You’re Not Going To Like This: Ultima’s Back

By Alec Meer on January 26th, 2010 at 11:25 pm.

After all that Garriotian goodwill generated by Kieron’s welcome ‘hey! Remember Ultima?‘ nostalgia-tickle over the weekend, brace yourself for a shock. EA have brought Ultima back at last! Yipee yahoo hooray! Except… it’s not Ultima.

It’s a – gasp! – online, browser-based -gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasp! – strategy game, known as Lord Of Ultima. It’s set in the Ultima universe, but that’s about the extent of its ties to Britannia et al. It’s not an RPG and Richard Garriot isn’t involved, so olden Ultima fans are understandably feeling a little heartbroken right now. Though it’s vaguely MMO-esque, in that it’s you pitting your empire-building skills against other players, so it’s sliiiiightly like Ultima Online. Sorry, that’s a ridiculous thing to say. It’s nothing like any Ultima game to date. So it’s an incredibly peculiar decision on EA’s part, but then they hardly have a rich history of treating the license well.

The chaps behind it are EA Phenomic, the chaps behind last year’s bold, not-awful but somewhat unsatisfying RTS/CCG hybrid Battleforge. While I’ve not delved into myself yet (I’ve signed up, but apparently the servers are full, so I can’t actually get into the bally thing), it appears to be in the vein of sedate city-builders such as Settlers or – and this is, I suspect, key to why it exists – Evony. Which is a name that, rather understandably, tends to inspire strong reactions from clued-in gamers. So far, no irrelevant mammary-based banner ads for this new browser-based city-building game, at least. For all I know it’s a genuinely ace example of socially-networked strategy games, but that’s still very unlikely to justify this wild use of the Ultima name. Hopefully I’ll manage to join a server tomorrow and get a better sense of what, if any, its links to Ultimas-gone-by are.

As with Tiger Woods Online, EA are clearly trying to snatch a major chunk of the browser game market before someone else corners it. And, again as with Tiger Woods, it’s not clear what the pay model’s going to be yet. It’s been something of a stealth launch in a way, currently existing in a free open beta state – presumably to drum up a fanbase and interest before the money-harvesters roll onto the scene. Will it do so? Should it do so? Go look, and try to hide your tears.

I’m reminded of the browser-based Zork, another case of snaffling a treasured PC gaming name then applying it to something with only the slightest relevance to what’s gone before. Browser games are and will increasingly be incredibly important to the games industry, so it’s reckless and near-sighted to dismiss them out of hand, but this really does seem a case of savagely twisting the heavy-with-history Ultima name into any shape that money could be squeezed out of. Which, really, seems a little cruel to all the people who’ve waited long years for a new Ultima game. Why not a different, or a new name? Would it really have harmed sales forecasts that much?

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65 Comments »

  1. Flameberge says:

    That’s horrible of EA. Ultima conjours certain memories in many people and calling an unrelated game Ultima and essentially saying “um… ok, yeah, it’s in the same world or something” is just mean.
    I tut in disapproval.
    It’s as if SOE announced a new Everquest and it turned out to be some sort of weird RTS-RPG hybrid thing called Lords of Everquest or if EA had announced a new C&C game and it was some sort of, oh, I don’t know, FPS.

    Wait, hang on…

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      I don’t know.
      I remember playing Command and Conquer Renegade and that was pretty damn awesome.

      Then again, I was in my early teens and playing the multiplayer all the time.

    • Bhazor says:

      No! There is no excuse for ever liking Renegade ever.

      Actually I’ve never played it. But that doesn’t make my opinion any less valid.

    • AVarotsis says:

      I still vaguely aroused whenever anybody mentions Renegade.

      Mmmmhmm…..

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      Actually, there are two excuses for liking Renegade.
      Blowing shit up with nuclear bombs and blowing shit up with ion cannons.

    • Rosti says:

      Re: Renegade – Yup, that game may have been a bewildering mediocre in technical terms, but it’s still a bag of crazy fun. Take that, innocent harvester! Might be time for a spot of Rock, Paper, Strategic Nuclear Warhead to the Face, actually.

  2. Dominic White says:

    The one thing that actually gives me any vague hope for this is that it’s by Phenomic. Battleforge was perhaps pushed out a little early, but they’re just about to launch their second major expansion and there’s a LOT to like. It also has the single-most generous ‘demo’ of any game I’ve seen in years. The whole thing is free, except for faction customization (you’re stuck with four pre-defined armies to play with). All the story campaigns, all the co-op, mission editor, PvP, random map generator, etc. Everythign EXCEPT the card-based elements are free.

    So, I have no idea what EA are smoking on this project, but you should all at least give Battleforge another try. It’s pretty much free.

