The Last Days Of Ultima Online


Things come and go. Even the really good things.

IPY was conceived years ago. While I updated websites for years - PKGhost, my own sites for years, and finally WTFMan - IPY was always there. Everything I wrote would always drift back to what Ultima Online was, should be, and how it should be created. Countless battles on my sites, BattleVortex, Stratics, the official Ultima Online boards, where ever you like, were fought by a lone Azaroth against the massive droves of naysayers. Pre-UO:R would never work. It wasn't feasible to recreate. It would be a mistake if OSI were to do it. Nobody would play.

They were wrong, I always knew that.

Along came the right place and the right time, and IPY was born. Its popularity surpassed my expectations tenfold. The attention it received was incredible. 1500 people online averages, over 100,000 accounts created in total, and even appearances in gaming magazines. Nobody expected it, but maybe they should have.

Ultima Online was a great game. The principles and mechanics of it before the UO:Ren expansion in 2000 truly made it something special. Even today.



However, everything around me that gave it life eventually delivered crippling blows to it. Staff members, hosts, websites, players, other server admins. I never expected it to be a smooth ride, but I also didn't think that I'd never have a moment of peace while running it.

And unfortunately that's what it came down to. Despite the problems with extreme lag that affected us in November, and despite the problems with corrupted saves and backups that affected us immediately after that - not one problem, and no one person caused IPY to be shut down. None of the hackers, cheaters, griefers, psychopaths, technical problems, or seriously fucked up ex staffers caused this. It was a decision made purely by myself. And I apologize to all of you who lose something by IPY shutting down, I really do. There was a lot more fun to be had by all, and there were way more newbies to be introduced to a real MMORPG. But nothing lasts forever, and the bottom line that running IPY was no longer fun for me. It had become a job, and an extremely stressful one that consisted of constantly fighting uphill battles. That I didn't get paid for. That's a bad combination, but I did it as long as I did because I loved it and enjoyed doing it. That stopped a long time ago. That doesn't mean I've stopped believing in what IPY stood for, though.

IPY also provided me an ample opportunity to act like a jackass to a lot of good people for one reason or another. You know who you are, and you can consider this my apology.

It truly took on a life of its own after a while though, and it wasn't about OSI putting up a Pre Ren shard, or anything, anymore. It was all about IPY, all the time.

It started out as a fun project, even somewhat innocent. The time was right, I saw that, I capitalized, and we all had a really great time.

But somewhere along the way, it stopped being a fun project. It stopped being innocent whatsoever, even, far before that. The kind of playerbase that was attracted to our little shard, was, quite frankly, the bottom of the bottom of the barrel. That barrel was, actually, underneath the good barrel, holding it up and collecting slime from the runoff.




I'm sure you get my point.

We had the worst from every shard. I hate to label my entire playerbase, because there were so many good people, just playing to have fun. People who actually cared about the shard, and donated to pay the monthly bills. I was repeatedly amazed by how much some people cared.


But, the bad is often far more visible than the good to the naked eye. I was repeatedly amazed by how little others cared as well. How much people could take the server for granted was one thing, but the incredible "if you don't do exactly as I would like" or "if I can't play" attitude that a lot of people put forth floored me. If it was time for some people to quit, or if a change went in they didn't like, or if they got banned for being shitheads - it was time to work as hard as they could ruining the game for everyone else.


Aside from our general population of newbie PKs, shit talkers, cheaters, looters, scammers - we had, what's worse, the mentally ill. When Bartle wrote chapter eight in his book, I don't think he took IPY into account (we'll forget that IPY didn't exist at the time of its writing, of course).

"Some players are really crazy. If you accept the word "crazy" can be applied to an individual, then statistically some crazy people will play virtual worlds. A user base the size of EverQuest's will include several bona fide psychopaths. That's assuming that virtual worlds mirror the general population: It could be, for example, that the nature of these worlds is such that fewer crazy people play that. Alternatively, they could act as magnets. I suspect the latter."

