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.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Some insight on AoS:R, staff and the future

Things have come on a long way since I first started dreaming of making the perfect AoS shard in summer 2011. I never believed we'd get so close, or attract so much interest before we even launched.

We've not had more than 15 people logged into the test shard at any one time, but I don't think that's anything to go on, if Rel Por is any guide. After an average of 10-20 logged in during their beta stage, they shot straight to 400-500 after launch. Amazing really. We don't have their advantages (replacing a fading shard like IPY2), but I'm still hopeful we can match those numbers after a few months, once word spreads that we have a stable, well run and corruption free server.

We recently made the biggest decision - shard/server host and location. We've gone with OVH, based in Northern France. We didn't plan to go back on our promise to find East Coast USA hosting, but the practicalities prevented it. Our server specification is great, but to find something similar in the US would have cost us at least twice as much. When you also factor in that at least two-thirds of our prospective player base so far are based in Europe, the decision became obvious. We have perhaps given up the chance of attracting any players from the West Coast USA with this decision, but it seemed the lesser of two evils. Pings should still be sub-100 from the most of the Eastern US, and below 130 from central. Europeans can expect sub-50 from all but the most remote locations. The game is very playable for all but PvP right up to 200ms.

As far as development goes, things are moving along quickly. The list of bugs has been small, and although there are probably many yet to emerge, feedback has been encouragingly positive. One thing players should note is that development may at times move slowly. All the developers have full-time jobs, and despite absolute dedication to this project, it will and does take second place to our actual lives. We are paying for this server, not getting paid. We will seek to fix problems and bugs as quickly as possible, but please give us 2-3 days for non-critical issues.

We are committed to this project for years into the future. I personally have been in love with UO since my first day in 1998. Despite not playing consistently since 2007, it really is the only game that has ever captured by attention fully. The guys are all the same. If the players still want it, Redux will be here in 10 years time. On the same lines, we are absolutely dedicated to ensuring no corruption occurs. No favours to friends, no inside info. A completely even playing field for all. We are very fortunate in that the shard owners have known each other for a decade and consider each other very good friends. We can trust each other absolutely, a huge advantage over other shards that are forced to rely on hired help, with no attachment or established commitment to the shard.

There are no more features planned for shard opening beyond those set out on the webpage, but we do have some exciting plans for the future. A possible player government system, allowing guilds full control over their own and NPC towns, a vastly improved factions system, and many other smaller ideas. Nothing is set in stone however, and we are always conscious of not becoming too customised, moving far away from the era we wish to recreate. I am confident that just our starting ruleset and customisations are enough to hold the interest of a significant player base for years to come.

I know many of you are familiar with the staff of this shard from our shared background in UO, but here is a run down of the people involved:

Chris/Calix. Shard figurehead and decision maker. Game Master.
Steve/Oz. Chief coder. Game Master.
Mike/Ashikata. Lead Game Master.
Neil/Ingo. Coder.
Mike/Night. Server administrator.

It is possible that more staff will be added in the future, if the need arises. This will only happen if they earn our absolute trust beforehand, however. We would rather run a server without sufficient staff than take the risk of offering power to someone that may abuse it.

On that subject, I'd like to take the chance to point out to players that we will be taking a very hands-off approach to running the shard. I will change stupid character names, I will respond to legitimate player pages, and we will rectify bugs and issues. What we won't do is respond to GM pages that could be dealt with on the forums, get involved in player disputes, or any other trivial matter. Players should remember that the time of the GM's is limited - when we are in game dealing with issues, we aren't out of game fixing code problems, advertising the shard, or helping players on the forums. I'd also like to reiterate how serious we are about banning for breaking our rules. We can detect speedhacking with ease, and will ban instantly for it. Including all accounts you have logged into, even if they do not belong to you. EasyUO use isn't as easy to detect, but I will be making it my personal crusade to catch people using it, and will take pleasure in banning every account you are associated with.

To finish, I'd like to thank our first donors and subscribers:


Cheers guys, very much appreciated!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some brief thoughts on shard design and AoS:R

We've been working on AoS:R for over a year now. The first account created is 370 days old! Granted we've had some big breaks and periods of inactivity, but we've been consistently developing, brainstorming and improving, and I think we're getting very close to being able to release a shard that is actually ready, not just a beta disguised as a proper release. I'm hopeful we can get something that actually works, long term. I'd love the shard to be something that's still running in 5-10 years. I've enjoyed the process of designing the shard immensely, and I know the guys all feel the same about the aspects they've taken control of.

