> This classic passive-aggressive apology — “I felt awful that I had let down so many people in my effort to be loyal and learn from EA” doesn’t exactly ring out with contrition — isn’t even internally consistent; if the development team loved their game so much, why was Origin’s management forced to devise stratagems to keep them from going home out of the fear that they wouldn’t come back? Nevertheless, it does contain a fair amount of truth alongside its self-serving omissions
Ugh - those omissions are not self-serving. The reality (which we all see) is that the dev team f*cking hated the game, probably gave up on quality, and everyone knows it. But saying so is an attack on the people Garriott screwed when he screwed up; the omissions are of other people's contributions to his faults, not his faults themselves.
The apology was _incredibly_ well-written: it highlights all of garriott's mistakes, in detail, and places the blame squarely on his own shoulders: he could say "EA is evil because they enforce business discipline," but instead said "they did their job as a business, and I didn't so mine as a creator."
If anything, this was probably _too_ self-blaming (we all know EA would just replace him if he didn't bow down, accomplishing nothing). But don't criticize him for failing to throw his team under the bus. Knowing very little, I'd love work for this guy, based on that apology alone.
If you need another data point, I worked on a (non-software) project for Garriott. He was awesome and I'd do it again in a second.
By my guess, you must either be an astronaut or a knight
Or perhaps an explorer? Richard Garriott was recently elected president of the Explorers Club.
The apology is well-written, but I'm not sure it "it highlights all of garriott's mistakes, in detail, and places the blame squarely on his own shoulders".
That was the first time I read the apology, and the apology immediately raised red flags for being one that was only half of the whole picture and engineered to put blames on others; the self-criticism is simply there to induce sympathy.
In my opinion, the fact that there is nothing in that apology that directly addresses the departure of Ultima VIII from everything(?) that fans were expecting then is one of those, and the biggest, red flags.
I would have some sympathy for getting a burnt pizza from a pizza kitchen that's under lots of pressure and the staff are being worked to their bones; but I would not have any sympathy for the manager's apology for giving me a burnt toast made with sliced bread.
I have not played the Ultima games and I don't like EA much.
Edit: missing "to".
EA also killed Nox and Westwood, and we have some bits and pieces of anecdote about how that went, so I tend to believe what Garriot had to say about that.
Westwood was one of a kind, it still hurts to this day to think how great C&C series could be. Signed: A person who still thinks of the Red Alert expansion and not the Half-Life mod, when he hears "Counterstrike".
I've been re-playing the Red Alert 2 campaign this week and my god this comment hits hard
I don't know, I think when someone is acquired, there are two things going on:
- people have finally cashed out so motivations are changing
- an investment has been made, so people start accepting business goals are important.
So reading this story I wonder if EA is the villain here, or human nature.
Now I do blame EA for popcap. I'll never forgive Plants vs Zombies 2 with literal pricetags in dollars on all the plants.
Having been part of a company acquired by EA: It's EA.
Nobody "cashed out", because the stock options turned into so much hot air. You couldn't have pried business goals out of EA with a autopsy kit. They were interested in IP, and in "leadership". They deliberately drove the rest of the business into the ground to get rid of most of the devs.
And, talking to other people acquired by EA, that was far from the exception. In general, anybody who worked for EA in a non-exec role can tell you: If you wonder who the villain is, you could do worse than guess it's EA "leaders"
And Pandemic, and many others. I think Bobby Kotick once said something like, if you want to see your game studio shut down, sell it to EA. It's true that founders want to cash out but you can be sure that in all these places there were many people who wanted to keep making games.
I know EA is the evil empire and whatever else but it doesn't seem obvious to me that Garriott threatening to resign means he would just get replaced. I'd say more likely they would give them more time.
The Ultima fanbase has always had a cultish love of RG for many good reasons, sure. Firing the guy would not be a smart business decision.
We're also only hearing his side of it. I tend to think EA was in the wrong, but also know that it's almost always the case one side of a story is biased, even if unintentionally.
