Sandbox doesn’t mean Convoluted or Old

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.

  • ” A sandbox game like UO with modern elements of WoW or DAOC would shatter the boundaries of this genre.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Add some AC elements to the mix as well.

  • I may jump into that server with you guys in a bit. I haven’t played a UO P-Server in quite some time. Especially one that’s pre-UOR.

  • Keen, someday we will have millions of dollars and will get to work on this mmo <3

    Until then I'm afraid my own team is limited to small java projects =(

  • Easy answer. Most AAA games take little risk due to the high risk involved in even making the game. Straying away from the working profitable model is a clear nono in the people developing these AAA titles. Indie developers however are willing to take risks because they usually don’t have huge financial backers breathing down their necks shouting profit or death. The only problem with the indie developer of a mmo is that unless you’re some kinda genius your game engine and overall quality are probably gonna suffer. So you end up with two sides.

    1. The AAA no risk mmo’s, good engine/quality, no innovation
    2. The indie risk/innovation mmo, with poor engine/quality

    So until the rare anomaly that lands somewhere in between those two sides happens, we keep getting doses of the same stuff.

  • Speaking of sandbox not feeling old. Have you tried Ryzom, Keen ?
    It is not your typical fantasy based MMO: no classes, seasons, real herds of animals, beautiful graphics and it has one of best and most complete mining and crafting system.
    You should give it a try, I recon there is a non limiting 3 weeks trial.

  • “How often do you play a game and have no idea what the people around you are doing?”

    Every day in most MMOs. I spend plenty of time watching other players and trying to figure out what they are up to. Mrs Bhagpuss and I sometimes spend a good while trying to figure out what’s going on and quite often we never do find out.

  • What elements could UO borrow from WoW or DAoC? Besides the obvious gfx/ui of course.

    Also: how long do you estimate UO to hold your interest? I’m not just screwing around, I really would like to know. Like I wanted to know for Allods but it’s a moot point now.

  • I think the issue with sandbox games is that the developers feel so strongly about it that they force their principles onto the game, instead of just letting it evolve as it is. They are so desperate to not be associated with WoW and to be seen as a “sandbox” game that everything about it is made purposefully difficult and obtuse.

    I think the original SWG was actually a very good example of a well implemented sandbox game. Excusing it’s flaws, it did come across as a very hi-tech, modern game with an excellent UI and some innovative systems. In fact, I actually had no idea that it was meant to be a “sandbox” game!

    I like to see more games like the original SWG. MMORPGs which are sandboxes but you don’t know they are sandboxes 🙂

  • Couldn’t agree more… Darkfall with PvP curbed in some way is the closest we could get right now. Sadly you can’t really make your own way in DF (get a home, get a ship and so on).

    I still think back nostalgically to my time in UO (off to download now!)

  • @Shadrah – I’m the UO vet that Keen was referring too. The shard we are playing on can be found at They usually have over close to 700 people playing at primetime.

  • Ahhh UO. What a game.. Best I’ve ever played, best I ever will play. It really was much more than a game. Probably the only MMORPG I played (DAOC a bit too) where it felt like I entered a virtual world, and I wasn’t just playing a game.

    UO had all the intricacies of a real world, from the regions that were “claimed” by different guilds, to the players who ran shops and peddled their wares around the different cities and world. Players made homes for themselves in all the parts of the world, and certain cities became their “home” city. I was always partial to Occlo and Minoc, Minoc being the very first city I claimed as “home” when UO first went live.

    So many stories and memories of that game, and I still think of them from time to time to this day.

  • Spot on imo. I would say though that Mortal Online has potential but they need to work, work, work. Our guild is having a good time building houses, forges, weapons, etc. The only thing that really bugs me about Mortal Online is the combat is so damn clunky. It’s in beta still so hopefully they will keep at it.

