Editorial

Ultima Online's Housing Thieves and Item Ownership

By David Piner -
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We talked with Richard "Lord British" Garriott de Cayeux at E3 2014 about Shroud of the Avatar and while this article isn't about SotA it does apply heavly. In the middle of our discourse, I asked if SotA was going to have the ability for people to loot from homes like you could for awhile in Ultima Online. Believe it or not, he was taken aback and declared that SotA would have no such bugs.

Here's the problem: I didn't think it was a bug.

While it technically was, in theory, originally you had a key to lock your house in UO. This key wasn't blessed, meaning it could be pickpocketed and dropped on death. The key to your house was used to lock and unlock the door. If you couldn't lock the door, then people could walk in, open your chests, and steal from you. If they stole the key, they now owned the house.

Additionally, when you opened your door, another player could walk in and loot your house to their heart's content. You could stealth in, steal everything they owned, and stealth out with them being able to do nothing. Well, nothing other than PvP you down. This had players place tables and barrels to defend their homes from intruders. You'd walk in, close your door, then detect stealth. If it was safe, you'd open the little foyer and move on into your house, until secure storage was implemented.

These two issues were fixed in different phrases. First keys were blessed, meaning they were no-drop. Then house ownership was changed from a key to just "Player owns x House." Additionally, you could lock items down in your house. Eventually more security features were added.

You know what though? I love the renegade idea that people can break into your home and loot it. That's exciting to me and one of the key traits of UO was ultimately you never owned anything. The world did and it was up to the world to give and take from you. You obtained skills that made reacquiring things faster, but ultimately, your items were up from grabs. People could loot them while in town. You could be ganked at any time. Your house could be broken into and if you didn't want it, you needed to defend your house with tables and barrels.

I think that's a missing element to a lot of modern "hardcore" games. Richard Garriott introduced the world to "hardcore mmo" with UO. That game was brutal and it would devour anyone, but that's part of its charm. While the majority of gaming went the route of Everquest where we were each treated with "character rights" such as you can't be stolen from, your character is persistent after death, there is no penalty for anything in a game but death (which varies depending on the title), and you own whatever you loot. In UO, you owned nothing but yourself and your house, and both were open targets for thieves.

I really wish more games would focus on this idea that we don't have to be treated like children in order to have a good time. In a lot of ways we are becoming too safe and too docile and that's what is making a lot of games boring because there is no fear. Remember in games of olden years where your world view was infinitely small at the start? Just the starting town, the scenery around you, and that was it?

Then you'd explore and level up and you'd see more of the world and become more comfortable. The world would get larger and larger until you explored it all, then it became smaller and smaller because you knew how to get from point A to point B with ease.

Shroud of the Avatar will not have the risk vs. reward PvP that Ultima Online had, but it will be bringing with it a lot of the things we miss from hardcore old school games. In addition, it will be using the Unity engine and will be able to implement a lot of crowdsourced code (for instance the cloaks were apparently brought in from the playerbase).

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About The Author

David "Xerin" Piner
Get in the bush with Xerin every Monday for his weekly column, Respawn, as he analyzes the hottest trends, buzz topics, and absurdities in MMO gaming.