“Oh no, not Moonglow again!” – An Interview with Mike McShaffry

Ultima Codex: All right…so, we are live on air. Welcome and thank you for finally…for taking part in this. It’s finally able to happen after a couple cancellations and whatever else. This is a great opportunity.

Mike McShaffry: It’s not the same fate that Ultima 8 suffered, so…I think that’s probably about right.

UC: Fair enough. And we’ll get to that right away. But first, if you don’t mind my asking, obviously you were the project director for Ultima 8, and I did initially approach you for this interview related to Ultima 8. But before that…how did you get your start? How did you actually start in the games industry?

MM: Well…I had been an Ultima player since I could tap away at a computer, actually. It was something – honestly – that I grew up with. And I’d always been interested in computers, and interested in computer software and computer programming. And I graduated high school, went to college and the University of Houston to get my degree, and then…after I got my degree, I got this really boring job working for a company called Allright Parking. Yeah…I can’t believe they actually hired programmers. But at some point, I was just dissatisfied with it, and the apartment where I was working was being shut down, and I’m like “what am I gonna do next?”

Well, as it turned out, Ultima 6 came out at almost that exact same time. And I got my Ultima 6 box, and put it on my computer, and I was playing it, and I noticed that Ultima 6 had Origin Systems’ address on it. And they had moved from Londonderry, New Hampshire, I believe, to Austin, Texas.

Origin Systems address on the Ultima 6 box

Well, would you look at that. There it is. Right there. Who does that these days?

And I was just 150 miles away in Houston, and I’m like “Oh, my God…Origin is in Austin.” And I sent my resume directly to Richard Garriott…and not surprisingly, I heard absolutely nothing! And so I called about…I guess…a week or two later, and they said “Well, okay, you sent your resume in…who did you send it to?”

And I said “I sent it to Richard.”

“Oh, well, there’s your problem. Don’t send it to Richard; send it to this other guy, Dallas Snell.” Who you probably just talked to over at Portalarium.

UC: Sadly, Dallas wasn’t in on the call. Chris Spears says “Hi!” by the way.

MM: Yeah? Well, cool!

So I FedExed my resume to Dallas, to make sure it’d pop to the top of the list. He called me that day, and said “When can you get here for an interview?”

I said “How about tomorrow?”

And I interviewed for the job, they hired me and…there you go. I got my job at Origin Systems right there.

UC: Nice. So you would have come in then for some development on Ultima 7, or maybe Savage Empire/Martian Dreams.

MM: My first game was Martian Dreams.

UC: Nice. And just out of curiosity, what was your role on that team?

MM: Programmer. I was a programmer on Martian Dreams and Ultima 7, and I was still doing quite a bit of coding on Ultima 8, although I was probably half management, half programmer.

UC: Right, because you were the project director for that one. You kind of alluded to this a little bit already, what with the mix of programming and management, but…what did that role entail?

MM: Project director…what’s really funny is that we kind of made it up as we went along. Everybody was trying to figure out how to do big game development back then. I mean, we didn’t know. Nobody did! Those games were about as big as games could have been during those days. It was like…that decade’s Call of Duty: Ghosts. It was a lot of money, a huge team, and we really didn’t know how to do it. But we did know that somebody needed to keep control of our schedule. And we also knew that someone had to interface with a lot of the other departments outside of product development…like QA, like operations, and that kind of thing. And Richard wasn’t the type of person who wanted to do all that minutia, and so we created a structure on the team where you had lead designers, lead artists, lead programmers, and then over all the leads, a project director who was…kind of like a master cat-herder. Or at least thought he was at the time; that’s basically what it was.

UC: Okay, cool. Going on a bit of a tangent now…is there a character in the game based on you? I know that was kind of a thing at Origin.

MM: Not in Ultima 8. I did have a character…oddly enough, in Martian Dreams, in that initial rotoscoped-looking movie, I played the part of Nikola Tesla.

Tesla in Martian Dreams

Handsome young gent, isn’t he?

And then in Ultima 7, if I’m not mistaken, I think I played a character named Gordo, who was a casino runner or…the guy that managed the casino. I think that was my character. But in Ultima 8 I did not have a character.

Gordy

Gordy, actually. Although Gordo was also pirate…in Martian Dreams.

UC: Okay, I remember Gordo.

MM: Really? I just remembered that name.

UC: Yeah…I remember the casino, because that’s…I read…there’s one of the fans — DOUG the Eagle Dragon is what he goes by — and the casino in Ultima 7 is one of his favourite ways to break the game. Once you become a Fellowship member, it’s actually impossible to lose at the casino. So what you can do is use the casino table…because the game individually creates each gold coin as an object, even within a stack, so you can actually create a game-breakingly large sum of money, that’ll actually just cause it to crash out.

MM: There’s tons of ways to break Ultima; we know that. It was probably one of the more (breakable?) games out there…not by design, of course! But that’s just how it worked out.

UC: Yes, and that’s part of the fun. Fan-related controversies aside, Ultima 8 was known for taking a much darker tone than some of the other Ultima games. It’s depiction of violence was starker, the themes of the game were darker. Do you recall what led up to that decision, which — like I say — contrasted rather strongly with some of the other games?

MM: Well…I would say there were definitely some dark elements in previous Ultimas. I don’t think the Shadowlords in Ultima 5 were exactly light-hearted. The Fellowship in Ultima 7 was pretty grim in certain places. But that said, I think it’s correct to say that Ultima 8 had some of the grimmest aspects of them all. I mean, the very first thing you say in the game was somebody getting their head chopped off. That was a big deal. Even in Ultima 7, the violence that you saw at the beginning of the game was after-the-fact. In Ultima 8, you actually saw it happen. So yeah, it was definitely darker.

I think the decision to do that was definitely Richard’s, and he entrusted his co-lead designers — John Watson and Andrew Morris — to make that come to life. He wanted a very different game, he wanted a different setting…and I think they pulled that off, for sure. I mean, it’s a very much darker game, and very different from any Ultimas.

UC: I’ll remember to follow up then; I did actually get ahold of Mr. Morris, so I will be talking with him at some point here.

So anyway, kind of related to the darker tone, Ultima 8 was obviously much more action-oriented; the gameplay style was more like what we would call, in modern times, an ARPG, versus some of the more classical RPGs that were the earlier Ultimas. Again, also a fairly significant departure in style, so…what drove that?

MM: Richard played Prince of Persia somewhere around the time that Ultima 7 was wrapping up, or Martian Dreams was wrapping up, and was really smitted with how much fun it was, and how much action it was, and that it still had a lot of RPG elements. So he took a lot of inspiration from that, and he really wanted to try move the game in that direction. Again, it was…definitely Richard that wanted to do that, and he was inspired by Prince of Persia.

