will instead serve as a seemingly peaceful ruler of the new land, though he - like many of the other non-player characters in Origin - may have a hidden agenda that won't be readily apparent.

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One of the most widespread complaints about the original Ultima Online was the fact that it only had one playable race - humans. There will be three different player races in Origin, each of which is native to the world's the three continents. Blackthorne's technocrat domain is Logos, and is the home of the Juka race, a breed of proud, stoic warriors that live and die by their own strict code of honor. Because they hail from a land in the midst of an industrial revolution, the Juka are the most technologically inclined of the three races, and will be skilled at the use of both technological weapons and the more technical artisan crafts. The Meer race is a line of slender, graceful humanoids whose slanted eyes and pointed ears grant them an unmistakable resemblance to cats. Meer hail from ancient Sosaria, and are adept in the ways of magic, including the dark art of necromancy. Humans are from the land of Brittania, which will likely seem the most familiar to most players, as it's most similar to the pastoral high-fantasy lands of Ultima Online and previous Ultima games. Humans lack certain of the special abilities and innate racial proficiencies of the other two races, but are more balanced than the others with respect to their ability scores and base set of skills.

Next: Character development and skills

As with the previous game, Ultima Worlds Online: Origin won't feature preset character classes, but rather, open-ended skill sets. Among other things, these will include close-combat skills and specialization in Origin's different schools of magic. Origin will feature certain standard weapons, like swords, bows, and crossbows, but will also feature completely original weapons, armor, and items, including especially protective pneumatic armors and even rudimentary firearms. And Origin will also include a complex skill tree for unarmed combat that will let characters kick, punch, and jab their enemies into submission. With the exception of necromancy, most magic spells will fall into four basic elemental schools (fire, air, earth, and water). Each school of magic can be studied to three levels of expertise: basic, hybrid (a level of skill that lets Origin's mages combine various elemental magics), and the exceedingly powerful (and difficult-to-attain) master levels.

Though you'll be able to create a character that possesses some combat skills and some aptitude with magic, you won't be able to create the overpowered "tank-mage" of the original Ultima Online. That's because Origin's skill trees won't be simple two- or three-step blueprints to ultimate power; instead, many of them (especially those that involve combat skills and magic proficiency) will require not only a great deal of practice, but also special training from rare non-player character trainers who are scattered across the face of Sosaria. As such, it won't be possible to create a character that's mastered both swordplay and sorcery - at least, not without spending a prodigious amount of time developing both skills to that point.

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And as in Ultima Online, Origin will also let you develop your character - and make your character more distinct from those of other players - with many well-developed trade skills. There will be more than enough merchant trades to let less bloodthirsty players lead productive virtual lives that don't involve charging into battle or slinging magic spells of mass destruction. If you do choose the more peaceful existence of a craftsman, you might choose to become, among other things, a cook, a lumberjack, a tailor, a smith, a miner, or a fisherman. Thankfully, if you decide to adopt a more peaceful lifestyle for your character, you won't have to live in fear of predatory player-killers, as Origin won't feature Ultima Online's freeform player-versus-player rules. Instead, Origin will feature specific player-versus-player areas where player characters may attack each other; the remaining zones won't allow PvP combat. And regardless of what sort of skill sets and what sort of life you choose for your character, you'll be able to customize your character's appearance with various different articles of clothing and armor, just as in Ultima Online.

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Another problem with the original Ultima Online with which many players took issue was that it was difficult to learn how to play. The original Ultima Online had a rather complex interface, and since character speech was indicated by floating text above a character's head, the game screen could become especially cluttered when multiple characters were conversing in the same area. Origin will use a much more streamlined, easy-to-use interface that will take full advantage of its powerful 3D engine. The game's default view will be a third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective, but will feature a very flexible camera that can be use to zoom, pan, and rotate around your character to get the best view. It's this flexible camera, along with Origin's robust graphics rendering system and its streamlined chat interface that will let the world of Sosaria be densely populated with characters and monsters without becoming hopelessly cluttered.

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Ultima Worlds Online: Origin shows a great deal of promise; the developers have clearly learned a great deal from the previous game and are applying that knowledge to the current project. We'll have more coverage of Ultima Worlds Online: Origin as the game's development progresses.


Next: Read our Q&A with Origin's lead designer Damion Schubert

Q&A with Origin's lead designer Damion Schubert

GS: Thanks for taking the time out for this interview. As we know, Ultima Worlds Online: Origin takes place in something of an alternate timeline from the original series. Could you please explain how this alternate timeline makes the world of Origin different?

DS: Well, fundamentally, we already have a straight fantasy MMORPG world with Ultima Online. For this one, we wanted to create an environment that was strikingly different and yet still strongly familiar. At the same time, we discovered that what the game really needed was a central conflict that was less about good versus evil and more about a political upheaval and a fundamental difference of paradigm, hence the decision to add technological elements to the Ultima universe.

