Ultima IX (9) is a RPG in the Ultima series, developed by Origin Systems and released for PC in 1999. Ultima 8 was released in 1994 and in those 5 years between the 2 titles, the “Ultima IX project” had a long and troubled development. As we can read on Wikipedia, there have been at least 4 distinct beta versions of Ultima IX, with different storyline and technological implementation.
The first version was already conceived by Ultima creator Richard Garriott when Origin began to work on Ultima VII, but this early concept was soon canned. The second version was developed between 1995-1997, following the feedback received by fans of the series.
By late 1995 or early 1996, the first beta screenshots of Ultima IX appeared in gaming magazines: it had a 3D graphic engine in which the camera appeared locked into an overhead view that approximated the isometric point of view of Ultima VIII, but could be rotated about its vertical axis and zoomed in or out. The game was planned to have a party system with multiple characters and pre-rendered cutscenes.
With the unexpected success of the beta phase of Ultima Online in 1996, Origin moved most of the Ultima IX team to work on that game. By the time work was resumed on Ultima IX in late 1997, corporate interest in Ultima IX had greatly diminished, many of the original team members had left Origin, and the 3D engine was already becoming out of date.
The third version of the game was developed between 1997 and 1998. The Ultima IX team experimented with different camera angles in a new 3D engine and decided that a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, would have been more immersive. The game would no longer have a party of companions for the Avatar and would once again be a single-character game. In early 1998, several designers of Ultima IX left Origin.
In early 1999, Electronic Arts set Origin a deadline so that the game HAD to be shipped for Christmas. However, Ultimaa IX was still notoriously bug-ridden and it was impossible to implement the scale of the world and the big story in the given time. Trying to rescue what they could, they shrinked Britannia considerably, rewrote the plot to make it much more simple. In the final version of Ultima IX: Ascension, some elements of the previous beta storyline were kept, presumably to make use of the existing (and expensive) pre-rendered cinematics, but most of them were either heavily edited or used in a dramatically different context than originally intended.
In the gallery below you can see many screens from Ultima IX 1995 / 1997 beta version, so much different from the final 1999 version that it could be considered as a cancelled game of its own. You can find more info at Ultima Wiki!
- Useable Halberds
- Red Moongates
- A Keyring
- Several islands
- Britain Catacombs
- Several dungeons
Thanks to Celine for the contribution! Scans from Edge magazine #41
Here’s a video from the final version of Ultima IX: