Mnemotechnics And Ultima Underworld II

This isn’t like other Ultima Underworld II retrospectives. This is Dan Griliopoulos’ account of Ultima Underworld II as a “memory palace“, a mental construct which Wikipedia describes as a “mnemonic technique that relies on memorised spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorial content.” That’s the starting point. Let’s find out what he’s up to in there.

Let me start in the middle; I own a palace.

My palace is strange. I mean, it’s really strange. I’ve owned it since 1990, which is over twenty years now. Bits of it are in disrepair, tattered, cobwebbed fragments of texture and space, but much of it’s intact and strangely ageless. The way in, for me, is a tiny room in the North-West corner. This room is a comfortable home-from-home, built like a sauna with wood on the floor and walls, a roaring fire, a stacked bookshelf, some food and beer on the table. There’s a secret door behind the bookshelf. Behind that door are some small runes on a table, some drinks, another secret door, and my most precious memories. They’re the only ones I’m not going to tell you about.

You knew this from the beginning but my keep is no physical palace. It’s a Memory Palace, a mental construct used before computers or even printing. Mine is based on the first floor of Lord British’s castle from Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, a game that was the peak of the Western RPG before Morrowind. In UUII, you play the Avatar, a hero trapped in a castle whilst an enemy invades his world, and who must explore the maze of the basements to find the way out. Consider this, then, a retrospective about the sadly-defunct Ultima series, a discussion of an archaic psychological technique used by mystics since the dawn of time but curiously in abeyance during the modern era, and a pyx about the potential for the things we call games to become more than the structural limitations of engine design.

Turn left out of my room, and you’re in Iolo’s chamber. He’s an old crossbow-wielding comrade, a mentor figure to the Avatar who’s stayed in Britannia since Ultima 1 and hence has aged much more rapidly than your friend. He was crudely depicted in the early games but he’s grown up as the series has gone on, until he’s key to the plot of Ultima 7 and 9. He reminds me of older friends and archery, oddly enough, but I don’t have that many memories that fit that, save for really good tutors- smelly Mr Hurst, who taught Latin and Greek, or Dr Walker, who gave us all snuff and sherry while he tried to teach us about Kant.

Memory Palaces are imaginary devices used to retain and structure memories. They’re also known as the Method of Loci. Essentially, they’re a way of using man’s over-developed spatial awareness and memory for locations as an aide memoire – you find a location that you know intimately, and lock to it important memories. It’s a bit like the tricks those chaps who memorise long strings of numbers do, but developed for the long-term retention of ideas as opposed to the short-term. However, I, in my youth, completely misappropriated it – you’re meant to use it for important facts, chunks of text and maths, and so on – using it for memories isn’t normal. I did it because I thought it sounded amazing, because I couldn’t sleep at nights and because my non-visual memory was awful. I used UUII because I knew it better than any real world location.

Down the corridor is a t-junction, with a door opposite. Inside is the warrior Dupre, another old companion, along with enough crates of beer to fill a brewery. This isn’t suspicious forethought on Dupre’s part, just a reflection of his alcoholism – he was first encountered in Ultima III in a pub where he could only say “drink up!” and throughout the series he was trekking over the increasingly-large Britannia “testing beer” for Brommer’s Britannia, a guide book a bit like a fantasy Les Routiers. Hence this room is a reflection for me of every time I’ve been pissed – and as a Brit, this room is chockablock with memories. I remember a few sneaky cans of beer on my last day of school, dancing home when Man Utd came back to win the European Cup, finding a friend passed out in the corridor and helping them home, praying to the ivory throne on so many occasions they’ve blended into one, passing out in my gown and mortarboard on a posh lawn two hours after my final exam, and many other occasions. Drinking, drinking, drinking.

The art of memory is the science of mnemotechnics. The method of loci isn’t the only traditional method for preserving memories, just the only one my ten-year old self had heard of. There isn’t any hard evidence as to where it was first used, though ancient Egyptians and Pythagoreans are the usual suspects. Francis Yates, 1960s occult and neoplatonist writer extraordinaire, wrote that “the most common account of the creation of the art of memory centers around the story of Simonides of Ceos, a famous Greek poet, who was invited to chant a lyric poem in honor of his host, a nobleman of Thessaly. While praising his host, Simonides also mentioned the twin gods Castor and Pollux. When the recital was complete, the nobleman selfishly told Simonides that he would only pay him half of the agreed upon payment for the panegyric, and that he would have to get the balance of the payment from the two gods he had mentioned. A short time later, Simonides was told that two men were waiting for him outside. He left to meet the visitors but could find no one. Then, while he was outside the banquet hall, it collapsed, crushing everyone within. The bodies were so disfigured that they could not be identified for proper burial. But, Simonides was able to remember where each of the guests had been sitting at the table, and so was able to identify them for burial. This experience suggested to Simonides the principles which were to become central to the later development of the art he reputedly invented.” This sounds like utter nonsense, but it’s a good story, and was reason enough for Middle Ages monks to use Simonides’ model.

The Library
I first found out about Memory Palaces from Umberto Eco, and his books are amongst the many I keep in Nystul’s library, way over on the other side of the Great Hall. Nystul is one of the two Beardy Men in Castle British, the other being the doomed sage Nelson. Nystul is also a powerful wizard and the spitting image of Sean Connery in The Name of the Rose, the origin of the Memory Palace idea in the first place. My memory is hazy here, so this place is oddly murky and badly imagined – there are bits of the parallel worlds you visit later in the game intermingled here, Killorn Keep and the haunting Scintilius Academy. All favourite books are here – Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night A Traveller, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Borges’ Labyrinths, etc.

Where did the Underworld games come from? Older readers, and those who’ve been messing around with DOSbox, will remind there was a profusion of 2D first-person dungeon-crawlers, like the classic Wizardry, back around when most of us were being born. Amongst these was the precursor to the Ultima series ‘Akalabeth: World of Doom’ (1979), made by the teenage Richard Garriott for the Apple II (and parodied in one of the levels of UUII). Though monochrome and line-based, Akalabeth featured the basics of most RPGS, Eastern and Western – underground first-person dungeons and a top-down map. If we’re to refer to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers theory, Garriott had a full 10 years of developing first-person roleplaying games, giving him a tremendous advantage in knowing what worked, what was easy and what was currently impossible when it came to making the Underworld games. That kept the Ultima series at the front of the pack until everyone else caught up – sadly, Garriot’s recent track-record indicates he wasn’t able to convert that head-start into a long-term advantage.

Love and Hate
Turn right past Dupre’s boozatorium, and you find the guest quarters – featuring Patterson, the Mayor, who (SPOILER) is a repeated traitor, loyal to the avatar’s worst enemy. Here I used to remember conmen or slimy people, like a short kid called Daniel who conned me out of my entire stack of World Cup 90 Panini swaps when I was 9 and who’s probably a lawyer now. In my head, his room is the equivalent of the Great Book of Grudges. Around the corner is Feridwyn – an innocent orphanage keeper who you can repeatedly accuse of being a traitor, and whose room houses my regrets – which I’m not going into.

Julia The Tinker and Lady Tory are also round the corner; two clever and passionate women living next to each other. Julia has been a tinker for over 200 years, though she doesn’t seem sure it’s the right job for her and she seems to have had a facelift since Ultima VI. She’s something of a love interest for the avatar so this room is where I keep all memories of, ahem, you know. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Kieron on you here and turn this into a tell-all of every relationship and this room is a mess of first-kisses and other icky stuff, so let’s move on quick.

The Ultima games weren’t intended to be just first-person RPGs though. The Akalabeth dual-level style had continued throughout the Ultimas but whilst developing Ultima 6 (1988) it was decided to drop their nascent 3D dungeon-crawling engine from production, as at that stage they could only do physics in 2D (or isometric 3D), and spin it off into its own series. At this stage the Ultima series divides into two, with Ultima 7, 7 1/2: Serpent Isle and 8: Pagan sticking with the isometric viewpoint that had come from the map levels, and the Underworld games plumbing the dungeons’ 3D depths, before reunifying for the awful unplayable mish-mash that was Ultima 9.

Where did the Underworlds lead to? Underworld I: The (apocalyptic, tough) Stygian Abyss was released in 1992, two years before Doom, two months before Wolfenstein 3D’s release, and managed true 3D with real-world physics four years before Duke Nukem 3D tried to make a frankly rubbish spiral staircase seem cutting edge. Of course, System Shock was built with the same engine, to take advantage of the sudden success of the FPS genre that had been. Only Underworld-tribute Arx Fatalis and Oblivion since have managed to get near Underworld’s achievement – and Arx was crippled by bugs whilst Oblivion was undermined by Bethesda’s decision to make the plot secondary to the world. That said, the obvious heirs are the Bioshock games, taking both the rich scripting, exciting action, and RPG elements.

The Rest
Lord British’s rooms are unusual in that they’re on their own floor and feature a treasure chest you have to cheat to break into; I associate them with both comfort and authority, like lying down in a mid-Winter blizzard on a mountaintop in Flims or when I was sent to the Rabbi’s office for blasphemy. The great hall with its (for the time) amazing stained glass windows, represents ceremonies, funerals and weddings. The dining hall was always packed so represented gigs and festivals. The servants quarters has no association for me and the secret passages riddling the outside of the castle are plain empty.

I stopped adding substantially to my memory palace maybe ten years ago. It’s not that there’s not lots of room to expand; Underworld II was subtitled “Labyrinth of Worlds” and featured eight other heart-breakingly strange and well-designed worlds that you had to visit, where I could have crammed in memories; no, it was just that I didn’t find myself with the time to retreat there for several years, ironically generating memories that I didn’t store and now have mostly lost.

In fact, this is where UU2 trumps even Planescape: Torment a little – you never feel forced to explore these worlds, you’re desperate to visit them because of the well-written descriptions and they’re all essential to the plot, not like the somewhat odd wandering at the end of Planescape. There’s Killorn Keep, a floating parallel to your world which the Guardian conquered years before; the desolation of the Scintillus Wizard Academy, where your hunt for survivors presages System Shock; the frozen city that has one hallucinating survivor, who you later meet in a dream world; the bizarre programmable alien world of Talorz with its floating organic robot donut things; and the sad, sad Tomb of the defeated hero Praecor Loth.

The Ruins
How does a palace fall? Normally either by siege without or betrayal within; mine fell by both storm and strife, but the starting factor was… distraction. In times of peace and happiness, I left off the palace and didn’t visit. Many of the important memories remained, but others vanished, details faded, significance forgotten and the rotten hearts falling out of the stories. Despite this rot , it lasted until recently, and I could bring up the rooms at will.

The final dissolution, however, was heartbreak. A traumatising end to a beautiful relationship, meant for a time that all attempts at recollection bounced back off the lost object of my affection. Previously, I’d slotted ex-girlfriends in amongst the doomed empath Lady Tory and the avatar’s old friend Julia – but these new memories didn’t need storage, they were strong and intrusive by themselves. It’s hard to maintain a memory palace at the best of times; much harder when every memory triggers an involuntary painful recollection of a lost love, overriding, eroding and breaking hard-made associations. I am rebuilding it, slowly, but it’s no longer a working palace; rather it’s an artefact, a memory of the memories I once held dear.

Before its untimely demise at the hands of EA, Ultima had a fair claim to be the world’s number 1 RPG series. Yet, after the disaster of Ultima 9 and the defection of the key members of both the Origin and the Looking Glass teams, EA seems to have decided that the Ultima franchise can be allowed to die when the still-profitable Ultima Online finally karks it. Likewise, before personal computers, the method of loci was the premier amidst many memory techniques mankind used to fix precious ideas in our heads, trumping books for ease of access and permanence of storage. Both Ultima and The Method are now, effectively dead. The key reason both of these memes failed to propagate was a lack of care on the parts of their curators, combined with duplication of function. Mmenotechnics has been made obsolete by other sources of instant, on-demand information, specifically the internet and always-on mobile phones. No-one needs specialist knowledge any more, just a knowledge of the best methods for searching for your particular information. Even basic memory needs have weakened – how many of us know all our families phone numbers any more? If/when the internet falls over (and it will) we’re all going to be screwed. Meanwhile, EverQuest, World of Warcraft and Oblivion have undermined the need for Ultima.

