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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 Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has a new gameplay video available that shows a bit of action from the PC version. The video below was captured from Nvidia’s GDC conference live-stream. Developer CD Projekt RED was on hand to show off The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt‘s graphical prowess running on a PC. Thanks, GamesHQMedia.

  • Dying Light: Hard Mode and Ultimate Survivor Bundle out March 10

    Dying Light’s second DLC drop, the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, and the free Hard Mode, have been given a solid release date alongside a new trailer. Dying Light developer Techland has confirmed that the Ultimate Survivor Bundle, the game’s second DLC drop, will release March 10. The DLC is part of the season pass, but will […]

  • Exploration puzzler Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4

    Ether One, the first-person exploration game that puts you in the minds of other people to help change events of their past is coming to PlayStation 4 this year. Ether One is coming to PlayStation 4 this year, developer White Paper Games announced at GDC 2015. A retail version will also be available alongside the […]

  • Larian “murdered” Divinity: Dragon Commander to focus on Original Sin

    Divinity: Original Sin developer Larian talked very candidly about the business side of development and the many unfortunate events that took place for the game to come out as it did. Larian Studios founder Swen Vincke gave a post-mortem on the troubled development of Divinity: Original Sin, and how it managed to overcome all of […]

  • Firewatch probably has the most natural dialogue of any game to date

    Firewatch developer Campo Santo has revealed the first ever gameplay footage of the upcoming exploration game. Firewatch is the first game from super indie studio Campo Santo. The game is set in the Wyoming forests where the player will be exploring the environment and act as a fire lookout. The game features extensive voice-acting as […]

  • White Night launch trailer is a noir thriller trip

    White Night is here, not long after it was revealed and with a mysterious launch trailer. White Night, the black-and-white survival horror set in 1930s Boston, has revealed its launch trailer. White Night is mix of old-school horror, exploration and puzzling solving in an eerie, noir setting. The game’s main mechanic is light. any object […]

  • Free-to-play is “a significant part” of PlayStation’s digital future

    Free-to-play games on PlayStation 4 have seen enough growth that Sony is now considering the model a major part of its future digital business. Sarah Thompson, senior account executive for PlayStation’s free-to-play business said at a GDC panel that Sony has witnessed impressive growth in the free-to-play sector. “We’re really looking at this as a […]

  • Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter documentary releasing free on YouTube

    Broken Age making of documentary Double Fine Adventure will be made available to all. When Double Fine turned to crowdfunding, changing the industry forever, it promised to give an unprecedented look behind the scenes with a professional documentary of the whole development process of Broken Age. That documentary was initially restricted to Kickstarter backers, but […]

  • Gone Home console ports cancelled following Midnight City difficulties

    Gone Home won’t be made available to the console masses after all. Indie hit Gone Home was announced for console release almost exactly one year ago, and we’ve heard absolutely nothing since then. Turns out, that’s because it’s not happening: developer the Fullbright Company confirmed to Eurogamer that the ports have been cancelled. “Our publishing […]

  • Microsoft rang Mojang the day Notch joked about selling

    Minecraft developer Mojang was sold because founder Markus “Notch” Persson made a joke on Twitter. Ever wondered how Minecraft came to be a Microsoft property? It’s actually a pretty great story. Remember when Notch tweeted this? Anyone want to buy my share of Mojang so I can move on with my life? Getting hate for […]

  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection matchmaking update rolling out

    Halo: The Master Chief Collection has been updated to help fix its tragic matchmaking. Again. Now almost four months old, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was still pretty broken as of this morning, with rubbish matchmaking and plenty of other issues to go around. 343 Industries is still trying to fix it, and has today […]

  • Nvidia unveils Shield, an Android 4K Smart TV set top box

    Nvidia has named yet another product “Shield” in an attempt to render us all hopelessly confused. The heart of Nvidia’s GDC 2015 press conference was the Shield, a $200 Android set top box launching in May. Apparently the “world’s first 4K Android TV”, the Shield supports 4K content encoded with h.265. The box runs on […]

