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Database “sharding” came from Ultima Online? (2009) (raphkoster.com)
168 points by mpweiher on June 8, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 172 comments

I personally remember that couple of years, 95-97, as ripe for coming up by yourself with things that are now considered "obvious" or just the way things are done. Things happened fast: by the start of 1995 the concept of networked computers was a vague thing from the movies to me and by the end of 1997 I was an "experienced" web developer. We had websites, but we didn't have good search, so you still had to learn many things the old hard way.

The biggest thing I remember to have "invented" by myself in early 1996 (at the same time as thousands more) was the database driven website: I was tasked with creating a "virtual campus" kind of website with forums, chat, assignments, calendar, grades, news... and the sparse examples and models I had found for all those functionalities used plain text files as storage.

After completing a prototype I was obviously sick of dealing with those files and suddenly thought: "hey, dumping all this crap on a few tables in a database would make everything so much easier!" It felt a bit mind-bending, because you were taught that databases were for internal "databasey" things: Accounting, addresses, customers, widgets and their prices, that kind of stuff. Using a database as storage for a forum or a public-facing website felt almost like a revolutionary concept.

By the end of the project I was quite bored of writing plain SQL and I had something very close in spirit to many ORMs/ the Active Record stuff from Rails. So I sort of "invented" that too.

Another thing to reflect on is that I wrote all that as plain C through CGI. The database was mysql. I tried to run it a couple years ago and it compiled and ran almost straight on a modern Linux system, after like 20 minutes fiddling with Apache and the makefile, 20 years after the fact. My current projects seem to rot every time I take a short vacation.

To that vein... I invented AJAX :P

I remember it being around 2001 - 2002 and seeing the first implementations of Microsoft for Javascript requests and at the same time the DOM was started to be a thing you could actually manipulate and I started experimenting on doing programmatic page updates for a system I was developing for the office I was working for (I worked for a state office back then).

Then the big crisis of 2002 hit (I live in Argentina), I lost 2 of the 3 jobs I had at the time (And the one that I kept was the one bringing in the less amount of money) and I ended up moving to Spain for a few years.

When I finally managed to land a job coding (2007) AJAX already had its own name and dynamic pages were taking the world by storm (And to hell, via callbacks).

P.S.: That "I invented AJAX" was obviously tongue in cheek. I'm pretty certain that there was a lot of people doing the same thing all around the globe, and very likely that was the idea that got that implemented on the MS side of things in the first place.

I remember using iframes to load data in the background using javascript. Certain actions would have a flag passed via url parameter which would render the content, but none of the page elements (heading, sidebar, footer), and the content was then copied into a div on the visible webpage.

This was like 2004ish.

I think one of the best indicators of "coding on the edge" is when you have to hack things together to make them do the things you want them to do.

Before AJAX, it was DHTML (D for Dynamic). Checking O'Reilly Safari, that term started gaining use in published matter in 1999.

AJAX and DHTML were different things. DHTML was just scripting for DOM, it didn't include making requests back to the server without reloading the page.

Dynamicdrive.com is from 1998, and it's still online! I learned a lot from that site.

I remember “DHTML” with JS

I invented a lot of things for myself... AJAX was one of them but also I used a lot of animated GIFs for transitions

I made dailytutor.com back in 2003 or so!

The domain name expired so I saved the site at http://thetutorbase.com Sadly the hostgator or whatever hosting it made php errors now for sessions But some of it still works Check it out :)

Once I made a streaming gif application that used image maps to asynchronously send requests for how to change the server side rendering.

Cheers, I'm checking that out now :)

Heh. I know Jesse who "invented" the acronym AJAX at Adaptive Path back in 2005 or so... (The technique was fairly well known by then, at least amongst cutting edge webdev people - he only ever claimed to be the one who came up with a name for it that happened to stick...)

I was also doing a similar thing at the same time. It was an account management tool that would load child nodes of the hierarchy as you expanded them. It was pretty slick and even, though some hackery, supported rearranging things via drag-and-drop.

He, I remember what a pain in the ass D&D was when it started being a thing.

I remember doing an internship for a big science magazine around that timeframe. They wanted to launch a sort of online encyclopedia for science. They were puzzling over how they were going to get the content to fill the site. "What if", i suggested, "you let the users write the articles?".

They didn't think that would work.

Oh, and one of the first things i did on the web was help a friend build a fan website for a band. I was writing the pages in a text editor, and it got a bit repetitive updating the links in the footer on each page when we added a new page. So i wrote a little program that read a general template for the pages, written in HTML with some special markup for where the variable bits should go, and then a file full of the content for each page (in something like a key-value format, i think), and wrote out the HTML for it all. It didn't run on the server, because we didn't have the ability to do that. It just generated a static site.

I started PC programming in about 1997 before I had an internet connection at home. I had to either research at school and make notes or get books from the library.

The fun result of that was for a few weeks I thought that I was going to get rich from having invented unit testing.

What we have today is far more efficient, I don't miss it but I definitely look back on those days with nostalgia.

Efficient for what? What are we solving for? Rushing out buggy, complex, unmaintainable, undocumented software? Sure. We are certainly more efficient at that. Hardly anyone takes the time to understand anything anymore, thoroughly, and detail it for others. It feels like all surface-level stuff.

>Hardly anyone takes the time to understand anything anymore, thoroughly, and detail it for others. It feels like all surface-level stuff.

It's a pity that this point will be lost to downvotes.

There is a common problem when the work of people that put the time in to really understand, test, improve and document the things we rely upon is undervalued and when that which is rewarded is superficial understanding and gluing together things that barely work is prioritized.

Yes, iterating quickly is important. Yes, it's also important not to waste time making something more robust than it needs to be. I'm not disputing that, what I AM saying is that as things scale up and hundreds of users turn into hundreds of millions of users, it's extremely important to have a culture of rewarding the people that take the time to make these systems robust and continue to ensure they perform well.

As a small anecdote, this was really driven home by a one-on-one meeting I had with an old manager: I'd started working at a small startup which almost completely lacked any kind of documentation and almost everything needed to be figured out by trial and error or (equally common) by pestering the couple of people who had things like passwords and keys and admin access to do things necessary to let a new developer begin development work.

Realizing this was going to be a giant pain in the ass as we scaled, I took the time to write a ton of documentation, checklists, scripts and onboarding docs so that new developers could get up to speed quickly. I then trained the new devs as they came onboard to ensure they got up and running as fast as possible.

Back to the one-on-one: I ended up getting told that my performance was a concern because, unlike myself, the new developers had managed to get up to speed and become productive very quickly and it reflected poorly on me that I had taken so long.

Since then, I've taken a lot more care to assess the culture of a company before doing what I consider to be "the right thing" and do deeper-level work.

I meant in terms of documentation, i.e. stack overflow, youtube, etc. Universities are putting their course materials online for free, that sort of thing.

It's easy to be cynical about modern software, but remember it can still be sold and the economic benefit of being able to quickly throw together something that looks like a finished product to test an idea is hard to quantify.

I developed a product like what you described and started a company using nothing but my laptop and an AWS account. To make the same product in 1997 would be difficult if not impossible without very deep pockets.

> To make the same product in 1997 would be difficult if not impossible without very deep pockets.

And likely 10-100x the quality and reliability, and without needing to sell every bit of your personal information. Has anyone stopped to ask, maybe we just don't need all of this software?

Eheh, I don't remember the software in 1997 being all that good and reliable. And when it crashed, it crashed hard, all the way to BSOD.

The selling of personal data is a good point, though. We surely could use less of that.

Yes I think this person is taking the very best of 90s software and contrasting it with the very worst of the current time. People still do high quality work today.

Now we can just:

`import <a career's worth of work>`

Between the operating system, development tools, compiler, and libraries, a 'Hello world!' web server is several careers worth of work.

