Holy Go Blighty: Memories of Ultima?

By Kieron Gillen on January 24th, 2010 at 12:16 pm.

No, don’t get over excited. No news of any new Ultima. But before I do the Sunday Papers, I thought this may make a worthwhile talking point. I was chatting with Paul Barnett of EA Mythic on Friday about Ultima, specifically people’s memories of it. As in, it’s one of the series which a towering thing in the PC history, but what it actually means to you can vary enormously. In its original golden age, I’d argue it was particularly American-centric in terms of its appeal. And then there’s a second, seismic impact with Ultima Online. And some of you reading will never have actually even played any of the things, and it lives on sheer reputation. Anyway – that’s the question for the comments thread. What was the first time you became aware of Ultima? What did it mean to you?

And, of course, my answer…

Seeing this…

Not even a boxed copy. An advert. As I said previously, I actually came to owning a home computer late. A Commodore 16 when I was 10 or so. A Spectrum +2 a year or so later. And then a rapidly burgeoning love of videogame magazines, which lead me to – when I was about 14 or so – actually buying a load of old pre-me Your Sinclair and (persumably) associated multiformats magazines – when I saw someone advertising an enormous stack in the local free paper.

Anyway, I went through these objects, I absorbed them all, and furnishing a lot of my internal memories. I remember dwelling lengthily on the Ultima one – mainly because it was such a striking image, in a retro fantasy way. What nags after me all these years is… well, linking back to that “presumably”. It must have been in a multi-format mag. If it wasn’t a multi-format mag, why would they be advertising a non-Spectrum game in a Spectrum mag? But, thinking harder, I don’t think there were multiformats. I think they just put it in. They put it in to tease us.

Really, there was nothing in the advert. This was pre-Bard’s Tale for me, so it just promised some engimatic fantasy world, which I’d never play. The thing with being a Spec-chum was that, in terms of actual mainstream RPGs as we’d understand them, there really was very little there. In other words, while I played lots of pen and paper RPGs, I had no idea what Ultima would actually play with. It was just this promise of another world – another world it was unlikely I’d ever visit.

That’s Ultima for me. Not actually getting my own PC until around 97, the only one I even tried to play before turning into a professional games writer was VIII – and I’m sure someone in the comment thread will have a good old growl about Ultima VIII’s Mario-isms. I actually was the PC Gamer writer to review IX, which I did kick around a bit, and did one of my earliest patented Anecdote About My Exs intros. But…

Well, Ultima carries some weight for me, if only because of those once-removed memories and the enormous weight of reputation it carries with Americans. And after writing all this, it does make me wish EA would do something else with the bloody thing.

And you folk?

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147 Comments »

  1. Thirith says:

    I’m currently playing Ultima V: Lazarus, the fan remake in the Dungeon Siege engine. I wasn’t sure whether I’d get into it or whether there’d be too much of a clash between my nostalgic memories and the game, its world and characters.

    It took me an hour or so to get sucked in again, but after that I never looked back. I started playing the series with the original Ultima V and have played every game that’s come out on computers since. Returning to Britannia was like coming home in a nerdy, geeky way. I remembered many of the Mantras and Words of Power, I remembered where the towns, shrines and moongates were. If I had the time and talent, I’d love to recreate Britannia (roughly around Ultima VII) in the Oblivion engine.

    Having almost finished Lazarus, I’m definitely putting The False Prophet, The Black Gate and Martian Dreams (bought over eBay) back on my “To play” list.

    • Thirith says:

      And to answer your question a bit more: I remember both Ultima V and Bard’s Tale III being reviewed in the German computer magazine I was reading. My mum’s English and her parents were both about to visit, so I asked whether they could get me the two games. BT3 was fun, but it was U5 that I sunk many, many tens of hours into. It’s probably fair to say that a lot of my basic English vocabulary comes from these games, so it’s quite amazing that I don’t go “thou” and “thee” all the time. (It might explain why I later studied English Literature, focusing heavily on Shakespeare…)

  2. Batolemaeus says:

    I somehow stumbled into a UO freeshard a long, long, long time ago. Played it, loved it, but school was more important and stuff, so it disappeared from my sight. I was more occupied with C&C at that time.

    However, UO still influences my gaming. My favourite mmo was built by people who played and loved Ultima Online, so the went along and made their own mmo basing on it’s design principles.

