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Interview Ultima Codex Interview: Ultima IX Lead Programmer Bill Randolph

Discussion in 'News & Content Feedback' started by Infinitron, Dec 5, 2014.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Tags: Origin Systems; Ultima IX: Ascension

    Last month was the 15th anniversary of the release of Ultima IX: Ascension, the last game in the Ultima series and one of the most disappointing RPGs of all time. Kenneth Kully of the Ultima Codex is one of the few fans who disagree with that assessment, which is why he's more eager than most to commemorate the occasion of its anniversary with a series of interviews with the game's developers. The first interview in the series is with Bill Randolph, Ultima IX's lead programmer. As in Kenneth's previous interview, there's a video and a transcript, of which I'll quote a portion:



    UC: That’s unfortunate. And that’s one of the things that has consistently come up in criticisms. I alluded to this when we chatted just recently, but…there’s a game reviewer who goes by the handle Spoony, he does really…esoteric game reviews, is the word I’m going to choose to use there. There’s a lot of ranting and raving, a lot of emotionally-driven discussions of the titles. And Ultima 9 earned his ire in a very special way, unfortunately; he devoted this three-part video rant to tearing it down some. And one of the things that has unfortunately become popularized as a meme on the Internet is the phrase “What’s a paladin?”

    He kept hammering that again, and again, and again during the game. And I think it really tied into that. I mean, the line in and of itself…the inclusion of an option, in a conversation, so that a new player who’s never played any other Ultima can learn what a paladin was, and get exposed to that part of the lore, shouldn’t have been controversial in and of itself. But certainly the dialogue quality left something to be desired.


    BR: Yes. Now, the specific line you’re referring to, and the property of having introductory material in a game like that…I think it’s important to do. And one of the concerns that EA kept re-iterating to use was that the Ultima fanbase was an ever-shrinking fanbase. And they didn’t want us to cater only to that fanbase; they wanted us to try and broaden the interest. And Richard was all about that; he was like: “yeah, we want more people to have fun with our game.” And so we were putting in material to introduce people more to the Virtues and the universe and so forth. But you’re right: the lack of polish probably emphasized that as something that stuck out. And there were conversations that I really feel fell short, and I know that…especially when you encounter the Companions near the end of the game, they’re not treated with the dignity that they should have been.

    That was just…we didn’t have the time. And that’s a shame. We really…every step of the way, on Ultima 9, the next thing we did was what we had to do. It was always driven by: “we have to do this next, we have to do this next.” And we never really got the chance to strategize and go: “let’s get our head above water here and see where we’re trying to go.” It was always do this or die, do this or die; that was the way the development went.

    UC: Is there any part of the game — a plot twist or gameplay element, something…if you’ve already discussed your favourite thing, then, you know, just mention it again and people can refer back. But…something that had to be cut that you really wish could have made it in.

    BR: I’m sure that there is, but I can’t think of any one, specific, major thing. There were just…I think the party was a mistake to cut, and I think the NPC…the RPG detail of the game itself was something that we overlooked and sacrificed. So I think I would say that is probably…even above the party, just that sort of RPGness of that game we missed, and we omitted too much. There was…if I may go into another little bit of a story here about the culture at the time?

    UC: Please!

    BR: I think a lot of the fans have picked up on that omission of RPG elements. At that time in Ultima 9’s development, and in Richard’s career, he was less interested in a pure, D20, Dungeons and Dragons-style RPG. He was trying to do something different, trying to do something new. And he had vocalized this to us several times that he didn’t want stats to be visible, and he didn’t want levels and progression to be what the game was about. And that was such a different and weird concept at the time that we didn’t really get it, and we felt a little lost at sea trying to make this game. Like: “how do we do this?”

    And so there was a de-emphasis on things like…one example is to build a fire. In a classic Ultima, you would need a tinder box, and a flint, and a steel, and then you could build a fire. Well, that was viewed as tedium…and there is a degree of that that could be tedious. But there’s a degree of it that’s fun, and so you gotta find that balance. We just swung too far the other way.

    And if I may say, I don’t think I’ve ever confirmed this with Richard, but…the modern-day incarnation of his idea, I think, is more fully realized in Skyrim. Skyrim is a game that…your character doesn’t really have stats. The stats are transitioned into the skill tree, but it’s really…you become what you do. And I remember he was really trying to do that in Ultima 9; he was trying to hide the traditional classes. You weren’t a Mage, you weren’t a Warrior; you did stuff and got experience based on that. But it would have taken considerably more iteration and time to bring that to life. I wish we had, because it was certainly a revolutionary idea.
    The full interview has a lot more information on the evolution of Ultima IX from a technical perspective. Read the whole thing, it's pretty damn interesting...and might I add, pretty damning of Richard Garriott. ”Well, let’s just cut the party; we don’t really need it.” Good grief.
     
