Prior to 2943, Original Systems was best known as the creator of the ULTIMATE series of action roleplaying games. In just eight years, Original has gone from teenagers developing MobiGlas games in their parents’ hangar to a worldwide multimedia concern, with all indications being that even bigger and better titles are in the works. Most recently, the company saw a massive sea change (and a stratospheric rise in units sold) this year with the release of the massively successful Arena Commander space combat game.
Original Systems’ history dates back to the late 2920s, when eventual founder Henry Garrity began dabbling with MobiGlas game design in his father’s Self-Land hangar. The end result was Ackbar, a roleplaying game unlike anything released before for the system. The game sold well, becoming a hit in the burgeoning mobigaming marketplace. Garrity treated the game as the prototype for ULTIMATE, the roleplaying scenario that would spawn a dozen sequels and heavily impact the face of gaming. The success quickly landed Garrity a professional publishing deal with industry powerhouse Oakhurst Online, who would go on to publish the first three ULTIMATE titles until a dispute over the quality of included holographic maps split the parties.
In 2936, Garrity joined with his brother, a financial expert, and fellow game developer Charlie Bass to form Original Systems. That same year they launched both Bass’ Caves of Terra, a platforming action game, and Garrity’s ULTIMATE IV, still considered by many to be his masterpiece. By 2940, Original Systems had a dozen titles under their belt and employed 300 developers at multiple studios. The company had carved out a strong niche in the market, with the consensus being that they were the roleplaying game designers to beat.
Little did anyone know, there were yet mountains for Original to climb! In 2940, Garrity struck up a friendship with up-and-coming Terran developer Tristan Blair. Blair had published a variety of successful games for interactive home display walls and was eager to break into the higher powered world that was possible by going beyond MobiGlas development with dedicated gaming hardware. Garrity quickly offered to publish his latest title, an Ultimate-esque RPG called Times of Myth, and then hire him to design further titles at Original. The end result was nothing short of game-changing: the release of Arena Commander.
Borrowing heavily from Garrity’s varied and esoteric tastes, the ULTIMATE series allows users to enter a world populated with a mix of everything from medieval fantasy tropes to present-day space adventure themes. A typical ULTIMATE scenario might include everything from horseback swordplay to ranged laser warfare, all wrapped around compelling stories that force the players to make value judgments rather than simply gunning each other down. To date, six main series ULTIMATE titles have been released, each continuing the main player’s adventures through a bizarre fictional realm.
Most unexpectedly, ULTIMATE has proven unusually popular among the Xi’An. The Xi’An C-sphere Organic Entertainment corporation reached out to Original Systems to request that they port ULTIMATE III, the first piece of Human entertainment software adapted for alien usage in this fashion. The resulting advertising blitz made Garrity a minor celebrity among the Xi’An, and brought in an entirely new audience for the game.
Lauded by gamers around the galaxy and by every reviewer from Optimum Glas (the only six-star review ever issued) to the New Terran Journal, Arena Commander has completely changed Original Systems’ reputation and altered how games are developed. Unlike ULTIMATE, Arena Commander focuses on visceral immersion: playing the game is as close to flying a present-day Aurora or Hornet space fighter as it is possible to simulate with modern technology.
Also unlike ULTIMATE, Arena Commander is not a MobiGlas title. Instead, it makes use of the highest powered computers possible. It can be played on everything from dedicated gaming desktops to (most ideally) the internal computers found aboard starships. While many game developers would shy away from creating a game that suggests end users equip a starship to play, Blair was unfazed… and thus far, sales have borne out his claim that users will upgrade for the best possible experience!
At its heart, Arena Commander pitches pilots against each other in one-on-one dogfighting and a variety of different environments. Seemingly everything is simulated, from vi- sual damage states down to the sensation of the players’ hand moving on the flight stick. What’s more, the game’s functionality expands with a series of optional expansion packs, each adding more ships and scenarios for an additional fee. Actual military pilots were used to help test the game during its development and they unanimously claim that there has never been such an accurate space combat simulation available for home users.
Arena Commander has created a dedicated fan base across the UEE, with fans hanging on Blair’s every word, attending Arena Commander conventions and eagerly awaiting each next expansion. The game has already begun talk of an expansive franchise, with plans for an Arena Commander holovid series or even a feature film being in the early stages. Talk of Arena Commander 2, even mere months after the release of the first game, has already reached a fever pitch.
Analysts suggest that Original Systems’ incredible success in the last 18 months may also be their ultimate downfall. Until recently, the company had a publishing agreement with Brainscape, Inc. that helped defray the costs of publishing new games. The public demand for Arena Commander has been so great, however, that all parties involved have spent heavily just in order to deliver on outstanding orders. The creation cost of that infrastructure means that Original’s next title, be it ULTIMATE VII or Arena Commander 2 (or Blair’s pet project, a historical air combat sim) will need to sell similarly big numbers in order for the company to survive. Most worrisome, some fear that the company is in jeopardy of a possible hostile takeover from a larger publisher. If this hap- pens, the impact on Original’s unique culture and genuine creativity in game development may be catastrophic.