Stratics Chat with Ultima IX Dev Team

Log of Ultima:IX Ascension Open House (12-14-1999, #ascension on

Red - Ultima 9 Dev Team Member
Blue - Chat Moderator
Green - Question asker

Cynthe - Greetings, everyone! I'm glad you could make it tonight... we're beginning the chat now! And with that, I turn this over to our moderator, Uziel...
Uziel - This Ascension House of Commons chat is considered General Discussion, so feel free to ask anything relating to Ultima Ascension.
Uziel - I will be our moderator for this evening. In order to submit questions please /msg or /query Jerrith, Destiny, Xander, Niobe or Jazar.
Uziel - Some general guidelines for this chat: please /msg different question-takers at different times, in order to balance the load and speed this process up. Also, do not send the same question multiple times or to more than one question-taker. Finally, do not msg anyone from OSI or myself -- these questions will be ignored.
Uziel - Remember that the Ascension DevTeam may not have the opportunity to answer all of your questions. In addition, certain questions may not be answered if the DevTeam feels that it is not appropriate or that it has been better answered through some other question.
Uziel - Lastly, please do not submit any questions that have already been answered through other means, such as available FAQ's. In addition, this chat may feature minor game spoilers. We will do our best to limit the scope of spoilers within the moderated section of this chat, but we cannot make any guarantees.
Uziel - Thanks for coming, everyone! We will now begin accepting questions.

Uziel - *Morac* Any ETA on the D3D optimizaton patch?
CapnBill - We HOPE to get Patch 2 before Christmas, but we've had a few delays; we want to get it right!

Uziel - *Cla75* excuse me....what type of pc you think is the ideal for playing ultima 9 ?
CapnBill - I like a Pentium III 450, with 256MB of RAM, running WIndows 2000, with a Voodoo2.

Uziel - *Wildgoose* When the D3D support is fixed, what is your best estimate as to how fast the game will actually run under D3D on a reccommended system?
Spectra - Since I haven't posted before, I just want to let everyone know that I was the 3D programmer on ascension.
Spectra - Our initial tests are showing a pretty good increase in performance. D3D is running at about the same rate as Glide with 16-bit textures right now.
Cynthe - And to add to a quick rollcall, I'm a designer on Ascension, as well as the current community coordinator.
CapnBill - And, to further interrupt, I'm CapnBill, lead programmer
Spectra - We still hope to gain some more speed, but it is very hard to give a frame rate estimate at all.
Bassanio - And Im also a designer

Uziel - *Comrade* Why did the Japanese edition of the Dragon Edition have more items inside it
* Audball adds to the roll call: <==== Audio, interface, combat, misc. programmer *
Cynthe - The packaging arrangements for the Japanese version are handled by the Japanese territories, and are separate from Origin.

Uziel - *Svartdrage* Under all the bugs I don't think the game is great. Many regard Ultima 7 has the best one in the series and so do many people I know have. Ultima 8 Pagan was hated by alot of people is viewed as the worst game of the series and a big part of the reason why they hated it was the action elements. In Ultima 9 you increased these increased these elements that made many not enjoy Ultima 8 Pagan in Ultima 9 ascension why?
Yavn - With each game our goal was to make the world more realistic. In real life when people get to a rock, they jump over...We also were not interested in doing menu bassed combat...
Yavn - We tried to make the action parts of the game non arcade-ish, so people would not have to worry about that. As for the jumping, we used a targeting cursor to help show where you would land. A huge improvement from U8

Uziel - *Jaymo* I was wondering if you are planing to change the AI? It is not too good and I don't know how hard it is to change.
Yavn - By the way I was the lead designer for the game
CapnBill - We have addressed some AI bugs that were preventing creatures from attacking; AI is more challenging in the patched version (patch 2)
Audball - Yup, AI changes are definitely being put in! We're not doing anything drastic like rewriting every creature, but we are tackling deficiciencies (sp?) of individual creatures
CapnBill - But, it was never our intent to make this a combat-based game; combat only adds to the RPG experience, but it's not the game's basis
CapnBill - BTW, we've re-written rat, the only one we'll re-write--and feedback is, it's a lot harder.
Audball - For example, we've rewritten the rat (watch out!), helped wolves react to long-range attacks (spells, arrows), and make the Winged Gargoyles more responsive

Uziel - *TydusMage* Will any of you be moving over to the UO2 team now?
Yavn - Yes. Many of the art team is already working on UO2, and several designers also also going.