UC: Okay. I do recall having heard a little bit about Prince of Persia before. That would probably also explain the jumping puzzles; I recall that game had quite a few of them.

Now…Ultima 8Serpent Isle also had this, and I’m sure there’s examples from earlier in the series too, but there was a lot of cut content from Ultima 8. Richard of course is on record, somewhere, saying that so much was cut from the game that the map, the cloth map, really didn’t even reflect the state of the world of Pagan to any particular degree of accuracy. Do you recall anything in particular that did wind up on the cutting room floor?

MM: Well, I recall that…since we were in a new place, and using new technology, it was harder for us to know how much game we could build and still hit the dates that we wanted to hit. And as it turns out, the dates that we wanted to hit – March of 1994 — that was pretty tricky for us because we really wanted to hit that date, because the merger between Electronic Arts and Origin had just finished. And we knew it was coming; it wasn’t a huge secret. So it became really, really important for us to make those dates.

And I don’t think it’s uncommon for game developers to do a lot of cutting in order to get the game that they really want. The way to look at it is: most games start with a ton of things that everybody wants to put in the game, and then those things that are less important tend to get removed until all that’s left is this really fantastic thing, a beautiful sculpture. It has nothing on it that you don’t want or don’t need.

With Ultima 8’s case, I think we obviously went way too far with cutting, in order to get what we wanted. We didn’t spend enough time getting the game fun before building all the content. That was probably one of our biggest mistakes. And looking back on that now after all I’ve done — working on a ton of other games, especially action platformers and other action games on console — you do spend a lot of time getting the game fun, and then building content. And we just felt like we were under so much pressure, we started building all this content…but the game wasn’t really fun yet! We really should’ve worked on that a little sooner.

And that was also a really typical problem at Origin, and typical of many game developers. They look at the schedule and they go “My God! To build a game of that size, you have to have 35 people working a year of crunch mode or you’re doomed!” And so all these people start coming on to your project and start building all these things, but…it’s not really ready to build yet, and so there’s always this pressure that happens, and Ultima 8 was no exception.

You know, I don’t actually remember why the cloth map didn’t match that much. I would actually look at that as just a little bit more of a disorganization between the exact shape of all the things that were going into the world, and this thing that looked like Pagan that was an island. I don’t think it was anything more than just a little bit of miscommunication: “Oh my gosh! The game design requires this dungeon over here!” Well, you’re not going to change the map to make that work!

Britannia was set in stone for years; it was easy to make Britannia look like Britannia. But this was a new place, and I think that’s what happened.

UC: And I recall too, Jason Ely…he mentioned something too about the fact that — and I recall this being said elsewhere too — that you were already pushing the limit of what you could afford to ship with the game, because it was shipping on so many floppy disks that it was approaching the point where adding more disks would mean it wasn’t really ever going to be profitable, pushing the limits of what you could afford to even put on disk. You gotta trim what doesn’t fit on the amount of disks that you can put in the box.

MM: Yeah, and putting it on CD-ROM…that was one of the first games that Origin put on CD-ROM, if I recall. I could be wrong about that; one of the Wing Commander guys might fight me on that one. But yeah, it had a lot of disks. It was a stretch; it was expensive to do.

UC: Actually, to that point too…I got so mad at a Kotaku article about a year ago, when they were talking about add-on content in games. And they identified one game…I can’t even remember which game, but it was like one of the first games that had DLC. And they missed the release date of Ultima 7 by a year. Literally, they did their historical search, and if they had gone a year earlier they would have figured out that Ultima 7Forge of VirtueSerpent IsleSilver Seed. Ultima 8 obviously had its expansion too, in the form of The Lost Vale, which never saw the light of day and became another object of mystery for Ultima fans.

The obligatory question: you wouldn’t happen to have a copy of that laying around just in case?

MM: Heh…no, I don’t.

UC: Yeah. We were lucky enough that someone found an old summary of the plot in a box, so that ended up on the Gallery website that I sent you a link for, but the actual thing seems lost to time.

This is another kind of offbeat question, but you may recall the answer. Harvey Smith, now at Arkane Studios, claimed that he was the main developer on the patch that corrected the jumping, which of course was a little bit sketchy in the initial release of Ultima 8. Does that match your recollection of events?

MM: What I recall…Harvey, at the time, was the lead QA for Ultima 8. And I can tell you for a fact that Harvey was instrumental in getting the patch out. He helped identify all the things that were most important to QA (and therefore the players) that we needed to fix. And without QA support, it never would’ve been greenlit.

One thing I will say though, to my own defence, is…I was very upset at how players were reviewing Ultima 8, and how the press was reviewing Ultima 8. I mean, that was the first project I’d managed, so I was destroyed when it came out. All during the summer, I felt like I was persona non grata at Origin, because I personally felt like I was being blamed for the mistakes. So at some point, in the fall — over Thanksgiving holiday — I got so crazy upset about all this, I took all the source code home, and I fixed the jumping myself. I still had coding chops, and so I just did it. And then I brought it back in after the Thanksgiving holidays and had Richard play it. And he said “Wow, this really fixes a lot of stuff. Why don’t we put out a patch?”

And so I’m like “Okay, let’s put out a patch.”

So we went and talked to Harvey, and Harvey seemed to be really jazzed about it. And I think we fixed…probably 110 of the most major bugs after Harvey idenfitied them. And we really wanted to get it out by Christmas, but of course we had to miss Christmas, because it’s an Ultima. We put it out just after the New Year. And you know, I felt that even if it wasn’t the best we could’ve done, at least we did something. And I think a really famous reviewer — Scorpia, I believe that’s her name, or her nom de plume — actually re-reviewed the game because of our patch.

UC: It did overhaul it a ton, because the jumping mechanic was…it was more the additional little stutter after the landing; that was always what killed me.

MM: Oh, yeah!

UC: Actually, that practice of re-reviewing is still fairly rare, but I do see it a little more often now.

Jason Ely had commented on this a little bit too, but I just want to hear your thoughts regarding the party. Obviously, a staple of the earlier Ultima games…was there ever a plan to include that in Ultima 8, or was it always envisioned as the Avatar alone against this alien world?

MM: I believe that it was always supposed to be the Avatar alone. That was going to be a major theme about Ultima 8. I can’t actually recall if there were any technical reasons that we did that; I think it really was design reasons.

