Origin Systems

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Origin Systems was a video game developer and publisher founded in March 1983 by Richard Garriott and his brother Robert, which is best known for creating the Ultima and Wing Commander franchises.

History

Brothers Richard and Robert Garriott, their astronaut-engineer father Owen, and programmer Chuck Bueche founded Origin Systems in 1983 because of the trouble they had collecting money owed to Richard for his games released by other companies and overall being fed up with previous publishers.[1] The company was started with $US70000 in the familly garage.[1]

The company's first game was Ultima III: Exodus.[2]

As sales increased, Origin became a rising star in the emerging computer games market of the 1980s, while the console market had its infamous crash from 1983 to 1985. As the success of Ultima became established, they hired other designers and programmers who developed their own, lesser-known games such as Moebius and Ogre.[3]

On the front page of their 1987 catalog, the studio’s identity began to take shape: “The fantasy begins with Origin Systems… and never ends.” By 1989, their motto changed to “Others write software… We create worlds.” [3] Origin sought to create games with depth, story and longevity rather than standard games.[1]

Chris Roberts joined Origin Systems in 1987 with a publishing contract and made Times of Lore and Bad Blood, as well as WIng Commander I and WIng Commander II. Tony Zurovec joined Origin Systems in 1990 where he worked on the Ultima games and created Crusader: No Remorse and Crusader: No Regret.[4] Martin Galway joined Origin Systems as Audio Director in 1990.[5] Chris Olivia also worked there, as did Sean Murphy. David Ladyman joined in 1991 working on the immersive manuals.[6] Paul Vaden and John Erskine worked on Ultima Online.[7]

Both Ultima and the Wing Commander games proved extremely succesful, however as times were changing games were becoming ever more expensive, needing more games boxes to meet more demand, more storage space, more manpower, more office space, more time to be made, and the Ultima and Wing Commander games needed ever more investment to stay on top, investment which was hard to secure at the time in the middle of a recession, a real estate bubble and local financial scandals that had made local banks far more reserved. Origin eventually found itself in a serious financial bind, as a relatively small company without a lot of product diversification.[8][9]

Despite Origin toucled history with EA, which led to negative references to EA in the Ultima games, Origin was acquired as a wholly owned subsidiary by Electronic Arts in 1992.[9] Chris Roberts didn't want to sell Wing Commander to EA, however the terms of the deal were that if EA was buying Origin they had to get Wing Commander and Ultima. It was a dealbreaker if Chris Roberts said no and a lot of other people who had helped to build the company up over time would have their payoff for all the hard work destroyed. So Chris Roberts agreed and the sale went through for $35 million in stock.[10] As part of the deal he had to sign a four year employment contract ending in 1996.[11]

Even if the culture of Origin started to erode, the acquisition initially went well and EA brought structure and its deep pockets allowed Origin to prepare for the anticipated future when games would require more money, time, and manpower to create, with Origin doubling in size, going from 200 to 400 employees and from 5-10 projects to 10-20, however most new employees were inexperienced and the projects were not being well managed, which Richard Garriott says was on Origin.[8][9]

Strike Commander was released but despite being a good game the hardware requirements meant that most players couldn't play it as intended and the commercial success wasn't what Origin had expected.[9]

While they still brought money, the latest games hadn't turned turned into hits like the first games had, even as the new facilities, new employees, and new titles going into development had cost plenty. Electronic Arts started taking a firmer hand with Origin and began curbing the developers' habit of Doing It for the Art and prioritized commercial success instead.[8][9] It was no longer a nerdy fraternity; it was business.[12]

After the acquisition, Chris Roberts was greenlit on Wing Commander III bringing in real life actors.[10] It raised the bar on development budget and multimedia ambition to unprecedented heights, not only for Origin but for the gaming industry at large.[9]

Wing Commander IV followed but it showed to Chris Roberts that Origin was moving in a direction that he wasn't particularly interested in. In 1996, when his EA contract expired, he left Origin 9 years after having joined it, to create Digital Anvil.[10]

Like many top CRPG developers of The '80s, Origin was hit hard by the mid-90s crisis of the genre, and encountered severe financial troubles on the publishing side of its business, despite the massive successes of the early Wing Commanders and Ultima VII.

