Part of my credo of getting into research in a big way is starting to dig up materials that nobody has yet researched. I just got a big lump of new stuff from Alex Smith who runs They Create Worlds and I thought it’d be a good idea to share some of the stuff I’ve found on my own that doesn’t appear to be any place else. This will be called Selects, posts dedicated to sharing interesting or useful materials I’ve come across.
I’m currently living in Chicago, right next to the Harold Washington Library, so I have access to one of the most diverse and massive collections available in the country. On top of that I’m also a student so I can order in things to university libraries, from which I’ve found some of the more interesting stuff. I’ve been using the University of Michigan’s database to search for terms, as I don’t normally just comb through books hoping to find things, and I would be more than happy to help someone out if they want to go forward on research.
Anyways, let’s get to the Selects. First up is the first issue of Recreational Computing, a magazine put out by the famous People’s Computer Company out of Menlo Park, California. I say it’s the first issue, but in truth it’s a rebranding of their former magazine “People’s Computers” which had been going on for a long while before that point. I don’t know why the name change occurred; ultimately it lasted up to at least 1981 under the new name.
This first issue is the January/February 1979 issue and there’s a heavy emphasis on artificial intelligence. There’s both BASIC printings and lots of theoretical discussion about how far computers can be programmed to understand human behavior.
There’s not much strictly of computer games interest (check pages 46, 52, and 60), but there is a program written by Steve Perrin, the creator of the tabletop RPG Runequest, used to assist in playing the role-playing game. This was a very popular way to use computers in the early days, with people like Jon Conneley of Automated Simulations using it as a jumping-off point for software development.
This Runequest assist is not a stand-alone game, though I find it very interesting to see how the tabletop and home computer cultures started to meet each other. There’s more discussed about it in later issues like the March/April issue and May/June issue (though I only took partial pictures). Please note that these were taken off of microfilm, as that’s the only format I know of this publication existing in, so interstitial detail will be lost.
The following pieces are not scans, but rather hacked translations. These interviews are all available on the Internet Archive and I just thought it would be useful to Google Translate them with some slight edits. All of them relate to game company known as Looking Glass Studios (or Looking Glass Technologies or Blue Sky Productions, as they were sometimes known) which I have a very heavy interest in.
This first interview is fully available on the Internet Archive in the May 1994 issue of the German gaming magazine Power Play, conducted with designer/programmer Doug Church about the original System Shock. While some believe that Doug Church doesn’t give many interviews, the ones he has given are very thorough and I think are very quintessential in terms of the mindset of developers in that period. You’ll understand that when you read this one, which provides a ton of great details on the founding of Blue Sky Software, the merger into Looking Glass, and the production of System Shock on all levels.
Ultima Underworld was one of the most innovative programs of recent years. We asked Chief programmer Doug Church for a detailed conversation. We chatted about the new System Shock and the hard business of the game development.
“Blue Sky Productions” started out with a project that changed the world of computer games: one was Ultima Underworld – the program that makes the monitor a gateway to another, very real world.
At the same time – on the other side of Jockey America – “Lerner Research” began work on F-22, the first 3-D simulation for the cartridge market.
Both companies worked together for many years, using common technology and resources to set milestones in two genres: Underworld, famous for its scrolling dungeons, and F-22, as well known for its panorama view. The partnership of both development companies was also responsible for games like Madden ’93 (the most successful sports game in the history of Electronic Arts), Car & Driver, and Chuck Yeager’s Flight Trainer.
In August 1992 “Blue Sky” and “Lerner Research” officially joined to form “Looking Glass Technologies”. The development team of “Lerner Research” moved to Lexington, Massachusetts – and today the co-worker development area has grown to 23 permanent employees and dozens of freelancers.
In ’93 alone, the income of Looking Glass exceeded three million dollars. This commercial success made the new foundation one of the largest independent development companies in the United States.
Despite a positive balance in all areas, Looking Glass will face a new challenge in the autumn of ’94 and loose its traditionally close ties to Origin Systems: The company will, in the future, bring out and sell its own products.
In Origin’s science-fiction adventure System Shock, which is likely to be released in May ’94, Looking Glass is blinding the world with a so-called “6-D” remake, which combines the impressive 3-D technology of Underworld and F-22 with very a realistic world. For the first time in the history of computer games, the way a player looks at an object will have effects on the outcome of the adventure. A combination of realistic elements and head movements, in addition to constantly changing music, serves to increase the realistic pressure and the tension of the game.
