Enlightening: Ultima Forever Interview

When I heard that there would be a free to play Ultima game, my knee jerked so hard that I fractured my leg in four places. To learn more I spoke with lead designer Kate Flack and found that Ultima Forever could be a virtuous project, emphasising character development over looting, moral quandaries over monster-bashing and more interested in tracking player behaviour than spending patterns. I also managed to peek at a trailer showing the similarities between Forever and IV with transitions into the new visuals, an example of which is below. Beta signups are open now and I might be eating my words and going back to Britannia after all.

Should be obvious but just to be clear, the Honesty and Honor cards are from Ultima IV as are the two images following that. Onward.

RPS: Are you comfortable talking about Ultima Forever as a remake of Ultima IV? That’s where you’re looking back to, right?

Flack: I like to think of it as less of a remake and more of a reboot. It’s a subtle distinction but an important one. We’re not here to remake exactly the experience you had in Ultima IV. What I’m interested in doing is taking the effect and the intent behind Ultima IV and then applying that to a game. If you think about Ultima IV, the time it came out, 1985, it was fairly cutting edge in terms of technology and massively high concept. It was the first game to really tackle ethics.

I wanted to do something that was as subversive, as interesting, as deep…something that could ask as many questions as Ultima IV.

RPS: There was an interview with Richard Garriott from a long time ago, where he said that one of the main inspirations for Ultima IV was the realisation that so many things that you did in RPGs, including the original Ultima trilogy, were bad things. Even in games like Zelda you’d just walk into a house and steal from a chest. He said he wanted to acknowledge that and, for me, that’s the main thing that Ultima IV did. The virtue system.

Flack: That’s our touchstone. That and the world of Ultima, which is much beloved, including in the online game, which still has an active community. Another thing that I wanted to do, aside from touching on an ethical system, was to take Ultima and keep it going.

When you work on a big IP, say Warhammer, LOTR or Batman, you know that there are designers, writers and artists that came before you. With Ultima I want to make sure there will be designers, writers and artists after me as well. That’s why when we talk about it moving on, we’re looking to bring the world to a new generation. It has to pass on in order to continue.

Click to embiggen.

RPS: When I first saw the announcement, I grumbled because I had that rather silly reaction that a reboot is a replacement. That’s not true of course.

Flack: Not at all. We want to be really respectful though. We understand that we’re messing with peoples’ memories. It’s not about overwriting their childhood or their dreams, or the things they remember, it’s about ensuring there’s something to pass down.

RPS: In terms of geography, is it going to be the same map layout as Ultima IV.

Flack: Yeah, it’s based on the Ultima IV map. The geography of Britannia and Sosaria changes over time, but we wanted to touch on the things that Ultima IV deals with so we wanted to use that map.

A couple of things have moved around slightly to make things a little easier from an MMO perspective. We’re set 21 years after the events of Ultima IV, the later games haven’t happened yet, so we’re in a separate kind of shard, if you like. But if you’ve played Ultima IV, all the towns are there.

RPS: Would you describe the game as an MMO then?

Flack: It’s definitely multiplayer. There are four player dungeons and hundreds of people running around on the wrold map and in the towns.

RPS: But dungeons are always a group of four?

Flack: Yeah, that seems to be the perfect size for maximum co-op but minimum hassle. MMO comes with a kind of genre definition though and one of the things that’s hard to communicate is that we don’t really fit that definition. We’re explicitly trying to do something new, by going onto the iPad, which is the console of the new generation, but we’re making sure that everything is available on the PC. That kind of cross-platform play is incredibly interesting from a design perspective, making sure that things work with one finger tap, but also with a mouse and keyboard.

We’re calling it a multiplayer adventure game, not a massively multiplayer game.

RPS: So in the overworld, with lots of people running around, what kind of interactions are available there? In Ultima VII and Ultima Online, I liked just being able to exist in the world. What kind of social interactions do you have there?

Flack: It’s synchronous multiplayer, so you’ll be able to chat, send tells, get into groups and friend people. That aspect is all completely there.

RPS: Britannia always felt like a real place though; being able to sit in pubs, watch the world go by. Do you have any of that?

Flack: Well, that’s one of the reasons we draw the distinction between Ultima IV and VII. Ultima VII has a lot of simulation, NPCs with timetables sending them from place to place…you could watch a simulated world go by.

Ultima Forever is not like that. We went for adventure, playing with your friends and moral choices, over the simulation aspects. It’s for technical reasons but more so, for creative reasons; I wanted to do the virtue stuff. Video gaming is ripe for something like that right now.

RPS: As far as I can remember, Ultima IV was one of the first games, if not the first, to address those ethical issues. It’s more common now, with what I’ll loosely term moral choices being part of Dragon Age, KOTOR…how do you see Ultima’s virtue system fitting into today’s world?

Flack: My mission as a designer is to make you pause at the keyboard and think. You’re cast as a hero, you’re there to save Brittannia and the choices you have are virtuous ones. But jus becuase you’re trying to be good, doesn’t mean your decisions are easy.

So we put you in situations where you’re conflicted, so you might have three virtues to choose from and you pick the one that is appropriate for you. There’s a quest fairly early on in the game where a woman says that her husband has gone missing. You go venturing down into some sewers, kill a bunch of spiders and the other things you find down there, and you find his dead body.On his body is a letter to a mistress and you find out that this guy has been having an affair. You now have a choice. Do you go back to the wife and tell her he’s dead but don’t mention the affair, do you tell her he’s dead and that he’s been cheating on her, or do you go and tell the wife and then travel out to find the mistress to let her know as well.

As a designer, I haven’t assigned any right or wrong to those choices, I’m asking what do you think is the right thing to do.

RPS: That hits on the difference. Often in games with some sort of moral choice, there’s the ‘be a good guy’ option or there’s the ‘bastard button’ that you can press. If I press it I’m being a dick. It fits into Ultima to take away the bastard button and make it a choice of virtues.

Flack: I tend to think of it as taking ethics in gaming and zooming into the details. Just like in real life, the devil is in the details. Soemtimes the choices you make are nothing to do with your actions, they’re to do with your motivations. We allow the player to make quite finely detailed, discriminatory choices between the things that they want.

That’s because we have eight virtues. It’s a very intricate, complicated and high-minded system. As a designer sitting down and trying to figure out ways to measure the player’s spirituality is quite a challenge! (laughs)

RPS: It sounds like a fun challenge though!