If you want to play Ultima Underworld II, you can download it here. You’ll need Dosbox to run it.The excellent music is also available on Abandonia Frequency.

When I say ‘Ultima Underworld II made me who I am today’ I mean, it really did. I’ve not really talked about the game itself here, but it is a classic of pared-down storytelling and delightful secrets, just inaccessible due to its crude interface and graphics, which once upon a time were revolutionary. It shaped who I am and it let me retain it in the face of a catastrophically bad memory. That’s not something I’m ever going to forget.


  1. McCool says:

    I’m speechless. That was really quite beautiful. I feel guilty for never trying the same techniques myself – though some memories do of course gain association with the game-spaces first explored when they were experienced. It brings to mind the tech-demos of my youth (link to ) whose immense other-worldliness were just dying to be filled with real-life memories, though there is some dignity in them having their own, that’s what games are about, right?

    Anyway, yeah, brilliant. Maybe its time to start firing up Morrowind and hiding memories in bug-huts.

    • Jesse L says:

      Enjoyed your article about those old tech demos. I’d love to see them but I doubt they exist anywhere anymore. I know a few things like them. Wasn’t it just recently that someone here, Quinns I think, mentioned the tech demo section in Serious Sam? It was a pyramid with rooms full of graphical effects. Quinns? It was a neat little “secret.”

      I had a Phillips CD-i when I was kid, and it came with a demo disk with a bunch of demos for which the menu system was a series of rooms with posters on the wall depicting the demos. I remember very clearly that it had a shiny hardwood floor and nice bright overhead lights. I put that demo disk on many many times. Not sure why, when I could have been using the time to play the excellent original Road Rash. It was a comfy little space. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them in my games. I had a house in Morrowind, in Balmora (the one with the tower on the southeast bank of the river, the one with the female orc bandit living in it?) the feeling of which I have not since been able to reestablish. It might have been the blue lanterns. And the piles of books. I had most of the Vivec books, whatever those were called…hold on, I’m going to go reinstall Morrowind, brb…

  2. MadTinkerer says:

    Wow. This is amazing. Also particularly interesting because I first learned of similar techniques back when I first played UW2 (but never thought to apply them to the game), so it’s kind of a neat coincidence. One of my mentors back in high school was into mnemonics and memory maps.

    On a more first-RPG-I-ever-played-and-really-wish-they-had-made-more note, does anyone know if someone’s made something like Exult (the U7 emulator) for the Underworld games? And/or homebrew stuff?

  3. Feste says:

    This is really lovely, thank you. I played UU1 and it’s sense of place was remarkable, it still somewhere that I can recall entire levels.

  4. fearian says:

    beautiful, and really interesting. I once tried to create a memory palace in my mind, but I never stuck with it, and I couldn’t think of a place I knew well enough to base it on.

    However, since secondary school, I’ve spent my time fiddling about in level editors. It started with Half-Life, then Counterstike. I jumped right into the source sdk when half life 2 dropped. Now it’s UDK. I havn’t actually touched the source engine in years.

    But I remember every map I’ve ever started in complete detail. I never finished levels. I planned alot and got started on projects, but I never saw them through. Even levels I only made a room for, I remember well – and I have an otherwise terrible memory. I can’t remember my girlfriends birthday, my brothers birthday. I can’t remember most of my school years. I’m terrible with names, I forget the names of people I see and talk to every day out of the blue. But I remember every brush, and near enough every prop from my work in level editors.

