Spam Spam Spam Humbug: Episode 43 – It’s Time for EA to Make a New Ultima

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Electronic Arts Teases “a Couple of Mystery Titles” For Fiscal Year 2018; Plans to Reinvent Old IPs – “[EA Chief Financial Officer Blake Jorgensen declined] to announce what the company has in store for fiscal year 2018 (from April 1st, 2017 to March 31st, 2018), but he teased that there are ‘a couple mystery titles’ that haven’t been yet announced coming, concluding with ‘excitment!’

On top of that, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Wilson mentioned earlier in the day that the film and TV industries have reaped benefits from ‘going back into the closet and taking IPs from many many years ago and reinventing them for the future world,’ and he believes that Electronic Arts is going to do the same thing as well.”

It’s fun to hope for a new Ultima, especially if it could he handled by a designer as demonstrably talented (and Ultima-crazy) as Ian “Tiberius” Frazier. Like as not, EA has dozens of old franchises and IPs to choose from if it wants to go and resurrect a title or two from last century. But…you know what? It’s high time that EA did something with the Ultima namesake, beyond continuing to prop up a single MMORPG.

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15 Responses

  1. Erik says:

    EA wouldn’t ever be able to recreate the magic that is the Ultima series. Perhaps in name, but not in spirit. Richard Garriott and his team now working on Shroud of the Avatar have taken all the passion and creativity that made Ultima great and have invested it into a new project that most Ultima fans will adore. I would recommend to any and all Ultima fans to get in on Shroud of the Avatar as soon as possible. EA should focus on theme park MMO’s, it’s what they do best…. or God forbid, provide some customer service for a change. No one wants to communicate with a support staff via email, it sucks. My hat is off to Portalarium and their codeveloupment strategy, when a passionate dev team works with a passionate community in a crowd funded initative… magic happens.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      Maybe…we kind of get into that somewhere in the episode, actually. But in the end, it would really depend on which studio, which team, and which designer(s) ended up on the project.

      Like as not, the lead guy from Team Lazarus is a designer at EA now; I for one think Ian could handily pull off a new Ultima if ever he was given the opportunity.

    • Tel says:

      Well, to be honest, I can’t find much Ultima spirit in SotA either… It IS MMO with some very sparse Ultima reminiscences, Richard or not.

  2. Erik says:

    I’m sure EA has some talented folks, I wouldn’t dispute that and they do have some very respectable titles, but when it comes to my MMO fix, anything from anyone but Garriott and Long seems less desirable. It’s like hamburger in lieu of prime rib. Abrahams vs Lucas. Are both good? Yeah sure, bit there’s nothing quite like prime rib.

  3. Erik says:

    Im intentionally partial, i have to be honest… and I apologize that this may now be a little off topic. I suppose for the most part Ive personally always felt that Fantasy RPGs were always intended to be multiplayer since it was that way back when we were playing P&P D&D and when UO set the bar for the MMO industry, that experience in beta 97 kind of solidified that idea for me. Even during the early single player Ultima days, my favorite part of the whole experience was sharing the excitement with other people who experienced it as well. To me, Origin had it right from the star, they built worlds. The sandbox world we play within and the game mechanics serve as a catalyst, the gateway to that cooperative enjoyment ive grown to adore. The original series was fun, but UO at one point was poised to become a masterpiece and it fell off quickly after RG and Starr were nolonger involved.

    SotA has recaptured that nostalgic reverie for me, so I can only credit that to the common denominator. Sorry EA.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      Whereas SotA doesn’t really do it for me…not yet, at least. The multiplayer side is certainly coming along, but I’m not in it for multiplayer.

      I never did the pen and paper thing; my first RPGs were Ultima 6 and Might & Magic 2. Which, granted, in often played with friends, in the sense that there were two of us sitting by the computer. But yeah, my origin as a gamer was in single-player CRPGs, so for me Ultima will always be what U6-U9 offered in terms of gameplay, world design, and general overall experience.

      And SotA isn’t recapturing much of that at present. Maybe in a few releases, but not yet. (I’ll be playing it offline anyhow.)

      Could another designer recapture that same magic? I think so…it has already been done, actually. And the guy who did it is Ian.