“We want the player to be fully exploited in their game world,” says Doug Church, System Shock’s Project Manager and Chief Programmer. Church comes from the old-established Blue Sky team (he worked on Ultima Underworld, among others) and has been with Looking Glass since the merger. “We want the player to be involved with all his senses in the game. He should not only ask himself what is waiting for him behind the next corner, but he is also interested in the floor and walls as a rarity in this world. In System Shock, we have managed to portray the environment so realistically that the player “dips” completely into the game. The story has a lot to do with his attention to every detail.”
Power Play: What are the latest projects at Looking Glass and what is planned for the brighter future?
Doug Church: We are currently working on various projects. The most powerful thing to come out on the market is System Sock, a brand-new 3-D game that is set in a distant future on a distended space station.The player wakes up aboard this station and finds that all other residents have been killed by a mysterious accident – or even worse.In order to get to the commandos, the usual levers must be pulled, crates searched and various creatures should be bypassed or eliminated. Security cameras must be destroyed; You can jump over deep crevices, read messages on monitors, and fake secure doors. The player can creep to avoid enemy bombardment; he can look around corners, take a look at 100-foot-deep abysses, climb ladders, and climb down and walk over bridges.
Power Play: You use a so-called 6-D engine in your new game, what do you mean exactly?
Doug: 6-D means: There are three movement dimensions and an additional three dimensions of player orientation. The goal is to make all possible movements or actions actually realizable.In System Shock, there are irregular walls and floors, different heights, various light sources, which can be viewed from the most varied positions and viewing angles. This creates remarkable and sometimes even claustrophobic new scenes and environments.
Power Play: Are there any other products under development?
Doug: Of course. However, at the moment I am not allowed to say anything concrete – except, of course, that they will be groundbreaking…
Power Play: What can we expect from the most powerful part of Underworld? Will there ever be a continuation after your lottery of Origin?
Doug: It all depends on what Origin offers. We are very interested in a new fantasy RPG and have a lot of usable ideas. But just as the product is now called in effect and exactly when it is made, there are at the moment still certain uncertainties. We just want to do it, there are some rough designs, but we just want to avoid changing System Shock easily. Christmas ’95 would therefore be the earliest date for a new fantasy game, be it Underworld 3 or something else.
Power Play: Why do you want to bring out your own games rather than with Origin and Electronic Arts?
Doug: Only when you publish yourself is you really independent. You can freely decide what you want to do when. In the past, we were often convincing the publishers that we really know what we’re doing, that the game is a success, etc. Now we just have to make sure that a project is worthwhile – which will be lighter and less nerve-wracking.
Power Play: If Looking Glass is now a publisher, do you plan to transfer the development to freelance teams?
Doug: We will, of course, stay in touch with the teams and companies whose work is already of interest to us. As I have already said, it is our goal to have greater freedom in the decision-making process. As a developer, you are often frustrated with working with a publisher because you have almost no personal contact. However, since we have only been “on the other side” until recently, we will be able to hopefully improve the relationships with our developers and remain open to new ideas.
Power Play: What made Looking Glass especially famous was the 3-D engine, which was previously used for other branches of industry. How did you get the idea to use this technique in games?
Doug: Our company history is closely linked to simulations – the interest for role-playing games was present from the beginning. So we tried to blend the intensity, appearance and speed of the simulations with the story and the character elements of a role-playing game. With Ultima Underworld, we have embarked on new paths, e.g. With the automapping, which one could supplement itself or the objects, were not found exactly in the middle of a square. We wanted things like irregular walls, different heights, water, bridges, etc., which so far were not found in such games. The goal was to connect the “you are here” feeling – a feeling of a simulation with the reality of a role-playing game story. The player can use all of these elements to do all he can, just what we expect from him.
Power Play: Did you think from the outset that the idea could be put into practice?
Doug: Two of our programmers spent the month of May 1990 programming a demo, which we then showed Origin at the Chicago CES in June. Although it was still quite primitive – it had walls with textures and diagonal gait, but no light, no curved walls, no possibility to look up and down – it was a success. It had a “tile editor”; So you could change the wall textures and move around between them. When we saw how fast it was, we slowly began to believe in the realization of this basic idea. Every now and then there was a jerk, but on the whole we were convinced at the time of the feasibility.
Power Play: At the time of the development, did you consider how the game scene would react to the new engine?
Doug: We were totally thrilled about how realistic our game was in contrast to role-playing games without simulation elements. Even during the last test run before delivery, we had fun running around in our self-created world, avoiding monsters, fighting, etc. So we thought: If we have not been so sorry, the players had to have fun.