Dozens if you aren’t using localhost to test that it works.

We are certainly more efficient at that. Hardly anyone takes the time to understand anything anymore, thoroughly, and detail it for others. It feels like all surface-level stuff

I sometimes feel like every project is either learning a new thing as you go (for no other reason than that it’s new and cool) or maintaining some written be someone who was learning as they went (because now that bug ridden pile of crap is running in production).

Ah yes, in 1991 I "invented" networked pub/sub for real time data sharing from sensors and other systems on a research ship. You could easily just plunk a new networked client on the ship's net and have it start publishing data. Visualizations systems would immediately see and give access to any data available.

Not in that time, but in the vein of the other stories under this -

I saw a group of people in a web community (comics sharing group in a small town) self-organize to collectively fund a couple of them (one artist, one writer) for printing a short story that they'd done and never got payed for. Each person that contributed got a signed copy!

I thought, hey, this could generalize to all sorts of stuff if there was a platform to help organize it! Mused around with it for maybe a couple of hours, became a bit disheartened by the legal aspects of it, and put it on a 'TO-DO' list.

Six months later I heard the first things about Kickstarter and realized I missed the boat

It's kind of cool seeing all these stories of many people coming up with the same ideas at the same time and realizing that the old startup mantra "Ideas are easy - implementation is what matters" continues to be true.

When I was a teen and couldn't afford the latest magazines,so I came up with an idea of buying them up, scanning and putting online for a small fee. I neither had skill to build nor a clue how would I go about dealing with publishers though..

Turns out only one of those was necessary!

I "invented" javascript-based challenge-response authentication so that the user's password didn't have to go over the wire. I later found out that Yahoo and a few others were doing the same thing.

Is that widespread now? I mostly stay out of web dev and this is the first I'm hearing of it

This is mostly a hack back when SSL/TLS wasn't widespread.

It doesn't work against an adversary that can intercept and change your packets ("Mallory"). If properly implemented, it can work against an adversary that can only observe them ("Eve"), but I've seen implementations that just hash your password before sending it on the wire. In that case, you just have the same problem as before, but the hashed version of your password is your "real" password.

https was also way slower than plain http

I "invented" navigation meshes in 1995, along with, I'm sure fifty other people. Then I read about them in Game Programming Gems in 2000. So five years before someone thought "Hey, I should publish this!" (wish I had!) But it was apparently invented in the 1980s for robots.

For games, the catalyst was 3D games consoles.

I had the same experience pulling together personal home pages in chronological descending order from a database of text files.

A bunch of folks online had their own scripts as well. Eventually a few people would release their scripts and it would become known as a "weblog" and eventually a "blog" and many people profited from that.

Wild times.

And that's just the back-end stuff. Around the same time Netscape Navigator was taking off and people were getting their first dose of interactive Javascript on the web. As a child who was used to playing Wing Commander II and Wolfenstein 3D on DOS; I almost fell out of my chair.

Out of curiosity, has anyone made an MMO better than UO yet? I stopped playing those types of games when I got into high school, so I don't really have any concept of if EVE and WoW and the like were actually definitively better, or just different and more successful do to being easier for beginners.

I haven't played any of the Larian games (e.g. Divinity: Original Sin II), but noticed that only recently with these sorts of graphics do these new 3D isometric games actually have the same kind of feeling that UO had at the time when it came out, if that makes any sense.

has anyone made an MMO better than UO yet?

Nope. UO was one of a kind. What made it special is the way it brought together people with many different play styles and allowed them to form their own communities which were self-policed.

Every multiplayer game since UO has tried to learn lessons from it by policing the players centrally, through the limitation of player interaction. The result is that all of the different play styles have gone their separate ways to games which cater specifically to them.

This phenomenon mirrors the filter bubble phenomenon that resulted from search engines and social media recommendation engines giving people more of what they want.

Edit: for examples of the games that cater to the play styles I’m referring to, look at Fortnite, League of Legends, Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Diablo 3... When I look at this list it’s rather shocking to me that one game could house all these diverse play styles. The magic of it was that it worked, for a time, until more specialized games came along and started drawing away the player base. Then EA brought in Trammel and split the player base which was the beginning of the end.

The interesting thing also was that most of these play styles were forced to work together also. E.g. you couldn't be a fighter without blacksmiths to make armor and weapons, and you couldn't be a blacksmith without miners who were gathering ore. Because leveling up in one skill caused your other skills to atrophy at a high level, it prevented players from being able to become isolated from each other.

> Nope. UO was one of a kind. What made it special is the way it brought together people with many different play styles and allowed them to form their own communities which were self-policed.

Disclaimer: I don't play massively multiplayer online games, only read about them. But isn't this precisely the selling point of EVE Online? Self-policed, no rules, no backstory, the entire universe, its rules and the emergent behavior that results is 100% in the hands of players?

Not the entire game, sadly.

A majority of the player base lives out of NPC-controlled space. Originally, this was intended as the 'safe' tutorial space, where players would quickly want to leave to go for the more lucrative but more dangerous parts of space where everything is indeed player controlled.

In the earlier years, you could easily make a week worth of 'hi-sec' grinding by spending half an hour in 'null-sec'. You would indeed risk losing that half hour of work when trying to haul it back to some market, but the pay would make it worth it many times over.

However, as the years progressed, the developer seemed to realized that the majority of the players simply did not like to leave the NPC-policed space, and started catering to those. (Another factor is that jump-capable ships made hauling things back to high-sec markets low risk, which had a huge impact on prices of null-sec-only goods.)

A large amount of content has been added to the 'hi-security' parts, giving less and less incentives for players to leave for 'null-security' space. The player-generated content in null-sec is what makes EVE appear in the news and attract new players, but the reality is that the majority is not directly involved with that part of the game.

(In fairness, the universe and markets are still unified, so both those worlds still impact each other. But for many players that impact will be limited by price changes and getting blown at 'Burn Jita'.)

Interesting, that's exactly the same thing that happened to UO also. And catering toward these players seems to be the reason why WoW succeeded so massively. It's unfortunate because the risk of getting killed and losing everything on your player is really the core of what made these games fun in the first place.

High risk of getting killed and losing all progress is probably hostile to the more casual players. I think it could be worked around if getting killed was not a big deal -- if much like in roguelikes, getting killed and restarting was part of the fun. But in traditional MMO games with grinding and accruing experience and loot, getting killed and losing stuff does seem like a big deal. Maybe it's an inherent flaw of grind-based gameplay?

> But in traditional MMO games with grinding and accruing experience and loot, getting killed and losing stuff does seem like a big deal.

It wasn't all your stuff. The bulk of your assets would be in your bank account or, if you were wealthier, in your house. The only stuff you would take out into the wilderness or into a dungeon is whatever you needed for that particular trip. So your losses would be limited to whatever you brought with you, plus whatever loot you had accrued while hunting or mining or whatever.

So yeah if you were only playing for 20 minutes a day and you were constantly dying, I understand why it would be bewildering and upsetting. But if you were actually playing for 5+ hours a day because you were 12 or whatever, it was just part of the fun.

> But if you were actually playing for 5+ hours a day because you were 12 or whatever, it was just part of the fun

Haha, agreed. If you are 12 it's no big deal. I wonder what's the target audience and age for current MMO games.

EVE Online definitely caters to the portion of UO players who loved large group politics and economics. I don't know how well it would suit the player who likes to decorate their home and role-play as a small-time leather working merchant.

EVE definitely does support different play styles, I just don't think it's as many as UO.

Good point, I didn't consider that.

