Ultima V: Lazarus Interview

RPG Codex interviews Ian Frazier (most recently the lead designer of Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning) about the Ultima V: Lazarus project, an ambitious recreation of Ultima V in the Dungeon Siege engine, released back in 2005.
- Why Dungeon Siege? What limitations were present in other engines such as the Neverwinter Nights engine? In hindsight, do you think you made the right choice, or would it have been easier to work around the limitations of other engines instead?

There were a two main reasons for using Dungeon Siege. First, its node-based engine was perfectly suited for making a very large, open-world game that the player could explore without ever seeing a load screen. Next, the flexibility of the engine for modding purposes was incredible, allowing us to do everything from replacing core elements of the UI, to reinventing the dialogue system, to creating entirely new creatures and architecture from scratch, to implementing dynamic ship travel!

Although some other toolsets certainly would have been easier to work with, I'm glad we went with Dungeon Siege I don't think we could have pulled off Lazarus (at least not to the same extent) with any other engine at that time.

- What were the biggest obstacles you faced when dealing with the Dungeon Siege engine? Were there many hard-coded annoyances that were difficult to bypass?

There were a lot of technical challenges over the course of working on Lazarus the Dungeon Siege engine wasn't really intended to do what we were forcing it into. But time and again we were surprised to find what could be accomplished with a little ingenuity. I think the things we struggled with most were custom node creation and the ship travel system.

Custom terrain nodes had to be built within very specific construction requirements, and if you had a single vertex off by even a centimeter, you'd build a huge area and then suddenly realize there were tiny cracks spreading across the whole map like an earthquake.

Meanwhile ship travel actually freely controlling a boat while it moved across a sea of 'želevator( terrain nodes at the player's direction was very difficult to implement, simply because it was so far outside the scope of what the engine's elevator tech was intended for. In the end of the day we made it work, though, thanks to the technical genius of Shaddock 'žFrilly Wumpus( Heath and Jesse 'žZephyr( Strachman.