Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ultima Online/Shards Online - Some things never change

Yes, I'm posting again, YES, I'm excited, and YES, I'm going to type random words in caps, because it's 4am and I feel like it.

All you need is a little bit of time speaking to the developers in IRC, and you know they're onto something special here. Then you start delving a bit deeper, and the excitement really begins to build.

For starters, take a look at this:

It tells us two things;

  • 1. The creator of this screenshot mashup is something of a genius - he also happens to be in charge of Shards Online. Good sign? I think so.
  • 2. The isometric viewpoint is one of the fundamentals that made UO great. The two games that I've previously thought of as potentially the next UO - Shadowbane and Darkfall - both lacked this key feature. 

Another thing that becomes instantly apparent on looking at Shards: TEXT ABOVE A CHARACTERS HEAD. Yes it's basic, but it adds hugely to that feeling of immersion. How can having text appear in a chat box at the bottom of your screen be the way forward?

Now I'm just going to ramble about why I love everything about Shards so far.

Player housing; I might present myself as a hardcore PvPer in my UO days, but I still spent countless hours decorating my various houses on various shards. SOMETIMES I LOGGED IN AND JUST STOOD AROUND IN MY HOUSE. What that says about me I don't know, but I do know I'm not alone in such behaviour.

I also know that this feeling of ownership in the game is an important part of tying players to it. Anything attempting to replace UO can aim for nothing less than at least equaling the housing system UO offered. No game has even come close yet, it's 2014 and no game has matched a housing system in A GAME RELEASED IN 1997.

Most importantly, this housing is promised in Shards, IN THE ACTUAL GAME WORLD, not an instance. I want to find where my enemies house is. I want to stalk them there and kill them when they venture outside. I want to break in, steal all their stuff, kill their characters, cut their heads off, and post pictures of it on the forums. I also want the possibility that this could happen to me. I want a sense of danger in the world. Other people might just want to go round to their friends house for a tea party and wear hats. They probably use emotes too, the sick bastards. If they don't want me to kill them, they play on a PvE or consensual shard. Either way, Shards works for both types of player.

The developers themselves; They're making a real effort to engage with their community. Yes, I realise this is in their own best interests, and also that this will scale down as the community grows, but when you compare their attitude and accessibility to that of the developers of say, Darkfall, it really is a very refreshing change. The fact that these guys worked on UO, and can answer UO questions I've always wanted answering is something of a bonus as well!

Rulesets: They are promising 3 different types of ruleset on the official Citadel shards/clusters. PvE only, PvP (Consensual only) and PvP+. This is smart, it removes all the problems of the clash between players of different playstyles on the forums, and removes all worry from players of each type, who would otherwise potentially be withholding their interest and backing from the game because they're worried the game is too PvP friendly, or not PvP friendly enough, or whatever. People are hard to please, and this is the best approach.

Shards/Clusters: I know this is confusing a lot of people that are stumbling across the Kickstarter. Don't be confused. Put simply, a shard is a map. A cluster ties these maps together. There will be official, Citadel run clusters, and players can run their own shards, and bind them together as clusters. It's initially confusing because it's actually a completely amazing, mind blowing, unique concept. Genius, in fact. Give players the tools to constantly improve your game once you release it to them. If you look at all the amazing work done in UO player-run shards - then just imagine how much more could have been done with official support - that's the potential Shards has. Limitless, really.

I know there's a long way to go, we're not even in pre-alpha. Make no mistake though, this game has serious potential. There is absolutely no doubt that no other game can claim to be the rightful heir to Ultima Online like Shards can. Anyone trusting that Garriott knows what's he's doing and that SotA is going to be anything like UO hasn't been keeping abreast of how that game is panning out. Darkfall and Shadowbane failed for various reasons, and there is NOTHING else on the horizon - if Shards is anything like promised, there doesn't need to be. If you loved UO, you need to support this game. Pledge on the Kickstarter NOW.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Shards Online!

