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FEATURE: The Day Lord British Died

The recent news that Richard Garriott is again thinking of making a fantasy MMO – a return to his gaming roots – got my editor Jonah Falcon thinking, and he then got me thinking.

Thinking about a lost piece of MMO, actually gaming, history – it’s easy to forget now, amidst a sea of popular MMORPGs, just how revolutionary the genre is. It is also easy to forget that the genre didn’t start with World of Warcraft, it didn’t even start with EverQuest. No, MMORPGs started more than a decade a go back in 1997 with Ultima Online and Richard Garriott. iD Software originally pioneered on-line gaming with Doom 2 and then the Quake series, but computer RPGs were slow to follow their action counterparts into phone lines and then onto the still nascent Internet. It was Richard Garriott and his company Origin that moved RPGs onto the Internet with the Ultima Online, a spin-off of his popular Ultima series of computer RPGs, that largely stand as the exemplar for CRPGs even today.

It is hard to grasp today, when we’re all wired into the Internet all the time, through our computers, mobiles, GPS units, etc. How mindblowing the idea of a persistent multiplayer game was back in 1997; there had been other attempts at such a game but not with the graphics and game play that UO was offering. The game won numerous industry awards as well as 8 world records from the Guinness Book of World Records. All these accolades came out of a long series of testing. Origin began the game back in 1995 and the game was first shown at E3 in 1996. Origin invited gamers to join the alpha and beta tests of the game, and droves did. During late beta testing while Origin was stress testing their servers, the unthinkable happened. Near the end of the beta testing, Richard Garriott, as Lord British, began touring the servers with other famous Ultima characters to thank all the testers for their hard work. It was in one of these in-game meetings that a player managed to kill Lord British.

It goes without saying that the creator of the game’s avatar is supposed to be indestructible. In fact, Richard Garriott had always been extra-vigilant in making sure that Lord British could not be killed in any of the Ultima games. Gamers intent on doing the unthinkable have been able to find ways to kill the Immortal Lord British. For example, in Ultima III, the Lord British was invincible to players, but a gamer could get British to chase this character to the docks and there use cannons to kill the Lord! In this case, what happened was a player, who had previously butted heads with Origin over his gameplay, managed to steal a scroll of fire field scroll from a nearby player and use it on Lord British, never thinking he’d be able to kill the the character and then sitting there dumbfounded when he did! The player, “Rainz” re-tells the events in his own words:

The servers had just been taken down to prepare for the huge influx of players for the speech Lord British and Lord Blackthorne were giving throughout Britannia. When the servers came back up, I strolled through Britain with Helios, my fellow guild member. We headed to Blackthorne’s castle where the first speech was being given. 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.

According to Origin and Richard Garriott, the incident was simply own of human error. After a server crash Garriott had simply forgotten to set his invulnerability flag on when he logged on to the server. “Rainz” was shortly banned after the event from the beta though Origin stated that it was not for assassination of Lord British, but rather previous complaints from other gamers who’d had been the victim of an exploit “Rainz” had found, and failed to report to Origin. The event made headlines in industry magazines and made “Rainz” a hero amongst on-line gamers!

Ultima Online went on to great success reaching over 100,000 paid subscriptions in six months and reached over 250,000 paid users before Everquest and Asheron’s Call began stealing users from the game. The game is still around, home to a small but rabid fanbase. UO recently was overhauled from the ground up and has a “newer” look while still retaining its 2d gameplay. EA currently markets it as an MMORPG for those with low-end PCs.

(Sources: Wikipedia and Ultima Online Travelogues.)

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    29 Responses to “FEATURE: The Day Lord British Died”

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    1. Shreddi Says:

      Oh please. Like all brits this guy has an ego like non other. Why did he quit Tabula Rasa when it got tough. It was a good game and should have let the public take over rather than ditch it. Ya dont be a quiter on your team when things get a little tough. What we dont need is another fantasy MMO. By the way what has england contibuted to the world beside over inflated egos? Not cars, tech, art, even their beer sucks. Give me a break.

    2. Jonah Falcon Says:

      Richard Garriott’s not a Brit.

    3. Razimus Says:

      I was there the day Rainz killed LB, at Blackthorn’s castle, 99% of the population was at British’s castle but a select few got to witness the royal PK, I took 1 screenshot of it, it’s on the web, some idiots took off the list from wiki but I was Dr. Pepper (periods were allowed back then), Mental was there as well as others I can’t remember thanx to the wiki nazis. — Razimus aka Dr Pepper Dragon UDIC aka Lord Perivolcanae Ze of The Millionth Council

      Uhm Jonah, yes Garriott is originally a Brit check his wiki page sometime.