On occasion, we also showed our friends our pre-release versions and got positive responses – although one of the first comments I can remember was, “Hey, if I throw my torch into this column, the ground will not be illuminated!”Origin was, however, in the first 14 months, very reserved – which the mood has already printed a little. Our biggest worry at the time was that simulation freaks hated the game because of the role-playing elements, while swiftly rebelled players refused it because it was not a “dice competition” but a game with interaction and movement. In fact, we have also received such reactions ourselves. Some people claimed Ultima Underworld was just Dungeon Master with more movement etc., etc.Most people, however, seemed to understand what we were doing and enjoyed it, so we were satisfied. Of course one would like his game to please everyone, but the reactions – especially in Europe – were overwhelmingly positive and even people who have rejected Ultima Underworld draw it as the benchmark for new releases.
Power Play: After this release, many companies have tried to equal you. Did you expect that?
Doug: Because we knew how many times Dungeon Master had been copied, we expected this effect – even if it was a commercial success – at Ultima Underworld. Origin has a long tradition in bringing out innovative games, which are then immediately cloned by almost everyone – whether it’s Ultima-style Tilemaps or mixtures of cut-scenes and action as in Wing Commander.We even hoped that Ultima would be so good that these reactions follow. The only thing I can really get rid of when someone plays such a clone and then says something like, “Look at this auto-mapping – you can write on it – what a great idea”, as if it were a brand new idea…
Besides, I have not seen a game of this kind that has the curved walls or the up and down vision option. At the moment, we are planning an upgrade version that can do even more: Different lighting depending on the environment, even more different terrains, the option of crawling and leaning, etc. We see that people copy us – but they are not necessarily fast.
Power Play: Is the engine used in System Shock is something like the evolution of Ultima Underworld or something completely new?
Doug: Actually something completely different. Ultima Underworld we have almost exclusively programmed in 16-bit code with today’s outdated tools. When we decided to make the new 36-bit game, we realized we needed a brand new editor and renderer. But, of course, one builds upon what one has learned or not learned in the procession. We have got some problems from Underworld in System Shock under control.
Power Play: During the development of a new product, the whole industry can be confused; A problem with which Looking Glass never had to do before…
Doug: That’s probably because we’ve always worked on projects that others have thought unrealizable. So we have always looked at the new hardware developments that could help us solve the specific problems. In the way one remains more open and flexible for the hardware area and is itself a piece ahead. We have always got a solution in case the hardware gets faster and better.
PowerPlay: What do you think of the latest developments in the hardware sector? What does that say about the game market?
Doug: The Pentium is wonderfully wonderful – assuming it is affordable for a broader audience.Faster processors not only allow programmers to use even more complex and realistic graphics, they also give the artists an even more powerful tool to create the cut scenes and backgrounds. CD-ROM has its light and shadow pages. The storage capacity in relation to the intermediate sequences is, of course, to be considered as a positive factor. On the other hand, the great pressure on the immovable companies, which must all go into the high-resolution area.
We are already trying to get our things fully interactive and to run in SVGA graphics. The CD-ROM drives are still somewhat slow; We have to keep our games so as to be faster and bigger machines that will surely come in the two most years.If the 3DO had more memory it would be more useful; Besides, the slowness is also stifling here. Something like Underworld would be almost unthinkable for the 3DO: the different textures in each level, plus 20, 30 characters, would require a long load time, which would distract considerably from the game.
RISC architectures and similar systems are quite interesting for us, as much of this code is written in assembler. Basically, we need to know each processor in and out by heart, in order to fully fill and optimize its possibilities.
Power Play: Looking Glass ignores previously established standards when introducing new products. What happens with the 3-D engine when others copy it?
Doug: The 6-D engine, which we are now creating in System Shock, is actually just the beginning. We have two new, completely different product lines, which will be released this fall and have “renderers” that have not been seen before.Furthermore, if we deliver the next part of Underworld, we will be working with a new “outdoor / indoor” engine that will set a new benchmark. We have been planning and designing for a year and are about to be completed. Underworld, therefore, we look almost as a little stained and look forward to the next part.
Power Play: How does it actually take a game to finish?
