Ultima 6 Technical Documents

Courtesy of former Origin programmer Bill Randolph, and thanks to the tireless efforts of Joe Garrity of the Origin Muesum, Ultima Aiera is pleased to present four documents — which have been broken out into over thirty images — which discuss some of the technical details of Ultima 6.

Specifically, the documents — all of which appear to be internal documents from Origin Systems — discuss the conversation syntax of the game and its technical implementation, the object design of the game, and the in-house map editor that Origin developers used to construct the Ultima 6 game world.

There is some truly fascinating stuff to be found within these pages, at least for those who enjoy getting a look at the technical foundations of software.

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Teasing! Teasing!

And thus…enjoy! Pull up the images, download the PDFs, and pore over them. Search out every little detail, and enjoy a fascinating glimpse into the nuts and bolts of how Origin crafted a truly ground-breaking RPG. Ultima Aiera is indebted to Joe Garrity for providing these documents, to Bill Randolph for releasing them and making them available for us to see, to Ben “Bandit LOAF” Lesnick for his invaluable insights, and to Cheryl Chen, Herman Miller, and everyone who worked at Origin Systems.

Update: Welcome, Redditors, Game Banshees, and Rampant Gamers!

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20 Responses

  1. efry says:

    Wow. Thanks for the release. I love looking at this stuff.

    Things have changed quite a bit from these docs to the final game. I’m reading the object design doc thinking that’s not right, it’s not like that in nuvie. 😉

    Eric

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      Eric: So are things different in Nuvie as a result of your work, or are you saying that these are documents from an earlier stage of the game’s development, and things changed between when these documents were written and the final release of the game?

      If the latter…would you be opposed to putting together some notes about the differences you find?

  2. efry says:

    Hi WTF,

    They are docs from an early stage in development. The main concepts are still there but the implementation changed around a bit. I’ve got some docs on the current game file formats in the Nuvie subversion repository.

    http://nuvie.svn.sourceforge.net/viewvc/nuvie/docs/trunk/ultima6/

  3. Wolfner says:

    Oh boy.

    For someone who writes software these documents are great. I mean there is also some general talk on it but it’s very nice to see the approach on certain topics (especially the handling of NPCs which can be pretty tough).

  4. OM Curator says:

    So cool! The Nuvie team is first to post! Eric–tell us your insights. Being a non-programmer, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the differences/similarities of these docs-vs-U6-vs-Nuvie.

  5. OM Curator says:

    Incredible writeup WtF–you really put a huge effort into this post, and I’m sure all fans of the site appreciate it.
    I also want to throw a big shout-out to Ben ‘LOAF’ Lesnick on his insights into these–the guy knows more about Origin history than any other human being! I am constantly amazed at the amount of interesting commentary he can infuse into the most mundane-looking scraps of paper.
    Fascinating!

  6. Zygon Dragon says:

    Joe,
    So are you stashing anything else interesting Ultima related? Its too much of a tease this slow trickle of stuff 🙂

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      Zygon: There is more to come. MUCH more.

      Posts like this should, barring something unfortunate, become regular Thursday features for most of summer, and maybe into the fall.

      I’d post it all now if I could, but there’s a lot of effort that goes into even one article, and I don’t have THAT much free time to spare.

  7. Zygon Dragon says:

    Most appreciated.

  8. Sanctimonia Sanctimonia says:

    Crazy… Good news that more is coming, but crazy because the documents even still exist. Hopefully every old Origin dev out there feels safe in going through his or her papers and looking for old notes, maybe even code.

    I was pretty devastated when I learned here that the source code had been lost, but docs like these are the next best thing to it. Someone should definitely compile them into a general “design doc” for Ultima, maybe by adding them to the Ultima wiki?

  9. OM Curator says:

    Sanctimonia sez:
    ‘Someone should definitely compile them into a general “design doc” for Ultima, maybe by adding them to the Ultima wiki?’

    Fantastic idea! Just last week I was asking myself, “Why are you doing this? Preserving the artifacts of gaming’s past is pretty nifty and all, but what use is it really?” Is there a useful purpose to all of this? While I can *hope* that developers of the future find this useful, is there any way that we can make things easier to help them find the info that they might need at a future date?
    You have a brilliant idea here, and all it would really take is some organization. I like to boast that I’m helping to preserve Origin’s past, but yours is one of the first ideas that is a practical application of what they could actually be used for, apart from simple reminiscing. I have heard that mathemeticians and scientists look through the old papers of other folks, to gain insight and perhaps solve riddles that their predecessors never had time to fully develop–could the same concepts be applied to game programmers? It would be the thrill of a lifetime for me to hear that the efforts of Ultimaaiera and the Ultima wiki folks aided in giving us the games of the future. 🙂

  10. Dungy says:

    There’s plenty of room at the Ultima Wiki for anyone who wants to write articles related to any of the technical aspects of any of the Ultima games, including the technical documents that WTF has been posting here. We already have a small smattering of technical documents http://codex.ultimaaiera.com/wiki/Category:Technical_Details but there is tons of room for expansion. Come on by and visit.

  11. Odkin says:

    Ultima 6 development is an especially interesting area of study. It’s the first Ultima developed that specifically EXcluded the Apple // and it’s memory and graphic limitations.

    I always wondered how much this changed Origin’s approach to the game. In the past the Apple version always seemed to be the “official” and complete one, with the C64, Atari, and PC versions basically as ports. By leaving Apple behind for the first time they probably had to leave a lot of assumptions and experiences behind as well.

  12. fearyourself says:

    If only we had those documents for U5, I feel it difficult to figure out certain details… Oh well 🙂 Good to have these 🙂

  13. luteijn says:

    Reading through this, to me it seem it matches up quite nicely with the information in the “ACE”-article on the Editor ( See http://luteijn.xs4all.nl/nuvieki/AceArticle ) that someone dug up back in 2005. The screenshots there are a nice illustration to the documents. As Eric already commented, it looks like an early version of the ideas, and quite some stuff was changed in the final game. It seems reasonable that the editor would be used start building the world, even if the final object structure wasn’t completely thought out. Some of it might be directly taken from U5, so the documentatino might be of help for U5 too.
    I was hoping to find another clue to what the ‘Ge’-tileflag would mean, but I don’t think anything related to that is in the documents.

    I wonder what else will become available.

    Pieter

  14. Zygon Dragon says:

    Does this Ultima VI editor coder by Herman Miler exist? Anyone got a copy?

  15. luteijn says:

    As far as I remember from the discussion of/on the 2 pages of the ACE article it is considered to be lost :(. Of course, that doesn’t need to mean it won’t turn up on an old disk someday, we can hope…

    Pieter

  16. Zygon Dragon says:

    Its probably on the disk labeled “The Lost Vale” 🙂

    Jokes aside. Has anyone tried to contact Herman Miler? Maybe he has a copy?