Ultima Forever: The Evolution of Britannia

The map for Ultima Forever has undergone significant revision since the game was first conceptualized. Mythic Entertainment generously allowed me to obtain photographs of the various “early stage” maps for the game when I visited the studio recently.

This series of images shows how it began from a tracing of the Ultima 4 map and, through successive iterations, became what it is today. None of the maps depicted at the link above is the final map of Ultima Forever; Britannia has seen significant amounts of polishing and adjustment since the print of the eighth map was made. Even so, the eight maps we were able to photograph show the evolution of Ultima Forever’s world, from drawing board to in-game realization, and hopefully also demonstrate the care and effort that Mythic have taken with respect to the lore of the canonical series in crafting a new Britannia.

Many thanks to Kate Flack and Paul Barnett at Mythic, especially, for walking me through the history of Ultima Forever’s Britannia and its development. And my apologies for the fact that some of the photos are a bit blurry…

17 Responses

  1. This is very cool. Its great to see the progress they made from the original map to get close to what we see in the previews. Awesome detail.

    I’d really like to see a full map using the in-game painting background.

  2. Mark says:

    beautiful artwork and neat. But I think I don’t like what happened between maps #2 and #3

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      The vagaries of engine, I suppose. The rough continental form from #3 is also represented fairly strongly in #8, but as can be seen in the final map of the game, more detail from the original map was ultimately able to be preserved. The shape is still in the general mold of #3, but a lot of refinement has quite obviously been done even so, even over what can be seen in #8.

      And no, the cloth map does not significantly embellish the in-game appearance of Britannia.

  3. WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

    Note that the most significant alteration to the map has been the compression of the southern spur of Britannia. Although, in truth, this was the part of Britannia that was always a little on the vacant side anyhow…it’s practically there for show in Ultima 6, for example, and has little in the way of points of interest in Ultima 7 as well. Compressing its few points of interest together works, for the most part, even if it does leave the continent looking a bit top-heavy.

    • Sanctimonia Sanctimonia says:

      No more Valorian Isles then? No more stalwart militia awaiting a king’s order? Who keeps the local guards in line…Ye? Imperial oversight is needed even if in jest or by threat. Lady British must tighten the reins and sacrifice a hare to entrap a local hunter. Argue Divine Right of Kings and show official papers, condemning the accused to heresy and treason and the ultimate punishment: public vivisection, humiliation and unvirtuous burial. It’s time Britannia had some standards, and they need to come from Britain. Let the Lady see a knife to know what it means to fearful man on the field. Let her kill the first prisoner. All hail Britannia. All hail Lord British. Oo-aah!

  4. Mark says:

    I think there is a little more to it than that. somewhere along the way, Britannia became less Lego and more Duplo, if you know what I mean.
    Wake me when Britannia looks something more like the heightmaps i just PM’d you.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      I got the height maps…which, granted, do look amazing. I’m thinking they’re the sort of thing we might want to feature at the Digital Lycaeum, if you’d be okay with that.

    • Sanctimonia Sanctimonia says:

      I’d like to have the height maps as well. I can’t (or won’t, to be more accurate) use them in my game, but if they’re excellent I’d really like to see what they look like in-engine. Are they based on a particular version of Ultima? If so I can rip overlays for where foothills, mountains, forests, etc. would be for object generation.

      As far as the Lego/Duplo comment, remember that first “leaked” screenshot of the Ultima Forever map? It was like Dragon Quest [I]…Duplo for sure. 😉

  5. Mark says:

    Thanks. Fine by me. The one was a quick 2 hour mock up where i downloaded usgs heightmap data of some random islands in malaysia and stuck them together to make Britannia.
    The second was a test run of the Ultima 5 map in a program called WILBUR that creates erosion and stuff. I also tried to do some work with L3DT. I have a LOT of high res crap from my various efforts at learning the programs. I quickly realized that it would take a huge amount of work to make a heroic-scale Britannia with all the detail necessary for a game, and I gave up. I was inspired my a group of guys trying to do the same thing with L3DT for Middle Earth.
    You all can use them as much as you want, but I think you will find they look a little weird in isometric view. I tried this all 3 years ago, and have largely forgotten how to use the programs. I will dig around to see if I can find any better assets on my harddrive.
    The Wilbur one was U5, but that is so much like U4 that you probably can’t tell them apart.

  6. Mark says:

    I just looked at my stuff. The Malaysian one’s original form is a 2ooMB bmp. I could compress it, but probably still to big to email. 8192×8192. I remember making it. I specifically chose islands that were about the scale I thought Britannia should be – around 1000 miles. I made sure I didn’t scale any of my selections larger or smaller than about 1X. I had to do some manual blending, and I used lighten/darken instead of smudge which led to some pretty ugly results in 3D. I would have to start over, but overall I thought it was a fun, fast, easy way to build a heightmap that is realistic, so long as your aren’t being literal about the exact shape of the land. I can’t remember the program I used to download the terrain data, but instructions were easy to find online.
    For Wilbur, I never really got to far into learning it. Basically, i took the ultima tilemap and used the magic wand tool to make an outline. Then i colored over where the mountains were. I used this to make a mask for Wilbur, and then you literally just set the erosion filters and let er rip. It is touchy though, and you can localize effects to create different biomes. I never went this far. I also only did the small file because it takes a while to run.
    tell me if you need more info.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      I can set you up an FTP login, if you like. Or, if you’re on Dropbox, you could share the file with me from there; 200 MB would only consume about 10% of the base amount of space Dropbox gives you with a free account.

      That sounds like a massive undertaking, and if you’re willing to publicize it, I’m sure people would love to have it at its fullest quality.

  7. Mark says:

    Sure, I will dropbox it. Like i said, that particular one was a short first attempt at the copy-paste method, and it would have to be redone if anyone intended on using it as an asset because there are some screw ups. I think i used lighten too much, and some of the peaks at the top of the mountain got to high, relative to the rest of the mountains, making super-high spikes. weird looking in 3-D

  8. Mark says:

    Actually, I just PNG’d it, and it is less than 6MB, so here she comes. must be because there is so much black.

  9. Mark says:

    One last post, i promise. This is the project that inspired me to attempt an Ultima heightmap. NEAT!!!
    http://www.me-dem.org/