I feel weird about games like UO. I obviously won't play it now, and for whatever reason I didn't play it in its day, and now I feel I missed an important milestone in gaming history. I'm familiar with it only by reading about it. EVE Online is different: I know it exists, I know it has some interesting emergent properties, but I don't feel I missed anything by not being a part of its community.

> I feel I missed an important milestone in gaming history

It was a magical time and place, but there will be more magical times and places in the future. Once VR gets good enough, we may get a similar kind of magical time and place for the first couple years there also.

It depends on what you mean by "better". WoW certainly eclipsed UO in popularity/playerbase. Eve has a more sophisticated metagame. UO is definitely the best Ultima Online game ever created.

Yes, if you're talking about reliance on your fellow player, nothing I've ever played beats Eve. What goes on behind the scenes of a large corp is similar to a real world company or even government, including custom software to help manage it all.

As an apple gamer from the early 80's who played all of the ultimas (and bards tales, and wizardries...).

WoW was the game I had always wanted. I found it better than UO because it had the interactivity and sophistication I had dreamed about.

That came with a downside. I like to describe WoW in these terms:

"So you like ice cream right? Here: go eat this truck full. Go on. You said you liked ice cream, go do it. /points gun at my head/ ... EAT."

interactivity and sophistication I had dreamed about

I'm not sure what you mean by that. Wasn't WoW just a theme park MMO? You walk around alone or with friends, killing camps of monsters and completing fetch quests?

UO had ridiculous levels of interactivity. You could go into the forest, chop some wood, turn the wood into bows and arrow shafts. Kill a chicken and butcher it for meat and feathers. Use some wood to build a fire and cook the meat. Use the feathers to fletch your arrows.

Now you're got a bow and arrow. Hunt a deer and butcher it for a large amount of meat and hides. Take the hides back to your house and tan them to make leather. Tailor the leather into leather armour with your character's name on it! Dye the leather a unique colour and put it for sale on your vendor NPC.

Come back another day and find other players shopping for leather armour in your store! Chat with them and make friends. Go on an adventure together. Build and design a new house to live in together.

UO was Minecraft before Minecraft. Servers had thousands of players and there was a ridiculous amount of interactivity between players and the environment.

For what it's worth, FF14 has taken several cues from UO for its crafting and housing systems. It's the only MMO I've seen since with any real depth in either.

With that said, FF14 is still a theme-park MMO in every other way, but the crafting and housing systems are amazing.

> I'm not sure what you mean by that.

Try playing WoW. Just about everything you described in is in WoW. The crafting system is crazy.

WoW's crafting system is pretty strongly inspired by UO's. Actually, everyone's crafting system is pretty strongly inspired by UO's.

That said, the big difference is that crafting in WoW at launch, and for many years thereafter, was very much an adjunct to the primary game of combat. You cannot level up in WoW without combat.

In UO, combat was not a requirement. You could play the entire time, and become rich and powerful, just as a tailor, or whatever.

> WoW's crafting system is pretty strongly inspired by UO's.

Early on in WoW development, I was one of 2 people in the company that played Ultima Online. And I was going to interview in depth about the way I played it. I guess my play style wasn't what they were looking for and they went in the direction of being combat focused like WarCraft.

But that discerning nature is what made the game (UO) what is was. It was very much an organic world. I had 4 different characters in UO across 2 shards and sometimes 3 or 4 shards. And each play experience was different.

I found one play style surprisingly effective. That being my thief character. Because noone leveled up their thieves. They mainly just stole scraps in mainland towns. Players were very cautions in these large places and called out "guards!" too often. And there was a lot of competition with low level thieves looking for quick wins. So I decided to level up my thief character with simple mage abilities & teleport to Occlo to see whats there. There I found a group of thieves and they welcomed me into their guild. And together we devised a plan to see if we could start stealing from all the mages that would congregate. Occlo was a mage hot spot because they would feel safe from thieves because it was an Island. We became a notorious thieving guild of 5 on the island. And called ourselves 5FD. We would literally surround one mage, basically lasso them into one corner of the super packed mage shop and steal their on-hand weapons as they packed their regents. And some mages would make deals with us, so they could shop safely without interference. etc.

Imagine having the ability to craft this kind of play style in any game today.

As an aside, I was reading one of your comments on one of my threads and realized you were the lead designer of UO. Really amazing to meet you here!

I just wanted to say thank you for making that game. I find that even decades later, the gameplay shaped a lot of my intuitive feel for how business works in terms of supply-and-demand, finding arbitrage opportunities that others have overlooked, etc.

You're welcome! We knew we were making something that could be impactful, but we really didn't have any idea how much impact it would have, and it's always amazing to hear stories of how it affected players. :)

I'm pretty sure UO is (or was) unique among MMOs for having non-instanced player-built housing with full customization and decoration [1]. I fondly remember player-owned houses set up in high traffic locations such as near NPC cities, around moongates, along roads, and outside dungeons. It was so cool how you could go into a dungeon and fight monsters for treasure and then come out and visit another player's house which was set up as a shop, allowing you to restock on resources before heading back into the dungeon.

All of these houses and shops were customized and decorated to an incredible degree, giving the world a very cozy and lived-in feel. I know Star Wars Galaxies had player-owned housing but from what I remember the interiors of the houses were instanced away from the main world. This totally destroyed immersion. I can't tell you how many times I was playing UO, crafting in my house, when I'd see people outside wander by and step out to chat with them. Incredible stuff!

[1] https://duckduckgo.com/?q=uo+house+decorations&t=osx&iax=ima...

This. Also, the fact that inventory wasn't slotted (like Diablo and pretty much every other game) made the game feel vastly more real and immersive, for me at least.

I like finding other Bard's Tale players in the wild. It was easier to learn how to use a hex editor to hack the game than to actually play the game...so that's what I did.

Same here! I remember taking a saved game file, backing it up and then earning some gold. Comparing the two roughly told me where the saved game kept its gold. Then I made that number tremendous. I think I was in fifth or sixth grade at the time - it was a lesson that's served me well :)

THIS is the best description of WoW I've ever heard. Truly wonderful. I thank you.

As someone who never played WoW, I'm curious. What exactly was the ice cream, and what was the gun?

>if that makes any sense.

Makes perfect sense. I was an Elder in UO (a player character with special powers that advanced the storyline) Or basically; as I realize today, an unpaid intern at Origin. And afterwards QA lead on WOW and I can definitively say UO wasn’t a game. It was an alternate universe. It was transcendent unlike any game and blizzard games included.

It wasn’t the first as there was “Meridian59” which came out before and people were basically divided into 2 camps. After “City of Heroes” and “Dark Age of Camelot” came out, then it (mmo) became a genre.

Nice. I was a counselor in UO, but got fired after they realized I was 13.

Haha so you were a customer support intern. What shard?

Catskills. IMHO the game went downhill with the T2A release in 1998, and then was completely ruined by the time Renaissance came out in 2000 (although I had already quit well before then).

It's a shame because I feel like the gameplay was kind of already destroyed by the time the servers were relatively stable and bug free, so it feels like it never really lived up to its potential. But during the few hours a day when it actually worked properly, damn.

Catskills had the best roleplaying community I've ever seen. I miss it.

I also had so much fun on Siege Perilous when it was those color wars with the 4 castles. I can't believe they ever changed that.

Haha, awesome. I was also a counselor in UO at roughly the same age.

Neverwinter Nights on AOL predates Meridian59 when it comes to these sorts of games. Of course for the non-graphical variety there were MUDs before then. I don't really know when a game goes from "lots of players" to "massively", wikipedia says Neverwinter Nights on AOL was an "MORPG" not an "MMORPG". So it kinda depends upon how you count these things I guess.

FWIW, Raph Koster ran a MUD before he worked on Ultima Online. The original creators of Everquest played MUDs too - Sojourn in particular.

