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Inside Origin Systems

Vol. 2, Issue 11
February 7, 2000


Technical Innovations

Origin, unlike many companies, moves with the flow of technology, and sometimes redefines it. Every game in the Ultima series scrapped the previous game’s engine, and instead used a totally new one. It is this attitude to always staying ‘on the ball,’ which has kept Origin ahead of the bulk of software houses. If you look at Ultima I, you can clearly see its simplicity. As you go through the games, they change rapidly, with color, proper graphics, new views to see the action from, a bigger game and finally with Ultima IX: Ascension, a full-blown 3D view for a 3D world. Despite its many bugs, no one who has played the game can deny how impressive and large its world can seem at times, with hundreds of animals and NPCs (Non Player Characters) just walking about, living their lives. In Ultima I, the code used for the dungeons was the same code that had been used to design Akalabeth, and Ultima II was the first game he made in assembly language. Ultima III was the first game that Garriot actually got to do exactly what he wanted, as his lack of experience in code meant that the other games were all very rough around the edges. Ultima III was much better defined, and everything was much more coherent, and was the last game in what is referred to as the “Age of Darkness Trilogy.”

Ultima IV was the first game to penalize players for bad behavior, with NPCs treating you badly if you were a known psychopath, but at the other end of the scale, if you were a hero who went around helping people out, NPCs would be more willing to do you favors, showing a clear advance in computer AI and understanding of the player. Ultima V challenged the traditional good/bad scenario, as it introduced characters with many shades of gray, and so it was no longer obvious what side someone was on. Ultima VI was the first game were continuity was a concern, and was more a game of personal exploration, as the Avatar was killing gargoyles only to find they saw humans as monsters, just as humans saw them. This was the first game that concentrated heavily on storyline, and a step forward for the series in establishing itself as a true RPG epic. This was also the last game in the “Age on Enlightenment Trilogy.”

Following this, Ultima VII was released. This was a major step forward for the series, as it was the first Ultima to contain a truly impressive world, and would set the standard for the titles to come after it. Ultima VIII was best known for its arcade style adventure, but lacked real gameplay, and only advanced the series in terms of its graphical appearance. Ultima IX, as many people will know, brought the series to a close, but was a massive leap forward at the same time. No 3D game has ever had such a large and detailed world, with something interesting around every corner, and it is on a truly huge scale. This ended the “Guardian Trilogy” and the “Trilogy of Trilogies,” as some had called it, brining the story of the Avatar and Britannia to a satisfying close.

FMV being used in a game, although now a largely disused form of telling the story, was seen being displayed to its full affect in Origin’s Wing Commander series of games. Featuring Mark Hamill, the sequences were used as a new form of storytelling for a video game. Aside from the FMV, the Wing Commander games set the benchmark for other space simulators. The latest (and possibly last) installment of Wing Commander, called Wing Commander: Secret Ops was released on the Internet as a free download, with each level weighing in from 30-50 megabytes each.


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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Joachim. This article is © 2000 Tim “Damarr” O'Malley. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. So don't do it, or we'll make you cry, sissy.