Oh, actually, you know what? There might have been one technical reason, but I’ll make this as an educated guess because it’s been twenty years; you’ll have to forgive me. Ultima 8 was one of the first games that we used rendered characters and sprite sheets. So we would draw the character in something like 3D Studio Max — even though it wasn’t 3D Studio Max at the time, it was something else — and we would render it all out, render all the different walking positions and fighting positions and whatnot, and then we’d put them into the game. And so the Avatar…I remember the Avatar being 5 megabytes worth of sprite data. And I think, if we were going to have a party, we just didn’t have enough memory to do all that stuff if we wanted the animations to look really good. That might have been a real techincal reason that we took the party out of Ultima 8.

But honestly, if we’d wanted a party in Ultima 8, we could have figured it out somehow. We wouldn’t have had the same kind of animations as we did. So it kind of meshed with what Richard wanted out of Pagan, and there were also some pretty serious technical problems too that kept us from doing it.

UC: Well, I recall that was offered, too, as an explanation for why you were no longer able to select the sex of your Avatar, which Ultima 6, Ultima 5 had offered. Ultima 7. Which I mean…when you figure how many thousand frames of animation for the Avatar…

MM: Yeah. It was a big deal for us to stretch the Avatar animation that far. And honestly, nobody on the team liked the fact that you couldn’t be a male or female Avatar anymore. Nobody liked that. All the way across the team, that was something that everybody was pretty depressed about. Because the Avatar is supposed to be you, right?

UC: Sort of on a related note, were there any concerns about departing from Britannia. You kind of alluded to some of the concerns about the sex of the Avatar and the party there. But what about the departure from Britannia for the first time in a main Ultima? I mean, obviously, Serpent Isle put you off in a different land as well, but that was Ultima 7: Part 2. This was the first individually numbered Ultima that wasn’t Britannia, really, since 4.

MM: I think, honestly, that the team was excited. We were kind of tired of Britannia! So many people had worked on so many Ultimas after Ultimas that, after a while, you’re just like “Oh no, not Moonglow again!”

But there’s a struggle, right? There’s a struggle between what the team wants to do, and is excited to do, and is capable of doing…and what the players really want. And I think you see that with games all the time these days, especially ones that are heavily sequeled. And at first, we were all gung ho: “Hurray! Pagan! It’s a new place!” It’s great for getting our creativity out, but in the end, it turned out to be harder than we thought. We didn’t have a clear plan of exactly how we were going to make it fun, and exactly how we were going to make all the Ultima players either love this new place, or be terrified by it, or whatever. We just wanted a break from Britannia; I know Richard did. I know that.

UC: Fair enough. Just coming back to the plot of the game…of course, you mentioned that it was fairly dark. And it kind of leaves you feeling pretty bad at the end. You have the Tempest’s duel, depriving the land of healing power, the genocide — or seeming genocide — that the Titan of Fire perpetrates, stealing this powerful healing artifact and magic from the world, freeing the Titan of Water and the destruction she wreaks…did you ever expect that there would be pushback for that?

MM: Well…you know what’s really funny? Our experience creating Ultimas is that when we released every Ultima, it seemed like half of the players loved what we did and half of the players absolutely hated everything we did. Now, of course, that’s not true…it was just the letters that we received. Before the days of forum posts and Twitter, you had mail…and we got mail! Of course, we would always post them up on a board and…some of our Ultima players were just…we got letters from them every time we released, and they became almost famous within the team.

I think this guy’s name was Donald Glinkie, and I think he lived in Florida, and we relished everything he wrote. And he always just ripped us a new one every single time we ever shipped anything.

So yes, of course, we expected…actually, I think we expected Donald Glinkie to set himself on fire when we shipped Pagan, but I don’t think that ever happened.

(See also: here for a bit more information about Mr. Glinkie’s letters, and here for the character in Ultima 5 he likely inspired. — WtFD)

But yeah, we did expect a lot of pushback, and it was a very different story…but that’s also because it was written by two very different people. Andrew Morris and John Watson were very different from Richard, and this was the time for them to really do something great. And you can argue whether or not they succeeded, but they definitely succeeded in doing something very different from what Richard would have done.

UC: It is a very different game.

MM: One might even say a great game, but not a great Ultima.

UC: I’ve heard that thrown around a few times, yeah. I mean, obviously it stands as a great precursor to games like…well, I meean, Diablo I don’t think would be the same…would have been what it was absent Ultima 8. I think it had a very large impact, but it’s always been this point of controversy within the Ultima fandom.

Is there anything you can recall about the game’s development? Leaving aside the jumping, because obviously we’ve talked about that…were there any other odd or unusual bugs that the game had, or a really hilarious story that occurred at some point during its composition?

MM: Yeah, a few of them. Certainly, one thing I can say is that to a lot of people on the development team, Ultima 8 unfortunately was a very negative development experience. There was a lot of things going on at Origin at the time, with the EA acquisition, that were both scary and hard to understand how we were supposed to react to them. Most of the team who were managing Ultima 8 — myself especially — you know, it was our first really big management task, and so…to say I really screwed it up doesn’t really come close, I don’t think, to the truth.

No, I think it’s totally fair; you can’t just put anybody at the helm of an oil tanker and say “Take it through the strait!” and not expect something really horrible to happen. And Ultima’s a big ship to steer, and it was unfortunate that I never had the chance to figure out how to manage a team that large. It took me another ten years to really get better at it.

But enough of the bad stuff. Some of the funny stories that I recall…I remember trying to print out the script, because we were trying to do simultaneous localization for the first time ever, I believe, and we were doing English, French, and German. And so we had this huge team of foreign-language testers and foreign-language localizers embedded with us, right there on the development floor. And at some point, we were like “Hey, we really gotta print out the script. We wanna see this thing.” And I tried to print it out, and I literally destroyed an Epson printer in doing so. It nearly set the poor thing on fire. After printing out…like…this many (holds hands about two feet apart, vertically) pages, all in one go…it was absolutely terrifying.

I remember it took about four hours to build Ultima 8, from the moment we hit go until I had disks in my hand. And most of it was automatic; we wrote this crazy script to do it all by itself. And so I would go downstairs and play Robotron for like 4 hours straight while the dang thing was building. And I remember getting really good at that game, and I’m actually still pretty good at that game because of it.

But what most people remember from Ultima 8 is the overtime, which was…it was really bad. We should have not done that.

