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Ducks in Ultima

Story of Ducks in Ultima

Story by Joe Garrity, curator of the Origin Museum.

Back in the very early days of Ultima, Richard was hard at work on Ultima 2. As we all know, many of the characters in Ultima come from real-life people, friends of Richard from the SCA days. Richard had started getting better at programming, and Ultima 2 would be his biggest yet. He began attempting to put basic personalities into his NPCs, so that the players could get more emotionally attached to the characters. He asked his friends for ideas that he could adapt to their own electronic counterparts. One of the people he asked was Greg Dykes, who is Dupre in the Ultima games. Dupre's answer was quite ingenious for the time:

"Okay--My character will ask the player, 'Wanna buy a duck?' If the player says yes, then he buys one, he gets an option--the duck will lay 1 egg per day, supplementing the player's food supply by a small amount for the rest of the game...OR, the player can kill the duck and have one full meal for 1 day." Richard replied, "Well, the game I'm writing isn't robust enough to do all of that, but 'Wanna buy a duck?' it is."

The character of Dupre in Ultima 2 always asks the player, "Wanna buy a duck?" which is nothing more than an inside joke.

Since that time, as word of this strange quote spread, people started to buy gifts for Greg in the shape of ducks--duck keychains, duck soap, rubber duckies, duck T-shirts, etc, etc--Rumor has it that over 25 years later, Greg Dykes still recieves duck items every birthday and Christmas (and he HATES them!).

The in-joke of the duck was used in Ultima and at Origin well into the early 1990s. For more Origin 'duck-ness' see the old article here:

If you'll notice, Richard's hardhat (given to him by the Ultima programming team) has a duck on it, with the words 'Ankh, Ankh)--this is a reference to Ultima 6, where Chuckles the Jester asks his riddle:

What did the duck say to the Avatar?
He said: Ankh-Ankh!

© by Daniel D'Agostino 2002-2020