Uziel - *gandhii* i'd like to hear more on why npc scheduling was left out. it would seem that all the hard stuff needed to do this was allready done for the avatar, i.e. animations and stuff,. even britain's boyer walks around town before returning to his store (after you walk off and come back) .. what was keeping this from being extended into npc schedules like we all know and love from ultima7?
CapnBill - Ah, NPCs! My favorite subject (haha)
CapnBill - You're right the Boyer moves around town.
CapnBill - But, it was never a part of the game design to have NPCs such as shopkeepers not be available at night
CapnBill - We felt that would be too annoying with this interface & plot.
CapnBill - BUT, we did try to get in some schedules...
CapnBill - Like moving between the shop & the tavern, moving between towns, etc.
CapnBill - Some NPCs do this; some don't.
CapnBill - We only got the engine's required subsytems for schedules working reliably a few weeks before we had to code freeze
CapnBill - (Subsystems like our collision system & world movement system)
CapnBill - So, since those primitives were unreliable (ie buggy) for so long, the designers didn't feel confident about putting in a lot of schedules.
CapnBill - We also had to remove a lot of schedules for performance reasons.
CapnBill - The lack of NPCs moving around frustrated us, too; we could've done some cool activities with it. But, performance was a factor, along with a lot of others.
CapnBill - People falling through the ground! Sheesh!
CapnBill - Nuff said.

Uziel - *wisemonk* will the avatar become a national sex symbol? or is it only pirates and gypsies that find him attractive?
Cynthe - Well, I don't know about pirates and gypsies, but there was this great screenshot of his backside in jeans that I kept on my desktop for a while... *grin*
Yavn - I think he's the Capt Kirk of Britannia!

Uziel - *loretian* In a mpeg released awhile back, which had Richard Garriot showing off features of the game, the actual gameplay sections of the movie were *very* smooth. Butta smooth. Exactly what system was used for this demo (so I can buy one!)?
CapnBill - PIII 400, 512 MB RAM, Voodoo 2.
CapnBill - The RAM really made all the difference.

Uziel - *Comrade* Given the public reaction to Ultima 9, do you think you have succeeded in creating the game you initially set forward to make?
Audball - The area played in and game settings might have also added to the smooth performance
Yavn - Yes, most everything we wanted from the design side made it in the game. I have no regrets about the gameplay

Uziel - *Linda* I wanted to ask about that original Ascension plot summary that is floating around on the newsgroups. Without giving any spoilers away, can you tell us some of what led the evolution from that plot to what the game currently is? Some of the changes are quite drastic.
Yavn - Every game changes as it's being made. We like parts of the original, and had some new concepts we thought were better
Yavn - With new team members come new ideas, and that's how we ened up with the plot for the game

Uziel - *Jaymo* Why did you design the interface to look the way it does. It is very pixilated and the inventory in UO looked better. Also what was the reason for not having a menu at the start of the game?
Yavn - As for no menu, we wanted the game to feel more like the world, and less like a game...we also wanted to do something unique and different
Spectra - As far as the pixelation goes, the look of a lot of the art was done quite a while back, and up until recently, the game only ran in 640x480.
Spectra - Since we increased the available resolution, the interface had to be stretched.
Spectra - There were technological issues relating to the transparency in the interface that prevented it from being smoothed out.
Spectra - If we just let the texture be filtered, then most of the text would be un-readable.

Uziel - *Araldor* What brought about the decision to end the series?
Bassanio - :) the series is necessarily ending, but evolving
Bassanio - this game is the third installment of trilogy so...
Bassanio - it had to end this particular cycle so to speak :)

Uziel - *KoalaBear* Due to the problems or difficulties in implementing D3D support, why wasn't OpenGL implemented, and will you look more favourably towards OpenGL in the future? I know that UO2 is going to support that if I'm not mistaken.
Spectra - OpenGL suffers many of the same issues as Direct3D in regards to the texture formats that we use, unfortunately.
Spectra - I would love to look at using OpenGL in general, but for Ascension it didn't make sense. We did consider it many times during the Direct3D development, though.
CapnBill - Many times!
Spectra - It still seems like an attractive option today!

