Interview of Ultima X: Odyssey (PC)
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  Interview of: Ultima X: Odyssey | By: Justin Fenico
23 Oct-2003
 

With so many MMPOG out on the market today, I wanted to see what all the hype was about this particular one. Its sister title, Ultima Online just celebrated its sixth birthday. What differences separate that from the new title, Ultima X Odyssey? Being a fan of UO, I began to ask questions.

  QUESTIONS  
Q: First, let’s have an introduction. What is your main purpose on the UXO team? How does a common work day for you look like?

A: I’m the project’s Senior Producer. My purpose on the team changes with each phase of the project. In the beginning, I coordinate with the corporate execs on undertaking the project, help to set the project budgets, hire the team leads, and determine the “product vision.” As work continues, my responsibilities shift to assisting with the design, acquiring resources and contractors, setting milestones and goals, and maintaining constant forward momentum as far as progress is concerned. Later on, the job shifts yet again, to focus on interfacing with marketing, acting as a product spokesperson, working with network operations people to assemble our infrastructure, and helping to coordinate with customer support. A typical day for me changes frequently, depending on what phase of the project we’re in. About the only thing that remains constant is the need to facilitate communication between all of the various departments.

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Q: Since I’m a big fan of Ultima Online, I have to ask, why have two parallel games instead of a creating the 3d world people wanted for UO? First we thought we would have UO2, and then we were given the 3d client. Why the decision to now make a sister title to Ultima Online?

A: At present, Ultima Online is celebrating its sixth birthday, and we recently hit our highest subscriber total ever. In short, UO is still going strong, with no end in sight. We’ll continue to add content and features to it for as long as subscribers are interested. With UXO we felt we’d like to aim for a very different kind of experience. After all, Ultima is such a broad universe, we felt it was possible to have a second game set in it, yet offer something different. So while UO will continue to focus on a strong social experience, UXO will offer a chance for something that you can’t currently find in other MMOs, faster paced combat and much more dynamic, meaningful questing and adventuring. UXO will give players the ability to feel truly heroic, whether they want to play solo, in groups, or in a guild.

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Q: Do you plan on using many shards for gamers to populate as in UO, or will there be one massive server (i.e. Anarchy Online) for people to congregate?

A: The plan is to have a shard-based world, much like UO. However, while UO is a seamless world, we opted to go for a zone based world with UXO. The rationale for this is that it gives us the opportunity to have much more diverse, highly detailed maps than we could achieve in a seamless world.

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Q: Tell us some background information of UXO. As it takes place in a new world other than Britannia, what can we expect to see in this new place called Alucinor?

A: At the conclusion of Ultima IX, the Avatar ascended to godhood, and merged with the Guardian. Although they disappeared from the known universe, they did not die or wink out of existence. Instead, they have been battling for control of the single entity they’ve become, and the Avatar is losing that struggle.

In an effort to defeat the Guardian, the Avatar has decided to create a new world called Alucinor. This world is an amalgam of all of the places that he visited and the situations that he encountered on his journey to ascend. His hope is that if he can show people the path to ascension, they can join him in his struggle against the Guardian.

As a result, many of the places, creatures, character classes, and character abilities that you’ll find in UXO come directly from all of the standalone Ultimas. For anyone who is a long-time Ultima fan, there will be a feeling of “coming home.” You’ll find yourself constantly saying things like “I remember these guys from Ultima VII!”, and “I visited this place in Ultima IV!”


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Q: In terms of gameplay, will there be recognizable skills and weapons? Are there any new types of skills that we can get excited about? Will the same type of gaining system as in UO be in place?

A: There are lots of questions here. Let me start with the last one first. The character advancement system will be different than what we have in UO. As I mentioned in an earlier question, with UXO we’re aiming at a fundamentally different kind of gaming experience. We didn’t want to just remake UO in a new wrapper. So as a result, most of the underlying mechanics are very different. Characters will advance, essentially, in a class-based/level-based system. It’s a bit more involved that that, because there are separate advancement systems for character classes, Virtues, and even items. But at its core, it’s different than the usage based advancement system of UO.

As for new skills that you can get excited about, hopefully you can get excited about all of it. I think the skill of “item imbuing” is perhaps the most interesting. By advancing in the Virtues, players can gain the ability to either improve their characters or “imbue” certain classes of items with magic properties. In a way, it’s kind of like a quest-based crafting system. Players will have the ability to create powerful magic items that cannot be acquired in any other way. And of course, these items can be used, traded or sold, as the player desires.