    4. Gonsiah Says:

      @Shreddi : The brits have contributed nothing to the world – aside from aston martins, jaguars, range rovers (ie, a car industry that isent down the crapper). Not to mention steam engines, submarines, the gas mask, light bulbs, the television, the radio, the jet engine,the internet, the mp3 player, the telescope,refrigeraters, the tank, celluliod (movies), radar,viagra, seismographs…and not to mention the basis of our entire culture. Lord British, on the other hand, has contributed nothing to this world but a series of hysterically terrible experements in auto-fellatio.

    5. Michael Says:

      @ Gonsiah:
      Hmmm, you should do a little fact checking.
      Steam Engine: Commercialized by Denis Papin, French

      Submarine: Invented by Cornelius Drebbel, Dutch

      Gas Mask: First commercialized by Lewis Haslett, American

      Light Bulb: First created by Humphry Davy, Swiss. The first permanent filament bulb was Thomas Edison of course.

      I’m not sure that any of the inventions that you listed are British at all, except those rather shitty cars.

    6. Jonah Falcon Says:

      Television: Philo Farnsworth, American

      Radio: Guglielmo Marconi, Italian or Julio Cervera Baviera, Spain, depending on who you ask.

      Celluloid: The Hyatt Brothers, American (though a Brit named Daniel Spill tried to take credit and failed)

      And so on.

    7. Jon Newbury Says:

      I’m not explaining the below. If you disagree, you are wrong – visit your local library.

      Internet (World-Wide-Web): Tim Berners-Lee (British)

      Jet Engine (Gas turbine): John Barber (British)

      Industrial Steam Engine (Condenser and rotary motion): James Watt (British)

      Television (Monochromatic moving images and ‘phonovision’): John Logie Baird (British)

      Radio (Audio Signal Detection): David E. Hughes (British)

      Celluloid (Bulking material application): Alexander Parkes (British)

      Submarine (Navigable submersible design): William Bourne (British)

      Light Bulb (Incandescent light): Humphry Davy (British)

    8. Jonathan Says:

      The World Wide Web isn’t the Internet, it’s just one layer on top of the Internet. The Net was ‘invented’ decades prior to the WWW. That’s a pretty obvious fact.

      Berners Lee didn’t invent the WWW either, he invented the Hyper Text Markup Language, and played an important role in the combination of technologies that resulted in the modern version of the WWW. But the reality is, there were a dozen pioneers before Berners Lee that came up with the concepts for the HTTP protocol decades before him.

    9. Five Reasons Why SWOR Is A High Risk MMO: #4 The Story Pillar’s Strength May Not Pass The Building Code « Vicarious Existence Says:

      [...] anything to do. The true stories emerge from player developments: Ultima Online is better known for what its players did than whatever story lines the devs came up with, while EvE’s most important stories arise [...]

    10. uehjrheriuhiwheruh Says:

      You’re all a bunch of nerds, why not settle this through fists? Nerds.

    11. Andrew the Great Says:

      My understanding is that he didn’t “leave Tabula Rasa” he was kicked off the board, i.e. fired, while he was in space promoting the game. Either way, I think anyone who has ever enjoyed a modern day rpg or mmorpg owes him his due of respect.

      What he did better than anyone else before or else, in my opinion, is make the boundaries and limitations to his game very obscure. I played UO during the Renaissance expansion and I remember thinking that I could do virtually anything on the game.

      Now, I was only 15 or 16 at the time, but I have yet to play an mmorpg that has given me anything close to that. The exception to that is EVE online, but that has less to do with making boundaries obscure and more to do with a hell of a lot of itmes and skills and skill training time.

      On another note, the direction he was going with Tabula Rasa and Ultima Online 2 he was trying to do in the early 00′s would suggest to me he will work on a sci fi or more tech fantasy rpg next. I feel comfortable saying that I speak for most of the people who enjoy his work when I say that I hope he gets the rights back from EA or Mythic (whoever the hell owns them now) and does make another Ultima game.

      He seems a bit eccentric to me on a personal level, but I don’t want to be his friend, I want to pay to play his games.

