Random UO anecdote #1

 Posted by (Visited 10166 times)  Game talk
Jun 242006

Multima arrowThere 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.

original uo logoWe 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.

  18 Responses to “Random UO anecdote #1”

  1. Neat! I had completely forgotten about the “Multima” monkier, but I have heard of it before. Love these early behind-the-scenes stories!

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  3. Funny stuff. Any early SWG stories to share? I’d love to hear some horror stories about Tiggs to throw her way the next time I talk to her.

  4. Good times, eh?

    After a two-year break from EQ, (having tried CoH, WoW, etc) I’m going back on a nostalgia run through the old haunts. (Kunark, mostly). It’s painful.

    I go through zones that used to be packed full of excited, inspired, enthusiastic players. Instead, there are (at best) groups that look like 4-boxing Powerlevellers, silent /ooc channels, and vast regions completely devoid of any hint it’s a multiplayer game, much less massively so. The graphics that used to inspire such wonder are looking a bit dated, but still have in their datedness (it seems to me) more character than the polished and slick models you see today.

    Are we at the end of an era? Perhaps I’m just jaded, but that’s my point. There are an awful lot of us who are jaded now. Do the jaded ones outnumber the fresh, new minds, intoxicated with the potential of online worlds?

    With the rapid expansion of the market, are we even reaching the same people anymore, the creative people who can lose themselves in an online world, creating their own stories to fill in the chinks and gaps that the blocks of game-provided story don’t cover? Are we even spending enough time in any given zone of any given game to remember it, much less fall in love with it, anymore?

    The MMO genre is growing up. Developers are no longer the punk kids they used to be, and neither are many of the players. I get the sense that both groups have lost an innocence that they may never find again, the kind of childlike wonder that looks at the stars and sees monsters and heroes. (Now, it seems, they either look for dollar signs there or they don’t look up at all.)

    Or they look for a little while, then move on, without taking the time to really see. “Isn’t it silly to say that looks like an archer when it looks more like a teapot?” Is it silly to say a blocky, angular (or heaven forbid, sprite-based) model can take hold of your imagination better than these hundreds of new 100k-poly-mapped-lighted-videoreal models can, scattered in front of you in an ever-quickening succession of new games and new genres?

    Maybe I’m getting old and cranky, or maybe this is just the natural progression of things from new to same-old-same-old, or creative beginnings to profitable ends. Still, it’s a pity if these games lose their potential for players have a long-term commitment to them, or their potential to develop each player’s creativity — filling in the edges and making it their own.

    I wonder if people will miss WoW when it’s gone the same way we’re missing the way UO and EQ used to be?

  5. What is the lifecycle of a MMORPG? Could it be: Old MMORPGs don’t die; they just get resurrected by loyal fans…

  6. Is it just me or are the UO posts the most popular on the website?

  7. Hmm, did EA take over that building? It sounds like the one where we work now 🙂

  8. Great “War Story,” Raph! It sounds like Richard wasn’t too involved in the development of the game during this stage… is that correct?

    I also heard a rumor once upon a time that UO started out with a revamped Ultima 7 Engine, but looking at the above art it looks like this was never the case.

  9. That’s an awesome read Raph. I’m quite surprised but that was pretty similar to how things went over at 3DO for us. …and they actively acquired us like they’d want to do something with Meridian 59. We were brought in and stuffed into the hardware department. “Old” guys that could make microchips do shit. All of the game development people were in another building along with the company cafeteria we would cross over to for lunch and weekly company meetings.

    The day the our team witnessed the first layoffs I rolled in very late and everyone was freaking out. I felt even worse then because (not knowing how psychotic 3DO was) I “knew” they wouldn’t fire us because they just bought us. I don’t know the history but this may have been the first of 3DO’s mass layoffs.

    We were given a new VP at one point that was a kind man who took the time to have a one on one with each of us. I don’t remember the company but he came from the detergent industry. Perfect for us. Even funnier was that I think he was one of those VPs who was directly in charge of two other VPs. I was with 3DO longer than he was.

    As that building’s population dwindled we were moved over to the main building and 3DO sold/leased the space. It was cool to be right outside the expensive fancy server room and be in a sea of game developers.

    Eventually the cafeteria closed down and round after round of layoffs would come. The company meetings moved to the central walkway of the building. Trip would explain how we have $60 million left from our $100 million we got selling the hardware team and the people that are here the ones that would make 3DO succeed! and then $40 million and the people that would make 3DO succeed. then $20. and on. Each time 3DO would lose dozen of people but it was “in a really good place” because the people that are left are the ones that really want to be here!