  4. I’ve worked for these larger companies and know how they design and fund games. It really is a pipe dream to think EA or any larger company can recreate the “Ultima” single player experience or even get close to approaching the spirit of one of Garriott’s single player Ultimas. They just don’t make games for the older demographic of these Ultima fans anymore. You just did a series on this! It really doesn’t matter who is “designing” the game when working for one of these larger company. The companies interests are in control. You do remember that even Garriott was working with EA on Ultima 9 don’t you? And we all know what happened there. It’s not about the game experience for larger companies as much as it’s about the money and mass market appeal.

    Larger companies want games that will appeal to the largest market possible and their designs usually gravitate towards what’s trendy for the day or a “design by committee” approach. This will always fall short of the experience that you got in the “good” Ultimas because those were all designed with Garriott’s “vision.” Larger companies don’t like to work with “visionaries” or give full creative control to them on new and untested ideas. Those days are pretty much long gone, or are very very rare. Making games is way too expensive for larger companies and they have way too much overhead to risk the vision of a sole game designer anymore. This is why we have seen more and more known game designers over the years basically go indie so they can get back to making the games they really want to make. Larger companies are all about minimizing their risks and maximizing their profits. Look around, larger companies (like Disney) have been dumping their games divisions left and right and instead focusing on smaller scoped mobile games, or just licensing their IP to other companies so they don’t have to deal with the risks.

    The good news is there have been indie companies, including Portalarium, popping up who are trying to at least focus some of their efforts on catering to more of what I would call the single player Ultima crowd.

    Most likely if EA ever does decide to pull the trigger on the Ultima IP again it will come in the model of some of the most profitable RPG’s of today. You will basically get an Ultima-Witcher III console RPG game. I doubt many old school Ultima fans would care to play that, well maybe a few of those odd Ultima VIII fans. 😛

    In the end, it’s the creator’s vision (and their ability to bring it to life) that make a great game, not the name.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      You’re not incorrect in many of the particulars of your comment, Stirring, and at least a couple people in the episode take that view. Admittedly, I’m being a bit specific in my own considerations: I think someone like Ian could be put in charge of the IP and pull off something quite appropriate to it. Whether EA will ever give him the opportunity…that’s another matter.

      You do remember that even Garriott was working with EA on Ultima 9 don’t you?

      Yes, and you’ll also recall that I rather liked Ultima 9…over and above even The Black Gate. It’s much more an Ultima than, say, Ultima 8.

      The good news is there have been indie companies, including Portalarium, popping up who are trying to at least focus some of their efforts on catering to more of what I would call the single player Ultima crowd.

      Yeah, but Shroud hasn’t yet succeeded in recapturing much of the Ultima magic. It’s evidently got a lot of appeal for the Ultima Online crowd, but those of us coming from the single-player side of the series still tend to find it wanting.

      Most likely if EA ever does decide to pull the trigger on the Ultima IP again it will come in the model of some of the most profitable RPG’s of today. You will basically get an Ultima-Witcher III console RPG game. I doubt many old school Ultima fans would care to play that, well maybe a few of those odd Ultima VIII fans.

      Well, it would have to be cross-platform, yes; that’s an issue. But equally, it’s not a deal-breaker. I haven’t played The Witcher 3, but I do think that a game done in the style of Reckoning could — with some additional attention paid to systems development to allow for greater interactivity, and the addition of full NPC schedules — actually do some justice to the Ultima namesake.

      In the end, it’s the creator’s vision (and their ability to bring it to life) that make a great game, not the name.

      And we’re back to Ian.

  5. Micro Magic says:

    To add my 2 cents. The storytelling and quest crafting of Fallout New Vegas plus the world and item manipulation of Fallout 4 plus Britannia equals a perfect new Ultima game.

  6. Francois424 says:

    I loved that podcast. What makes ultima, an ultima ?
    – – – – – – – –
    1- Open-ended world that you can explore in any order you see fit. All Ultimas had this, even the odd Ultima 2… well, excluding 7p2, 8 and 9 (which lost a lot of replayability IMHO because of it). Exploration and finding these great spots/towns really feels rewarding. The first time I went from LB’s castle in Ultima5 to MInoc by walking was really a memorable experience.

