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Ultima Forever interview: rule Britannia

Monday, 24 September 2012 11:00 GMT By Dave Cook

Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar has a big legacy to live up to, so VG247′s Dave Cook spoke with BioWare Mythic to find out the secret to meeting expectations.

Ultima franchise producer Jeff Skalski and his team must have been like kids in a candy store when BioWare Mythic landed the Ultima Forever gig. They had a series steeped in immeasurable lore to play with, and one that is already placed on a pedestal my many faithful fans.

So there is already a solid fan base in place for this new Ultima outing, but as always, whenever there is eagerness for a sequel or reboot, expectations typically spin wildly out of control.

There a lot of expectations on the shoulders of Skalski and his team, but it seems like they have a handle on the situation for now. VG247 spoke with Skalski about the steps BioWare Mythic is taking to ensure fans get the Ultima game they deserve.

VG247: Ultima is a long-standing and revered franchise. What key facets of the series’ lineage did you absolutely have to bring back to keep fans happy?

Jeff Skalski: Well, we certainly didn’t have a shortage of themes from which to pull. Ultima as a franchise has so many different facets of inspiration as many of the fans know. From day one, our primary focus was making sure we had the eight virtues as a core pillar to the game experience.

“We know we can’t make all Ultima fans happy, but we hope they can enjoy the nostalgic elements that are clear nods to the past and new components introduced as we usher in the series to a whole new connected generation of players.”

Beside how one interacts with the NPCs in the game, we track how one plays with other live players around them. All of these choices open up new quests, unlock new gear and puts the gamer one step closer to realize that they truly are an Avatar sent to save Britannia.

We know we can’t make all Ultima fans happy, but we hope they can enjoy the nostalgic elements that are clear nods to the past and new components introduced as we usher in the series to a whole new connected generation of players. We’re aiming for more stimulation over simulation.

What can you tell us about the eight virtues?

From the moment you create your character and meet the Gypsy, you are impacting your virtues. Your epic quest to Avatarhood is held back by how well you uphold all eight virtues. You’ll need to meet a certain requirement before being able to touch the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.

Along the way your virtue levels will open up additional quests and unlock access to new gear to show off your true colors. And even beyond launch, we have some additional game mechanics planned to continue to reinforce our virtue system.

And how do character classes fit into those virtues and feed back into gameplay?

We have one class to represent each of the eight virtues. Each class has its own unique playing style. I’d rather avoid at this time getting too much into the details, but let’s just say abilities across classes complement each other. Part of the fun is to figure out your build and the best way to match them with group mates for some dominating combinations.

With so much established content to play with – such as the virtue system and history – there must be a certain level of pressure that comes with working on a series as revered as Ultima?

We knew getting into Ultima was a tall order, but we love the IP so much and felt it’s been dormant for far too long. Outside of Ultima Online, there hasn’t been much going on. By the way, Ultima Online is also hitting its 15 year anniversary which is rather unbelievable when you think about it.

Yeah, that’s actually really impressive, considering how different the industry was back when it launched. Why do you think the series as a whole stood the test of time?

Times have changed as we now have smart phones, tablets and have moved far beyond the old days of shipping boxes with floppies. Ultima is the grandfather of CRPGs in my book and worthy enough to do a repeat performance all over again in the mobile space.

To get things started, we brought some of the superfans in early, really early, and just recently held our first Alpha test with some of the most passionate core Ultima fans we know. We got a lot of valuable feedback from them, and the game moving forward will be better because of it.


Digging that art, man

We did see a recent quote that Ultima Forever is going to be ‘pure BioWare’, which may or may not fall in line with what people feel old school CRPGs stood for. What value do you think that BioWare expertise does bring to the table?

As a player, when I fire up a game and see that BioWare logo hit the screen I know I’m about to have an immersive gaming experience with rich story and characters. Now we’re not Dragon Age or Mass Effect, we’re Ultima, and we saw an opportunity to go back to the old school BioWare magic with titles like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.

Looking at these games influenced how we present our conversation dialog, writing style, in-game cinematics, and harmonized really well with our virtue concept regarding ethical choice. I think this is a great time for BioWare to disrupt the RPG space in mobile.

The market is showing it’s ready for something beyond just another dungeon crawler and that’s what we plan to deliver with Ultima Forever.

Well to be fair actually, BioWare games have a lot of moral problems that are thrown at players, and Ultima IV had a significant focus on ethics and choice as well. So in a way the two are comparable. How much will that enter into gameplay?