    • Garreett says:

      If you’re looking for a freeshard again, unfortunately, most of the popular server lists don’t work anymore; I’ve found the only one that works is by using Razor (http://www.runuo.com/razor/) to connect to the UOGamers server.

      Also, what’s your favourite MMO? The only MMOs I can think of that were created with the UO design princibles would be Mortal Online, Darkfall, or EVE.

    • Batolemaeus says:

      Eve, of course. It works really well like that.

  3. Magnus says:

    I started with Ultima IV, but Ultima V was the one that really interested me.

    Since then, I have played U4-to-U8, and Ultima Online for a while.

    One of my favourite series of games ever made, and I do hope they’ll find their way to Good Old Games some point in the future.

    I still remember my Brittanian Runic Alphabet…

  4. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Means absolutely nothing to me. My crpg roots lie (as all my gaming roots do) on the mac, with Realmz of Fantasoft.

    Oh, sure, I’ve heard of it. And Ultima.. 8? Was available for the mac, I believe.

  5. Severian says:

    Ultima III was my my first true gaming love, played obsessively on my Commodore 64. My friends and I passed around a single copy between each other, grinning madly as we handed it off to the next, like it was pornography, or gold. It was the game I’d always wanted to play but didn’t know it. RPG’s have been my favorite genre in gaming ever since and nothing since has matched the joy I experienced playing it. Yeah, I’d say Ultima was pretty influential in my life.

    It had a cloth map. A CLOTH MAP.

    • Bullwinkle says:

      This, pretty much. I won’t go so far as to say that I never experienced the same joy again–Thief, Privateer, Civilization, and a handful of others come to mind–but Ultima III was the first.

  6. Bib Fortuna says:

    I Started playing With Ultima VI, Ultima VIII and then Ultima IX.

    I have never played Ultima VII, that almost everyone claims to be the best of the series. At the time, when Ultima VII was published, I had an old 286 that was not able to run it…

    However I was aware of the Ultima games well before my experience with Ultima VI. I fantasticated on the adverts published on magazines, in the same way is described in this post. When I finally started to play the actual game, on my new 286 PC was a beautiful moment to remember.

  7. poop says:

    reading about the lord british assassination and other crazy UO stories are pretty much all i know about the series

  8. Alabaster Crippens says:

    So my first memory of ultima was stumbling across the manual to Ultima Seven in amongst the treasure trove of books left behind by my brother when he went to Uni. This was the same source as virtually all my exposure to SF and Fantasy reading, and later, when he gave me an old computer with a shed load of even older games installed, my early gaming.
    I remember so vividly the Ankh symbol on the front of the book, and was fascinated by this weird book of lore for a game I couldn’t yet imagine. I flicked through and read about virtue and avatars and what not, and was baffled but fascinated.

    So that’s first contact.
    Later, when the aforementioned computer arrived, one of the installed games was Ultima 8: Pagan, which I understand to be thought of as one of the worst games in the series. Once I figured out how to actually play the game at all (which took about three years…I lacked short term persistence in those days) I got really into it, finally made the connection with the book upstairs, and loved the game. Until a fatal bug occurred on meeting one of the elemental avatars.

    The only way I could get past it was to load up one of my brother’s saves, which was left in an utterly inexplicable position of surrounded by stuff on a tiny island in a sea of lava with no way off.

    So I gave up.

    And that’s about it. I thought it was a solid game at the time (though I was lacking in discernment at the time) enjoyed it (and got frustrated by it) thoroughly, but have never bothered to get into any of the earlier ones. No excuse for that, just find it hard to go further back in time than games I’ve already played (if that makes sense…which I’m pretty sure it doesn’t).

    Anyway, that’s my ramble.

    • syrion says:

      @Alabaster Crippens

      Your brother was using the stuff to walk across the lava, by tossing one item then gathering the rest, then jumping to the next item and gathering the rest, etc. It was a flaw in the engine, and let you skip to the sorcerers’ enclave before you were supposed to.

  9. mechtroid says:

    I feel ashamed to say this, but I have no idea what ultima is. >.>

  10. hart says:

    My first memory of Ultima? Being intensely frustrated by a game that made absolutely no sense to the little kid I was back then.

    I think it was Ultima VIII. When I blundered through this game, following as many of the scripted scenes as I could, I inevitably found my way to a wilderness full of zombies. As far as I could tell my poor Avatar had no weapons or armour; combat was practically impossible to figure out. But what was *really* frustrating was the manual.