UC: Yeah, that’s…that’s still a problem in some sectors of the game industry, as I recall. I mean, I’m from Edmonton; I grew up with…I shouldn’t say “grew up”, that has the wrong connotation. I spent a lot of my late high school and university years around guys who worked at BioWare, sang in choirs with them especially, took some courses that they helped design. And I don’t think I ever saw one of those guys come in without bags down to here; they were just getting slaughtered on the crunch times. I gather it’s better there now, because they can command larger teams and more teams, so they don’t all have to work around the clock…they can have different shifts. But yeah, I don’t envy that.

Kind of keeping on the same theme, what about the actual engine, or the game in particular? Anything in either of those that you’re very personally proud of? Something that you put in, maybe, that people haven’t noticed yet?

MM: Okay…I may have done a little bit of programming here and there on Ultima 8, but most of the coding — certainly the code leadership — was done by Tony Zurovec. I don’t know if you’ve ever spoken to him or not, but he was the lead coder. And after Ultima 7 was done, we all went outside, and sat under a big tree, and we designed Ultima 8’s technology. And we had a big whiteboard, and we really wanted to do it up right. And I honestly believe that Ultima 8 had some of the best technology that was in any Ultima that ever came out. It was really, really cool stuff. In fact, some of the things that we’re only seeing in game development now, Ultima 8 actually had 20 years ago.

UC: Such as? Do you have an example?

MM: We had a fully-networked editor back in those days.

UC: Which I gather was in-game, correct?

MM: No, it wasn’t in-game. It was a special tool that…there was a window of the tool. If you’ve ever used the Unity engine, you can kind of look at it as a very early precursor to something like that. All the designers working on maps all at the same time, and they could email each other. The scripting language was really, really cool, because it had co-operative multitasking built into the system, so you could do things like…script a character to pathfind over to a door, script another character to pathfind to the window; when both characters arrived at their destination, they would both bark a certain thing at the same time, and if either one of those characters didn’t make it to their destination, then some other thing could happen. And you could actually write it almost like a screenplay; it was really, really cool. And that system was designed by Tony Zurovec and Zack Simpson. It was…honestly, I haven’t seen a scripting language that was that cool even since. Only now am I starting to see stuff like that.

UC: Wow. That does sound awesome.

MM: Yeah, we just didn’t know what we had. We had something pretty cool back then.

UC: This is a common theme.

MM: We also built our own source control management system. We built that, and we built our own network file system…oh yeah, we built all our own stuff.

UC: You keep saying that line…we didn’t know what we were doing. This is a…Dan Schmidt, I spoke with him quite some time ago. And he made this comment about Ultima Underworld, just…you know…”We were just kids; we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to be able to do all of this.”

MM: Yeah, that’s true. But we were a lot younger, and energetic!

UC: You’ve mentioned Richard a few times, so just to formalize the question…how involved was he in Ultima 8’s development? What sort of input did you get from him regarding the direction the game was going?

MM: Richard is, and always has been, a really collaborative designer. He’s extraordinarily opinionated; he knows what he likes. So if you ever go to Richard with an idea that isn’t what he likes, it’s really difficult to convince him that you’re not going to do what he wants to do. But he’s a great guy to work with; he’s very down-to-earth, he’s very collaborative. He was extremely involved at the beginning, I would say. And then, as the project drew on, and went from pre-production mode to production, Richard was dealing with three different, simultaneous projects. We had me directing Ultima 8, we had Tony Bratton, and he had Ken Demarest directing a project. And so Richard was managing three project directors, and trying to keep all that going…while he was, of course, behind the scenes negotiating with Electronic Arts to merge with Origin.

So…there’s a lot going on there, right? And so, toward the end of Ultima 8, he wasn’t as involved on a daily basis, on the minute-to-minute workings of Ultima 8. And to be honest, I kind of wish he would have been, because I think he would have intuitively understood some of the problems that we were going through and had some solutions for them. But, you know, he’s only one guy, so…there was just too much else going on.

UC: Understandable, because there was a ton there. I mean, you were probably ramping up for development of what was then called Multima/Ultima Online

MM: Not quite yet. Ultima Online didn’t really start up until after Crusader shipped, but I couldn’t be wrong about the timeline.

UC: You mentioned this a little bit about how it impacted you, and it’s a thing that we’ve discussed a little bit already. Ultima 8 wasn’t as well-received by the Ultima fandom, although to be fair the earlier Ultimas got their fair bit of hate mail.

MM: Always!

UC: But, by the same token, and in spite of the fact that it was negatively received by the established fandom, certainly I’ve noticed that it also seems to have brought a number of people to the series. I have lost count of the number of people I have encountered who are zealous Ultima fans, who are just like “Yeah, Pagan was my first game.”

You’ve kind of given some of your thoughts already on how the game was received, especially on how it impacted you personally. Is there anything you wanted to add or clarify about that?

MM: To be honest, it’s something that I hadn’t heard until you told me. I may have met a couple people who played Pagan first, and who talked to me about it, but…certainly you’re way more involved in the community, this ongoing Ultima community — which, by the way, I think is extremely cool. The fact that people came to Pagan first and thought it was ground-breaking, and a really cool game, that makes me very, very happy, and I’ll certainly pass that along to all the Ultima 8 teammates that I still keep in touch with — which are actually quite a few! — because I think they’d be happy to know it. I mean, nothing makes a game developer feel better than to know that somebody enjoyed playing their game. That’s really why we do it; it certainly isn’t the money.

UC: Fair enough. Yeah, it’s something I’ve heard from a number of people. There’s been some debate, and obviously we don’t have the sales sheets to back this up, but for all the negative publicity it may have gotten, its reach in terms of bringing new people into the fold seems to have been fairly significant overall.

MM: Well, that’s probably also due to the fact that the market itself was growing. PC games at that time were really hot, crazy hot, so it doesn’t surprise me at all to have seem something like that entice a lot of people. After all, it had a huge, flaming pentagram on the box. You don’t think it’s not going to get noticed at your typical Best Buy? Your target audience of your 18-23 year old male is going to go buy a box with a flaming pentagram on it.

UC: That alone would have probably brought in a little bit, yeah.

MM: That, by the way, was Richard’s idea, and Origin’s marketing really hated it.

UC: I do recall hearing that. And he was quite insistent on it, as I recall.

MM: Oh yeah. He wanted that; he got it.

UC: We mentioned the fandom a little bit, and obviously the Ultima fandom have been remarkably prolific; they’re great. One of the aspects of the fandom, and one of the things that to the creation of the website I run, was the sheer number of fans who took it on themselves to do something with the games. Whether it was to come up with a slightly better graphics set for Ultima 4 — not necessarily higher-res, because the tile size is fixed, but more colour, more detail — or to patch something that never quite got patched within the game’s support window. The most famous example is the Dungeon Siege-based remake of Ultima 5, Ultima V: Lazarus, which was just incredible; the lead designer on that is now working at BioWare Montreal.