Uziel - *Palius* Regarding Hythloth: A) What exactly is the (3) Nightshade I think I found there, and B) Why is there no reward for not skipping the second set of statues via the teleporter?
CapnBill - As for the (3) Nightshade, it's a bug. We were, a long time ago, considering "stacking" reagents.
CapnBill - So we put in support to have multiple quantities of reagents, like arrows & gold.
CapnBill - But, time pressures prevented this--and we didn't find all the multiple-quantity items to undo it.
Yavn - The 2nd set of statues were changed close to ship, we felt the 2nd section was a bit too difficult. We did not want to make a lot of changes at that late time

Uziel - *gandhii* as another computer artist, I can't say enough about how beautiful the environments are. I remember capnbill (for good reason) bragging about his work on the lighting system in previous posts on the bbs. But who are the main creative forces we have to thank for the texxtures, modeling, scenery, animation, and mostly the concept art?
Cynthe - We have a very talented team of artists, including Andy Hoyos and Scott Jones, who do beautiful concept work. Jennifer Davis is also a valued member, and she did fabulous work for UO as well. Then there's Scott Wetterschneider, Art Wong, Bob Frye, and many others toonumerous to list. Thanks for the compliment... we'll make sure they get it. :)
Audball - Michael Morlan works on the spell effects and cinematics

Uziel - *gandhii* Using a udma66 drive seriously slows and destabilizes the game, when will there be a fix for this?
CapnBill - We don't believe this problem is in the game code; rather, its a side-effect of U9 being so resource-demanding.
CapnBill - We've had numerous problem reports with this. Some BIOS fixes appear to be available.
CapnBill - I urge you to contact EA customer support. They're excellent at diagnosing & supporting these types of issues.

Uziel - *RyanFenton* Any chances of an add-on for UIX, or eventual ports if things go really well?
Bassanio - YOu never know :)

Uziel - *Anthony* How big is the game roughly compared to another rpg such as Baldurs gate, also how long is it(in hours)given a rough estimate?
Yavn - It all depends on the player, and how much they explore...QA can "rush" through the game in around 20 hours. Most other people have taken 100+ hours

Uziel - *Kelendral* Why does patch #1 exhibit so many obvious problems that should have been picked up easily during the 14 days it was in QA "testing"???
CapnBill - To our knowledge, we did not introduce any new problems with the patch--we only fixed problems with the game.
CapnBill - There was no way to fix every bug in the game with the first patch; that wasn't our goal.
CapnBill - Also, I really don't recall stating that we QAd the patch for 14 days--If I said that, I was wrong. We didn't. Nevertheless, the final Patch #3 should fix all plot, crasher, and stuck-state problems!

Uziel - *CapnS|mIRC* How many members from the original team were still on for the game's completion?
Audball - Hmmm.. *thinks* As far as I know, original members that made it through the end are: LB himself, Gary Smitt, Herman Miller, Chuck Zoch
CapnBill - Smith, not Smitt! :)
Audball - er, Gary Smith. (Those last 3 are all programmers)
Audball - and Michelle Caddel

Uziel - *KoalaBear* What have you guys learned from a release perspective?
CapnBill - Loaded question! But I'll do my best...
Cynthe - Oh, and Scott Jones has bneen an artist on U9 since its wee days... :) (addendum)
CapnBill - The consequences of releasing a product before its time are simply not worth the pain...bottom line. There wasn't much we could do in this case...but having lived through it, I've learned a lot about it.
CapnBill - Also, I personally am amazed at just how awesome everyone thinks the world is!
CapnBill - We became pretty jaded to the look of the game, and didn't fully appreciate how beautiful it is.
CapnBill - As a result, we became worried about not being competitive enough graphically....
CapnBill - but we know better now.

Uziel - *Akashic_Baja* will any of these patches be U8 like? As in old savegames will not be compatible with the patched version.
Audball - The attempt is to *NOT* invalidate previous savegames or not be backwards compatible
Audball - However, since Ascension is so large and complex, there are some fixes that will require you to at least back up a bit to a prior savegame, to a point where you haven't encountered the bug yet.
Audball - When those situations arise, we will document them in the 'patch.txt' file we include with the patch.

Uziel - *Cabaal* has most of the problems involving NPC's falling through the ground, LB below his chair/in the ground being fixed?
CapnBill - LB being below his throne was an Alpha problem--we did fix that. We had a long-running plague of NPCs falling through the ground.
CapnBill - You'd go to talk to someone, and they'd be apparently gone! BUt, they were just subterrainean.
CapnBill - Anyway, we fixed those--but it required less NPC movement than we wanted, which was frustrating.
CapnBill - And, NPCs apparently still sometimes fall off piers & such ** CapnBill grinds his teeth **
CapnBill - If only you knew how long we worked on finding & fixing all those problems like that.....if only.
CapnBill - Anyway, they're a LOT better!