    This manual was brilliant. There wasn’t alot of material in it but it was all stuff that seemed so interesting that it encouraged me to keep trying to actually play the game – and every time to no avail.

    I look back and wonder what the hell was I missing for that game to be such a pain in the butt to play…

  11. RLacey says:

    My first memory of Ultima was getting Ultima VIII as one of the bundled games with my first CD-ROM drive (along with Syndicate, Wing Commander 2 and Strike Commander; if only they gave away discs like that nowadays). I remember being really irritated when I came to install it, because I had to free up 30 MB of my 100 MB hard disk.

    I remember enjoying it when I played it, though I also remember being bad enough at games to not really try playing it properly. An interesting experience, though.

    A few years back I did actually acquire all of the other games, but I never seem to get past meaning to play them…

  12. Labbes says:

    My first memory of Ultima is a review of Ultima 8, which was “the game that wouldn’t run smoothly on any computer”. Some years later, my uncle and a friend of mine tried to convince me to play Ultima Online, which I did not.
    Until this day, I haven’t played any Ultima title, and I regret it a little bit. Some weeks ago I thought I should take a look at Ultima 8…which is, sadly, still unplayable at this point. “They” say the demo runs well enough, but I can’t find it anywhere.
    I would guess it’s too late now to join the party?

  13. yabonn_fr says:

    PLayed IV and V.

    Was quite a few dozen hours in V when my younger brother decided to try to play the Complicated Game, and sqhashed my save. Back to Iolo’s hut. Little bastard.

  14. syrion says:

    I consider Ultima VII one of the best RPGs ever made. It had an interactive, living world… I enjoyed just doing things like making bread and hunting. The combat left something to be desired, but it seemed secondary.

  15. Zerotime says:

    The first time I saw something to do with Ultima would have been an ad for either VI (Avatar stomping a gargoyle) or Underworld (Avatar hears a noise downstairs in the middle of the night; oh no, it’s a goblin!). The first one I actually played was probably Underworld. Or VII. Or VIII. Or maybe Savage Empire!

  16. Yargh says:

    Let’s not forget the Ultima Underworlds as well, I think I preferred those to Ultima VII. though that one too has many fond memories.

  17. Auspex says:

    I only ever played Ultima IV on the Master System. Unfortunately my second-hand copy was missing a book that was supposed to come with it which made some parts tricky as I recall.

    It’s the first game I can recall my siblings and I all playing obsessively and then for some curious reason all our save games got deleted and I witnessed the only time I’ve ever seen my sister lose her temper as she went into a curious and terrifying rage.

    So Ultima for me = confusion and fury.

    • Spacewalk says:

      This is how I got into Ultima though it was a rental and not a second-hand copy. Maybe it’s the same thing. Later on I decided to try Ultima on a computer once I got one of those super fast Pentium 100s and went for Underworld since that was the one with the first-person perspective.

  18. bill says:

    I remember getting ultima 8 free with some hardware (soundblaster cd maybe?) and trying to play it a few times.

    I ran around the starting area. Jumped a bit. Picked up stuff and put it in the inventory. Talked to a few people. Had no idea what to do. Gave up.

    I’ve heard great things about the series, but never got into it.

    My other memory is that the PC mag I used to buy (pc gamer uk, maybe) had a Top 10 of each Genre in the back of every issue, plus an all time top 10. For the whole time I was growing up it had Ultima Underworld, then Ultima Underworld 2 as the top games… and looking at the screenshot always wow’d me.

    Never got to play UU, but then I got and loved System Shock, System Shock 2 and Deus Ex…. so I guess that’s how it influenced me indirectly.

  19. bill says:

    considering how much cash Final Fantasy is still raking in (or even elder scrolls), it’s beyond bizarre that they haven’t made any ultima games for so long…

  20. Taillefer says:

    Through combination of youth and systems, Ultima VIII ended up as the first Ultima I played. Ofcourse I then sought out the previous games but, probably because it was first, Ultima VIII remains my favourite. One of my favourite games ever, in fact.