Our dividing line for massive in 1995 was 250, because most LAN play capped at 64, and MUDs achieved up to around 253 (the number of available file descriptors on a standard Linux kernel at the time).

Meridian 59 launched with 250 player capacity. UO launched with around 2800.

I think you mean when Everquest hit, suddenly MMO was a thing.

I've played a bunch of them a bit, and nothing comes close. Some of it probably has to do with timing - a true sandbox game when there was a cultural match with the desire for that environment.

Nowadays if you had a game with glitches that allowed people to steal your items outside of intended game mechanics, there would be an uproar on Twitter and punishing 1-star steam reviews. Back then it was infuriating, but part of the atmosphere. The night was dark and full of terrors, so to speak. Also the actual concept of real-estate, with a real house and your own vendors, was really next-level stuff for immersion. Exploits like duping that ruined the economy weren't beneficial to the atmosphere though, and actually broke immersion.

Nostalgia holds up a lot of it though I'm sure. Just like anything else, playing it again now probably wouldn't bring back the same experience.

To be fair UO had pretty horrible reviews at the time also, which is part of why it never became as popular as EverQuest.

Honestly, no. At least not that you can play right now. Star Wars Galaxies was something of a spiritual successor, but is defunct. There have been a few attempts at more free-form open world type games since then, but IMO, nothing really comes close to UO. I've had to give up on MMO's because it all just feels like an experience on rails that is a time sink for some virtual items rather than the kind of free form world modifying choose your own adventure that UO was.

Hmm well hopefully in 30 years or whenever I'm retired, computers hardware will have improved enough that someone will have tried to make a better version.

Although obviously single player, I have to admit I was extremely impressed by Breath of the Wild. It could have benefits from another couple years of polish, but it was extremely fun regardless.

>Although obviously single player, I have to admit I was extremely impressed by Breath of the Wild. It could have benefits from another couple years of polish, but it was extremely fun regardless.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks the engine would make a great MMO :p

I loved galaxies back in the day. I was online when the first Jedi was unlocked that was a momentous occasion.

Star Wars Galaxies... ironically also designed by (and destroyed by) Raph Koster. Sony managed to get middle-age housewives spending hours a day building communities in their MMO, then flushed it all down the toilet for the Jedi grind and chasing after CoD gamers.

The current trend in MMO-like games are basically sandbox games like UO.

The thing about MMOs is that your first great experience is going to be tough to top. Even if I tell you there are 20+ sandbox MMOs that do what UO did, it will never live up to UO for you.

I think part of it is that when UO came out it was this visual imaginary world that allowed us to do what we wanted rather than drive us in a particular direction. And even if there was a UO clone with updated graphics. It just wouldn’t be the same as that first experience we had.

I miss UO. It’s what got me into programming to begin with. I ran a shard with 250 people on at peak times called Sacred. And was GM on Alphanine, and for a short time before it died, Novus Opiate. I got into programming to make my own UO game but ended up just making software.

UO is/was pretty unique. It had poverty. Some players were so poor that they had to beg for food! Funny and depressing at the same time :)

Overpowered players were really rare (in the golden age, at least). And they were usually very famous, like celebrities. It was very very hard to improve your character's skills. The game wasn't tailored to boost your ego with custom looks and mean-looking armors and weapons - it was what it was, and that usually meant frustration.

At least for me, it was fun and unique. I don't see anything like that in the current generation of blockbuster MMO games.

It is unlikely there will ever be an MMO better than what UO was at its peak in the old days.

Those were savage days, where simply being killed and having your body cut up and looted dry was considered acceptable for an MMO. At one point even having someone steal your house key meant they could enter your entire house and loot it dry.

Another thing is the graphics. Yea everyone thinks 3D graphics are cool but 2D graphics allow for imagination to fill in the blanks more. The graphics are less literal, the less detail is shown the more your mind fills in the blanks. Your mind begins to imagine what these characters would look and sound like if they were real people.

Also consider that even the GUI in UO was often in-character, you open a bag it looks like a bag, open a backpack and it looks like a backpack. And items could be dragged anywhere and positioned however you wanted, sometimes causing a mess. Organizing your backpack was like a little mini-game within a game.

Most games these days abandon those kinds of details in favor of grids where you can neatly place items into discrete slots. Convenient, but a lost opportunity for emergent game play.

Also, text appearing above peoples heads when they speak instead of a chat window meant you always kept your focus on the world in front of you and conversations felt natural, it feels more like reading a comic book, as opposed to some instant messenger.

You’ve hit a lot of the important points. I’d add that there were very few alternatives so the ‘care bear’ players who preferred crafting were forced to be fodder for the more aggressive ‘wolf’ players.

It was an incredibly special time in video game history I’ll always cherish

It depends entirely upon how you define "better" and what you're looking for in an MMO. I've also never heard anyone accuse EVE Online of being easy for beginners.

Richard Garriott made Shroud of the Avatar, but the devs didn't hit their timelines on the Kickstarter. It never really took off. But they made it free. I played it and loved the story, but it didn't feel to have the staying power like UO did.

> Out of curiosity, has anyone made an MMO better than UO yet?

Piggybacking on this, has anyone made an open world single player RPG better than Ultima 7 yet?

Divinity: Original Sins was that game for me; everything I loved about U7, minus the annoying bits (collecting arrows, eating food every x minutes, time-of-day changes for NPCs).

And Divinity: Original Sin 2 improves on its predecessor in every way. It's the game Larian have been trying to make since their inception. Honestly, I'd recommend that new players skip straight to the sequel—you won't miss anything story-wise.

Ok, first, the answer is really no, but there have been two main attempts, in Darkfall and Mortal Online. I jumped on the Mortal Online bandwagon in beta and stuck with it for a long time, being part of one of the best guilds in game.

The bad: Unfortunately, while it had a ton of potential, there were lots of issues and eventually it just stopped being as fun. For me dealing with a red was easy, but for new players the learning curve was so steep what ended up happening was roving gangs of reds and gank guilds griefing new players into literally quitting forever. A world that was too open, so didn't feel living, despite the player impact and control. Much later players could build walls on game vital paths and completely block off areas of the world. Basically the freedom of working towards a UO system has a lot of potential weaknesses and the devs at StarVault learned all this the hard way.

The good: some amazing emergent gameplay I have yet to experience anywhere else. A crafting system that should be an inspiration to every game that has crafting. Hidden things, with not everything in a database you can just look up, guilds and people that horded info, and political intrigue and subterfuge. Really fun combat for it's time if you had a good connection. Full loot pvp. A large world that was very fun exploring (there is no in game map, I was one of the people who literally participated in a guild mapping of the continent that is still used at https://www.mortalonlinemap.info/ A large single persistent instance (no sharding).

The devs, recognizing many of the issues stemmed from complications of using UE3, are now working on Mortal Online II in the UE4 engine. I hope it goes well for them but haven't tried it yet. https://www.mortalonline2.com/

I've heard Legends of Aria has many things that UO veterans enjoyed about UO. I personally can't tell you how successful it is, given I didn't play UO.

EVE and WoW cater to very different play styles (even and especially between each other), so "better MMO" is a loaded question with a diverse number of answers depending on your intended play style and what about an MMO you are looking for.

> Out of curiosity, has anyone made an MMO better than UO yet


EVE comes close. In particular, it actually surpasses UO in many ways, like a complete player-based economy. Almost anything you could ever need or want is crafted by players. There are 'loot drops', but ones that are actually better than what players can craft are rare. And are sold in the market.

Similarly to UO, death has consequences. You lose your ship, everything on it, all cargo. There's 'insurance', but it will only pay for the 'market price' of the ship. You yourself may have paid more (but usually not less, otherwise people would build and destroy ships to claim insurance).