Flack: Very true! Then you have the multiplayer aspect as well. So it’s not just about how you treat NPCs, it’s about how you treat other players and that to me is fascinating.

We use the prisoner’s dilemma, so in dungeons we have a thing called an honesty box and if you find one you can open it up. Sometimes there’s treasure inside and sometimes there isn’t, but we give you the option: do you want to share this with your party or do you want to steal it. Your party will never know but the game knows. And the game will judge you. So do you want a bump of gold so you can get the next load of gear or do you want to share with your friends. I’ll be fascinated to see what the standard behaviour becomes.

RPS: Would you be gathering all that data? Would you ever share it?

Flack: We have discussed it. At the moment we think no. What’s fascinating about the alpha is seeing what the players are doing – there’s a difference between what people say they think about the virtues and how they actually act in the game.

RPS: I was playing the Telltale Walking Dead recently and the choices there hit me. Given the choice to kill someone who really deserved to die, I didn’t and at the end, the game showed me how many people had made the same choice as me. The vast majority had. There’s a perception that games are all about killing and violence, but given the option, people often seem to do the opposite.

Flack: Anecdotally, game designers tend to believe that as well, that most people tend to be good. Helps restore your faith in humanity right?

RPS: Yes! My reading of Ultima IV is that it was meant to communicate that, to show that people do horrible things all the time in games, but that’s because it’s the only option they have. If the goal is virtue, rather than to be an unstoppable killing machine, people will happily engage with that goal, it’s just they’re not often given the choice.

Flack: I think one of the fascinating things about Ultima IV and one of the reasons it’s still enduring today is that you can have those kind of discussions about it in quite a sophisticated way, the same as you could about a movie or a novel, or a piece of music even. It’s nice to see that games can do that.

RPS: So to reboot it, what do you think has to be changed for a modern audience? Admittedly, as someone who bangs the drum for the series all the time, I do appreciate that it can be difficult to show them to one of these youths I hear about and try to get them interested, particularly with the early ones.

Flack: There’s some basic stuff to do, like core controls, which have to fit the platform you’re on. Having it so you don’t need 27 differnet function keys to remember. Nice menus, quest logs, maps. Things we take for granted now.

We’ve also focused gameplay into segments. The shortest loop you can play the game for is fifteen minutes, so it’s built into these fifteen minute chunks. This isn’t sit down for six hours like with something along the lines of Skyrim. You can get in and get out fairly quickly. So, short dungeons, get in, get to the end, get out. That’s both to facilitate play on the iPad but also to accomodate groups coming in and coming out. Not everyone has hours to sit down and raid anymore. I squeeze my gaming in around a whole bunch of stuff I’m doing in my life.

You can play for fifteen minutes and have a viable and productive session, but if you do have two hours you can do multiple game loops, dungeon runs, quests, advance your virtues some more.
Do you play a lot of MMOs?

RPS: At the minute, just The Secret World. I don’t have time. I never have time. Unless I’m going to write about a game, I barely find the time to play it.

Flack: It’s sort of like that as a designer too! When I play a game I look at mechanics and art style, learn from them.

In a lot of MMOs people just don’t quests, they just click, click, click, accept, go where they’re told. That’s to do with the questing system. You know there’s a rhythm. Accept, go somewhere, kill things or interact with something. They don’t need to read and there’s often a lot of text there that just gets ignored. So we had to develop a style of narrative that was compact and appealing to people who may only have a short amount of time to play the game and may be on an iPad where there’s limited real estate for text. So our writing style is much more akin to web journalism, where you have to get the story across succinctly and compellingly in twitter length narrative.

That’s been interesting and humbling. We have a thing called Gamelab where testers come in to play the game and a camera wathces them and records their screen. It’s tremendously humbling to watch players play your game and not read anything, just clicking away. It’s not my job to sit there and force people to read War and Peace. I have to do it in a way that incentivises players to read and be interested. So we’ve had to develop a really brief, punchy, Hemingwayesque kind of style that does the job while also asking some interesting and important questions.

RPS: It’s always interesting to work within limitations. They always exist but the more noticeable they are, the greater the challenge. Whether it’s a stage or a wordcount, it asks questions of the writer.

Flack: Absolutely. Just because our text is brief, that doesn’t mean it can’t be powerful. The shortest saddest story in the world is “for sale: one pair of baby’s shoes, unused”. Wonderful economy of words, but with power.

RPS: You mentioned ‘enhancing’ virtues. Are there actual bars that show how far people have advanced along each virtue track?

Flack: Well, our character sheet is separated into two halves. One is your physical body and external nature and the other half is your virtues and internal nature. To become the Avatar you need to excel in both of those things. It’s not good enough to be a brutish Conan, you have to be a warrior poet on the other side.

So one half is dedicated to your virtues and as you go through the game there are a couple of different ways to gain virtues. One is progressing through the main quest, the Quest for the Avatar, where the choices you make will result in virtue points. So, like, +37 compassion. That fills up an XP bar and then you go to a shrine, which you have to find around Britannia, and meditate. That causes your acutal virtue to rise.

You can also earn virtue by doing dungeon runs, which is about encouraging play with other people. So when you enter the dungeon we start tracking your behaviour and then at the end of that we drop virtue rewards based on what you have and haven’t done.

RPS: And on the dungeon runs you enhance your physical side as well, just by fighting?

Flack: You get experience points that go into your general experience pool, which also ranks you up as well. There are the eight virtues to master and then ranks and levels. IT’s quite an intricate character development system, because in some ways the game is a glorified personality test. We have a lot of detail around the character.

The other way to raise virtues is through what we call moral quandaries. An NPC will approach you and say, “here’s my situation, what shall I do?” For example, you find a beggar who has been beaten almost to death and there are three actions you can choose. Compassion – ‘Get medicine for a painless death’, to Sacrifice – ‘Indebt yourself to the Druids in the hope their magic healing can save him’, or Justice – ‘track down the people who beat him up’.

A bizarrely popular one we had was a guy who has just got married and his new wife is allergic to his pet dog. His wife says the dog is old, it makes her sick so he should put it down. The guy wants advice on what he should do. So you can tell him ‘put your wife’s needs first’ or ‘Your dog is loyal to you, you should be loyal to it.’ Or ‘Give the dog away, you won’t be happy, but at least your wife and dog will be.’ That one caused loads of arguments in the office.”