Despite a poor modern track record, EA back then is not the same company as EA today.
The decision makers directly above him could have easily replaced him without actually replacing him, but I don't think they would have cared about the bad PR from cutting him at all. Acquiring a studio or rockstar is both good pr and good for business, but firing be a bad employee or cutting a failing studio is also good for business as far as shareholders and execs were concerned.
In what world do shareholders believe that firing the principal talent, creative director, and founder of a new acquisition--within a YEAR of acquiring the company!--is "good for business"?
Only if you believe businesses are run by mustachio-twirling villains who sit around trying to ruin games for fun.
Pagan was pretty bad. I was one of the superfans at the time, I had played every Ultima on my Apple II and then my PC. I was one of the first people to beat Ultima VI and still have my award certificate from Lord British which I got in the mail. I spent late nights tweaking my autoexec.bat and config.sys to get Ultima VII to run properly. Pagan was unplayable on release, it was actually impossible to across the stones leading across an underground river without falling in. Later they released a patch which fixed the most glaring issues and I completed the game, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.
What REALLY killed Ultima was the absolute state of Ultima IX. Also released in an unplayable state, the patches rolled in. Finally after about two months, it was playable but as one progressed in the game, incongruities almost immediately popped out. The lore had been changed, sometimes substantially. And this wasn't the worst thing - it became clear after not too long that the game wasn't done at all. This was later admitted by an Origin team member who released the real plot, and later on people attempted to fan-patch the game to make it more like it had been planned originally.
Of course, EA is to blame for all of this, but Garriott shares this blame for allowing them to take too much control away from his organization and okaying the releases before they were ready.
Hacki's page is still THE internet resource for the pissed off former Ultima fan.
Ultima VIII was the first (and only) Ultima game I played. There was so much hype for the franchise and I had never played, so I bought it new and had high expectations...
ooof. i tried to play it but got into some boring dead end where i didn't know what to do next and figured i missed something but realized i just didn't care and would rather do some chores than keep playing.
i was just confused that anyone liked ultima at all and forgot about it.
kind of interesting to see the story behind that game (i forgot about it so much that i never bothered to look into why it sucked so much before today).
If you're still up for gaming UVII is one of the greatest classic games ever made, IMHO it's still the best open world game and it feels more alive than say, Morrowind or Skyrim or Fallout 4 or anything really. I saw somebody closing their shutters over their windows before going to bed in UVII when I first played the game, so I double clicked the same shutter a minute later and it opened again. As I sat there, just marveling at what I had done and the level of life and interactivity in the game, the woman came back and CLOSED THE SHUTTER AGAIN.
The game is chock full of astounding details like this. Feeling poor? Just thresh some wheat, take it to the mill and grind it into flour and bake some bread and sell it.
I agree wholeheartedly but it can’t go without saying that this is most true when you take into account the Forge of Virtue expansion and to a lesser extent The Silver Seed which added even more detail to the world.
It only killed the franchise if you don't count Ultima Online, which is probably one of the most important games in video game history.
If you zoom up a bit from the level this article is in, as I understand it, while Ultima was on the rocks anyhow, it was Ultima Online that comprehensively killed the franchise by being too successful. Rational business logic said to pour the effort into the moneymaker UO and the single-player Ultimas couldn't compete for resources.
IMHO, there would still have been a lot of winds against the series anyhow. The exponential increase in the difficulty of technology was not playing well with Origin's high level of aggressiveness on that front. And perhaps a bit more controversially, the series just wasn't headed in a good direction; after the impressive founding of the series' reputation on the virtue system in 4 and 5, the series was headed ever faster into a nihilistic undercutting of its own foundations. (And I'd highlight the undercutting aspect over the nihilistic aspect; while I'll cop to being less impressed with nihilism than probably the average HN reader, nihilistic RPGs aren't intrinsically a bad thing, but in this particular case it undercuts the foundations.) Even a fully-realized Ultima 8 was never going to fit the series very well, and IMHO could even have ended up with a worse story in some aspects than we got.