    I’m not too baffled about this. In making these levels I spent hours and hours piecing things together, cutting, scaling, texturing. redoing the same area because it was crashing the game or my save got corrupted or it didn’t fit… regardless, I know that If want to construct a memory palace now, I’ll block it out in a level editor first and never forget its intimate details.

    All this springs to mind, because I’ve had a similar experience with somethign else that more people will be able to share: How many of you guys can remember every home you’ve made in minecraft? I’ve been playing since indev and I still remember my first hole in a cliff. The underground passage to my bay. If you want to make a memory palace, make it in minecraft.

    • Jesse L says:

      That’s what I was going to say, about Minecraft. I could do that easily.

      Have to be careful, though, what goes on in the background while I’m playing. One night my wife was going through the dregs of our Netflix queue while I was playing Minecraft and I accidentally created the Vampire in Brooklyn Mines and the First-Half-of-Roadhouse Floating Gardens. Now whenever I go back to plant a few seeds all I can see is Patrick Swayze flipping his hair.

  5. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    I have to admit a worry. Last time we had people do colums this much in RPS, Kieron left us, and was replaces.
    It used to be 4 main contributors. One guy started doing a bit more, and he was a replacement.

    So, whats going on here, Mr. Grill?

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      We buried him at a crossroads with a Kenickie album through his heart, but Kieron won’t stay dead. I’m just the latest Belmont.

  6. Morlock says:

    I registered to let you know that Iolo was introduced in Ultima IV. Thank you for the great article!

    • Wizardry says:

      No. Iolo was in Ultima I, in many towns at the same time for some reason. He was then in New San Antonio in 1990 A.D. in Ultima II, then in Castle Britannia in Ultima III.

    • Wizardry says:

      One mistake that Dan has made is Dupre’s first appearance in the series. Dupre first appears in Ultima II on Jupiter. He’s the guy who asks you whether you want to buy a duck or not. Bizarre.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      I’m happy to admit I’m wrong. My memory isn’t what it was…

    • Wizardry says:

      And I’m unhappy to admit that I’m right. I’m really not proud of out-nerding fellow gamers with Ultima lore. Let’s never speak of this again!

    • Morlock says:

      Really? Okay, my mistake. Well, at least I registered now!

  7. Dominus says:

    awesome read! thanks for this!

    also here’s a retrospective I did on Ultima Underworld I

    link to

  8. Aganazer says:

    I don’t need directions. I STILL remember my way around that place. :P

  9. stahlwerk says:

    Wow, a great read. The sense of space of Castle British (Britain? Brittania?) was incredible at the time. I don’t remember when I first played UU2, but my brother and I bought its cd-rom edition with UU1 on the same disk. He played UU1, I think to completion and I dabbled through the second game but only to Scintillius Academy, where I think some fiendish puzzle or misplaced savegame screwed me over, and I got stuck. It may have also been because my brain just couldn’t keep up with the amount of WORLD streaming into it, memory is fuzzy in that regard.

    A teeny tiny nitpick though: Richard Garriot was not directly involved in the creation of Ultima Underworld (1 at least). IIRC (and I may not) an early version of UU1 (not set in britania at the time) was developed by a different team than origin’s main crew in austin, and when they picked it up, they had already burned through one producer. Then (I think) Warren Spector was assigned to it and recognized the potential to bring it into the World of Ultima IP they wanted to establish back then. The rest is history. Garriott may have been helping with that transition, and I don’t know his involvement in UU2, but I doubt he had a hand in coding or even designing the first one.[Citation Needed]

    • TeraTelnet says:

      And that small team was Blue Sky Productions, who would later change their name to become Looking Glass Studios.

      And now you know the rest of the story.

    • Wizardry says:

      Ultima Underworld had little to do with Origin Systems other than being published by them and using the Ultima setting and lore. Blue Sky, who soon after became Looking Glass (System Shock, Thief), designed and prototyped a game called Underworld, which was basically Ultima Underworld without any Ultima references. They looked for a publisher and found Origin Systems, who persuaded them to set the game in Britannia and make the protagonist The Avatar. This is why the first in the series had a lot less of an Ultima feel to it. Ultima Underworld II, on the other hand, as we can see in this article, had way more references and felt a lot more like an Ultima game.

