ultima online

For a while in Junior High, I played a game called Ultima Online. This was my first experience with a massively multiplayer online game. I believe it was one of the first such games.

My Name

My character was named Xomn. I had wanted my character to be named Xymn, which is a word I made up that I thought was cool, because it had no vowels, and because it began with an X. However, I used Xymn as my username to log into the game, and I heard it was dangerous to use the same name as a character name since then people could try to hack into your account. So, I used Xomn, which was appealing because it included the phrase "om", which I had positive connotations with for some reason -- I thought it meant "perfection".

My character was an old man. Not sure why. I think because I had recently read -- no, not Lord of the Rings -- The Sword of Shannara, and I liked the character Allanon, who was a mysterious old wizard, like Gandalf, but I hadn't read the Lord of the Rings.

First Goal: Taming Dragons

The game was very open ended. You could develop a large variety of skills, including magic, sword fighting, and the ability to forge weapons. I liked the animal taming skill. You could tame animals in the world, and tell them what to do. This was pretty useless at first, since the main thing you would want an animal to do for you is kill a monster, and most animals are pretty weak. Also, you couldn't tame monsters. That is, except dragons.

After many many real world hours of playing the game, I finally had enough animal taming skill to tame dragons. I recall a blend of swet and elation the first time I saw "This animal appears to have accepted you as master" appear above a dragon's head. At this point, I could start making real money by taking my dragon to go kill the most powerful monsters in the game.

Second Goal: Buying and Selling Rare Objects

When I had a moderate amount of wealth, I discovered that killing monsters was a pretty inefficient way to gain money. Each kill gave about the same payoff. Growth was linear.

However, the game had a sort of economy around rare objects. These were objects that were in limited supply for some reason. Some of these objects were essentially bugs, where the game accidentally let someone put a piece of decoration from some shop into their bag.

The idea was simple: buy low, and sell high. The strategy was to look around at other people buying and selling rare items to get a sense for what the price should be. Then, when I saw someone selling something valuable for too little, I would buy it, and sell it elsewhere for more. Sometimes people would have an item which seemed rare, and makeup some story about how they needed cash, and so they were willing to part with this very rare item for less than it's value. Opportunities like this were risky, since the person might be lying, and the item might in fact be common. I got fooled sometimes, but overall I made money.

On a side note: I was selling a potted plant one time. A very rare item. Someone offered to buy it, but they claimed that their money was at their house. The thing is, if someone is in your house, you are allowed to kill them without penalty. I knew this. So I said "sure", and we went to his house. He said we needed to go upstairs, which I did. There, his friend appeared, and they killed me. However, all he found on my corpse was a bag containing a bag containing a bag containing a bag. I remember walking away as a ghost and seeing him say something to his friend like "&%#@! he didn't bring the plant!" It felt good.

Third Goal: Showing Off

At some point, I had enough money to cover all of my day-to-day costs forever. At this point, I started being more social, hanging out around town, with my dragons. I also rode a nightmare, which is a very rare black horse which happens to be as powerful as a dragon.

One day I was hanging around a bank, which is where people would usually hang out around town, and an evil person walked by. The game lets you know when people are evil by making their name grey instead of blue. It is perfectly ok to attack grey people without becoming evil yourself. This is the game's mechanic for allowing player-vs-player activity. If you attack someone, you become grey, and they are allowed to retaliate without becoming grey themselves.

This person would run by the bank every so often, luring people with his greyness. I had seen people like this before. They were generally very powerful players, pretending to be petty thieves. People would attack them, and lose.

I decided to fetch a couple dragons. A brought them to the bank, and made them both invisible. When the grey person came around again, I told them both to attack him.

Now, this story doesn't end well, for me. The thing is, dragons are good at attacking other monsters, who naively stand there and try to fight, but this guy teleported onto the roof of a nearby house. Then he started casting poison spells on my dragons, which is the most effective attack against a dragon. You'd think the dragons could fly up to him, or breathe fire up to him, but the dragons of Ultima Online were not programmed that well -- in fact, knowing their programmatic weaknesses made it possible to tame dragons in the first place, without getting killed.

Anyway, it was all I could do to get my dragons back to the stables, where they would be safe. I think I lost one of them. I may have died myself. I forget. I remember it was humiliating though.

Fourth Goal: Getting a House

The most expensive item you could buy in Ultima Online was a house. Houses would cost about what they would cost in real life: over 100,000 gold pieces. The thing is, you needed to find a place to put the house, and by the time I had enough money to buy a house, there was no place to put it. The only way to buy a house was to buy it from someone else, which was even more expensive, since people generally wanted to keep their homes.

At some point, the housing situation got so bad in the game that the developers decided to open up some new land. In preparation for this, they put a freeze on building new houses for a while. Now, some houses were very old, and their owners had moved on from playing Ultima Online. After a while, these houses would disappear, opening space for someone else to place a house, except that nobody was allowed to place new houses until a certain date.

That date came, and I was prepared with a couple of house locations where I would try to place my house. However, the server was so overwhelmed that day that I couldn't log on, and when I finally could log on, all the house locations I had scoped out were taken.

Fifth Goal: Selling Account

When I failed to get a house, my interest in the game plummeted. I decided to sell my account. I had heard of people doing this, and I thought my account had something to offer. The animal taming skill in particular was worth a lot, since it took many real world hours to acquire it. Also, I had a nightmare, which was extremely rare as well as awesome, being a horse you could ride that was as powerful as a dragon.

I posted pictures of my account on ebay, showing my animal taming skill, my dragons and nightmare, and how much money I had. I also showed an item I owned which would allow me to change my hair-style once. This was also a rare item. I figured a buyer might find it useful so they wouldn't need to look like an old man with a ridiculously long beard.

I think the account sold for $220. I got the money in cash, in an envelope. I then removed my parent's credit card information, and e-mailed the username and password for the account to the buyer. Oddly enough, $220 is about how much money was paid for the $10 monthly subscription over the two years I played it. Of course, that money was paid by my parents. I'm not sure my parents thought about that, because they let me keep the money.

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