      When Garriot leaves his games they turn to shit. I mean Tabula Rasa flat out died, but look at Ultima IX and the latest expansion to UO. The horse died when Garriot left, and I wish they would stop beating it.

      Yes, I know there are still 75,000 people playing UO. Unfortunately, with the internet being what it is these days, you could convince 75,000 people to kill themselves because Justin Bieber got a haircut. It is entirely possible to get 10 million people on an mmorpg now, and it’s time Richard Garriot starting taking his fanbase back. I’ve got my Visa card ready.

    12. Cockney Slang Says:

      I find it amusing people saying us Brits have big egos and act posh, when we are in fact very very crude rioting drunken bastards on the whole.

      So get your facts right your ignorant American f— face! If you going to insult us at least do it right!


    13. Jonah Falcon Says:

      British people are evil. Have you never seen any Star Wars film? :p

    14. links to an article I wrote! « Di Mortui Sunt Says:

      [...] years ago I wrote an article for on the assassination of Lord British in Ultima On-line way back in pre-historic past of MMOs: [...]

    15. Reno Says:

      Lord who?

    16. DoctorX Says:

      I was there. The thing I still remember clearly is someone yelling (all caps), Lord British is dead! Long live Lord Blackthorn! The early days of that game were the wild west, no banks, all shopkeepers a bloody smear on the floor, total anarchy. It was a hoot. :)

    17. Long Arm of the Law « Tish Tosh Tesh Says:

      [...] course, there’s always human error to deal with, as evidenced when Lord British famously forgot about his own immortality flag and died as a natural result, but even that was [...]

    18. Mr. Gerbz Says:

      @Cockney Slang

      And that’s why I love Brits.

      I myself am a stoned Dutchie in wooden shoes living in a windmill surrounded by fields of tullips. Or at least that’s what the rest of the world assumes most of us to be, if they’ve ever heard of The Netherlands at all that is.

    19. Email: I’d like to apologize to you and say you were right about a lot of stuff, Sir Malstrom « Malstrom’s Articles News Says:

      [...] Lord British can be killed in almost every Ultima game. I think you are referring to the Ultima Online incident which you can read about here. [...]

    20. Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim - Page 61 - Fires of Heaven Guild Message Board Says:

      [...] [...]

    21. Roy Etemma Says:

      Mr. Gerbz I hate when people make such assumptions. As a Dutchman myself I can say a typical dutch man plays with toy trains in between picking up dole checks and writing smear articles against stupid stupid christians who want to ban the dole and stop me from having all the drugs I could possibly want.

    22. Top 3 Most Elaborate Trolls in Online Games Says:

      [...] again. A player by the name of ‘Rainz’ used  the spell ‘fire field’ to assassinate Lord British when he was vulnerable, and was soon thereafter banned for exploiting all kinds of bugs during the [...]

    23. MrMojoRising Says:

      How does almost every commentary on every article or video I see on the internet turn into a debate between a bunch of ill informed people about nationality or race? One i’m American and the fact that the people of Britain have not contributed any inventions to the world is completely baseless. I’ve seen plenty of Americans with huge egos as well as others from different countries. An example of one individual does not merit a comparison to a whole set of people.

    24. Gaming’s 15 Funniest, Most Unfair, and Memorable Exploits | Gaming Mania Says:

      [...] for participating. Take special note of which “couldn’t be killed” part, since someone did customarily [...]

    25. Panico no Trânsito Says:

      Actually, americans talking about ego is kind of ironic.

      Nothing against one american, but the american PEOPLE as one is just plain blind about the entire world.

      They actually think they won the space race, or invented the car, or the pizza.

    26. Jonah Falcon Says:

      Who landed on the Moon?

    27. MMORPG CBC OMG!!! | MashON Says:

      [...] to your massively multiplaying online friends.  Want to create a comic about the assassination of Lord British?  Maybe you’d like to feature the continuing adventures of Leeroy Jenkins!  Perhaps it’s [...]

    28. Are MMOs Broken? Or Am I? » Suodymn Says:

      [...] due to the fact that Richard Garriott’s (Creator of Ultima Online) character Lord British was assassinated during a stress test. “If it exists as a living creature in an MMORPG, someone, somewhere, [...]

    29. RainzRider Says:

      Richard Garriott is the greatest figure in computer game history. How many hours were spent as a lad playing Ultima games on Atari 1200Xl with Indus GT disk drive? Countless. As to Rainz, he should not have been condemned but rather praised; hacks and cheats should be banned…

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