10 in 10 – Portals

by Azaroth | November 22nd, 2010

This week we’re mixing it up. Maybe Portals would be a neat Christmas gift, who knows. But we’re going to pull the old switcheroo and give some love to something that’s not gotten much so far – even though it deserves it ever so much.

Detectives is actually scheduled for the blog feature this week. However, as I’m always very transparent with this community, what I can tell you is that we still have a few decisions to make. The basics are in, but we want to make some additions and changes. We’re in the process of hashing that out, but we’re not totally finished. Because of this I won’t post Detectives yet. Instead we’ll hold off on that topic for a week or two.

Much like with Detectives, one must keep securely in mind the entire vision of the server when discussing Portals.

Since the very beginning, I’ve stated very clearly that our intentions are to revisit the second Ultima Online expansion – UO:Renaissance. Not just revisit it, but really even redo it.

We’re looking for solutions. With Detectives, perhaps we’re looking for solutions to Trammel that can still provide us long term sustainability. When Trammel was designed, EA had a specific problem (or set of problems) in mind that they were attempting to fix. We need to fix those problems in different ways that are more compatible with our vision.

Portals is much the same in that we have a problem and we’re attempting to fix it. On the surface, it should look like no big deal, just some fun. But rest assured it does exist for a reason beyond the fact that it’ll just be fun.

UO, or at the very least, Classic UO, always did some things really poorly.

Consider the four Bartle types:

Achiever (Diamonds)
Explorer (Spades)
Killer (Clubs)
Socialiser (Hearts)

Where are Ultima Online’s strengths? Where are its weaknesses?

We all know that UO affords plenty of opportunity for Killers and Socialisers to enjoy themselves, but it falls down on its face when it comes to appealing to Achievers and Explorers in 2010.

The world has been explored. It’s a big, beautiful world. In previous blog posts I recommended changing it, but then privately decided this would be a massive error. I believe I’ve expanded on that decision at some point on this blog.

However, something still needs to be done for Explorers, specifically literal ones. Sometimes you can forget what a fantastic, meticulously handcrafted world UO has… and perhaps there needs to be something out there to encourage you to wander, to have a look around again… utilize the world again.

The idea for Portals came to me when reading about how LOTRO plunked down treasure chests randomly in the overworld. Even the biggest critics seemed to applaud the move. It’s a good idea. But we could probably do better.

Another pitifully under serviced player type in UO is the Achiever.

“Also known as “Diamonds,” these are players who prefer to gain “points,” levels, equipment and other concrete measurements of succeeding in a game. They will go to great lengths to achieve rewards that confer them little or no gameplay benefit simply for the prestige of having it.

Players give themselves game-related goals, and vigorously set out to achieve them. This usually means accumulating and disposing of large quantities of high-value treasure, or cutting a swathe through hordes of mobiles (ie. monsters built in to the virtual world). “

These are the PvE players, or the serious ones. These are the collectors of high end loot, the raiders, the guys who want to figure out how to beat difficult encounters. Aside from EVing down Lich Lords for vanqs, what can UO offer this person in 2010?

Perhaps even more important is the role these users play within the game world. First of all, IPY is never going to be able to balance Killers and Socialisers – even if those two player types balanced well. UO appeals to Killers and Socialisers, and Killers club Hearts. They eat them for breakfast. Aside from the pure newbie, that’s their favourite kind of dinner.

A Killer truly has every advantage possible in UO circa 1997, 98, 99 – especially when we’re talking 2010. We’ve witnessed a study of what happens when you erect a classic UO server in the modern day without improvements and without any real punishments for murderers and griefers. The wolves eat the sheep, and eventually the sheep are gone. Wolves turn on wolves, and eventually you’ve got a game of Highlander – where, years from now, you can expect there’d only be one lone PK left on the server.

This is not a sustainable situation. This is not what we’re aiming for.

Portals actively appeals to lots of people that UO doesn’t typically:

  • Achievers
  • Explorers
  • Newbies
  • … and really, anyone that falls even partially into these groups.

Achievers and Explorers sure, but newbies?

Because of its very nature, “Portals” provides a tailored, private, instanced experience to the new player. The excitement of being able to stumble upon a strange portal in the middle of the woods is fun, and getting inside to find it’s just customized for your skill level as well as quite an interesting encounter with good loot when you finish it is exactly what the new player in any MMO is looking for as a fun, distracting experience on the side.

How do Portals work?

Portals pop up randomly in the overworld. Absolutely anywhere. In a forest, a mountain pass, in the jungle, out in the water or right beside your house.

The portal can spawn nearly anywhere that’s determined a suitable area. There is no set of coordinates, and the location of these entrances is in no way predictable.

This is of course good because it demands true searching and exploration if you decide to actively hunt down the portals, instead of recalling around to a few spots to see if they’ve spawned there yet.

The portal is of course just an entrance, but an entrance to any number of mini dungeons. Once you step through the portal, your skills are calculated and a subset of minidungeons is chosen based on what your highest skills are.

From there, one of those minidungeons is chosen at random and you are placed inside. So if you’re a newbie, you’ll be placed in an appropriate dungeon – all the way on up to exceptionally difficult encounters for high level characters.

Inside you might find anything from puzzles to arenas, mazes and powerful dragons. There are plenty of scripted encounters to deal with, chains to progress through, and of course… lots of loot. Portals are a great way of dropping premium rares, magic items and gold, and pieces of some of our 44 sets of oldschool hued PvE plate.

There are several complex “chains” to pass through, including Undead, Elemental, and Dragon. Walking through a portal may have you facing off against a diabolical undead mage performing experiments. As your character gets stronger, you may find yourself pitted against his creations in an arena, and finally inside a castle of the undead.

We hope your experiences with our Portals system are interesting, and in the end… just plain fun. It may not be a system that affects everyone, but it’s one of the things we’ve considered when developing IPY to help appeal to all types of players and we hope it’s a step in the right direction – because a healthy UO community is a diverse one.

Thanks for stopping by the blog, and hopefully we’ll see you next week.

4 Responses to “10 in 10 – Portals”

  1. Just pointing out that, for copyright reasons, the term was actually Highlanders http://www.freshtasting.com/images/tourney15.jpg

    Fun Bartle read. Got any more?

  2. Nice cape on that guy.

    But I refuse to believe he did all that w/ a buckler.

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International man of mystery, jetsetting billionaire playboy, world renowned philanthropist and notorious double agent, Azaroth enjoys charitably running online games in his free time for the people he loves most - internet stalkers.