    I don’t think I’d really played anything like it at that point. The world seemed so alive. I got to run around wherever I want, fighting the monsters that wandered the wilderness. I could search for powerful objects in secret caves. I got to cast spells using different magic systems, to summon my own demon which could turn on me. I spoke with Deities and powerful wizards. Travelled through planes and… crashed a lot as I approached the end of the game. But, I think it was the intro that stuck out the most, the Guardian’s booming voice as he banishes you. I can still quote every word. Oh, and the music…

  21. Paul_M says:

    Ultima Online The Second Age was my first major interaction with the Ultima name. (previous to this, I had Ultima IV or something, bundled with my first graphics card or CD player – whatever, it never worked anyway)

    There was a feeling I had reading the manual in the car on the way home from Electronics Boutique where I’d bought it for about a fiver. Before I even had a chance to play, there was a powerful sense of excitement at the scale and shear possibility. When I started out, it wasn’t daunting either. Many RPGs and MMOs bombard you with lore, exposition and an almost anxious insistence on combat. UO allowed me to go off adventuring, hunting down the largest beasties in the darkest dungeons, or just walk through a forest, chop down some trees and make furniture or find some water and go fishing, or… so, so many ors. For someone who likes to explore and see things, it was perfect and it had that sense of mystery that comes with games that are less polished and refined. Weird things would happen: creatures would appear in odd places, mysterious structures existed for seemingly no reason. This only added to its magic. You don’t get that with games that are dutifully combed by large dev teams.

    In some ways I think UO spoiled me for all games to come. I’m too often disappointed at the limited scope of some PC games, their lack of depth, or atmosphere and the sterility that comes with popularity. UO really does show that adventurous game design transcends graphical presentation. To me it’s a game that embodies what PC gaming is all about.

    And it wasn’t just about fucking orcs, humans, elves and dwarfs.

  22. zipdrive says:

    Strangely enough, I never really played any of the mainline Ultima games.
    My introduction to the series was through Ultima Underworld, which my best friend and I (then somewhere in our teens) sunk so completely into that Uri (my friend) could write things using the aforementioned runes instead of English. What an awesome game for the time it was.

    He went on to utterly fall in love with Ultima 7 and kept telling me how wonderful it was, but I wasn’t biting for whatever reason.

    I played UU2 vicariously through him, too.

  23. hart says:

    @ bill Yes! The Soundblaster! That was how we came to own it as well. Was in a pack of 5 games, the others being syndicate, wing command 4, and… the rest i don’t quite remember.

  24. rei says:

    My first Ultima was IV. I played it together with my sister (I played, she watched) and we even wrote our own little bound guidebook for it with shop prices and reagent mixes and such things. I don’t know that I could still be arsed to play through that game, but I still consider it one of my all time favorites.

    After that I completely skipped V and VI, and finally came back for VII when we got a proper computer. I was completely obsessed with that game and its sense of place. I still get flashbacks of a summer completely spent in Britannia when I hear some of the music. The only other game ever to do anything similar to me was Daggerfall some years later. Still waiting for the third one, but I secretly fear I might be too old now :’(

    When Ultima Online was announced it sounded like the fulfillment of all my dreams, but I never managed to get into it. I didn’t even finish my initial free period. I guess that was the official end of an era for me.

    EDIT: Oh, I completely forgot Underworld. That was another summer spent in computerland… I seem to have spent a lot of summers that way. I ended up never finishing the game, however, as I had to go to a summer camp in the middle of it and somehow never returned to it when I got back home.

  25. Melnorme says:

    Seems lots of people started out by getting Ultima 8 as some sort of freebie, and I’m no exception.

    The game wasn’t very good, but the setting was intriguing enough that my interest was piqued. This was around the time the Internet started getting popular in my country (around 1996), and some of my first activities online were searching for more information about Ultima.

    I found the Ultima Dragons, managed to “acquire” some more of the Ultima games, and the rest is history…

  26. EvilG says:

    Made my heart jump seeing that logo on the front page of RPS.

    My first true crpg, I had Ultima 6 for my amiga 500 and later everything Ultima for the PC when I finally got one.
    U6 got me hooked , I remember killing the gargoyles the first time i met them which screwed up my game but more than that id irredeemably damaged the world of U6, the game had allowed me to do so, i was given the freedom to chose, the depth of the plot and characters in comparison to other games id played at the time completely blew me away and has effected my views of all RPG’s and probably other genre’s since.

    That was only exacerbated by the first game i played on my PC which was ultima underworld which may be my favorite game of all time, the amount of innovation within that single game is staggering, I believe it was both technically and artistically far in advance of its peers.