EVE also has skills, much like UO. Unlike UO, those are 'trained' over time, not by usage. But there are no 'levels' and for the most part there aren't any ships which are 'better' for any role. An unprepared battleship can be destroyed by a couple of fast moving frigates that cost a tiny fraction of resources and skills to pilot. One that's fitted against small fighters will suck against other battleships, and so on.

Like Ultima Online, movement is very important in combat. In EVE, even more so, due to gun tracking(and how missile explosions work). This is the main reason why the battleship scenario above works.

EVE also has forms of 'housing', as in player made starbases, corporation offices and apparently stations now.

EVE has consumables. Other than laser-based weaponry (mostly Amarr), you have to buy ammo. Like casting spells in UO requires reagents. WoW has very little consumables, and you certainly can cast spells all day long.

It also has a very 'lawless' world. Some systems have no security response at all, others will have delayed response depending on the security rating. Just like UO, if someone really wants to kill you they can, although there may be consequences.

Unlike UO, there are no 'shards'. Everyone is on the same server (or more specific, cluster). Even 'instancing' (used for NPC missions) is part of the universe, you can join the instance if you have the location(or can scan).

So, EVE has very deep and detailed systems, to the point that people used to call it 'spreadsheets in space'. But I can't directly compare it with Ultima Online – mostly because they are quite different games, thematically. One is a fantasy world full with dragons and spells. The other is a very futuristic and highly advanced space game.

WoW... is entertaining. Has amazing and detailed lore (although EVE's is good, it's not even in the same league). Locations can be such an eye candy. Even boring 'collect item' quests can be very entertaining.

Have I mentioned how quests can be entertaining? Because there are some incredible ones.

World of Warcraft also has 'classes'. Which is again a completely different philosophy from either UO or even EVE. Take a Mage. Maybe it will be specialized as a 'frost' mage. No matter, two frost mages at the same level will have the exact same skills and spells. Equipment may change, but it is not like they will have a bow, they will just have different stats.

But WoW suffers from a very simplistic gameplay. You have 'levels' – which will immediately set it apart from Ultima Online. You have also lots of skills. Using them effectively and timing them is important, but in the end it's just about selecting a target and pressing a few function keys(this is actually something that it has in common with EVE, except for the role of movement and position in EVE).

Death is essentially meaningless in WoW. You don't lose any items. You may have to pay repair, but that's it. Compare to UO: you drop everything you are carrying – you can try to get it back, but someone (or something) may get to your corpse before then. Or EVE, you lose your ship, items, equipment and even skills if you can't GTFO with your pod and forgot to update your clone. PVP in either UO or EVE is much more of an experience than WoW. And in either game you won't necessarily have a level 100 one-shotting a level 10 character.

Ok, this is already too long, but I could contrast even further. But WoW is more popular for a reason: one can log in, start a queue for a dungeon, go complete some quests and have _guaranteed progression_. While on EVE, there were a few days where I logged in and got incredibly lucky, but in other days I wished I didn't login, as things went very badly. Similarly on Ultima Online. On both, you learn a few rules: trust noone, don't carry(or fly) what you can't afford to lose, etc.

I'm keeping an eye on the likes of Ark, they might be onto something. I still think that good MMORPG games will have to develop a mostly player-based economy if they want to stay relevant long term.

Thanks for this, super well explained. I would love to try EVE, other than, you know, the fact that it would destroy my life. But yeah.

I'm of the honest opinion that no game ever made truly lives up to the potential of the MMORPG. Of a virtual, persistent, shared world. It's quite sad. UO and Star Wars Galaxies probably came the closest.

It's really hard to strike the balance between giving players ultimate freedom to make a permanent mark on the world and providing a fun experience for new players, especially if you are trying to avoid pushing new players way out into the wilderness where they will never see anybody.

Ultimately players want to interact with other friendly players, but that's impossible because some players will be assholes and will try their hardest to make life miserable for your new players. If your have wide open PvP you have roving gank squads.

Albion Online is a lot like UO.

I've played it a bit. The core mechanics was spot on but it ended up a soulless copy of what UO was. Procedurally generated levels and instances just took away any resemblance of a story for me.

Absolutely. EVE today is a much better MMO than UO ever was. Of course, the space setting is a hard sell for those who are looking for a game with the all the Tolkien trappings of old school RPGs, but as an MMO it is the most sophisticated game available today and is unparalleled in terms of how player driven behavior impacts the game world. Most notably Eve has managed to succeed in keeping veteran players satisfied while also providing a path for new players to have a meaningful impact on the game world. This is a major problem WoW was never able to overcome despite its commercial success and has instead relied on periodic invalidation of veteran player progress every 8 to 16 months to keep things fresh (a well-worn strategy for most blizzard games).

edit: tough crowd, I'd be interested in the details of the dissenting opinions

Cool. What sort of "path for new players to have a meaningful impact on the game world" does EVE provide?

Almost all MMOs gate content in the form of linear "levels" which essentially function like a several-dozen hour tutorial until the player grinds to the point of "max level" so that they can then begin to participate in "end game" content. In EVE, player progress isn't so narrowly constrained or defined in terms of an aggregate statistic, rather, player skills can be trained automatically over time without grinding and, similar to the golden era of UO, player skills function in the game with respect to their individual utility rather than as a function of player level. This means new players can target specific skills based on how they want to play the game rather than picking the skills that facilitate the most efficient grind to max level, after which they reset all their skills and reallocate them with respect to the "real" game. Thus new players begin to experience the "real game" early on without having to grind through 30 hours of cookie-cutter content before the "real game" begins.

The combat systems has small inexpensive ships which move too fast to be hit by large ships. This means that a frigate may take on tasks in a larger fight like electronic warfare, tackling (slows down the enemy movement so they can be hit better), scouting, stealth torpedo bombing, blockade running, etc...

You could build a disposable destroy, which can be a very high damage ship and engage in combat that way. You'd have a very low chance of surviving a particular fight, but you can go out guns blazing as part of a team.

Or you go solo with a small fast ship, tackle a big ship and slowly whittle it down while it can't hit you due to speed.

Maybe you just start mining in deep space or haul goods between a couple points while you chill.

It really is a sandbox game -- the end goal is what you make it to be. I played several years and the big scale politics was more background noise of the game and may as well been NPC's and backstory.

The point being, you can get in there and either solo or grouped begin immediately carving out your niche.

There is no ultimate class. If you want to fly a titan (monstrously large ship), it will not only take years of training your character and insane amounts of in game money/resources, you need fleet support. A lone capital ship without support is a target, not something which rampages through the game on it's own.

In the end it probably comes down to more player skill at a few tasks and good decision making for what to scout/where to go. It will be more about the player getting smarter about the game than training the character itself. You train the character to help accomplish what you want to do as a player. Switching between different tasks can range from a week or two up to months/years to max something out. But a character is typically perfectly capable far quicker than the player is.

I can only think of joining alliances. Alliances with thousands of players and immense military power have been brought down by single individuals before(or crippled by spies).

Ugh. Lots of nostalgic views here made fonder through absence I think.

UO sucked was amazing but it sucked. I can't recall how many empty dungeons we walked through, only to get to the treasure room filled with gold? No. Filled with other players. All just camping out, waiting for loot to drop. In fact it would be true to say I can only recall such dungeons. And then the Lich would respawn and all the n00bs would shit themselves while someone else killed it, and then everyone frantically trashed the place looking for loot like an FBI raid at the drug dealer's girlfriend's place.

