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This Interview was made between Jeff Freedman, Willem Jan Palenstijn, Max Horn and Tristan Tarrant from the Exult-Project (http://exult.sourceforge.net) and TeichDragon (http://www.uod.de)
TD: You have 9 people working for this project all over the world (Greeting
to Max Horn, if he still lives in Darmstadt, thats not that far away *g*). How
are you working in a project where most of the people are only reachable via
Email or ICQ etc... ?
We rely heavily on the services provided by SourceForge, which is a site owned by VA/Linux which supports open-source projects. In particular, they allow us to use a source-control system called CVS, which makes it possible for any of us to check in our changes and check out those that other developers make. SourceForge also provides the Exult mailing list, which is our main form of communication.
Also, we informally tend to pick different pieces of the project to work on, so that we're not stepping on each other's code. It's almost surprising how smoothly this works, better than at most companies I've worked at.
Hi there. Yes, I do still live in Darmstadt and study there ;) I'd like to add to what Jeff said. We also have our own IRC channel, at the open projects network (irc.openprojects.net, channel #exult). Willem and me are very often there (as wjp and fingolfin), and jeff, dancer, tristan and colourless also join in from time to time. Not to forget dominus, our trusty FAQ maintainer ;)
If you have any questions, need help or want to contribute, or just like to chat a bit, feel free to drop in.
Yes, #exult is the place to be ;-)
Another way to to keep in touch is through our mailing list. It's open to everyone, so if you're interested in what's going on behind the scenes, please join! (You can do this through our project page at http://www.sourceforge.net/projects/exult)
A good way to keep up with what's going on is subscribing to the Exult-cvs-logs mailing list (you can do that from the SourceForge page). You will get an e-mail everytime a developer commits something new to the code. I find it a very useful way to keep up with the project.
TD: How much support do you receive from Ultima-fans ?
First, most of us developers are Ultima fans:-) In addition, we get lots of testing, bug reports, and suggestions from users. And the occasional fan-mail doesn't hurt either.
I think the exult "community" is quite strong, there are a big lot of U7 fans out there. They really appreciate to be able to run it on their machines, and we get a lot of positive & helpful feedback, which is very encouraging.
TD: Did you try to get the permission from OSI before you began the project ? Or are they helping you decode the scripts and/or engine itself ? (I heard the rumour that OSI itself lost the sourcecode for BG and SI...can you confirm this ??)
No, we've never received permission, although I don't feel we need it if all we're doing is running the game. I've had occasional contact with 'Lady MOI' at Origin, but haven't heard back from her in a while. I've also heard the rumour about the lost sourcecode; but there are also rumours that it's on an unmarked tape somewhere at Origin.
It would be really nice to get some help from them on some of the more "arcane" things in exult which we still haven't figured out... however, I think even if they still do have the source code, it will not be easy to extract helpful information from it. And I doubt the programmers still remember all the little details we'd need to know :/
TD: When Exult will be running fine, do you think Origin/EA would be interested in using/selling it ??
That's part of the reason I've been emailing 'Lady MOI':-), but the idea hasn't gotten anywhere. Origin/EA doesn't seem to be that interested in anything other than online games lately.
TD: There is a rumour about an Online-Version of U7 (with the Exult-Engine), what is the truth behind that ? (I really would love that, since the U7-online-project has obviously died some time ago...)
One or two people have emailed me about using the Exult engine to do an online version. Since Exult is GPL'd, anyone is free to do this. Currently, none of us on the Exult team is working on it, though. I think it would be a fun project, but my main interest is in single-player RPG's.
TD: I know that you stated in the FAQ that Serpent Isle will likely not
be made playable with Exult, but i think a lot of people would like to hear
you have not totally buried the idea, so what is the current status on SI??
Thanks to Ryan Nunn ('Colourless Dragon'), that's no longer true. He's done a lot of work towards getting SI to run, and you can now play through quite a bit of the first part of the game.
I think the current version of the FAQ corrects this, btw. SI is not yet running
perfect, but is already visibly working, and you can enjoy it ;)
...if you enjoy running into bugs ;-)
Seriously though, Serpent Isle support has improved enormously over the last couple of versions.
TD: You mention in the FAQ problems with the german version and the lack
of testers for this one. Since we are a german site, maybe some of our readers
would like to test it, what shall they do then ?
Yes! This would be greatly appreciated. We got some french people helping, and that version is now running (at least partly, not sure if everything got fixed
So if you have the german version and some time & guts and want to help, write us an email, please.
This goes for any other versions too, of course. (I think there's a spanish version, too, for instance)
TD: What about the editor to make new games with the engine. Whose idea was this, and how far has it grown right now ?
This started with Tristan's 'gimp plugin'. Gimp is a free image-editor that runs on Linux (and maybe on Windows too), and he wrote a plugin that allows editing of the U7-format shapes.
We also have a 'shape browser' that lets you look at all the images in U7's 'shapes.vga' file, plus you can add an object to the U7 map by dragging it into the game. Tristan's improved this and added a couple other browsers, and, eventually, we hope to put it all together into a useful map-editor.
Another piece needed for this is a compiler for Usecode, the script that runs U7's plots and conversations. A first version has been written, but it needs a bit more work.
I've been slacking a bit on ExultStudio, but I hope to pick it up soon. It is currently Linux-only (because it is based on GTK+), but that won't be much of a problem as GTK+ is being ported to many things lately.
TD: When the Editor is available, will gather new adventures/sidequests/plots
from fans, and make them available on your website ??
That would be a good idea. However, this is an area where we might need Origin's permission, since we'd be modifying a story that they own.
TD: Are you planning introduce more music, other graphics (maybe renders or something) etc in the running engine ?
