Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale/Arthurian Legends RPG Interview

GB: Let's switch gears to the Arthurian legend RPG. Based on what we could dig up, it's unclear as to whether or not it was supposed to be an Ultima game. Did ORIGIN have the intention of creating more games in the "Worlds of Ultima" series? Or was there just an idea for an independent Arthurian RPG? In essence, how did the game evolve into and out of the "Worlds of Ultima" spin-off series?

Sheri: The most interesting thing about Arthurian Legends is it was a completely employee driven idea. It was the brainchild of Brian Martin, a designer on several of the Ultimas and a major player in the Brittania Manor haunted houses. He came up with the initial idea and sold it (upstairs) as a way to reuse the Ultima engine. He convinced Richard that it could be made with fewer people than a traditional Ultima, faster than a traditional Ultima and that it would be different enough from Ultimas to not compete with them. At the same time it could still draw on the popularity of the (ORIGIN) name.

Although (Worlds of Ultima) was mentioned a time or two in the early phases of the game, I don't think it was ever intended to be a (Worlds of Ultima.) It was always an independent, stand-alone, idea.

GB: If "Worlds of Ultima" was meant to be a continuing thing, were there any ideas (even vague one-sentence descriptions) for installments after Arthurian Legends?

Sheri: Actually, Worlds of Ultima was kind of dead by the time Arthurian Legends was dreamt up. Savage Empire and Martian Dreams had not done what they wanted them to and so that was where that ended. The Arthurian title, it was never considered to be of that line, and there was never even a whisper of doing more than one. Heck, we were just holding our breath every day hoping we could get the first one done!

GB: As the Arthurian title was to use the Ultima engine, would it have been a party-based game with an isometric or top-down viewpoint? What can you tell us about how the interface was coming along, how navigation throughout the game was accomplished, and how the viewpoint shifted when traveling between overland and subterranean areas?

Sheri: It was a traditional isometric Ultima style game. There wasn't any difference between viewpoint in overland or subterranean. The navigation worked just like U7, as did the mapping. The fun was that the maps were actually of ancient England!

GB: You've previously stated that "it was to be set in the world of King Arthur, the REAL King Arthur legends, not the Disney 'Sword in the Stone' legends". You go on to reference the medieval romances of DeTroyes and Malory. Can you elaborate on these statements?

Sheri: I guess by this I meant that it was not candy coated. There were not always happy endings and we didn't whitewash any of the legends. For instance, in true Ultima fashion, you did encounter a giant cannibal who had been preying on the local children. You could kill the giant, but you could not save the children.

GB: DeTroyes definitely marks the shift of Arthur from a Celtic legend to a Romance one and that strain became increasingly Christianized, for example in the search for the Holy Grail. While Ultima is well-known for making moral and spiritual statements, it did so without invoking well-known religions. Real-world religion seems to be something of a taboo for Western developers. How was the search for the Holy Grail approached? Would have it been included, and if so, how would it have been represented?

Sheri: We actually did not involve the search for the Grail. Instead we concentrated on all the other legends. We thought the search for the Grail had been played out, entertainment-wise. We wanted to reach beyond that; to show that there were more to the tales of the Knights of the Round Table than the Grail quest or Excalibur in the stone.

And, I think, that was probably our underlying story. The legends were not all happy, but if you hold true to your quest, you will win in the end. It just may not be the victory you intended.

GB: You've also previously mentioned Melora. Her story comes from an Irish source, correct? Some presentations of Arthur involve a struggle between the old way of paganism and the spread of the Church. Was this going to play a part in the story or was religion going to be studiously avoided?

Sheri: Melora was a (must have) for me, because she was a female knight. Even back then I was big on making sure our female players had something they could relate to. In fact, it was on this project that I began my infamous question of (but what if the player is female?)

As for religion, interestingly enough we really didn't have much problem dealing with the concepts. As I said above we stayed away from the Grail stories, and not because of the religion, but because those are the most common ones dealt with in modern literature. Instead we dealt with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the cannibal giant, the questing beast and things like that.