I think Karl may have been right. I can’t do the 1 Character, 1 Game, 1 Year thing even to spite him, though probably not for the reasons that he was thinking. It’s not my usual Game/Character ADD acting up, I don’t have a burning desire to try out a different game or class. I just don’t have the desire to play an MMO anymore.
Normally when I play an MMO, I turn into a complete fanboy for the MMO. Lately all I seem to find myself doing is reminiscing about how good MMO’s used to be. For a number of reasons, I think I’m done chasing that ‘first high’ I got from playing Ultima Online (UO) with every new MMO or content update that comes out.
I got to thinking about UO last week, and tried to pinpoint what made it was that made the game great. Through all of the gameplay / technological advances that new games have went through, I think they’re missing the two core elements that made UO great to me: Freedom and Interaction.
In UO’s prime, players had a level of freedom that has not been matched by any other game (that I am aware of) to date. It allowed you to play the game as you wanted it. The freedom in UO allowed players to create intricate, functioning player-run cities, host events with no limits on what would take place or rewards would be given. Events like scavenger hunts, tournaments of champions, foot/horse races, dungeon crawls, guild / city / faction wars, free for all royal rumbles, and various other tests of skill could take place on any given day if the player base was interested. Your fun was only limited by the creativity of you and the players around you, there was never a limit to the number of things you could do, never was a player at a point where they had seen everything the game had to offer.
The flip side of this freedom is the reason it was taken away – sometimes one players fun was directly in contrast to the fun of other players, the game administrators, or the good of the game. From the Beta when one of the game creator’s in-game avatar Lord British was killed by a player while giving a speech at an event, to players exploiting bugs to insta-kill other players for their loot, item/gold duplication, GM assassinations, dragon slaying while practically invulnerable, to who knows what sort of exploits I have missed in my long absence from the game or forgot to mention here. Because the fun of some impeded the fun of others, or made the designers look bad, player freedom was reduced patch by patch in UO and even more drastically in future MMO’s. If you think you have freedom in your current MMO, try attacking one of the central characters. Try teaching your warrior to cast a spell, or your mage to wield a sword with competence. Try hosting an event that hasn’t been implemented by the game developers in some way. Try to think outside the sandbox of the game that you play, and figure out what else you would like to do with your character. I think you will be sad to find that in the majority of MMO’s out now, you simply can’t do the things you think of.
Along with all of that freedom, there was a very much forced interaction between players. Positive or negative, players were constantly interacting with each other. You couldn’t play UO as a single player game as you can in current MMO’s. In current games you can advance your character to the maximum point without ever so much as speaking to another player. While in UO if you wanted to play the game as a mute, you could, but player interaction was going to happen whether you liked it or not. There were no armor repairing NPC’s, no instanced dungeons, no auction houses, no monster ‘tagging’. A lot of people who read this would think that is a negative statement toward UO, but I maintain that it is one of the things that made UO great. If you wanted to advance your character, you had to interact with other people. Other people changed the game for you, other people opened up parts of the game that you never would have thought of, other people kept the game from feeling like a chore. In all the years that I played UO, I never got into work-like routine that comes with current MMO’s. I never ran out of things to see, I never had the same experience in a dungeon twice, and I miss that in current day games.
But again, the flip side of that interaction is that not all interaction is positive. Player vs. Player (PvP) combat, thievery, cons/scams and other forms of player interaction were rampant in UO. Personally, I never saw a problem with any of these things, so long as they were done within the mechanics of the game. If I’ve got my prized longsword in my backpack and the best thief in the world wants it, I feel he should have the chance to take it. If I’ve got a pack full of gold/items from a long dungeon run and a group of murderers think they deserve a piece or all of it, I feel they should have the chance to say so. If a Blacksmith decides that he just can’t part with the piece of armor the he repaired for me, I honestly feel that he should have that option. All of the interactions listed above would be considered negative interactions, but they were part of the game and they had consequences attached to them. Want to steal from my backpack? You had better not get caught, by me or the town guards. Death would be swift. Want to try and take from me what I’ve just acquired? To the victor goes the spoils, but murder comes with in-game penalties as well as repercussions from myself and friends after getting away from you. Want to go against your word for a single piece of armor? Hope it was worth it, I may decide that getting the item back would be worth risking attacking you, or just sully your name with any future prospective customers.
But, for the sake of being convenient and user friendly, player interaction is no longer forced and player freedom has been practically removed. You can take your character from beginning to end without having to interact with another soul. The game you play and what it will take to get you there was laid out long before your character was ever created. Sure, you might choose to get there by killing 25 foozles instead of 25 slimes, you might complete quests with the Dark Brotherhood and not the Alliance of Light, you might do any number of things differently than the next player, making your experience different and unique… but really, it’s all the same.
And that makes me sad.