BioWare Mythic is currently working on a new installment in the Ultima franchise called Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar. It will be a free-to-play game for the PC and iOS platforms, combining BioWare's AAA level of storytelling with the classic Ultima universe. Thing is, this game isn't exactly new -- it's a re-imagining of a classic Ultima title release back when Back To The Future was still in theaters.
"It is Ultima IV," Paul Barnett, creative director at BioWare Mythic, explained to Kotaku in a call. "We've taken Ultima IV, and then we've re-imagined it. We've basically taken the Batman reboot option. The Spider-Man reboot option."
"What we've done is we've picked Ultima IV, and then we've made it so it's small groups of people, three or four people down [in] the dungeon, going through the world of Ultima, going in to see all the famous towns and all the NPCs and the entire world's available," he added.
Released in 1985, Ultima IV ditched the typical hero vs. villain RPG scenario and introduced a complex alignment system based on the Eight Virtues derived from the combinations of the Three Principles of Love, Truth and Courage. Players developed their character into a spiritual leader, focusing on mastering Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Honor, Sacrifice, Spirituality, and Humility.
"Going into hot air balloons and flying over mountain ranges, getting into galleons [and] sailing across the oceans, surviving the great big storms, getting back to sea monsters, going to Stygian Abyss, and then competing to collect the actual Virtues, the eight Virtues that make you a good person, which is why Ultima IV is neat," he said. "[We'll be] doing that by giving you quandaries, actual conversations that you have to solve."
One example would be the player finding money. There's a merchant that lost money -- giving the funds back to him would be the Just thing to do. Yet giving the money to someone who is starving would be the Compassionate thing to do. This is the driving force behind the game: both are good options, and the player must evaluate both, weighing one against the other.
The biggest challenge, Barnett admits, is bringing an ugly old 1985 PC game into the 2010s. He compared the original game to Battleship Potemkin, a 1925 Soviet film that pioneered many techniques that nearly all movies have used since its debut.
"I mean, I'm aware that Battleship Potemkin defined modern cinema, but it's not a great view. You watch it and go, 'it's black and white and a bit crap, I'd rather watch something else.' And that's basically the problem we've been faced with, is how to reimagine and reboot a classic and make it so that there's a new generation that can have an Ultima," he said.
EA and BioWare announced the game on Thursday, revealing that it will offer cross-platform action-RPG gameplay between the PC and iOS devices "so gamers can experience all of the rich and deep RPG elements with friends, wherever and whenever they choose to play." Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is slated to launch later this year although interested Ultima fans can sign up for the closed beta by heading over to the game's official website.
The rest of Paul Barnett's interview with Kotaku can be read here. The remainder of the conversation talks about how the game will generate revenue, and that it's currently in the alpha stage. "It works, it's lovely, it's in polish mode. But I can also tell you the powers that are more powerful than me are deciding when we roll out our beta and our final push," he said.