Name: Starr Long
Alias: Lord Blackthorn
Role: Director, Origin Systems
Originally in pursuit of a career in live theater, Starr Long’s path changed drastically when he left his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana to join some of his buddies in Austin, Texas. It was several years after being hired into Origin System’s QA department—and with his eye on advancement within the company—that Long suggested to Ultima creator Richard Garriott that he take his fantasy series to the internet as a massive multiplayer game. In response, Garriott tasked Long with making the project a reality. Be careful what you wish for.
As what would become UO took shape, Long continued to thrive in the director’s role, serving as a liaison between Origin and EA’s marketing, sales, IT, and customer services departments, while regularly creating and developing new in-house teams for community management and network operations.
“Most people don’t remember how much we had to invent,” Long pointed out. “Neither Electronic Arts nor Origin had a website, much less usernames and passwords, much less consumer accessible servers.
“There were times on the project where it felt like every single week we were hit with a, ‘Oh wow, we have to build that because it doesn’t exist yet.’”
After just two years of development, UO was ready for public testing. Considering that most modern triple-A games undergo a development cycle of 3-5 years, with MMOs often taking even longer, the grandfather of MMOs came together in record time with only a dozen developers assigned to the project.
Those in the Origin offices had responded well to the initial prototype, but by 1996 Long and his team were eagerly planning alpha and beta tests that would welcome the public to experience an online version of Britannia for the first time.
Long said that as he waited for players to log in, his head was clouded with questions: What would players do first? Would they run out of the city to adventure? Would they buy something from a shop? Would they gather materials and set about crafting?
Most of the players testing Ultima Online came not from other MMO games—since few existed—but rather internet chat rooms. Long shouldn’t have been surprised by what the first players into Britannia had in mind.
Read more of Starr Long’s story in Braving Britannia: Tales of Life, Love, and Adventure in Ultima Online.