  • Keen I think you’re being awfully unfair to Mortal. Of course it feels clunky compared to UO, it’s a game in beta compared to one that has had 12 YEARS to iron out many of those issues. Even a sandbox game like Eve that has been out for years itself is still working on their new player experience to make it less overwhelming. Besides, the MO devs have said many times how they are huge fans of (pre-trammel) UO and want to make a game very close to it. With their combat they are at least trying to build upon previous games like UO and not try to reinvent everything at once. Haven’t you made previous posts saying that’s what you wanted game devs to do?

  • @Monkpool

    Keen may be a little unfair but it’s easy to see his position. Many people expect open betas to be very close to what the product will look like upon release.

    I personally enjoy Mortal Online but man it’s got a loooooonng ways to go. It’s rather hard to keep our village (soon to be Keep muwwhahhahhaa) up when they keep resetting the &&$##@!! servers lol. Also they need to add more content, fix the combat, fix magic, enable the AA, fix swimming, fix…the list goes on and on man.

  • “Many people expect open betas to be very close to what the product will look like upon release.”

    I’ve heard developers utilize the “open beta” excuse way too many times to their advantage.

    If the game isn’t designed that well, they say “It’s just beta, give us time.” Yet if the gamers demand some changes to the mechanics, they in turn respond with “It’s the open beta. We’re just focused on last minute bug fixes.” Well which is it? Either fix the game or stop making excuses.

    Keen: I’ve never played UO but from my years playing various games, I’d equate it to the perfect recipe or drink. For example, you can have the same ingredients, yet one person’s cake or martini can be dramatically better than another persons. It’s how you mix those ingredients in the right way that matters. It’s why you can have developer after developer utilizing the same game components, yet they have failure after failure. Yet that one developer comes along and combines those components in the right way and, voila, it’s like a magical experience.

  • I just got Me and 2 friends into Darkfall again… actually having fun compared to the failure of a launch, with the graphics update incoming, and a really strong community that actually has a keep and guild dedicated to teaching new players for 30 days… I recommend a second look for a dollar if the UO nostalgia slows down. Its had a year of patching to clean up the crap.

    That said, I just wish we could get a UO 2 and not have to play games like Darkfall and MO to get close to the feeling of UO, AAA developers aren’t willing to take risks because they don’t want their extensive budget to go to waste.

  • There are a few games out there, if given decent graphics engine updates, I would go back in a heartbeat.

    I recently fired up the 14 day trial for Eve online and I have to say it’s much better than any other games released recently as well. I’m really enjoying myself.

  • My first MMO experience was SWG which had a great sandbox feel before the chnage of course. I had assumed all MMOs would be like this. I’ve been disappointed that it seems very few are created this way any longer. While WoW certainly has mass appeal it is severely lacking in immersion and I find find the constant gear treadmill tiring. I just want to find a great sandbox game with a great community to enjoy it with.

  • Yes, community is the main driver. But that also requires maturity and a game willing to nurture community. WoW is a good example of how to destroy community, via crosserver instances.

    Warhammer did a very nice job of building community, but the client/game was not polished and stable enough to keep the number of players that it needs.

  • Around 800-950 players online at anytime on It also has faster skill gain than UO Second Age.

  • I also have been playing EVE for over 3 weeks now. I started the trial and then purchased it. Very fun, deep, complex game. I am kicking at myself for not playing this game years ago since it was released way back in 2003. I was always turned off from what other people said about EVE. Lots of people say it’s too hard, can’t catch up with older players, etc. Forget all that and jump in and enjoy.

  • I went back to Darkfall (now on NA server, have not played for a year) and am having an absolute blast. I have to disagree. I don’t think DF feels old at all. I’d go as far as to say DF is the most underrated MMO on the market, and one of the best in the genre. No game out or coming matches the incredible non-instanced world Aventurine has created here. There is also a fantastic community in this game. DF truly reminds me of UO. You do not have to be a PvPer to enjoy DF. There is a huge crafting community and RP PVE community as well. Personally, I wish more game were like DF’s model than not. Sure the UI is clunky, but I have a feeling with Darkfall 2010 project, many of the criticisms players have had will be taken care of.

