U6 Project Interview
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask the co-lead producer of the U6 Project Jesse 'Zephyr' Strachman a series of questions as they're working hard towards the release of their next milestone. After the tremendous success a couple of years ago of U5-Lazarus, there has been growing interest in this second remake using the Dungeon Siege engine.
RPGWatch: Could you tell us a little about yourself and the U6 Project since many of our readers are not oldtime Ultima fans like myself?
JS: The U6 Project was started in 2001 by Matt Hutaff (Sliding Dragon). I (Jesse Strachman, a.k.a. "Zephyr") came across the project while I was looking through the forums at The Wayward Avatar for solutions to technical problems I was having with Ultima IX (9). I was fascinated with the fact that people were fanatic about this series of games to the point that they would actually take the time to remake them; I had done a tiny amount of modding in other game engines, and it sounded like it would be a lot of fun, so I signed on as a world-builder. I eventually took over a lot of the project management responsibilities and became the taskmaster that you see before you today. I've been a big fan of the Ultima series since Ultima III (3) first came out for the Atari 800 series.
RPGWatch: What stage is the project currently at?
JS: A difficult question to answer; the best way I can approach that would be to say that all of the technical systems are in place, but the majority of the content is still missing. The world-builders are working as fast as they can, but there's just a lot of work to do. I'd say we're probably about 25% complete in terms of the actual content.
RPGWatch: Do you have any timeline for its completion and release?
JS: Our best estimates, given our current pace, is that we'll have something that's fully playable by late 2009. Now, if we suddenly get a lot of world-building volunteers, which will cut that time frame considerably. We're hoping to have at least the majority of the overworld sketched out by early '08, so that will give us a better idea.
JS: You will need the latest version of the original Dungeon Siege, or Dungeon Siege: Legends of Aranna. The U6 Project will not be compatible with Dungeon Siege 2.
RPGWatch: What are the major 'selling' points of the game?
JS: The original Ultima VI (6) had a rich storyline full of lessons about prejudice, and how misunderstandings can often lead to uncontrollable violence. I personally think this is directly relevant to today's world, and probably will remain relevant for the foreseeable future. The game itself is incredibly immersive; even with the small piece that is available today, you can have comprehensive conversations with residents of Britannia, play games with them, solve their problems, and watch them go through their daily lives. I think we have approached the level of complexity and realism in an RPG that hasn't been seen since Ultima VII (7). We have a weather system, a day/night cycle, and even an economy system. We also have a lot of cool dungeons to explore. Essentially, it's a huge world with a lot of great stuff in it.
RPGWatch: How are you able to develop your player character, the Avatar?
JS: As you accomplish certain tasks in the game, you the player will develop an understanding of your opponents' motives. As you do "good deeds," you will establish "karma points" which in theory will affect various features in the game. A lot of this is still up in the air, but obviously there is more to this game than just killing the monsters and collecting the gold and equipment.
JS: All of the companions from the original Ultima VI (6) may join you, and you may have up to 8 people in your party (including yourself). There are the original eight "official" companions from Ultima IV (4), although Mariah and Geoffrey don't join your party this time around. Interestingly enough, I believe there are 8 additional characters that can join your party as actual playable characters. Ever since Ultima IV (4), the Ultima series has revolved around the numbers 3 and 8.
RPGWatch: For those not familiar with Ultima, could you explain the magic system you are using?
JS: Casting magic requires not only acquiring the spell and having sufficient magic points, but you also need to have the proper reagents at hand to complete the spell. Reagents are consumed and need to be replenished by buying them or finding them growing in the wild. Essentially, there's an element of alchemy to it.
RPGWatch: What changes have you made from the Britannia we grew to love in Lazarus?
JS: Almost all of the buildings have been moved around, and the ones that haven't been moved have been pretty much completely refurnished. For example, Castle Britannia is in a completely different location, and the Temple of Virtue in Cove was moved to up on a cliff-side. The U6 Project was never intended to be a sequel to U5 Lazarus. Both projects were started independently of each other, and only recently became inter-involved when we started Project Britannia as a way to pool our resources. Therefore, it will be somewhat familiar, but not what you're used to; you will need to re-learn the layout of each town, and we make no apologies for the differences between the land as they are not the same game.
We do plan on incorporating a few of the characters from Lazarus into the U6 story, but since most of them were not in the original U6, we are going to have to make up what happened to them after Blackthorn was defeated. How much of that gets done depends on time and demand.
JS: We have occasionally had contributions from former Lazarus team members, but the only one working with us at the moment is known as "Ozzy." He is a skilled programmer and UI designer. His most visible recent contribution is the journal system. Frilly Wumpus - our technical director and co-producer - also served on the Lazarus team (on loan from us, so to speak).
RPGWatch: What can you tell us about the music in the game?