I really didn't think I'd be posting to this blog ever again, but it appears there may be hope on the horizon for those of us still pining for the greatest game of all time, Ultima Online.

That hope is Shards Online.

Shards Online is aimed at both the ex-Neverwinter Nights community, and the ex-UO community, including those that were involved in the huge free-shard development groups based around RunUO and other emulators.

I'm genuinely incredibly excited about this game, even at the current, pre-alpha, limited information stage that we find ourselves in. I'm obviously not alone. The Kickstarter has already successfully funded, within it's first week.

What am I excited about?

Quite simply, Shards offers a community modifiable UO replacement, with infinite possibilities for player-run shards, communities and content. Imagine combining the best of UO free-shards, with the stability and support of the official servers, and mix in a bit of NWN at the same time? That's what Shards offers.

What reminds me of UO?

  • Isometric viewpoint - this is probably the main factor in recapturing that UO 'feel' - I've never been unable to understand why more games haven't tried to replicate it. For PvP especially, it just works.
  • Player housing - essential. Everything these involved. Building, designing, decorating. A place to gather. A community or guild hub. A battleground. Player and guild housing is probably the main reason UO has maintained such a loyal following for years and years. However much a player's desire to actually 'play' may wane, having their house - sometimes just to log-in and stand around in - kept them engaged.
  • Skill based, not level based. Anyone that has played UO will only have good things to say about this method of character progression, as opposed to level based games. 
  • The intended audience. All play styles are catered for, simply due to the customisable nature of the game. Currently options are PvE games with PvP bolted on as an afterthought (WoW, etc). Or PvP games that exclude almost all other player types(Darkfall, etc). Shards can attract all play styles, all player types, and put them into the same melting pot that Ultima Online did, with such success. For a game to ever emulate UO, it needs Roleplayers, Crafters, Treasure-Hunters, Thieves, PvPers, Fishermen, Animal Tamers, Explorers. Shards is aiming to capture every single one of them.

The devs have already mentioned the existence of things like server-birth rares and IDOCs, they get it!

I've also seen some very promising comments regarding PvP - and these developers have history. The lead designer was involved in establishing a player focus group for PvP improvements that I was involved in. If I remember correctly, he did this in his own time, off the clock - as PvP was never going to get looked at otherwise - we all know where the priorities lay in UO, and it wasn't with us. PvPers; I think this development team actually understands us.

I'll make some effort to post some more updates - what better way to express some of my excitement for shards as we build up for Alpha. On that note, don't miss your chance to get involved in the Kickstarter so you can join us when the fun commences.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Four months into the life of a UO free-shard

So we've been live nearly 4 months. The shard has succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. There have been some problems and incidents, but in general, we've got a well populated, bug and crash free server that is a good representation of, and improvement on, the P25 era of OSI. The population peaks at over 150 clients every evening, recently.

Our original goals were:

AoS as it should have been:

  • A working economy
  • Real community interaction
  • Working murderer system that maintains an equilibrium
  • A role for all play styles and character types
  • Balanced PvP
  • Real goals, character and player
  • Risk vs reward at the heart of everything

I think we have achieved most of those. The thing I'm happiest about is the community though. Being reunited with old friends and enemies from Europa and Drachenfels, and meeting new friends from other OSI shards, as well as the freeshard community, has been something I have enjoyed massively. The shard has become a bit of a mixing pot from people all over the UO spectrum, which is the key ingredient to a working, real community. Because of the real community, it actually feels like a real shard, something very very few player-run shards ever achieve.

So what for the future?

The focus will be:

  • Improved new player experience (Making it easier for new players to get established, and removing some of the annoying aspects of start up.
  • Paid, targeted advertisement (If it becomes affordable!)
  • Improved website and information (With a focus on player-driven guides on the FAQ forum, and a reworked, more attractive webpage)
  • Improved crafting system, perhaps borrowing some elements from later OSI systems
  • New PvM challenges & tameables
  • Finished O/C system

Feel free to throw in your thoughts about where you think the shard should head to in the future, its your shard as well.

