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Editorial The Digital Antiquarian on Ultima Underworld

Discussion in 'RPG News & Content' started by Infinitron, Jan 19, 2019.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Tags: Blue Sky Productions; Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer; Deep Space: Operation Copernicus; Doug Church; Lerner Research; Looking Glass Studios; Ned Lerner; Origin Systems; Paul Neurath; Space Rogue; The Digital Antiquarian; Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss; Warren Spector

    The Digital Antiquarian announced last week that he was switching to a bi-weekly update schedule and so his promised article about Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss was published today, a week later than expected. It looks like he made good use of that extra time however, because the article is absolutely packed with detail. Not just about the development of Ultima Underworld, but also about the early history of Looking Glass Studios and its two original component studios - Ned Lerner's flight sim-focused Lerner Research, and Paul Neurath's RPG-focused Blue Sky Productions. At the end, with the help of Origin producer Warren Spector, Underworld was successfully finished and became an unexpected smash hit. I quote:

    Blue Sky soon discovered that becoming an official Ultima game, while great for marketing purposes and for their own sense of legitimacy, was something of a double-edged sword. Origin demanded that they go back through all the text in the game to insert Ultima‘s trademark (and flagrantly misused) “thees” and “thous,” provoking much annoyance and mockery. And Origin themselves made a cinematic introduction for the game in Austin, featuring Richard Garriott, one of the industry’s worst voice actors of all time — and that, friends, is really saying something — in the leading role, bizarrely mispronouncing the word “Stygian.” It seems no one at Origin, much less at Blue Sky, dared to correct Lord British’s diction… (The British magazine PC Review‘s eventual reaction to the finished product is one for the ages: “I had to listen to it two or three times before I fully grasped what was going on because for the first couple of times I was falling about laughing at the badly dubbed Dick Van Dyke cockney accents that all these lovable Americans think we sound like. You know: ‘Awlright, Guv’noor, oop the happle un stairs!'”)

    While Origin made the dodgy intro in Texas, Warren Spector got everybody in New England focused on the goal of a finished, shipped game. Doug Church:

    Not only was he [Spector] great creatively to help us put finishing touches on it and clean it up and make it real, but he also knew how to finish projects and keep us motivated and on track. He had that ability to say, “Guys, guys, you’re focused in totally the wrong place.” He had that ability to help me and the rest of the guys reset, from the big-picture view of someone who has done it before and was really creative, but who also understood getting games done. It was a huge, huge win.​

    It’s very easy in hacker-driven game development to wind up with a sophisticated simulation that’s lots of fun for the programmers to create but less fun to actually play. Spector was there to head off this tendency as well at Blue Sky, as when he pared down an absurdly complex combat system to something simple and tactilly intuitive, or when he convinced the boys not to damage the player’s character every time he accidentally bumped into a wall. That, said Spector, “doesn’t sound like fun to me” as a player — and it was the player’s fun, he gently taught Blue Sky, that had to be the final arbitrator.

    At Spector’s behest, Neurath rented a second office in Boston — officially known as the “Finish Underworld Now” office — and insisted that everyone leave the house and come in to work there every day during the last two months of the project. The more businesslike atmosphere helped them all focus on getting to the end result, as did Spector himself, who spent pretty much all of those last two months in the office with the team in Boston.

    Spector did much to make Blue Sky feel like a valued part of the Origin family, but the relationship still remained rocky at times — especially when the former learned that the latter intended to release Ultima Underworld just two weeks before Ultima VII, the long-awaited next title in the franchise’s main series. It seemed all but certain that their game would get buried under the hype for Ultima VII, would be utterly forgotten by Origin’s marketers. Certainly marketing’s initial feedback hadn’t been encouraging. They were, they said, having trouble figuring out how to advertise Ultima Underworld. Its graphics were spectacular when seen in motion, but in still screenshots they didn’t look like much at all compared to a Wing Commander II or an Ultima VII. Blue Sky seethed with frustration, certain this was just an excuse for an anemic, disinterested advertising campaign.

    In Origin’s defense, the problem their marketers pointed to was a real one. And it wasn’t really clear what they could have done about the release-date issue either. The original plan had been, as they didn’t hesitate to remind Blue Sky, to release Ultima Underworld in time for the Christmas of 1991, but the protracted development had put paid to that idea. Now, Blue Sky themselves needed Ultima Underworld to come out as quickly as possible because they needed the royalties in order to survive; for them, delaying it was simply impossible. Meanwhile Origin, who had cash-flow concerns of their own, certainly wasn’t going to delay Ultima VII, quite possibly the most expensive computer game ever made to that point, for a mere spinoff title. The situation was what it was.

