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EA making a new Ultima Online?

Talkative EA bigwig Paul Barnett involved?

Question-marks - that's what hangs over EA's decision to stop people giving away Ultima IV for free; that's what hangs over BioWare-Mythic creative director Paul Barnett (formerly a Warhammer Online preacher) mentioning "secret projects"; that's what hangs over the mystery MMO an EA job posting exposed yesterday.

Are all three events linked? Is EA making a new Ultima Online?

It's a leap of faith, but why else would EA suddenly demand freeware sites stop distributing Ultima IV, a game that's been openly available to fans for years - and a game around which a enthusiastic mod scene has developed?

Tweeted Paul Barnett on 19th March: "Dr Ray just visited, he looked at the secret projects and he saw that they were good."

Projects? Plural?

Then there's yesterday's job posting for an MMO Web Architect to work on a something "huge"; something "monumental".

Years ago there was a sequel to Ultima Online, called Ultima Worlds Online: Origin. But sadly it wasn't to be; the 3D project was binned by EA in 2001.

Ultima Online, created by Richard Garriott and released in 1997, is considered to be the game that popularised MMOs. And it lives on today, albeit after countless face-lifts and game changes. Even so, Ultima Online has an audience many new MMOs would turn green at.

But how would EA recreate the je ne sais quoi of Ultima Online for today's MMO audience? There are fantasy MMOs by the dozen now; could a vaunted skill-based advancement of Ultima Online and its fondly remembered but brutal die-and-lose-all-equipment thrills translate?

How would EA handle adapting the iconic isometric graphics?

Perhaps by going free to play as a browser-based game?

Question-marks: I stroke my wizard's beard at you.

Ultima Online's 2007 revamp.