    2- Useful magic system (Except in U7 onwards, with exception of Ultima8 after a while). Ultima3-4-5 really win this one tho.

    3- Ability to grind levels (or character power/equipment) at any point during the game. In most Ultimas, you can either loot or buy good equipment for your characters at any point in the game. It’s pretty satisfying not having to get to the end of the game to get that strong equipment/good look, you get to use your favorite equipment for most of the game. I guess this goes with point #1 somewhat.

    4- You touched on it in the podcast, but quest clusters. Go in Yew, get ppl sending you on quests to Moonglow, who in addition to having you return to Yew, also gives you quests for Jhelom and Vesper. Every town has a purpose other than being walmart clones to purchase equipment at (at least you have towns, not like FF13).

    5- Party mechanics. Ultima3 onwards, stopping at 7p2, you have party mechanics. Ppl that like “dressing-up characters” or powergaming a party, or plain party interaction (6-7-7p2), or using combat strategy will love that part. Guilty as charged here. But I want more than clones all ending up dressed exactly alike with roughly the same weapon. Maybe that’s why I have a fondness of U3/U4 and to some extent U5 on this. U5 did have dual-wielding weapons tho, and that was wicked cool. Party eats, cost more to rest at inns, is more prone to “accidents” while fighting, allow more carrying capacity and magic pool… but rewards less experience to the hero. I liked that in U4 you could go to 8 characters (U7 too if you asked the party members in proper order)… IMHO this is an integral part of replayability and an ultima game. I did not like the Ultimas that did not have a party… or rather liked less. Ultima5 lazarus was such a charm in this, and so was U7 and it’s p2. I’d say go for an 6-8 party member limit (including our protagonist). Let the game mechanics balance it with cost and logistics… you have a small army with you and they don’t fight with sticks. It gets expensive, haha.

    6- Moongates, Day&night cycles, 2 moons… Sounds like small tiny and useless things, but it made ultima starting in U4 and was always a nice touch. More monsters at night (U4/5 at any rate). Moongates started in Ultima3 (well U2, but timegates and really awkward game). What does these things bring to the table? Immersion. I miss the tiled-based ultima (especially 5) because of the sheer size. Ultima 8 and 9, heck even 7 where very tiny worlds if compared to ultima4/5. With that huge a world, having other types of transport like boats, magic, carpet, moongates really makes you appreciate the whole experience. Day and night circle allows for more scale, need lights at night (or see next to nothing if well implemented), Everybody is always wanting single-scale map, I’m saying go back to dual scale. it gives way more room to expend areas and make a big map. With computer hardware of today, there is no reason to have tiny worlds with invisible plot walls everywhere.

    7- Optional (or not) dungeons. I cannot stress this enough. For a world to feel like one, you need these little things that makes you want to explore. “Oh look, everyone is talking about this dungeon called DOOM like it’s the next hell or something. Maybe we should give it a look” and throw in interesting layout, monsters, traps, treasure, and maybe a couple of NPCs Anybody remember Johne from Ultima5 ?) and you have a grand time… from just ONE dungeon.

    8. And now for the most important : Pacing. E.v.e.r.y s.i.n.g.l.e g.a.m.e fails this nowadays. Heck even games (or MMOs) that HAD good pacing actually patched themselves into failing this one. FFXI, SWTOR, WoW… they all had great pacing.. maybe a little slow or fast, but roughly perfect. FFXI included Abyssea and destroyed the pacing of their game, SWTOR and WoW simply gave-up and let everyone level so quickly that the game is so easy and/or just not fun anymore. In all of these 3 examples, the games let you gain power/plow thru the story far too quickly, diminishing the value of the experience and the importance of progressive power struggle. In all Ultima games, even the worst of them, the Pacing was near perfect. It did not matter how you did it, but these 25 levels (U3) or 8-9 levels (U4+) came progressively, and so did gear. Oh you could raid the castle to gear-up faster (U4/U5/U7), but level-wise you still had to train. And in order to train, you explored the world. It was so perfectly paced anyways that by the time you had reached level 6 – 7 in most of these games, you’d be nearing the end, gaining another one in the way into the end-game. If you trained very had, you’d be level 9 or 25 but I only did that once in U7 and once in U7p2. Ultima8/9 where oddballs with their pacing, but felt more like modern games (almost no exploration, and no levels), it still worked but not as fun as you had to follow the exact same path to gain the exact same items every game. Nowadays, in my mentioned examples, nobody buys any gear nor explore the world much (why, you level so fast anyways). They just plow thru a fraction of it, hit max level, kill w/e the end-content is, and leave the game. All three games where extremely good and well crafted, but ultimately lost interest (to all my friends, relatives, and I) because of it.

