[TMPL page.setTitle=" - Spiels: Ultima Online Community Day 2004"]
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Before I get into it, just let me point out that, like the dumbass I am, I took NO pictures of anything that happened this entire day. I am a retard, but that's beside the point. Let's move on, then. :)

So, last weekend, (or a considerable time ago, if you're reading this a long time from now) the Origin group at EA held a kind of community day for UO, coinciding with both the upcoming release of Samurai Empire, UO's Japanese-themed expansion, as well as with UO's 7th Anniversary, which was on the 25th of September (ACTUALLY the day after the event, which was held on the 24th, but I digress). Now, I know I'm not a writer, and those of you who have read my rants ALSO know I'm a writer, but regardless, I will try to relate to you the events of the day in as jumble-free a way as I can, though odds are I will fail.

They put us up at the Hotel Softiel, which turns out to be about 2 blocks away from EA's Redwood Shores campus. It also happened to be a wonderful hotel. First time I think I'd ever been HAPPY to sleep in a hotel bed. Right after we got there, we wandered down to the bar, where lo and behold, all the other attendees were hanging out. We got to chatting, and I ran into a few of the dev team members, (I should point out that aside from a select few people who I talked to before the event, I am AWFUL with names. I might remember a few of you here and there, and I know your faces like the back of my hand, but odds are I really, truly don't remember your name. Don't take offense. :D ) and got to meet Binky. Chris "Binky" Launius is the community manager for all things Ultima, and is the guy who pretty much coordinated the whole event, as well as talked to each and every one of us about what was going on. And he's a great guy, to boot. He's also the guy who I had everyone send a deluge of e-mail to about that Hildebrandt poster. (which, I might add, WORKED. They're getting the details set now, but it will be coming out.) We sat and chatted with everyone for a while longer, then headed up to bed. (since the team decided 8:30 am was a good starting time. Sadistic little monkies, ain't they?)

Turns out, it pretty much HAD to start that early. We all walked the short distance to EA campus, and were just bowled over with how nice the place is. Campus really is the proper word... it felt like a college campus. It had the gym, the awesome cafeteria, the game room... and this is where people WORK. I can see why it was voted one of the best places to work. Anyhow, we all shuffled into the room we'd be in for most of the day, where about 30 computers were set up for each of us, and we had kind of a focus-group-style discussion as to what we did and didn't like about UO, and what our thoughts on the game were in general. The portion after that cannot be discussed, thanks to that handy-dandy little NDA I talked about in the comic. Don't worry about it.

During the focus group, I began to understand more about the people I was with. Many of them were the purest definition of hardcore UO gamer, which I am FAR from being. I don't care about having the best equipment and taking on the most powerful monsters... I'm perfectly contented to decorate my house and wander the countryside. So when people are having a discussion about guilds being broken by not allowing blue healing, I'm more or less lost. I can kind of gather what people are talking about, but not to the extent that they do. I don't think this makes me any less or more of a UO player... I HAVE been around since the beginning, after all. I remember the pre-trammel, pre-felucca world. I remember fighting off hordes of undead when they stormed Trinsic. I was there. So it's all good.

Let me also take a moment to talk about the dev team themselves. I can't remember many names, other than someone named Jessica, and Tim Keating... oh, and Wilki and FertBert. That's where my name memory kinda fades. Anyway, so we're down there talking about issues we have with the game, some of which have to do with the core game, and some in just Samurai Empire (those of us who attended have had our beta NDA lifted, so I can now tell you that I've been playing S.E. for the past month and a half, and I'm quite impressed.) I've had some issues with housing tiles which have since been fixed. But anyway, people were bringing these issues up, and the dev team was writing them down, and would come down later in the day and say "Oh, by the way, so-and-so is up working on that right now." I mean, hot damn. That's service, you know? I gather from the web that certain people think the UO dev team is some kind of impersonal army who is just out for their own interests, or are megalomaniacs who just want to control everything, or screw things up, but I can tell you from meeting and talking to these people that they are hard-working people who care more about making the game fun and enjoyable than you can imagine. They listened to our suggestions, and we really got the impression that what we were saying there was actually being taken to heart. That's pretty awesome.

This is about where we broke for lunch. I have to tell you... describing it as a Cafeteria doesn't even begin to do it justice. Think of it more like a mall food court, with better food and more options. I had some cioppino (sp?) and a Bawls, while Liz got a 10-dollar salad. (which she tells me was WORTH 10 bucks) EA covered the cost, of course, but it was still cool. During lunch I talked with a few of the dev guys, (who, by the way, hate the Age of Shadows avatars as much as I do. I'm still trying to find out who the hell was responsible for shifting from the 3rd Dawn avatars to those hideous pieces of crap.) and it pretty much turned into the people we were around at the time grilling them as to what we'd like to see in the game. They agreed with it, for the most part. Like I said, incredibly nice guys. After lunch we saw a bit more of the campus... places like the Gym and Game room, then it was back to the meeting room for some Samurai Empire quality time.

Atfer lamenting that there had been a server wipe since I last played, and having to scrounge up new equipment, I set my skills and got ready for our little guild war. I played a Ninja, and did a fairly poor job of it, at that. I was stealthy, however, and got to use a smoke bomb or two. (smoke bombs are a one-time use item that clouds you in smoke and instantly hides you.) In the end, however, Team Avatar lost to Team Guardian. :( Ah well. I regained my honor in the House Design Contest. We had a little over an hour to work on a house design, and I pretty much recreated from scratch the house I've been planning for the new Shirt Ninja headquarters once SE goes live. It's an 18x18 japanese temple with some underground surprises. The new asian-themed housing elements were quite nice, like reddish plaster walls and tatami mat floors, but the biggest improvement to housing is ROOFS. You can now custom-make a roof for your house, and while the tool takes some getting used to, you can easily make some very impressive structures with it. Once I recreate it on the beta server, I'll post a picture for ya. (I got kinda screwed, however... the house design contest took place on an internal testing server, which I have no access to from home. It lists my beta account as owning a house, however. I'll see if I can't get the dev guys to delete that for me. :D ) Anyhow, me and another guy won, which got me a UO-logo embroidered messenger bag. Quite spiffy.

After all that, we headed out to dinner at some restaurant I can't remember in San Francisco, but the food was good, so that's all that matters. At the end of it, as we were having dessert, one of the guys brought out a dessert with 7 candles, and everyone sang "Happy Birthday UO". :D I thought that was pretty funny.

That was it for community day stuff, though. I could tell you about the room party we had that night where a bunch of us got drunk and played drunk-people games, but for the sake of everyone involved's dignity, I'll leave that to be a tale told face-to-face. Regardless, I made a lot of new friends, and got re-re-energized to play UO. I'll probably never quit, now. :D