    I remember a feeling of the building emptying around us. That wasn’t the worry though. 3DO and the Kirmse brothers were at their breaking point. These were certainly the original team’s ‘dark times’. The game was out the door so there was time for everyone to stand back and look at what was wrong and right. We no longer needed the Sellers brothers and 3DO still wasn’t going to put kids in charge of anything. Incredibly 3DO believed they didn’t need the Kirmse brothers. (but Damion and I got quite a raise once they were gone)

    There were plenty of late nights where the Kirmse brothers and I would play Nerf basketball games we’d invent to take a break. The memories are foggy now but I think we almost always played while rolling around in our chairs. =) One night Trip stopped by to wonder what we were doing. We expected him to be cranky at the wild kids but he acted impressed that we were inventing Nerf games in order to relax from making our online game. I’ve looked him in the eye plenty but never been able to tell what he was really thinking. We weren’t laid off in the next round though. (Apparently we were the team that was going to make 3DO succeed? …and we still had $5 million!)

    Eventually whole sections of the building were closed off and sold/leased to other companies. We got a huge infusion of talent from one round of layoffs where Trip decided his internet game team should work on our internet game. There was plenty of ego clashing for sure, but we were really happy to have people helping us out. We were moved again and I was lucky to convince the new Producer (Rich Vogel) to give me the cubical at the end of a row. Because of the awkward spacing I was able to put a bookshelf (I’d convinced IT to give me) against a wall to form a door giving me a double-sized office. We were the last of the developers in that huge expanse of building with some marketing and business folks off to one side and CS back around a corner out of sight.

    There were hard times during that first update with the new team but we got really good work done. At the same time Chris had left and Andrew was on his heels so it was a strange feeling to be enjoying work while knowing their hurt. This was also the first time I’d ran into someone making $120k a year to smile a lot and “investigate technologies”. Along with all of the other stuff that got piled onto our balance sheet it was little wonder that Trip insisted for years after UO and EQ that online games can not be profitable.

    Now the *really* amazing part of the story comes next. At a weekly company meeting Jamie Cook (EVP, Lead Counsel) in any angry sort of spanking you for your own good pep-talk announces to everyone that Studio 3DO needs to get it together because we’ve never released a product yet..

    ..At this point with all of the company’s condensing, these meetings were held at the entrance to our pits so he was standing in front of a wall decorated in Meridian 59 retail boxes. So I raised my hand and gesturing to the wall said “Uh. Jamie. We’ve released our game to the stores as well as two Expansion Packs.”

    I guess in their eyes we never grew out of the punk kids stage. (..and who’d blame them, while we were releasing our games the company went from a hundred million in cash down to several infusions from Trip)

  10. Richard got involved on several specific systems — for example, he came in and redid the whole UI at one point. But during this early phase, he wasn’t around that much. I do remember a big conflict over the conversation system — I think that happened shortly after the move. Later on, he was in a bunch of the design meetings. But he was never on the team in a day to day fashion.

    The prototype that Rick Delashmit did that I mentioned in the post was done on top of the Ultima 6 engine. I believe that a few aspects of the U6 engine survived into the early client.

  11. Oh that is awesome, thanks for sharing. It reminds me of a company I did QA for last year; just a little studio of two very interesting people in a tiny office tucked in an alley. They were doing big things, but you’d never know it by the environment. Me and my brother were their entire QA staff, and we sat at two very expensive entertainment systems sitting atop a very mediocre folding table. It was almost artistic in its dichotomy.

  12. Please, more tidbits like this, Raph! Love ’em 🙂

  13. […] Comments […]

  14. […] Filed 06/26/2006 by JR “Razor” Sutich Over at Raph’s blog, he has posted an old story from UO’s early development. It’s pretty cool to see that their conditions back then aren’t that far off from what we had around here in the beginning: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.Ask me about space heaters under our desks. And a Scooby-Doo blanket. […]

  15. Awesome stuff! I remember the pre-alpha days fondly. I was the last player standing after the brawl broke out after LB’s first speech (well first unless you count the client crash and rollback).

    Good times! Sounds like it was fun to work on too. 🙂


  16. […] While the Blizzardine Empire can simply sit back and fill its coffers with revenue from the existing area of control, they need to spend enourmous amounts of that money on improvements and additions to the glory and majesty that is WoW. If they do not, the citizens will become disheartened, and start to believe those rumors about barbarians who threaten to sack the city, and steal away a great number of players who will become slaves in a different Empire. UO: Random Anecdote #1 on Raph Koster [Jun 26, 2006 – 3:37 PM] 0 Comments UO: Random Anecdote #1 on Raph Koster […]

  17. […] Raph Koster and Pre-Alpha – Incidentally, I stumbled across this on R. Koster’s site. If you look at the comments left there, we may be able to find more contacts. Hope this helps. I’ll keep an eye out and report back as I research things. […]

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