There is no right or wrong answer in how a player handles a moral quandary moment with NPCs. It’s their answer and by adventuring through the game, players will encounter many of these situations. Beyond just how players treat NPCs it’s just as important how they treat other real players. Ultimately, it all adds ups and reflects the player’s persona.

As the game has actually been billed as a reboot of Ultima IV, can you tell us more about the common traits both games share, as well as any big new differences?

Similar landmarks, top down perspective, boats and familiar faces with the exception they may look a few years older as we’ve pushed the timeline 21 years later. These are a just a few of the things we have in common.

We are also leveraging the classic tale of meeting the mystical Gypsy and being pulled from Earth into Britannia. As for differences, the first big one that come to mind is we are no longer just an offline single player game.

“Your party companions are no longer NPCs, but instead your friends. The second biggest change would have to be how we’re handling combat. We’ve made major changes here. Turn based has been replaced with something more visceral.”

Now, as you travel through the streets of Moonglow, you’ll cross paths with other fellow adventurers. Perhaps you’ll even get lost in a conversation with a total stranger in the tavern in Britain, or meet a stranger at sea while exploring the world.

Your party companions are no longer NPCs, but instead your friends. The second biggest change would have to be how we’re handling combat. We’ve made major changes here. Turn based has been replaced with something more visceral.

You can now flank and time your attacks to take advantage of your enemy’s moment of weakness. It feels great, yet not overwhelming or overly complicated. It’s fun crushing your foes.

It sounds genuinely intriguing, particularly the collaborations with other adventurers. But what about Ultima purists? What would you say to them to convince them that their favourite series is in safe hands?

In my honest opinion, there are only two companies in this world worthy of touching this franchise respectfully. I’m happy to be at one of them, BioWare. My first Ultima experience started back when I would sneak over to my friends house to play on his Apple II and continued all the way through the 80’s and 90’s until I was one of the early testers for Ultima Online.

I am very thankful for Ultima. It inspired some of my favourite RPGs and birthed a genre I enjoy so much. It put the M in MMO, and now I’m just as excited about what it can bring to the M in mobile.

Mobile, tablet, smartphones – they are becoming such cherished formats in the games industry today. How does multiplayer make use of what these devices can do?

We are an online adventuring game that has cross platform play. We built U4E to be accessible from anywhere at any time. Phone, tablet, or desktop, we’ve got you covered. One thing we’re tired of is server selection screens, so we decided to get rid of them.

Instead, we dynamically open up instances of zones as needed based on population demands. As you group with players, we keep you together, and friends can always be reached via our friends list. Dungeons are setup for 1-4 players to keep things intimate and manageable while conquering bosses and overcoming puzzles.

We understand that Ultima Forever will not use the energy system employed by other F2P titles, is that right?

Yeah, I don’t know about you, but being limited to play a game in 2 minute intervals is not really my definition of a gaming experience. It’s kind of like saying the ad that appears before your YouTube video is really the content you’re looking to watch.

“Players can play as much as they like in Ultima Forever, and our approach to how we monetise the game is what I would call a fair handshake. “

Yeah that’s a bloody pain actually.

We never want to tell players, ‘Stop [insert big colourful window], pay now or get the hell out!’ Players can play as much as they like in Ultima Forever, and our approach to how we monetise the game is what I would call a fair handshake. Having fun in the game? Throw some coin our way, so we can continue to make the game even more awesome.

How will microtransactions enter into Ultima Forever specifically.

We have a premium currency players can purchase at anytime to gain access to items and boost their level progression. It’s something we’ll discuss more as we get closer to release, but one thing we won’t sell is virtue. That’s something you’ll need to earn.

All of what we’ve spoken about has come together now in your alpha test build. What can you tell us about the alpha feedback and how will this determine the format of the eventual beta?

Well, over 80% of the players did not want to stop playing, which was great to see they were all engaged. We had some players put some crazy hours into the game during alpha even though it was only open for three days. The feedback really helped us identify areas we could better leverage the Ultima IP, and influenced changes to several game mechanics.

What sort of things will you be keeping a keen eye out for during beta testing to help you make this a better game at launch?

Retention is number one. Betas are great to see how players are playing the game and staying engaged. It’s also a good time to smoke test our backend systems to make sure we can scale to support the demand. Following that would be new user experience and UI design.

Ultima IV was out a long time ago. How have advances in tech and control helped you make this an even better game than the original?