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  2. Deuce Traveler Prestigious Gentleman 2012 Newfag Patron

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    Then he's a retard. Even if you stop considering Ultima IX and look at it as a action adventure game, it was still a buggy mess upon release. Even with patches, the game controlled horribly and the camera orientation was rage inducing. And Spoony was spot on about the lore being completely chucked out way past the point of previous deviations from established lore in prior games. Despite that, if they had decided to call the game Garriott's Generic Fantasy Part 1 and completely divorce it from Ultima lore, it would still be considered a bad game by action gamers and RPGers alike. It being called Ultima IX led it to be considered a rage inducing travesty rather than a forgotten relic.
     
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  3. Infinitron I post news Patron

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    Yeah, man, I gave up on talking to Kenneth about this years ago, before I even became a regular on the Codex. He's pretty set in his ways. I think the gist of it is that he just doesn't like all the nerdy lore expansion that the Ultima series underwent after Ultima 6. He thinks it became too grim and gritty and strayed too far from the series' relatively light-hearted and mystical U4-U6 "Age of Enlightenment" aesthetic. He views Ultima 9 as a return to that aesthetic.
     
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  4. lurker3000 Arcane

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    I was always surprised at how upset people were at the shittynes of U9. After U8 what where they expecting?
     
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  5. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/ultima/Ultima VIII Pagan/FANS.TXT

     
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  6. lurker3000 Arcane

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    Well I guess it was a simpler more idealistic time when starry-eyed fanboys trusted game developers and no one knew just how batshit crazy Garriot really was.

    But for me U8 was still the much bigger disappointment because it came out of nowhere.
     
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  7. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Yes, even Kenneth agrees that Ultima VIII was pretty bad (it helps that Garriott doesn't like it either). It was a far greater betrayal because he took the team that had made Ultima VII and basically ruined it. At least by the time of Ultima IX most of those people were gone, and you could understand that Origin was a different company by then, that had no idea what it was doing.
     
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  8. Kem0sabe Arcane

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    i remember only being able to play UIX several years after release, once i had a computer far exceeding the required specs for the game, so poor was its optimization and so buggy it was.
     
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  9. Quarex Novice

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    That is a pretty interesting interview. As one of the 6 people (I probably once counted) who enjoyed Ultima IX, it still makes sense as to how much better the game could have been. I will always stand behind the ending as the only satisfying payoff to a multi-game-spanning storyline and cast of characters, though.

    (It also helped that the game ran better on my system than seemingly any other; I had two crashes total. That said, I sequence-broke Buccaneer's Den?/Jhelom? and had to borrow a save from my roommate to avoid a dozen hours of backtracking. So I certainly did see its potential as the destroyer of hopes and dreams.)
     
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  10. Country_Gravy Arcane Patron

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    They made Ultimas after Ultima VII Part 2?
     
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  11. Blaine Cis-Het Oppressor Patron

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    Nope.
     
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  12. Jaesun Fabulous Moderator

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    Ultima VIII haters gonna hate...
     
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  13. :Flash: Arcane

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    The interview is well worth watching (or reading). The guy is pretty non-pretentious, and just tells some stories, both of the going-ons at EA/Origin back then, and about the technical difficulties they had.
    They pretty much didn't know what they were doing, regarding 3D tech, "nobody had thought about flagging polygons as walkable, that would have solved so many problems", "we had no spatial sorting for the polygons, just a huge polygon soup".
    Also quite interesting that the game was never really started over and still has parts of UVIII and Crusader in it. That's completely crazy, going from an isometric pixel game to a full 3D engine without starting over completely.

    It also makes you wonder at the stupidity of the execs. This was the company that had just delivered the biggest money machine in the history of EA, in which nobody at EA had believed, (UO), and nevertheless they weren't willing to give Origin a little leeway or time to make sure the game was polished.
     
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  14. thesheeep Arcane Patron

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    Every second of that game, every texture, every piece of dialog, every combat just screamed: "I am shit!"

    This is not just the "What's a paladin?" thing (which really IS retarded, as the character asking it damn well knows the answer if not suffering amnesia).
    It is also not just the bugs, which were so bad it almost became funny.
    Everything in that game is just really made as if the developers had no idea what they were doing, and that interview did not convince me of something else.
    The game's development just suffered from many "environmental issues", like the early 3D era which produced mostly shitty games as the devs were adjusting, or the publisher pressure which ruined so many games.

    In the end, I would not put all the blame on the developers, there really was a load of bad luck involved. But claiming that this is by any standard not a bad game is just total denial.
     
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  15. TW9: What's a witcher?
     
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  16. taxalot I'm a spicy fellow. Patron

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    I've read Kenneth and other Ultima fans being apologetic over Mythic and Ultima Forever for iOS. Need anything more be said ?
     
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  17. Excommunicator Arcane

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    So much for EA being the cause for the decline.

    Seems Richard Garriott was leading the charge there in dumbing down what he could whilst simultaneously failing on the project management side by not taking his "revolutionary" ideas to completion.
     
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  18. Abelian Somebody's Alt

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    I see what you did there.
     
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  19. Durante Learned Patron

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    That was a really interesting interview. It's amazing that they had no form of spatial structure at all. Not too much later (I believe around 2000) I wrote a paper for school on all the various types of spatial/hierarchical structures and sorting used in 3D games, and at that point this was all well documented and commonplace. Just goes to show how fast this stuff really moved during the 90s.
     
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