Project: Origin (No, Not That One)

By Alec Meer on August 14th, 2008 at 2:33 pm.

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Gaming archaeology: now there’s an idea. It can only be better than Bonekickers, anyway.

Upon hearing that EA Mythic had received several crateloads full of Origin Systems (the long-dead studio behind the Wing Commander and Ultima games, plus System Shock, and once home to the power duo of Warren Spector and Richard Garriot) archive materials, a group of fans arranged to catalogue the treasure trove. It turned out that EA seems to have hung onto an incredible amount of stuff, making this find perhaps the PC game equivalent of discovering all those fossilised folk in Pompeii. Best of all, there’s a good chance all these historical goodies will be released to the public.

The total trove so far is, apparently:

CD Images: 708
SyQuest Images: 25
Photographs: 3,390
3.5″ Disks: 274
Optical Discs: 2
DAT Tapes: 36
8mm Tape Images: 8
Scans: 8,225
VHS Tapes: 101

As well as a ton of design documents, concept art, tchotkes and interviews for at least two of the PC’s most respected series, they’ve discovered what may be code for several unreleased games: Bioforge Plus, Technosaur, Ultima IX (I’m presuming that means a different draft of U9). Technosaur’s the one to really get excited about, a lost project that Harvey Smith, later Lead Designer on Deus Ex, was working on shortly before Origin dissolved. Its splendid concept was this:

The high-tech future collides with the prehistoric past in Technosaur, a real-time, networkable strategy game featuring the cybernetic augmentation of dinosaurs for mission-based combat. Present day forces clash with armies from a decaying future who have traveled back in time seeking vengeance and a new lease on life. The invaders bring a terrifying contingent with them–including raptors, tyrannosaurs, stegosaurs, and many other prehistoric engines of death and destruction. Players control the forces of either side, rising in rank from squad leader to war chief as they develop new military technologies, design cybernetic dinosaurs, and manage critical resources. The setting for this terrible conflict is a living world; rain falls at random intervals, day shifts to night, and the fires of war spread through fields and forests, making up the elements of the most realistic world simulation ever created in a strategy game.

(from Smith’s former personal site here. Also see artwork here).

Could there be a chance we’ll finally get to see some working Technosaur code? Ooh, that’d be quite the thing: the lost RTS from the lead designer of Deus Ex. With robot dinosaurs!

Mythic’s Paul Barnett has much to do with the project: “he wants to see it preserved and available for people quickly–perhaps this may get to users’ hands!”

Thanks to the ever-cheerful Diogo Ribeiro for tipping us off to the story at the Artful Gamer, which in turn has links to photos of the colossal archiving project.

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35 Comments »

  1. Bobsy says:

    “What I’d really like to do is make films”

  2. Cedge says:

    Oh dear god. I hope they found The Lost Vale, the finished-but-unreleased expansion for Ultima VIII.

    They found nearly a terabyte of data, it says…I’d gladly go out today and invest in the harddriveage needed to store every last byte of it, for my own collection purposes.

  3. Steve says:

    sshock.exe

  4. Briosafreak says:

    Someone should do a documentary on this, it’s gaming archeology at its best.

  5. Richard says:

    Bioforge Plus? Oh please god let’s see that in the wild!

    That was a corker of a game, in fact I reinstalled and played no more than a couple of months ago, still a great story, puzzles were a lot easier than i remember them first time around tho.

    “If you’ve come for the fork, you’ll be sorely dissapointed”

  6. scopie says:

    I surely hope all the swag gets released in a free or semi-free fashion. I mean, it’s all abandonware at this point, right? (at least it used to be).

  7. Steve says:

    Lol.

    Richard:
    Tonfa gun is overheating!

  8. Subject 706 says:

    @Richard & Steve

    Damn you, Dr. Mastaba!!

  9. phuzz says:

    Nice to see a big company letting someone else archive their history (even if they can’t be bothered themselves).

  10. Dexton says:

    Ah Bioforge, I remember playing the demo about a million times, at least up to the point where you beat a man to death with his own arm.

  11. Cedge says:

    Scorpie:
    “Abandonware” is not a real legal classification. Most of what is deemed “abandonware” by the community is NOT officially and legally sanctioned as such by it’s creators/copyright holders. Most “abandonware” is, indeed, warez, but warez that the copyright holders don’t really care to persecute. At the moment, none of Origin’s (aka, EA’s) IP is officially “abandonware.”

