Ultima Online (UO) is an MMORPG that is currently published by Electronic Arts and launched on September 24, 1997. The game is subscribed to by thousands of players worldwide across dozens of Shards. The game client uses an "isometric" perspective, which basically seems to mean overhead, with a tilted camera. This was about the same perspective used by many of the Ultima single-player games upon which Ultima Online was based.
The Ultima Online retail version included one month of unlimited free play, a cloth map of Britannia, collectible pewter Ultima Online lapel pin, game software, AT&T WorldNet Service with a 30-day introductory period, and a copy of Netscape Navigator. It carried a suggested retail price of $64.95 US.
Lord British, Tuesday, Sept 23, 1997
1997 Catalog Description
- For a brief timeline, see: History of Ultima Online
UO Alpha Testing
Alpha testings began in April of 1996 with a few thousand players participating. The event closed on May 20, 1996 with a true apocalypse scenario when a supposed speech by Lord British and Lord Blackthorn turns out to be a "setup" with the two Lords summoning hoards of monsters to slay the unsuspecting crowd.
UO Beta Testing
EA held the first "phase" of their public beta for Ultima Online during June 1997, sending out only a few thousand CDs. The Ultima Online Beta Test Kit consisted of a cardboard disk envelope that contained one (1) CD in a plain white paper sleeve. The CD is marked "Ultima Online Public Beta Test". A few weeks later, in July, the second phase was held, and new CDs were sent out to all beta testers, including those from the first phase. There is no distinguishable difference between the two different beta CDs, apart from the postmark date on the cardboard envelope and the timestamp of the files on the CD.
More than 25,000 people from around the world paid to participate in the 1997 beta test. The beta CD cost $2 U.S. On August 21, 1997, Electronic Arts announced that UO established the worldwide record for the largest number of people concurrently playing in the same virtual world over the Internet by hosting 2,850 gamers. At the time, the total game geography covered more than 189 million square feet of terrain. Showing the entire game surface area at once would have required 38,000 17-inch monitors, nearly enough to occupy a football field.
Graphically, the beta was vastly improved over the alpha version. However, there were also a lot of bugs, exploits, and server downtime. The Beta Test ended on September 23, 1997. Once again, thousands of daemons were summoned to run amok in the last few hours that the Beta servers were up.
- See main article: Expansions
UO has seen many expansions, averaging 1 per year since its release. Some have simply added to the game (The Second Age) while others have changed it drastically (Age of Shadows). The graphics have remained largely the same since release (aside from the Third Dawn client), with most items never being modified. This approach was dropped in favor of the Enhanced Client, which featured a completely new render engine and appearance.
After the Mondain's Legacy expansion, the game had taken a new course. Instead of simply planning for another expansion the developers focused more on bug fixes and in-game content. This continued for nearly two years, culminating with the epic Inu storyline, which led the announcement of the Kingdom Reborn expansion. It was later changed to Stygian Abyss, but in-game fiction and tie-in events are now commonplace.
With the announcement of the High Seas "booster" in 2010, a new strategy was revealed of creating large bodies of content twice a year (for a smaller fee) instead of utterly massive expansions every other year or so. This continued with two "theme packs", Gothic and Rustic, in 2011.
- "UO is not going to be working on a booster pack or a theme pack for a while. We want to take the time to do a big bug push. We want to put in an in game Vendor Search, we want to be able to update the outdated armor in the game, we want to improve the fishing rewards, we want to finish virtues, and we want to finish the high res art. So at this time we don’t have a booster pack or expansion in the works. I am not saying we never well but just not at this time."