Honestly it was so utterly pointless to try to "play the game" that my friend and I actually indulged (I am ashamed to say) in some naked griefing. Which is to say, the only fun we had was in trying to figure out the games state machines, i.e. to goad people into killing us such that we could get the guards to kill them. How it works: stand outside a town. Be offensive. Wait till someone attacks you. Run into town. Yell "Guards! Guards!". Guard appears and kills aggressor. Take all his stuff. There were various iterations of this that Raph Koster actually wrote up [1], and it was fun. For us. Neither my friend nor I are actually assholes, and only resorted to this because it was literally the only "game" present in the entire system. We'd paid for a game, we rationalized, and by golly we were going to find one. Ok, we probably were just entitled assholes. Perhaps it got better later, but we'd gone by then. [Naked griefing, because every now and again we'd grief a wizard and they'd freeze us in place and then kill us. But we were naked. Didn't even lose a shoe.]

There was also "The Great Unused!" which we had "fun" with for a while. This was an item that was called "Unused", and its icon was a photoshop lens flare. It also weighed 255, the max amount. So you couldn't move if you were carrying it. So my friend and I spent hours standing next to it, picking it up, and then dropping it on the other side, moving it two squares at a time, leapfrogging each other. We could put it on a boat (much to our relief, as we'd been lugging it for an hour by that point) and managed to bring it from a far island back to "town". Where upon, we tried to start a cult to worship "The Great Unused!" People tried to steal it, by picking it up, and we would laugh as they ran in place for an unreasonably long time (some people are just so determined), but eventually they would drop it. It didn't catch on.

Now Raph's first go at Star Wars Galaxies I really enjoyed. I couldn't play very often, and yet I could still be useful, even as my friends leveled far ahead of me. I played a medic, and sometimes my heal would be the thing that saved someone from death and a long walk back. Most MMOs (that I played), once your friends are four levels ahead of you, you don't get any experience points at all if you join their party.

So UO was a great starting point, and very smart, very passionate people have made significantly better games, learning every time.

[1] https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RaphKoster/20180627/320893/A...

Richard Garriott discusses a similar problem with UO's virtual ecology in the Ars Technica "War Stories" interview. UO had a virtual ecology system that tried to balance carnivores, herbivores, and plants. When the game opened, to the designers' surprise, players slaughtered all animal life across the land.


They didn't know about Checkhov's gun [1]:

>Checkhov's gun is a dramatic principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed. Elements should not appear to make "false promises" by never coming into play.

If you put it in a game, and we can kill it, then we will kill it because we will assume that there must be some reason for us to kill it, otherwise it would not be here.

Shigeru Miyamoto understands this. In Super Mario 64 there is a star that you "can't" get. You can see that there is no other way to get it other than somehow jumping "really high". There is also an infinite heart to restore health as many times as you need. Why is it here? As you start trying every combination of jump, sometimes you fall far enough to take damage. The heart is there to tell you to keep going! If you do, you get a star, and you learn the wall jump.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov%27s_gun

I'm an English major -- of course we knew about Chekhov's gun. :)

You may want to check here regarding that particular article/video: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18749793

Oh hey man! Sorry to bag on your game. But it did really bum us out, and that's genuine emotion I'm writing there. I could perhaps have been less of a bitch about it.

It's definitively not the same genre but Shores of Hazeron was an empire building MMO where you start as a simple caveman on a random planet in a fully procedurally generated universe and you are supposed to create a city from scratch and figure out space travel. Colonize other planets or moons in your solar system to create a FTL drive and then fight other empires. It looks awful and the developer made some questionable decisions but hey it was just a one man show. Nowadays the closest spiritual successor is No Mans Sky. Huge procedurally generated universe. Check. Randomly generated animals. Check. Spacecraft with combat and seamless transition from planet to space. Check. The ability to create your own spacecraft designs? Nope. The ability to actually do interesting things with the planets like build a colony on them? Nope. Massive multiplayer? Hell no.

No mans sky is just eye candy. Imagine the benefits of reaching the center of the galaxy and thereby being teleported to a completely different one if you could colonize that new galaxy! You'd have a massive edge over the other empires. The reality is that all universes and planets in no mans sky are functionally the same. You can stop playing as soon as you see your first planet and nobody could claim that you didn't see everything the game had to offer.

What is "better"

Of course they are better. Better mechanics, graphics, economies that work.

I haven't really noticed any game with working economies beyond EVE -- at least in the sense that they actually integrate with the rest of the game universe, and aren't simply an ad-hoc bartering system driven by drop-rates conducted purely between players, because the intentional economy (eg driven by gold/currency) has entirely fallen apart as a result of developers never quite understanding that infinite gold generation infinitely inflates to the point that $currency is entirely worthless.

EVE is the only current MMO I can think of which realizes that destroying value is also important having a functional economy, and creating those interesting economically-based dynamics

Elder Scrolls Online has also done one of the best jobs at keeping the economy running well out of any MMORPG I've played. They have a pretty ingenious way of destroying gold to keep the economy from inflating. Basically the only viable way to sell things in the game is to get a guild trader. There are a limited number of them in the game, and not all are equal. Guild traders in main cities for example get 100x the player traffic as traders in the middle of nowhere.

So there is a lot of competition to get a good guild trader, and guilds all bid large sums of gold to try to get a good trader. The winning bid for a trader gets the trader for 1 week, and the gold spent on the winning bid is destroyed. So it turns into a self balancing system, because if there is too much gold in the economy then the guild trader bids go up really high and take lots of gold out of the economy every week. If there is not enough gold in the economy then it isn't viable to make such a large bid on the guild trader, as you won't have any chance of making enough money back to justify the large bid, so bids go down and more money stays in the economy.

My only gripe about the ESO method is it locks all non-guild players out of placing things on the auction house, but otherwise you're dead on.

There are some MMOs that only allow players to trade with premium currency. It's a pretty neat idea because it means everyone can get access to cash shop items. It also avoids currency inflation problems because the currency isn't created out of thin air by killing monsters, selling items to NPCs or completing quests.

Have any MMOs actually put their economies on the blockchain yet though? I know people have been talking about this for years, but I haven't heard anyone talking about it actually happening yet.

Why would anyone do that? I don't see neither a gameplay advantage for doing that, nor a technological one. Is there any applications that could take advantage of that which I am missing?

Without items being registered on the blockchain, there is no way to know how rare or common something actually is, so there is no way to accurately price it. So everything from weapons and armor to gold, ore, reagents, crafting supplies, furniture, housing, etc. Without items being registered on a blockchain, sure you can have gamers throwing down $20 bucks here and there, but you're never going to have university endowments and state pension funds allocating some of their investments into virtual items.

> Without items being registered on a blockchain, sure you can have gamers throwing down $20 bucks here and there, but you're never going to have university endowments and state pension funds allocating some of their investments into virtual items.

It's at this point I'm assuming you're being bitter and trolling.

How is a pension fund investing in WoW diamonds any different than a pension fund investing in a diamond mine in real life? The only difference is that in real life there is a predetermined (albeit not entirely knowable) difficulty function, whereas in WoW the company that makes the game can just decide to mint however many they want overnight. But if you can use technology to preclude the latter from happening, the suddenly there is zero difference.

Sure a better game could come out and the value of items could come down, but that isn't really any different than if people in real life decided they just liked garnets instead of diamonds or whatever. And presumably as Moore's Law slows down, winning games will stay in the front runner position for longer.

From a pension fund's perspective, you're basically just finding something that a small number of people love passionately and then hoping that as more people learn about that thing, the value of everything connected to the ecosystem increases. That doesn't really seem any different than investing in a social network like Facebook or whatever, which clearly pension funds already do (usually by allocating a small portion of their funds into VC, although sometimes directly).

"How is a pension fund investing in WoW diamonds any different than a pension fund investing in a diamond mine in real life?"


Since I can see it coming, the fact that real-world assets have a non-zero volatility does not mean that the level of volatility in virtual assets isn't a difference in quality and not merely quantity.