They’re quite quick, the quandaries, but they’re important for making the player pause and think rather than being a way to earn lots of virtue.

RPS: They could make the world more believable as well though. It’s one of the roles of a champion of virtue to be approachable and wise, I guess.

Flack: Yeah, absolutely.

RPS: In terms of endgame is the goal to become the Avatar, to top out in all the virtues?

Flack: The main quest is about Avatarhood and following in the steps of the first Avatar, the one from Ultima IV.

RPS: Am I right in saying that in the Age of Enlightenment trilogy there were multiple Avatars? I don’t remember clearly.

Flack: We’ve composited together the idea of the first Avatar. It’s more symbolic than literal. The NPCs will talk about the Avatar – he was around a long time ago so it’s kind of like folk memory at this point. They don’t know exactly what he did.

RPS: In terms of the free to play aspect, what kind of things can money be spent on? Will it be mostly cosmetic, or ways to speed progress?

Flack: It’s a mixture of things. We don’t gate access to content. You’ll never pay to go into a dungeon or anything like that. WE feel strongly that if people enjoy the game and think it deserves cash they’ll stick around and spend some.

You can spend money to customise your character, to unlock equipment early, or for health potions and stuff like that. Nothing you haven’t already seen in other free to play games.

RPS: In terms of equipment and loot, which feels less important in Ultima games, perhaps because the character is more central than his stuff, will there be randomisation and all that sort of stuff?

Flack: Well, armour and weapons are useful and you need them but the main creative focus is choice and virtue. There are certain bits of gear that you can’t get until you have certain virtues at a certain level. It encourages people to work on the virtues and acts as a kind of reward for doing that, like, OK, you topped out your compassion, have the armour of compassion.

RPS: I like the idea of a sword of compassion, compassionately slicing throats.

Flack: (laughs) Compassion isn’t always fluffy though, it can be hard-edged!

RPS: Cruel to be kind?

Flack: Exactly. It’s nice to work on something where we can talk about compassion in those ways.

There is no way to monetise virtue. You can’t buy compassion, you just can’t, the only way to get it is by playing the game. So even if you turn up and spend money and buy a sword, you can’t get the best stuff available without playing the game and enhancing virtue. You have to work for that like everybody else. It’s how we feel about virtue and about our best gear.

RPS: I worried about that when I first saw that it would be free to play. That I could buy my way to Avatarhood.

Flack: As the model becomes more established I think people will trust it more and more.

RPS: I’m still at the stage where I’d rather pay my money up front and have the whole experience that everybody else has. It’s not about not wanting to spend money on the game, it’s about not wanting to spend money in the game. My doubts are about how it affects fragmentation and the completeness of the game.

Flack: Look how far we’ve come with these models in the last few years though. In three years time the industry landscape might be completely different. Free to play could be completely normal and noone blinks at it. It’s an exciting game to be making games and experimenting with these ideas.

RPS: As for classes, there are just the two, mages and fighters, there are no unlockable ones at the moment?

Flack: We want to do all eight but we just haven’t had time yet.

RPS: And are the classes locked to one style or can you mix and match styles of play?

Flack: We don’t have any cross class stuff or hybridisation, no, not yet.

RPS: And I have to ask about Lady and Lord British. Do you mention the backstory of where he is and why she has taken charge?

Flack: Yeah, she’s literally just come to the throne and her father, Lord British, is off among the stars. No one knows where he is. She’s a symbolic figure, it’s about passing on to the next generation.

Rather than put words into Lord British’ mouth, which I don’t want to do because it’d be like wearing someone else’s underpants. It’d be disrespectful for me to use that character and so Lady British represents the passing of the torch and she’s trying to heal Britannia.

There have been various councils trying to rule, with differnet NPCs like Lord Blackthorn, people who have tried to do good but haven’t ruled very well. Now the forces of hatred and lies have moved in and begun to manipulate, affecting BRitannia for their own ends.

Lady British comes to the throne and says let’s open up the Moongates and bring people from Earth. Let’s have the humility to know that we need help and that this time it’s not enough to have one Avatar. So, yeah, she’s symbolic but also I can’t write very convincing men! Sorry!

RPS: Men aren’t very convincing.

Flack: Write what you know, right?

RPS: Indeed! Thanks for your time.

For direct comparison, here’s an Ultima IV shrine visit with an Ultima Forever screen below. Both can be clicked for more detail.

Squint to notice the differences.

Beta signups are open now.


  1. kikito says:

    I went to the site …

    Step 2: login to origin

    :( I don’t wanna. Sorry. Bye!

    • Njordsk says:

      replace origin with steam and everybody jumps aboard.

      How strange people are eh?

      • aliksy says:

        Steam has years of good will and trust established. Not very strange when you consider that.

        • Njordsk says:

          I know yeah, I’m not a big fan of origin either, but that won’t stop me from playing a game I want.

          I don’t want to play that one though, sounds like a new license raping.

          • Toberoth says:

            I thought we’d moved beyond using “rape” in that sense?

          • Jenks says:

            I immediately thought of the South Park episode:
            link to en.wikipedia.org

            Then I realized Lucas and Speilberg were “defiling” their own creation. What EA and Ms. Flack are doing seems infinitely worse.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        Don’t forget to replace EA with Valve.

        You know, EA (the huge horrible company known for destroying old and new franchises in pursuit of big money) and Valve (the huge company known for creating well loved games, non-intrusive DRM, cheap sales on a regular basis, paying community members for the content they create, attempting to support Mac and Linux gaming, and hats)

        Sure, on the abstract, Origin and Steam are just 2 different digital stores+DRM, but there’s a whole miasma of sub-plots going on in the same discussion.

      • MattM says:

        EA has a history of mediocre or worse post launch support. Patches for popular games are small and often come six months after release. Plenty of reproducible bugs are left unpatched forever. Games with only decent sales are dropped immediately. They have allowed game and DLC authentication servers to go offline for weeks and not even bothered to communicate this leaving players to run through pointless reinstall with tech support.
        Valve does pretty good with these things.

        • Captain Hijinx says:

          Let’s just come right out and say it.

          EA killed Ultima.

