January 04, 2007

How I got back into the game industry

Thanks to Damion, I got to read a "way back when" post on UO by Dan Rubenfield. Mostly he concentrates on the amount of ganking and griefing that went on in UO, but it brought back some memories.

One of the stories he told is almost an exact retelling of the event that brought me back to Ultima Online, and more importantly prompted to me to leave my cushy Unix consulting gig to return to the game industry.

From his site:
Everyone talks fondly about it, but there’s never a happy story.

It’s always the shared moment of getting slaughtered in a dungeon, losing your stuff, hiding traps in your backpack and killing people who snooped and more.

But regardless of the tone, people still loved it. The fucked up moments, the slaughter of the innocents, the absolute depths that you could sink to.

When it first released, people would break into your house, steal all of your stuff, sapping you of thousands of hours of gameplay. Then, not content with having ruined your experience, they would leave you a book on the floor of your now empty house, with a note in it.

“You Suck”

When they broke into my house, they left all the furniture stacked in the back, with a book in the armoir. The book said "Thanks for all the cheese."

Now, I don't have the best memory, so I'll give you the romaniticised version of what happened next. I called Raph Koster on the phone (whom I had met when I was working in QA at Origin through an informal game design group called "Project Brainstorm" (memories anyone?)).

As the story goes, I told Raph, "Dude, you need to hire me so I can fix your game." A few months later and I was working my first large system in UO: House Security. Looking back an the resulting system, it seems like a fairly crude game design solution, requiring chat commands for a lot of functionality. But it sure did make houses more secure!

Thanks for the memories, Dan. Happy New year!

(As an aside, it seems like a UO day for me, as it keeps coming up. This morning I ran across the MMORPG.com Interview with UO Producer Aaron Cohen.)

Posted by SunSword at 05:04 PM | Comments (1)

December 24, 2004

UO isn't dead ya dummies

So, every year premature predictions of UO's demise are made (and I make a lot of money on those odds ;) ). This year seems to be no exception.

Now, it's one thing for someone who actually plays the game to exhibit concerns based on their actual experiences in the game, but it's another for people who are clearly out of touch and make have only made a cursory examination to make claims about Britannia... (woo, the 2 year old expansion can be downloaded for free! holy bajeezus, the game must be dying!)

Now, I'm not naive enough to think that people who post on "intellectual" news sites are likely to be less smarmy than the journalists that work for the taboloids... but I would expect them to be less obvious in the tactics they use to get attention...

Y'know, I'm not even going to link to the article because I don't want to give the guy anymore traffic, but I will link to some related articles, so I'm sure some of you will find your way there.

Ubiq, former Lead Designer of OWO (formerly UO2), an interesting article about his experiences trying to make a sequel to such a unique experience.

I think he hit the nail on the head when he said:

" I’ve told people that if UO hadn’t come first and whet people’s appetite, Everquest would have capped at 75-100K, WoW never gets greenlit, Shadowbane never kicks off, and MMOs would be one of those wacky things the Asians do, like robot dogs and panty vending machines. Ultima Online got people excited about persistent world gaming. "
UO is fundamentally a different beast than almost every other MMO available, which is why it has weathered the launch of so many competitors so well. You see, first UO wasn't going to last more than 3 months. Then EQ was going to kill it, then EQ + DAoC, then SWG, and finally EQ2 and WoW. I'll tell you this, SWG is the only game launch I've seen that had any noticeable effect on the metrics by which we measure the health of the service. Why? Because SWG is the only significant MMO that tried to do the kinds of things UO did. I wonder why? :)

Anyway, don't believe the hype, because even if it's being delivered by a PhD, it's still hype.

Ubiq's post made me also want to talk about the whole "sequel" thing. As you may know, previous attempts to make a sequel for UO have failed for many reasons, not the least of which was execution, but in many ways, I'm happy those sequels weren't made. In my mind, they weren't "sequels" at all, rather, new games with the Ultima franchise in the name.

Perhaps I should start another thread on MMOs and sequels, but heck, since I'm here...

I don't agree with the way other MMOs have sequelized their games (namely, AC2 and EQ2). As a player, I don't want to have to make a choice between playing my game and the next game with the same name. Obviously, there are huge differences between making a sequel for a normal retail game and an online one, but I can tell you this, every RPG sequel I've ever played that let me import my characters from the previous game made my day.

