Massively’s story features little in the way of direct quotes, and is more of an amusing retelling of the story that Barnett related in Austin.
With social media entering the scene, he decided that was the direction he would go with his chicken and his spoon.
Not everyone on his small team trusted the decision, though, so he had to come up with a project that people could get on board with, and that project was Ultima. There were two Ultima games that were under consideration: Ultima VII and Ultima IV. In the end, he went with Ultima IV, a game that Barnett considers the first grown-up Ultima. It was a fully realized world with great ideas about virtues and being a good person. Initially, the devs did not have the luxury of being able to consult with Richard Garriott, so they had to seek outside help for reimagining the game. Also, because the team was so small and the budget so limited, everyone on the team had to pitch in with every job.
Just as things seemed to be falling into place, there was a hitch: BioWare was added right in the middle of development. Barnett’s team had been busy working on dungeons and world maps, but the game was largely an open-ended world, and BioWare is all about story. He had a moment of panic as he tried to find a way to prove that his crew understood story.
He essentially rebooted the entire game, which really put the team under the gun and their future constantly in doubt. Former BioWare CEO Ray Muzyka stopped by first, and the team members had to convince him to love them. Instead, they gave him food poisoning from a sandwich he ate at the studio, but their apology video seemed to repair the damage and Muzyka supported the project.
The Verge, meanwhile, fills in some context on that “chicken and spoon” remark:
…before BioWare Mythic could begin developing Ultima Forever (a free-to-play remake of Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar), the team had to decide which game they were going to make. Barnett explained that the studio had complete freedom to choose their venture, but limited resources; he frequently referred to his company’s assets as being limited to merely “a chicken, and a spoon.”
Four games in the series sprung to Barnett’s mind once that first decision was made, but two — Ultima Underworld and Ultima Online — were blackballed relatively quickly, due to the fact that remaking them would “cost a fortune.” Only two games remained for BioWare Mythic to debate over: Ultima 4, and Ultima 7.
Both had their appeal, Barnett said, but the decision ultimately came down to BioWare Mythic’s limited resources and technical team.
“As a result, I went back to our head coder, and I said, ‘Okay, Ultima 7: simulation. Ultima 4: stimulation,’” Barnett said. “And he said, ‘What have you got?’ And I said, ‘A chicken, and a spoon.’ And he said, ‘Okay, four it is.’”
This is a re-affirmation of a point that’s been made by myself and a couple of others before: Ultima Forever from its inception has been put together on a threadbare budget and spartan resources. It hasn’t enjoyed robust support within Electronic Arts, although it seems to have had a friend in Ray Muzyka despite the…rocky introduction to the project that he got. It is very much the work of a small team of people who really just want a bit more Ultima in the world. And not in the sense of another Lord of Ultima.
Granted, that’s no promise that they will succeed. But I think it’s an argument that there’s hope for the project. We, as fans, can quibble about its art style or the platform(s) it will see release on and what that means, but I think it’s beyond dispute that the team making the game have their hearts and minds in the right place, and I think it’s reasonable to assert that the game should be given a chance, and a try, for that reason.