Few MMORPGs have had the staying power of Ultima Online and the game just got a fresh infusion of new content from the its latest expansion the Stygian Abyss. Ten Ton Hammer recently got the chance to speak with Ultima Online's Producer Cal Crowner about what's in store for the Ultima Online community with the new content in the Stygian Abyss expansion.

Ten Ton Hammer: Why did you decide to do another expansion for Ultima Online? It’s been a little while since Kingdom Reborn came out, but why not just continue to do the free content releases?

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Cal Crowner: We don't really consider Kingdom Reborn an expansion. Kingdom Reborn was an engine update that was going to eventually change the look and feel of how people played UO. Initially, Stygian Abyss would only be able for people that had the Kingdom Reborn. Since Kingdom Reborn did not go that well, we had to take a look at what direction we needed to go.

We had a plan for the game, there were design docs for it, and they gave a preview and it was like “Ok, this is what we’re going to do and with the new engine it will be great. It’s a new era for UO.”

And then we had to take a step back and look at it. We decided that this isn’t really where the player’s heads are. So what we did is we pretty much adapted all of what we originally did for Stygian Abyss and made it so that people could play it with the classic client. So the idea was always there to do Stygian Abyss. All we did was pick it up and finish it.


Ten Ton Hammer: During the G4TV Interview, Josh Drescher talked about bringing back the old Ultima Online players and getting those guys back in the game. So what are you doing in Stygian Abyss to really draw those players back in?

Cal Crowner: I think the most important thing that we’ve done is bring in a lot of the things that players already do. I know I talk about this all the time and folks say that I am kind of playing favorites, but I do like the idea of the chicken coop because it’s an idea that players had that we’re bringing in. We’re updating how camp spawn play actually works and how the encounters work.

We actually have environments that are different, and new in how we actually designed the game. It’s not like we were making an expansion just to make an expansion. There was a lot of love and focus that went into doing this and I think what really attracts people to UO is there’s a sensibility and respect for the franchise. I think when people feel that and it goes into an expansion that’s what attracts them. That’s what we’re actually seeing on the forums is folks telling us that we got it right. That this feels like the way UO was.

Ten Ton Hammer: Ultima Online has always been kind of PvP oriented and initially that’s where a lot of fans came from was this PvP community. Are you doing anything to bring that back with Stygian Abyss? I know it’s kind of been phased out as some of the earlier expansions moved more towards PvE gameplay...

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Cal Crowner: I think it’s become my responsibility to learn from all the guys that came before me and make sure we do things right. I think we have a good balance. What we tried to do was inside the systems, make it possible for PvPers to play and have fun.

We have a PvP specialist on the team, but what we don’t want to do is make any really fast decisions. Because then that tends to alienate players and that’s not what we want to do. What we want to do is incorporate systems. For example, we added a couple of special moves for “Throw” into the game. This makes PvP more viable. As we go on and develop new content for both the live game and then this new expansion area we’ll continue to offer things that PvPers are attracted to.


Ten Ton Hammer: Do you have any examples of what those special things that PvPers might be attracted to? I know some other games offer PvP-only sort of loot.

Cal Crowner: I’ll say this: Our guy made some very interesting artifacts that folks will be interested and probably be looking at. What he did was a really good balance of “Wow, this is cool”. And then on the other side there’s a definite drawback to having an artifact. For example, there’s one that’s going to be, this is not straight accurate and I’m just giving you an example, there may be one that does very high damage, but it’s got the durability of a half baked pig. You actually have to think when you're using it.


Ten Ton Hammer: Gargoyles are the big selling point in this expansion. What sets the gargoyles apart from the other races from a gameplay perspective? You can obviously look at them and see they’ve got big bat wings and all sorts of colors, but from a gameplay standpoint, where do they stand?

Cal Crowner: From a gameplay perspective, we gave them attributes that they are better at. For example, there’s mysticism and imbuing. What’s really good about imbuing, and this is what gargoyles really have a leg up on, is the capacity to essentially adapt an item to have properties that are in tuned with how you play. For example, if you want a high damage weapon that’s fine, if you want something that’s got a bit more resistance that’s fine, if you want nice balance then that’s how you play.

It actually gives the gargoyles a nice leg up and the capacity to make armor that is probably going to be a bit better than what elves or humans are going to be able to create. They have a greater chance of getting towards that uber end than say the elves or the humans.