And, Mr. Bartle, you'd suspect very right.

To escape the real world in which this behavior simply isn't tolerated, these people will gravitate toward virtual worlds, and the internet, as they can likely always find a group who will accept them, and possibly get a kick out of them. They won't be as socially outcasted in general, even though the "normals" will still come to see them for what they are eventually.

But, I suppose the point is that, if virtual worlds are psychopath magnets - IPY was a fucking black hole.

Bartle mentioned that a game the size of EQ would have "several" psychopaths. Well, I think IPY surpassed the "several" mark a few times over. And it'd be nice if I were exaggerating, but unfortunately I am not.

Toward the end, I had very few normal, solidly good people left to talk to. Our topic of discussion would revolve from sports, to UO, to MMORPGs, to how completely fucked up the IPY playerbase is and was. I don't know if a day went by that didn't include some type of conversation about how crazy some of these people were. It literally blew my mind - over, and over, and over again. My desire to put up with people like this ran very low during the last few months of IPY. It genuinely bugged me that there would always be another one around the corner.

I suppose the nature of these games would tend to attract the obsessives. And we saw a lot of those, in fine form. But from obsessive, to pathological, to multiple personality disorders, to being downright malicious in nature - we just saw it all. And it got pretty messed up sometimes. So much so that, at times, I decided that there wasn't a dollar amount you could pay me to do this job. Yet there I was doing it for free.

Why IPY was a blackhole for other types of trouble, I suppose I'll never know. Although it can all be explained individually, I guess, that certainly doesn't mean I've ever seen more bullshit swirling around one bowl in my entire life.

And it really came down to that. Every time there was some kind of huge problem, I'd fight an uphill battle and solve it one way or another. But there would always be another around the corner. It simply never stopped, and never would have until I just took the server down. But every time I mentioned the fact that maybe it just wasn't worth it anymore, I'd be told to just give it one more try. You can attribute the last few months of IPY solely to Ms. GM Aaralyn. If you enjoyed yourself this fall, you may want to get ahold of her and thank her for pushing me into keeping the shard alive. Who knows if it was the right decision, but we had gone this far. There were two things I could have done with IPY. One was to shut it down in February and "leave 'em wanting more", which I believe would have been a far more dignified route - or stretch it out and let as many people have fun as possible at the expense of our mental health.

Obviously, the second choice was taken. But this time Aaralyn didn't pressure me to keep it up. I think we both recognized that the time had come to close the book.

She was clearly disappointed. In the circumstances or in me, I couldn't really tell. But I can assure her, and I can assure you, that nobody was more disappointed than myself.

I put my heart and soul into IPY for the last year, and, looking back, I can't believe I actually put up with that much shit. Had I been told all of the bad things that would happen during the time I would run IPY one year ago today, the server would have been available to the public for less than 24 hours I believe.

I suppose had I been told all of good things, I probably still would have went through with it. It was quite an experience. Something I'll never forget.

It honestly did just feel like it was time, though. As much as it ever has. I mean, obviously I can keep running IPY until I'm 74, and obviously there were some things on the horizon that would have been great. Maybe even able to completely revive IPY.  But, it just felt like it was time. Pending we found a solution to the problems we were encountering there would always be another problem around the corner. Always was, always would be. Maybe that's okay if I'm making mountains of money off of the project, but when I'm doing it for free I can't coast through the rough times keeping myself sane with thoughts of how much money I'm making.


It wasn't just the fact that times were tough, there were always problems, and I was making no money. It also really had to do with how tightly my hands were tied as evolving and moving forward with IPY. Keeping in line with the ying and yang, balance of the universe crap that IPY seemed to adhere to, the same thing that gave IPY great success also caused its eventual downfall.