Two words, touch interface. It just feels so good with this perspective style game. Very intuitive to manage and pickup. Beyond that, the advancements we had with broadband alone have opened up a whole new level of multiplayer. This will be the first “Instant-On” Ultima title.

If this reboot is a success, would you be willing to create a new game in the Ultima series?

Definitely! Perhaps Warriors of Destiny next? [winks]

Ultma Forever: Quest for the Avatar beta registrations are open now. To register, head to the official beta site.

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4 Comments

  1. Sini

    I do not see a gameplay screenshot anywhere :(

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 there aren’t any officially yet. Made it hard to dress up the article ;)

    #2 2 years ago
  3. shamino

    There were two unofficial screenshots leaked.

    Leaked Ultima Forever Images – Ultima Forever @ Ultima Codex

    If this is a success, I’d like to see them put more into UO, namely updating the artwork to high resolution.

    I hate that this is basically Ultima Online 2 instead of a proper UO2.

    Still, I’m willing to try it out.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Sini

    nice find

    #4 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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    The winner of the European round of the Call of Duty Championship has been announced. This past weekend, 28 teams representing UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, the rest of Europe and Middle East attended the final of the European round of the Call of Duty Championship. UK team Epsilon eSports was crowned […]

  • GOG brings back Insomnia sale with discounts up to 90% off

    GOG.com is bringing back its Insomnia sale event with even more games. GOG’s Insomnia sale is back with double the amount of games. This year, there will be two sets of games available at once. The sets are seasoned classics and fresh new titles. Each set will feature games with discounts up to 90% off, […]

  • 2K is shutting down NBA 2K14 online servers, won’t affect career save files

    2K will be shutting down the servers for NBA 2K14 this month. The publisher revealed yesterday that online servers for NBA 2K14 will be turned offline on March 31. “You will no longer be able to play ranked games/online association,” reads the announcement. NBA 2K14 relied on online servers to store save files for MyCareer […]

  • One Dead or Alive tournament organiser is proposing ban of “over-sexualised” costumes

    A Dead or Alive tournament organiser has suggested a soft ban on some of the game’s “over-sexualised” costumes, and not everyone is happy. Tournament organiser “The HuBBs” took to the FreeStepDodge forums to suggest a list of rules that other offline tournaments can follow. The list goes over stages, characters, moves, which is certainly in […]

  • Destiny: all the news from Bungie’s open house Q&A

    Bungie hosted an open house Q&A session with the community last week and lots of exciting news have come out of it. Arekkz Gaming has gathered all the information that came out of Bungie’s open house Q&A in one handy video. The list is massive, going over Exotic weapon balance, upcoming events, PVE, Crucible rewards, […]

  • Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen to honour Nimoy with in-game memorials

    Developers behind space exploration games Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen will honour the memory of Leonard Nimoy through in-game memorials. The develops of both games have confirmed separately that in-game memorials will be established to honour the memory of the late Star Trek actor, Leonard Nimoy, famous for playing Spock. Elite: Dangerous executive producer Michael […]

  • Deal: get a PlayStation 4 + three exclusives for $399

    Amazon’s latest PlayStation 4 deal is not one to miss. With purchase of a PlayStation 4 console from Amazon in the US, the online retailer will throw in digital codes for Infamous Second Son, Killzone Shadow Fall and The Last of Us: Remastered, all for the same MSRP of $399. The Last of Us Remastered […]

  • Destiny: this is how one player predicted House of Wolves details and Xur’s inventory

    The method one Redditor possibly used to leak some details from Destiny’s House of Wolves was the same one he used to predict the inventory of Xur: Agent of the Nine. Last week, Reddit user Megamanexe4 leaked a few pieces of House of Wolves expansion content. The leaks included strikes, new Crucible mode, and a […]

  • Mortal Kombat X is coming to iOS… as a card-battler

    Mortal Kombat X will be releasing on mobile devices in some form, just not the one you except. Mortal Kombat X is coming to Android and iOS devices as an extension of the main game. It will launch in April alongside the console versions. The mobile game will be part card collecting and part fighting […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain announcement coming this Wednesday

    Kojima Productions will unveil something about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain this Wednesday. Metal Gear Solid fans should standby for a Phantom Pain-related announcement on Wednesday, March 4. According to developer Kojima Productions’ Twitter, there’s going to be an announcement at 2pm GMT on Wednesday. The developer posted the following image. The image […]

  • Reader survey: time to let us get to know you better!

