There has been a death in the family: we've learned that John Watson died earlier this month. Mr. Watson was a veteran of Origin Systems who got his start testing games like Omega and Knights of Legend and eventually became a major writer, programmer and designer for the Ultima series. Along the way he also impacted several classic Wing Commander titles, doing artwork and QA on both Wing Commander I and II. We've tried to put together a few words in his memory:
In Wing Commander III, Colonel Blair begins Cobra's funeral: "I didn't know [her] well. Doubt that any of us did." It's a compelling moment: like the player, Blair has dismissed Cobra as a background character, unworthy of his attention. In those few words he admits, too late, understanding that she was an integral part of the squadron.We have put a permanent memorial page online here. It also includes a list of his projects and memories submitted by others in the community.
I didn't know John Watson.
I wish I had. His credits read like a childhood fantasy. He did artwork for Wing Commander II, one of the most beautiful games ever released. He wrote dialogue for Ultima VII, a title whose engrossing world is unmatched fifteen years later. He playtested Omega, Knights of Legend, Savage Empire and half a dozen other projects that more than any other collection represent an age when computer games were put together with nothing but spit, glue and love. He helped program Ultima Online, a game that changed PC gaming forever, and Crusader, a game that probably should have.
I have only scattered pieces in fading documents and old diskettes to look back at now and try to understand him: there's an angry letter in a 1993 Point of Origin, demanding to know why no one has explained the company's new phone system yet. There's his famous tuckerization, "Watson's Disease" in the original Wing Commander. There's his "Cheesy Book" easter egg in Ultima VIII. There's the 1994 AOL transcript where he and Richard Garriott met their fans face-to-face in the wake of Pagan's unpopular reception. There's the DOS kernel hack he programmed to give the game enough memory to scrape by. There's the Ultima IX script he wrote, widely considered by fans to be superior to the finished product.
But then there's the games themselves! Wing Commander, Ultima, Crusader... he touched all of them in some way. They're the games who made us who we are today, the games that form our shared youth, the games that we look back at for our fondest memories. He didn't have his name in lights like a Chris Roberts or a Richard Garriott... but he was essential to making Origin games the labors of love that they were.
I didn't know him outside of his name on my credits. I wish I could have. I don't know what kind of person he was or when he was born or what he did for fun - I don't even know what he looked like. Ultimately, all I do know that his work had a huge impact on my life and those of my friends - and, regardless of everything else, that's one hell of a legacy.
Please, share your memories - we'll post them here. I doubt many of us knew the man, but every one of us did know his games. Honor him in some small way by sending us a note about what those games meant to you.
(Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to contribute.)