    Needless to say when i heard of Ultima Online I had sleepless nights imagining a virtual reality in tasty full fat Ultima sauce.

    when i eventually played ultima online a very different kind of world existed to the one i had imagined, indeed id never imagined i might have to flee from an enraged rabbit but it was beautiful none the less, like a wild frontier where people were learning to fend for themselves.

    and the air was thick with fending, I had never considered some players capacity for evil against fellow man, i probably spent a good half my time of the first two weeks running around in my pants (in game) trying to find my looted corpse in the hopes of salvaging a wooden shield or some other crap.

    I’ve played quite a few MMORPG’s since but none have managed to capture that feeling of freedom and vulnerability, they all feel like games with big friendly buttons and smooth edges, UO was more like..a n00b meat grinder.

    Ramble ends.

    G

    • Paul_M says:

      Evil is right. I remember walking near the docks in Britain and spying an item in a boat. No one was around so, being a relatively new player, I thought I’d nip aboard and see if the thing would be of any use to me.

      As soon as I did so, two ruffians un-invisibled themselves, raised the gangplank and sailed me squealing out to sea, beyond the aid of the town guards. Despite my polite requests to be let off, they silently butchered me and looted my corpse.

  27. archonsod says:

    The only memories of Ultima I have is seeing one of them (Think it may have been VIII or IX) on the budget shelf at one point and deciding to give it a miss. Can’t remember what I bought instead.

    The first CRPG I remember playing was actually on the Spectrum, a little game called Journey’s End which nobody but me seems to recall these days (and it was a fantastic game dammit).

    On the PC, It was one of the Wizardry series. Crusaders of the Dark Savant I think.

  28. razorblade79 says:

    Ultima 7 Serpent Isle was my first contact with Ultima beyond reading about it (I actually read all the walkthroughs about 1-6 in the C64er mag because they were written like short stories back then.

    to this day, Ultima 7 (both of them) is/are among my favourite games and in lots of ways still the best in certain mechanics. like open world games, interactive world, exploration. also both had a great, mature and complex plot, and a lot of sex + violence without making it seem like a marketing gag as but like organic parts in mature game. the worst you could say about U7 would be that the combat sucked.

    I really hope EA will at some point get back to the single player Ultimas. maybe bioware would do this? I’d love to see their take on it.

  29. mcw says:

    I played a few segments of Ultima 8 and Ultima 9 but I never really got into them. Always wanted to try the one that Warren Spector worked on.

  30. James G says:

    I first really became aware of Ultima via Ultima Online. I think I was aware that the series existed before then, and that it was a fantasy RPG kind of thing, but I hadn’t paid it much attention. Ultima online however had a great appeal to me, as it was one of the first MMOs that I was really aware of. However the cost made it prohibitive to someone who still relied on pocket money, especially when any internet access would have been via pay-per-minute dial-up. When I did finally play a small bit of it in a 30 day trial on a coverdisc, I realised that it would have been beyond me.

    I later picked up Ultima IX in EB for a couple of quid about six months after launch. The box alone was impressive, and I loved the cloth map. I was quite happy just exploring the starting area, but never really got in to the game proper. I was never a huge fan of combat in games*, and I recall getting killed by a pirate in town, shortly after leaving a church. I never went back to it after that. I can’t remember anything about the plot, I don’t think I had even found it.

    * Still aren’t in many ways, real-time twitch combat especially. I’ll generally take non-combat routes is available, and am especially uncomfortable with melee. Even more abstracted systems, such as turn based ones, will have me avoiding fights if I can, and preferring taking enemies out remotely, if I can’t to it peaceably. All a combination of poor reactions, pacifism and cowardice.

  31. Zuni says:

    I was drooling over the Ultima IV and Ultima V ads in the magazine before I could ever get to see either. First I saw was Ultima VI at friend’s place. Later got to play a lot of VII with it’s addons, but the really fondest memories all revolve around Ultima VIII, no matter what other people say. Playing week after week and finally cruching through it without help from walkthroughs and tips was so satisfying. It was ages ago but there were scenes and places I will never forget.

    If someone did some quality work with the Ultima title it would be a guaranteed best seller. Someone throw BioWare the rights to this franchise and give them a few years and we have a winner ;)

  32. evilchili says:

    The Serpent Isle was not only the first Ultima game I played as a kid, it was one of the very first RPGs I ever played, period. Its impact on me cannot be overstated — I still think of it as the template for how an open-world RPG should work. I had a hard time connecting with the gameplay of Ultimas 1-6, 8 I didn’t enjoy and Ultima 9 was a game I really, really wanted to work better than it did; I played it anyway.

