|June 24th, 2006|
There used to be an ad agency on the fifth floor of the Origin building, back when it was off of 360. I can’t remember what it was called, but after they moved us from our cramped offices where we were packed in three or four to an office, we were moved up there. It was very early in UO’s actual development, but long after Rick Delashmit had done the initial prototype — maybe a month or two in from what I think of as the start of the “real” UO, which was in September of 1995. We had to go by the receptionist, who always wondered who those scruffy guys in t-shirts were who ducked past them to go into the nondescript corner of the floor.
A red sign made by Micael Priest hung there. It read “Multima” in the classic Ultima lettering, and it was shaped like an arrow. I still have it. You went in a door behind a security badge access, and in there was the UO team, in cramped space. Two artists in the hallway. Four programmers in one office, working off of folding tables. Starr Long & the original lead designer each had an office of their own. Kristen and I shared something that may once have been a largish storage space — it was long enough to put two desks side by side, but too narrow to put much of anything else. There was one more office, for Micael and another artist.
We were there during the winter. The development servers were directly under the temperature sensor for the AC unit in that four-programmer office, so the AC blew nonstop. We all wore gloves inside the office space, because it was too cold to type otherwise.
The ad agency moved out, and Origin took over the whole floor. They needed to redo the layout, so they gutted it. The elevator surfaced onto the fifth floor, and you were there, in December, with the wind blowing right through the whole floor. It was bare concrete and pilings, and if you walked to the edge of the floor, you could jump off the building through the window or the big chute they set up for disposing of trash. The Multima sign still hung, fluttering in the wind, on the outside of the one section of drywall that remained: our offices, the only part of the floor that wasn’t gone.
We had little clue of the goings-on at the rest of the company. We ran our own game website on OWO.com, a domain that I am not sure Origin quite knew we had. The website was served from one of those machines that kept everything freezing cold. We didn’t have any art yet, so the original UO FAQ had on it some llamas and a “happy butthole” logo, which was from a practical joke war being played btween Richard Garriott and his ex-girlfriend. Eventually, we added the original logo, which didn’t survive contact with the marketing department.
The marketing department barely knew we existed at the time. Up on the fifth floor, we were pretty isolated. One day a marketing guy showed up and said “We’re trying to give previews for AH-64 Longbow (I think — could have been some other game) and the press guys only want to know about this Multima thing. What is it?” When we told him they probably saw the website and the FAQ, he was horrified. Another time Richard came up to gauge our reaction to the fact that an entire production group had been cut — we all shrugged and said “who?” I think he was a little nonplussed, because apparently the rest of the company was all agog and freaked out.
We made most of the pre-alpha there. We saw Richard once a month or so. One of the times he came up was to complain about the art, and Micael pointed out that most of what he was complaining about was actually stuff that Kristen & I had put in there, scavenged off the web, because we needed to do some building and little of the architecture was done yet. I think the walls in the above screenshot were ones that we took from photo source of roof shingles. I think I drew those plants in the upper right corner, too.
That period, to me, is the quintessential UO development time, even though it was relatively short. The fifth floor was mostly finished, and we were moved downstairs so they could finish up. I scavenged the Multima sign before it was taken away. It was not too long after that that the UO team lost its skunkworks unity as more people came onto the team, eventually including the entire Ultima IX team. But at that time, we were punk kids (even Micael, an old kid) doing stuff in the attic, and our parents had no idea what we were up to.