Ultima 8 had its share of these, though; the most notable is probably Pentagram, which is a revamped engine for the game, if you will. It requires the original game data files to run, but with those it can then…it’s been built for Windows and Mac OS X for sure. It allows the game to run within the Windows environment without having to jump through memory management hoops or rely on DOSBox. Have you ever actually had a chance to that, or any of the other ones: Exult, xu4, any of the fan-made projects that have re-imagined these Ultima engines for modern systems?

MM: You know, I will admit to you, sadly, that I have not had a chance to try these out. But I think I’m definitely going to give them a shot.

After I left Origin, I really started focusing more on console games; that’s when I started going down that track. And so I’ve been more of a console gamer ever since then, although I’ve really secretly wanted another Ultima to try to play. I’ll have to give those a shot and see what they’re like.

UC: I’m personally a big fan of Nuvie; Ultima 6 is my favourite, it’s what brought me to the series. And Nuvie has basically become my favourite. I’ve been very resistant to the idea that Ultima 6 ever needed improvement, but having seen what those guys have done; the game is playable in fullscreen, they figured out how to add roofs to the game…it’s awesome.

MM: That’s pretty cool.

UC: I’m going to assume that…well, no, I shouldn’t assume. Have you ever gone back and re-played Ultima 8?

MM: No, I have not. I don’t think for the longest time that I had a computer that could play it.

UC: Yeah, that’s the big problem, right? Getting it to run on…but then, arguably, that was part of the Ultima experience too, wasn’t it? Finding that lower-memory mouse driver, and tweaking your audio settings, to eke out that extra 3K or 4K that you needed to get the game to load.

MM: Yeah…you walk into the store, and you buy the computer…and the copy of the Ultima that you were going to run on said computer.

UC: For all the jokes about how Wing Commanders were the performance-hogging games, Ultima went there…a little bit ahead of that.

MM: No doubt!

UC: I probably should have asked this one earlier, but who actually came up with the jumping mechanic?

MM: Who came up with the jumping mechanic…

UC: And that can be either the question of who said “Hey, we should have a jumping mechanic” — well, that was probably Richard.

MM: That was Richard, yeah! Richard said “Hey, let’s have jumping!”

So…I remember Tony Zurovec, who was the main coder at the time, he was the guy that wrote the jumping system. But after writing the system, it was up to the designers of the different areas and levels of the game to implement this sytem in various different ways, to make the game fun. So there was no one person that did it. And then QA gets involved and goes “Hey, this could be a whole lot better.” So everybody gets involved with something like that.

I think, for us, it was such a departure from what we were used to. And honestly, a jumping mechanic like what we were trying to do…I think that we just didn’t have enough people on the team who were really hardcore platformer players. Something like Mario, where you have an intuitive feel for what works in a jumping system and what doesn’t work in a jumping system. I certainly hadn’t played a lot of those games until then, and so I honestly didn’t know what I was looking for.

Honestly, that’s a case where we should have listened, a whole lot more, to QA. They were platformers! They played every Nintendo console out there, and they came back to us and said “Hey, this jumping is kind of busted.”

I think, sometimes, in product development, we’d get on the high horse and go “It’s not busted; we know what we’re doing.” And in that case…that was a horrible mistake on our part, to not listen to them and to think that we really didn’t know what we were doing. But hey, we were in our twenties; when you’re in your twenties, you think you’ve got god-like powers and you’re immortal.

Luckily, most of our Ultima 8 teammates figured that out later in life, and now we can look back and go “Oh, God, what were we thinking? Why did we do that?”

UC: All right. Concerning the magic system in the game…which was, again, a very wild departure from where Ultima had gone before. Where did the choices of terms like “Theurgy” — which I gather is a fairly hot topic these days in ancient philosophy and religious studies — where was that sourced from, along with that enhanced sense of magic as ritual? And given how persnickety the system can be…was there a lot of trial-and-error in getting it to work?

MM: You mean…like putting a candle on a specific pixel to get a spell to work?

I don’t know who can be credited with coming up with all of those things. I do know that it was John Watson and Andrew Morris who…somehow, out of their office, came those ideas. My guess is that it was a collaborative effort between the two of them, but you’d honestly have to track down Andrew Morris and find out from him, because John Watson, unfortunately, is no longer with us. Andrew may have that secret; you’ll just have to go find him and ask him.

UC: I will be sure to.

MM: And when you do, tell him I said “Howdy!” because I haven’t seen him in like 20 years.

UC: Yeah, I’ll pass that along. I think he’s way out of the games industry now; he seems to do creative consulting now.

MM: Yeah, he — as we say — orbited out.

UC: Fair enough. I’ll keep that in mind if I ever hear that term again.

Moving on, to more specific questions about content. There was a weird Skull of Quakes/Lieutenant Vittek sub-plot…do you have any recollection of that?

MM: No, I don’t have any recollection of that, and neither does Mark Vittek, who I emailed about it the moment I got your question. I was like “Mark, what the heck is this?”

And he was like “I have no idea!”

So…Mark Vittek doesn’t even know what it was all about!

UC: Okay, cool. I’ve got…the undead invasion subplot here, that’s probably lost to time.

MM: That’s one of those things where…20 years after the fact, it’s getting a little sketchy trying to remember what all that stuff was. And, of course, trying to remember that at a time when none of us were getting any sleep whatsoever.

UC: Not the best for memory retention.

MM: There you go.

UC: One more. You did mention that for some questions, you just had absolutely no recollection. And that’s fine; I’ve got those all pulled up here, and I’ll skip past those. But one in particular that you didn’t exempt, so I’m going to ask this out of hope…it was hinted in Ultima 8 that you’re becoming a new Titan of Ether, this new thing in the Ultima story. And at the end of Ultima 8 you’re this big, powerful, helmeted Titan, you’re walking through these glowing ivory halls…who knows where they are, and who knows where you’re bound for? And obviously the last scene of the game was the big, shocking reveal — to which I maintain that the new series of Battlestar Galactica owes a great debt, for the way it leaves you utterly hanging in this gut-punched state — of the Titan overlooking the Guardian and this ruined wasteland.

But then in Ultima 9, you’re this blond dude at his house in Austin. Do you have any recollection of…why the disconnect?