  3. Ghil says:

    something died inside me.

    • EaterOfCheese says:

      Looks and sounds pathetic. Really, really lame, EA.

      Maybe it was pirt snikwah’s idea.

    • Chris says:

      If you died alittle everytime a publisher did something money-centric with something you loved, I really doubt there’d be anything left living of you ;)

  4. Drexer says:

    I beliwve this is the closest a nineteen year old in fit shape can feel to an heart attack. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?

  5. crumbsucker says:

    Well, the HOMM strategy games turned out to be pretty decent and loved by many, and Might & Magic was also ancient rpg franchise beforehand.

    • Ghil says:

      Weirdly, and it’s probably just me, but I don’t see Ultima and M&M on the same step of game goodness.
      And comparing fully featured Strategy games to a browser city-building game seems off.

    • Flameberge says:

      The problem with M&M and HOMM were the fact they were both ground in to the dirt over many, many, many iterations of the same mediocre game. Which is why, when Dark Messiah came out, I wasn’t sure what some people were complaining about, because, frankly, the universe had been abused in many, many worse ways before. In fact it had been abused so bad it clearly didn’t care what attention it got as long as it got some… That turned into a weird metaphor… but anyway, Dark Messiah didn’t need the M&M name and why on earth they thought it was a good idea to tack it on I don’t really know, didn’t add anything at all. Game was pretty good in the end, shame about the giant spiders everywhere *shudders*. I actually used the console to put god mode on, and got my girlfriend to get through every section with those fiendish arachnids. *shudders*.

      Anyway, it’s similar here, I don’t think this game particularly needed the name Ultima tacked on, it won’t really add anything and has no real link to the games before hand.

  6. tekDragon says:

    “It’s set in the Ultima universe, but that’s about the extent of its ties to Britannia et al. It’s not an RPG and Richard Garriot isn’t involved, so olden Ultima fans are understandably feeling a little heartbroken right now.”

    Olden Ultima players quickly forget how terrible Ultimas XVIII and IV were and how quickly Tabula Rasa tanked. Having Lord Brit out of the piucture *could* be the best thing for the Ultima name.

    I am witholding judgment until I have more info.

  7. Tei says:

    my browser crash wen I try to register…

  8. born2expire says:

    Ultima’s need to make a come back and show Bioware howto make a proper RPG.

  9. Batolemaeus says:

    I will just cite the Nostalgia Critic “Bat Credit Card” freakout.

    [Not like that, no - even if you think it's A Funny]

  10. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    It’s like looking into a mirror…only not…

  11. Kimari says:

    “Play now My Lord” comes to mind =/

  12. TychoCelchuuu says:

    If they want to compete with Evony they’re going to have to up the breast count in their ads to at least 2.

  13. jalf says:

    Heh, I approve. This is such a wonderfully silly thing to do, it seems like its only purpose can be to tick off fans.

    Seems a safe bet to say that anyone who remember the name, and may be attracted to a game simply because it’s got “Ultima” in the name, will feel betrayed by a *browser strategy game* using the name, and so the name certainly won’t attract them.

    And of course, everyone else never knew (or cared) about the name in the first place, and so the name won’t attract them either.
    So naming it “Ultima” really achieves nothing at all, except cheesing off fans who want the series brought back “properly”.

    The optimistic side of me wants to think of this as just an absurd thing to laugh at. The cynic in me is worried that this is yet another example of just how little major publishers actually *understand* the industry they’re operating in. The idea that someone in EA actually thought “We’re going to make a browser strategy game. If we name it after a series that has a fanatic following, and which is old and dusty enough that no one *outside* that fanatic following cares about it, I’m sure it’ll be a greater success” is just frightening.

  14. Pardoz says:

    “Richard Garriot isn’t involved”. So there’s a chance it’s actually good, then?

  15. Sagan says:

    It seems that Evony’s ads were successful enough that it gets mentioned all the time. It wasn’t the first, the best or the biggest browser-based strategy game. But everybody knows it because it had offensive ads.

    The more likely inspiration for this is Travian or some other huge game we are all unaware of.

  16. PixelCody says:

    “The chaps behind it are EA Phenomic, the chaps behind last year’s bold, not-awful but somewhat unsatisfying RTS/CCG hybrid Battleforge.”

    +1 vote for Battleforge actually being a great multiplayer game once you are familiar with effective deck building and the peculiarities of the resource system. An excellent blend of strategy, tactics and pandemonium. I got a lot of enjoyment out of it having only spent £8 for the retail box which comes with enough in game currency to buy the majority of the cards,

  17. D says:

    This is on the scale of, like some giant RPG company announcing a sequel to Fallout that isn’t isometric NOR turn based! Shock horror. Yay I got to be angry today aswell :D

    • bhlaab says:

      Hey now! I think everybody is looking at the Ultima series with rose tinted glasses. These are hopelessly outdated games that need to be modernized if they wish to compete. You couldn’t make a game like Ultima VII these days.

