To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of ORIGIN's Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the folks at Ultima Aiera have prepared a "tribute site" that contains an assortment of design documents, music samples, information on various ports, user-created tools, and a brand new interview with original designer Brian Martin. Since the Q&A is of particular interest, I'll quote from that:
Ultima Codex: Give us your best (favorite) Origin story that happened during development.
Brian Martin: For U7? I have to say, I'm having a hard time remembering any good stories from that game. Like I said, I came in near the end. I can remember the Shelton brothers (QA guys) joking about management taking the chains off of people for the publicity shots (the joke being that we were chained to our desks).
Now that I think of it, I do have a cool story from U7. Richard Garriott really is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet and he would often think of ways to say thanks for the team for our hard work and long hours. Richard's favorite restaurant at the time was a place called The Emerald. It was a great place really expensive with classic European cuisine. Richard paid for The Emerald to cater a lunch for the team. For some reason I guess we didn't have room inside of our office for the whole team to eat the team sat in the hallway outside the office to eat our wonderful meal. The real bonus was that we always got dirty looks from our neighbors in the building. We were scruffy game developers and they were professionals in suits. Some of them smelled the food and came out to see what was going on. It was kind of fun to tell them that the fabulous meal was by invitation only. So it was a small win for the scruffy geeks.
This is also a good example of what it was like to work for Rich in the pre-EA days. There were times when he would tell the team that everyone needed a break and he'd take us down to Zilker Park (a great park on Town Lake, a classic Austin place) and he'd buy lunch for everyone and we'd play Frisbee and just hang out and relax/unwind. It made those 12 hour days in crunch mode a lot more tolerable. Later, after the EA purchase, Richard couldn't do that anymore but to be fair we were making real money by then. So, it's that trade off that I mentioned earlier.
Ultima Codex: Who were the unsung heroes' of development for U7?
Brian Martin: Wow, there were a lot. Ken Demarest was the lead developer and he did a great job. Herman Miller was (and I guess still is) an amazing programmer. Herman handled all of the low level, really core, code and was brilliant. Mike McShaffry came in kind of late and just tore it up (in a good way). I remember someone calling Mike a code machine and they were right. John Watson was certainly an unsung hero. He loved those games and worked insanely hard on them and he always had a smile on his face. '˜Manda Dee is another name that immediately comes to mind. Really all of the people that worked the 12 hour days for months programmers, artists, designers and QA who didn't get the big money and the glory were unsung heroes. Probably the QA guys because their job was so thankless. Keep in mind; we didn't begrudge Richard for getting the big bucks and the fame: he created the whole thing. Without him there wouldn't have been an Ultima or an Origin. We understood why Rich was the rock star and weren't upset by that.