Ultima Online

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One of the more decorative UO logos.
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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.

"Tomorrow, the world as you know it comes to an end ...
[I] have witnessed brave adventurers delve deep into deadly dungeons in search of danger. I have watched businesses and whole industries spring up to supply the needs of these adventurers. I have seen the blacksmiths auctioning off their wares in crowded squares, hiring miners with guard escorts to bring them metal to forge, hiring bards to calm the inevitable arguments and fights that break out in the fever of competition. I have seen intrepid crews take to the open ocean to seek new islands, only to be surprised by other crews on pirate ships armed with magic, ready to steal the contents of their cargo holds. I have seen people master the arcane and difficult arts of magic, and become powerful mages capable of transforming their shape and walking down city streets, terrifying the populace.
I have seen a group of artists hold auditions for their play. I have seen a wrestling pit marked off in the dirt, and crowds calling out bets from the sidelines. I have watched as scholars walked into moongates over and over, building tables of destinations, to try to unlock the patterns behind them. I have read the research into unknown magic, and waited for players to discover the hints left for them. Newspapers have sprung up, and great libraries have been founded to gather the books of the world in one place.
I have seen people build lives here. Build houses and businesses. Tame animals, and cry when they die. Bring old friends with them. Make new ones ...
[I]s it like other multiplayer games, with a clear goal to reach for? Is it just a huge medieval theme chat zone?
No, Ultima Online is far more than any one of these, it is more than all of these put together. It is an Ultima, with an epic plot as yet largely unrevealed. It is a world. It is now our second home. A living, breathing, changing place, that will provide constantly varying experiences.
Just like the real world, the virtual economy and ecology will change--even fail in places--as players either exploit or care for it. As developers, we will be challenged by keeping up with the "holes" in the "laws" of economy that players discover, just as a government must continue to pass laws to keep the economy and ecology of the real world on an even keel ...
[I]t grows over time. It lives, it changes. It evolves. It becomes a community.
[C]ome, join the development team, the gamemasters, Lord Blackthorn, and I, as we discover together where that evolution will lead. The world where the future of role-playing resides. The place where we have all found another home...
Come live with us in the world of Britannia in Ultima Online!"

Lord British, Tuesday, Sept 23, 1997

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Are you with us?
Experience real-time social interaction with thousands of people in the same exciting game world. meet new friends and foes, engage in group combat, venture off to uncharted lands, or visit a tavern and chat with players from around the world. It's an ongoing, ever-changing world of adventure.
  • Mass player engine allows thousands of real people to play simultaneously.
  • Day and night effects, 3-D terrain and 16-bit color SVGA graphics.
  • Customize your onscreen characters, including gender, skin tone, clothing and hairstyle.
  • Detailed character-defining systems and fully simulated virtual ecology.
  • Real-time combat, adventuring and social interaction.

1997 Catalog Description

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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.


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.

Current Direction

Ultima Online 15th Anniversary Logo.

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.

On September 17th, 2012, a week before the 15th Anniversary, Bonnie "Mesanna" Armstrong announced that:

"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."

See Also