Doug: Much too long. With a crew of four to eight people about two years, not
counting about 10-15 “man years”, which is for probing and testing. During the actual development period, we work about 70-80 hours a week. With Underworld we had even more work – due to the new features. We have often noticed that something we had just finished was not quite as we had imagined it. So we started again from the beginning. This was e.g. The movement system, the fighting and the general appearance. In addition, the programming of the single level took a long time because, once a level was finished, we had to test it for a few days to see what was wrong.
We wanted to make it as good as possible and still have the feeling that the all time spent was worth it.
Powerplay: How long have the people at Looking Glass actually played computer games?
Doug Church: Almost all programmers with us are between 20 and 25 years old. Of these, one can call the half as real games freaks – the other half just have fun working with computers, for which games were originally not made. Almost all the people from our team have been working with computers at school – although most of them have academic degrees in mathematics and physics, not necessarily in computer science. I myself started programming for money at 14, only in the summer holidays, then full time. For others at Looking Glass it is their first real job. A computer company naturally attracts former hackers and game enthusiasts who are interested in computers. Many of us have started with “Dungeons and Dragons” and are even today still enthusiastic role-playing gamers. Some prefer tabletop role-playing games games, others play the card game “Magic”, and others are fans of the NHLPA-hockey game on the Mega Drive. The first game I’ve ever programmed was a scrolling ski game in BASIC. Players had to go through the gates without touching trees.
Power Play: What three words do you describe working with Looking Glass?
Doug: Embrace the mess…
Power Play: What is your typical working day?
Doug: Usually, the first people appear just before nine in the morning; The last say goodbye – or take a nap on our office floor – between two and six o’clock at night.
Now that we are a relatively large team with 20 people, it is no longer necessary to let the entire workforce work through the night when deadlines are coming. Previously, such night shifts were a little too frequent. We want people to work when they feel productive and concentrated. To program a game is work that requires a lot of creativity – if you are not quite in the matter, nothing good comes out of it. We leave our programmers the freedom to enter the office, if they feel creative and have fun with the matter. If this is often the case with someone, the better, if not, well. Towards the end, it’s a bit hard to concentrate – it’s not particularly inspiring when you have to bump around 14 hours a day. In the normal course of the day, there are almost daily project meetings or other meetings, which discuss technical or game-specific questions. We have a lot of stereo equipment in our office rooms and there is almost continuous music. We also have a table-top table, which is almost constantly occupied. Every now and then we go for lunch together and then make a small detour to the next software store. Design and planning of a game takes place in small groups of two or three people. Our company is still small enough, so that everyone knows what the other is doing. For this reason, the communication is excellent – even between people who work on different projects.
Power Play: The products that came from Looking Glass have always been successful. Is there anything you have done differently today?
Doug: Our projects simply take too long, which is annoying, because the planning of the next enterprise is completely mixed.What disappoints us is, of course, are comments from someone who did not like or did not understand a particular game. If you invest so much time and effort into a game, it hurts a bit.But on the whole we have no reason to complain. We have had a lot of positive reactions and although everything is always a bit chaotic, we have been able to carry out ambitious projects. It would be great, of course, if everything went off smoothly and we had lots of money and free time – but with it nobody seriously expects…
Power Play: How many people work directly on a specific project?
Doug: Six to ten people work on a game for the PC, with a gain of ten in the final phase.The composition depends on the project itself and on its development stage. We must always redistribute our extra forces so that we can meet the most varied deadlines.
Power Play: What is the ultimate goal when you program a game?
Doug: We specifically target the player who goes to a store, buys the game, and then plays and plays at home. The top principle is for us that he does not feel lost and really should understand the game in order to have joy. This is the guideline for user traffic, game options, appearance of the game, actually for everything. The player should not feel deceived if something does not work or is not present. The question: “What does the player feel and feels in this situation” plays a major role in programming.
Power Play: What are the most beautiful and worst sites in your job?
Doug: Let’s start with the “sunny pages”: Compromises in design and scope are always reluctant. What is also unpleasant is the fact that one often has to postpone new possibilities to the next project. We always have improvements and new elements, but if we wanted to bring all these ideas into the running project, the game was not finished by the year 2000. Nevertheless, it remains an unpleasant job to decide which scenes to take out so that the game fits the diskette…
The most beautiful side of this job is actually to find the problems that are emerging and solving solutions. You can see how the game develops, becomes more complex. And, of course, the first few weeks after the release of a game are immensely exciting: you get reactions from different people and notice what attracts them, what they particularly liked, and so on.
Power Play: How do you celebrate the appearance of a new product?
Doug: We all sleep well again…
Power Play: Thousands of game enthusiasts are keen to make their living off of programming. How do they achieve this goal?
