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Default Ultima VIII - Interview @ The Ultima Codex

March 19th, 2014, 12:54
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.
More information.
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March 19th, 2014, 12:54
Pagan was a fantastic technical accomplishment. Awesome atmosphere. Combat was very good as was the sound + physical feedback. You could kill those freaky corrupted children and feel strange about it. Could almost do anything freely.
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March 20th, 2014, 03:21
I agree. Brings back memories of saving enough money to upgrade my computer so I could run the latest Ultima. The series never let me down. Well, 9 was a bit of a letdown, but I'd already heard it was terrible so I was pleasantly surprised in a way when it wasn't as horrible as I was expecting. That was a different Origin, though.
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March 20th, 2014, 12:02
If only U8 did not have so many bugs, it'd have been a great game.
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March 20th, 2014, 12:03
It was one of the first RPGs I played on PC, as I had an Amiga before that.

I was amazed at how great it was - and I loved it from start to finish. I played it before the "jump fix patch" IIRC.

I will never forget that first "beheading" scene!

I also loved Ultima 9

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March 20th, 2014, 12:11
Well, the problem with U9 is what it had potential to become, and not what it is
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March 20th, 2014, 12:12
I'm talking about what it is, not what it could be

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March 20th, 2014, 12:22
Never managed to play 9. I believe I did not have a PC capable of running it back then (and then maybe the talk about all the bugs kept me away?). Odd as this is a very strong influence in one of my favorite games (Gothic 1).

I remember loving #8. It was a very impressive in scope and engrossing game considering what I was coming from (mainly Dungeon crawlers iirc). I have to say my recollection of it is a bit hazy (although certain moments do stick out) and I might not actually have finished it (absolutely no recollection why that would be. Damn you old age )…
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March 20th, 2014, 12:48
Originally Posted by JonNik View Post
Never managed to play 9. I believe I did not have a PC capable of running it back then (and then maybe the talk about all the bugs kept me away?). Odd as this is a very strong influence in one of my favorite games (Gothic 1).
Yup, even though the world is TINY compared to modern day open world games, it was one of the most immersive experiences I had back then.

I think it was the first game I played with a complete day/night cycle - with the sun both setting and rising before your eyes.

I remember I was particularly enamored with the distinct nature of towns and dungeons, all of which had their own visual style.

Also, it had underwater exploration!

It looks "quaint", at best, today - but back then it was really something.

That said, the combat system was awful.

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March 20th, 2014, 12:52
I need to try it at some point regardless.

From a historical/encyclopedic point of view if nothing else.
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March 20th, 2014, 12:54
Originally Posted by JonNik View Post
I need to try it at some point regardless.

From a historical/encyclopedic point of view if nothing else.
Well, you don't invent your own story like Dark Souls - so maybe it's not subtle enough for you

j/k!

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March 20th, 2014, 12:55
Yeah kick me when I am down why don't you

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March 20th, 2014, 12:56
*kisses*

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March 20th, 2014, 19:24
I've played some of U9 but never finished it. Even today the game still has a significant amount of bugs for some people, or at least it did when I tried to play it a couple of years ago. There was a portal in Castle Britannia that would crash the game 90% of the time when I tried to use it. I eventually got frustrated and gave up.
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March 20th, 2014, 20:07
this is a great interview. what a story he has. its funny that so many successful game companies get inundated with resumes from fans. i guess its par for the course for media companies.

starting with U6 on is where Origin took a vad turn - at least with their RPG's. You needed a machine that most people didn't have to run them.

This is the first time I've ever heard anyone praising U8. Its been villified for straying so far from canon so as not to alienate fans.
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March 20th, 2014, 21:37
Originally Posted by GothicGothicness View Post
Well, the problem with U9 is what it had potential to become, and not what it is
Ahhh, but I have played it before I knew what it could have been. So I did have my dose of bliss. Frustration set in later
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March 20th, 2014, 22:43
Originally Posted by JDR13 View Post
I've played some of U9 but never finished it. Even today the game still has a significant amount of bugs for some people, or at least it did when I tried to play it a couple of years ago. There was a portal in Castle Britannia that would crash the game 90% of the time when I tried to use it. I eventually got frustrated and gave up.
I can't remember now which fan group it was as we are going back many years not. But one of them went through the whole game and fixed I would say 80% of the bugs.

Once I uploaded their patches to the game I play it through and enjoyed it very much.

I think the only one I never finished was 2 and 6….
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March 20th, 2014, 22:47
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post

starting with U6 on is where Origin took a vad turn - at least with their RPG's. You needed a machine that most people didn't have to run them.
.
Bought my first PC for U7 it was a 486 DX33 with 4mg ram and 1/2mg video card. I can remember about 5 of my college buddy's that didn't leave for days once I bought it.

I was king of the PC's for 6 months until another buddy got the DX66 prick lol
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March 24th, 2014, 17:05
Super Mario Avatar as it was often unfairly characterised though often in good humour. Looking back, the jumping and moving around wasn't awful as I remember fearing it would be. It's a game that took some serious investment to complete and I was very pleased to finally do so. Experimenting with the magic system and the summoning rituals were meticulously handled and fun to play with.

My Pagan thread is in the 'Watch archives somewhere. I think the distance between my finishing Serpent's Isle perhaps softened my perspective on any continuity issues with the series.

Like JDR, I'm still yet to complete U9. I had a good dash at it shortly after vanquishing U8, but encountered a nasty game killing bug shortly after the first dungeon. I'm intending to try again though at some point and thus the game remains installed for the next time I feel the urge to visit some old friends.
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March 24th, 2014, 18:35
Well, thinking back on Pagan, I cannot help but remember "this could only happen in a Ultima game" kind of incident which makes the series greatness, so I thought I'd share.

I was just running around, when I managed to grab "The Ladies" plate of food by mistake, only to have her say "are you messing with my food" and obliterate me with chain lightning.
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