MM: One thing is that…certainly, the people that made Ultima 9 were not the people that made Ultima 8. I’m not even entirely sure…I know Richard was there for Ultima 9. I was on Ultima 9 for a time, but…Ultima 9 had a significant reboot after Ultima Online shipped. It’s almost like the game got underway, got under development…and then Ultima Online came on, and the whole Ultima 9 team went over to Ultima Online. Most of those people left Origin, and then a new Ultima 9 team came aboard to continue the project and finish it.

That said, I’ve often wondered how much — and I’ve never had a long conversation with Richard about this, but I’d be interested in asking him this someday — how much he just considered Ultima 8 to be his Highlander 2.

UC: Oh, man!

MM: Is he just like “Yeah…Ultima 8…okay, let’s get on and let’s move forward.”

Okay, but that said, think about the intense game design problem you would have if you had an all-powerful character begin the game. I submit to you…it’s one of the reasons you almost never see a Superman game out there. Why? Because he’s invulnerable, he can do anything he wants, he always wins…there’s really not much of a challenge there. Players would get bored; they like the sense of progression, they like the sense of gaining new things, gaining new skills, gaining new levels, and building your character over time for the ultimate conflict.

I mean, that’s a very typical game design and game development motif, that would not have been true unless you drastically changed Britannia and the things that lived there. If you start as a Titan of Ether, what’s the boss monster at the end of the game? I don’t know…the rabbits are all Titans of Ether! So you do have some serious problems there. So I think the practical nature of how to make Ultima work from beginning to end, as a narrative thread, and as a game design, and as something to allow players to feel like they have progression, you can’t start all-powerful.

Call it a bit of a problem with, well, we maybe weren’t thinking all the way ahead, to the end, when we were figuring out the story for Ultima 8. What happens for Ultima 9 if you’re the Titan of Ether? How does that really work out? I guess that’s a roundabout answer, but there you go.

UC: Well, it does make sense. Actually, it’s funny that you mention Richard, and the Highlander 2 reference there. I’ve always remarked — because with Ultima 8 and Ultima 9, there is a fair bit of debate that goes on in tandem about these games and their quality and authenticity as Ultima titles and all the rest. And I’ve always noticed that Richard is very ready to admit that Ultima 8 had its flaws and had its issues, but he’s much quicker to defend Ultima 9; it’s this weird thing that he does.

MM: Well, he was a lot more involved in Ultima 9 than he was in Ultima 8. I think that’s fair to say.

UC: It is, at least toward the end.

MM: Absolutely. Ultima 9 was clearly — I wasn’t there at Origin to finish Ultima 9. I think that he felt it was a personal quest to make sure that Ultima 9 ended up a better game. He had always designed it as a trilogy of trilogies. This was the last one; you don’t want to leave that with a fizzle, right? He really wanted to knock it out of the park; I think he really tried.

UC: You were the project director for Ultima 9 in its earliest incarnation, which obviously — or probably — was wildly different from what finally shipped. And this is the question I’m really hoping that…this is the question that I have a lot of my hope riding on. Because obviously, the game did iterate significantly, especially in terms of plot. Also the tech iterated a lot, but it’s the story and the iterations there that have been shrouded in mystery for a great many years. There was the Bob White plot treatment, which came to light some years ago. There was a plot treatment by Ed del Castillo, who was brought in over from Westwood, which I thought was actually really quite brilliant, although he seems to have been the sacrificial lamb for some of that.

We’ve seen those, but those are all later-stage plot treatments. And obviously, we’ve seen the final plot of the game. What we know nothing about is the initial idea for what its story would be, back when you were helming it. Do you have any recollections about what some of the storylines were? Just to throw out an example…obviously, Ulltima 9 ends with this idea that the Guardian is the Avatar’s evil half, if you will, created back in Ultima 4 when he first became the Avatar. Was that a thing that was in the design from its initial stages? What can you tell us about the story back then?

MM: Okay…so, at the very original start of Ultima 9, it was a very, very small team. Most of the Ultima 8 people had gone off to do Crusader, which was Tony Zurovec’s first big project. The people that were left on Ultima 9 — and this is actually while The Lost Vale was still in development, I believe — it was Denis Loubet, the art director and lead artist for Ultima and almost all Ultimas that had come before it; John Watson, who was the developer and designer. He took the lion’s share of how to write the story. But the three of us definitely worked together really hard on it.

And I recall it being probably one of the best times I had at Origin, because it was that blank slate kind of thing with where we wanted to take the story. So…the Guardian and the Avatar were always two sides of the same coin. And the question was how — we weren’t exactly sure about how we were going to get to the ending, but there was one ending that the three of us liked, that, unfortunately, nobody else did. I’ll tell you what I recall of that ending.

At the very end of the game, you’ve progressed all the way to where you’re going to have your final battle with the Guardian. And for the first time, you actually go into battle with the Guardian, with Lord British at your side. It’s the both of you who are going into battle with the Guardian. Because he’s tearing Britannia apart, right? So Lord British wants to come with you, in a new sense of courage and companionship!

UC: Yeah, because he never really does much before that point.

MM: Yeah, he…levels you up and gives you stuff.

Of course, the battle itself between the Avatar and the Guardian is physically tearing Britannia apart. So at some point, Lord British implores you to stop, you know…”Stop! Stop! Stop!” And if the player doesn’t stop, they actually lose. Britannia is destroyed! It’s a losing scenario.

If they do stop — and I think this is why it didn’t work, because nobody liked that. If you did stop, you went all Ben Kenobi on the Guardian. He kills you…he just frigging kills you! And then we cut to some cutscene where you see…I don’t know, the Guardian’s head explode or…I don’t know what we were going to do. But when he kills the Avatar — you — he kills himself. Fade to black, everybody expects credits to roll, going “Wow, that was pretty depressing.”

Except for it’s not fade to black. Lord British is right there, and he resurrects you — not as the Avatar, but just as that human that you started the entire experience with, all those years ago, but maybe with a little wisdom that you brought with you. That’s how we wanted to end the story. We didn’t want you to end the story as some sort of ascended being; we wanted you to just be you. You started the game as you; we wanted to end the game as you. That was what we wanted to do, but it had its own wacky problems that some people didn’t like, so it never really came to pass.

UC: Pity. That sounds awesome. And you did confirm there that Ultima 9 was always meant to be set in Britannia.

MM: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. We…got tired of Pagan real fast; we wanted to go back to Britannia and build Moonglow again.

UC: Well, you know, it’s nice to go and visit some places, but it’s good to come home.

MM: Indeed, yeah.

UC: Right. The magic system in Ultima 9 is, again, just crazy wild. Do you have any recollection of how the development of that happened?