Well, I distinctly remember there being a lot of hype a while after Ultima IX came out that Ultima X would be a reimagining of UO in 3D. I'm not sure how much of that was wishful thinking on the part of gamers that were looking for a silver lining in the steaming pile that was Ultima IX (me included) and how much of that was founding in fact, or at least the plans of Origin/EA. One would think if UO was so successful they would want to funnel people into something new with even more longevity.
On a side note, Ultima IX was not only not a good game, it's the only game I know of that ever sent me a complete set of new CDs with an updated version on them months after release without me even specifically requesting it. I still remember the mostly (entirely?) blank white tri-fold (or quad fold?) cardboard CD enclosure it came in with all new disks. I don't think I ever used them, partly because I already had that version or one better from the internet prior to it arriving, and partly because the game still had such horrible performance on my moderately good system that I had already given up on it because the gameplay itself wasn't nearly good enough to make me subject myself to that.
UO was incredible. I learned ASM and how to use a debugger because of that game. Released open source tools to patch all 100+ versions of the game client. Some day I'll make a proper sequel. There's been no better balance of risk vs. reward since UO...I think a couple titles have come close, but nothing has captured the magic of T2A.
UO was my #1 gaming experience and sadly like others have mentioned: probably won't have that exceeded by an MMO again. However, there was a brief moment when Sierra had more control over the LOTR MMO (known as Middle Earth Online) and it looked very similar to early UO.
I've always been searching for another MMO experience. Eve Online was close but not quite the same. While not exactly an MMO experience, Rust is the closet modern approximation that I've experienced.
ARK: Survival Evolved is a much better example of a game in the UO/Eve Online spirit. While also being a cutthroat PvP sandbox like Rust, it has complex politics and power games between massive inter-server tribes, making it more MMO-ish.
> probably won't have that exceeded by an MMO again
It'll happen once VR takes off, even if that takes another 20 years to happen.
UO is the only game that allowed players to completely dictate the social norms between players and didn't allow players to box themselves into their own segregated safe experiences. It's easy to understand why MMO's evolved away from this approach as they attempted to reach the masses, but there's an entire audience looking for something else that got abandoned. It's a shame, really.
> didn't allow players to box themselves into their own segregated safe experiences
For the first year or two at least.
Shadowbane allowed this too. Was a great experience with the natural politics emerging since resources were fairly scarce and you needed to stick together to survive and not get your things taken from you.
Ultima 6 and 5 have been remade by modders for the Dungeon Siege engine (full remakes with functionality and systems not just a re-skin/tribute)
Ultima 6 - http://u6project.com/wp/ (sorry for non-https link)
Worth a shot if somebody finds the originals too difficult to get into now. (Though gameplay is brutal regardless, I keep running out of food when adventuring - the map doesn't show your position, you need to use landmarks (eg; follow the edge of this lake) and the compass to orient yourself)
(disclaimer: I did some map/dungeon building some 15 years ago for the U6 one)
There are also the open-source Ultima game engine remakes:
Nuvie (for Ultima 6, Martian Dreams, and Savage Empire) - http://nuvie.sourceforge.net
Exult (for Ultima 7 and 7.5) - http://exult.sourceforge.net
All of these use the original game files to play the games and offer improved user interface options, higher resolutions, graphics scaling, wider fields of view, gameplay improvements, etc. These are a great way to play these old games on a modern computer.
For those who look first at a project's last release, Exult could seem like abandoned software but it's really not - it's done and finished like xterm. There's (almost) nothing left (of consequence) to do. Which is not to say it's perfect, but it's stable, allows you to complete the entire game and all side quests, allows a bigger viewframe which of course breaks the game in some ways but is an extremely useful comfort addition, etc.