And finally, yes, there will be skills and items that are recognizable from previous Ultimas. One of our fundamental philosophies with this project was to remain true to the intellectual property and the universe, so by definition, there will be a lot of familiar features from previous Ultima games.


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Q: The virtues have always been a key ingredient in any Ultima game. How will they play a part in UXO?

A: Aside from what was discussed above, the Virtues are a highly integrated part of UXO in several other ways. For one thing, they will promote a sense of heroic role playing during questing. Quests will have multiple “branches” that a character can follow, and while none of these branches can result in a “wrong answer”, they will reflect different Virtues. In this way, a player can choose a “personality” for his character, and the different solutions to the quests will allow for him to play “in character” more easily, yet still be rewarded for it, not matter what choices he makes.

Along with this notion, the Virtues will also provide a sense of “purpose” for questing. Rather than simply “rescue the princess” because some NPC tells you to, now players will undertake quests with a sense of meaning and purpose not only from a fictional standpoint, but also from the player’s standpoint of advancing his character in unique directions.

And finally, the Virtues will be critical in the path to Ascension, obviously. As far as I know, no other Massively Multiplayer Game allows your character to ascend to “god” status, which is a pretty cool in itself.


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Q: What brought about the creation of the private spawn system? How will it work? Will there have to be a specific number of players in a group

A: We decided to allow private questing for several reasons. Firstly, it diminishes the problem of “camping for spawn” that can be found in most other Massively Multiplayer games. If players (and their parties/guilds) can be allowed their own private maps when they need them, then we won’t have quite the “traffic jam” surrounding some of the higher level creatures.

The way it will work is still in development, however, I can say that Questing will take place on private maps. When your character (and party) go on a quest, the server will automatically create a unique instance of the map that only your group can enter. Anyone else attempting to enter that map will appear on a “public” instance (unless, of course, they are also going on a quest in that map at the same time). Additionally, we’ll be allowing private maps for certain types of PvP involving groups.

As for grouping, while we won’t require players to form parties, the game does support parties of up to 8 players. Additionally, UXO will support guilds of much larger sizes. Though, as I said, grouping isn’t required. One of our goals for UXO is to allow a character to solo at any point during their progression if they wish. Hopefully, it will be the ideal situation where they can group or solo at any point, with neither play-style required or prevented.


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Q: PVP has always been a bit shadowed in UO. What kind of attention is it getting in UXO? Will it be more than a “click and watch” fest like in other MMPOGs? Will we see characters dodging out of the way of attacks and spells

A: PvP will definitely be a part of UXO, however we’re trying to set it up so that “player victimization” is not. It’s fun to test yourself against human beings instead of computer-controlled monsters, but not quite as much fun when a group of 20 players gang up and slaughter you without warning and then steal all of your belongings and insult your mother afterwards.

As for the feel of combat, we’re building a system that does indeed require some participation on the part of the player. You won’t be able to put yourself in “war mode” and then step downstairs to have a sandwich. Combat will be fast paced, strategic, and tactical. You will see your character ducking and blocking during combat as well.


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Q: For all the people playing UO at the moment, what’s the biggest difference that will make them switch over to UXO? For that matter, are you worried that too many current subscribers will hop from one game to the other

A: To be clear, we’re not trying to make UXO a “superior clone” of UO. UXO will be a different game, with a different play experience. It’s not our goal to convince them to “switch over.” While the two games will share the same fictional universe, they will be different games with different attractions.

It’s probably true that some players will find one or the other more suited to their tastes, just as it’s true that some of them will choose to play both. That’s why we are calling UXO a “sister game” to UO, rather than a sequel.

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Q: To date in the production of UXO, in your mind, what has been the most impressive part of the game that you think gamers will drool over?

A: Honestly, I am really in anticipation of lots of UXO’s features. I love the graphic look we’ve achieved. I think the faster paced combat will be very immersive and exciting. The questing will be immersive and meaningful. Private areas will give players an ability to feel more like it’s a solo player game even though it isn’t. And on top of all that, there are tons of features that will give it its own flavor like levelable items, virtue imbuing, a very simple and intuitive user interface, and of course, the Ultima universe itself.

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I’d like to thank Rick “Stellerex” Hall for giving me some pretty lengthy answers to some pretty lengthy questions. It seems while UXO is still an Ultima game at heart, it could quite possibly be what some people are looking for to quench there MMPOG thirst. Keep checking back for more.

 
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