What you can do to help? ADVERTISE! Vote on RunUO. Spread the word. Talk about Redux on other game forums, talk about Redux on places like Reddit and Something Awful. Also help build the knowledge base. GM'd a skill? Post a guide! Got some spare time? Offer to help mentor a newbie with learning the game. There are hundreds of us here and if we work together, we really can build a fantastic shard that will still be here and thriving in 5-10 years time. Imagine if OSI had taken AoS in the right direction instead of creating SE and ML? That's what we could achieve here.

548 days since the shard first existed on my home PC!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Redux webpage, boards and myUO down

Should have it fixed soon - hosting company decided to just move everything we had hosted without telling us. Nice!

Join us in IRC

Also, although the server is paid for up until April 2013, donations are always appreciated and all funds will go towards the future of this server. The plan is to build up a back up fund of roughly $2000 to cover any unexpected problems. Remember this shard is paid for almost entirely by a group of seven friends, none of which actually get to play this server. The plan is for this server to be around for years and years, but there is no way we can support it forever without the help of players.

Help us with a donation, please! Details are on the webpage (When it's back up!)

Friday, October 19, 2012

State of Redux, Part 3

Redux is over a month old. It's been an interesting experience so far.

As noted in the previous update, the highlight has been the amazing maturity and cameraderie of the community. Old friends and enemies from OSI as well as newer people from Legacy 25 and beyond.

An increasing feature over the past few weeks has been the gradual realisation that RunUO isn'tvery accurate to OSI. The more people play, the more they test, the more errors they discover. This isn't a criticism of RunUO or it's designers - it's still a magnificient emulator, just a note on our realisation that this is a much bigger job than we ever realised before release!

Because of this, Oz's already very limited coding time has been stretched to the limit. Just keeping on top of the new bugs emerging has been a full time job. Please give us time to get everything right. We realise there are a lot of things that need fixing, and a lot of features people would like added to the shard. The problem is, we all have full time jobs aside from Redux. I spend at least 2 hours a day dealing with player issues via IRC and the forums. Oz spends at least 2 hours a day in the code. The same goes for KLOR in game working as a GM, and Benn and Night dealing with the server. We realise it can be frustrating if you don't get a reply, or things don't always move as quickly as you like.

We've also suffered under another wave of DDOS attacks. It's been a bit of a shocking wake up call to us - none of us ever really considered the possibility of someone being so malicious or prepared to spend so much time doing something like that over a game. We've ended up almost doubling our server costs to try and make ourselves less vulnerable. Unfortunately there is no guaranteed defence against this - not one within the budgetary constraints of a bunch of guys running a UO shard, anyway! We're just going to have to hope that our new hardware can do the job until our 'friend' gets bored.

Negatives aside, the shard is absolutely thriving. There is constant PvP action. Old guilds have reformed, new guilds have emerged. The economy appears to be stable. It's absolutely fascinating to watch.

Once (hopefully) the initial wave of bugs are fixed, we can begin looking at adding actual content soon. In the longer term we want to get an improved factions/player town system in place, as our major goal.

Friday, September 21, 2012

State of Redux, Part 2

Earlier in the week I discussed some initial impressions post launch. Now almost a week into the live server we're in a better position to evaluate how things are going.

If there's one thing playing and theorising Ultima Online over 15 years should have made me appreciate, it's the stunning ingenuity of players. We've seen everything pushed to the max. We're having to make adjustments to spawns and loot on a daily basis to compensate for every clever thing our player base comes up with. It's great!

Although players may not always be happy to see their favourite 'mob' toned down, or favourite spot changed, hopefully it's understood that it's for the good of the shard economy and the longevity of the project. We really didn't anticipate the level of power gaming that would take place. Hopefully our gradual adjustments will help us find the correct equilibrium.