    What they all had in common was right there on the box, in Origin’s slogan: “We create worlds.” I loved that the Serpent Isle was a living, breathing place full of characters that seemed real, with their own little stories and motivations, a world into which I could insert myself and do whatever I wanted. I remember amassing a giant horde of jewels and gold by robbing every house, goblin cave and castle, and hiding it all in a secret room in the basement of a tavern (which I also robbed).

    There was a daring to Ultima 7: The Serpent Isle — a vastness, a willingness to create a narrative beyond slaying goblins and running fetch quests, and it hit me at just the right time to help define the kind of experiences I want from games.

  33. terry says:

    First experience I had of Ultima was seeing a review of UVI in ACE magazine (the EDGE of the day) and lusting after those beautiful VGA graphics because I had a rubbish CGA card at the time. I pretty much wrote it off as it was “one of them damn yankee games you can’t get at Woolworths and the shop in town would take months to order”, but glorious day, saw it in aforementioned shop in town and pestered my parents for it as a Christmas gift. I played it for maybe 6 hours on Xmas day and definitely got a telling off for not going to the table faster when tea was ready and again for leaving immediately to play more after tea. My parents derided my “videogame teatowel” and stylish polished piece of stone/mystical orb, but I loved that crap – also BIG fuckoff bestiary/manual/reference card shenanigans/mysterious runes to translate on the manual that probably said rude things.

    You didn’t get the conversation topic hints in CGA so I’d type in virtually every word a character said looking for clues. I don’t think I ever freed more than 4 shrines, but remember most of the item codes (88 was vital – gold coins!) and used Armageddon in an unpopulated area, not realising my error until I had saved game and gone to a town and finding it a tad…desolate. I know the copy protection off by heart. I think I even dreamt in Britannian. Brilliant game. Never quite got into VII because of the real-time thing and the frankly atrocious system requirements at the time.

    UO is another kettle of fish. I had fun in it but really MMOs aren’t for me at all. At least I learned that from the best one.

  34. Alex says:

    Ah yes Ultima V. First game I ever got for Christmas. Played the crap out of it, never finished. I think it was too much for my wee 12 year old brain to handle.

    Am I the only one here who used the pentagram coin as an amulet for his wizard costume on Halloween? The sweet extras are one thing you can’t get on Steam.

  35. Auspex says:

    Ultima IV was released on the master system in 1990?!

    I am officially old…

  36. Gumbomasta says:

    I remember getting Ultima 6 for my Packard Bell PC back in ’91. I was 8 years old. It opened up my love of early open-world games. The underlying logic of the game was admittedly over-my-head, but i could still experiment in the world, and it definitely shaped my experience on future open games and the like. Plus, I could go on serious rampages.

    The best would always be out of reach though. Ultima 7 came out a year later and my computer wasn’t powerful enough for it. It looked utterly amazing though… the screenshots were unbelievable. It would be 10 years before I seriously got into that one. Next computer I got was in ’95 and I could easily run Ultima 8. Definitely dug on that for a wile, but realized it had some shortcomings. back in the mid-to-late 90s, PCs couldnt’ run older Dos games due to the incompatibilities of DOS and the new Windows 95. Some games worked, others didn’t. Ultima 7 Pts 1 and 2 definitely didn’t. I even read about having to run a “Voodoo” memory program to get them to work. They sort-of worked, but the mouse drivers would eat up all the free memory and you could only use your keyboard. No thanks.

    UO Came around in 97, but I was too young for a credit card and the whole UO scene was pretty brutal. After a several-month obsession, I let that one go and got in to Daggerfall and Might and Magic 6.

    Ultima IX came around with another new computer in ’99 and my new computer was still not powerful enough to run the latest Ultima. Ultima, like most of the Origin games, had this aura of being “three steps ahead” technologically and I’d be lucky if I had the computer that could sort-of- play it. I read U9 was a buggy mess, though, and Bioware was just starting to hit their stride so I sat back and played the Fallouts and the Baldur’s Gates while Origin went belly-up on their own ambitions, sadly.

    Which brings me to my college years… they finally came out with an emulator for Ultima 7 Pts 1 and 2 and I jumped on it after getting the ‘Complete’ Ultima 7 on Ebay. All those years of waiting and thinking about those games finally paid off: Those were definitely the best. I was old enough to appreciate the subtexts of what Lord British was trying to say, and it was really satisfying. Dark plots, great graphics, memorable characters, a full realization of Brittania’s open world. My relationship with Ultima is fond indeed… it’s a shame that some corporate thug is just sitting on the license.