          • bfandreas says:

            I hate to break this to you but EA propably made UVII happen.
            Origin was bleeding money left and right and they needed money. All the stuff they stuffed into the boxes, the cloth maps, the feelies…they hardly broke even. The company with the FANTASTIC opera intro that seemed to be untouchable in the early 90ies made hardly any money. As in profits.

            EA meddled with Origin which is why there were those generators in UVII styled after the EA company logo back then but still they financed UVII which until this day is a yardstick.

            The Robertses, Spector and Garriot weren’t great businessmen. But God they knew how to design games.

            EA of course can take the full blame to resurrect the Origin name as a thing conceived and born in the lowest pits of the Stygian Abyss. I read the interview and reminded myself that I vowed to get THAT symbol as a tatoo.

            Cube, Sphere, Tetrahedron DID NOT kill Origin.

          • nanowired says:

            I’ve seen several canned interviews where people tried to heap the blame on to Garriot and CO, however by OTHER accounts: as their distributer EA squeezed them for all they were worth, before giving them a loan they couldn’t refuse.

          • Arglebargle says:

            Origin had a bunch of problems as a business, but did have a crew of creative designers. Now Chris Roberts was roundly hated by most everyone who ever worked for him, and was a talentless hack (ex. Wind Commander movie, subsequent career); Spector could be a pretty good project manager; Richard Garriott was a terrible project head, given to feature creep, ‘toys’, and micro-managing, never able to get things out in time and under budget; Garriott’s brother was a cutthroat accountant.

            It may be true about EA coming on board being the savior of Origin’s UltimaVII, but after that, the pattern of the downward spiral becomes evident.

            You only need to look at EA’s behavior with other studios to notice this pattern.

      • Quarex says:

        Games For Windows Live! and Origin are both so offensively terrible (for very different reasons; “being awful” and “spitting on Origin Systems’ corpse” respectively) that I will never play games that require them, no.

        Are you aware of how many games are on Steam? Like, 99% of them? Why would we use a service we find shitty?

        • Emeraude says:

          Why would we use a service we find shitty?

          To which I always answer: why should I be forced to use a service I find shitty ? (which is what Steam is)

          • nanowired says:

            You are few in number.

          • Emeraude says:

            You are few in number.

            Your point being ? (Genuinely interested in the argument behind that statement.)

          • Brun says:

            “Marginalization of edge case” would be the rationale you’re looking for, in technical jargon.

            The vast majority of people find Steam to be quite usable and not shitty.
            The vast majority of people find GFWL to be quite a headache and shitty.

            Therefore, edge case is edge case. Hipster troll is hipster troll. But I’m sure MythArcana would love to have you join his anti-Steam fan club.

          • nanowired says:

            Well said, Brun.

          • Jason Moyer says:

            Popularity = validation. True in high schools in the 1950’s, true on the internet in 2012.

            Personally I find the Steam client to be much shittier than the Origin one, but I also use it more (mostly because my ratio of Steam games to Origin games is something like 300 to 30).

          • Emeraude says:

            There are more people playing games on PC who’re non-users of Steam than users though. I know many people – not “hardcore gamers” not principled extremists like me, just regular people playing games – who flat out don’t want want to be bothered with it and don’t play some games because of it. Only anecdotal evidence of course, but I can’t help but think there’s been a segmentation of market that drives people off as it attracts new customers – slowing down market growth.

            And why do you have to dismiss any contrary opinion as trolling ? Did I in any way disrespect yours ?

          • nanowired says:

            There are a LOT of popular things out there which will take that argument and bite you in the rear. Just an FYI.

            Because contrary opinions such as yours are contrary despite overwhelming evidence.

          • Emeraude says:

            Overwhelming evidence of what ?

            What see is difference in priorities – and one side of the argument flat out disregarding the other contemptibly as it’s getting what it wants, so why bother about those that aren’t ?

          • smb says:

            @Jason Moyer
            Also true for government, its social policy, and capitalism as a whole.

          • Jason Moyer says:

            I should point out that I don’t agree with the idea that popularity=validation, I’m just pointing out the way most people seem to justify their own tastes/behavior/whatever. Personally, I prefer living in the margins.

    • pakoito says:

      Came to say the same lol

  2. udat says:

    Fantastic interview. I have gone from slightly dismissive to curious and interested in this game.

    • oceanview says:

      Great advertorial yeah. Interview.. not so much.

      • AlwaysRight says:

        Go boil your face.

        RPS don’t do that.

      • Durkonkell says:

        Well obviously Adam was in the pay of the developers and refrained from asking any negative questions, and even if he had they would have been edited out by CYNICAL EDITORS who have been paid 12 billion pounds to publish this propaganda.

        Or alternatively, developers only agree to be interviewed about an upcoming game because they want to promote said game, and their answers are going to reflect that. Furthermore, if a journalist starts asking aggressively challenging questions like “But this is basically desecrating the corpse of the true Ultima games, isn’t it?” followed by “But you are, aren’t you?”, they’re going to get hung up on or thrown out.

        Naaaah, only joking with you. It’s much easier to believe that all games journalism is a giant conspiracy. You think Kieron left to persue his dreams of writing? The truth is that he earned so much money through publisher payoffs that he retired to his luxury hyper-mansion… ON MARS.

        (Is that enough sarcasm? I’m never sure since my last sarcasmometer exploded)

      • Hematite says:

        I think you skipped over the bit of the interview where they discuss in great detail the design principles of the game and precisely how it fits into one of the most revered RPG series ever created.

        • Quarex says:

          Sure, great, but just like I would not have been excited about Wasteland 2 being made by Electronic Arts as a multiplayer social game, I find it inherently offensive that the people who have any business making a new Ultima game are in no way involved.

          • Hematite says:

            Yeah, I suppose that’s a fair enough reason for slandering the RPS staff.

    • Eater Of Cheese says:

      Have they commented on whether they looked at/talked to the Ultima 5 remake guys?

  3. RedViv says:

    I’d hate being a developer on something that can only barely resemble what people associate with the much older title. Reboot it, and people complain about “destroying the old stuff”, or some such. Keep it in the same timeline and you have to do things with people who didn’t exist under conditions that never were. Remove the title and the game would lose much of the marketability.

    Besides, more Avatars? The one was horrible enough. She killed kids and had armageddon ready at her fingertips.

