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November 10, 2000

Ultima Online: Third Dawn

I read the following article about "Ultima Online: Third Dawn" and it's exciting new 3D enhancements for the existing Ultima Online game at Computer Games Online.

Ultima Online: Third Dawn
The granddaddy of online role-playing enters a new dimension

Origin Systems is readying the most significant overhaul of its Ultima Online massively multiplayer online role-playing world with Ultima Online: Third Dawn. It features a cosmetic makeover that takes the existing top-down 2D game's sprite characters and monsters and replaces them with motion-captured animated 3D ones. The gameworld itself-the terrain and buildings-will remain in their existing 2D form, and the view of the game will remain nearly top-down.

Though you may be inclined to think the 3D upgrade is a way to help compete with the more technological advanced (though in some game design ways simpler) EverQuest, producer Rick "Stellerex" Hall feels it shows Origin's commitment to its subscribers. "It says very emphatically that 'we intend to continue expanding on this incredible world for a long time to come'", he explains. "While we feel that it's a dramatic graphical step forward, it's also very significant in that it gives us a nearly infinite amount of room for future expansion. With [Third Dawn], we'll be able to patch in new content, special effects, and game systems that simply weren't possible with the old client."

In addition to offering the 3D upgrade, Third Dawn also comes with new worlds to explore (according to Hall, it's 50 percent bigger than what was delivered with The Second Age), and as with previous new editions of the game, these areas will not be accessible to players that elect not to upgrade. Hall says the new land will use the Trammel rule set, it will be adventure-only (with. no housing) and your character's reputation (good or evil) will make more of a difference there (Hill gives an example of evil characters being more likely to be attacked by "good" monsters). Hill won't give much detail about the new world's fiction. "We don't want to give that way before launch-that would spoil the fun." He will divulge that there are 13 new monsters for the new land mass, some of which are the "good" monsters and others designed to fit the theme of the new land.

Origin is expecting most people to want to upgrade to this new edition. "[Third Dawn] is still Ultima Online," explains Hall, "[but] it has a newer look and feel as well as a new land to explore, new monsters to fight, a few new items, and quite a number of behind-the-scenes improvements." He points out that the game is reaching new players every month, and that this trend will only be accelerated with the launch of this expansion.

For existing players who either elect not to upgrade or do not possess machines powerful enough for the technological enhancement, the 2D and 3D versions of the game will coexist; the look of the game on their own machine will be different for each player. Hall says that making the two versions work together wasn't really difficult at all. "Third Dawn represents a much larger change to the client than to the server." He also says the new 3D version shouldn't introduce any more lag into the game. "In fact, we're incorporating some new features to the network coding to reduce the effects [of lag]."

According to Hall, Third Dawn will include more than 700 motion-captured animations (including gestures for conversation) and hundreds of different character models. Also new is a particle system to render magic and other special effects. It will be require a 3D accelerator for the 3D client, though Hall points out that the minimum system requires are expected to be "pretty modest."

The game has proven quite popular in Japan and Korea, so the upgrade also adds samurai-looking weapons and armor (though they will not be limited to those regions; that particular design aesthetic is popular with gamers throughout the world). Rounding out the new features is an overhauled music and sound system, which according to Hall was upgraded solely for aesthetic reasons. "We just felt that some of the sound effects could be more in-character with the monsters or actions that they represent, so we thought we'd take this opportunity to replace the weaker ones." The game's music is still MIDI-based, but the game is designed with music zones, allowing it to change depending on the context. "Since we're adding in the new adventuring land, it will have its own new music theme."

As with Ultima Online: The Second Age, the upgrade will be offered for sale in stores at a full-price for new players and will be available as a download or on CD (with a nominal charge to cover shipping and handling). The beta will also be available for purchase, with a cost around $4.95 to cover shipping and handling, and it will automatically be patched to the full version of the game when it's complete.

by Steve Bauman

Posted by Nobody at November 10, 2000 11:39 PM

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