Table of contents
- Production history of Ultima IX
- The very original Ultima IX
- The next design
- New engine
- The unfinished game hit the shelves
- Bob White plot
- Fan-made patches
- Unused maps
Production history of Ultima IX
Ultima IX was in development for 5 years. The “Ultima Ascension” game from 1999 we grew to love, is nothing but the result of a long seriesof changes made to the very original ideas.
The reason for these many modifications to the Ultima 9 project were major changes to the development team and the sudden change of the engine. New team members brought new ideas, and in the end, the finished game had nothing to do with the original plans from 1995.
The very original Ultima IX
Not much is known about this first design for Ultima 9. Legend has it that it should have taken place at the Guardian’s homeworld. (Which shows the the ending of Ultima 8 in a different light.) The plot should have been about the Avatar fighting the Guardian with his ethereal powers from Pagan; quite interesting. However, Richard Garriott realized that the fans wanted a comeback to good old Britannia, so this original design was scrapped. Since the plan had supposedlyalso been to do a jump’n run game even more action-driven than Ultima 8, it was most likely a good decision.
The next design
This is what people usually refer to when talking about the “original Ultima 9”. Around 1997, some Ultima 9 screenshots were published. They showed us the famous isometric 3D engine Origin originally wanted to use for the game:
Shortly after this, the entire Ultima IX team was moved to Ultima Online.A pity.
When the team returned to Ultima IX, a new technology had evolved: 3D accelerators. As Ultima had always been at the edge of computer gaming technology, Ultima IX wasn’t supposed to be an exception.
The original isometric engine was scrapped and a new full 3D engine was made. There were again new screenshots around (which viewed many rendered cutscenes, too):
Screenshots of places like Castle British or Moonglow, and people like Jaana or Blackthorn made the fans excited. Almost everyone believed that this would definitely be a comeback to good old Britannia and stay true to the series.
Maybe it would have been an awesome game, but we all know that history took a different course: The dreams were shattered. Note however, that this design of Ultima IX would apparently have been a very linear game as well, not to mention the fixed Avatar character. There would probably have been flaws and problems similar to the final game, though not as hard, of course.
The unfinished game hit the shelves
In early 1999, there were again changes made to the team, and EA set Origin a deadline for the game. That was the point when everything went down the hill. There were major changes made to the plot (because it wasn’t possible to implement the original plot into the 3D engine without much more work), and the engine was left hilariously buggy in many places. When the game was released in late 1999, it became infamous for its many bugs. But not only the engine was buggy; the plot, the characters, and the dialogues were left unfinished as well.
The fans were shocked and everyone wondered what had become of the great game that Ultima IX should have been.
Bob White plot
Some time after the fiasco, the “Bob White plot” was posted at Ultima Horizons. It was reputed by very reliable sources to be the original plot of Ultima IX, i.e. the plot from around 1998, when Bob White was lead designer for the game.
Fortunately, the fan community got active. Several patches were made for the game, not only fixing 3D performance problems, but also the game’s economy and dialogues. Find more information and download the patches at The Reconstruction.
Origin had realized that they could not implement this plot into their engine in time due to EA’s deadline, so they had to cut almost everything and create the simple actual Ascension plot in the shortest amount of time possible. You must also bear in mind that the Origin that released Ascension was not the same company who made Ultima 7: Serpent Isle.
Only two of the developers were still old school: Richard Garriott and Herman Miller; the rest consisted of new develepors who didn’t even know the history of Ultima and had different ideas about Ultima in general. Richard Garriott was lead designer, of course, but at that time, he was rather involved in company policy issues than the actual design of the game. So it’s actually no surprise how little of the “Ultima spirit” was left in the game.
I have collected a few examples for remnants of the original Ultima IX in the finished game.