When I started working on server emulation for Ultima Online, it took no time at all before I started yearning to start over with a completely new map. Creating a completely new map from scratch is actually quite a difficult thing, and to be honest, if I were to suggest server emulation to a newbie, I’d suggest against a new map. Yet here I am.
There are several reasons why I want to start over.
Perhaps the biggest reason to start over is that Ultima Online has been around for so freaking long already. The game is nearing on fifteen years of existence, and so the world is very well documented. The world OSI & EA have created is very rich because of those years, but as a new server developer it actually leaves me at a disadvantage where players may very well know the world better than me. I want a new player in my world to be given the sense of exploration as if they were entering a new world. And you only really get that by starting over.
Leaving the Old World Behind
Tied in with this, I want to do new things with my emulated server that aren’t really done elsewhere. By starting the entire world over, I give the player an idea from the very beginning that things will be different here. It really queues the player up quite well to expect the unexpected, and it is this that I am going for.
Perhaps the best real reason for building the world up from scratch is experience. Personally, I’d love to be an MMO game designer myself. As such, I think this sort of practice goes a long way to gain experience so that if I ever do find myself in a position to actually design such a game. I am not doing it from scratch. It allows me to really dig my fingers in and learn from mistakes in design that I just haven’t had the ability to learn as of yet.
Starting the world over really gives me a great opportunity to learn the server emulation side of the game. It is helping me learn every object in the game, the rules of the game, the hidden secrets of the game and so forth. I don’t think if I started an already existing world that I would get the actual knowledge about its various parts.
Ultima Online Has Changed
Let’s face it, the game has changed. Because of this, starting over really allows you to adjust everything for that. For instance, Dungeons were created in a space on the map to the right of the normal map. This large black space was doubled in size for Mondain’s Legacy. However, The Lost Lands also reside in this dungeon space, and in my opinion was a fairly badly designed map. I want to create a new “Lost Lands” map that is better designed from the get go and bigger in size.
Also the splinter of Trammel and Felucca created an interesting opportunity to create extra maps, of perhaps multiple continents. There are some problems with trying to do this, but I do think that this was a wasted opportunity by the UO designers. I understand the work it takes to create such a large landmass, but in reality by just copying the land mass they did an injustice to the two landmasses. I think I would have preferred had they just taken one of the smaller maps and left that at the pvp side and left the main landmass as non-pvp. It is far less realistic that there are two identical landmasses accessible to all, even in a storyline where shards were splintered, how they did it just didn’t work.
Again, in Mondain’s Legacy, they added an Elven City called Heartwood to go along with the new player race. I traveled to the city just to check it out and I couldn’t believe how terrible the design was. I feel I could have made the same city in about 15-30 minutes and I have no experience with the development of UO at all. Someone who was paid to do this job and should have had good experience going up to this and more time should have been able to do better. The idea of the city was that it was a city in the trees above Yew. In this base design it was broken as Yew already provided most functions of a city. Thus Heartwood would only be good for special quests or elven things otherwise no one would go through the portal. Also the trees in Yew, while big, weren’t big enough for a city unless it was a city of fairies. You go up and the design is extremely basic with not much up there. Thus, I doubt this city was worth the minimal effort that was put into its creation. On the bright side, there was assets created in order to make this city happen and thus any emulation designer could well make a decent city in the trees with the assets provided.
There are a number of similar instances just like this, that just need to be re-worked, re-balanced and re-done. And starting the entire world over is the best way to do it.