  • Its also the gamers you play with that makes or breaks these types of games. If you logged back in and was constantly griefed for no other reason than to be griefed by the offending idiot then it wouldn’t have been such a great return. Luckily you found a great group to be with.

    I have MO (Beta Block B but just finally logged in) also but after a few months of having the account and finally having the time to log in, not having a decent group of folks to hang out with. The interface definitely takes a while to get used to. Even knowing who is talking 🙂 But thats also about the gaming community, after having a group of friends to be the backbone of MMO groups, as folks hit thier late 30’s things drift apart from schedules, work, kids, and all the extra life stuff. We now in all different timezones, playtimes, and all.

  • Someone needs to go to Keen’s UO house, steal it, and gank him when he tries to go back. They also need to find his boat and sink it. Then when they are done, gank him till he logs off in disgust. Maybe then he will realize why sandbox games aren’t that popular, and why a 700 player at primetime private server isn’t really a good judge of why people and developers don’t like sandboxes.

    Seriously though, the freedom to create also gives power the freedom to destroy, or take away others creations. The more power given, ironically gives the more power to wreck others. You are insulated from that because the UO shard is private, and a very tiny, homogenous community. You are only seeing the plus side and not the negative.

  • @Dblade, what you fail to realize is that myself and Keen actually understand this. Don’t forget, we also played Darkfall and although less of an FFA game than UO on this player run server, we still completely understand what a Sandbox means. We lost both our Hamlet and our City in Darkfall so we get it.

    While Keen and I were both mining, he got ganked. Now that I have my house, I know that it can be stolen and looted. These are things we are willing to endear and it doesn’t tarnish our interest in this type of playstyle. Hell today I got ganked outside of Minoc and lost over 600 iron ingots, that’s about 4k in gold down the tubes and about an hours worth of work for me. Do I rage quit, nope. I took about a half hour break then went back to mining and made enough money to get my house.

  • @Namaste I agree I subbed up over this weekend and i’m loving it. The community is amazingly helpful. They seem to want to have more people play as opposed to the “Just GTFO and go play WoW” mindset you see in a lot of MMOs lately.

    I’m very pleased with what Eve has become. Shoot me a convo if you want to group up for some missions: “Fyzzle Frye”

    I started out as a miner but now that I have some ISK i’m going to start doing missions. I’ll be hanging out in high sec for a while, I’ve been thinking about rolling up a pirate alt though.

  • Serious keen, iv been following your posts for about 1 year and a half now, and i must say

    Eve online is the game your looking for, the only drawback i can think of is, do you like sci-fi?

  • Damage, my point though is that to leave that out of the analysis is missing something. The problem wasn’t UO’s interface, it was people preventing you from using it or making those goals. Keen talks about it being simple to set goals-it’s not when you have a decent population bent on preventing you for the lulz. The world is not easily navigated when people try to kill you to steal your stuff

  • @Dblade

    I would agree, when you don’t get to hand pick your players the spawn campers can ruin things. See: AoC.

    The problem is we are trying to emulate the freedom of RL without the normal boundaries. In RL there is an established system of police, leadership, and military to keep order. In an MMO the flood gates are opened and unrest is on even ground.

    Good guys do not have the tools to maintain order so you get order along the lines of the wild west. Sans Sheriffs. In order for a sandbox game to fully live up to its potential the good guys need an advantage. Thereby making being a bad guy more dangerous, but also more profitable (since less people are doing it).

  • @Fyzzle

    Most problem with emulating RL does not come because people don’t have tools to fight. You can try to build those up but usually fail since some other people can to trash it. The main problem can be described in 1 word:


  • Keen, its good to hear a quick nostalgia of UO, but this blog has followed many many MMO releases over the years, and I’ve been following you and your brother since AoC Hype…

    Have you considered doing a special on resubbing for a month to all the old MMOs you decided not to stick with like a year later Re-Review??

    AoC, WAR, Darkfall, etc