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Ultima Forever creative director explains why BioWare Mythic settled on remaking Ultima 4

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BioWare Mythic creative director Paul Barnett gave an impassioned speech at GDC Online about how his studio followed a turbulent path in the making of its upcoming action-RPG Ultima Forever — a process which involved several development restarts, and a near-cancellation of the project entirely.

However, before BioWare Mythic could begin developing Ultima Forever (a free-to-play remake of Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar), the team had to decide which game they were going to make. Barnett explained that the studio had complete freedom to choose their venture, but limited resources; he frequently referred to his company's assets as being limited to merely "a chicken, and a spoon."

Barnett explained during his panel that the team decided quickly that it wanted the game to be set in the Ultima franchise.

"Why are we doing Ultima," Barnett said. "We're doing it for lots of reasons, the most important one being we really cared about it, and we really wanted to do it, and we got our hands on it. You'd be surprised about how you can't do something if you can't get your hands on it, and you can't say, 'It's mine, you know.'"

Four games in the series sprung to Barnett's mind once that first decision was made, but two — Ultima Underworld and Ultima Online — were blackballed relatively quickly, due to the fact that remaking them would "cost a fortune." Only two games remained for BioWare Mythic to debate over: Ultima 4, and Ultima 7.

"Ultima 7 I really liked," Barnett explained. "It was the simulation Ultima. It was the one that had one-to-one scale, it's the one that had a weather system. Your own party, when you recruited them, they blew you up with their lightning spells. It was marvelous. You had the Black Gate, and you had the Guardian. It was great, but it was a simulation. And simulations are tough to code.

"Ultima 4 was the first grown-up Ultima," Barnett added. "That's the Ultima where we went, 'You know what? A fully-realized world, and great ideas, and have in it a moment of supreme clarity: It's about Virtues, it's about being a good person.' In my opinion, Ultima 4 is the birth of the great RPGs. And, I'm of the opinion that it needs to be revisited, because people really haven't done it. We've slipped back into, 'Oh, he needs to be a dragon, or he needs to be a demon, and everything needs to be covered in blood, and he has to have angst, and no one's allowed to be a good person.

"Best of all, it was stimulating," Barnett said. "Dudes were the same size as towns. They were the same size as ships. It had hot air balloons — not really, but it did. And it had galleons, and it had bandit dens, and teleporters and moongates."

Both had their appeal, Barnett said, but the decision ultimately came down to BioWare Mythic's limited resources and technical team.

"As a result, I went back to our head coder, and I said, 'Okay, Ultima 7: simulation. Ultima 4: stimulation,'" Barnett said. "And he said, 'What have you got?' And I said, 'A chicken, and a spoon.' And he said, 'Okay, four it is.'"