Ultima Online (UO) is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released on September 24, 1997 by Origin Systems (OSI). It is known for its extensive player versus player combat system.
Facets and Rulesets
Ultima Online began with a single world with specific expansion packs adding additional territory and new worlds. The second world was the "Lost Lands" (often called T2A), with additional land, dungeons, creatures, and terrain. The third, and by far the most controversial of all, was Trammel - a replica of the original land but without PvP allowed. This led the developers to distinguish the original world by making the environment more grim, banishing murderers there, and naming it "Felucca". Many more facets/worlds have been introduced over the years, such as Ilshenar and Malas.
Ultima Online is the product of Richard Garriott's idea for a fantasy game involving several thousand people who can all play in a shared fantasy world. Prior games allowed hundreds of people to play at the same time, including Habitat (beta-tested in 1986), The Realm Online, Neverwinter Nights (the AOL version) and Meridian 59; however, Ultima Online significantly outdid these games, both graphically and in game mechanics. Garriott commented that "it was very important to us that Ultima Online be a game with a theme, and story, and quest - and then support larger, grander activity. We don't want it to be just player controlled and dominated; we want it to be an Ultima experience, with all the qualities that people expect from that. Ultima Online will be, I believe, the very first ever completely virtual world for the mass public to go live out alternate lives in." The goal was to offer the player as much freedom as possible. The initial team was composed of Garriott, Starr Long, Rick Delashmit, Scott Phillips and, a bit later, Raph Koster, who became the lead designer. Koster wrote public "designer letters" and usually went by his nickname of Designer Dragon. Koster drew inspiration from prior online games,such as DartMUD.
The project started in 1995 and was presented to the public at E3 as "Ultima Online: Shattered Legacy" in May 1996. Origin claimed to have more than 3,000 participants in the preliminary alpha testing. The development cost was much greater than traditional computer games; it relied on people accessing servers via modem. Ultima Online's initial features included persistent player housing, skill-based character progression (without levels or classes), a craft-based and player-driven economy, and unrestricted player-versus-player combat.
In September 1997, Ultima Online launched and opened the first game servers (shards) to the public. Upon release, Ultima Online proved very popular, reaching 100,000 paying subscribers within six months, causing severe lag problems. In 1999, servers opened around the world to support the rising popularity of the game, in Japan, Europe and South Korea. This was followed in the year 2000 with the addition of the Australian shard, Oceania (OSI).