It was a Pre-UO:R server, and that's why people were playing it. It was created as a Pre-UO:R server, and to make any changes to that would be unfair to my loyal veterans. However, a basic fact of online worlds is that they need to change and evolve. Sometimes they even need a major shakeup. I could never do anything drastic or game-altering with IPY, and I could certainly never propose a complete reworking of the game. Don't get me wrong - I had a plan and a lot of ideas to do just that. But it's not something I could have ever done. Not just for limitations in staffing and the fact that I couldn't actually pay anyone to get anything done in a relatively sane amount of time, but that IPY was what it was, and nobody wanted that to change. Even as the amount of people playing dwindled.

But that's fine. IPY is best left in our memories, and it'd be best for us to move on.

We've become complacent as a refugee people. Which, incidentally, is another thing that caused the downfall of IPY.

Complaceny.

Before IPY, there was nothing. There were no good games to play. Along with IPY came the popularization of the Ultima Online emulation scene, and suddenly there were quite a few options for those looking to sink their teeth into UO again. Obviously nothing was the same as IPY, but they were there.

Now you have new games coming out a mile a minute. Not just MMORPGs, but pretty good single player time wasters too.

The problem is that we've lost sight of our one true love here. We've become complacent, because it's always there. And we've become bored, because it's only there in an eight year old format. So games like World of Warcraft get played en mass, which is nothing but a glorified EverQuest. We're back to the "ooh! new and shiny!" attitude that got us into this trouble in the first place.

But I digress. I simply hope that this complacency doesn't get us a ten year round of EQ clones again.

Not to say that my basic thoughts about these games hasn't changed drastically hasn't changed since running IPY. As a player, you do think you're always right, and you simply can't see why you wouldn't be. I did that for years, I know all about it. But when you're responsible for the game, you have to take everyone into consideration and do your best to do things for the better of the game, and all of the players in it. Not just for each individual group who thinks they're right. Because they're all right in their own way, but in the end it's the game that needs to be worried about first and foremost.

One thing I have definitely changed my tune on is free for all PKing and uncurbed griefing. I will admit that there was a time that I believed there should be no checks and balances put in place to punish these players or keep them in line. The other players would police their world.

Well, unfortunately it simply doesn't work out like that. Especially on IPY where such things were so rampant.

And the actions themselves weren't a problem. It was always how it was done. At such a frequency, at such a rate, and in such an uncaring style. A lot of these people truly did not care about the game. A lot of these people truly were, even admittedly, out to hurt the game as much as they could. If they didn't like a change, or didn't like something that happened - it's time to ruin the game for everyone else. A selfish attitude fit for the tantrums of a five year old, but it's what happens nonetheless. Basically, as the person running the game, you're being blackmailed into making the shitheads happy at every turn, or they'll do a bunch of really fucked up shit to spite you and your game for the fact that you're paying attention to another child.. I mean, uhm, player. This obviously cannot happen. Neither can you have people abusing every freedom they've given (and often times going out of the game to meet their terribly sad needs in this respect) every time something doesn't go their way, nor can you find yourself pandering to the rusty side of the coin at every turn for fear of the malicious actions they'll pull if you don't.

The simple solution?

Don't attract these players. Make the game completely unappealing to them.

That's what creates a lot of the games you see today that you have no interest in playing. It's not people being stupid carebears - it's people not wanting to put up with the crap that people like the people who played IPY bring to the table. Your actions bring this upon yourselves, and you cause your own misery. Every time.

Do you honestly think that player freedoms are removed or simply not included in a game because people are "faggots"? Not by a long shot. It's because you are.

There, I said it. It's because you are.

I've seen entire guilds comprised of nothing but people who wanted to do as much damage to everyone and everything around them as possible. They wanted to destroy the game. That was their goal. It was the only game that'd ALLOW them to do this, so why were they doing it?

Because they could.

There's a flaw in logic there somewhere.

At one point, a signing bard was at the bank. Trying to apply his trade and do a little roleplaying, even obviously quite new to UO, as he was signing a tale of slaying a troll or an ogre, or some other such low level monster. I became quite disenchanted as I watched my other players say things like "UR GAY" and "fuck u hoe fuck u hoe". It pained me as I offered him information on other servers, where he wouldn't be ridiculed by children at every turn just because he's not talking about smoking bongs and PKing fag newbs.

