Raiding the archives

Hello from Austin! After 24 hours travelling, I made it here Thursday night. I had a couple of days of being a regular tourist then met up with the WC CIC crew Sunday and started on the more eclectic Origin activities.

Today was kind of like work helping out archiving the David Downing boxes at the University of Texas. The contents more than make up for the effort, such as a full set of storyboards for Wing Commander 4 :-


I also got my hands on the Garriott archive and grabbed a full set of photos of the Underworld 3 documents. I didn’t read through them but there was way more detail than the story already scanned on here and I’m fairly sure there was a later expanded version. All of this will make it on the site when I get chance to go through it.

I had a browse through the rest of the box for an hour while Loaf took over camera duty. There was a pitch for a space RPG called Terminus which was being developed by Vicarious Visions. It appears Origin were considering publishing this and using the team, game or engine as the basis for Wing Commander Online. One email stated that the game essentially was already WCO and just required a change of story/art assets + faith. That deal clearly never happened but the game was still published elsewhere a year later.

Highlights were Ultima 9 design documents including concept art, details on the Ultima and Savage empire RPG’s and two huge folders full of Ultima 7 design documents. If I could have smuggled any of it out it would have to be the storyboards for the cutscenes:-


As for tomorrow, after going years never meeting any ex Origin guys I should get to hang out with a horde of them in the evening and will hopefully get to visit Portalarium before that. It’s going to be a good day to be an Origin fan!

Ultima 7 Strip Advert Negatives

One last Ultima 7 relic to finish off the 20th anniversary with. These are the negatives for a strip advert that would have appeared on one edge of a magazine page back in 1992:-

Ultima 7 Strip Advert Negatives

I don’t have the actual proof for this advert so getting a look at the finished version involved some scanning and a little tinkering around in Paint Shop Pro. Scanning these on a misbehaving book scanner with a piece of white paper behind to get them to show up at all is not ideal. I’d need a giant negative scanner to do this properly but the final image could have been worse:-

Ultima 7 Strip Advert Recombined

Ultima 7 False Box Back Proof

When Ultima 7 was released it was packaged in a mostly black box with surprisingly little on there to market the game to anyone. The idea was to have large walls of the boxes in shops which would stand out looking something like a giant black gate. This general design philosophy was originally going to be carried on through the boxes for the whole trilogy using different colours for each game but it ended up being shelved completely for Ultima 9.

At some point after Ultima 7 went on sale, Origin/EA clearly had a change of heart on the packaging and decided that it might be an idea to actually try to sell the game to people. To do this they opted to include a false box back in the form of an additional sheet with a printout of the review from PC Games. I happen to have the original proof for this box back which looks like this:-

Ultima 7 False Box Back Proof - Rear Ultima 7 False Box Back Proof - Front

Ultima 7 20th Anniversary

It’s not been long since the last one but today marks another 20 year anniversary, this time for the release of Ultima 7. Combined with Underworld it was a real one-two punch for Origin at the time with two classics that still have a following to this day.

Another anniversary can only mean a reminiscing post followed by the sharing of some unlikely Ultima 7 related objects. I’ll keep the reminiscing to a minimum this time as I’m nowhere near as familiar with Ultima 7 as I should be. I know all the games in the series before it well enough but the only time I’ve completed Ultima 7 was playing it for this blog.

A large part of the reason for that is that Ultima 7 didn’t get the universal praise that Underworld did. A prime example would be this review where the game scored a paltry 4 out of 10. Having major bugs in a released game was a heinous crime at the time with the only option for most people being to have Origin mail them a patch disk. Other reviews were far more positive but this was the one I read back in 1992 and it didn’t make me want to run out and buy the game.

Also at this point the Ultima series was so old that starting 7 games into it didn’t seem like the best idea. I don’t think I completed any of the main series until after the Ultima Collection came out in 97 giving me the chance to tackle Ultima right from the beginning.

Even owning the Ultima Collection, some other distraction clearly came along before I got to Ultima 7. This would have been around the time I started consciously collecting software as the missing games from the Ultima Collection are probably the single biggest factor that got me started. I didn’t want to miss any games out and ended up buying copies of Savage Empire and Martian Dreams. The packaging for these led me into wanting to own the earlier games and so on. I wouldn’t have imagined at the time that I’d end up with a floor of my house slowly being taken over by this hoard which should serve as a warning to the unwary beginning collector. At least the other 2 floors remain game free (I’ll ignore the Vectrex and 3DO in the main room).

Ultima 7 is a game I will revisit at some point and give it a better playthrough than I made when blogging it here. With such a huge and detailed world to explore, it’s not a game made for rushing through. Looking back at it now, I consider it the last great game in the main series with Serpent Isle coming close but not quite reaching the same heights. My favourite aspect was the way the story slowly revealed itself, despite the open world and it’s a real masterclass in how a sandbox game should be done. It perhaps put the traditional RPG aspects a little too far into the background to top my list of favourite Ultima games but it certainly made up for this with the dialog, world simulation and sheer scale of Britannia. It’s one of the definitive RPG’s of the 90’s and still as playable today as it ever was.

There won’t be too much of it but I’ll see what I can dig up in the way of Ultima 7 memorabilia and post it throughout the day.

Ultima 7 Patch Disk

The recent publication of the Ultima Guide and it’s companion book raised my curiosity to see what I’m missing and if I have anything good that isn’t in there. This could prompt a handful of posts on here over coming weeks and months if I dig anything up. One of the rumoured items in the guide was an Ultima 7 patch disk which I can confirm does exist as I’ve got one:-


It contains the regular patch if the file size is anything to go by. I would imagine that there must have been hundreds, if not thousands of these at the time of Ultima 7. The game did after all have a major bug and we didn’t all have the internet back then to grab a patch.

A floppy disk is far too dull to warrant its own post, so I’ll liven it up with a picture of an Origin shopping bag:-