  18. Pantsman says:

    Sounds like it still has stronger ties to the original than Far Cry 2 did.

  19. Michael Leung says:

    Oh, hell no.

    Just let the series die already, stop bringing back franchises in a half-assed attempt to make money!

  20. Dean W says:

    Next up: Super Wizardry 9: Tactics. Brought to you by “Phillipe Spêctre” and his willing team of French grad-students in downtown Montreal.

    Rest easy: the series is not being dumbed down; each and every team member rates Final Fantasy VII or Zelda: Ocarina of Time as the greatest games ever. Shit, they haven’t been playing anything *else* for the last ten years.

  21. poop says:

    play lords of ultima free, forever *giant tittays*

  22. leonard hatred says:

    Shame on you meer, you fear monger. :D

    Reusing a familiar brand to launch a new and only vagely related game is hardly something new. Certainly i’d be more concerned about a potentially interesting game suffering at EA’s clumsy hands than the ultima brand.

  23. Gassalasca says:

    So much for EA becoming the good-or-at-least-not-so-bad guy these past few years. :\

  24. dpCapital says:

    barf

  25. dpCapital says:

    damn. That “barf” comment was supposed to be in response to one of the many Evony jokes in the comments….

  26. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Bad.

  27. Magnus says:

    Gah, I have so many fond memories of Ultima and this is like a kick to the proverbials.

  28. KOuri says:

    Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo … ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I demand my 3d U7!

  29. ANeM says:

    Its a spin-off, they happen. It is at very least set in the same universe, I mean, they own the Ultima name, they could slap it on anything, even things only tangentially related to it.
    If they went by the Ubisoft method of naming things, where they only really need to match one or two aspects of a game to call it a sequel (ie: “This FPS has trees and guns.. Lets make it Far Cry 2!” “This FPS has guns and katanas, lets make it Red Steel 2!”) then Dragon Age, being an RPG with magic and swords would have been “Ultima 10: Dragon Age”

  30. Chevluh says:

    Etrian Odyssey on DS is a pretty good one

  31. Chevluh says:

    Whoops, meant to answer davidK

  32. Brian Rubin says:

    Wow, this seems just….lame…then again, it is EA…

  33. Rav says:

    So is this basically Travian then in the UO universe?

  34. Thirith says:

    I honestly don’t see what the problem is. Ultima Underworld was a completely different game from Ultima, with very tenuous ties to the series. (Ultima Underworld 2 was closer to it.) Arguably, parts 8 and 9 of the series were much more of an insult, because they pretended to be Ultima games rather than spinoffs, yet they provided little of what had made the series what it is.

  35. Heltorne says:

    Whether ultima 8 “sucked” or not (I don’t think it did, especially after the patch)
    you can’t deny that it was still awesome as far as being open world, had physics of sorts, you could run around where ever could actually pick up items and THROW them, JUMP up and grab hold of tops of buildings, walls, climb to tops of buildings..etc.. That was fun as hell!

    . So funny because these are things that games are just recently starting to have (though still not many and never all of that)
    Assassins Creed and a couple of others for instance as far as the 3rd person climbing..etc..
    .Games STILL don’t really have any kind of object interaction with objects except for Morrowind, Oblivion Gothic, Divine Divinity, Deus Ex and literally just a couple more

  36. Kaja says:

    What exactly would ‘modernizing’ Ultima involve?

  37. Sslaxx says:

    Considering EA own Bioware, well…

  38. Shaney says:

    tekDragon u idiot. Reason why Ultima 9 were crap is bcus Lord British sold all his Ultima gaming rights to EA around about the time they were releasing Ultima 9. EA destroyed Ultima 9 (read up on it) EA never finished the game properly. And Ultima 8 happens to be one of the best Ultimas I have ever played. Have you even tried to play it. It’s very addicting once you get in to the story. And Tabula Rosa was again not Richard Garriots fault so read up on it dick head.

    Ur a tosser mate.

    BRING BACK LORD BRITISH!!!

  39. Gareth says:

    It’s not numbered Ultima, it’s just a spinoff. I really don’t see an issue, although admittedly I’m not an Ultima fan. People who know the original series aren’t going to confuse it, and anyone who plays this new game without knowing the original… well, they’re not going to care either, I imagine.

  40. Magic H8 Ball says:

    No sir, I don’t like it.

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