Raph “Designer Dragon” Koster

RaphKosterName: Raph Koster
Alias: Designer Dragon
Role: Creative lead & lead designer, Origin Systems

After sharpening his game design chops in college on the infamous LegendMUD, Raph Koster was hired by Origin Systems as creative lead in 1995. There, the young designer went to work inventing the future of MMOs alongside a dozen eager developers and his wife, Kristen “Kaige” Koster.

The release of Ultima Online was a milestone for Origin Systems and many of the game’s early developers used the event to get off the train, as it were. Among those who exited the company was Koster’s wife, Kristen, and Andrew Morris, who had served as UO’s lead designer from the beginning.

With Morris gone, all eyes suddenly turned to Koster.

“I do remember when [Morris] left, he came up to me and basically said it was in my hands now and that it would be great, which was a nice thing for him to do,” Koster recalled. “I wasn’t given the title of lead designer at first, because I didn’t have any management experience. I mean, I was 25 years old on my first game job. I was named creative lead.”

Designer Dragon now had to live up to his moniker as Koster was tasked with leading the live design team. Because of UO’s breakout success as the fastest-selling game in Electronic Arts history, additional resources were funneled into the MMO darling.

These resources came in the form of the Ultima IX: Ascension team. Origin pushed pause on the next single-player Ultima game and refocused the team as UO support. While the decision made sense financially, it wasn’t one the Ascension team was particularly happy with, especially since it meant they had to work with a 25-year-old design auteur.

Despite opposition at every turn, Koster trudged forward, eager to prove the decision to make him the creative lead was the right one.

Read more of Raph Koster’s story in Chapter 6: The View from 10,000 Feet.

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