It is the summer of 1997, and my parents are in Paris. I have just turned 14, and I will spend the next 6 months grounded, the longest consecutive punishment ever administered in the history of our family. But first, I will throw a massive house-destroying shindig the likes of which would make even Kevin Arnold blush.
Ok, now I’m grounded. I searched long and hard for you viewers, but unfortunately I will probably never find the magazine print advertisement that spurred my original purchase of Ultima Online. I did however find this fairly epic magazine inset which describes the unique customization feature the game offered:
I imagine there are only two ways to read and comprehend the above. The first is simple. You too had your life changed by a 4×6 pixel moustache, and understand how groundbreaking it was to not simply customize your character, but to customize it for the purposes of differentiating it from the swelling mass of pioneers traversing the land. The second are the people who for all intents and purposes the above is simply comedy. For the mighty Jelfezzi [sic] ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jalfrezi ) of the newly opened Sonoma shard, though, these fierce 24 pixels of jet black mayhem were nothing to laugh at.
All joking aside, this is as frank as I can be on my recollection of the matter—which is surprisingly vivid. I knew three things about UO when I purchased the title: 1) You could craft your character according to any image you saw fit; 2) The skill system was “so complex” it even allowed you to watch others and learn from them; 3) The immersion was so complete, a player had even had the freedom to assassinate the game’s creator! I was hooked.
In between the time I saw that advertisement and the first time I struck a toehold in the game, a long campaign of convincing my parents that I needed something to pass my time in solitary confinement began. During that time I remember thinking so vividly on the skill system, and particularly the flexibility to STEAL from other players. I remember this sequence playing out in my head over and over again. It was me (the total newbie) following an adept rogue around a crowded city street. We bumped into the huddled masses as he deftly picked their pockets, and in kind my skills rose! I was well on my way to becoming an adept thief on the cobblestone streets of Britain.
In recollection let me say three things about items 1, 2, and 3. It turns out that 3 was the result of a bug. 2, to my knowledge, was not a system that ever truly worked in any meaningful capacity. In fact the only time I saw it working later was when it was exploited by stacking an extreme number of players at high skill levels in a small space in hopes of eeking out a single .1 skillup on a nearly finished skill. The game did deliver its promise in regards to number 1. Albeit, in such a capacity that is considered laughable by all but the oldest gaming veterans.
So there I was, with game in hand. Yes, I could choose any virtual persona I wanted. I was a blank slate. I could be anything. Long hair, long beard? Goatee, ponytail? Anything you want sonny. Role-play a pirate, or a ranger, or a trader? Become the virtual incarnation of Sniffles Swigglebottom?
My first character was actually created on the Atlantic shard. Embarrassingly, even for a 14 year old, I named him “Daniel.” Bestowed graciously with the proverbial Tabula Rasa, I chose to enter the world of Brittania as… Daniel. Unfortunately my naming never really improved from that point on either.
Within moments of entering the world I encountered another player named BOSCO. This was the fortuitous moment I had been waiting for. I was going to shadow a great thief, learn vicariously from his epic deftness, and rise to the fabled perch of “great assassin” taking down Lord British himself. Instead, I wound up a few paces outside of the northern end of Minoc with a pickaxe. Such is the fate of our dreams.
I am uncertain what amount of time passed between that moment and the events I am going to describe, however my educated guess tells me it could have been several days. I eventually received an invite to train my combat skills by engaging in a friendly skirmish with some local players. Their leader, “Bright Knight” or some variation, insisted that I needed a “Practise” sword in order to join. This was either the earliest case of an itemization bug I can remember, or the earliest case of internet foppishness. Choose whichever you find funnier.
Although you might be hoping for a long and rich tale of dragon slaying proportions, Daniel’s was actually quite short-lived. Tired of the confinement innate to slaving in the northern Minoc mines just within the long arm of Lord British’s guards, Daniel packed up his satchel and headed for a harsh land to the far north. He was slain when a vicious giant spider injected him with its lethal venom, and after shortly wandering the dangerous peninsula in solitude, Daniel was no more.
By all accounts, part one of this story set us up for one of the most epic rage quits of all time. This however was not the case. Under many identities more inventive than “Daniel” I had a long and prosperous career in the universe of Ultima Online. I should also mention that I spent almost the entirety of it as a pillager, a nefarious plunderer, a fiend, a cheat, and a murderer. It was certainly a productive six months of being grounded.
For now though, that’s all I have to write on the matter.