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Holy Go Blighty: Memories of Ultima?

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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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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