    You could argue I’m speaking of balance, and in some aspect it is, but it’s more than just that. If you level slowly, you have the time to immerse yourself into the world, learn of it’s monsters/townfolks/magic system slowly. I can remember spending hours in certain areas of Ultima3,4 and 5… then the same thing in Ultima7, if not days. You kind of bond with the world’s geography, people, and spirit. This is why Sosaria, Britannia, and Vana’diel(FFXI) left such mark on me. When I re-play these games, I feel like coming home. Oh look Windurst, wow sure was a while ! Oh my did Moonglow change or what ? I wonder if John Smith is still alive at the smithy… Umm there’s a Caroline Smith… whatcha know, John was her Great Grandfather… that’s pretty nice.
    – – – – – – – –

    Obviously there is more that these 8 points (Such as character customization and or gender w/appropriate NPC reaction), but you guys were all like “ummm, well… sheesh… how to say” it’s because it’s a feel of things. There’s no magic ONE thing like story or graphic or stuff… In order to get the feel right, you need the correct ingredients in appropriate dose. Mess one thing, and watch it turn bad.
    – Pacing wrong? Very much a Fail. <– most important point IMHO.
    – Linear and/or small world no matter the graphics? Fail.
    – No party mechanics/interaction/banter ? Most likely Fail.
    – Turn Ultima into a Diablo-clone, RTS, FPS game? All Fail.
    – Change the view from 3rd person to 1st person? Fail. (exception Ultima Underworld which is built that way).
    – Change the game so it happens in the age of transistors and space-flight? Most likely fail. (I'll let a U2 remake prove me wrong tho)

    Ultima is a huge world with 2 moons, moongates, ships and pirates, swords'n'magic with maybe a bit of steampunk thrown in (Minoc/Exodus/Baloon flying), exploration and slow progression. It even touched on different worlds traveling (Pagan/ Serpent's Isle). Not like it's limiting.
    I am still waiting for a worthy follow-up title 20 or so years later.

    Thank you guys, and have a nice one.
    — Francois424

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      Hey, thanks for the feedback!

      You offer some keen and well-thought analysis, and while I don’t have time to respond to it all (I do agree with much of it, however), I did want to say something about pacing as you define it. Or, rather, I want to observe that some of the later Ultimas don’t even require you to level up all that much to pass them. Ultima 6, in particular, can be passed without ever gaining a level…even if you did take the time to explore much of Britannia. Most of the fights in U6 — really the only way to gain significant amounts of experience — can be avoided if you’re clever, and there’s no level requirement to access the endgame quests.

      But I, for one, think this non-dependence on pacing (of experience accrual and levelling) makes Ultima 6 that much stronger, because it supports a play-style that few other games do. Of course, you can go through the game normally, fighting monsters to and fro, and reaching top level (or nearly so) by the time you’re ready to embark on the sacred quest. But…it’s not required. And if you’d rather just avoid engagements, that is an option in most cases.

      • Francois424 says:

        As long as the game allows it both ways, there is no problem. I liked that you could take your time in both old Ultima’s and MMO’s, smell the roses and enjoy the ride. But if you prefer to take a speedtrain thru it to the end, as long as it does not mean the game will be bypassed by everyone (who then complain your game is empty, effortless, and boring) then it’s okay. It becomes a problem when rushing thru is the only real way (or there is no purpose to taking the time to enjoy the ride).

        Thanks so much for keeping the Dream alive.
        Francois424, aka Enlightenment Dragon.