  4. MOKKA says:

    The interview started with quite a lot of PR-speech but ended up with some nice, honest statements.

    I still don’t like the idea of the game and find it a bit disrespectful towards the older games, but at least it seems like they try to do something not completely generic.

  5. Hoaxfish says:

    I like that image of the warrior (slightly chipped shield) on the shrine…. but the full UI just makes my eyes itch. And then I notice the slight disconnect between 2D environment and 3D character, I just can’t say yes to this.

    And then I remember it’s Ultima, EA, and Bioware… and there goes any idea of following this beyond schadenfreude.

    then there’s the supposed NDA-breaking pastebin: link to pastebin.com

    • nanowired says:

      It looks like someone took the old art from the ultima 6 book(which could of been reused) regarding Warriors.

  6. CobraLad says:

    Soooo… Its just like Drakensang online, only with that stupid modern RPG “choose answer to see stupid random consequences” quest system?

  7. Smashbox says:

    We shall see. Consider me unconvinced at any Free to Play™ business model.

    I really have trouble believing that a big ol’ public company like EA who’s proven their mettle at monetizing isn’t going to make those potions or pieces of equipment sold ABSOLUTELY necessary to have fun. Or, more likely, make the act of acquiring them without paying an unnecessarily nasty grind.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Look how far we’ve come with these models in the last few years though. In three years time the industry landscape might be completely different. Free to play could be completely normal and noone blinks at it. It’s an exciting game to be making games and experimenting with these ideas.

      How far exactly have we come?

  8. Humppakummitus says:

    An Ultima where you friend people up and go on 15min dungeon runs. Wonder if the virtues are colour coded so we know which option to take in conversations…

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      Oh yeah! And you can invite your friends into dungeons through Facebook, and Tweet your latest virtue choice right from the game!

      I guess me and my group of friends are the only ones who miss the sprawling 2 hour dungeon crawls from vanilla WoW…

  9. ain says:

    Not interested in a theme park MMORPG. Even if its called Ultima.

  10. oceanview says:

    this shit has nothing to do with ultima. Sword of compassion. It’s a joke and not a very good one.

    • Hematite says:

      It was Adam’s joke though; the dev was talking about the Armour of Compassion which makes a lot more sense. The courage-based virtues would all be completely appropriate to have an unlockable sword.

      • nanowired says:

        link to pastebin.com

        No, it is part of the game.

        To quote:
        Virtues give you of course new abilities/spells and items to use. I got the sword of Compassion. I’m like that. Apparently, the item that symbolizes the most Compassion to Bioware Mythic is a fucking sword. To add insult to injury, as I receive the sword, Shamino says to me :

        “Go show those thieves the Compassion this sword is made of !”

        • Toberoth says:

          Wow… that is some interesting reading!

          Sarcasm not intended btw, damn text.

        • Hematite says:

          Hmm, yeah that doesn’t look good – I suppose Adam had already read that, which is why he brought it up. If so I would have liked to see a more direct question about the gear unlocks and how the relate to the virtues. Coward! Thou has lost an eighth!

          I guess it depends whether that kind of retardedness is baked in or they’ve just got a place holder gear set for each virtue which doesn’t necessarily make sense. My optimism is still slightly greater than zero.

  11. MythArcana says:

    Ultima Forever won’t require an Internet connection, but you have to play it at a space station – that’s the catch.

  12. Drungawunga says:

    I R Dubious.

    “…you could watch a simulated world go by. Ultima Forever is not like that.”

    My heart…she breaks.

    • Toberoth says:

      My reaction was much the same. I’m also concerned about them parcelling (sp?) out the dungeons into fifteen minute little chunks, and synchronising controls between the iPad and PC versions. Something is bound to get lost. I just can’t see myself becoming absorbed in this game like I would be with a more conventional RPG.

      Edit: Plus Origin (not the good one!) is required, so that’s a deal breaker anyway. Seems ironic that a few decades ago I would have leapt at any game that was associated with that magic word.

      • Premium User Badge

        Adam Smith says:

        My reaction was the same as well! The distinction is fair though; Forever isn’t drawing inspiration from VII, it’s looking to IV. I’m interested to see how the cross-platform and quick play stuff will (or won’t) work out, but I do like the idea of a game built around the virtues. Should know how well it all hangs together soon.

        But when will we see the likes of Ultima VII again? What’s the next best thing?

        • Toberoth says:

          “The distinction is fair though; Forever isn’t drawing inspiration from VII, it’s looking to IV.”

          I guess you’re right there, but it’s something that’s bound to be forgotten as VII was the zenith of the series for a lot of people. I can’t think of a single series that’s doing anything like what VII did. Some would argue for The Elder Scrolls, but they’d be wrong.

          • Xardas Kane says:

            Gothic 1 and 2. And I am sorry, but yes, TES to an extent as well. While they haven’t really gone so deep into that aspect of the open world gameplay structure, there is definitely some of it in their games, even more-so in Skyrim thanks to the now functioning Radiant AI. Admittedly it’s hardly on the same level though.

          • Toberoth says:

            Yeah, I mean I get that they’re trying to do that, to an extent, but I’ve never got the sense of a “living, breathing world” (classic stock phrase) from any of the Elder Scrolls games (disclaimer: I’ve only played as far back as Morrowind). They’re fun games, no doubt, but all the glitchyness and weirdness of the NPCs totally kills my suspension of disbelief. Ultima didn’t really have that problem because it was trying to do a lot less, graphically, and it didn’t use crappy voice actors. It worked extremely well within its limitations, rather than trying to have its cake and eat it (fancy graphics AND a huge map AND “believable” NPCs) and its world felt much bigger and more intricate as a result.

            Of course it’s been quite a while since I played VII, so this could well be nostalgia talking.

        • Premium User Badge

          gritz says:

          Even though there weren’t NPC schedules or lots of interactive items laying around, Ultima 4 was way ahead of its time in being a simulated open world.

          Overall, this game still sounds like garbage, and I’m disappointed with the amount of softballing and equivocating Adam does in the interview, since he is the RPS writer whose opinions most frequently align with my own.

          • nanowired says:

            I think he had to be super careful with his questions and they might of been pre screened.

            But I think he managed something with the Sword of Compassion questions. Either I’m seeing something that was not there, or there was a really subtle jab that went over her head.