Doug: There are five essential prerequisites to be fulfilled.First: Stay alert and interested in something related to computer entertainment.Second: Be able to explain how a computer works. You can not program a good game if you have no idea what a computer can or can not do.
Third, consider a specific concept for a game. If someone asks you, you should be able to give your thoughts about your ideas. The people who came to us with the comment: “I would like to work with you because I am paid for playing games”, we did not even call back. I myself have, for example, About 50 games are lying on the desk, but are still about 20 original packed. The others I play for ten minutes, to orient myself and then left them mostly left. It is very important that you take the player’s perspective and learn how to judge games from their development point of view.Fourth: Imagine a lot of frustration, even if you find a job in the industry. Some things just do not develop as you have anticipated.Fifth: Learn to work in a creative team. It is not always possible to get through one’s own head, but must be able to do best in a group in order to achieve things that could not be done alone.
Power Play: When did you come to Looking Glass?
Doug: On the first of May 1990, so at the beginning. I heard from an acquaintance that Paul Neurath founded a company (Blue Sky). The woman of this acquaintance was Paul’s brother-in-law … I still have the yellow sticky note. On it stands: “Paul Neurath. Found game company “- ends with the phone number.
However, we did not have any electricity in the first week, so we can use May 6 as an “official” date for the start of Looking Glass.
Power Play: How do you get the ideas for the game?
Doug: You sit and talk a lot about these things. If we are looking for people for a project, we naturally look for creative and interesting people, who then also apply promptly to us. Much of the story is prescription from the designer, supplemented and criticized by the entire team. The process is repeated several times until we are satisfied with the result.
At Underworld I, however, we had a designer, whose ideas we did not agree with at all. The programmer was forced to stay for several nights and thought of a completely new story. That explains a lot about the story …
But since this story, we are more focused on who makes the design for us. Underworld II was easier because we had full-time designers. This gives you the ability to concentrate more on the plot.
Power Play: Why are there so many fantasy role-playing games and so little in the way of science fiction?Doug: It’s much easier to invent a believable story in a fantasy environment than in a science-fiction setting. In a fantasy story, your village burns off and you have to move on, it’s as simple as that. But if you happen to be in a science fiction story you ask yourself: Why can not you give a warning about the computer network or use one of the new technologies? To prevent such a thing?
Power Play: How did you solve these problems in System Shock?
Doug: In two different ways. First of all, the space station is out of order. Communication to the outside world is no longer present. The situation is so that many of the high-tech solutions are simply no longer an option. Second, the technology that is still working is solely for the benefit of the player: he can reactivate electronically controlled doors or restore the power supply for certain parts of the station. One can almost say that we have made a head-jump in this problem field rather than bypassing it.
Power Play: What else are you – your favorite programmer and favorite games?
Doug: I have not yet put myself on this list, so far, but I’m working on it.
At the moment, I’ve been thinking: Jeff Tunnell – The Incredible Machine, Ron Gilbert for Monkey Island and Putt Putt, Jim Simmons’ Madden ’93, NHL for Sega and Richard Garriott for the Ultimas without “Underworld”. Of course, I also like some of the old Infocom veterans and the original team of Wizardry 1.
Power Play: The famous question: If you were left on a deserted island, what games were you going to take with you?
Doug: Definitely The Incredible Machine, NHLPA ’94 and a Frisbee. And a beta copy of the game we’re working on. My colleagues liked Star Control 2 as well, also Civilization and Railroad Tycoon enjoyed great popularity in the office. We also have fans of the LucasArts Adventures Monkey Island, Sam and Max and Day of the Tentacle, but I think they are not suitable for solitary islands if you do not know if you will return. Some people have not finished with Serpent Isle yet, so they took it with them.If it is otherwise a lonely island without a phone, I take a compiler and a Text editor with and still do some remaining work, I believe …
Here’s an earlier interview in the January 1993 issue of Power Play, a preview for Ultima Underworld II and an interview with Warren Spector. He briefly mentions some unreleased games like World of Ultima: Arthurian Legends and Ultima 10.
Ultima Underworld was undoubtedly one of the most innovative and beautiful programs of the past year. Spectacular 3-D graphics, simple controls, and a rich fantasy story made The Stygian Abyss a favorite at home and at the editorial office. The good news for all the underworld: The second part may be even better than the first. We had a great time to convince ourselves at Origin of the impressive advances of the new 3-D trip to Britannia.
