EA announced back in July that BioWare would be developing a new Ultima game: Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar. We managed to track down BioWare’s Jeff Skalski, Executive Producer on the game, to find out more info.
GON: The website clearly says that you can play as the Fighter or the Mage, but the promotional artwork at the top shows the Fighter, the Mage, and a third female character. Who is she, and what can you tell us about her?
Jeff: That would be our Druid. She’s an interesting one, but unfortunately at this time we like to hold back on the details behind her for a little longer. I will however say there will be five additional classes beyond these three that we plan to launch every few months following launch.
GON: Can you explain more about how the game will work? Will it run in-browser or with a dedicated client? Will it be always-online?
Jeff: The game is a dedicated client that you’ll have the choice to download either from Apple’s App Store, or simply download the client for your PC from our site. It does require an internet connection as the lands of Britannia in U4E is alive and persistent. No pause exists in its breathing world.
GON: Can more than two people play together, or is it limited to one Fighter and one Mage only per game?
Jeff: Yes, of course! You can form a group of up to 4 players in any combination of classes. You’ll find towns sprawling with other live players as well, so swing by a tavern. You never know who you might meet on their travels. Each class can even be unique from the next based upon what abilities you invest in and how you customize your avatar.
GON: Are there customisation options available for the characters? Can you change gender, appearance, etc?
Jeff: You have the following visual looks to play with: After selecting your class you choose face, hair and skin tone. Once in the game you can equip gear that will change your look (head, shoulders, body, back and weapons) and beyond. You also have a vanity slot for gear so you can look even more different but still have the stats of your favourite set of plate mail underneath.
GON: Lady British? What happened to Lord British?
Jeff: We wanted to be respectful to Richard and his rights, so by forwarding the timeline we needed a new character to take the throne and we figured why not a Lady? So Lady British was born and now has come of age to lead Britannia out of its darkest hours.
GON: Where is Ultima Forever set chronologically in the Ultima series? Is it a reboot? If so, what was the design decision behind this?
Jeff: Exactly 21 years after Ultima IV. We refer to it as the Batman reboot. ;) This gives us some wiggle room and honestly we have no desire to mess with people’s fond memories of Ultima IV. This is meant to be a new chapter in the Ultima series.
GON: The website mentions that you can “become the Avatar”. Does this mean that the role of the Avatar has changed from its previous meaning in the original Ultima games, where it was the same person each time, transported to the Ultima world from ours?
Jeff: The moongates have been opened and people from Earth are being pulled through. You are an Avatar on a journey to prove worthy of the title and once again touch the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. Britannia is the need of many.
GON: Will the gypsy woman from the series (who also appears on the site) play a role? Will the virtues be used to adjust your game experience as before?
Jeff: Yes, in fact she greets you from the moment you play and pulls you into Britannia before you land at the feet of Celeste. Your choices will impact your path through the game. Different quests may appear, new gear will unlock and ultimately you’ll gain access to the Stygian Abyss to seek the Codex.
GON: Will I have to brush up on my runes? I’m a bit rusty.
Jeff: It wouldn’t hurt. Knowing your runes is not required to play, but we do use them in the world. You may see them in the background during your adventures or perhaps hear them when a nearby player casts a spell. We are using the runes more for flavor in the game.
GON: The game is free-to-play, but will it be supported by microtransactions? What is the financial model supporting the game?
Jeff: Yes, our game supports microtransations. We have a lot of different offers on our shop for different types of people and play styles. Just looking for a few extra potions? Or perhaps a new sword? Or a fluffy wizard hat? Desire that ability sooner? We got you covered. You can even purchase additional keys to unlock additional loot while adventuring in the game. The choice is yours.
GON: BioWare are generally accepted as one of the best names in RPG’s. How will your traditionally strong focus on story and character development come into play with Ultima?
Jeff: We have some of the best writers in the industry and even though we are scattered across several locations as an organization we do our best to share best practices among each other. Ultima Forever is more than just a dungeon crawl game with friends. At its core is a story of a journey with choice. The eight virtues are threaded throughout the game and your actions will dictate how you progress those virtues.
GON: You’ve described the game as an “action-RPG” rather than an “RPG”. Can you explain how this will affect the gameplay? Should we expect more of a focus on item collection and monster slaying rather than roleplaying?
Jeff: It’s funny, say action-RPG and it connotes hack’n slash(action) with stat building characters(RPG). Ultima Forever is so much more than that. We have moved away from the turn based combat system in the original and went for a more visceral feel, but at its roots it’s an online RPG adventure game that you can play with others regardless of their device of choice. U4E has one shard to rule them all. Explore, chat, discover and uphold the virtues.