On EVE Online & Ultima Online: Part Two

My EVE career started a lot like my UO career: principally out of boredom, and mining rocks. I am what you call a serial gamer, like most of /r/mmorpg except not nearly as annoying or unintelligent. I am desperately hoping to find that gaming nirvana, a groundswell of “the feels” that can captivate me—draw me in, hold me, and keep me. Being a serial gamer in the past 5 years was an exercise in being perennially disappointed. When you are always looking for the “next big thing,” the moments with nothing on the horizon end up being agonizing, and every “next big thing” is always a bigger disappointment.

By far the most frustrating thing about all of this is when big things actually do come along. Let’s review my report card. When WoW came out I was knee deep in Everquest II. When the iPhone came out I purchased a Palm device instead. I actually bought a windows tablet in lieu of an iPad, and this was AFTER the debacle with the iPhone. When I reflect, it is astonishing to see the shortsightedness of my consumer behavior. If I weren’t typing it honestly, I’m not sure I’d even believe it reading it.

The only silver lining to this is that a person who is “always waiting for the next big thing” can learn a lot about themselves by examining the actual big things that passed them by. Let me give you one example. In 2013 I bought a brand new 15” MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It cost over $2,500. I didn’t particularly like or want a Mac, but my last windows laptop had only lasted a year and cost $1,750, so I wasn’t willing to take another chance. Now fast-forward almost a year, and I don’t really have a single complaint about that machine. It is certainly one of those “big things” I’m talking about—the same ones that always seem to pass me by.

So what changed? Well first off, not much. I nearly purchased a bulky 15” Windows “gaming PC,” but at the last second I reasoned thusly: every time in the past 5 years I have bought anything other than an Apple product I have had buyer’s remorse. So it was time to pony up and try something new.

By now you may be wondering what this has to do with EVE other than the fact that I can play the game on both the Windows & Mac partitions. Well a lot as it turns out. I didn’t start playing EVE because it was the latest or greatest. I also didn’t start playing it because I had particularly high expectations or delusions of grandeur that I was some intrinsically gifted twitch PVP god.

I started playing EVE for the same reason I bought my MacBook: because the last 5 were nothing but buyer’s remorse, so how could this possibly be any worse?

If I had to make a true confession, it would be that this chart helped sway me quite a bit:


( Chart courtesy of Wikipedia.org )

You see, I didn’t hear about EVE Online recently. In this analogy, EVE Online was the iPhone and I was too busy with my Palm Centro to care.

The year was 2009, and the economy was in shambles in the United States and globally. I had taken a new position cleaning up toxic waste for a top 5 mortgage bank that doesn’t even exist today. I was 26, single, and hopelessly in a hate-to-love relationship with World of Warcraft—that’s where I hated the fact that I wasn’t in love with the game yet everyone else seemed to be. The only way I can even think to describe my boss is that he was the literal embodiment of a Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. If you took that game and made it into a person, you would have my former boss. True to form, he spent his nights playing EVE Online, and wasn’t afraid to share that fact with us when he happened to overhear us mentioning WoW.

The real reason I mention any of this is to reflect on just how lamentable it was that sitting 4 cubes away from me was a dude playing one of the most cutthroat games on the market, and then you had my best friend and I sitting there playing what would later become the fourth horseman unleashing a literal swath of fantasia happy funtime clones onto an unsuspecting market. And we still had the gall to thumb our noses at him. Both of us former Dreads, go figure…

World of Warcraft…the fucking Palm Centro of MMORPG PVP.

As I was proof-reading part one of this post I paused for a second at the infographic I had included. “The First 60 Minutes” it reads. It certainly gave me something to think about. I remember the first 60 seconds of Ultima Online with a startling amount of detail. In fact let me tell you about my FIRST SECOND spent in my first MMORPG.

“I have not eaten in days.” This was the beckoning call I saw in the bottom left hand corner of my screen. It turns out it was simply an NPC beggar off in the distance somewhere to the south. But it shapes probably everything I think and know about the meaning of a “new player experience.” The first thought I had in that second was that my character was hungry and it was probably going to be necessary to find some food. The second thing I remember was thinking that an NPC guard was a player and trying to talk to it. From an NPE perspective it left a lot to be desired. Within moments though I collided with my first ever actual player. It was BOSCO.

So this all got me to wondering, what did I recall about the first 60 seconds of any other game?

Well let’s start with Everquest. Some time in my sophomore year of high school, Verant Interactive mailed me a single compact disc in the mail. It was my invitation to the official closed beta of Everquest. Up until that point I had kept a pretty steady diet of reading lore and just about anything else I could get my hands on. I knew I wanted to play as a bard from the start. Again I all-too-imaginatively pictured myself, a valiant hero in armor, plucking away at the strings of my lute. By that time I had built a powerful gaming PC, and so all that was left was to tear open the packaging and start swinging.

I didn’t sleep that night, but I sure as hell made it to school the next day. I remember how miserable that was. So what were my first 60 seconds like? Well let me start by saying, they were like the first 60 seconds of EVERY SINGLE GAME I have played ever since. First things first, interact with this completely inane drone. I had a note in my backpack with instructions to turn it in to an NPC that was a literal stone’s throw away. Some completely insignificant chatter passed by, and I was on my merry way as a brand new bard. That lasted about 3 hours, at which point I actually did rage quit.

It was the worst class design I had ever experienced. It offered nothing like what my imagination had conjured. The instruments did not even make noise when you played them. The buttons were clunky, the interface was clumsy, and the portion of the screen actually rendered in 3D was absolutely tiny.

I wish I had rage quit the game. Sadly, I only rage quit the class. I will admit even more morosely that I played the game for at least 2 years.

So what about EVE Online? Well, within the first 60 seconds I did a lot of hitting the AWSD keys to try to move around. Graphically I admired the game, and even noticed some of the little touches. My favorite example of the little touches would be seeing how turrets actually track their targets in time. But mostly, I was just in awe of how bad the controls were. Also, I was terribly unimpressed with how overcomplicated and unnecessary the character creation process was.

I think it’s fair to say that EVE Online is the closest a game has come in my mind to the greatness that was UO. That doesn’t excuse the fact that the first 60 seconds play like garbage, but it’s a title that finds a way to make it up to you over the next 60 days.


On EVE Online & Ultima Online: Part One

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.