Nuvie is also good and has seen much more rapid progress in the last decade. It's great that these projects exist and of course dosbox will run both games smoothly and has for a long time too.
I'm more skeptical of the remakes myself, the original graphics in VI and VII still look great, it's one thing to give, say, a 3D shooter game the enhanced remake treatment. Real-time 3D rendering speed and quality has improved by leaps and bounds yearly or so for decades now. But pixel graphics can't really be improved with any technology ducks to avoid scaler warring and you lose all the charm by translating the games into the 3D rendered realm.
> Exult could seem like abandoned software but it's really not
There is a new release within the last year. And there are still lots of commits happening, including several within the last 24 hours.
There is also a project called "Ultima 5 Redux" in the works by an Ultima 5 fan. https://u5redux.wordpress.com/2020/04/06/first-dev-vlog I stumbled across it during a nostalgia binge during "lock down" last year. It appears to be under development in the author's spare time. The latest git commit was four days ago at time of writing this comment.
For you and those that played any of the 4-7 for comparison, how was the change in map scale compared to pace of wilderness? I was reading this https://simblob.blogspot.com/2014/05/map-homunculus.html?m=1 and it shows dev reasoning for the changes, but I'm curious how gamers actually took it. Was it better before or after?
The single-scale, continuous world is undeniably better. It is arguably less realistic geographically, but it makes the world more vibrant and lifelike. For example, the player can follow the NPCs as they travel between towns or meet each other in the wilderness or the player can chase a creature from the wilderness into town to be killed by guards. Instead of the world feeling like a bunch of disconnected silos, everything is connected on one seamless map.
Also, even though the wilderness is geographically smaller in the single-scale games, it feels bigger because the player has to traverse the wilderness at 1X speed. Also, to make travel more interesting and to encourage exploration, the developers fill the wilderness with secrets, side-quests, hidden items, creatures, etc. The wilderness becomes part of the game, whereas in the older games the wilderness was just a bunch of blue or green on a map.
Wow. Is Pagan universally reviled? Perhaps because I was never an Ultima fan (didn't play the series) I actually liked Pagan: the graphics, the huge world, and the plot in which there was some sort of conspiracy of fake elemental "gods". I wasn't emotionally involved with Britannia, so I didn't care that the game wasn't set there.
It's news to me that this game was a disappointment to fans.
Unsurprisingly given what I wrote above, I absolutely loved Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire. Also not set in Britannia but in a pretty cool pseudo Aztec world.
The problem that U8 had was that the rest of the Ultimas were mindblowing and pushing the frontiers of what a game could be with every release.
U5 built a massive world. U6 took it further with npcs with lives and schedules instead of just being a static display in a shop, U7 built on that and felt like a living world. U8 took us out of the britannia we loved, and put us into a much smaller world with no companions. It would have been fine as a different game, or as a section of a larger game.
Also... I hated the jumping puzzles because the movement was so clunky. I'm pretty sure those existed, but it has been 20 years so maybe I'm remembering that wrong.
Well, the PC was truly booming when U8 dropped and I hoped it would recapture the Garriot touch from the 1980's.
U3 was my intro which was a huge world and an epic grind for gold. U4 blew us all away with its depth. Remember at the time titles like Bards Tale and Wizardry were the main go-tos for party based RPG. So U4 was truly epic with it's NPC interaction and depth of plot.
But this was still the 1980's when Apple //e's mostly dominated the computer game scene. The big switch to PC happened around U5, but for those of us still shelling out money for the franchise, it became repetitive with U6 and U7. Odd that Garriot would blame EA for the NFL cycle when Ultima started to feel like it.
Ultima Underworld was a fun preview of 3D and a refreshing departure from the tops down U# series, but U8 just ... hurt. I had bought my first Pentium machine and was quite disappointed with how much of a departure it was. You literally leveled up by whacking things, anything, thousands of times. The plot was lame, the game play was uninteresting.