After Ultima IX's poor commercial and critical reception, Electronic Arts canceled all of Origin’s projects in development.[3]

Richard Garriott left Origin and founded Destination Games in 2000.

Origin Systems finally disbanded in February 2004, joining Bullfrog and Westwood as the third in the long list of developers EA had acquired and shut down.

Legacy

While a morality system may seem very commonplace in RPGs today, it was an entirely novel approach to narrative that soon became widespread.[3] Ultima as a whole had an enormous influence on the establishment of open-world games, such as The Elder Scrolls or World of Warcraft.[13]

Several of today’s popular games and design ideas can be traced back to what Origin Systems started in 1983, from the now very basic idea of immersive games where players can explore persistent worlds and meet characters, to the innovative and complex systems of interaction and level design that have since become commonplace through imitation.[3]

Origin helped create the idea of a budget game, at the time games would sell at full price for several years in a row. In the 1990s technology was accelerating, with computers changing more quickly and games disapearing from the shelves more quickly. About a yrear after the release of Wing Commander, Origin came with the idea to ship discounted games to stores. This idea was later followed by the likes of Electronic Arts Classics selling cheaper older games.[14]

Quote

"I’m trying to recreate a little bit of the energy I felt at say, Origin, when I was there a long time ago in the early days, and when I was making Wing Commander and Richard Garriott was making Ultima – it felt like a pretty tight knit group of people, all making games that they were really excited by." -Chris Roberts.[15]

Trivia

  • Chris Roberts wrote many conversations for Ultima IV.[16]
  • The term MMORPG was created by Richard Gariott about Ultima Online.[17]
  • The famous quote "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad" often attributed to Miyamoto seems to be coming from Origin Systems, where it went “A game’s only late until it ships, but it sucks forever.”[18]

External Links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Richard Garriott Interview, YouTube, 3 Apr 2018
  2. G4 Icons Episode #14: Richard Garriott, G4Icon, YouTube, 2 Feb 2012
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 35 Years Of Influence - A Look Back at Origin Systems, Creators of Ultima and More, TechRaptor, April 19, 2018
  4. Meet Tony Zurovec, YouTube, 19 Jun 2014
  5. Meet Martin Galway. Transmission - Comm-Link. Retrieved 2012-10-22
  6. SCAA Interview with CIG's David Ladyman, Nichole D'Angelo, YouTube, 14 May 2014
  7. Star Citizen Live: Meet the Devs - Publishing and Corporate Technology, Star Citizen, YouTube, 9 February 2024.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 The Conquest of Origin, The Escapist, page 2, 11 October 2005, archived
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 Origin Sells Out, The Digital Antiquarian, September 6, 2019
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 The Stars His Destination: Chris Roberts from Origin to Star Citizen, 2014-09-13, archived
  11. Games on Line's interview to Chris Roberts, archived
  12. The Conquest of Origin, The Escapist, page 3, 11 October 2005, archived
  13. Educational Feature: A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games - Pt. 1, Gamasutra, April 25, 2006
  14. Let's Play: Wing Commander 25th Anniversary Livestream, YouTube, 27 Sept 2015
  15. Exclusive Interview: Chris Roberts Building a New Future with CryENGINE 3, Crytek, May 13, 2013, archived on archive.org 8 Jun 2013
  16. The forgotten interview with Chris Roberts by Paul Dean, March 11, 2016
  17. Safko, Ron; Brake, David (2009). The Social Media Bible: Tactics, Tools, and Strategies for Business Success. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-41155-1. Richard Garriott first coined the term MMORPG in 1997.
  18. Solved: If Miyamoto Never Said His Most Famous Quote, Who Did?, acriticalhit.com, November 2023
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