    We’d really appreciate it if you could fill in this survey about the websites you read and the games you buy. It massively helps! You can fill out the survey right here and obviously all the information you supply is confidential. It helps us build a better picture of the people who read our site […]

  • Battlefield Hardline Premium: here’s everything you get for $50

    Battlefield Hardline’s Premium membership will give players access to 4 new features, early access to expansion packs and more. EA detailed the offer today – it costs $50 in total (£40 in the UK) and gives players a whole bundle of new gear and content. Check it all out in handy list form below: Masks […]

  • Hayter’s gonna hate: the voice of Solid Snake wouldn’t answer my Metal Gear question

    Voice actor and Hollywood writer David Hayter discusses the differences between movies and games. And politely declines my leading question. “It might be fun to do a crazy, over-the-top film version of Saint’s Row.” Yeah, that headline is a bit cheap but you’re reading the work of a man who once asked the maker of […]

  • Xbox One bundle gets £100 price cut in UK

    Microsoft has knocked up to £100 off Xbox One bundles in the UK. The Xbox One with Kinect Assassin’s Creed bundle is now £100 cheaper and comes with a free £20 voucher to be spent on the official Microsoft online store. Over on the Xbox online store there’s a £70 price cut on the white […]

  • Pokemon Shuffle downloaded 1m times, free stuff given out to celebrate

    Free-to-play 3DS title Pokemon Shuffle has been downloaded over 1 million times. As a reward for playing the match-3 puzzle game Nintendo has gifted players a Complexity -1 item for free. The item reduces the difficulty of a level, according to Eurogamer. By all accounts Pokemon Shuffle is a cynical game with poorly implemented microtransactions. […]

  • Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power sure is pretty

    FrozenByte Games has revealed Trine 3, due for release in 2015 And what better way to reveal a new side-scrolling adventure than with a very pretty trailer full of gameplay? The latest in a series that has already sold 7 million copies is earmarked for PC and “other” formats. Trine 2 released on PS3, PS3, […]

  • Dying Light takes UK number one

    A month since it was released on digital platforms, Dying Light’s physical release has topped the UK charts. Techland and Warner’s zombie survival game has proven to be one of the big hits of the year so far. It was released on digital formats a month ago but has only just been released on good-old […]

  • GTA 5: that’s some seriously accurate grenade throwing

    Think you can take down a jet plane with a grenade throw? This guy can. In fact, he can do it twice. This is in a variation on the player-created deathmatch “Stunters Versus Snipers” which seem to be all the rage in GTA Online at the moment. One team has a sniper rifle (and grenades) […]

  • Metal Gear Solid 5: Mother Base turns pink in the morning sun

    The Phantom Pain looks nice even when Kojima just takes a quick pic with his phone. Look at that beauty. We get nice reflection in pink at the first gray of dawn. pic.twitter.com/aERTBoZT9z — HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) March 2, 2015 The game doesn’t have a release date yet, which makes us a bit nervous for it […]

  • Dying Light: Underpant Gnomes and 9 other secrets you missed

    Dying Light still has legs – maybe because it’s crammed full of secret things to discover. Ten of those have been highlighted by TerraMantis’ latest YouTube video, including reference to the Underpant Gnomes, guitar lessons, farting zombies and well, we don’t want to spoil it for you. Even if you think you’ve seen everything in […]

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly

    Why blind ‘em with science when you could kill ‘em with dance moves? revelations raid When I say Resident Evil: Revelations 2‘s Raid Mode dance gestures are deadly, I’m not being figurative. If you finish the first chapter of Revelations 2 you can unlock Gina for use in Raid Mode. All characters can use gestures […]

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition mod enables male Blackwall romance, terrific joke

    “Male Inquisitors can now scale the wall,” says a clever Redditor. A new Dragon Age: Inquisition mod removes Blackwall’s romantic restrictions, allowing male Inquisitors to chat up the fuzzy-faced warrior. Blackwall doesn’t have any race preferences, so you’re good to go there. Dragon Age: Inquisition romance mods are pretty common by now, and to be […]

  • Destiny: it is possible to solo the Weekly Heroic

    Destiny players willing to faff about with their system clock can solo the Weekly Nightfall if they prefer. The Weekly Heroic is one of Destiny‘s toughest challenges. Responding to player feedback Bungie implemented matchmaking for the Weekly Heroic, but there are players who genuinely prefer to go it alone. There’s now no legitimate way to […]