I've always hated the fact that the community has been seperated by games catering to each playstyle. I believed Ultima Online was THE golden age of online worlds. Everyone lived and existed in the same place, and had to, for better or for worse. I really wanted IPY to recapture that, and it didn't do an absolutely terrible job for a while. But it also didn't come close to accomplishing it - and people like the singing bard were really better off if they were pointed elsewhere.

Does any of this mean that, if I were ever to do something similar to this again, or if I were to ever actually create my own game, that I'd make a freedom restricted EQish clone like everyone else has? No, and not by a long shot. But that's probably only because I'm an idiot.



I always did enjoy what community aspects we did have, though. Web pages like McFly's made my job worth it. I always wanted to see more of that kind of stuff, but I hope agrandrogue.com goes down in Ultima Online history. Spread the URL around, let people see the old days of IPY through the eyes of a funny little thief. It's funny, and it'll become seriously nostalgic after IPY has been gone for a while.

I did always want to see more of that kind of stuff.



So, all of that being said: What's next for me?

If you're actually interested, I'll tell you this:

Running games has become an absolute passion, even though the bad times can get pretty rampant. You shouldn't be surprised if I end up doing something else along these lines. There are certain ways I'd want to and certain ways I wouldn't, though, and until the right time comes along again, you won't see anything from me.

Beyond that type of thing, I suppose I will keep a website, to be located at azaroth.org. If you're interested in that sort of thing at all.

I may also end up writing for Computer Gaming World here, which is something I'd enjoy.

All in all, I'll probably just be relaxing and enjoying having the server off my plate and the feeling of having a very long, very interesting book closed. Hopefully I'll stay in touch with some of the better people I've met, and play the odd game with them. Don't be scared to send me an email.

What's next for you?

Play the new shiny games. Have fun, but always fight for what a real online world is.

Relax.

Enjoy your friends and family. Be with them while you can and do everything you can for them.

And while on that note, I'd like to thank some people who have become my family and friends:

Aaralyn first and foremost. One fantastic gal that's always been there, thick and thin. None of my staffers put in more time than her, and none of them can ever hold a candle to the amount of bullshit she stuck with me through. I'm forever in your debt for keeping me sane.

Dolemite, you're an asshole. But you were always all kinds of help, and even if we had a rough patch,  you eventually came back because you believed in IPY. I'm in your debt, sir, for doing all of the technical shit that I simply wasn't capable of. Trying to pull off being the senior counselor and keep the group we had last spring back in check was a feat of fucking fortitude, I'll tell you what.

Kalbrose, Rapture, Cetus, and even newbers like Punky and VD. I had very few loyal staff members that never fucked me over for their own personal gains. I know I missed some. Todd, Sandman, Azram. You guys know who you are. I truly appreciate the few actual good people that surrounded me and did my bidding during this process.

Cript sir, I'm sorry I forgot you in my haste to write this post. You've been there since waaay back in the day, and helped the shard through a lot of crap. Good luck in the future dude.

HMU, Raugh, Wol, all of the guys in the [?] clan. I had lots of fun actually playing my game with you guys. As much as people wanted to talk shit, we all know that we were just good :)

All of my players. I will honestly miss you guys. Even the jackasses, but especially the ones who really cared about IPY.

Make no mistake - these were the last days of Ultima Online. It is now shelved, only to be dusted off occasionally for nostalgia, or to be shown to MMORPG newbies. What needs to be concentrated on now is the improvement of our futures as MMORPG players. The time to stare longingly at the past is over.

We got one last look - and god damnit, it was a good one.

-Azaroth







































--- IPY will remain up until the end of the month. You may say your goodbyes and have some fun. I'm sure it'll be interesting if you want one last look. ---



--- Azaroth.org is now up if you would like to continue to keep in touch with old IPY players, as well as some GMs, and see what I'm up to.---