MM: You know, when we first started development of Ultima 9, we were going to do a pretty much straight-up, Ultima-based magic system. Reagents, words, blah, blah, blah. And I will admit to you freely that I have never played Ultima 9, never had a computer that could play it. I had this problem….I guess it’s fair to all the Ultima fans out there who couldn’t afford to play Ultimas, that I would be stuck with that one day. But I think the magic system for Ultima 9 was obviously developed by somebody who was at the team after, and honestly I have no idea who that would have been.

I don’t think it was John…John Watson. I know he took a large part of Ultima 9 while he was there, but he left Origin and moved to California to essentially go find his fortune outside of Origin’s walls. So I don’t know who developed the magic system for Ultima 9.

UC: Fair enough. It’s one of the few Ultimas I play where I almost never touch the spellbook.

MM: Hey, that’s weird.

UC: Yeah, I know. Mind you, you don’t really need to; you can really play that through almost as a pure fighter.

So, we mentioned before that Ultima 8 had the Avatar facing Pagan alone. Was the plan for Ultima 9 to return to a party-based design, if at all possible? Or — sorry — just to expand that, because we got into the other topic too. Party…or sex selection?

MM: Oh, right! The desires of everybody who got into Ultima 9 on the development side…we wanted to return to our roots, we really did. So it was a matter of: how were we going to do that? But we were also going to go 3D. There was a big break, pretty early on in development, where we were like “You know what? We’ve gotta make a big splash,” by taking Ultima 9 full 3D.

That turned out to be wicked, wicked, wicked hard at that time. How do you get what all of the Ultima players expect in terms of the detail and beauty, with what looked like the earliest stage EverQuest graphics that everybody still loved, but you’re like “Wow, those are some blocky trees!”

Blocky trees. And people. And everything. (Image source: MMORPG.com)

Blocky trees. And people. And everything. (Image source: MMORPG.com)

So, we did a lot of experiments early on, and even 200 or 300 polygons per character…we just couldn’t do, in those days. We just couldn’t do it fast enough, and we were still doing software rendering. We weren’t doing hardware rendering…because there was no hardware rendering until about a year after we started development. So, man, we struggled that hard, and after about the first 6 or 8 months of just jacking around with 3D, and trying to get an Ultima-looking game out of it, we were just like “Wow, there’s no way. We can’t build an Ultima with a party. We can’t even have more than 3 or 4 characters on screen at the same time.”

Which was…sad, it just didn’t feel right. But we were pushing the envelope really hard. I don’t know how far they got with the hardware rendering, because I know they did do hardware rendering for Ultima 9, thank goodness. I don’t know how far they were eventually able to take it, though.

UC: Well, you didn’t have a party. And you were still the blond guy. So there were obviously some limitations there. And one of the other complaints, about the world design, is that Britannia feels a little bit on the smallish side.

MM: Heh heh…yeah.

UC: Which I suppose is a fair criticism. I mean, again, Ultima 6 is my touchstone here, but Britannia is huge. There’s…what’s the joke?…huge tracts of land, right?

MM: There are! And when you entered into a city…you’re stomping around Britannia in Ultima 5 or Ultima 6, and you enter a city…you’re now in that city! And it’s like a whole new level, so it feels huge.

UC: Well, Ultima 6 was uniscale.

MM: Oh right, Ultima 6 was uniscale; Ultima 5 was the last one. We actually tried to get Richard to go back to that outer world map, inner city map, with Ultima 9. I remember the meeting, clear as day, going in there and going “Richard, we wanna do this. This is the right way to do it. We’re all gonna do it.” And we were going to convince him…and we came out of the meeting two hours later and…we didn’t do it.

UC: Well, you mentioned that when he had an idea that was his, it was his, and…

MM: Well, here’s the funny thing. It wasn’t just him stomping his feet, saying “No! It’s my idea!”

We went out of that meeting convinced he was right! He’s got this charisma thing about him where he just casts this spell on you, and you’re like “Yes, Richard, we’re gonna do it…exactly the way you said! And somehow you walk out of that meeting…the weird thing is that the farther away from the conference room you walk, the more you remember about what you thought about what you were going into it with, but it’s too late! The meeting’s over!

UC: That’s funny.

MM: Oh, it is funny. And I’m not kidding about that; he’s got that in spades, so…

UC: I’ve had a chance to speak with him a few times. He’s a force of personality, definitely. Very charismatic.

To that point, actually…you mentioned some of the other team members beforehand, and Richard obviously. Do you still keep in touch with — or collaborate with — it seems to my observation that people who have left…well, I mean Origin is gone now, but people who’ve left the orbit have kind of wound up back in each others’ orbits at various points in history. So do you keep in touch with other ex-Originites, or work with any of them? What kind of camaraderie exists?

MM: Yeah, I think everybody who was at Origin back in those days…we have an ex-Origin Facebook page, which is by invite only, and a lot of us keep in touch with each other through LinkedIn. And in person! I mean, a lot of people have moved all over the planet; they live all over the United States and all over the world now. But, you know, I saw Denis Loubet last weekend; we happened to be at the same function together. I hadn’t seen him in many, many years, and it was just great catching up. I email a lot of them a lot; Billy Cain and I are really, really good friends; we hang out quite a bit.

But yeah…that common path of…doing great things and working really hard, harder than any set of humans deserves to or needs to, on a game. And so it’s really created a lot of excellent friendships and some close bonds. We may not see each other very often, but every time we do, it’s all hugs and “Man, it’s been forever; how’s it going?” And a lot of those people I do say in touch with.

UC: Well that’s great.

I’m actually going to switch the order of the last couple questions here. The one that I had slated for last actually goes a little bit better along with this. Assuming that the necessary factors aligned to make it possible, would you want to work on another Ultima game, or with these people on another game in that mold?

MM: Well, first of all…a lot of those people I worked with back at Origin, I’d dig ditches with these people. Because one of the things that I’ve learned, through working on a lot of different games with a lot of different people, is that it’s actually not the game that you enjoy working on as much as you enjoy the people that you’re working with. That says something; that’s why I say I would dig ditches with these people. And I would!

Now, that said, if Richard…in a weird sort of way, what’s going on with Shroud of the Avatar, that is kind of what he’s doing. And there’s a lot of people who worked on the original Ultimas — Starr Long being just one of them — who have joined Richard’s efforts at Portalarium.

So I think, if the question is, would I want to do another Ultima, in that vein? Actually, I think it would be freaking amazing to do an Ultima, or Ultima-like adventure, on the iPad. I think that would be fantastic. Old-school sprite engine? Hell yeah. The question is: can you pry it away from Electronic Arts to do it? And the answer to that is “Hell, no.” Why? I have no idea. Maybe they’re just pissed at Richard. But if Richard could get the Ultima license back from Electronic Arts, you know he would do it.