In the Crystal
The background story, of course, guru Richard Garriott is personally responsible for. Sixteen months have passed since the destruction of the Blackgate in Ultima 7. Slowly, life in Britannia begins to normalize and the bewildered population comes to rest again. Great time for a great celebration. Lord British invites the country’s guide to his castle to coordinate the reconstruction work. As soon as the council gathered in the coronation hall, our old friend, the Guardian, slammed again. Lord British’s castle was enclosed in a huge gem. Completely isolated from the outside world, we have to find a way through the huge cellar and dungeon of the castle back to the surface.
On the third floor of the castle you will find a small version of the crystal, which is telephoned and transports you to eight different worlds, divided again into several floors. Ultima Underworld 2 is about twice the size of the first part. In real world measurements, your hero would have to explore more than 70 kilometers of gait and mazes before all the puzzles are solved.
Better, Faster, Farther
Whoever now only expects a spiced infusion of the first part, will be quickly corrected. The good cooperation between the development teams of Origin and Blue Sky Productions has borne fruit. While the reworking of the gaming system was done by Blue Sky’s Doug Church, the graphics department at Origin used new, more detailed monsters and objects. The result will not only convince old fans. The viewport of the Underworld world has grown by 30 percent. The mouse pointer has been retained and was more intelligent. It now knows whether we want to pick up an item or take another action. The commands can now be entered via the save icon bar or directly with the two keys. Our pixel-ego reacts even more quickly to the different challenges in the underground of Britannia. There is a lot of new features to make sure there is no end of excitement. For example, a stream was missed by the underground river. If you do not stalk with your legs, you will be sucked mercilessly into the next whirlwind and disappear again or reappear in another place.
Some floors are completely icy. If you lean around the next corner with too much momentum, you’ll break straight into the next wall or collides with a monster. In addition, in the skilift: there were slides, which drove to new floors. Blocks that catapult you into other spaces and dangerous whirlpools in the water.
Beautiful New World
A lot of value has been placed on the varied graphics. No easy task for eight worlds. You can browse through frosty ice worlds or get bubbles in your fire. Anyone who goes further into the underworld comes across a psychedelically colorful dreamland or bruises in the “Futureland”. Especially off-hook: Below you will find a 3-D segment from Ultima 1. Black-and-white vector graphics and ugly animated dashes will doubt the mind and show the development of the computer games over the last ten years, someone who was somewhat disappointed by the monster graphics in the first part, can go now without problems running near them. At the time of the coarse pixels, the characters are also more detailed and fine-tuned. The rooms and corridors are packed with moving parts and objects of all kinds. A few new skills and spells round off the adventure.
The vermouth drop: Without a fast 386 computer with 33 MHz you only half the pleasure. You can lower the detail level, unfortunately, but then it becomes a bit abstract. The exact release date has not yet been fixed, so we still have to be patient until the new year.
Warren Spector, a longtime producer, is not only the producer of Ultima Underworld 2, but also takes care of the design and story of the new Ultima-7-part 2: The Serpent Isle. We had the opportunity to talk.
PP: Warren, was it really necessary to split Ultima 7 into two parts and a data disk?
Spector: This has made us think for a long time, but it was not easy to squeeze the whole story into a program. Since we will change perspective in Ultima 8, no other solution was possible because we wanted to close the Guardian story before then.
PP: Hopefully the second part of Ultima 7 is then without “bugs”.
Spector: Since we have more time left, everything should now go smoothly through the final stages.
PP: What will change in part 8?
Spector: In any case, we will vary the angle of view. In the current game there are still some dead angles behind walls and houses. In Ultima 8 and 9 the visibility is isometric and therefore the individual sprites are about twice as large as in Ultima 7.
PP: Do you plan to incorporate a three-dimensional view? So a combination of Underworid and Ultima?
Spector: We thought about it and finally decided against it. Many players have grown up with the Ultima series by Richard. It just did not fit into the tradition of the story, now to incorporate more influences from Underworld Underworld. Both game series are to remain independent.
PP: What can we expect for the further development of the series?
Spector: If development continues, Ultima 10, which is already in the planning stage and will be released in about two years, will be built with virtual reality technology. The prices for stereoscopic sight gauges and data gloves will fall so far that every player can go directly into the action. Ideas are not lacking in any case, we will pick up everything that is technically feasible.
PP: Will you continue to work with “Blue Sky Productions”?
Spector: In any case. Doug Church and Paul Neurath are awesome. I have rarely worked with such competent and creative people. The Underworld series is certainly developed by them and is very technically advanced, as you could see for yourself.