JS: Most of the music was written by Steven Keys, who specializes in the gentle "Ren Faire" style of music that permeates most of the game. We have recently brought on board a second composer, Helen Trevillion (also known as Destiny Hikari), who just released a brilliant new CD of her own music on her Faefly label. Helen provided the jaunty music for Buccaneer's Den.
Each composer has his/her own website:
Steven Keys: http://www.stevenkeys.com/
Helen Trevillion: http://faefly-records.co.uk/helentrevillion/
RPGWatch: What changes and improvements have you made from the original?
JS: Other than updating the graphics, sound, and basic controls, the main thing that we are attempting to do is integrate the gargoyle invasion into the lives and minds of the people of Britannia. In the original game, it always seemed like the war was out there somewhere, but there was really no warfront. We're adding more places where you run into the gargoyles and see what the effect of the war really is. Also, there were many "unsolvable" quests in the original that we are now allowing you to solve. The conversations are somewhat more complex now and have new, interesting features that make the world just that much more immersive. We're also integrating many bug fixes that were not available to U5 Lazarus, and adding the aforementioned journal system, which you will be able to preview in our upcoming M4 release. The journal will automatically take notes for you about your quests, and will also allow you to make your own notes. There are plans to have a searchable NPC database within the journal so you can pull up information about people you've met along your journey.
JS: The main difficulties in the beginning were purely technical. There were many aspects of the game engine that Dungeon Siege simply didn't support, like teleporting your party, and boats. We had to come up with creative solutions to those problems. Also, we built an entirely new conversation engine so that you can have the complex "branched" dialogues instead of the "one click, one message" system that is so common among modern RPGs. Now, the main problem is simply that we don't have enough people to do the work. People tend to show up to volunteer, but they don't stick around when they realize that building games is actual work. It's fun, but it's an awful lot of really hard work.
RPGWatch: What's the 'coolest' thing in the game?
JS: That's a really tough question and I suppose it depends on who you ask. From my point of view, the coolest thing is that we've done so much with the Dungeon Siege engine that everyone thought was impossible. However, if you want to talk about the single coolest feature, I'd have to say the conversation engine. When I first designed it, it was really simple, but Frilly Wumpus and WyrdWeb have really taken it and run with it, making it truly dynamic and customizable. It's far more complex than I can even comprehend right now. Frilly Wumpus designed this really nifty usecode feature that allows you to customize things very efficiently, and this will allow modders of Project Britannia a lot of freedom in the future for additional remakes.
RPGWatch: What most still impresses you about the game?JS: The sheer scope of what we're trying to do is just amazing. We look at the original Dungeon Siege game, and then we look at our own maps and all the dungeons, and I think our world is like 25 times the size or something absurd like that. It's just so vast. Even with what little we've done so far, you still have probably, what, 30-50 hours of playtime? Every time I sit down to furnish another house and define another NPC's schedule, I just have to stop and think, wow. I have to do this another 300 times before we're done. Now that's impressive.
JS: Mostly positive. When we first released M1, we got a lot of complaints, mainly about the artwork and some complaints about the music because we didn't re-use a lot of the tunes from the original game. We've done what we could to address most of those concerns. We also learned that people want deeper characters and more writing. Overall people saw it for what it is, which is an unfinished product with a lot of points of light.
RPGWatch: How has fan input helped you?
JS: As I mentioned before, people complained about things, and then we took a good hard look at those complaints and tried to figure out how we could address them without compromising our original mission. For example, people wanted more of the original music; we've added the original "boot" theme to our new intro sequence. People wanted a different portrait of Shamino; we obliged. We've received bug reports and then fixed them. This helps us to build our final product and hopefully we will have a mostly bug-free release in the end.
RPGWatch: Have you had any contact with Lord British?
JS: Not as of yet. I don't know if we are unworthy of his attention, or perhaps we just haven't shouted enough, but we have not heard anything from him nor any of the original Origin team. Lazarus did a much better job generating publicity than we did at U6. Plus, I think they have a cooler name. That might have something to do with it.
JS: When it's done, this may be the single most expansive single-player RPG ever built. Whether you're an Ultima fan or just love immersive gaming, this is going to be incredible when it's done. We've got great new writers, remarkable dungeon builders, and a great base story from which to work, plus a host of new features that you've probably never seen before, or if you've seen them, not to this degree. I suspect that even Lazarus's insatiable fans will be impressed.
RPGWatch: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
JS: We're still looking for people who would like to mod for us with the original Dungeon Siege engine. The more hands we get, the faster we can get this stuff done and out into the world so you can play the finished product. We're also looking for strong portrait artists for the NPCs. Aside from those two things, the only other thing I have to say is - hold on to your respective hats; this is going to be really cool. M4 is coming soon!
I'd like to thank Jesse for taking the time to answer my questions. If anyone wants more information about the game, or would like to help the team with making the game, just follow this link to U6 Project official site.
Information aboutUltima VI Project: The False Prophet
Play-time: Over 60 hours
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2010-07-05
· Publisher: Archon