But I was already bored of Ultima titles by that point, so it was more tedious than reviled. I think until UOnline, U4 was the high watermark, IMHO.
Great article though, it was written with care by a fellow enthusiast of times long gone.
I agree the article is great, as is most of the series from that website.
> The plot was lame
I can't agree with this. It was thrilling and involving!
It probably has to do with what you said: you had expectations about Ultima. I didn't. That it was action oriented didn't bother me, for example. The other game I liked was Savage Empire, which is not set in Britannia either (I liked it more than Pagan, I'll grant you that!).
It was the only one I ever played, I got a copy with my soundcard in the first PC my parents bought (along with Wing Commander and Syndicate). I loved it, despite it being really challenging for me.
Wait, was this..
The Soundblaster "Edutainment Pack"? I have a feeling I got the same exact package.
Same, I had played 7, which was AMAZING, and 8 was fun. But I was young and not a long time fan of the franchise.
Ultima 7 utterly blew my mind as a kid. I remember one evening coming downstairs to dinner after playing it all day, and realised my whole sense of reality was somehow altered... there was an entire living world in that computer. That feeling completely changed me.
U8 was pretty great too, but somehow not the same as U7; what was gained in graphics quality was lost in sheer scope and detail.
Same, but I quit after Ultima 7.2. I remember trying 8, and just never getting into it. Huge disappointment, as 7.2 had improvements over Black Gate, and I just expected 8 to be an iteratively better new adventure. I wanted Ultima 7.3 and instead got Diablo 0.1.
Except for Ultima 9 and UO, I finished every other Ultima, starting from III. In fact, Ultima 3 was either the first game, or at least one of the first games I ever played.
The game world in every game was amazing in their time, the most interesting combination of ideas and stories I have ever known. Every game in the series attempted to be a pioneer in some way or another, and almost every one succeeded at it.
Which makes it triply sad how fast and how deep the series fell after 8. Even though very different, 8 was still solidly Ultima. It tasted like it. It also tasted like it was not quite Ultima, and of course now we know why. The bean counters ruined it, like they ruin most artistic things. Well, ultimately Garriot ruined it, because he sold Origin Systems.
And now we have Shroud of the Avatar, in which Garriot and the whole management team became bean counters as well and the game is, well, not very good. It probably too tried to pioneer something but I'm not sure what that is.
I think Garriot is no longer involved with Shroud of the Avatar, I'm not sure of the details but it seems he sold or left the thing in 2019 and probably stopped actively working on it earlier than that.
The only one I played was Ultima VII. Found a few easter eggs, then one day I'm walking through the woods and get attacked. Two of my people are on the ground, bleeding out. They are completely clipped behind trees and I couldn't figure out how to heal them. And that was the end of that.
Older me probably could have worked out the UI (maybe clicking on the character image) but young, post-fight me got lost and felt helpless, which is exactly the sort of thing you should not feel in an adventure game.
I have fond memories of playing Ultima I through Ultima V on green screen Apple //e and //c computers.
Monitor III for the win! I'll never forget looking at Ultima through that monitor's silk-like anti-glare texture while being serenaded by the restful tones of a Mockingboard...
Ultima music on the Mockingboard was the best. Thinking of the Ultima II-IV era IIRC. I listened to it hour after hour at my buddy's house and never got tired of it.
+1 for the Monitor III. I remember being amazed to see the early Ultimas in color, because for me they’d always just had different “patterns”.
I also started with U3, on an 8-bit atari. Played through U7.5 but passed on 8 and 9.
I think the series probably peaked with U6.
Everytime someone mentions UO, my heart start racing.
I spent several years within this world, met hundreds of friends I already forgot, tried countless tournaments, fights and lived so many memories.
Maybe it's just nostalgia, but this game showed me, what it means to love something you spend your free time with. Maybe it even transfered somehow to programming later on.