Don't make me choose. If I like the game I'm playing, but it's time for some major new improvements that merit the term "sequel", give me a way to keep the investment I've already made.

Now, obviously, there are challenges with the "let me keep my stuff" plan, but y'know, MMOs are HARD, and if you're going to make a sequel, you should think HARD about those problems and solve them.

I can think of a couple of ways to make a sequel for an MMO that let's you keep your stuff...one is to change the world "in place," give me the new client or whatever, but on launch day, I log in my character and BAM, new graphics, new gameplay, whatever. EQ has done this with graphic upgrades on occasion...

Another way is to make version 2 shards that have copied over the character database, so if I buy genericMMO2, when I go to log in, there's a version 2 of my server with a version 2 of my characters. The obvious problem here is that now my buddies have to decide which one they're going to play, it could fragment the community.

There are about a jillion variations that allow me to keep my character and some amount of my stuff (my house!) when a sequel comes out, and I think that regardless of execution, if a sequel isn't true to its predecessor, or requires players start over, it shouldn't be made, or at least shouldn't be called a sequel.

P.S. - The sequel should have "new shards" for people who don't want to compete with the 5 year vets.

Posted by SunSword at 11:58 AM | Comments (11)

December 01, 2004

We're hiring Content Designers for UO!

If you think you've got what it takes to design worlds and fill them with interesting people and places, now's your chance. We're actually hiring 3 individuals at this position.

This is a great opporunity to work with a large team on a major new project for UO.

Check out the job description Here!

Posted by SunSword at 03:56 AM | Comments (1)

October 15, 2004

SunSword Samurai

Okay, I have to get in front of this one before someone else posts it....so, here I am dueling it out with Oaks (Lead Designer on Samurai Empire) in Tokyo on Wednesday.

This image was taken by Game Watch.

Notice the "bling" on Oaks' sword. It won't help him. Oh, there's more where this one came from...believe me... you're gonna have to ask for it.

Comment Here.... (oh dear)

Posted by SunSword at 01:57 AM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2004

UO Samurai Empire...it's got Ninjas!

The new UO:SE Website has launched! Check out the "Making of" movie. Ninja make bad office workers...

Comment here....

Posted by SunSword at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2004


So, here I am in Tokyo to celebrate UO's anniversary, promote the launch of Samurai Empire and discuss UO's future plans with EA Japan.

The flight out was fantastic, although a bit delayed. As many of you know, on larger planes and longer flights, many airlines have a display that shows the plane's progress on the map. I've always wished that they would put a camera on the front of the airplane so you could watch the take off and landing from the pilots' viewpoint. Well guess what? The Japanese did it! Not only did they have take off and landing on the big monitors, once we took off, they had a camera showing the view from under the plane that you could watch on your own monitor. You could see the plane's shadow as it passed over the city and watch the clouds or terrain from cruising altitude. It was great! Landing was particularly keen.

On the flight, I met a young man flying to (of all places) Austin, Texas. He's from Shanghai and works for Dell. It was his first trip to the states. I gave him a good list of places to eat and things to do. Very pleasant fellow.

Comment here...

I arrived at my hotel in Tokyo last night. As usual, it's a very nice room, particularly given the small nature of the space. However, when I tried to get dinner in the hotel, I found every restaurant had a 1 hour wait. So I asked the concierge for a local sushi bar. She picked a place for me that was about a 15 walk through Tokyo's meandering roads.

It was a small adventure. The restaurant was a BIG adventure. In case you are wondering, I don't speak Japanese. No one in the restaurant spoke English. But they were very nice. After waiting 5 minutes, a spot opened up at the bar. The waitress brought me some tea and miso soup, as well as the sushi menu (Japanese with a few English words and no pictures :)).

My first few attempts at ordering were a little frustrating for the chef, but I eventually managed to get some wonderful fish. In particular, I finally got to have Anago (saltwater eel) for the first time since I moved from Austin! Thank the gods. It was fantastic. That, plus 2 orders of Saba (Mackerel), some Maguro (tuna), Ama-Ebi (shrimp), Uni (sea urchin). After that, I ordered some more Saba. I think the chef liked my taste, because he made me two more kinds of sushi, neither of which he charged me for!

I can't remember the names, but they were prepared in similar ways. The first was tuna, prepared like it usually is on rice, but then he put it on the grill and got a butane torch and briefly cooked the top. Then he added more vinegar and a dollop of wasabi on the top. That was great!

