Interview with Mike McShaffry


To further mark — somewhat belatedly — the twentieth anniversary of Ultima 8, the Ultima Codex is pleased to present a lengthy and informative video interview with Mike McShaffry.

Mike McShaffry got his start in the gaming industry shortly after Ultima 6 shipped. In fact, it was that game — and its inclusion of Origin Systems’ mailing address on the box — that prompted him to apply for a job with the company. His first game was Martian Dreams, and he worked on Ultima 7 as well, in both cases as a programmer. He rose through the ranks at Origin fairly quickly, and was tapped for the project director role for Ultima 8, and then again for the earliest incarnation of Ultima 9.

He left Origin before Ultima 9 was released, and worked at several other studios on the Austin area in the years that followed — including Ion Storm and Red Fly. He also runs a game design consulting service and, as he lets slip in the interview, is presently working with a pair of well-known game developers to launch a mobile gaming startup.

“Mr. Mike” was kind enough to answer a torrent of questions put together by the Ultima Dragons, and did so with humour and good cheer. In the course of the interview, he discusses many aspects of the design of Ultima 8 and its production history, and brings to light some details about the earliest designs for Ultima 9…including what I think would have been a truly brilliant way to end the series. We here at the Codex — and I’m sure I speak for the entirety of the Ultima fandom — are very grateful to Mr. McShaffry for taking the time.

3 Responses

  1. kodenkm says:

    You did not ask him about the blue vial in the waterfall cave?
    It sounds like Mike would not remember after all these years though.

    Regarding becoming the Titan of Ether at the end of Pagan and then starting Ultima 9 as the blonde dude in Austin.
    The part on Earth at the start of Ultima 9 could be a dream like event similar to intro of Ultima 4 with the gypsy, just to setup your character. After you step through the moongate you appear on a pillar overlooking the giant Guardian head statue and wearing kind of similar clothes. It looks pretty similar to the ending of Ultima 8, just with less of a robe and no helmet.
    The Ether school of magic spells were taught by Mythran the thaumaturge. Ultima 4 spell book refers to mages on Britiannia as a thaumaturge. So it would kind of make sense for Ether magic to not work on Britiannia due to the Guardian’s columns disrupting magic.

    These are some great interviews from the Ultima 8 team. It brings back memories of finishing Ultima 8 and watching the dev team quotes section scroll by. Seeing the dev names and quirky things they said during development.

    I’m one of those people who started the Ultima journey with Pagan. It came on a SoundBlaster soundcard game pack CD. I was blown away with how awesome it was compared to what i had been playing previously. When ever i play a new RPG and it lacks a feature that Pagan had (jumping, climbing, interesting spell system, great ambient music, world interaction and freedom). I always think back to how good Pagan was and then crave to play it again for the 100th time.
    I played through Ultima 9 a few times over the years. It was my first Britiannian Ultima. It was interesting, but it didn’t have the same feeling of adventure as Pagan. I have recently started playing through Ultima 4 since finding it on GoG. It took a bit to get used to the dual scale map and graphics, but its quite fun. I will eventually also play through Ultima’s 5, 6, 7 and expansions.

    I would love to work on an Ultima or the new Shroud of the Avatar series one day. It sounds like a lots of hard work and long hours, but still lots of fun.
    My Ultima 8 in Minecraft remake (Pagan-MC) is still coming along slowly when i have spare time.

    • kobrakai says:

      I’m yet to watch the interview, but I thoroughly agree with kodenkm.

      It would be quite a pleasure to recreate Pagan and I know a bit of UDK (forgot almost everything due to lack of use); however, I have to run my company daily and it drains even the smallest amount of time I should have to play games. Thus, developing games is definetly out of question for me (unless someone needs support from someone who knows… or… at least… used to know Pagan very well).

      Alas, I have not yet finished my Ultima VIII Guide. I started it in 2003 and I planned to add many “new” things to it. Should I ever have time again for games, finishing this guide will lead my priorities. 50% of the “updates” have already been completed offline. Work on it stopped in 2008… shame on me.

      • kodenkm says:

        A remake using Unreal engine would be great. I would love to help with a project like that. Perhaps when my kids are a bit older and less demanding. My young son is currently crazy about Minecraft, so i will finish my remake with that game engine first.