    At least we had Gothic/Risen, Oblivion, Divine Divinity, Arx Fatalis, MMO and -Bioware games to (sort-of’) scratch the itch that those Ultima games scratched long ago.

    Still, that pitch-black black box that just says ULTIMA 7: the Black Gate cannot be denied.

  37. WCG says:

    Age 10 is “coming late to owning a home computer”? Heh, heh. Kids!

    Anyway, Ultima IV or V – can’t remember which at this point – was the first RPG I ever played, and one of the very first of any kind. But that was long after I’d finished college (where computers meant mainframes and punch cards).

    I’d had a couple of very primitive computers before then, including a kit programmed by toggle-switch, with a “screen” of eight LEDs, but I couldn’t afford the earliest home computers.

  38. Lyndon says:

    When I was really young kid I had a copy of Ultima IV, the only problem was that the disks were corrupted. Every time I tried to play the game I’d do the quiz in the gyspy’s trailer and prepare for adventure only to have the damn thing crash. Never stopped me from trying though. I was convinced that it was going to be this awesome amazing thing but it wasn’t until a decade later that I actually got to play it. I dug it but the moment had passed.

    My first proper exposure to Ultima came when I got a new computer with a fancy soundblaster sound card. The sound card came with a CD with a bunch of games on it and one of the games was Ultima VII. Man I loved the shit out of that game.

    The funny thing was that it was everything I’d imagined IV would be. At the time I’d never experianced such a richly detailed world that offered so much freedom. Even a more modern game like GTA III fells shallow and cartoonish in comparison. I mean Ultima VII is a game where you can make bread from scratch. From cutting the wheat in the fields to cooking it in an oven. It’s a stunning achievement.

    Yeah good times, an amazing game, and an amazing series.

    Also I’m pretty sure it did the whole sleep with prostitutes before murdering them thing way before Rockstar thought of it.

  39. jackflash says:

    It was also Ultima V for me, when I was about 9 years old, in 1989 or so. I couldn’t figure the damn game out for the life of me, but I found it entrancing.

  40. Ben L. says:

    Started with Ultima VII: The Black Gate, and it remains to this day one of the five best PC RPGs ever made, and one of the 10 best anything RPGs ever made.

    I wonder at the assumption that the series is primarily of concern to Americans, since Ultima III was a big seller worldwide and is usually understood to be one of the main influences of the JRPG, along with Wizardry. There’s got to be lots of European fans too, I mean look at all the CRPGs we get from those guys. You can’t tell me Ultima didn’t influence them.

    And yeah, despite the huge flaws and unfinished nature of Ultima 8, I loved it and still do.

  41. deimos says:

    Started with Ultima VI then back to IV, V and VII.

    I remember in VI, I kept seeing, flour, butter, milk, etc objects and figuring out why they are littered across Brittania. Then I figured out you can craft these same items in the game from basic materials. My avatar was an honest baker/farmer (and earning at it) before resuming his duties as a gargoyle basher.

    ***

    I disregarded Ultima 8, with its horrible controls and non-ultima feel (and this game was a freebie with a SoundBlaster card). Weird, but Crusader: No Regret is fine and used the same engine. About other Origin games, Wing Commander 1/2 and Strike Commander was a blast to play – I miss those games.

  42. disperse says:

    Someone played through the entire Ultima series (from Akalbeth through U9) blogging his experience along the way:

    http://bloggingultima.blogspot.com/

  43. Uglycat says:

    Tsk, started with Ultima 1 after mucking about with Akalabeth. U3 was probably the best upgrade.

  44. Dominus says:

    My first Ultima gama was Ultima 8 Pagan, loved it very much, it was a little different from the other Ultima games but it was not a bad game.

    also I recently wrote an article here about Ultima Underworld and its legacy to videogames http://gmzzz.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/ultima-underworld/

  45. joseph says:

    Briefly played an ultima game at my sister’s boyfriend’s house when I was 14ish. He was trying to get me to smoke weed. I can only imagine now that it wasn’t because he loved me, but because he wanted me to get high so he could laugh at me. Maybe, though, intended laughing was just his mental cover up of the true feelings of love for me, another human, who he wanted to share the experience of weed with. He couldn’t openly love me, because he’d been programmed to feel ‘bad’ or ‘stupid’ when he loved someone. (The reason I’m assuming that he wanted to laugh at me, is both a vague memory of his tone when suggesting to my sister that ‘they’ give me weed, and a memory of my sister later breaking up with him for being a ‘dick head’ and ‘total arsehole’.)

