Warren Spector Speaks From The Abyss
OtherSide Austin Studio Director Warren Spector took a short break from System Shock 3 to share thoughts about the early days of Ultima Underworld development and our plans for Underworld Ascendant.
I’ve been excited about the prospect of a new Underworld game since OtherSide announced they were doing Underworld Ascendant and asked me to provide whatever creative advice I could offer. Recently, the guys in the Boston office asked me if I could recall any memorable moments from the development of the original game. Here are some of them…
My earliest memory is of seeing the original demo of the tech that would one day become Underworld. Paul Neurath was showing off this fully textured, first-person, 3D, real-time game to a bunch of us at Origin. One thing I remember is how blasè they all seemed. By contrast, I was kind of jumping out of my skin – “The World Just Changed! Can’t You Guys See It?” That was all I could think. At that moment, I knew I had to be involved in the project. It took a while for me to get onboard (thanks to a bunch of weirdness at Origin that we don’t need to get into here), but eventually I got to work on the project. That kind of changed my life, if you want to know the truth. My mission in life has always been to recreate the feeling I had playing D&D and telling stories with my friends. Underworld came as close to achieving that goal as any game of its day.
Then there was the development itself. The team was crazy inexperienced and they were just making stuff up as they went along. I don’t even remember how many movement systems and combat systems they did. There was no process, no nothing – just a bunch of guys doing a bunch of stuff until something good came out of it, or work had to be thrown out. Actually, now that I think about it, that may have been the first time I encountered Agile Development! Ooh. Snap!
Anyway, much of the game was developed in the Blue Sky Productions office in New Hampshire but some of the game was developed in Cambridge, Mass. at “the house of ten dumb guys” (aka “Deco Morono”) where a bunch of the team lived together. The first time I visited Deco Morono, I’m pretty sure the team was carrying on a conversation in Old English. If it wasn’t Old English it was some language I sure didn’t understand. Maybe it was some MIT thing… Instead of coffee the guys drank an evil brew of hot Mountain Dew with marshmallows. Or maybe they were just punking me. It was vile. I also remember something about a Chia Pet, but the details are lost in the mists of time.