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Ultima (1998)

Updated: Apr 25




SYMMETRY. Rotation by 180 degrees. Turn this design upside down and you will see that it reads the same both ways.


INSPIRATION. For Ultima, fantasy role-playing computer game series.


STORY. In the late 90s my wife Amy Jo Kim was obsessed with Ultima Online, an online fantasy role-playing game developed by Origin Systems and published by Electronic Arts. Ultima is an elaborate graphical online world where thousands of players meet, go on adventures together and live out alternative lives in a mythical land of sword and sorcery. Ultima Online is based on the best-selling series of Ultima games which started on the Apple II and has grown into a veritable cult. Ultima Online is the first online multiplayer installment of Ultima.


Amy began playing Ultima as part of her research for a book she was writing, Community Building on the Web. The book lays out design principles synthesized from her years of online strategic design consulting for sites like Ebay. Although many people have built particular online communities, Amy has a uniquely broad perspective, having worked with dozens of major clients in both entertainment and business.


When Amy began playing Ultima Online I knew nothing about the game other than its name. Now I have heard her reports on hours of conversations with the folks at Origin, including Origin founder Richard Garriott, dozens of players, and assorted industry pundits. Although the Ultima universe is not my alternate reality of choice, I am fascinated by the thought that went into building it.


Besides the usual difficulties of building software and maintaining an online service, Origin has essentially taken on the social challenges of running a city. The relationships that players form in Ultima are very real: for at least one player who moves cities often, her Ultima play partners are the most stable friendships in her life.

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