his section presents fan art I have either enhanced or created for Ultima Online.
What inspired me to do UO artwork is the fact that I've always adored the old Ultima style, especially what we saw in U8:The Pagan, upon which Ultima Online's art was largely based.
So what are these qualities that make Ultima art so special?
Dark outlines: Up until UOKR, this has always been a signature quality of UO art. It made elements stand out and gave the art a delightfully murky, packaged look. It not only looked great, but enhanced playability and usability, making objects feel precise to pick up and move around.
Subtlety: The style of Ultima graphics were very easy on the eye. Subtle in both contrast and saturation of color. When games are too colorful, bright or contrasted they can be tiring to look at for extended periods, but with the earthy tones that the Ultima games had, this was never an issue.
Pixels vs 3d: With pixel art, every single pixel has been lovingly clicked with a certain RGB value. Each pixel of the art piece utterly controlled by the artist and free of distortion from angle, perspective or graphics card. Try doing that with 3d, which brings loss of control over how things look and we end up with a much sloppier outcome.
The cuteness factor: Ultima creatures have a quality which awakens affection for beloved pets, yet prevails even in the fiercest of monsters without dampening the fear they will instill in you.
n December of 2004, I started a thread called "The Pixel Graphics Challenge" on the Stratics forums to bring forth an issue which was worrying me: as UO got older and the team lost more and more of it's original artists and as more of the artwork was being outsourced, this resulted in the original art style getting muddied with stuff which was completely inconstent, ruining the overall look of the game.
I knew that if I were to just complain about it on the forums, it would not be enough, as there are always "higher priority" things that the game needs. So instead I announced a challenge: Bring forth the ugliest post-release artwork you can find and I will prove it can be done better, and in such a way that it will be consistent with the original art. The thread generated a lot of interest - even the devs joined in the discussion - and soon other artists joined in and there were several of us creating improved versions of the crappy outsourced art that had seeped into the game. Below are some of the things I submitted to the thread:
ue to my disappointment in how UOKR had turned out, I pondered the "what-could-have-beens" of the UO art. One of the ideas floating in my head was a curiousity to see what the legacy UO art could have looked like, had it been simply doubled in size and polished. There were many benefits to this type of solution: most likely, the graphics would be 100% compatable with the code (unless dimensions were hard coded), alignment and positioning of items in the game itself would be 100% compatable and everything would work automatically. People's paperdolls, houses and decorations would all look like they should. I'm a firm believer, that the last thing you should mess with, are people's creations - be they real or virtual. And lastly: it would look exactly like UO, only bigger and better! I mean, the only reason people ranted about the art being outdated, was simply because screen resolutions have roughly doubled in 10 years and now you have to squint to see the game world and tiny objects. This in turn, makes playing the game much less immersive. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with the art itself, it had simply become too small. This was the perfect solution. So, mimicking the style of the first challenge, I asked people to give me resize tasks, and I would scale them up, polish and show how nice UO could have been.
've been worried, watching how UOKR is moving UO into a different direction visually. Like myself, many believe the new style has lost some of the classic Ultima characteristics and has become much more generic. Mainly due to the new UI, the look now resembles that which can be seen in many of the current MMOs. This is a good thing in a way, since it makes learning the game more familiar for new players. But if UO is trying to get a part of the Big League action, it needs to have a look which is stunning and at least comparable, if not superior to other current games. But does it succeed in that? Or does the quality leave much to be desired? Many fear the latter - which means that taking that brave step into the boxing ring with the heavy weights will only result in ridicule, humiliation and failure. If there is one thing that has kept Ultima Online afloat for ten years despite it's outdated engine and look, it is the unique and special character - a game like no other. We shall see in the coming years, what the fate of this game is as they continue their journey in melting this into the rest of the crowd.