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            No, you’re right, that line was obviously a direct reference to the NDA-breaking RPGCodex post (someone posted it a few threads up), and I think both of them understood that. I just think it was obscure enough for her to pass it off and Adam didn’t go any further with it.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      “…you could watch a simulated world go by. Ultima Forever is not like that.”

      This exchange illustrates the disconnect I’m seeing between what the developers are saying and doing. It’s all about having this complicated system in place to make players think about their actions and ponder these ethical dilemmas. Yet they’re ignoring one of the most powerful tools to actually make players care, which is to put them in a world full of NPC actors who will be effected by the player’s choices. I would argue that a simulated (or at least a mild ALife) world is almost required to realize a meaningful ethics system. Without it, all you have is either a) A choose-your-own-adventure story that branches based on your “morality”, or b) What we seem to have here, “choices” in a vacuum that let you fill up your chosen UI bar.

      Personally I don’t give a rats ass about whether some character’s dead husband has been cheating on her, because I don’t know this person, I’ll never see them again, and the choice only exists to force me to specialize in one virtue over another.

      I also think that giving players a set of equally positive choices with no real downsides is a terribly shallow and thoughtless design paradigm, leaving the player to make meaningless (in the context of gameplay logic) choices between compassion (killing people due to mercy) and justice (killing people due to them being bad people).

      Compare this to a game like CK2, where ethical choices had real gameplay-altering ramifications, and bonuses you wanted were often tied to undesirable side effects in a way that bound up character ethics with game logic in an integrated way.

      • Raiyne says:

        Exactly what was on my mind.

        It’s all shallow fluff bullshit. There’s no real consequence to anything.

        If you want to make your game actually engaging on a deeper level, you either need a ton of content, which will cost an insane amount of money… or emergent, dynamic gameplay that brings together mechanical simulation and human spontaneity.

        Some games work best when keeping with the suspension of disbelief and ‘game world’ rules, others excel when they ‘imitate life’, and thus work towards becoming a bit more like ‘art’.

  13. wcanyon says:

    This looks like a game that I might enjoy playing with my kid. Sort of a bridging the generations thing, since U4 was the first game that I really got heavily involved in (I was uhhh 14 at the time I think). Major game in the “what games made me the gamer that I am” canon.

    • nanowired says:

      Sure, if you want your kids to play a game where the moral choices are “Let them go” or “Kill them!”… Kill them being +1 Justice. Since after all, the best type of justice is Vigilante justice.

  14. Curzen says:

    I really want this to not be a trainwreck. But from the art style to BioWare’s recent track record, the multiplayer aspect and it being EA I won’t get my hopes up. I doubt this will be anything but slapping the Ultima brand name on a rather generic action-‘rpg’ to get attention and make a quick buck or two.

    • Xardas Kane says:

      the devs behind this monstrosity are BioWare only in name. BioWare Mythic are in fact behind this, the same fellows that brought you Warhammer: age of Reckoning and Stars Wars: TOR. The real BioWare have pretty much nothing to do with this.

  15. Xardas Kane says:

    I would advise you all to take a look at this: link to pastebin.com

    I don’t know if it’s legit, although at least the way I see things it does add up. That part about the graphics at least seems true from what I am seeing here. I was born in 1991, so unfortunately I haven’t played Ultima IV, but what that post describes doesn’t sound too inspiring to me. Can’t imagine what it would be for a fan.

    • nanowired says:

      If it’s legit, the following shows that they have TOTALLY MISSED THE POINT about Virtues.

      A thief is lying wounded in front of me. He begs me to spare him. The choices are as follow
      -Spare him = +1 compassion
      -Kill him = +1 JUSTICE.

      I mean seriously. Remember the card part of the games? +1 justice would be TURNING HIM OVER TO THE AUTHORITIES.

      This entire metaplot of someone else taking up the reigns to britannia has given me a great idea for a game, fortunately.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        As a designer, I haven’t assigned any right or wrong to those choices, I’m asking what do you think is the right thing to do.

        Well, one of those choices would make you a psychopath. So maybe some objectivity really is needed.

    • ZephaniahGrey says:

      I’m also under NDA, but I’ll say this: That is 100% legit.

      • nanowired says:

        Grim times indeed. Many thanks to the Bothans we lost to obtain this information.

      • Xardas Kane says:

        Pathetic. I lied a wee bit when I said I haven’t played IV, I have, but I didn’t manage to finish it. Still, I’ve also watched hours upon hours of other people playing it on YouTube, so generally speaking I have somewhat of a good idea of what Ultima IV is. And what was described in that post is simply… pathetic. It seems to completely miss the point of what the game is supposed to be about. Just… really, really pathetic.

    • Hematite says:

      I have to say, while I’m not too impressed about real time clicky combat, that guy doesn’t say much except that he really hates the graphics.

      I played the hell out of U4 back in the day, and the interviewee really seems to be a fan – something I really wasn’t expecting.

      Player Character : “Eight virtues? Why so many ?”
      Shamino : “People are complicated.”

      I find this absolutely hilarious. One of the things I liked about the (good) Ultimas was that your companions weren’t really that into the virtues, they were just some dudes who hung out with you. After IV the player is already the avatar of all the virtues and it was fun to have the companions as foils against the player’s presumed impeccable righteousness.

    • ffordesoon says:

      I’d take that guy more seriously if he didn’t say things like “kiddy graphics”. Also, instead of complaining to the people who can’t make a difference, maybe the guy should, y’know, tell Bioware what his issues are, so they at least have that feedback to work from? The thing’s in alpha, right? They can change a whole lot of stuff from this point on. His experiences don’t sound atypical for an alpha test, when everything’s still being tuned.

      This is assuming he didn’t already inform Bioware, [i]then[/i] throw his impressions up on Pastebin, obviously. If he did that, [i]then[/i] his feedback is useful, because it allows for a response larger than one guy screaming at the Evil Corporation Of Evil.

  16. JackDandy says:

    Call me hard-headed, I don’t care.

    Mixing F2P, Bioware, EA, and Ultima in the same sentence simply has NO WAY of ending up even remotely good.

    Fuck this game.

    • nanowired says:

      Fuck it? No.

      I want to give this game a merciful death and bury it someplace obscure.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      If we’ve learnt anything from Bioware and Mass Effect’s blue alien “women” it’s that whatever it is, they can fuck it.

