Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Sandbox Challenge: Ultima Online

Time played: 4 hours

It seems like I started the Sandbox Challenge ages ago and I’ve felt, for some reason, a bit under pressure to get going on the project. That’s mostly down to my nature, however, but also due to some feedback I’ve received from people who think this is a good idea and are interested in following my progress. Well, welcome aboard, and here we go!

My history with Ultima is both brief, and old. Ancient almost. I have never played any of the Ultima games, online or otherwise. I first encountered Ultima in its fourth incarnation, the Quest of the Avatar (1985). For those of you who may have missed my earlier posts (with all that boring background stuff on me) I only have one real-life friend who games, and I have known him for over 26-years. I grew up in a small, small, small, rural town, while he lived in the magical, faraway land of......the city (que drums).

I was able to escape the puritanical shackles of my small-minded home town on those special weekends in which I would visit him. I don’t know if you had this friend, but he was “the guy” with everything (or so it seemed to me). He got a Nintendo on release, for instance (while I was stuck with an Intellivision), and I spent many hours watching him play. He wasn’t a cruel, console hog, but the very fact that he had the system and I didn’t ensured he was good, and I, of course, sucked. We would play 2P on Mario Brothers which would consist of me playing for 5 minutes and dying (bloody mushrooms), and then him playing for an hour or more.

He was, then, the first to get a computer, and it was in his basement bedroom (I know, how terribly stereotypical of a teen-aged gamer, but these stereotypes have to start somewhere) that I remember watching him play Ultima. It was cool. That’s what I remember most. We were avid role-playing gamers before we really knew what that meant. We played Dungeons and Dragons (of course) and would eventually go on to try a staggering amount of computer role-playing games.

Sadly, he is lost to me now. No, no, he’s not dead- he does, however, stubbornly refuse to embrace pvp, and sticks mainly to pve-based games such as City of Heroes, and, oddly when you think about it- he prefers RTS while I prefer turn based that works (with my love of pvp and his of pve) I haven’t quite figured out. The result? We haven’t gamed together since we did multi-player battles in Heroes of Might and Magic IV (by modem no less) in about 2003-ish.

I don’t remember much about Ultima, but I did watch him play for quite some time. I remember Moon Gates, and Virtues, and spell components mainly. I have come to Ultima Online a little blind, really, about what the game entails which is just as well because that fits nicely with my goal of the Sandbox Challenge: to try it without being influenced or helped by forums.

So far, I have to admit, I am really struggling to log in and play. I just don’t fancy it, and it’s because of the 2d, dated graphics. I have to admit that I am a bit of a game snob, and I do find it quite difficult to go back to the ‘classics’ due to the low-quality graphics. Does that make me a bad person? Should I love these games so much I overlook their disheveled, grubby state? Maybe- love is blind and all that (or so they say...whoever these blind fools are).

I have been able to go back to some great games that I have loved- XCOM: UFO Defense, Pirates!, Rome: Total War (not exactly old, I know) to name a few, but for the most part I’d rather remember the good times in my mind than re-live it on screen. The hidden pitfall level in the newer pitfall (now actually quite old) was pretty cool though I must admit. Most of the time however, it is the warm, happy, nostalgic feelings that we crave, and not the actual game play.

Wait a minute...wasn’t I talking about something else just a minute ago.......oh yes, Ultima Online.....

I downloaded and installed the client with no problems and was up and playing in no time. I have always had a soft spot for Necromancers (both in game and out) so my choice of classes was easily made. I decided that as my role-playing element I would be a Necromancer interested in power (gasp) and riches (shocking) intent on enslaving a small village with her demonic minions. Ya, not really an original slant on the whole necromancer thing, but I did say ‘light’ role-playing elements. Just enough to keep me on track and prevent me from wasting too much time, say, baking cookies (which I spent a half hour doing at the start of the game).

I’ve obviously just begun, and as stated, am struggling to find the motivation to play through this one. I still haven’t completed the first class-based quest to get my necromancy skill up to 50. To be honest I may strike this game from the list and move on. I do want the challenge but in the end I shouldn’t dread logging in to play. I’ll give it a bit more of a chance and see what happens.
I suppose I could alter my role-playing goal and see if I can make some undead cookies, or have my undead minions make my cookies! Mmmmm..........Necrookies. After having slaved away under the tyrannical yolk of that real-life friend in his Michelin-Starred Restaurant* for what seemed like an eternity, I can honestly say I kind of know what it feels like to be a zombie, hunched over a hot stove, for (practically) no pay- unless you count the enormous amounts of gin I guzzled while ‘cleaning up’ at the end of the shift as pay, and then, by god, I was wealthy beyond imagination!

*Michelin stars mentioned in this blog may not be real Michelin stars, but may actually be complete figments of the author’s imagination (though if any restaurant in this land-locked, culinary hell-hole deserves one, it really and truly is his).


  1. This post reminds me of when I tried to play Baldur's Gate and Fallout after people told me how great and classic they were. I just couldn't get into it, and I think a lot of it was the presentation.

    If you're not having fun then move on, I say by giving it a fair shot you're living up to the spirit of your deal with yourself!

  2. I think you may be right. I did play Baldur's Gate and Fallout back in the day but certainly wouldn't go back to them now :) Loved your musical artist vs. mmo post! Funny stuff.