Uziel - *arlin* The swimming interface is difficult to use and often impossible to see while underwater. It is extremely hard to move up or down, combat is not an option, and I keep drowning from running out of breath. Any chances on swimming being tinkered with at all in the upcoming patches? At least making it easier to see?
CapnBill - Good news!
CapnBill - Swimming is MUCH better in Patch 2. I found a bug in my own code that made swimming harder than I intended.
CapnBill - So, we worked on it & played in Hythloth--if QA reports it's still hard, we can make it even easier
CapnBill - As for the visibility, that's much improved too.
CapnBill - We "thinned out" the fog in front of the camera to make it a LOT easier to see.
Audball - The lack of underwater combat was basically an animation decision. The spellcasting and weapon attacking animations just didn't look good underwater - Avater would stand up, do his thing, then go back to swimming. It wasn't deemed necessary to create whole new sets of animations for swimming combat.

Uziel - *Yobgod* In the final analysis, would you say that U:IX was built up from simple systems that work, or a complex system that didn't quite work? ;)
Audball - (Just shoot the fish with arrows or fireballs from the shore/edge ;-)
CapnBill - My Definitive Answer: U9 was built from a bunch of complex systems that almost, but not quite, didn't work at all.
CapnBill - Heh-heh!
CapnBill - There was a lot of legacy code--and the engine was still top-down when I started working on it.
CapnBill - But, after much re-writing, most of the engine is pretty solid now. Not all, but most... ;)

Uziel - *Kelendral* Will patch #2 fix scrolls, especially duration scrolls, draining mana?
Audball - yeah, just the Capn's parts need work... (KIDDING) :P
CapnBill - Boo!
supra - Yes, duration scrolls (light, specifically, since that's the one with a problem) is fixed in patch #2. The draining mana problem existed in the release, but since the spell only lasted 10 seconds, nobody ever noticed it.

Uziel - *_CoZmO_* Whats with the Avatar disappearing when he enters buildings?
Cynthe - Most buildings in Ascension have what are called enclosed spaces, which prevent items inside the building from being drawn while the camera is outside the building. Occasionally there will be moments when the Avatar is inside the enclosed space, while the camera is outside the space.

Uziel - *rangerone* Why the decision to make the game so linear when that was one of the main complaints against Ultima 8?
CapnBill - Since Richard isn't here, I'll try to explain--hope I don't speak out of turn!
CapnBill - The plot is what Richard & Seth wanted.
CapnBill - One of Richard's goals with Ascension was to address frequent criticisms of past Ultimas.
CapnBill - He wanted to player to know what needed doing at every point in the game, to keep it focused.
CapnBill - He also wanted to open the plot up later, to allow more options to those who desire non-linear plots.
CapnBill - And, I think he achieved this well.
Cynthe - It also helped to create a steepening level of difficulty throughout the game.
CapnBill - We've received mixed feedback--some like it, some don't.
CapnBill - But Richard likes it! :)

Uziel - *Taloncor* can you please ask capnbill if they fixed the bed bug where your half on and off and your eyes blink instead of being closed?
CapnBill - Half off the bed: Yes, this is an annoying visual bug--but, we haven't fixed it, we've had bigger fish to fry, so to speak.
CapnBill - As for blinking, well the animated faces were something we crammed in at the 11th hour--we couldn't believe we were adding a feature like that so late in the cycle!
CapnBill - And, as it turns out, there were some problems like the one you mentioned that we never could fix.
CapnBill - Maybe we'll fix the never's just a question of priorities, I guess.
CapnBill - But hey, have you noticed how the Avatar doesn't fall through the bed? :)

Uziel - *RyanFenton* Any thoughts on making a Game Developer post mortem for the game eventually?
CapnBill - We do in-house post-mortems as part of the dev cycle. I don't know EA policy on published post-mortems, such as those in Game Developer magazine. I'll ask, though--it could be cool.

Uziel - *Anthony* Why does it rain inside Lord British's castle?, and also is this bug being fixed for patch2?
CapnBill - Ahh, another bug that we fixed....several times....and yet, it still happens.
CapnBill - The rain is actually created at a certain height above the Avatar--and the castle was so high in some rooms, the rain was created inside the room!
CapnBill - Rain is a huge performance hit, so we try to cheat on it all we can. For Patch 2, we raised its creation height.
CapnBill - There were other reasons, in the past, that rain appeared in certain areas indoors--those may still crop up from time to time, we haven't fixed them. They're more rare.