  17. nanowired says:

    I wish that someday, we players could come together and convince the gaming industry that “Reboot” is a dirty word, and that it is not a viable marketing experience to reboot games.

    And yes, I do realize that there are people who are fine with reboots. FOR NOW. But some day, they WILL Take the game you love and reboot it, and you will know true despair.

    • ffordesoon says:

      You know, I hear that a lot, about things in all sorts of mediums, and it never rings true to me.

      Yes, most reboots suck. This one might; I’ll withhold judgment until I play it. The talk about the virtues makes me happy. The talk about other players wandering around in the world really doesn’t. We’ll see.

      However, as with John’s recent piece on DLC, there’s a difference between the reality of reboots – which often produces shit, it’s true – and the idea of rebooting a franchise. I won’t say that it’s always smart, or that the idea is a universal good in all or even most cases. But if it’s good and carries forward the essential values of the original, I fail to see the problem. If it’s good and doesn’t carry the values forward, I see the problem. I might not care, if it’s that great, but I see the problem.

      And, look, I understand loving something and not wanting it to change. Firefly, to use just one example, is very dear to me. I feel like those characters are family. If it were to somehow be resurrected, it ideally would pick up right where it left off with no changes whatsoever, as far as I’m concerned. But somebody asked me a few days ago in a debate about changing characters’ sexes and skin colors and blah what black actor I’d cast as Captain Mal Reynolds in a remake/reboot of Firefly.

      This was in response to my suggestion that John Shaft has to be played by a black guy, because it’s integral to his character and the milieu surrounding that character, but Nick Fury can be played by anyone who can pull off “badass spymaster,” black or white or Asian or purple. My opponent in the debate’s contention was that changes shouldn’t be made to a character simply to placate a demographic, and that Nick Fury, for example, should always and forever be a white man. As to why it was Firefly specifically. I mentioned that Nathan Fillion, much as I love him, would not be a good John Shaft. This person replied by posing the aforementioned question, knowing how much I love Firefly.

      It was clearly meant to throw me off balance, and it did, for a little bit. My immediate kneejerk reaction was that I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the character. But I didn’t say that. I paused, took my kneejerk reaction out of the equation, and thought about it. I asked myself, “Is there any reason beyond ‘BUT NO HE’S NATHAN FILLION WAAAAAH’ why Mal absolutely cannot be of another ethnicity?” I concluded that there was no reason. So I said that, assuming Nathan Fillion and the rest of the gang couldn’t pick up where they left off, I saw absolutely no reason why a black actor couldn’t play the role. I mentioned that I wasn’t up enough on black actors to pick a specific one, but that I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all. If the guy did a bad job, or the show was bad, yes, I’d have a problem with it, because bad things suck.

      There are quite enough shitty pieces of media out there. A good one, whatever form it takes, is something to be treasured. Reboot, reimagining, remake, reshoot, resizing… If it’s good, I’ll take it. If it’s good and a faithful reimagining, well, that’s a bonus.

      • nanowired says:

        The problem isn’t that Rebooting in general is bad… the Mechwarrior Online is a reboot of the mechwarrior series and they have done everything right so far.

        It’s that Reboot is a phrase used to thinly veil taking a game which ISN’T the original content, and Shoe-horning it in.

        Syndicate, For example.

        Companies use this “reboot” as an excuse to take existing IP and reuse it in a way which often does a dis-service to the original content – more times than not at the expense of you the consumer. It’s not a matter of having someone who appears radically different as a known character – Nick Fury didn’t suddenly become a crime lord just because someone visually not ideal is playing them.

        It’s a different game than whining over who exactly to cast in a reboot of a tv series. The TV series is still going to be ROUGHLY the same thing.

        Now, a better analogy would be if the Reboot was about those murderous browncoats and how they destroyed trillions of life for their corporatism.

  18. Hematite says:

    I’m quite surprised at how much hate there is in the comments – I’d long ago written off the ultima series as having run out of steam after VII and this interview is the first time in about a decade I’ve entertained the idea that a new ultima game could be more fun than reading amateur twilight slash (the worst thing I could think of).

    I don’t know how many people commenting would have actually played UIV – I don’t mean that as an insult, but it was a really long time ago and there’s not much reason for anyone to pick it up in the last 15 years. UIV more than any other game concentrated on the 8 virtues and how to exemplify them – something that the later games had to push into the background because canonically the player is ALREADY the avatar of the virtues and striving to achieve them again doesn’t make any sense. There was no Big Bad in the game, the player just had to collect a series of things, visit a series of places, and behave in an appropriately virtuous way (while fighting monsters, of course). It was one of the first great sandboxes.

    In the interview they’re talking about some of the key gameplay elements from UIV – as a fan of the original it give me the same fuzzy feeling as when the Bioshock devs talk about System Shock or the XCOM devs talk about how terrifying chrysalids are.

    Ok, true, I don’t have high hopes for the game. But I’m completely astounded that they have devs who are fluent in the themes of the series and don’t seem to be making a completely vacuous money grab. I’m amazed and delighted that there’s any hint of an interesting game reappearing under the Ultima name!

    • nanowired says:

      I think you misunderstand something about the gaming industry. When developers come out and say that they are the biggest fans of the series they are rebooting….They don’t actually mean it. They’re required to say that, so that people who are trepidatious about these things can be assuaged.

      If you read the NDA-breaking leak, you’ll see exactly how badly they’ve missed the point about the virtues.

      • Hematite says:

        Oh yeah, I expect the big devs like EA to run every franchise they can get their hands on into the ground. Before this interview I would have actively avoided anything associated with the recent Ultima franchise. The thing that really surprised me is that this guy is talking the talk. He may not be able to walk the walk, but the talk is far more that I expected EA to bother with.

        Just read that pastebin – it doesn’t sound great, but I think there’s room for it to just be a player who bounced straight off a game which is a work in progress. It would only be the most offended player who would break NDA to say how much they hated the game.

        He talked about how much he hated the graphics and the dialog. Well, the screenshot with the interview doesn’t look too eye destroying to me and I can imagine the dialog he quotes fitting in with the weird deadpan companion conversations in the good ultima games where the companions will advocate something ridiculous to show that they’re not as awesome as the player.

        Anyway, I don’t want to come over as being a fanboy (too late, probably), but I’m excited that there may be a new ultima game with any redeeming qualities.