PP: What else can role-playing gamers next year expect from you?Spector: If all goes well, we’ll have part three of Underworld, part eight of the Ultima series and a new adventure from the World of Ultima series. In the solo adventure of Arthurian Legends, you fight as a knight of the Round Table for the succession of King Arthur. Since we do without a multi-headed party, we can grow enormously in the animations. Our knight will be similarly animated as the hero sprite from the skill game Prince of Persia move through England.
Next is a shorter one right on the edge of the company’s collapse with a couple of different sections. It’s from the December 1999 issue of PC Player magazine (again, German) and discusses the company’s founding from Paul Neurath’s perspective (with a fair number of errors). First will be the main article, then a small interview section with Neurath, then two small blurbs that appear on the first page of the article (the other tiny snippets and captions aren’t worth translating, I think).
Garriott, Neurath, Roberts, Romero: A Team!What happens to a studying geologist who cannot find a job? He develops games. In the case of Paul Neurath, the title was “Deep Space”, which was published by Sir-Tech-Software in 1984. At this time one could not celebrate great success with entertainment products for the Apple II. In the freshly packed packets with photocopied instructions usually hardly arouse interest in the media. Nonetheless, insiders were quickly attracted to the newcomer Neurath and hired him for various projects. Among these insiders was a young designer from Texas, whose company had the first real successes in the still young branch. The company was Origin, the designer was Richard Garriott. At that time Origin still resided in New Hampshire, not two cars from Neurath’s hometown Boston. Garriott was able to win him as a freelancer for his team, which at that time consisted of famous figures such as Chris Roberts, Todd Porter, and a milk-faced tester and part-time programmer named John Romero. The end result was “Space Rogue”, one of the early Origin hits. In this time, in the mid-eighties, each designer practically produced his own project. Neurath likes to admit that a small part of the program code for Space Rogue came from John Romero.
Blue Sky SoftwareOrigins homeland-based Texans moved back to Austin in 1989, but Neurath remained on the east coast. Origin, however, did not want to lose such a good man and therefore he was charged with the development of “Ultima Underworld”. Actually, it would have been a normal role-playing game with a new world. The idea to settle it in the Ultima universe came from Neurath and was quickly accepted by Origin. The result was the founding of Blue Sky Software, the predecessor of Looking Glass. Two years later it turned out that already another software company bore this name and so the renaming took place in Looking Glass Studios. It is therefore quite fair to say that Looking Glass has existed for nine years.
Boston is certainly a nice city, but had a deciding disadvantage: no experienced game programmers. Neurath made a team for Ultima Underworld, which consisted mainly of greenhorns, which came fresh from the university. However, the routination effort was quickly compensated for by unrestrained enthusiasm. In addition, Origin, the Looking Glass team, supported Warren Spector as a producer to raise the experience factor. “Ultima Underworld 1: The Stygian Abyss” was the first role-playing game in a real 3D environment and quickly became a bestseller. Likewise the successor “World of Labyrinths”. Two hits in succession now made Electronic Arts aware of the small company and commissioned it with the partial development of a flight simulator. The result was “Chuck Yeager’s Flight Trainer”, from which EA was able to sell 300,000 copies.
The real shock: Sales figures! With a shamefully weak marketing campaign, Origin published 1994 a further Looking Glass product, which now enjoys cult status. Our colleagues from the American PC Gamer placed the title in their latest edition on number 5 (pushed down a space by the new leader “Half-Life”) in their annual list of the best PC games of all time. The talk is of course “System Shock”, in which the player had to infiltrate the space station Citadel.
Neurath and his men, of which Doug Church could be established as a real figure, had now had enough of the sparse existence of a third-party developer, especially the fact that their games brought millions in for other companies. In the future they wanted to establish themselves as publishers with their own titles under their own logo. The first two games were “Terranova: Strike Force Centauri” and “Flight Unlimited”. However, there was no great financial success, particularly due to the extremely high system requirements of the two products. However, they sold well enough to secure the continued existence of the company in the long term. Meanwhile, for the rest of the industry, the era of 3D shooter led by “Doom” and “Quake”. This genre, with whose invention Looking Glass had pioneered, was suddenly dominated by other companies.
