Name: Chris Mayer
Role: Lead programmer, Origin Systems
Chris Mayer can still recall the exact moment he fell in love with Ultima Online. But rather than these intense feelings being associated with a great victory on the battlefield, or an amazing discovery in Britannia, Mayer’s adoration for the game comes from a harrowing experience of being shipwrecked on an island with a bunch of lizardmen and gorillas as company. It was there—with the odds against him—that Mayer unlocked the game’s true potential.
One evening, as Mayer and his friend sailed toward an island at the southernmost point of Britannia, the unthinkable happened.
“The server crashed,” Mayer recalled. “Server crashes when you were on a boat were a big deal, because who knew where you might end up.”
Since Mayer’s boat was in motion when the game crashed, it was impossible for him to be returned to its deck when the server came back online. Instead, the boat sailed on without its crew, and the game tried to guess a player’s approximate location, spawning them on whatever landmass was closest.
“It could mean ending up on a deserted island, with no way off,” Mayer said. “Which is what happened to me.”
While his character—an archer—could defend himself, Mayer said he was used to fighting from a distance while his pal’s swordsman character got up close and personal with enemies. If the island was home to any powerful monsters, Mayer could easily find himself overpowered.
“I was on an island inhabited by neutral gorillas and hostile lizardmen,” Mayer remembered. “I decided to kill the lizardmen for gold while I waited, but it became apparent that these guys were respawning fast, and eventually I was going to run out of arrows.”
Lacking the skills to engage the angry lizardmen in hand-to-hand combat, Mayer did what anyone would do.
“I couldn’t reliably stay away from the lizardmen,” Mayer said. “They wandered the island, and I would be forced to fight with dwindling supplies.”
Frantically seeking birds (the feathers of which could be used to craft more arrows), and encouraging his friend to sail as fast as the winds allowed, Mayer couldn’t help but calculate the odds of survival in his head, and things weren’t looking good.
Read more of Chris Mayer’s story in Chapter 6: The View from 10,000 Feet.