Massively has published an entertaining interview with Richard Garriott about the development of Ultima Online, from the design choices that were made to some of the issues that crept up before and after the game's launch. He even addresses his famous end-of-beta death:
Tell us the truth: from your perspective, how'd you react to being PK'd in beta? I spent a lot of time in the UO beta, but unfortunately I wasn't there to see Mr. British taken down. I can't help but feel like I missed out on a classic moment in MMO history.
What's funny is that normally my character wasn't PKable, but after each beta server wipe, it was important for me to reset the immortality flag on Lord British. I'd been toodling around for weeks assuming that I was immortal, but I wasn't. When Rainz threw a fire field at me, I assumed I was immortal and stepped back into the field and keeled over dead. Days later we had to pour over the server logs to see what happened.
One of our QA guys hurries over to resurrect me, a minute away from the shutdown of the server at the end of beta. At the time, all the players and employees from all over the world had congregated in that one area, and the QA guys didn't know who to punish, so they decided to kill them all. They summoned dragons and demons and shot off fireworks and massacred everyone who was there. We thought it was great fun at the time, but what horrified us later was to learn that many players did not think it was fun -- they got killed and sent away as a ghost so they couldn't be there at the final moment.
What feature did you particularly enjoy seeing go in the game? What about a feature you wanted in the game, but ultimately (no pun intended) got scratched?
Two features stand out as noteworthy in spite of how they turned out. The first was a feature that failed -- that was the virtual ecology. We had spent a great deal of time and effort building a virtual ecology between plants, herbivores and carnivores. When the game operated with no players in it, it found a natural balance. When the game launched, the players killed the creatures so fast that there was no way to crank the respawn up high enough to give it any relevance. So very sadly, we removed it.
Conversely was the amazingly uninteresting feature of fishing that we put into the game for completeness. Even though it was extremely basic, that feature became stunningly popular, and a bunch of apocryphal stories arose of whether fishing worked better in streams or rivers (it didn't). So we doubled-down on it and increased the sophistication of the feature.