Then he did almost the same thing with some Saba, except it was even better. He torched it, and then I think he put sea salt on the top, and instructed me not to put it in the soy. Great!

Posted by SunSword at 08:21 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2004

Another one bites the dust

Today it was announced that War Hammer Online has been cancelled. MMO projects are dropping like flies in the face of stiff competition, seemingly limited audience and very high barriers to entry.

These games are "lifestyle games," but there's a heckuva lot the packaged goods products could learn from them about how to add value online. It's too bad to see another online game get cancelled that's for sure. What is that, the 3rd one in 3 months?

Posted by SunSword at 02:06 PM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2004

Interview at corpnews.com

Earlier this week I did an interview at corpnews.com. You can read it HERE.

Some nice direct questions in this one.

Posted by SunSword at 01:09 AM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2004

I'm going back to cali...cali...cali

Well, it's been a difficult few weeks as I've worked with the members of the UO development team to make the decision to move to EA's headquarters in California. I'm happy to report that we have a strong core group of talented individuals that will become the foundation for perhaps the largest UO team since the original game shipped.

Last weekend, we flew most of the people considering relocation out to Redwood Shores so they could see the campus and get their bearings. I must say, the last week has been a rollercoaster of emotions as people fluxated between staying and going. Happily, it was all worth it, as I was able to retain almost everyone I expected to, and a few that I thought I couldn't!

Now comes the hard part...preparing the house for sale, and coordinating to move a live service cross country. Yeeps!

Posted by SunSword at 12:01 PM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2004

We Still Create Worlds

I was going to post something here about the news regarding Origin's move to California, but I decided to keep it short. For now, all I ask is that you support and encourage the staff and their family members as they consider a signficant life decision.

I would also like to publically thank my very pregnant wife for her grace during this stressful time.

Posted by SunSword at 01:53 AM | Comments (3)

September 19, 2003

Excellent week

Today was an excellent week all around. Big things were accomplished, and I feel like for the first time, I'm really getting to do what needs to be done at work. Now if only I could find and hire the right people to help get it done...

I have to run 8 miles in the hill country tomorrow, and because this week was so busy with planning, demos, and presentations, I only managed to get in one good run. I don't feel ready for tomorrow.

Posted by SunSword at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2003

UO Chat with Japanese Players!

If you're curious what it looks like to have an IRC chat with Japanese players...here it is:

[09:08] $B!v$3$l$OEvF| [09:08] *** momma has left #uojc_sp
[09:08] Evocare and I greatly enjoyed visting Japan. We were honored to meet many UO players and volunteers. The 5th anniversary event was a lot of fun and we hope to return to Japan again one day!
[09:09] Evocare$B$H;d$O!"F|K\$X$NK,Ld$r$H$F$b3Z$7$`$3$H$,$G$-$^$7$?!#(B
[09:09] $B$?$/$5$s$N(BUO$B%W%l%$%d!<$?$A$d%\%i%s%F%#%"$K$b2q$($F8w1I$G$7$?!#(B
[09:10] *** Signoff: Evocare (Quit: Leaving)
[09:10] 5$B<~G/%$%Y%s%H$O$H$F$b3Z$7$/!"$^$?$$$D$+F|K\$K!VLa$j$?$$!W$H;W$C$F$$$^$9!#(B
[09:10] $B0J>e(B
[09:11] *** kikori (chocoa@cdm-208-245-11-pfvl.cox-internet.com) has joined channel #uojc_sp
[09:11] $B$G$O!"2~$a$F$*;G$$$7$^$9(B
[09:11] =$B;vA0 [09:12] *** matu (chocoa@cdm-208-245-11-pfvl.cox-internet.com) has joined channel #uojc_sp
[09:12] *** Naga0 (naga__@cdm-208-245-11-pfvl.cox-internet.com) has joined channel #uojc_sp

Very confusing, eh? :)

Posted by SunSword at 09:47 AM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2003

Ultima Online Events heat up

If you haven't been paying attention to UO.com recently, you should check out the Britannia News Network. We're running a pilot program of events where every shard gets at least 2 events every week!

Recently, Lord Blackthorn was defeated by Lady Dawn with the help of many citizens of Britannia. Upon hearing of the demise of his once friend turned nemesis, Lord British returned from his questing abroad!

Checkout UO.com for an event on a shard near you!

Posted by SunSword at 11:26 PM | Comments (2)