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Saphireena’s Magic


“As I write this, ten years have passed since I first set foot on Sosarian soil.

It was the day that Elina – my closest friend – had managed to lure me into Ultima Online. It was at a time when we were still young mothers at home, living typical domestic lives and bringing up babies. I don’t think either of us were quite sure what we would want to do after our kids were bigger, but I do know that meeting up in Ultima Online was a godsend, a break away from our motherly roles and a chance to get “out of the house”.

Who would have guessed that Ultima Online would have a play in shaping our future, later inspiring Elina to become a researcher of online games and frequent speaker at conferences such as GDC and Siggraph and inspiring me to become a pixel artist, creating video games for a living. Eventually the passion we had for Ultima, would expand into a broader passion for MMOs, leaving us thirsting for more of the magic we experienced in UO. Online games would become a permanent fixture of our lives.”

Saphireena started a thread on Uhall in 2004, a thread that ended up becoming one of the largests I have ever encountered. It was called “the Pixel Graphics Challenge”. Over weeks many UO players posted about how unhappy they where about some of the artwork and we even had lots of suggestions of how to make it better.

” In December of 2004, I launched a rant of a thread in the U-Hall forum of which generated so much interest that it eventually became the most viewed and commented thread ever. Not only was it huge but it also managed to stay active for over two years, eventually reaching it’s goal – which was to gain the attention of EA so that something would be done about the issues I was concerned with.

For years I’d watched as the quality of UO’s art deteriorated, but had never complained, assuming that the UO team was aware of the issues and would fix them in time. That day never came though, and if anything, things only got worse. UO artists came and went, sometimes the art was outsourced, sometimes there were no in-house artists and the game designers had to create assets! The beautiful legacy art was being slowly smothered by a plathora of jumbled art styles. For me, the last straw was when I layed eyes on the bonsais which were introduced with the Samurai Empire expansion. I knew I had to do something.

I decided I would write a provocative post in the Stratics U-Hall – notorious for it’s sharp tongued members and exclusive culture. It was here that people would complain and debate about issues that needed fixing but any time someone mentioned anything art related, the immediate response was to shush it away based on the fact that there were “more important issues to fix” and “what could you expect seeing as the original artists have left”. But I knew there would never be a time for art, the list of bugs and game play issues would be never ending. As for lowering expectations just because the original legacy artists were no longer doing UO, I found that unacceptable. I knew that any seasoned artist would be able to take the original ingredients and create new art pieces based on that reference.

But how would I gain the respect and attention of this demanding crowd? I’d never posted in U-Hall before, so I knew that if I entered the arena politely and meekly, I’d be bludgeoned. So I decided to make my post so arrogant, so dramatic that it would shake things up, arouse reaction, gain attention and eventually produce results.

I challenged my fellow players to come forth with the ugliest post-legacy artwork they could find, and by creating a remake of it, I would prove that new art additions were perfectly capable of being better quality and faithful to the original art style.

At first, the readers were dumbfounded, not quite knowing how to react. Who did this outsider think she was? Should she be received with contempt for such outragous behaviour or with admiration for the bravery she displayed. Luckilly, the majority reacted exactly like I’d hoped they would: they were infuriated once they realized just how bad the art had become and just how easily it could have been done well.

Soon other artists joined in and eventually there was a whole flock of us producing sample after sample of artwork which surpassed the post legacy assets with ease. It was concrete, in-your-face evidence of what should be, but was not. The ongoing flow of art submissions and discussions effectively lifted the status of art in UO to be one of the highest priority topics. What a change from before! Eventually the UO art devs joined in as well and we worked with them to identify the assets which most desperately needed renovating. They were great! Many many things were fixed and seeing all of this progress before my eyes was a joy to watch.”

One of the artists that amazed me the most was Saphireena. I was able to get in contact with her and she was happy to become a part of the art section here.

I would like to share some of the art she did.

The Rose of Trinsic by Saph:

The Bonsai by Saph:

Male Paperdoll:

She has done wonderful work and there is so much more to be discovered on her site:

Andrea’s Ultima Online Page

Lady Aalia
April 2009

Last modified: September 10, 2011

1 Comments to “Saphireena”

  1. One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing is “discovering” how the legacy artwork would look if doubled in size and polished pixel by pixel. A lot of that work is in my UO site as well as in this thread.

    Recently I decided to start making hi-res versions of our beloved critters as well. Here’s a couple to start off with :-).


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