What happens to your WoW diamond's investments when the next Wow expansion brings out UltraDiamonds and the latest shiny hot BiggerNumbersThanLastTime weapons and armor can only be bought with those? Again, the fact that this occasionally happens in the real world still has nothing with the routine nature of this sort of thing in the virtual.

Only an idiot would invest in Wow diamonds. Put your money into buying stock in the company running WoW instead.

> What happens to your WoW diamond's investments when the next Wow expansion brings out UltraDiamonds and the latest shiny hot BiggerNumbersThanLastTime weapons and armor can only be bought with those?

Well that's the beauty of the blockchain. You just have a contract in place saying that weapons and armor can only get X% more powerful each year, so that way there is a fixed amount of inflation.

Even if what you said is real the game itself wouldn't actually run on the blockchain as a smart contract.

Cryptokitties is a testament to how pathetic the blockchain is as a platform for complicated games. The fact that possessing a hash representing the genome of a cat is enough to qualify as a game is laughable. I've played lots of highly simplified games that involved breeding animals and optimizing for specific traits and what cryptokitties offered was just one mechanic in an entire system consisting of dozens of interacting mechanics and MMOs like WOW go way beyond a dozen mechanics.

> Cryptokitties is a testament to how pathetic the blockchain is as a platform for complicated games.

I don't think anyone is arguing that DLT, as it currently stands, is a complete piece of shit. But that doesn't mean that no progress will be made over the next 30 years. Especially since registering and tracking virtual items is pretty much the perfect use case for DLT.

You're advocating buying shitty imaginary beanie babies as an retirement strategy.

You're too deep, there isn't any way we can convince you of the foolishness you're spouting.

But that's not how video games work. I get it, you're passionate about blockchain, but you'd make a suuppper boring video game. You need players in order for this economy to exist.

The workforce for WoW is entirely optional, and applying real world economic forces to it would be a great way to kill it. How would these items be generated in game? If it's CPU power, you're describing bitcoin, it's not player interaction, there's no in game mining required, and if there is, now you're wasting someone's time and CPU for something that's going to quickly stop being fun.

You could still tie it to player interaction, so some loose combination of player skill and time spent in game. Don't these games already try really hard to prevent botting?

They do, though it's a constant arms race.

Is the idea that the company is just doling out items? An artificial scarcity? Doesn't that make the market super untrustworthy if they could flood it at any time? You can't do traditional coin mining as that would remove the effort from the gameplay.

Yeah, I don't really think this is a hot idea but just playing devil's advocate. You could make versions of the same argument for de Beers and diamonds, but I suppose pension funds don't invest in diamonds.

This is very classic solution-in-search-of-a-problem thinking. Its prevalence in the cryptocurrency and blockchain communities is why I'm extremely bearish on both.

I want to invest money into games, but I can't. Other people want to get paid to play games, but they can't. How exactly is that not a real problem?

> Without items being registered on a blockchain, sure you can have gamers throwing down $20 bucks here and there, but you're never going to have university endowments and state pension funds allocating some of their investments into virtual items.

Why is it a problem that university endowments and state pension funds aren't allocating some of their investments into virtual items? It's not.

> I want to invest money into games, but I can't. Other people want to get paid to play games, but they can't. How exactly is that not a real problem?

You can already invest money into games and/or get paid to play games via a variety of methods. It seems like you're shoehorning the blockchain into the equation unnecessarily.

Besides, solution-in-search-of-a-problem doesn't mean you're failing to target real problems. It means you came up with your solution first before analyzing the specific problems you're now trying to apply it to. That's almost always inferior to starting with the problem and then working backwards to craft the perfect bespoke solution.

Almost all of the problems that blockchain obsessives point out are either (a) trivial problems that few people care about, or (b) are better solved without needing a blockchain.

> I want to invest money into games

You can. There are several publicly traded publishers and developers.

> Other people want to get paid to play games, but they can't.

They can. Just look at twitch or the pro-gaming scene.

You can easily go invest in Eve. Godspeed.

Is it easy to convert the money back into cash? I remember PLEX (and WoW now has a similar token among many others), but I swear it was a one way conversion, though there was monetary value in playing for free.

> Without items being registered on the blockchain, there is no way to know how rare or common something actually is, so there is no way to accurately price it.

What? You price them the same way you price them in the real world: domain knowledge and data.

EVE in particular has charts that tell you historical transaction amounts and volume.

Imagine how many people would want to play an MMO where the loot tables are determined by what return they give to a bunch of boomers who have probably never even heard of the game.

Currently the incentive structure is to make a gaming offering compelling (addicting?) enough to justify a monthly subscription. If you create a two way value transfer for money/virtual items with legitimate institutions you're going to completely fuck the incentive structure. Imagine what happened with the Diablo real money auction house except now the scalpers are pension and hedge fund managers.

> Imagine how many people would want to play an MMO where the loot tables are determined by what return they give to a bunch of boomers who have probably never even heard of the game.

How is that any different than, say, these people looking for diamonds in Crater of Diamonds State Park? I'm linking to this specific guy because he describes it well: "It's a lottery ticket with exercise."


Similarly, Facebook decides what content to show you based on what's profitable for investors. But for whatever problems Facebook has, it's still much more widely used than any competitors run by non-profits or whatever.

who in the whole world wants their state pension funds to be stored in WoW items?

This was discussed by one of the game's creators in the Ultima Online episode of Ars Techica's War Stories (around the 5:10 mark) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFNxJVTJleE

I always assumed MMO shards came from database literature. My mind is blown if it's the other way around. Though not the first time gamedev is at the edge.

Garriot talks about this in the documentary "Get Lamp!", which is about the history adventure games. He talks about the challenges of maintaining a huge MMO, especially how they were broadsided by the challenges of managing an economy because everyone was so greedy. He mentions how the admins came to work one day to find that players had killed every living thing on the planet and could no longer generate income. Kinda like a miniature "dark forest" theory.

Computer games work best with numbers, so RPGs end up being about numbers. So, naturally, people try to min-max because 1) it's something to do 2) you progress that way 3) you can show off to others. Maybe a child would be hesitant to kill a video game creature, but it seems like, since pretty much every video game lets you do violent things, that taboo against violence is erased very quickly. So, all these combine to, what looks like to people who don't play games, a propensity to kill en masse.

It's a shadow of the same situation one encounters in an abbatoir. Maybe killing the first few animals makes you feel terrible, but you get out of it quickly. The human ability to adapt to any circumstance has this disturbing side to it, too.

Which is ironic given the nature of U4 and it's moral system. That game REALLY floored me the summer I spent playing it (literally the entire summer, it was before I was old enough to get a job).

> RPGs end up being about numbers.

For me, this was the final, sad conclusion to computer-based RPGs after nearly 40 years playing them.

In tabletop D&D, a +1 sword is a rarity, and +2 is super special; magic users focused more on creativity because the cost to the caster for Lvl9 spells (if you ever got there, which was never in real games) was prohibitive to use them on a regular basis (memorization, physical aging). In fact, the level tables in AD&D stopped around 10 or 12 I think because that much XP simply didn't happen. Computer RPGs turned it all into numbers games, as you can see in WoW where the top tier armor today has stats like +30,000 attribute, when in the first release, top T3 geat from C'thon was like, +50 key attribute per piece.

Am I ranting? I'm ranting.

A lower variance in peak skills/weapons is a good way to go. Then, you could feasibly have tons of weapon types, with each player picking the type they like. I, personally, have always been partial to the rogue archetype, especially dual-wielding fast weapons. I'd love to play that way. But in some games, like Path of Exile for most of its existence, it's just not in the meta. I'd love to be competitive, even 5-10% below the top tier, if my favorite playstyle was possible. In PoE, you'd be like at 20% of the best builds if you played that way.