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I feel the need to stress that this is still not a sci-fi game. We are, first and foremost, a fantasy game, and even the technological elements of this game have been designed in this direction.

GS: One of the most pressing issues in the original Ultima Online was player-killing. What sort of measures are being taken to make sure that "grief" players don't get to prey on lower-level characters?

DS: Well, the base answer is the split of the lands between safe zones and unsafe zones. If a player never wants to encounter a player-killer, he can exist without ever coming in contact with one.

That being said, our focus is still to create systems that make contextual player-vs.-player combat fun and exciting, but to make random or grief player-killing rare. As a result of this, we will have a stringent reputation system that will turn the murderers of the world into targets of opportunities for would-be defenders of justice. In short, we will give the good guys the tools to hunt murderers down like dogs. Murderers may also find other parts of the world to be very inhospitable to them. Murderers should expect a very rough life in Ultima: Origin.

GS: Another problem in the original Ultima Online was that of character-class balance: Some players created "tank-mages" that could wield some of the most powerful weapons and magic. What measures are you taking to prevent this sort of imbalance?

DS: The way that our skill trees are designed pretty much limits this sort of imbalance from occurring. As a general rule, it takes a lot of focus to be either a very good mage or a very good fighter. If you attempt to do both, then you will never be as good as someone who has devoted all of their advancement in one of those two directions. As a fail-safe, some of these skill boxes may be mutually exclusive, to prevent players from ever finding a way to beat the system. We haven't decided if we'll use this functionality and, if so, to what degree, but it is something that is within our capability to do if we decide that this is necessary.

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GS: Will Origin feature as many trade and commerce skills as Ultima Online? What kind of things will prospective tradesmen and merchants be able to make/do in the game? Will trade skills be limited to creating simple arms, armor, and crafted items, or will players be able to create items of great power and/or value?

DS: We've put a lot of work into making the crafting part of Origin be as deep as possible, and in trying to create a symbiotic relationship between the craftsman and the adventurer. Players with the appropriate skills will be able to do a remarkable amount in our game, from realistic things like milking cows to more fantastic things like enchanting weapons and making potions. Additional skills will allow them to improve their abilities: for instance, milk the cow faster, make longer lasting enchantments, and make more powerful potions.

GS: Since Origin will take place in a huge world where different areas have varying amounts of magic and ancient technology, will there be different modes of large-scale transportation, such as teleportation or magic portals?

DS: The primary form of transportation will be through the moongates, which will travel to a fixed location. While the need to get to be with your friends quickly is very important, allowing too much freedom of travel also makes a huge world seem very small, and reduces the desire to explore and the odds of experiencing GM-run events and other encounters. Moongates also give us the ability to create traffic patterns, which creates prime real estate for player-run shops, which we will one day have. This should create some extremely interesting effects regarding the overall economy of the game.

GS: Origin won't be using the same system of magic spells as Ultima Online, but rather, different schools of magic. Could you please explain how Origin's schools of magic will work?

DS: Certainly. We will have ten schools of magic at launch, with the ability to add more after launch. Each school will have their own specialties and strengths. For example, fire will have the best damage spells and water will have the best healing spells. Water may have some damage spells, but they'll tend to be lower in damage and take longer to recharge.

The base four schools are the four elements. The next four schools are hybrid schools: lava, vapor, nature and crystal. In order to get those schools, you have to get to a certain point of advancement in the base four schools. For example, lava is earth plus fire. These schools have some very powerful spells, and we've tried to put these schools within reach of a casual gamer that plays very hard.

Beyond that we'll have two master schools. We'll talk more about those master schools later, but these schools are reserved primarily for the Origin diehards. Achieving success in these schools will take a serious time investment, but the rewards should be ample. We've consciously tried to make multiple paths like this in most of the skill trees, so that casual gamers can experience success and feel like they can compete but the hardcore gamers still feel like they have something to gain for going the extra mile. How successful will we be? I think we'll be very successful, although it will probably take some tweaking in beta to get the values just right.

GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Ultima Worlds Online: Origin?

DS: There are lots of reasons why this will be a fun and successful game. I've already stated several, but I don't want to close without pointing out the incredible amount of talent and experience on the Origin team. This team is one of remarkable caliber, and I am consistently amazed by their dedication and innovative thinking. We have people on this project from Ultima Online, Meridian 59, Gemstone III, Asheron's Call, DragonRealms, Middle Earth Online, Hero's Journey, Hercules and Xena, Air Warrior III, Kingdoms of Drakkar, Dark Zion, Might and Magic Online, 10-Six, and Underlight (and I'm sure I've missed a couple).

With this level of expertise, there are very few problems that this team has not dealt with before somewhere inside of our experience in the industry. As a result, this game will definitely be a second-generation game, one that manages to avoid most of the problems and has a strong, stable core of a system that we will be able to build upon later.

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