Posted May 22nd, 2009 by Ethec
Put enough people in one place and sooner or later someone will test the boundaries. MMORPGs are no exception. Ranging from the hilariously frivolous to the monetarily disastrous, here are five stories of player-fueled negativity that have made an indelible mark on massively multiplayer gaming, plus a bonus interview of gamers taking extraordary steps to restore one MMORPG to its former glory.
Ultima Online - August 8th, 1997
Memorable leaders are a part of the lore of just about every MMORPG. EverQuest 2 has Antonia Bayle and Lucan D’Lere, World of Warcraft has Thrall and Arthas Menethil, and Ultima Online has Lord Cantabrigian British. And behind the avatar of Lord British was the guiding force of the Ultima series and one of the first true rockstar developers (and one that continues to make headlines today), Richard Garriott.
And as Ultima Online approached launch, the in-game manifestation of Lord British was better established in the lore than even the sometime Lich King is in the WoW storyline of today, even taking into account Arthas’s famous cutscene, book deal, and eponymous WoW expansion. For as hopeful testers feverishly doled out shipping and handling to have the beta discs Ultima Online mailed to them, Lord British’s Arthurian-styled pedigree, legendary status, and player-aiding ways were firmly established through no less than seven iterations of the Ultima series.
Richard Garriott, like his counterpart Lord British, is in fact from outer space. He visits occasionally.
Be that as it may, players always sought ways to kill the character often referred to as LB. Raph Koster, a member of Origin’s team throughout most of glory days of the Ultima series and the “garage project” period before UO broke the then incomprehensible 100,000 subscriber ceiling - recalls that Richard Garriott took the attempts on Lord British’s life in stride. “He delighted in telling stories about how LB could be killed in all the standalone Ultima games. Once he’d been beaned by a falling plaque or sign at the offices, and of course, that got put into one of the standalone Ultimas as a way you could kill LB in the game.” [source]
Falling plaques aside, Lord British could be killed in earlier versions of Ultima but not without flawless execution and more than a little luck. One account described pulling Lord British from his throne and surviving the guards long enough to pull LB in range of mounted cannons across town [source]. Since these sorts of shenanigans couldn’t be attempted by anything less than a very advanced player character, no one expected that Lord British would fall to a two week-old character months before the official launch of Ultima Online.
On the night of August 8th, 1997, a series of server stress tests were scheduled, with Lord British making speeches in select locations around the Ultima Online world. Stress tests are used to measure server stability and lag when a large number of players are in a small area - the constant bugaboo of massively multiplayer games. It was hoped that Lord British and Lord Blackthorne (Starr Long) would draw a crowd to the first location, Blackthorne Castle, and he certainly did. Among his audience was Rainz, a nondescript thief played by a 23 year-old software development entrepreneur from Indianapolis, Indiana. Here’s what happened next, as described by Rainz in an archived interview conducted shortly after the event with the now-defunct Online Gaming Review:
Lord British arrives, but as many cheered, one waited for an opportunity.
“LB, Blackthorne, and their jesters were up on a bridge orating to the masses. Unfortunately I wasn't playing my mage character, so casting spells from a spellbook was out of the question. Luckily my character was a good thief who had high "stealing" skill. I desperately searched the backpacks of those around me and eventually came upon a fire field scroll.
“After that it was pretty simple, I just cast the scroll on the bridge and waited to see what would happen. Either LB or Blackthorne made the comment "hehe nice try", can't recall exactly who. It was a humorous sight and I expected to be struck down by lightning or have some other evil fate befall me. Instead I heard a loud death grunt as British slumped to his death. After that it was just pure mayhem, Blackthorne or another force summoned 4 daemons into the castle and people were dying left and right.... I hauled balls out of the region like there was no tomorrow.”
But Rainz couldn’t outrun Origin, and his account was promptly
banned. “Origin considered my style of gameplay to be detrimental to
the nature of the beta test. I had previously played a character of
evil alignment who slaughtered hundreds, this type of role playing was
denounced by certain OSI members. After they had a discussion with me I
erased my evil "Aquaman" character that same day and nailed his coffin.
I thought that this had brought an end to the whole ordeal. Instead,
after slaying LB, an OSI member informed me that I had come to the
"last straw" and was now banned from "all further Origin World Online
For their part, Origin insisted that that last part might have been “said in the heat of the moment by a very tired and overworked Origin employee.” Instead, they’d been tailing Rainz for “deliberately going against requests” they’d made of him as a tester. From the official statement: “ This is the stuff of legend, kudos to him for not only attempting it but actually succeeding. He has now made quite a name for himself. The assassination merely provided us an opportunity to get his account information. We had actually been looking for him in order to ban him before this.” [source]
More than a decade later, we couldn’t track down Rainz for a follow-up, but Sean “Dragons” Stalzer, leader of the longest continuously running guild in existence, The Syndicate, was witness to the events. He confirms Rainz’s account: “ At the time it was initially assumed by many that a demon had been summoned that killed him. It was so incredibly laggy with dozens of people on very old code and very slow machines that it was incredibly hard to read the words much less see things happening. The overall series of events.. firewall.. LB dying.. demons.. people dying.. does look pretty accurate.“
As for the reaction at Origin and why Lord British was vulnerable to attack in the first place, Koster had this to say: “I recall that Scott Phillips came into my office all wide-eyed and laughing, like a mix of dismay and amusement, and told me what had happened… the whole thing happened because the little checkbox that said “invulnerable” had just never gotten set on the LB character. But of course, Richard assumed that it had.”
“I think I was a little taken aback by how much press the incident got afterwards – it was, in retrospect, one of those times when the expectations of single-player games collided with the expectations of multiplayer gaming. Lots of people probably realized for the first time what sort of experience an online world might be when they saw that someone had killed Lord British.” [source]
Stalzer viewed the event in a more negative light for Ultima Online: “The aftermath, for those who were following it, did negatively affect perceptions. I don’t think those perceptions were long lasting. I have long since forgotten about it and still play UO many years later. But at the time I think it was a bit of a black eye.”