Paul Neurath: But quickly recognized the limits of this new mania and that stupid shoots on a pack of semi-idiotic monsters would eventually get the nerves of the most patient action fan. The game principle needed better actions and puzzles, more unusual characters and more mature artificial intelligence. The work began on “The Dark Project,” originally planned as a medieval adventure game in the post-Arthurian Camelot. The first working title was Dark Camelot, the name Thief came later. After numerous story changes and improvements to the engine “Thief: The Dark Project” finally appeared with almost two years of delay. But a few weeks after the release, it was clear that Looking Glass had finally produced its first own hit.
Finally done!The next coup was already in progress at this time: »System Shock 2«. The title, published just a few months ago, has already attracted over half a million enthusiastic buyers. Amazingly, considering that the majority of the new generation of players know the original only from the listening day. Shortly thereafter followed the third part of the Flight-Unlimited series.
In the future, the focus will be on the continuation of success stories. “Thief Gold” should be on sale at the time of this edition, and “Thief 2: Metal Age” will be released next year. The Flight Unlimited series is gaining martial growth in the form of the military flight simulator »Flight Combat: Thunder over Europe«. Also for System Shock 2 a gold version and a third part are to be developed. Several new projects are currently in the early stages of development.
Paul Neurath now has more than 90 employees in two offices. Next to the headquarters in Boston, an office was opened in Redmond, right next to Microsoft. There you focus mainly on the implementation of PC titles for Nintendo consoles.Logical heritage?Origin wants, as one learned, only still online games produce. Electronic Arts, Origins mother company, holds large pieces on Looking Glass and has already issued an Origin License – System Shock – at Looking Glass. It would therefore be conceivable that this trend will continue. Why should a profit-oriented company such as EA voluntarily forego future revenues from Ultima solo titles? And who would be better able to continue the solo aspect than Looking Glass? Pure speculation, but a quite conceivable scenario.
Paul Neurath Interview:
PC Player: You’ve been a game developer since the early 1980s, and one of the industry’s most senior designers alongside Richard Garriott. What has changed in this time?
Paul Neurath: First of all, we are at a point where we can produce games without having to pay attention to the system requirements. PCs have now enough computer power and 3D maps enable graphically challenging game environments and sophisticated Kl. What has also changed, of course, is the number of employees. When I started, the companies were founded by good friends or families, like the Brothers Sirotek (Sir Tech), Garriott (Origin), the couple Williams (Sierra) or Broderbund.
PC Player: System Shock has today cult status, but was then clearly surpassed by Doom. How did it happen that two companies were working on a whole new genre at the same time? Industry pioneering or coincidence?
Paul: I would not accuse Id Software by any means of industrial pioneering. One has to bear in mind that the contact between the few designers that existed at the time was much closer than today. I also worked with John Romero in the past. I also remember that he played Ultima Underworld at CES 1991. He had a mate, whose name was John Carmack. They were particularly impressed with 3D texture mapping. Carmack said, “I can do that, too.” And just a few months after Ultima Underworld Wolfenstein 3D was released. He developed his own variant for the representation of texture maps. And it was an action game, while Underworld was a role-playing game.
PC Player: With products such as Terranova and System Shock, Looking Glass was certainly ahead of the competition, technologically and playfully a nose length. Nevertheless, both games did not sell very well. Why?
Paul: At first nobody could believe that you can sell action games. Therefore the marketing support was not particularly great. In addition, the games for the time had very high system requirements and the interfaces were extremely complex and had a steep learning curve. We went with these games a great creative risk and although the reviews were outstanding, the market did not take these products in the form as we imagined.
PC Player: Is System Shock 2 extremely easy to use?
Paul: I think we’ve really managed to create a game with System Shock 2, which is easy to get into, without disappointing the experienced player. The same is true in my opinion for Thief.PC Player: Do you have any secret projects in work that you would like to chatter?Paul: Yes! We have a technology project that belongs to the next generation in the field of game engines. This technology will make future Looking Glass products even more innovative and atmospheric.
Ultima Underworld Petition:Many players are starving a sequel to Ultima Underworld. The website “Through the Looking Glass” (http://www.ttlg.com/cgi-bin/uw3petition/), an excellent and independent source of information for all looking glass products, has over 1500 fans in the past months Series convinces to sign a corresponding petition digitally.
Who is Irrational?: If you are looking at the packaging of System Shock 2 more closely, you will find beside the logos of Looking Glass and Electronic Arts is also Irrational Games. The company, also based in Boston, was founded by four former Looking Glass employees, who were already involved in the first part. Among them is Cheif-designer Ken Levine. Irrational Games programmed a large part of the Dark Engine, with which also Thief was developed.