UC: Yeah, he’s alluded to that a few times. And actually, you mention the iPad, and he’s passionate about mobile gaming.

MM: Oh yeah, it’d be great! It’d be great for the iPad.

UC: I don’t suppose you ever tried Ultima Forever?

MM: No, I never did. It doesn’t have a dual-shock interface, right? So that’s a problem. It needs to have those…and have racing cars. Probably wouldn’t go over with the fanbase very well; they’d accuse me of breaking away just like I did in Ultima 8!

UC: I’ve heard some interesting stories about other ideas that were being tossed around with the property. The one that always fascinated me was this idea for an Ultima RTS. Which, actually, depending on where you set it in the timeline, could work. There’s that whole history of how the Bloody Plains got its name…

MM: Oh…wow. Yeah, that could work. I mean, the funny thing about that is that all the combat in Ultima was always very personal. It wasn’t huge armies stomping around, and huge units stomping around. Well, that’s not true; in Ultima 1, you fought about a thousand of those dang orcs at the end of the game. And that’s all you did, for like 2 hours straight! So there’s that…

UC: People complain about the wave combat in Dragon Age 2; they have no idea!

MM: Actually, you know, it could be kinda cool. The real question is: would it be an Ultima or not? And I think, honestly, it probably wouldn’t be. An Ultima was such a playground for you and your companions to go off and adventure. Yes, it might be set in Britannia, but then let’s call it RTS Britannia and it’s a different thing.

UC: Yeah, something like that. Anyways, just winding us down here…what are you working on now? You mentioned console…

MM: I’ve definitely worked on a few console games since then. In my time at Red Fly Studios, up until about a year ago, I’d worked on games for the Nintendo Wii and 3DS. That was a blast! While I was there, Red Fly did Ghostbusters for the Wii, and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 for the Wii, and Thor 3DS. It was a lot of fun. And even Red Fly’s original IP game, Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars, which…anybody who has a Wii out there, go play Mushroom Man. Yeah, it’s a little broken, and it’s a little quirky, but it’s still pretty cool. That was their first game.

But, you know, the funny thing about consoles now is that it’s starting to get really hard to get console gigs. And what’s really heating up now is doing games on Android and iOS…mobile and tablet. And that’s what I’m working on right now. I’m working on social games, and working on a stealth startup with two really, really good people here in the Austin area: Gordon Walton of Star Wars: Galaxies fame, and Todd Coleman, who did Wizard101 at KingsIsle. And so we’ve come together to form a little company, and we’re going to do social games on mobile, where you can play with your friends. It’s really cool stuff.

UC: Yeah. Richard has talked a fair bit about the potential of…I mean, Shroud of the Avatar, when he was still teasing it as his Ultimate RPG, was supposed to actually be that. And then at some point he made the transition back to a PC-facing game. Although he still expresses his desire to see the game come to iPad at some point.

MM: Yeah. I find what’s really difficult for designers like Richard — and even Todd Coleman; I talk with him at the office all the time about this — it’s really tricky for game designers who’ve been working in the PC space for a long time to go to the mobile space. It’s so much smaller! I mean, it’s amazing! 50 megabytes is a tiny little space to put your game in, and that’s kind of where it is, especially if you want it to be a good game over in China. And it’s really hard to do that for a PC gamer like Richard. Hopefully he’ll figure it out, because there’s a lot of good stuff going on there.

But PC games are still doing okay. They’ll be fine. Portalarium will be fine.

UC: Well, they’re using Unity, so they have the luxury, obviously, of being able to publish to Windows…Mac…Linux.

MM: Yeah, it’s easy. I use Unity all the time. I think that little game engine’s going to take over the world, man.

UC: You know, I tripped over it a few years ago — and I’ve only ever really dabbled with it myself — I tripped over it when I was trying to figure out what Gameloft had used to build Dungeon Hunter. And at the time it was, I think, at version 2, so the Asset Store was barely a thing, and it was obviously not anywhere near as advanced, and the tutorials weren’t really as good, and it was a lot kludgier to get into. So I struggled. But I remember telling a friend of mine, whom I correspond with rather regularly in France: “This looks like it’ll be a thing.”

MM: Yeah, it’s a thing now!

UC: I felt rather vidicated in that last year, and I almost wish I would have bought stock or something. Because all of a sudden, Kickstarter exploded with Unity games. And not like Dungeon Hunter Next, but…Shroud, Torment, Project Eternity, Wasteland.

MM: Yeah…Wasteland. God.

UC: It’s an amazingly prolific engine. And I think it’s Canadian too…based out of Montreal.

MM: Amsterdam, I think. I could be wrong about that…maybe that’s just where the CEO is.

(Note: It turns out we were both wrong. Unity Technologies is headquartered, now, in San Francisco. The company was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark. — WtFD)

UC: Then again, these days I could see having global support being a good thing, so…at any rate, that is all I had. That was the sum total of questions that the Ultima fandom were collectively able to put together.

MM: Those were crazy-good questions, by the way. I would expect nothing less!

UC: Yeah, and this group, actually…I mean, the Ultima Dragons of course go way back. They started on Prodigy, the moved to the Internet…RGCUD, that was…rec.games.computer.ultima.dragons, or something like that?

MM: That’s actually when I joined ’em! I don’t know if I ever got my membership revoked, but I still believe that I’m Aleing Dragon.

UC: Well, you know, I should check the roster the next time I log in.

MM: Check the roster!

(Note: Aleing Dragon is, per the “current members” roster, still the Dragon Name of one Mike McShaffry. So there’s that. — WtFD)

UC: And of course, now they’ve moved to this Facebook group, which has surpassed 700 and some members. Not all of them are necessarily active all the time, but it’s proven a remarkably prolific community for the old discussions to happen anew. But it was a great place to source questions, because there are so many people there, who can think of so many other things beyond what I can keep in my head. It’s wonderful.

MM: Yeah, they are.

UC: So…with that, I’m going to just take this off air and we can wrap up, but…publicly, at any rate, thank you for taking the time. I’m glad we were able to finally do this. This was great and informative; it was wonderful.

MM: Well, thank you very much. It was a fantastic — and terrifying — trip down memory lane. But sometimes, being able to remember all those old things…brings me a little bit closer to some of those people I haven’t seen in a long time. For me that’s what’s really important. I’m really glad to have been invited, and I really appreciate the opportunity.