  • Clayfighter remaster on the way, says Interplay

    A Clayfighter remake is inbound, apparently. Interplay has announced a Clayfighter remaster, combining the content of all past games into one package. Features include: Characters such as Bad Mr. Frosty, Blue Suede Goo, Earthworm Jim, Hoppy, Boogerman, Tiny – and more with over 20 characters total Over 20 familiar environments from the series to duke […]

  • The quickest way to climb in Dying Light

    Dying Light players! Are you sick of picking your way carefully up the sides of tall towers? Have I got a trick for you. The parkour system in Dying Light is okay, but climbing anywhere especially high can be a bit tedious. Enter Jesse Lester, who took a look at the tools available and worked […]

  • Bungie “always” looking at Exotic changes for Destiny updates

    Destiny developer Bungie won’t stop tinkering with Exotic weapons. In Destiny, Exotic weapons are supposed to be the best of the best – and to feel unique. Guns like Ice Breaker and Gjallahorn definitely hit the mark there (although less so when everyone has one), but unfortunately, there are a few that just don’t strike […]

  • Is Uncharted 4′s first trailer a tribute to Crash Bandicoot?

    Uncharted 4′s first proper trailer bears some remarkable similarities to the opening moments of a much earlier Naughty Dog game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has more in common with Crash Bandicoot than you might think. It’s Naughty Dog’s first game on a new console, yes – but if you compare Uncharted 4′s E3 2014 […]

  • Sonic console games will continue, says Iizuka

    Sonic Team leader Takashi Iizuka has said there are no plans to stop making Sonic games. Sonic hasn’t retired from the ranks just yet. “Please rest assured, I personally have no plans to stop making Sonic games for home consoles,” Iizuka told 4Gamer [Japanese]. The comment arose after the site asked if Sonic would become […]

  • Stealth Inc. 2 coming to PSN, apparently

    Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones will soon be available on PlayStation platforms, if a trophy list is to be believed. Stealth Inc. 2 initially launched as a Wii U exclusive, disappointing fans of Curve Studios’ tough action game. We’ve heard nothing to contradict this, but Exophase, a generally reliable source, has dug up […]

  • Runescape developer has an “undisclosed MMO” in the works

    Runescape developer Jagex is working on something new. According to Jagex’s careers page, the developer has a new, unannounced game in the works. Its advertisement for a lead programmer makes explicit mention of an “undisclosed MMO”. The ad mentions the new title is in “the preliminary stages of redefining the cross platform MMORPG genre” and […]

  • Destiny PvP rewards system to be addressed

    Destiny developer Bungie has said it will change the way Crucible rewards work. Destiny players are always complaining about the perfidy of RNGesus, but there’s one area where it particularly hurts: the Crucible. PvP players often receive nothing at all for excellent performances, and sometimes Guardians receive the best drops merely for logging in as […]

  • Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 in the works for 3DS

    Azure Striker Gunvolt is getting a sequel. Azure Striker Gunvolt developer Inti Creates has confirmed that the sidescroller has been popular enough to warrant a second instalment. The sequel will also be released on 3DS, the team said on Facebook. Very little information is available at present, unfortunately. “As time goes on we will have […]

  • Life is Strange Episode 2 not delayed, says developer

    Life is Strange developer Dontnod Entertainment has said the second episode is on track for release this month. I guess it would know. Life is Strange Episode 2 has been expected on March 13, but late last week Square Enix told Destructoid it had been delayed. Dontnod has since denied this report, describing it as […]

  • First SteamVR game reveal is Job Simulator

    Job Simulator is the first game to be announced specifically for SteamVR, Valve’s virtual reality tech. Shoot Many Robots and Aaaaa! For the Awesome! developer Owlchemy Labs is the first team to put its hand up and say it’s worked with SteamVR. In a blog post, the studio unveiled Job Simulator, which will be playable […]

  • HTC, Valve partner for Vive VR headset

    The first SteamVR announce is a headset a manufactured by HTC, the Taiwanese mobile company revealed over the weekend. Valve told us last week it planned to unveil virtual reality hardware at GDC, calling it “SteamVR” at the time. Now HTC has pre-empted Valve by revealing Vive, a headset developed thanks to a collaboration between […]

  • Watch the Evolve Chappie Challenge tomorrow on Twitch

    Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2K and Turtle Rock Studios have announced a tournament being hosted by ESL, which will see Evolve players take on newest movie robot, Chappie. The ESL has teamed up with Twitch for the live 4 on 1 competitive event, and you can watch as it all unfolds tomorrow, March 1 at 3pm […]