Feedback has generally been very positive. I regularly check back to IRC to see excited discussion about in game happenings, or PM's praising or congratulating our very good work on the shard. My favourite comments so far have related to the 'Adventurer' class. A pet project of mine was restoring this to some kind of real role on our shard. Making adventure pay. It seems with the hundreds of new rares, the stealable artifacts and ancient chests we have hidden across the shard, the profession is back. A number of people have noted to me that it is now a real alternative to PvM or Crafting as regards money making and fun. I'm delighted.

Activity appears to be picking up as well. Although we've peaked at around 180 online clients every day this week, we have roughly 10-20 more accounts created per day, and the shard feels busier as I move around spying on everyone. Earlier on tonight there were three seperate PvP battles going on at once! I couldn't keep up. Very encouraging. It's the kind of action that breeds excitement and convinces more people to come and play here.

I'd also like to praise the (mostly) positive attitude of our player base. People have been helpful and understanding when we've not been able to fix things right away, and I've had more more bugs reported to me than I have seen being exploited in game. It's also been encouraging seeing experienced players making an effort to help the newer members of our community. Having said all this, there have been a few cases of frankly dissapointing and disgusting ingratitude and selfishness from a few people. We won't tolerate it and we don't need you, so shape up. This shouldn't take away from the generally very positive attitude of our player base, however.

As regards future development, we will continue to tweak gold and loot from spawns to keep the economy in check - any areas that appear 'too easy' will be toned down, and some currently 'worthless' spawns may be improved. Long term we will be looking at adding further end game content and gold sinks. Improvements for crafters is high on the agenda, and if releasing an 'expansion' ever becomes a possibility with our limited time, an improved faction system would be what we will work towards.

I will be making a start on the shard 'evolving storyline' shortly, and will be seeking the involvement of RP-friendly and positive members of the community to play not only their own character but potentially some GM-created NPCs and take a lead role in the events.

I'd just like to assure you all that we are in this project for the long term. The people involved in running and funding it are all absolutely in love with UO and this shard in particular. We're desperate for it to succeed and devoted to ensuring nothing happens to ruin the experience for ourselves and our player base. Imagine if we can make a real success and this thing snowballs? That UO replacement we've all been chasing? This could be it, UO itself. Only this time managed by people with the best intentions of the players and the game at heart.

Some stats:
Accounts created: 593
Concurrent login peak: 183
Accounts banned: 5

Expect another update next week.

Monday, September 17, 2012

State of Redux, Part 1

It's been an interesting few days! I'll keep this brief, expect a follow up in a week.

In June 2011, I first started thinking about putting together a plan for a 'perfect' UO shard. Here we are not much more than a year later, and we've actually got a pretty good approximation of what I would consider perfect, launched and well populated. A real credit to all the ex-Europa people from various guilds that have been involved, and especially to Oz for taking on 95% of the coding burden.

We released on Saturday the 15th, and peaked at 178 clients online earlier tonight. With our 2 clients per IP limit, that's an impressive number to have online at once. 457 accounts have been created - again with a maximum of 2 per player. The shard looks busy and alive, people at every bank, and in all the dungeons.

A few things we're happy with:

  1. Increased insurance costs for murderers. This has been a big success so far. Only four players have dared to go red, and doing so has set them back hugely once they have suffered expensive early deaths. It'll be a while before mass PKing is a problem here. Has AoS, the hated era of UO purists, provided the best cure so far for the age-old "PK Problem" ?
  2. Increased mount costs. With NPC vendors charging 3000 per mount, it's been great to see Tamers in Moonglow selling mounts, often under-cutting each other in a bid to make sales. I've not seen this on any other free shards, and not on OSI UO since maybe 1999, it's great!
  3. A diverse range of skills and templates being developed. Someone is training almost every skill in UO currently, including the supposedly "useless in AOS" Stealing. Made relevant again by it's use on Redux in opening Ancient Chests and retrieving stealable artifacts.
  4. A really good mix of old friends and enemies of ours from Europa and Drach, as well as representatives of both the European and North American free shard communities, and even some players new to UO entirely.

A big thanks to everyone involved, and even more so to the players who have pointed out bugs and problems instead of exploiting them - Scolt especially. More updates to come.