I recently came across this post, by the designer of a shard that didn't come to fruition. It's very relevant, and I feel we have - inadvertently - addressed most of the issues it discusses.

"Quick skill gain, tends to equate to the following characteristics and trends:

Low attachment to the created character, most people value things they work for, either by spending cash to purchase said thing, or investing personal time and energy into obtaining, creating, or cultivating the desired thing. When you're no longer paying out cash which most invest time and energy to obtain, and you aren't spending personal time and energy instead, you simply have a character that you often have no or little attachment to.

This of course also means your attachment to the world in which your character exists tends to be much weaker. Simply put people that invest, don't like to generally lose their investments so they stick around. Quick skill gain creates an often continual roller coaster of less invested players, coming and going, and also tends to even have your veterans skipping around from offer to offer. (This can be prevented some what by creating very demanding end game systems which require heavy investment, and thus attachment, to utilize/advance in, but these tend to also be optional, and thus usually effect only a small subset of players.)"

We do have quick skill gain, and we do allow macroing. However, we're lucky in that we are basing our design on the P25 ruleset, which means we have something else to create attachment to character and shard - powerscrolls. The need to aquire these, after GMing skills requires significant effort, especially as we have reduced the frequency of +20 scroll drops, and have added a cumulative scroll use requirement - meaning players cannot use a +20 scroll until they have used both a +10, and a +15.

I believe this is giving us the best of both worlds. We have the easy skill gain, removing the requirement of the 'grind', whilst still hopefully creating the attachment to character and shard via the difficult 'finishing touches' of hard to achieve champion scrolls.

"The rise of mules and alts, in a world with quick gains, multiple characters become the quick norm, whether legally allowed, or illegally acquired, they quickly lead to most people being self sufficient, which harms the economy, and the community at large."

With players only being allowed two characters, we've addressed this issue in a way unrelated to skill gain and character progression.

"The next major path of advancement found within almost all MMORPGs, is of course the wealth grind, earning gold, and obtaining items and resources, and well that is about where that ends. In item based games like WoW this can of course be stretched to infinite scales, but within UO which is primarily by default a crafting oriented game with very few levels of actual item advancement, wealth ends up having usually little real reward.

For many it is but a stepping stone to obtain a base level of supplies, and perhaps to purchase a house, after this, there is almost zero reason to have gold or wealth. Obviously there is such things as rare collecting, but this is a very small niche in general as well, and doesn't touch on usually the bulk of the player base."

 In part, this is a problem that can never be addressed in UO - there simply isn't any real use for large amounts of gold once players are established - unless you constantly add content which then poses problems for balance and a risk of moving too far from the actual era being replicated.

I think a few of our changes will make a huge difference, though. The main one being the removal of BODs, and the repositioning of Runic Tools as an NPC vendor purchase. The high costs make them a great gold sink, and they are something players will never have enough of.  Players will always be looking to improve their items, or just create great items to sell. Players will wish to invest excess gold in these, even if it is just in a desire to 'speculate to accumulate'

We've also added other gold sinks. Warhorses are no longer faction mounts, as factions do not exist on AoS:R. Instead the four-colour warhorses are available as prestige mounts, to all players. For a still to be decided sum (at least 5 million gold) players can purchase faction warhorses for themselves.
Other NPC gold sinks include the 8th and 9th anniversary (as well as some shard unique) decoration items.

"When you combine the general lack of meaning of wealth in UO, combined with finished character creation, or limited character advancement such as ROT, what paths of advancement are actually left in the game?

Usually the answer is very little to none, and this of course is why commercial mmorpgs now adays, often choose to itemize their games, as they can continually have you working to obtain new wealth and items. They also tend to continually up the level cap, so that character advancement can continue marching along at the same time.

Historically UO also went down both of these paths, with actually quite some success, power scrolls which were a means to extend character advancement, became extremely popular as they were also needed by pvpers in order to compete. Likewise AOS re-wrote UO to be item based, and continued to extend this leaps and bounds with things like artifact drops. Ultimately much of this destroyed the UO that many of us loved, but it was never the less successful for them as AOS did see the highest subscription rate ever for UO at 250k accounts active."

As we've already decided that power scrolls and 'itemisation' are good for our vision of UO, there's not a great deal to discuss in relation to the above, other than it provides some more confirmation of our belief that we've picked the 'best' era - or at least the one that offers the best long term possibilities for a succesful server if done right.

It's a very interesting, well written and relevant post, and if I felt we hadn't already addressed the issues discussed, I'd want to try to.