Plus, in DnD you have a lot more scope for actually creatively role-playing if skills and gear were less numericized.

> In tabletop D&D, a +1 sword is a rarity, and +2 is super special; magic users focused more on creativity

There were some "low magic" NWN persistent worlds that followed a similar approach, some to the point of not just nerfing, but outright disabling many higher-level spells.

Generally speaking, this was dictated by the setting - e.g. a lore-faithful Middle Earth PW would necessarily be like that.

In Cataclysm DDA you can kill zombie children and it will decrease your sanity. That might sound like an interesting mechanic until you see a run down school and are flooded with zombie children. Your best option is to just burn the whole place down so that you don't have to see the children die again.

Meanwhile in Ragnarok Online special items like "cards" had a 0.01% drop chance. Without a large player base that kills monsters over and over again, those items would never drop.

Oh man and those are common cards!

There's the rare cards that can sell for more than 10K USD and have more of a 0.000001% chance.

It seems that SHARD is a term used already in 1988, meaning "System for Highly Available Replicated Data"

Source: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cluster=14914487445955020...

As I pointed out a while back (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22974882), the "SHARD" system described in that paper didn't actually have anything to do with "sharding" as the term is currently used. It was designed to replicate data, but it didn't do any kind of partitioning; each replica stored a copy of the entire dataset.

For that reason (in addition to the low number of citations), I think it's very likely that the name is a total coincidence. Pretty much any word you can think of has been used by somebody as an acronym for some project.

I'm the person you replied to in that thread, and in support of your point: after that discussion, I spent some time crawling through the proceedings of Very Large Databases (VLDB) and the ACM Digital Library, and I could find no instances of "shard" used to mean the partitioning of a database prior to 2001. (That paper is "Minerva: An automated resource provisioning tool for large-scale storage systems" in Transactions on Computer Systems, free-to-read at https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/502912.502915.)

Other the other hand, I found many papers citing the SHARD paper - more than the official count. That's a difficulty with citation counts of old papers: a lot of the papers citing it are also old papers, and we're not consistent at tracking the citations of old papers. Personally, I don't have a conclusion. The SHARD paper is decently cited, and its usage is close to the modern one. On the other hand, I can't find any smoking gun pre-1997 usage of "shard" in the modern meaning.

Interesting, thanks for putting a lot more effort into answering this question than I did!

While interesting I don’t think this old paper led to the popularization of the term. It only has 12 citations!

Looking at a single academic paper's citation count won't reveal much about a term's historical currency.

For example, there are also papers in Google Scholar (findable via query [database shard], through 1987) mentioning this same SHARD system in 1986 and 1987, with 33 and 97 citations respectively. And further, there's a 1986 MIT technical note that mentions a commercially-in-development version of this SHARD system, but refers back to a 1985 paper, "System architecture for partition-tolerant distributed databases", as an authoritative source about SHARD – though that 1985 paper doesn't declare the name SHARD.

That's suggestive that SHARD was adopted as a catchy name for that particular work around 1985-1986, then becoming more widespread in the 1986-1988 timeframe.

But perhaps more interesting: that original 1985 paper mentions in its acknowledgements Hector Garcia-Molina – a definite 'hub' person in databases/indexing/networked-information for decades, among many other things Google cofounder Sergey Brin's advisor at Stanford from 1993-1997. (See: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A9ctor_Garc%C3%ADa-Molina...)

So it's likely safe to assume that from the late 80s into the 90s, top CS students/researchers around the world discussing partitioned distributed databases would often have this particular sense of SHARD mentioned to them, or appear in their readings.

Notably, that 1985 SHARD involved a system where each replica contained the entire database – so did not capture the modern connotations of 'shard', as horizontal partitions. But that vivid & apropos analogy was "in the air" around partitioned/distributed databases.

Thus I'd strongly suspect uses in the modern, non-overlapping sense in that same era, likely predating Ultima Online's 1996ish use. (I'd especially look around precursor work to the 1997 'Consistent Hashing' paper, & other caching-centric work – because there the idea of partition-by-key was central.)

So UO might have devised, but I'd guess more likely popularized, our modern sense of 'sharding'.

It's interesting to learn more about the history here. When UO came out and used the shards concept I just assumed it was a callback to 1988's Ultima 5 and the shards of Mondain's gem. Linguistic history sure is blurry and organic!

It was exactly that, a callback. In fact, the game opening cinematic recounted the story.

Google mentions sharding in a 2005 patent. https://patents.google.com/patent/WO2007011957A2

http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2009/01/sharding-for-st... notes the term in use within Google by 2003.

I worked at Google 2001-2006 and we definitely talked about "database shards", particularly for the AdWords MySQL database. (this architecture has long, long since changed). At least from 2002, and the database was partitioned far before that. I remember at the time thinking the term "shard" was odd but perhaps Ultima Online inspired.

I'm curious now about the history of database partitioning. So much of the early work was about trying to hide the partitions, to pretend it was all one big reliable system. It took awhile for folks to realize that was foolish.

This 2009 reminiscence discusses the term’s use in the UO context in 1996, so 2003-2005 mentions don’t affect the author’s conjecture at all.

(I’d guess there are uses of ‘sharding’/‘shards’ in this sense from much earlier, perhaps decades earlier, database/caching work, but I could be wrong.)

Probably some UO players at Google then - UO was old by 2003.

This comes up from time to time. Here is a Twitter thread with some more links about the various usages of "shard" in the context of early internet and gaming services, including Ultima Online (UO), other early MMORPGs, and even MUDs.


Everyone just called them "servers." Not shards.

In the year 2000, my (telnet + MCP & MCCP & other acronyms-supporting) C-based MUD boasted a _web_ interface.

With colors, buttons to move, and even _images_.

A web request is just a TCP socket, and browsers were gracious enough to start displaying stuff as soon as it came in (so long as tags were properly closed). So long as you sent stuff fairly routinely, the connection wouldn't be closed.

Frames helped... well, "frame" the interface: main frame would be the mud's output; another frame for user input - both using a shared "key" to ensure output and input were linked to the same user.

Users' input could therefore easily just be sent on another web request, checked for key correspondance, and the command ran as if the user input the same command via telnet: action -> response.

A sprinkle of that new-fangled JavaScript helped ensure the screen would scroll properly as soon as new output came by.

Having previously abstracted all color-related stuff (to ensure strings like "&WFoo&GBar&X" would send ANSI colours to users opting-in to them, and nothing to users opting out of them) meant that it was "easy" to send "<span color='white'>Foo</span><span color='green'>Bar</span>" to the HTML interface instead.

Websockets? We don't need no stinkin' websockets! _really long_ polling suffices ;)

I hadn't ever heard of the term "sharding", but the team I was on was "partitioning" databases in the early 2000's (effectively sharding at the table level so that we could drop table instead of deleting rows).

So my understanding is that there is are practical differences between a partition and a shard. They both are ways to stored separately, based on the partition key. But a partitioned table has one table, while a shard uses multiple tables which share the same schema.

For example, with a partitioned database, you might have a single `transaction` table, partitioned by date, but with a shard database, you'd have multiple `transaction_${date}` tables which needed to be queried from, but they'd share a common schema.

Last time I did partitioning by date in postgres (on postgres 9.?), multiple transaction_${date} tables is exactly what I got.

They are exposed as a single 'transaction' table but they were really different physical tables.

My understanding is that partitioning is a more general term. Partitioning can be on one or multiple servers. Sharding is a type of partitioning that is always across multiple servers.

queue in "stones theme" of the login screen and nostalgic goosebumps... The article is quite old though - maybe someone from HN can provide clues for this interesting coincedence ^^

I've made people go back to UO just by playing Stones. I'm not sure what's up with that song.

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