The Game Archaeologist: How Ultima Online got made

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2022-09-22 19:30:15

You know how there’s that yokel in every global chat channel that likes to troll players by claiming that World of Warcraft was the first MMO? If you’re me and you sense even a whiff of sincerity behind that statement, you kind of want to smack them with a thick history book.

Yet as we’ve covered in this column, it’s not quite as easy to point to clearly defined moments when a new genre was born. There are predecessors, innovators, and transitional titles. But I can comfortably say that MUD1 was the first true MMO, as I can point to Ultima Online as the first “massive” graphical MMO.

In any case, Ultima Online’s place in the MMORPG history textbooks is undeniably important. I’ve procrastinated on writing on this title for so long because it’s a daunting prospect to try to do it justice. But it needs to be covered because if not for Ultima Online’s pioneering spirit, online gaming might look a lot different today.

As the MMO is a sort-of sequel, we’ll need to go all the way back to the beginning to set the stage. In 1981, amateur game designer Richard “Lord British” Garriott programmed the very first Ultima title for the Apple II. This first-on-the-scene open-world RPG took players on a journey through a fantasy realm (and a bit of sci-fi because why not).

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