    The game was in 3D. I think it was Ultima 9.

    • mda says:

      Or maybe he was just attributing that reason for wanting to share weed with me… and the rest of the stuff about love is just why I personally would give weed to someone… and people don’t necessarily feel that at all. Because they don’t love themselves? Maybe I’m getting somewhere here.. who knows.

    • terry says:

      You guys should smoke weed. Or stop, I’m not sure which.

    • mda says:

      terry: I’ve done both of those things. Now what?

      (I am both the above posters, just wasn’t logged in at first.)

  46. Moorkh says:

    The Savage Empire is probably the really made me a PC gamer in the first place (together with Railroad Tycoon and Leisure Suit Larry 3). Those were the first 3 games I got to play on my father’s brand new i286. I simply loved SE’s lush setting to explore, the beautiful 256 colours graphics, the terraced landscape that let you spy places you wished to get to but couldn’t reach for another couple weeks of playing, and of course the evil that was Dr. Spektor, an in-game version of Warren Spector himself.

    Before that, I had spent most of a year reading and re-reading articles on Ultima 6 in various gaming mags, wishing it would finally be released on my trusty C64 (which it did only after I got a PC and was – so I hear – rather disappointing).

    The disappointment with Ultima 8, then the unbearable wait and the high hopes for Ascension only to be disappointed again slowly eroded my enthusiasm, even though I closely followed all the fan projects for years onwards and even signed up as a newsposter at Ultimadot.

    UO, though, never really drew me in. I wanted to be the avatar, after all, not just some avatar…

    • Velvet Fist, Iron Glove says:

      @Moorkh

      Yes, The Savage Empire was great. It’s what got me into the Ultima series, and still vies for position with Ultima VII/VII.2 as my favourite. I played through The Savage Empire, then in various order Ultimas IV, V, VI, VII, VII.2, and most of VIII (and Martian Dreams somewhere in there). Something that kept coming back to me when playing Oblivion was how much *less* rich and detailed its world and characters were than Ultima VII. But I still like the Savage Empire for the ability to craft rough flintlocks out of bamboo and shoot dinosaurs and sabre-toothed tigers.

      Like so many others here, I got The Savage Empire, Ultima VII, and Ultima VIII on CD, bundled with SoundBlaster cards. I much later got The Ultima Collection off eBay to play through some of the other games.

    • Moorkh says:

      Hehe, nice to see others have the same preference.
      I forgot to mention how much I loved the crafting in the game – I don’t think any RPG did anything quite like it in its time: using knife on tree to get flax, using flax on loom to get cloth, using knife on cloth to get cloth strips, using strips on tar pit to get tarred cloth strip. And that was just the fuse for either the grenade or the bamboo rifle, iirc. You also had to make blackpowder and grenade casing from scratch, and if you never just happened to find Spektor’s notebook while idly exploring, you wouldn’t have any idea that you were able to do anything like it.

      On thing still keeps me awake some nights: I was never able to find the pricess of that tribe with the sick chieftain on the mesa to the southwest. Damn! There is an Exult-like for U6 engine games somewhere on the web, so I might be bothered to go back and find her one day…

  47. EaterOfCheese says:

    I’ve got a laminated Ultima V advert from Games Master magazine on my bedroom wall, still :) Also, the Official Book of Ultima is a good read, if there are any copies floating around.

    First in the series I played was Ultima IV, on an Apple IIe. Also the first computer game I played, back in 198..6 I think, with my cousin teaching me how to play… Filled me with wonder, excitement, and dreams about orcs chasing me through the forest. So many good memories :)

    Played the entire series, 1-8, Underworld 1 & 2, Martian Dreams, Savage Empire, UO (offical servers), UO (several freeshards). Eventually inspired me to get into game development as a career (I got my jumpstart from working as a writer / qa on the Ultima V Lazarus remake a few years back).

  48. Smurfy says:

    Never played it, don’t want to.

  49. Lucas says:

    Ultima 8 for me. Here’s a more interesting question: what have the Ultima games been superseded by, as far as design and gameplay, and why?

  50. Chandrose says:

    Never played any of them. I’ve always been aware of of them (mostly due to the fact their creators are still making games), but they were before my PC gaming time.

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