    Whatever was to happen in terms of sales, Blue Sky’s young hackers did get the satisfaction in late March of 1992 of seeing their game as a boxed product on store shelves, something more than one of them has described as a downright surreal experience. Dan Schmidt:

    We were a bunch of kids straight out of school. This was the first professional project we’d ever done. We felt lucky that anyone would see it at all. We’d go into a games store and see our game there on the shelf. Someone would walk up to it, and we’d want to say, “No! No! You don’t want to buy that! We just hacked that together. It’s not, like, a real game.”​

    In the beginning, sales went about as expected. A snapshot from Origin’s in-house newsletter dated July 31, 1992, shows 71,000 copies of Ultima VII shipped, just 41,000 copies of Ultima Underworld. But, thanks to ecstatic reviews and strong word of mouth — Origin may have struggled to see how groundbreaking the game really was, but gamers got it immediately — Ultima Underworld kept on selling, getting stronger every month. “It was the first game that ever gave me a sense of actually being in a real place,” wrote one buyer in a letter to Origin, clear evidence that Blue Sky had absolutely nailed their original design goal. Soon industry scuttlebutt had it outselling Ultima VII by two to one. Paul Neurath claims that Ultima Underworld eventually sold more than half a million copies worldwide, an extraordinary figure for the time, and considerably more than Ultima VII or, indeed, any previous Ultima had managed.
    The Antiquarian never did get around to writing his article about Ultima VII, but it seems he's just as enthusiastic about Ultima Underworld and the studio that created it. Looking Glass will be the topic of many more articles in the future, starting with a closer look at Underworld itself in his next installment.
     
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  2. Roguey Arcane Sawyerite Sawyerist Sawyer's Bride No Fun Allowed

    Roguey
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    For context https://web.archive.org/web/20110512211145/https://uo.com/archive/ftp/text/intrview/richgar.txt

     
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  3. Tramboi Cipher

    Tramboi
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    And now we've got this new Underworld thing. Sad.
     
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  4. mindx2 Codex Roaming East Coast Reporter Patron

    mindx2
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    Codex 2012 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech
    I think this speaks volumes to what happened with Ascendant:

     
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  5. Spectacle Arcane

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    Why are assistants always named Michelle?
     
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  6. taxalot I request a spice shipment immediately. Patron

    taxalot
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    Codex 2013 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015
    How would you name then ?
     
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  7. vonAchdorf Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    vonAchdorf
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    I wonder why you quoted this (and the other similar paragraphs)?
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2019
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  8. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    All comparisons between the contents of this post and the current activities of the people it mentions are left as an exercise for the reader.
     
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  9. Elwro Arcane Patron

    Elwro
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    Divinity: Original Sin Wasteland 2
    This goes without saying, but UU is a true classic which aged well; if you can accept Daggerfall's UI, you will adapt to UU as well. Everybody should play it.

    It seems to me you can finish UU while missing a lot of the content. Not saying you can unintentionally break quest-lines like in Dark Souls, because there are close to 0 quest-lines in this game, but I think you can explore the amazing underworld and finish the plot without even noticing some gameplay options.

    Looking forward to the 2nd part of the article!
     
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  10. Zep Zepo Titties and Beer Patron Dumbfuck Repressed Homosexual

    Zep Zepo
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    This fluff piece shows a hint about that thing Zep-- was talking about, but stays in happy land so as to avoid causing conflict, now.

    ie: Waldo Rectum being a complete ass as indicated by several UU team members (on usenet and other archaic mediums I can't be assed to find)

    Zep--
     
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  11. mindx2 Codex Roaming East Coast Reporter Patron

    mindx2
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    Codex 2012 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Serpent in the Staglands Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech
    Just finished this again (for the umpteenth time) last week and still found a few things I had never seen. This game is still in my personal Top 5 of all time without a doubt. Which makes UA all the more disappointing :negative:. I never understood the criticism over the UI with this one or System Shock. It only takes a short time to get used to it...

    Show Spoiler
    ... and this is from a player with no hands!! Makes the "GIT GUD" meme even more apropos. :smug:
     
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  12. Zep Zepo Titties and Beer Patron Dumbfuck Repressed Homosexual

    Zep Zepo
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    Divinity: Original Sin
    I mean, picture it...you're a bunch of free swinging dicks, doing things you enjoy, on the cutting edge of something special....And CORPORATE sends in a watchdog who harasses you for over a month to "QUIT PISSING AROUND AND GET IT DONE".

    Oh, they're happy alright...come on. It's bullshit.

    I know it, you know it, and they know it.

    Except for management (and a few stragglers), UU2 was a completely different team. You can only take so much of Waldo Rectum's bullshit, before he sucks the fun out of everything and you have to move on.

    Zep--
     
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  13. Elzair Cipher

    Elzair
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    Say WHAT now?! He is not covering Ultima VII? It is arguably the best one in the series! He has covered every other Ultima. It makes me glad I have not started supporting him on Patreon.
     
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  14. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Oh, he'll probably get to it eventually. He seemed to hold it in high esteem in the conclusion to his Ultima VI article.
     
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  15. Zep Zepo Titties and Beer Patron Dumbfuck Repressed Homosexual

    Zep Zepo
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    Divinity: Original Sin
    Come to think of it, it may have been on CompuServe as I had a free account there in the early '90s.

    Zep--
     
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  16. Nano Prestigious Gentleman Cipher

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    That's partly because some of the UU1 team moved to work on Terra Nova instead of UU2.
     
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  17. MuscleSpark Savant Patron

    MuscleSpark
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    Seems like MCA was right after all.
     
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  18. grimace Savant

    grimace
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    How do we pronounce "stygian"?
     
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  19. GrainWetski Arcane

    GrainWetski
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    Not (pig)sty-geean.

     
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  20. ortucis Prophet

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    Author is male, right? :lol:
     
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  21. taxalot I request a spice shipment immediately. Patron

    taxalot
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    Yeah. It always bugged me, but he adressed it and just treated it as a personal preference. I don't mind it.
     
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