By Alec Meer on October 7th, 2007 at 6:16 pm.
Readers who’ve been visiting RPS since the halcyon days of ooh, August may recall my irregular misadventures in Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn. For the story so far, a sad tale of lost shoes, bullying healers and being rubbish at hiding, clicky here and scroll down. The concept, if you can’t be bothered to read the last two posts, is this: I’d never played Ultima Online before this year, and rather foolishly believed it would be something like the MMOs I am familiar with. It really isn’t. Despite its recent ooh-shiny remake, UO doesn’t make much effort to explain its workings to new players, which, when you’re as stupid as I am, results in a great deal of confusion, terror and hilarity. My quest – to achieve something like progress based only on the information given to me by the game itself.
Disconsolate about my continued failure to kill anything that isn’t cute’n'fluffy, I turn to more creative pursuits. I need a hobby, preferably one that doesn’t involve fighting impossibly tough zombies. But what sort of profession would be suitable for an off-duty ninja? Tailoring? Nah. Knitting somehow doesn’t scream ‘silent assassin.’ Tanning? I’m a vegetarian – wouldn’t be on, really. Aha – lumberjacking and carpentry. It’s as honest a trade as they come, and there’s something fairly macho about chopping down trees, so this is evidently a perfect method of restoring my battered man-pride.
I report for duty to New Haven’s chief carpenter guy, who asks I get hold of 60 logs for him. The fact he can’t get ‘em himself has me concerned that he’s perhaps not the master of woodcraft he’s claiming to be, but hell, anyone’s an expert compared to me. More importantly, a tree probably can’t punch me in the face. This should be a challenge even I’m capable of. Famous last log-based words.
There’s just one proviso. I need an axe. I don’t have an axe. I have metal claws, like Wolverine. They sure look cool, but I’m grudgingly prepared to admit that they’re probably not the ideal lumberjacking tool. Where do I get an axe from? God. Being unable to successfully ninja is one thing, but failing to chop down trees too? This is so embarassing.
One of the so very many things the tutorial (the contents of which can be easily summarised as “here’s the world, right-click to move, now get out of my sight”) neglected to tell me was how to buy and sell stuff. Until now, I hadn’t had any cause to, and had presumed there’d be some friendly tradesfolk hanging around whom I could interact with in the usual double-click to chat fashion. Now, I really need that damned axe. I wander around the town for around an hour, doggedly clicking on everyone I can find. A few offer me simple escort quests, which fill up my coffers quickly, but no-one wants to sell me anything. Is Ultima’s world such a utopian ideal that currency, and the greed and wretchedness and misery that comes with it, doesn’t exist here, beyond collecting shiny coins to pass the time?
I’m about to give up, when I meander in front of the bank for about the eight time. Bigger Boys have come. Bigger Boys sitting imperiously astride polar bears and colossal beetles. Bigger Boys with so much cash in their immaculately-armoured pockets that selling new loot is just a huge hassle to them these days. Their solution to this inventory space versus effort conundrum is a bizzare form of philanthropy. Far easier is to just dump all their unwanted stuff on the ground in the middle of town, then wait near it. When wide-eyed newbies like me happen along and start picking through the shiny pile with excited disbelief, the Bigger Boys watch with a wry glare, knowing gods observing pathetic humanity going about its futile existence. Essentially, they’re throwing me pennies to dance for their entertainment. And so I do. I frantically cram as much as I can into my bags, behaving as exactly the desperate little wretch they were hoping would turn up and rifle through their trashcans.
It’s a treasure trove. Armour, weapons, magic talismans, mysterious keys and, best of all, a complete, joyously humiliating jester outfit, which I duly don and prance about in for the benefit of my silent patrons. And then, there it is. Thank you, thank you, thank you, kind strangers. An axe. A huge, magic axe, several orders of magnitude more powerful than my geeky claws. I don’t care about its magic, though. This could be a one-of-a-kind ancient elven heirloom for all I care. All I care is that it can chop down bloody trees. At last, I can be the ninja-jester-lumberjack I’d always dreamt of becoming.
Beautiful jester-ninja me.
Gosh, I’m excited. I’ve finally risen to one of UO’s incomprehensible challenges. Yessir, I am ready to chop some wood. To start with, it goes really, really well. I find a tree, and one in every three attempts at taking the ultra-axe to it yields logs. My lumberjack skill is rising steadily, and there’s none of the horrific 12 second cooldown my ninja skills require between each use. I keep on hacking happily away, and I’ve raised the required 60 logs in no time. I’ve done it. I’ve completed the quest, and I’ve found a purpose of sorts. Giddy with pride, I start heading back to Carpenterman. And grind to a spasming halt ten feet later.
Me and my axe versus a tree.
So, it turns out that 60 logs are very, very heavy. I can’t take more than a few steps without becoming too exhausted to move any further. I can see the Carpenter’s shop from here. So close, so close to some sort of achievement, and now I’m stymied by the weight of wood. I very nearly cry. Then I dump every non-essential (and non-log) possession on the ground in the hope I can shed enough weight. Hours of carefully acquired loot, left there for another vulture like to me to avail himself of. What goes around comes around. At least I have my axe and my logs.
I’m still too overloaded to walk far, but my energy seems to recover a little more quickly. So this is how it goes. I take half a dozen steps, wait for two minutes for my energy bar to refill itself, take half a dozen steps and repeat. A mere 15 minutes later, I’ve traversed the 100 metres or so necessary to reach the carpenter. Relievedly, by now feeling as exhausted as my log-hefting avatar must, I double-click, ready to hand over the woody goodness. I’m grinning like a loon.
I also stumbled across this mysterious room filled with meat.
He isn’t interested. He does not want my wood. No. No no no. What’s gone wrong? Have I chopped the wrong logs? Have I taken too long, and they’ve lost the piney freshness an artisan such as he requires? Somehow, my panicked mind manages to flit back to the tutorial, and the one non-obvious piece of advice it mentioned in passing. Something, I think, involving telling the game that an item is a quest item; I need to mark my logs as being special logs. But… how did it go? I think I had to hold down one button, then click on the item to bring up a special menu… I spend another 20 minutes desperately trying about every key combination I can think of, with no luck whatsoever. How can giving some logs to a man who’s specifically asked me to give him some logs be so difficult?
The local blacksmith, sporting the ever-popular big metal hat, apron and no shoes look.
There’s only one thing for it, unless I’m to break my own no-asking-for-help rules. I logout, start a whole new character and play through the tutorial again. Yes yes, right click to move, how to open my backpack, I know. Ah, there it is. It’s nothing to do with clicking on the item itself after all – I have to hold down shift, right-click on myself, select ‘assign quest item’, open my inventory and left-click on the bloody logs. Of course!
I return to my log-toting first character, perform this ridiculous ritual, and lo, the carpenter wants my lumber now. And ooh, there’s a reward. It’s an axe. Dear sweet lord, you’ve got to be kidding. Only after I’ve performed your poxy errand do you give me THE TOOL I NEEDED TO DO IT. No wonder you’ve got a log shortage, man.
God, I’m furious. But something rather positive has come out of my logging adventure. I accidentally shift-right-clicked on the carpenter instead of myself, and, as it turns out, NPCs have their own secret menus too. Menus with Buy and Sell options. Oho! Yeah, I’m angry that the game never bothered to explain this critical piece of information to me, but overjoyed at the world of possibilities now opened up. Look out, New Haven – I’m a pissed-off non-ninja with 5000 gold pieces in his pocket and a need for some serious retail therapy. This is gonna be good.