Some fans have provided us new/resampled wave files to replace the original U7 sounds, and we eventually might add support to easily plug those in. Of course, if we extend it to a full-fledged game engine (as planned), adding new data like this will be possible.
BTW, one addition we made to the game is that paperdolling is working in BG, provided you have SI installed! However, some items in BG are not in SI, and hence have no paperdoll graphics. We are working on adding graphics for those, and one or two items are already added. More will come.
TD: If BG and SI (??) are running perfect some day, will you start making new plots with the engine, or maybe starting a new project like this ?
Yes, I'd like to create a new non-Ultima game using the Exult engine someday. But it's a daunting task, especially when you consider all the artwork that's involved.
...and I am not sure we will ever get it to run "perfect". Then again, how exactly do you define perfect in this context? Emulating the original game as close as possible? We do not really strive to achieve this, e.g. there were some plot bugs in BG which we tried to cover up if possible. I think in this case this is better than staying to close to the original.
TD: If you are going to make a new RPG with the engine, how much of the original graphic will stay in the game, or are there no plans to change them ?
Since the graphics are Origin's, we couldn't legally use any of them without their permission.
TD: When do you think the Exult will be running (almost) perfect ? Any slight timeplan ?
Sometime in the next 5 years:-) Actually, I think Black Gate is close to being done, and I played through all the way about 3 months ago. But we've probably broken some things since then. There's really not much more new development to do, though, so I'm hoping Black Gate will be 'done' in the next 2-3 months.
Since we all do it in our free time and for fun, it is very hard to predict this.
Sometimes stuff doesn't get done for a long time, then someone feels inclined to do it (and has the time <g>) and it gets done really really quick.
E.g. so far the mac version still has no MIDI support, which is a pity. It's just that I never did anything with MIDI on the Mac, and I gotta dig all the information up.
I once started with it, but it turned out to become very complicated. So I
dropped it for now. But it will come eventually, maybe already tomorrow, maybe next year. I would prefer earlier, though ;)
TD: With U7run now available, will still try to make Exult perfect ? (I heard that the program did crashes some machines instead of working, but i have no first-hand information on that...)
On the one hand, U7run makes Exult less necessary, at least for Windows users. On the other, it's been extremely helpful to me when I need to see how the original U7 does things. Previously, I had to reboot my Windows machine to DOS to run U7; and it was such a pain that I rarely bothered.
The original goal of Exult was to make an U7 map-browser that ran under Linux and X11. Now it is a complete, multi-platform, open-source game architecture that happens to play U7. U7run is just a simple "fix" to get BG/SI to run under some (not all) Win32 platforms.
TD: Since U4 is now shareware, and there is no Ultima4-Remake with DS yet (none i heard of...), what do you think about remaking U4 with the Exult-Engine ???
That's a cool idea. We could use the U4 plot in the U7 universe, although we'd have to redesign the dungeons. We could also add various subplots that weren't possible in the original U4, lots more conversations, etc. But we'd need Origin's consent.
Yeah, it would be *way* cool! U4 is one of the best Ultimas ever IMO. Of course it would be a big lot of work, and as Jeff pointed out, we'd need Origin's permission. Maybe all fans should start writing letters to Origin asking about it ;)
TD: What are you plans (or team plans) after the Exult-project ?
With plans for a map-editor, Serpent Isle support, and maybe a new game, there may never be an 'after':-)
I agree... there will probably always more bugs to fix, features to add, things to do :-)
TD: How do you feel about all the other Ultima-Remakes, that want to do a complete overhaul of the games (either with the DS-Engine or NWN) ?
A few of them look really promising, especially the 3D Ultima1 remake, and the rewrite of Ultima3 for the GameBoy. Whether any of our projects succeed, they certainly demonstrate the popularity of the Ultima universe.
TD: I personally feel that U5 and U7 were the greatest milestones in Ultima, how do you feel about the later ones (U8 and U9) and what is happening now with UO and UWO:O?
Ultima8 had lots of nice features, especially the different systems of magic, and I generally enjoyed it. However, I played constantly with the walk-through. As for Ultima9, I seem to be one of the rare players who really liked it (and I generally hate 3D games). It didn't even seem particularly buggy on my modest machine (K6/333, 64Mb RAM, Voodoo3), just a bit slow in spots. But I enjoyed working through the dungeon puzzles, and found the story reminiscent of Ultima4.
As for the online games, I've never tried any of them. Maybe I'm afraid I'll get addicted.
Actually, my first Ultima was U8 ! I liked it a lot and played through it twice, once before the patch (which was sometimes very frustrating, but I still enjoyed it) and once after the patch, which really made it a good game IMHO. I was very disappointed when they canceled the add-on (anyone else tried hack-moving the big doors in the cave near Mythran, only to find walls behind it? <g>)
I then tried the Ultima 3 rewrite for mac. It is very well done, but I didn't like U3 that much. (I hope nobody kills me for that <g>)
Maybe one year later I was able to get hold on a box containing all the U7 stuff, both parts and both addons. They came to be my favorites instantly ;) I also played U4 when it became free, and enjoyed it a lot, too.
Ultima 8 was my first Ultima too. I really liked it, and bought U7 almost immediately afterwards. After that I just _had_ to get my hands on U1-6, even though it was near impossible to get here in the Netherlands ;-)
I think U9 was pretty fun to play. It's pity it was relatively unconnected to the Ultima history, though. The plot-stopping bug I encountered at the end didn't really help either :-(
TD: Are you (or anyone from your team) playing UO or maybe thinking about testing UWO:O ?
I never played UO. I think it to be interesting, but I don't have the time, really. Actually, I don't even get to play exult much ;) Same for UWO:O. :/
I played UO for a month last year (the free month I got with the updated U9 CD), but stopped because it was taking up a bit too much time ;-)
TD: Thank you very much for taking your time for that interview.