Uziel - *Cabaal* it was said that the game world was originally very big, and therefore scaled down, but now some "cities" (ie. Britain) are rather small to warrant a major city status, also, said cities are rather sparsely populated when compared to Ultima 7... was the decision to decrease the amount of NPC's performance based or some other reason (ie. the game was just too darn big :))
CapnBill - This was Richard's call. Early on, he told us that Ultima's in the past had been incredibly demanding to publish, because they tended to be so big.
CapnBill - So, he deliberately had the design team & art team scale the world & cities down.
CapnBill - Not just to make it more playable; but to make it more BUILDABLE. Sure enough, he was right. The scope of the task of building the world was almost beyond us! It was a huge task, with a huge team, and we barely were able to do it (right Cynthe?)

Uziel - *DragonKP* how do you guys feel about the negitive reviews so far?
Cynthe - It's disheartening to see so many people who can't play the game that we enjoy so much. Whether it's due to the technological strain or plot-stopping bugs, it honestly hurts to see that people are playing what seems to us to be a different game than what we shipped.
CapnBill - Negative feedback is useful--it's helping us patch things in the product that we know users really want to see.
CapnBill - But, it's clear that we underestimated the problems players would have.
Cynthe - We want to make sure that these problems are fixed so that people can really see the game for what it can be, which is why we're still trying so hard to fix everything that may have gone wrong.
CapnBill - The dev team is really disappointed, honestly.
Cynthe - Honestly, we're sad. There's no other way to put it. But we hope that with these patches, we can make it better.
CapnBill - We are working hard on it. That's why we can't estimate the release of Patch 3...
CapnBill - However, on the UP side, if your machine runs the game OK, we feel the game is fantastic! It's very fun, more than we thought it would be.
CapnBill - So we want everyone to have that kind of experience!
Spectra - As the guy that did the Direct3D work, I'm pretty disappointed about them in general, but the number of them did help get me time to work on them, so it's not all bad. And of course ther are the good reviews to help balance it out!

Uziel - *Vassago* What about having access to resolution higher than 1024*768 in Glide mode?
Audball - I *think* (Spectra can slap/correct me if I'm wrong) that Voodoo2 cards can only go up to 800x600, unless in SLI, in which case they can do 1024x768.
Audball - Voodoo3 can go higher than that, I think, but I'm not sure what the limit is.
CapnBill - (Guys, I have to go. Thanks to all of you for being here! See you in the ether.)

Uziel - *Shadowhand* In previous games, the Avatar was named. What prompted you to change to calling him "Avatar" as the name?
Audball - That decision was mainly "resource related", meaning that it would have require huge amounts of work in both the script and voice recording to allow anything other than "Avatar"
Audball - We barely managed to squeeze everything onto 2 CDs (only 1 while you play, so no swapping, yay!), and that would have put it over the limit
Audball - (more CDs = more manufacturing costs, etc., etc.)
Audball - A text-to-speech solution might have been neat, but we had other larger things to consider * Audball shudders remembering Dr. Sbaitzo *

Uziel - *Laa-Yosh* Question: We know that because plot changes, several cinematics were left out of the game. Is there any way to have does movies appear for just a short time on the Origin ftp server? please :), I'm a 3D artist myself and a big fan of your work...
Cynthe - That's something we;re looking into
Cynthe - we would like to release these, but it's not something we've decided on yet. If they are released, it won't be for a little while... we'd like people to get a chance to see all Ascension really has to offer before showing them stuff that we didn't use

* Cynthe would like to thank everyone for coming! *
Bassanio - Thanks Guys for attending! Its been a pleasure
Audball - If anybody has questions that did not get answered tonight, whether it be technical issues, spoilers, etc., please post them on the official boards at
Cynthe - The fact that this many people have taken the time to come and listen to us means a lot to us. We hope that you will find the next patch a huge improvement in gameplay, and I look forward to reading your responses on our discussion boards.
Cynthe - If anyone would care to chat about tinight' chat, stop by the Horizons board at
Uziel - The Ultima Ascension DevTeam and the Stratics staff would like to thank you for attending this special House of Commons session. The log will be posted somewhere either tonight or tommorow, but I have yet to get the web address :)
Uziel - I'm told it will be at when it it ready
Cynthe - This has been quite enjoyable. Thanks again and good night all... :)
Bassanio - Thanks! Nite Everyone

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