Ten Ton Hammer: With imbuing, will gargoyles become the master crafters in the game and is that kind of where you want them to be?

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Cal Crowner: Imbuing and crafting are different. We didn’t want to step on the toes of crafters. Imbuing is a thoroughly different system unto itself. So they have a leg up, but not to the point where it’s unachievable for humans and elves.


Ten Ton Hammer: With this game you’ve really reached back into Ultima lore and tried to pull a lot of that stuff out. Are there some memorable pieces in the game that you can think of that fans should be looking for?

Cal Crowner: We had some extra time on our hands while we were fixing some bugs, so we decided to go ahead and put some Easter eggs into the game, and I will just leave it at that. We did pull some images and some references from the archive of the old game and I think players will like what we did.


Ten Ton Hammer:  For the players that are playing humans and elves right now, what are they going to be doing in the new expansion? What are some of the new areas they can go into and maybe advance their characters?

Cal Crowner: The core piece of the game is the Stygian Abyss. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the maps, but you come in from two sides. There’s the Underworld base, which is actually based on Ultima: Underworld. We pretty much just made it a 3D environment and that’s where the humans come in. The humans and the elves can kind of go and get their chops wet on the way to getting into the abyss. We have the Chamber of Virtue, which is in the middle and it’s kind of the dividing place between the gargoyles from this way and the humans and elves from that way.

I think on the humans and elves side is the COD (Caverns of Discarded), which is essentially where all the trash of Britannica comes. It’s that whole concept of why do I lose one hundred and ten ballpoint pens a month? They are probably in the Caverns of Discarded. It’s really cool because there’s the chance you could pick up something really rare or something that’s important to somebody from up above that will actually appear in the COD.

That’s one nice piece humans and elves will probably get to first depending on how much dedication you want to give to the new content. We know there are probably people who are going to cut work for two or three days just to get through the new content, but in my opinion I think we’ve made it really impossible. You will get through this, but we’ve added enough variety that some folks might have their favorite places to be. So they may not even see all that the expansion has to offer. Some folks might just go and farm void demons, some folks might get stuck at the Green Forge and just do imbuing, some folks might spend time just doing loyalty quests, others might just get hooked up on killing the stygian dragon for a while.


Ten Ton Hammer: So you’ve talked about where the humans and elves can go. Can the gargoyles go there too eventually?

Cal Crowner: Yes. The intent was the Stygian Abyss is where everyone more or less converges. Nothing is inaccessible from any of the races. We just make it a kind of tiered approach so that eventually it’s accessible to everyone.


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Ten Ton Hammer: Let’s say four people want to go in and play UO since this new race is coming in. Is it pretty easy if someone doesn’t want to make a gargoyle to get into the gargoyle starting area from the human starting area, or is that pretty much impossible?

Cal Crowner: For a new player that is going to create an elf or a human, they are going to have to go from the elf or human side in the short-term. In the long-term we will have moon gates opened up so that you can get to there. But in the short-term right now what we want to do is everybody the experience of an evolving story. A lot of people do like to get into the middle of a book and start at page 68, but we wanted to start everyone at page 2 and read the whole book.


Ten Ton Hammer: So there won’t be any immediate teleportation from the human starting point to the gargoyle starting point?

Cal Crowner: Right. We had that discussion for a while and the reason was that from both sides you don’t want to give any unfair advantages.


Ten Ton Hammer: Are you adjusting skill caps or anything with this expansion?

Cal Crowner: Not right now. We had this discussion early, but we are talking about it and how to do it because we have a skill-based game and you have to be very careful how you do that.


Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything I haven’t touched on that you would like to share with our community?

Cal Crowner: We have weekly team meetings and the one thing I kind of set up for everybody is these are the reviews that we want and it’s one of those philosophical things, a self-fulfilling prophecy that if we can imagine we’re going to get all these great reviews then it’ll kind of be built towards that. What’s really cool is the initial feedback we got is that we got it right. I think that’s the one thing that we always wanted was for players to basically come in and have fun.

And you asked what kind of lore are we putting into the game? We also want folks to know that we did our homework. We didn’t disrespect UO and we didn’t disrespect Ultima and most of all we didn’t disrespect the community. We did it with flare and style.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Ultima Online Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

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Stacy "Martuk" Jones was a long-time news editor and community manager for many of our previous game sites, such as Age of Conan. Stacy has since moved on to become a masked super hero, battling demons in another dimension.