Courtesy of former Origin programmer Bill Randolph, and thanks to the tireless efforts of Joe Garrity of the Origin Muesum, Ultima Aiera is pleased to present fifteen documents — which have been broken out into over 130 images — which discuss some of the technical details of an early version of Ultima 7.
Specifically, the documents — all of which appear to be internal documents from Origin Systems — discuss the conversation syntax of the game and its technical implementation, the object design of the game, the in-house map editor that Origin developers used to construct the Ultima 7 game world, and much more! The most interesting detail about all of these documents, however, is that they are in fact focused on a very early version of the game, which is different in several ways from what was finally shipped.
Download the documents:
* U7 Characters List 07-02-1991 (PDF) (4.9 MiB, 244 hits)
* U7 Characters List 08-05-1991 (PDF) (5.0 MiB, 358 hits)
* U7 City Plots 06-23-1991 (PDF) (1.7 MiB, 169 hits)
* U7 City Plots 06-27-1991 (PDF) (8.8 MiB, 149 hits)
* U7 City Plots v2.5 06-27-1991 (PDF) (8.8 MiB, 129 hits)
* U7 City Plots v3 07-02-1991 (PDF) (8.5 MiB, 140 hits)
* U7 City Plots v3.5 07-07-1991 (PDF) (7.8 MiB, 183 hits)
* U7 Conversation Functions & Routines 07-10-1991 (PDF) (2.7 MiB, 189 hits)
* U7 Item List v2 06-13-1991 (1.8 MiB, 164 hits)
* U7 Map Sketches 1991 (PDF) (13.4 MiB, 222 hits)
* U7 NPCs 1991 (PDF) (744.9 KiB, 149 hits)
* U7 Routine & Function Declarations 08-02-1991 (PDF) (5.1 MiB, 153 hits)
* U7 Training Code Changes 07-22-1991 (PDF) (988.7 KiB, 128 hits)
* U7 World Editor Documentation 05-29-1991 (PDF) (5.9 MiB, 188 hits)
* U7 Code Usable Index & Flags 1991 (PDF) (14.9 MiB, 145 hits)
* All U7 Documents (ZIP) (69.1 MiB, 217 hits)
There is some truly fascinating stuff to be found within these pages, at least for those who enjoy getting a look at the technical foundations of software.
The character lists are just that: lists of NPCs which were to appear in the game. Many of the names listed will be familiar from the shipped version of Ultima 7, although there are a few listed people who either didn’t make the final cut or who had their name changed at some point. The NPCs document follows a similar structure. Take note, in both lists, of notes indicating that particular NPC’s are based on real-life people; Tseramed, for example (who was originally to be called Kendem, it seems).
The city plots documents mostly concern three of the cities in the game: Vesper (which in some versions of the document is quite a bit different from Vesper in Ultima 7), Moonglow (a few differences can be noted), and Yew/Empath Abbey (few differences here; the plot even early on seemed to involve the Emps quite a lot). There are multiple versions of these documents, and it’s interesting to note the subtle changes that take place between each iteration.
The conversation functions document — which, incidentally, was written by the late John Watson — is rather more technical, and details (as one might expect from the title) the various functions and routines that could be called from conversations; almost everything you could want to know about the procedures the game used to control NPC activities and interactions is in here.
The item list is just that: a list of items which were to appear in-game, with sparse notes about some of them. Of particular note, I think, is the listing of the Blackrock Sword, with a one-word note alongside it: “new”. I’m not sure whether this allows us to date the idea for Forge of Virtue back as far as June of 1991, or whether it indicates that at one point, the Blackrock Sword (and — who knows? — maybe the Isle of Fire) was intended to be part of the initial release of Ultima 7.
The map sketches document contains quick block-and-line sketches of most of the towns in the game, and most of these have a similar design and layout to the versions that appeared in the released game. A couple of town, if my memory serves me well, have quite different layouts, however.
The routine and function declarations document, like the conversation functions document, makes mention of the language or script that the game’s various functions were to be implemented in…something called AGIL. I can’t find any solid references to a language by this name using Google; it might have been something internal to Origin Systems. Regardless, the routine and function declarations document contains lists of functions to be called in the game, with notes about the inputs and outputs of each. It too might have been authored by John Watson, but there’s no actual mention of him (or any writer) in the document itself.
The world editor document is a straightforward introduction to the software used to build the gameworld of Ultima 7, with notes on its interface, keyboard shortcuts, and changes made to it since “the last version” (which I assume is a reference to the Ultima 6 world editor). Apparently, Deluxe Paint was used to create many of the graphical assets used in Ultima 7.
Finally, the useable index and flags document is, basically, a huge listing of in-game flags, sorted and separated by location. For most, it won’t look like anything more than a wall of letters and numbers, but I’m sure it will be enjoyable fodder for the coders who’ve spent a significant portion of their lives poking and prodding at the Ultima 7 engine and data files.
All of these documents are, as was the case for many of the Ultima 6 technical documents released previously, rather dry in their presentation, and unflinchingly technical. Bandit LOAF’s (of the Wing Commander CIC) comment about the Ultima 6 documents is equally applicable here:
I think the lack of humor is kind of funny in these. Looking at code and design documents for later [projects] there’s much more “ease” and a sprinkling of in-jokes and comments that only the team would appreciate–this stuff is DEADLY serious.
What is perhaps different about these documents, though, can be highlighted by remembering what LOAF had to say next:
You get the feeling they know this is going to be reference work for future projects (and surely it was).
You just know they realize this is going to be read by the folks doing Worlds of Ultima and that King Arthur game and so on.
There isn’t — to my eyes, at any rate — a similar thinking which can be seen in these documents; they are pretty focused on just Ultima 7, and none of them would seem to be looking forward toward Serpent Isle. The one document which is something of an exception (at least as regards the use of a personable, rather than rigidly technical, tone) is the training code changes document, which details some substantial changes made to — naturally — the functions and code affecting skills training in the game. It is written more in the style of an internal memo, and begins with an amicable “Ok, guys.”
And, of course, many of the documents are heavily marked up with notes and on-the-fly edits.
Anyhow, the usual disclaimers follow.
The images here, in JPEG format, are lower-resolution extracts from PDF scans of the original documents. They are legible, but not of particularly high quality, and thus are not recommended for printing; download the PDF files for that purpose.
Most importantly, though: enjoy! Pull up the images, download the PDFs, and pore over them. Search out every little detail, and enjoy a fascinating glimpse into the nuts and bolts of how Origin crafted a truly ground-breaking RPG. Ultima Aiera is indebted to Joe Garrity for providing these documents, to Bill Randolph for releasing them and making them available for us to see, to John Watson, and to everyone who worked at Origin Systems.