  12. Flint says:

    Technosaur sounds so amazingly 90′s videogaming.

  13. Jetsetlemming says:

    Cedge: If they were to release it it would be only by EA’s blessing thus making it freeware. ;)

  14. Teknohed says:

    God I love Wing Commander.

  15. I don't understand this comment system says:

    It would be awesome if they released some source code under the GPL. I mean it will never happen, but it would be awesome. Even under dosbox some of the Origin games are a pain to run.

  16. Mr. Brand says:

    Just a terabyte? I can manage that, at least with another stack of DVDs..

  17. much2much says:

    Bioforge is a piece of art. Beautiful voice acting. Terribly hard crazy gameplay. Gamers nowadays wouldn’t get through it without a walkthrough. I never finished it without one but spent so long on it way back then. Excellent fiction. It is so enjoyable reading logs and computer terminals when there might be a clue on how to get through the game.

    Back to the screenshot of this post. The human looks like a cross between Mark Hamill and Richard Garriot while the other one looks like half Wookie half Klingon. Is that from Privateer?

  18. MrCarrot says:

    much2much: It is Mark Hamill. And a Kilrathi. And it’s from one of the Wing Commander games.

  19. faelnor says:

    Release the System Shock source code already >:(
    So we can port it to the DS

  20. RLacey says:

    That’s the box art from Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. I wish I’d bought the later games – as it is, I never played the full games after WC2…

    http://www.mobygames.com/game/dos/wing-commander-iii-heart-of-the-tiger/cover-art/gameCoverId,2746/

  21. Robin says:

    What’s going to happen to this stuff now they’ve archived it? I’m surprised the UT Videogames Archive isn’t mentioned anywhere, I thought that had ties to ex-Origin people and EA.

  22. Rob Merritt says:

    I wonder if they did the same for Bullfrog?

  23. Grey_Ghost says:

    Bioforge Plus? Was that the expansion that was advertised in several magazines that never came out? Bioforge was an awesome game, with what seemed like a novel’s worth of writing to be read in the game.

  24. JulianP says:

    Harvey Smith is overrated.

  25. Harlequin says:

    I would love nothing more than to see the Wing Commander series get an overhaul. Don’t change the plot, don’t change the script…just update the engine a bit.

    Absolutely loved those games.

  26. Shawn says:

    what amazing nostalgia RPS brings to me everyday :)

  27. Albides says:

    Ohmigod! Bioforge Plus! That’s fantastic! In the old “what sequel would you like to see” thread, I remember being careful to mention Bioforge. That game was awesome, and hardly anyone’s played it.

  28. NoNamePls says:

    Wonder if they still have uncompressed videos of Wing Commander 3. That would awesome.
    They already released MPEG2 versions of Wing Commander Prophecy.

  29. Ravenger says:

    I’ve got a DVD version of Wing Commander IV. Came free with an old Creative DXR2 DVD decoder and drive. There’s even a fan created patch now to get it running without the decoder, as it relies on an older API to display the video.

  30. Ergates says:

    “the cybernetic augmentation of dinosaurs for mission-based combat”

    Win!

  31. tholal says:

    Makes me kind of sad to see all of those awards and posters. I was working at Origin systems when they got folded into EA’s Redwood offices. In Austin, all of this stuff was hung up on the walls and in display cases around the offices and many of the long-time employees had collections of their own. It really gave the place a historic feeling.

  32. caesarbear says:

    Man did I love Origin back in the day. This is a great find.

  33. Banjo says:

    BIOFORGE PLUS!?!? I was just reinstalling Bioforge to play today, and was grabbing a patch off the net when I stumbled on this site and post… I remember talk of the Bioforge add-on all that time ago and when it never came out, figured my mate had been pulling my leg. Later, I found out it was canceled… I had NO idea it was not only at least partially complete, but would actually be FOUND one day! The thought of uncompressed WC3 videos just makes this post even more awesome. I’d happily pay good money for a ‘retrospective’ archive dvd of this stuff!!! I also hope the right finds might even – as another poster suggested – see WC3 and its fellows updated to a new flight engine (keeping the same videos/story/etc). But all that aside, if I could have just one thing from all this stuff, it would be Bioforge Plus!