Origin Systems internal newsletters 1991 - 1998

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Spalls Hurgenson

Sep 2, 2016, 1:47:18 PM9/2/16
There's an interesting archive of Origin Systems (of Ultima and Wing
Commander fame) internal newsletters available here:
(it's the "Points of Origin PDF files)

This was a semi-monthly newsletter distributed in-house to its
employees keeping them up to date on company goings-on: what projects
are being worked on, sales figures and rankings, hirings, firings,
etc. A lot of it is the sort of minutiae that don't make for
particularly exciting reading, but you do find some interesting
tidbits. I especially liked reading about the current issues the
customer service drones were having (e.g., what issues received the
most calls from customers. DOS Boot disks were a frequent mention ;-)

Some interesting things I noticed:
- Apparently Ultima 7 Part II Serpent Isle almost was named that, due
to a possible copyright conflict over "Serpent Isle". Similarly, "Next
Frontier" (a flight simulator dealing with the commercialization of
space, almost certainly the early prototype of Wing Commander
Privateer) also had a challenge to its name.

- Ultima's 7 infamous "key bug" (where keys were randomly deleted from
the player's inventory, including ones necessary to the finishing of
the game) was a result of a buggy routine initially created for inn
keys. The idea was that the player would rent a room from an inn and
receive a key to unlock the room's door; after 24 (game hours) the
routine would delete the key. Unfortunately, the routine was a bit
over-zealous. The fix was to disable the routine entirely, so no keys
- inn or otherwise - vanished... with the fortunate bonus that now you
could rent a room indefinitely (this bug struck me personally, so I
took particular interest in it ;-)

- a review of Origin's first booth at the 1994 GenCon (table-top
gaming convention - where they apparently where the only major
video-game company - and the apparent surprise that there's a big
crossover between tabletop- and computer-game fans. Odd, given how
many "adverts" are in the newsletter from employees trying to get
together a role-playing game throughout the newsletter's life span...

- nobody was really happy with the EA buyout, although everyone tried
to deal with it as cheerfully as they could. Apparently, Origin's
sales and distribution team were major reasons for the purchase,
possibly as much so as access to Origin's IP.

- a response from a comment made by a Maxis employee suggesting that
in the future would develop and share technology to open up
compatibility between games (the idea being something like you build a
city in simcity, race around said city in Need for Speed, then invade
it Civilization ;-). The author scoffed at the idea and then wondered
why any company would ever want to share their "technology" with
another. I wonder what he things of Epic, Id and Unity, whose
underlying business today relies on that very thing ;-)

Anyway, I found it all an interesting read. I don't recommend reading
them all but if you have any interest in the history and business,
browse through a few of the newsletters and I'm sure something will
catch your eye.

Tobias Asplund

Sep 2, 2016, 6:34:10 PM9/2/16
I love reading about what went on inside computer games, so to speak, during the golden age.

For some reason this made me want to take up playing World of Xeen again. I wonder why?
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