Ultima Online Spring Producer’s Letter

UOHerald.com

Please note: This was an April Fools joke.

Greetings!

I was going to take this opportunity to reflect back on what’s happened over the past few months and even year as that is what producer’s letters normally cover, but we covered a lot of that at the recent House of Commons, and we are now in a better position to really talk about the future of UO. There are a few recent developments I will address.

The Video and the House of Commons that we had back in February. Let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. You guys really beat us up over both of them, and I’m here to say that we deserved it. The bruises have finally healed. What the video was originally going to be was discussions between myself and the rest of the devs over what we wanted to do in the coming year. Back in February I said that a lot had changed between January 3rd and the end of February. That video was thrown out, because during those 7 weeks, things changed for the better and bigger. I don’t want to say that UO was given a new lease on life because as far as I’m concerned, UO was never dead, but what was originally in the video was small potatoes compared to what we have been asked to do. We made another video based on what we were asked to do, but as it turns out, we revealed too much information, too soon, in that video, and much of it was cut out. It went from 25 minutes down to 3 minutes. Some of those things are planned for next year, and to be frank, had we mentioned them this early, we feel that they would overshadow our plans for 2011. You will get to see the full video at some point.

What have we been asked to do? A lot. Let’s just say that what we are doing will appeal to veteran players and to potential players who have never even heard of Sosaria. Over the past few months I’ve talked frequently with Dr. Ray, better known as Ray Muzyka, as well as others within BioWare and BioWare Mythic. As the head of BioWare, Dr. Ray wants to build up all of BioWare’s MMO properties and not just Star Wars. He wants to offer players a lot of choices between MMOs. Ultima Online is a part of his plan for BioWare Mythic to increase its presence in the MMO market. He likes what we are doing and planning on doing, and while much of his time is currently devoted to Star Wars: The Old Republic, he fully supports UO and will be making more resources available to UO, and has asked that I pass that along to you. We plan on having some town hall meetings with the players later this year and early next year, which will also be UO’s 15th anniversary, and Dr. Ray has indicated that he wants to attend some of them to show his support. In the coming year, Dr. Ray and others within BioWare plan on doing more for Ultima Online, and some of this will culminate in Ultima Online having an official presence at PAX East 2012. The feeling is that the 15th Anniversary in 2012 is very important to UO, BioWare Mythic, EA, and the MMO industry. Players like to receive gifts every year on the anniversary, but we feel the best anniversary gift is working to make sure that Ultima Online is around for another 15 years. A lot is being done that I can only now begin to talk about, but there is more that I can’t discuss until next year. The feeling right now is that anything that is announced beyond what the UO dev team has talked about will be overshadowed by Star Wars if it’s discussed at the BioWare level, or that players will be distracted by it and will overlook the major changes coming this year. Something that we brought up – some of us on the current UO dev team and on past UO dev teams have worked on other BioWare Mythic projects, and the leaders of BioWare have agreed that since those projects benefited from our involvement, that they would loan us developers and artists from other projects.

What I can say is this – we’ve been given a checklist of certain things that need to be done with UO to bring it to a level that BioWare and EA wants it to be at. Some of these have been discussed before and I’ll go into a little detail about others in this newsletter.

Where do I start in talking about the here and now and what you can expect for this year. How about New Magincia. It’s on everybody’s minds, and it is now live on all production shards. April Fool’s day maybe a weird day to publish, but we felt it was ready. We are satisfied with what we saw on both Test Center and Origin. We still have things in store, such as the vendor bazaar that many of you have heard about and read about. Once New Magincia is settled, we will be discussing the vendor bazaar system in more detail. For now, understand that all players will have a chance, and that while it is a part of the system we are working on for helping adjust the economy, it will be open to all players. We don’t want it priced only for the ultra rich. We want to get players settled into the new housing on New Magincia and then we will be discussing more about the vendor bazaars.

The next booster pack. If you’ve seen the images that UOJournal.com and others have dug up, you’ve already seen part of the next booster pack. As we stated during the Town Hall, it’s a mini-booster of sorts. While some of you have seen some of the new housing tiles, what you may not have seen is the work being done to fix up the rest of the tile sets – missing or inadequate pieces will be corrected. That’s not a part of the booster pack, but it ties into it. We want all of our previous tile sets to have the same quality and be as complete as these new sets. As we head towards UO’s 15th Anniversary, we want to fix up a lot of the little things that have been neglected too long. Both of those new house tile sets seem more traditional than previous sets, but I can tell you now that those aren’t the only new tile sets. We have more sets that you haven’t seen. Part of our plan for the new sets is to offer more traditional sets that allow players to build houses that more closely resemble some of the existing structures within UO.

On to the bigger things.

Personnel Changes. We will be hiring more people for the UO team. I can’t say much more than that at this point, but EA and BioWare recognize that we need more people if we are to bring UO up to the level that BioWare wants. Some of these changes maybe people transferring in from other teams within BioWare or EA, some maybe new hires, which is why I’m not discussing it at this time. I can tell you that the rumors about a new UO that are floating around are false. This is the new UO! Those job offerings are for a project being handled outside of BioWare. I can only say that we will end 2011 with more people working on UO than we began.

Artwork – At the begininng of last month, I posted on Facebook that we had finished the plan for the graphics upgrade. It has been approved and now we are looking at how we are going to implement it. We are working with EA Shanghai and seeing what they can offer us. No matter who works with us on it, we will be the leads and will have final say over any art assets that end up in UO. As most of you have guessed, these will be available only to Enhanced Client users. The EC offers certain capabilities needed to take advantage of the graphics update. We will continue to support the Classic Client users for the short term, but in the long term we feel that it’s important that new players use the EC as that is what the new player experience is built upon, and we hope to unify players on one client. I can’t provide you any screenshots or details on what the graphics update will look like, but once we have the assets in place to start working on it, we’ll be able to provide examples.

New Player Experience. We are working on the new player experience on two fronts. The first is through tutorials and a special tutorial area. We still have not decided where that area will be, but we’ve narrowed it down to three locations. What we have decided upon is what it will contain, which is based in part of feedback from players like you. Our plan is still to have the new player experience involve a short download so that new players can get into UO in a quick fashion. This is based upon the enhanced client. BioWare has mandated that the first half hour of all of their games is the most crucial when it comes to player retention whether it’s Star Wars: The Old Republic or Dragon Age 2 or Ultima Online, and we are getting the resources to improve this area. We are also looking at increasing the lenghth of the trial from two weeks to four weeks.

Enhanced Client. This goes hand-in-hand with some of the above points of discussion. We have not had the assets needed to take the EC to the place where it needs to be, but that is changing. I’d like to talk a lot more about that, but I think it’s better that I wait until I can provide you with more details. I think that the changes and improvements to the EC, along with the graphics update, will sway a lot of Classic users to come over.

UO.com. No, that’s not a mistake. The second front of the new player experience is our website. UO.com was a very well-known and memorable website and was easy to remember and was a valuable tool for many new players over the years. We have been given permission, encouragement, and the resources needed to bring it up to speed. It will be replacing UOHerald.com. Our intent is not to replace any of the fansites that have served UO well for so many years. Instead, we recognize the importance it has for new players. We will also be taking a look at the fansite program and adding new websites as well as removing inactive websites. We will be bringing UO.com up to the level of www.SWTOR.com, and BioWare will also be featuring UO on the BioWare.com site, and will be handling certain social networking and forum functions. Our Facebook page and Twitter pages will not be going away – those are still useful to help with awareness of UO and to connect with fans. Tying all of that together will be a dedicated community team. As you may know, we’ve had some recent changes in our community relations team, and it’s made us take a look at how we handle things. We’ve received a lot of feedback from players over how news is handled, broken links, and everything in between, and we and BioWare agree that something has to change. We want to bring in new players, and a part of that is showing them everything the game has to offer before they commit to downloading the trial, and it’s best handled within our own house.

Quest System. If you’ve read about the Virtue banners, those are not a part of the booster pack, they are a part of the new quest system. Now we are not to a point where we can demonstrate the new quest system just yet – we are still finishing up the Virtuebane story and still working on some major events such as New Magincia, but as we sometimes like to do, we add in artwork for future or improved systems when we get a chance, and the banners were finished and approved. I don’t want to give too much away right now as it’s still in the planning stage, but as it was discussed during the video we are going to get into quests that are driven by mechanisms other than item gathering. I can promise you this, the Virtues play an important part of this new system, and this new system will also be used to both compliment and suplement future story arcs. One of the things we want to look at is quests involving parties of people, similar to quests undertaken within the original Ultima games, including having different party members specialize in different things. As a part of this, we plan on working on older dungeons that may not be as popular these days. In addition to getting back to the roots of Ultima with the Virtue system and quests, there are other things happening within BioWare to revive interest in Ultima and Ultima Online. Those I can’t talk about because they are still being worked on, but I can say that the next two years will be memmorable for many of you.

GMs and in-game help. We know this is a major issue for many of you. We are in talks with BioWare and with EA concerning the training of GMs and I can’t say too much at this time, but one thing I can tell you is that we want to work on many of the bugs that you all encounter that require the intervention of a GM. As many of you have guessed, we do share support assets with other groups, and that probably will not change for now. BioWare is building a new customer service facility in Ireland and we will benefit from that, but I can’t discuss anything about that at this time – it’s above my paygrade. It’s a two-pronged assault though – we want to improve the GM experience while at the same time eliminate some of the problems that require a call to a GM, and that requires more bug fixes.

