I continued my UO adventure tonight by trying out some combat and finding a new place to mine. I was shown a really nice mountain to mine west of Britain where I was able to make a few thousand gold and meet a few players. In UO players are able to set up houses anywhere that there is free open space. These players set up shop right along this mountain with forges, anvils, and all the tools needed. They made their houses public or set up these things outside their house and as a result I was able to use them too. The owners of the houses were nearby and would say hello to me as well as help me drag my extra ore to the forge to be refined. People were riding by on horses, going about their routine, doing things like mining or crafting or sailing ships and fishing, hunting orcs, socializing, banking, and creating an atmosphere that felt like the game was meant to be played different for each of them. How often do you play a game and have no idea what the people around you are doing? It simply doesn’t happen anymore.
While I was mining and crafting chain armor it clicked for me that this was a sandbox game yet it wasn’t confusing. Sure, there is a slightly learning curve but for the most part this game that is twelve years old is less complicated than any of the sandbox games releasing lately. Deciding what I want to play and then being able to jump right in to start playing that way is really quite smooth. Everything in UO feels really intuitive as well and there isn’t anything convoluted about how you go about doing… anything. Let’s compare it to a game like Mortal Online. In Mortal Online there’s an extra step to do anything. Sheathe your weapon or else you walk, ridiculous limitations of movement, first person only, combat that feels wonky with hoop after hoop to jump through.
In UO I was immediately able to figure out what to do and what I wanted to do in the near future. I wasn’t told what to do or given a direction to go yet I felt like I had direction. In Mortal Online it felt like I wasn’t given a direction or told what to do but I felt completely lost and stranded. My goal in UO is to earn money, outfit my fighting character with armor/weapons, and buy a house. After I buy a house I want to buy stuff to put inside it then I want to buy a boat. All of these things are doable almost immediately and the game facilitates allowing me to get started immediately, even as a complete noob. The world is easily navigated and laid our in such a way that new players and veterans alike are rubbing shoulders.
Sandbox doesn’t mean old. Have you noticed that games like Mortal Online and Darkfall feel old? Playing UO it feels old, mostly because of the graphics, but the gameplay itself is years beyond games released recently. Why do the new sandbox games feel old, clunky, unintuitive, and convoluted? Half the time it feels like sandbox means hassle. Playing UO, I have yet to feel hassled over anything.
In my ideal MMO, which I have said will be a pseudo-sandbox game, it would be about providing the player a sandbox-like experience closer to UO. I think providing players with tools to go out and have fun, tools which facilitate the world being an actual virtual world, are important. Mechanics such as combat are completely secondary. Playing in the sandbox should be about what you can accomplish with the world with a more open and free experience. It shouldn’t be about picking out the cat poop and having to fight the game to have fun.
Why can’t the sandbox games of today be created with the feeling or World of Warcraft but the gameplay of UO? It’s almost like a line has been drawn between things that are considered “modern” and things that make a game a really good “sandbox”. A sandbox game like UO with modern elements of WoW or DAOC would shatter the boundaries of this genre. My mind is swirling with ideas and images of this Utopian pseudo sandbox game and I wish I could let you all in to play.