Sunday - April 13, 2014
Ultima VIII - Interview @ Ultima Codex
The Ultima Codex has a new video interview with Mike McShaffry to talk about Ultima VIII, and they provide a transcript if you don't feel like watching the video.
Earlier this week, Mike McShaffry graciously took over an hour out of his busy schedule to chat with us about his work at Origin Systems, especially on Ultima 8. He answered a number of questions about the game, its development, and even fielded a few inquiries about the original (pre-UO) plot of Ultima 9.
Wednesday - March 19, 2014
Ultima VIII - Interview @ The Ultima Codex
The Ultima Codex interviewed Jason Ely to talk about Origin games, and his role in developing Ultima VIII: Pagan. I found it interesting, and a few of you might also.
Ultima Codex: How did you get into the game industry, and how did you end up working in Origin in the first place? How did you end up working on Ultima 8?
Jason Ely: I started programming games when I was an early teen in the 1980s. Ultima was always my inspiration. I actually reversed engineered the Ultima games on the Commodore 64. In fact I fixed a few bugs on the C64 version of Ultima 2 which included reloading your last save point without rebooting and reloading the game. My first serious game project was an Ultima clone and a very sophisticated toolset for map and content generation. I actually sent it as part of my resume to Origin in 1988. I never heard back from them so I decided to contact Lord British himself. After many attempts (about 50 calls/voice mails) he called me back. He told me they were no longer doing C64 games and that I needed to learn DOS, x86 Assembler and C.
Soon after that conversation I joined the Army and was eventually stationed at Ft. Hood Texas, about 60 miles north of Origin’s home base of Austin. I purchased my first PC and began making a modern version of my toolset and game. What I ended up doing was making an engine that used Ultima 6 assets. In fact the game editor could be used to modify the Ultima 6 game world directly. I tried to get Origin to look at my latest work and resume. The programmer manager was the person I needed to talk to, however he didn’t seem too interested. One week he told me he would be out of town so I used that time to go to Origin and in fact tell them I had an interview with him. I ended up having a make-shift interview with an HR person and was able to hand deliver my Resume along with the disk containing my latest work. When the programmer manager returned he finally got me on the phone and looked at my resume and project. Next thing you know I’m invited down to speak with the Ultima 8 development team.
It was very intimidating being in the same room with people whom I considered to be legends ( Mr. Mike McShaffry, Tony Zurovec, Zack Simpson, Herman Miller, Ken Demarest and of course Lord British). I was grilled on a number of topics for some time and did reasonably well. Later in the interview Mr. Mike loaded my “Ultima 6” editor on a PC. Fear exploded in me when he began to laugh. The fear was turned into excitement when he said “I wish we had this when we built Ultima 6!”. So apparently they liked my work.
After the interview I went into an office with Richard where he offered me the position and after my last few weeks in the military I started my dream job at Origin working on Ultima 8 with the most talented programmers, designers, and writers I have ever known.
UC: You worked as a programmer and designer on Ultima 8 — which parts of the game in particular did you work on? And is there a character in the game that is based on you?
JE: I started on Ultima 8 when it was already a number of months into development. When I first came onto the U8 project I was put to work on the editor toolset. I then began working on the game’s UI system (Gumps) and was given the title “Gumpy”, which I proudly wore.
Once on the UI system I learned as much about the lower level graphics primitives and other systems of the game. I wanted to be able to take on any task given to me regardless of where in the technology or design it may be. Some of the UI elements I created were container, menu options, equipment/stats and the book gumps. Beyond the UI I also worked on the low level graphics primitives, original movie player, installer, build system and translations. Later in the project I took on some of the responsibilities of Unk, our internal scripting language.
From a designers point, I worked on the end game elemental maps including the final map with the pentagram and dark obelisk. A fun fact that most do not know is that the pentagram platform at the end of the game is actually a scan of an amulet of mine.
Monday - March 04, 2013
Ultima VIII - The Lost Vale & Arthurian Interview
Gamebanshee has an interview with Origin Systems' Sheri Graner Ray about the cancelled games The Lost Vale and Arthurian.
GB: What circumstances led to Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale being cancelled despite the fact that the expansion pack had actually gone gold? While Ultima VIII hadn't met sales expectations, couldn't it have been packaged in the eventual Gold Edition to make that bundle pack more enticing?
Sheri: Honestly, it was directly due to a lack of sales. Back then you couldn't do anything as DLC, it had to have a box and go on a shelf with all the commensurate marketing dollars added to it. It came down to straight numbers. If the same percentage of U8 players bought the add-on as U7 and U7.5 players bought THOSE add-ons, it simply didn't justify the cost of manufacturing and distributing the U8 add on.
Also at that time Ultima 9 was beginning, as was "behind closed doors" discussions for Ultima Online. Crusader was in full production and so was Wing Commander 3 - complete with live action. On top of all that EA was starting to make noise about a cut back in headcount for ORIGIN.
So it's just safe to say the company's attention had already moved on from Ultima 8, which was seen as a less than successful chapter in Ultima history. Thus, there was no enthusiasm for Lost Vale.
GB: Beyond a purely sales-driven decision, do you feel that there was anything inherently wrong with the add-on that could have played a role in the cancellation decision? How was the expansion pack received internally prior to going gold?
Sheri: I don't think so. It fit within the theme of U8, added to the story, answered some questions and was met with approval from the QA team.