Robert “Bladed Edge” Kosarko, at Hardcore Gaming 101, has begun publishing a massive Ultima retrospective article series that could just e one of the most lengthy, comprehensive write-ups about the series and its history. He looks at each game in the series, and most of the ports made of each title.
Thus far, his write-up has reached my favourite entry in the series, Ultima 6:
Stepping into the role of dedicated designer for The False Prophet in order to expand the game’s complexity as much as Richard Garriott’s imagination would allow, the actual programming work was done by multiple Origin Systems employees who programmed a game engine rather than a game, a combination framework and toolkit which Garriott and his designers then filled with content. In the present day when game design takes months or years, millions of dollars and hundreds of people, the use of an engine which the team then customizes to their needs and fills with content is standard, but in 1990 it was still more common for games to be coded as singular entities. This was a completely new approach for the series, and led to The False Prophet being the first Ultima that could easily be used as a base to make more games on. Later Ultima games would use this same approach and have their engines recycled for other projects, perhaps most famously Ultima VIII being the foundation for Origin’s Crusader series. Other teams at Origin Systems created a pair of spin-offs using the Ultima VI engine and released under the Worlds of Ultima label, putting the Avatar in strange new environments far away from Britannia.
Do give the whole thing a read, if you have time. But be forewarned: it is a long one. A good one, yes, but a long one!