  • Star Wars Battlefront footage shown behind closed doors

    Star Wars Battlefront is being shown to retailers. Now we want EA to show it to us. Star Wars Battlefront is expected sometime this year, so it’s about time EA gave us a look at DICE’s latest. It turns out that while press and gamers have had to twiddle their thumbs, EA is showing it […]

  • Dragon Age lead creative moves onto mysterious new BioWare project

    Dragon Age creator David Gaider is leaving his baby behind. Dragon Age is a team effort, but Gaider was one of the key creatives behind the franchise, creating the setting of Thedas (which, I was recently amused to learn, is an acronym: “THE Dragon Age Setting”). He was lead writer on all three games and […]

  • Unity 5 available for free with “no fucking around”

    Unity 5 looks amazing, and you can download and faff about with it for free right now. “We’re not nickel-and-diming people. When we say it’s free, it’s free. We’re not charging a royalty, which I think is akin to looking for whales.” Unity Technologies announced the release of the fifth version of its popular, simple, […]

  • Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 may be the end of the series

    Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 released yesterday, and many fans theorise that it marks the end of the series. Five Nights at Freddy’s developer Scott Cawthon has released a new teaser image on his website, but rather than pointing to a new game, many fans believe the teaser signals the end of the series. The […]

  • Source 2 announced, will also be free

    Valve has formally unveiled Source Engine 2, the third major engine to go free to developers at GDC 2015. Source 2 is the successor to the engine Valve has been using since Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2. Valve didn’t have much to say about the technicalities of this long-awaited release. It is apparently focused on […]

  • SteamVR: Valve’s Lighthouse tech allows you to walk around while playing

    SteamVR’s key differentiator is a piece of tech allowing headsets to connect with other devices for extra accurate, room-scale tracking. Valve has announced a new bit of technology called Lighthouse, which it is making freely available to any hardware manufacturer. Like the extra tracking LEDs on Sony’s updated Project Morpheus, Lighthouse improves the headset’s accuracy, […]

  • Steam Machines, Controller, streaming box to launch in November

    Steam Machines will finally become a reality before the end of the year. Valve’s living room PC systems will release in November, the company announced today. Well, I say Valve’s – the idea behind Steam Machines is that a number of manufacturers will offer variously priced systems. Alienware and Falcon Northwest are among the dozen […]

  • Telltale veterans form new team, announce teen thriller Oxenfree

    Oxenfree is a supernatural teen thriller from some of the team behind Telltale Games’ award-winning adventures. New indie Night School Studios unveiled Oxenfree at GDC 2015. It tells the story of a group of friends who accidentally open a “ghostly rift” at an overnight party on the coast. Night School, which is made up of […]

  • PS4 global sales now stand at over 20.2 million

    The PS4 has sold 20.2 million units worldwide. Sony announced the new PS4 sales milestone at GDC 2015 today. It’s a hell of an achievement and salt in the wounds for Microsoft, which hasn’t updated us on Xbox One sales since it shipped “almost” 10 million back in November last year, and has fallen back […]

  • PS4 VR headset Morpheus out in 2016, capable of 120 FPS – video

    Sony’s VR headset Project Morpheus has some impressive grunt. Virtual reality and Morpheus were the heart of Sony’s GDC 2015 presentation today, ahead of its newly announced first-half 2016 comemrcial launch. SCE Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida detailed the headset’s impressive capabilities, notably the fact that it can handle 120 FPS VR games. The PS4 […]

  • Papo & Yo developer making a VR game about dinosaurs

    Some days you write a headline and it makes you so happy that that you have to do a little chair dance, you know what I mean? Papo & Yo developer Minority Media, whom I would personally go to the wall for after they cut out my heart and stomped on it via the medium […]

  • Wasteland 2, Shovel Knight and more in big ole bunch of indies coming to Xbox One

    Xbox One owners are about to receive a pile of great new indie games. At GDC 2015, Microsoft revealed a list of new indie games headed to Xbox One. Some of these titles have already released on other platforms, so it looks like Microsoft has really relaxed the parity clause of ID@Xbox – or perhaps […]

