A Look Back at Origin Systems

Origin Systems, the influential video game developer behind the Ultima and Wing Commander series that employed such giants of game development like Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, and John Romero, is the subject of this retrospective article over at TechRaptor that celebrates the studio's 35th anniversary. The article looks back at the studio's history, its many beloved games and their long-lasting legacy. A few snippets:

There was a whole lot going on in the world of computers and games in the years leading up to the founding of Origin Systems in 1983. It was the golden age of the arcades, and Dungeons & Dragons was probably more popular than ever with the release of the accessible Basic Sets. As the Apple II approached obsolescence and the Apple III was touted as purely a business computer, the IBM PC was launched in 1981 and the Commodore 64 in 1982. With these computers available to a wider audience, homebrew games became a more tangible cottage industry. It was in this environment that Richard Garriott self-published Akalabeth: World of Doom in 1979, famously using Ziploc bags as packaging for the floppy disks.

Garriott’s father was an astronaut who pushed his son towards programming. In 1977, Garriott had attended a programming summer camp at Oklahoma University, where he also played D&D for the first time. This experience was the hybrid seed for the creation of Origin Systems’ most famous franchise: Ultima. After a few prototypes based on D&D, he released Akalabeth and was picked up by the publisher California Pacific Computer Company. It was then that he set to work on creating what he envisioned should be a proper computer RPG experience that would compete with the tabletop experience.

He wasn’t the only one. Around the same time, the first Wizardry was being developed, and it was released in the same year as the first Ultima. There’s a murky history around the early competition between these two franchises, but it is generally accepted that Wizardry took the initial lead in sales. However, Ultima proved more successful throughout the 1980s, as each sequel reinvented itself while Wizardry simply rehashed the same formula. In 1986 the first Might & Magic was released, and so the three franchises were established as the unholy trinity of fantasy RPGs.

The first two Ultima games were so successful that Garriott’s father and brother helped him and his friend, the programmer Chuck “Chuckles” Bueche, found Origin Systems. The first order of business was to collect royalties for Ultima I-II and Akalabeth, but soon they assembled a team to establish a running franchise with Ultima III. As their sales increased, Origin became a rising star in the emerging computer games market of the 1980s, while the console market had its infamous crash from 1983 to 1985.