Mac users. Sorry, still no Mac client. I just want to get that out of the way. We are working to ensure that UO works well with third party solutions on Macs, and that’s all I can say.

Abandoned Homes. Mesanna will be deleting hundreds more in the coming months, enough said.

Messaging system. The mention of a mailbox used to deliver notices to wining New Magincia lottery players drew a lot of attention and we received a lot of comments, PMs, and emails about it. A new messaging system is being looked at – we understand that players want to communicate with each other in game and offline, and we see this as an important part of any MMO, as does EA and BioWare. There is even the possibility of retrieving and sending messages through the web to players in game. A lot of what is happening with other MMOs within BioWare is also being looked at in terms of being added to UO. Of course, any such system has to be looked at in terms of griefing, and rest assured that any messaging system will have the proper protocols in place to handle griefing.

Vendor search and auctions. We are aware of the desire to have such features. Before we take a close look at those issues, and they have been raised by the team, we want to look at the vendor bazaar system that we are implementing. If we are happy with it, and if the players are happy with it, we see no reason why it might not be expanded to other cities. At that point we’ll open a dialogue about other potential changes. We understand that some players feel frustrated and that they are being left out, and we think the bazaar system will work towards alleviating that.

Spring Cleanup. We think we can offer something unique, but we are going to bring back some past spring cleaning rewards as well. Because of everything else we are doing, we don’t have the resources to put into it that we’d like, but we think it’s very useful and that many players enjoy it, and we have certainly received a lot of messages asking for this or that item to be brought back.

Hardware upgrades and moves. As of this week with Oceania, we are satisfied with the state of the hardware moving forward. We know it’s been tough, but we think the worst of it is behind us.

PVP Arena. Beyond what’s been already said, I can only tell you that it’s going to be Publish 72 at the earliest.

Stygian Abyss. This deserves it’s own producer’s letter and I’m working on it. We have a lot of things that we want to do, to fully utilize the Abyss and bring it to its full potential. We are considering using it to help kick off the new quest system later in the year.

Return to Britannia. In the past, we have offered limited windows where returning players could log into their inactive accounts and play for free for a few weeks. It was mildly successful, but one criticism that came up was that some players were not able to return during such limited windows. We want to change that. If you have not played and paid for an account in over a year, we want to offer a free month of play for all of your accounts, and it’s available at any time and will always be available from here on out. Simply visit UO.com/Return.html for more details. We think that everything we are doing with UO over the next 18 months will not only bring in many new players, but will bring in many returning players and we want to give those returning players a chance to try things out with their old accounts. One new feature that we are adding to the Return to Britannia program, is a sort of immunity for your characters for 15 minutes. Just in case you logged out in an area that is now hostile or were in a house you no longer own, we want to make sure that you can make it to safety with whatever items you had on you at the time you left UO.

Past expansions and booster packs. One thing we are doing, as part of our wanting to move the game forward, is providing upgrades to the Stygian Abyss at no charge on the two year anniversary of the expansion, which will be this September. We find that many players do not upgrade all of their accounts, and some don’t even upgrade, and so we are looking at offering expansions for free at certain points so that we have everybody on the same playing field. Going forward, there are certain things that we will not provide for free such as booster packs, storage expansions, etc., however we will also be providing High Seas for free this coming October on its anniversary. We think that some of the major things included with High Seas are of benefit to all players.

One last thing that I feel is one of the most important things, is that with the expansion of the UO dev team, we will be reorganizing into two teams. One is the Live Team, which is exactly what it sounds like – a team dedicated to working with the game as it is right now, including bug fixes, client improvements, and fixes involving existing art assets. The other team will be the Events and Expansion Team, which will deal with in-game events, quests, and future expansions). We are bringing back future expansions once we clear a lot of other things out of the way such as the graphics update, the quest update, and the new player experience updates. Because the graphics update will be such a large one-time project dealing with existing assets, it will most likely be handled under the Live Team, while many of the current art team will be working under the Events and Expansion Team on new artwork. We will have a smaller team that is dedicated to community relations, the UO.com website, and other player issues, and it has not been decided where that team will be located, as certain decisions have not been made just yet.

All of the above is in constant flux. We have goals that we don’t have enough people for, and so as we add people, our timetables for those goals are going to shift. We know it’s frustrating – we read your comments on Facebook, Stratics, and elsewhere, and we also read your emails and reports to GMs. We can’t reverse everything that has happened over the past five years, but we are working on the next five years. Know this, that UO is in good shape going forward. EA and BioWare is fully behind us and sees the importance of UO and the Ultima brand.

Thank you all, and hope to see you in Sosaria!


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