I feel like a lot of this comes from an "Ultima fan" perspective where Ultima VIII "ruined it" because it was too different. Conversely, I played it first, and enjoyed it; it did many things no game I'd played before had tried, although was not short of many flaws (which tbf the post-release patch resolves quite a few of). Playing other Ultimas later, they were in many ways good but also felt a bit trite in their morality.
I don't think it's trivially an awful game. I've heard a lot about how wonderful Ultima VII is, but more recently I get the impression (after reading articles like http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2020/08/ultima-vii-black-gate...) that there's another side to it: also dramatically flawed in many ways, maybe less obviously so than Pagan but the writing may have already been on the wall. Assuming everything just went terribly at the end and blaming on "the bean counters" seems a bit lazy to me.
> I feel like a lot of this comes from an "Ultima fan" perspective
I think that's selling The Digital Antiquarian (filfre.net) short. It's an impressive body of scholarship. If the author has a fandom bias, it's for text adventures, not Ultima.
I agree. I liked Ultima 8. Don't get me wrong. 7 and 7.5 were better, but 8 was still enjoyable. I was disappointed when they didn't release an expansion pack.
Both Ultima VI and VII are divisive points for series fans. The issue comes down to what level of detail and scale is really desired.
The earlier games do a better job of staying coherent to their main questlines: while there's some NPC interaction, you're expected to be in puzzle-solving mode for the bulk of it, looking for hints to the next item or location. This presentation of the game as a "solvable puzzle" was the norm for 80's gameplay, since the capacity for simulation was so limited.
With VI, suddenly the gameplay occurs at a single uniform scale and camera perspective. It's still using tiling compression to achieve that scale, so there is visible repetition, but the effect is that now it's easy to get lost. This is carried forward into the interactions, which now have a larger depth and persistence to them, and not everything is puzzle-centric. Ultima VI is coherent to Origin's motto of the time, "we create worlds", but at the expense of being a consistent "questing" experience. The increase in detail rather adds new "and now the hero must go to the toilet" style moments that break with the scenario.
Ultima VII just goes even farther down this path - it's very much a world, to the point of still rivaling AAA experiences of more recent years, albeit at a fraction of the graphical fidelity, with the absolute minimum of animation that could suffice. Playing it for long periods can leave you with a headache because the perspective and scale and detail combine into composited scenes of dense, tiny pixel blobs all representing various objects - the eye never gets a chance to rest. While the game is not overtly that tricky, it still draws on many of the tropes of older RPGs in this highly detailed setting, which adds a sense of unease: Sometimes a thing triggers in a dungeon and you're just not quite sure if it was a programming bug or it was intended as a trap.
And it's so hard to stay focused on the main quest in VII without being systematic about it that most players will likely have their fill long before that. Besides the issue of getting lost and having trouble finding an NPC when they move around on a schedule, there's still no quest tracking(this just wasn't a thing yet), but it does automatically give you keyword topics, so you can blunder around, trigger a lot of things and then forget what happened, where previously you were going to have to take notes anyway just to know what topics to type in.
And Ultima VII has some of the simplest, least gratifying combat in the series - there's no more turn-taking and it nearly plays itself, with the tactical decision making coming mostly in preparation and various gimmickry with the engine. The combat is a small element supporting the world instead of a definite thing explored on its own terms.
Lastly, in a literal sense Britannia started getting smaller with VI and VII, when you look at how much the towns are getting crammed together. The sense of "travel" isn't there because the landscape is truncated.
So in that light, VIII is a continuation of several trends. It's more graphically intense(actual animation now), but it made further cuts to the RPG framework, and further pushed the detail instead of the overall worldbuilding scope.
I think the main issue Ultima had with these later games was with making the increased detail cohere well. It made the programming more fragile, stretched the asset counts, and pushed people's PCs to the limit while being less of a straightforward dungeon crawl each time and a little more of a tech demo, and then with VIII finally hitting a point where the production process didn't get to fully flesh it out. The baton of detailed worldbuilding was passed to Ultima Online, which I do think deserved all its success.
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