        • nanowired says:

          I dunno man, the graphics LOOK pretty bad.

          We’ll have to see how it goes…but Talking the Talk is PRETTY easy for people. They didn’t really talk the talk with Syndicate and it shows… the Xcom people talked the talk, and the experience is looking less xcom by the day.

          Talking the Talk is ALL about the smoke and mirrors.

        • Raiyne says:

          Imagine how bad he must feel, forced to mangle the gaming franchise he loved.

          I always sympathise with developers having to go through with crap projects doomed for failure, and on top of that having to put up a front.

          • Toberoth says:

            I’m pretty sure Kate Flack is not a he.

          • Hematite says:


            Well spotted Toberoth. The banter about not being able to write convincing men should have been A Clue for me. I’m moderately ashamed for assuming that a game dev would be a guy.

  19. ffordesoon says:

    I do not care for the multiplayer bullshit. A modernization of Ultima IV interests me quite a bit, however, and the price is right. Kate Flack’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the series is reassuring.

    Signed up for the beta. We shall see.

    • Hematite says:

      If we’re really lucky the combat will end up being something shallow but engaging like Gauntlet of old, and the actual game will be about mooching around Britannia answering morality questionnaires.

      Combat has never been a high point of the Ultima games. In IV it was turn based, melee or ranged, more expensive weapon -> more damage. A few spells that used consumables thrown in for flavour. I’d actually be really happy to see something so lightweight so that the meat of the game* could be somewhere else.

      * assumes there will be meat somewhere

  20. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’m still sceptical, but at least now this looks like something that has a chance to be good.

  21. MadTinkerer says:

    ” Am I right in saying that in the Age of Enlightenment trilogy there were multiple Avatars? I don’t remember clearly.”

    There were a bunch of other characters who managed to get partial Avatarhood (including Lord British, which is how he knows to send folks out on the quest in the first place), but your guy is the only one who manages to become The (full) Avatar. After Ultima VI the idea that others could also become Avatars is sort of forgotten, but by that point The Avatar becomes famous for other reasons in each game anyway (because you are/aren’t also the False Prophet of the gargoyles, the one who defeats the Guardian in Ultima VII, the substitute Heirophant of Balance on Serpent Isle, the Titan of Ether on Pagan, etc.). But that’s the whole point of Virtues For Everyone Else: the idea that anyone can get at least Partial Avatarhood, also called Enlightenment, if they’re virtuous enough.

    So at least thematically the game is in keeping with U4. Still, I think it would have been better if they had rebooted from U1 and given the series a real fresh start.

    Also, the Lady British thing is silly. A major part of the back story is that there are a whole bunch of other nobles (Lady Tory and Shamino as well as Lord Blackthorn and Lord Hawkwind spring to mind) that are perfectly fit to rule the land. It’s just that with all the metaphysical over-plot, dungeon crawling, and Doing Quests For Everybody, the other nobles tend to get ignored by the actual storylines unless they become antagonists. But regardless, there’s no need to drag in a distaff counterpart for a character you’re not allowed to use, when there’s plenty of canon characters you could substitute.

  22. Melf_Himself says:

    I will not be playing this, it’s not a “sequel”, it’s a cold isolated husk of IP being gnawed on by the EA IP management acquisition corporate fat cat derp squad.

    Also Origin.

  23. zaxxon451 says:

    I regret signing up for the beta before I actually read this article. This game is a joke. Old school Ultima fans aren’t interested in this shallow poser iPad app Ultima game. EA can slap an Ultima sticker on a turd and call it Ultima if they want to, and from what I’ve read so far they’ve done exactly that.

  24. Valkesh says:

    “Yeah, that seems to be the perfect size for maximum co-op but minimum hassle. MMO comes with a kind of genre definition though and one of the things that’s hard to communicate is that we don’t really fit that definition.”

    Actually no, it’s not hard at all, tell your stupid marketing department to not call it an MMO. You’re not longer calling it something it’s not. Problem Solved.

    “We’re explicitly trying to do something new, by going onto the iPad, which is the console of the new generation…”

    ….Are you fucking kidding me?

    “We’re calling it a multiplayer adventure game, not a massively multiplayer game.”
    Are you? Because you keep changing what you call the damn thing!

  25. equatorian says:

    Maybe it’s a joke, but gee, ‘I can’t write convincing men’? Do we really need that stereotype? (Yes, yes, I know, there are men who write terribly unconvincing women and women who are terrible at writing men, it’s a fact of life. Still. I hate the assumption that’s came to be, that one sex can’t write another.)

    • RegisteredUser says:

      There are various young authors that when you read them, you wouldn’t for the life of you be able to guess their correct sex due to the way they manage to write/feel themselves into their story character.
      (And I don’t mean bloggers or livejournal “authors”, I mean people in actual writing workshops co-operating with real world authors)
      Obviously there are plenty of veterans(and “world literature” examples etc), too.

      They young ones just mostly don’t get published or into mainstream(unless they write books about borderline drug- and sexcapades, I guess, or in an international case, vampires).

      I’m not sure there is such a thing as an assumption that it can’t be done on the basis of who(male or female) is writing.

      I think a more common or safer assumption to me is that most stuff that’s popular or most-read simply isn’t really well done/proper/sophisticated/actually high end writing. And you can’t expect good writing from people who don’t know how to write..(but who best-sell regardless)

  26. roxahris says:

    “It’s not good enough to be a brutish Conan, you have to be a warrior poet on the other side.”
    So, in other words, you have to be like Conan?
    (If it wasn’t written by Robert E. Howard, it doesn’t count.)

  27. RegisteredUser says:

    “As a designer, I haven’t assigned any right or wrong to those choices, I’m asking what do you think is the right thing to do.”

    Except that then…
    “trying to figure out ways to measure the player’s spirituality is quite a challenge!”

    “we start tracking your behaviour and then at the end of that we drop virtue rewards based on what you have and haven’t done.”

    ..fucking do.
    And behavior once more just becomes “I want xxx kind of item drops, so I will optimize my PLAY behavior towards xxx kind of decisions” making all this bullshit virtue&vice stuff idiotic again.

    Also iPad as target platform, design towards choice, platform/console of the future?
    Fuck that shit.
    In skyscraper sized capital letters.