Half-Cocked Rant Lets Ultima Project Details Slip

I’ll say this first: EA Louse is really not worth the publicity she (?) is getting. Her rant is, frankly, juvenile, and has been amply and soundly trounced by many, many people. Yeah, getting laid off sucks, and sometimes being told to suppress your artistic urge to “express yourself” in service to a game design philosophy sucks too; deal with it. Fortunately, all Louse did was publish a blog post or two; she could have just as easily opted for a machine gun and a surprise visit to her former workplace, I suppose.

And to be fair, there’s one interesting revelation in the middle of the rest of Louse’s rant-assery, which LOAF at the Wing Commander CIC highlights in a news post:

Oh yeah, and he needed Paul Barnett. You know him as the crazy British dude that appears in random videos at EA to promote his latest bullshittery. We know him as the crazy British dude who we have no idea of how he still has a job. This man was supposed to be the savior of Warhammer’s vision and design. Now all he can do is promote his strange ideas about his little secret project web Ultima game that’s been almost universally criticized by all of us and focus groups. What’s that? You didn’t know Paul loves one of those old Ultima games sooooo much he’s making a literal copy of it for Facebook? Well, the cats outta the bag. Too bad it sucks ass.

I’m…guessing Louse doesn’t share Paul Barnett’s love of Ultima, which isn’t to her credit by any means.

Anyhow, this isn’t really a geniune “cat out of the bag” moment; Barnett has dropped hints about “his version” of Ultima 4 on e.g. the Ultima Facebook page, and LOAF points out that he has also tweeted about it a few times. He’s contacted me with details about it; at some point, I’ll get his blessing to talk about them in greater detail.

But there’s the long and short of it: Paul Barnett has a small team at BioWare Mythic working on a browser-based Ultima game. And no, it’s not another Lord of Ultima; it’s the real deal, a full-on RPG. I’ve seen some of the artwork that will accompany and be used to promote the game; it’s impressive, and despite its modern flair it manages to capture some essential elements of what could be called “classic Ultima.”

My saying as much will probably make some Ultima fans balk, roll their eyes, or otherwise scowl and wonder whether EA is just willing to let its various studios savage and abuse the good name of Ultima with reckless abandon. It’s an understandable sentiment; we got burned by EA Phenomic, after all. But let me just stick my neck out here and say that what’s happening here, under Paul Barnett’s supervision, is not going to be a cheap exploitation of a classic gaming franchise.

Largely, that is because it’s Paul Barnett that is heading it up. I’ve spoken with the man, I’ve traded emails with him, and I’ve spoken with and/or emailed others who have met him in person, and the impression every one of us has been left is that this “crazy British dude” is the real deal as far as Ultima, and indeed all things Origin, is concerned. Mythic may have inherited the Ultima IP and Origin’s trove of stuff and library of software, but Paul Barnett somehow managed to snag a piece of Origin’s soul, and carries it around next to his own. As LOAF remarks, he “gets us”. He’s given the folks at the CIC, and Joe Garrity of the Origin Museum, unique access to every piece of Origin history he can; he’s reached out to me and to others because he wants “his” Ultima to be an Ultima. I dropped a simple suggestion to him involving the use of DOSbox to publish the old Ultima titles, and he has picked it up and run with it like a true champion.

Yeah, he’s a bit nuts. So what? He’s nuts for the right reasons, and the results have already been impressive; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mythic’s latest Ultima Online expansion, Stygian Abyss, brought back the “classic” gump-based character/inventory interface, and also featured some glimpses of “classic Ultima” in its world maps (e.g. the first level of the Abyss, or Ter Mur…the Gargoyle Lands).

This is the guy we want to have looking after Ultima-related development. You know why? Because he listens. Yes, he directs and gives orders to his staff, including (until recently) people like EA Louse; he’s Mythic’s creative director…it’s his job. But he also listens…to us, to the people he wants to see play his games.

Update: Welcome, Quarter to Three readers, Horizons Tavern readers, and GamersGlobal readers!

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