  • Here’s an indie VR game made with Unreal Engine 4

    GDC 2015 is blowing up with indie games, VR and Unreal Engine 4, so here’s a video combining all three. Loading Human is a virtual reality adventure from indie developer Untold Games. It’s in the works for Mac and PC, and Sony has given an early green light for Project Morpheus, too, so expect it […]

  • GTA Online: Daily Objectives and Adversary Mode coming next week

    Heists aren’t the only thing coming to GTA Online next week: players can also expect Adversary Modes, new Daily Objectives and other Freemode activities. GTA Online’s Adversary Modes are new PvP modes which feature a range of competitive challenges and will unlock as players progress through Heists. Here’s a rundown straight from Rockstar: Come Out […]

  • Syndicate is the latest free game download on Origin

    The latest free title to be added to EA’s Origin service is 1993′s Syndicate. For a limited time, you can download the game for free and keep it, much like previous titles such as Theme Hospital. The isometric, real-time, tactical-action game was developed by Bullfrog Productions and released in June 1993. It is a favorite […]

  • Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen now available

    The Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen is now available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It will run you $7.99 and builds upon the existing lore, characters, and storyline. Have a look at some new screenshots in the gallery below.

  • Shadowrun Online gets a name change and release date

    Shadowrun Online developer Cliffhanger Productions has announced the game’s name has been changed to Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown and a release date for April has been set. The new title was formed via the developer and its Kickstarter backers, with the goal being to let those unfamiliar with the game know by the title alone […]

  • Amazon hosting Rockstar and 2K Games sale

    Amazon is hosting a Rockstar Games and 2K Games sale with discounts Max Payne titles, Bully and more. Here’s just some of the offerings listed: Manhunt 2 PC Download $3.00 Max Payne 3 PC Download $4.00 Bully: Scholarship Edition PC Download $3.00 LA Noire Xbox 360 $2.95 L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition PC Download $6.00 […]

  • Destiny weekly reset video shows off Inferno Crucible gameplay

    We have a gameplay video featuring Inferno Crucible gameplay featured in the Destiny weekly reset for you. In it, Arekkz Gaming gives you a look at Inferno Crucible and goes over the various intricacies. You can read up on the weekly reset through the links.

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Episode 2 available from today

    Episode 2 for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is now available. If you’ve purchased the Complete Season, you’ll be able to download Episode 2 on PS3, PS4 and Xbox One. Steam players should see the episode go live around 9-10pm PST, and Xbox 360 owners should be able to download very early tomorrow morning, per Capcom […]

  • Here’s a sneak peek video for Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide

    Fatshark Games has released a sneak peek video for its upcoming Games Workshop title, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Vermintide is a FPS, co-op action title coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and its set during the End Times of the Warhammer universe in the city of Ubersreik. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare video shows Ascendance DLC early access weapon

    As you know, Xbox Season Pass holders now have early access to the Ascendance DLC Pack bonus weapons for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Now you can watch a trailer for the weapon. The OHM directed energy hybrid weapon can switch between an LMG and Shotgun “on the fly,” and it also includes the OHM-Werewolf […]

  • March PS Plus games include OlliOlli 2, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, more

    March PlayStation Plus titles have popped up on the PS Plus page. Noticed by NeoGAF user skynidas, the titles include: OlliOlli2 (PS4/VITA) Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (PS4) Counterspy (PS4/PS3) Papo & Yo (PS3) Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment (PS3) A notice has also been posted on the EU PS […]

  • Sci-fi horror game Caffeine will release on Xbox One, PS4 alongside PC – new trailer

    Caffeine creator Dylan Browne has announced the Unreal Engine 4 game will be released on Xbox One. The game will be published through Microsoft’s Indie Program. As previously announced, it is also coming to PC and and now PlayStation 4. Caffeine is a sci-fi horror game which stars a young boy who has been abandoned […]