      Origin Systems cycled through a number of producers for the game before settling with Warren Spector. However, even Warren Spector had little to do with the game and basically acted as the link between Blue Sky and Origin Systems. Warren Spector was working on a number of other projects at Origin Systems internally, having just finished Martian Dreams and soon starting on Serpent Isle.

      Ultima Underworld II, on the other hand, most likely had much greater assistance from Origin Systems.

  10. Freud says:

    I remember more of Ultima Underworld 2 than I do of most RPGs I played in the new millennium. Part of it was how mind blowing it was to explore a world in true 3D but part of it was that it was a very well designed game. It is one of the top five gaming experiences I have ever had.

    Wouldn’t want to replay it though. I found that the old memories get tainted when you replay games that old. Graphics, UI, AI and so on have come so far that my tolerance level is lessened. I replayed Fallout 2 this summer and it had aged quite a bit. I still liked it mostly because it is well written but I enjoyed those games much more when they were released.

  11. sonofsanta says:

    Flims! Greatest snowboarding in Switzerland. The Mountain Hostel would probably be my memory palace, if my memory were good enough to maintain one (ironic, I suppose).

    That was thoroughly fascinating, and sounded like it was very cathartic to write. I hope that somewhere, never to be read, you’ve written a full version with nothing left out and everything laid bare.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      I remember Flims from a school trip as a kid, where they took us noobs down a black run from the top of the mountain during a whiteout. I got really warm and sleepy, and would have happily died there.

      The only place where the whole thing is, is in my head. I guess I should make another room for it.

  12. RadioactiveMan says:

    As a child, I watched my mother play this game! She would play, and I would sit in the chair next to her. It was an interactive story for us, with her “telling” the story by controlling the character. She would supplement the in-game map with a pad of graph paper and a pencil, something that dated back to an even older game called Wizardry. I enjoyed looking at her maps and sketches, and seeing her precise handwritten notes.

    As I got older I would try and play the game, but I could never progress very well. As a youngster, I don’t think I could grasp the whole of the game. I could fight, or talk, or organize my inventory, or explore, but I could never put them all together coherently.

    My mom and I had a similar experience with Lands of Lore, with the addition of my younger brother to the audience. These are great memories for me!

    • Faldrath says:

      Lands of Lore is such an underrated gem. Either that or my rose-tinted glasses are very strong, but yes, I played it with my brother back when we were both kids. Never quite managed to beat it for some reason, though.

      Mmm, must fight urge to track this down.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      The first Lands of Lore looks tremendously old now, with its strict-90-degree-angle movement and tile engine.

      Rather better is the excellent Lands of Lore 2: Guardians of Destiny which has a “2.5D”-style engine, and plays not dissimilarly to Ultima Underworld. 3 isn’t bad either, and I found mint copies of both in a cash-converters store for a quid each a few weeks ago. A bit sad, in a way…

  13. terry says:

    I read a book like this, where the main character visualised memory as a house filled with objects that he could describe in detail, and as long as there was an object associated with a fact or detail, it was impossible for him to forget it.

    Great book, but I can’t remember the name for the life of me.

    • Faldrath says:

      There’s a short story by Jorge Luis Borges called “Funes, the Memorious” that goes more or less like you described, only not quite.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      That story’s actually in Labyrinths, one of the books on my shelves. The man who couldn’t forget anything, and is bedbound, dying young of the impact of remembering every moment from conception onwards. Labyrinths is one of the best collections of short stories around.

  14. Premium User Badge

    john_silence says:

    Goddamn high-end video game journalism there. Reminded me of the late college years before MA graduation. Now I’m an art journalist but very few things I cover evoke such a powerful intellectual/emotional response.
    Also, @RadioactiveMan: pretty amazing life story you’ve got there :)

    • RadioactiveMan says:

      Hmm my sarcasm filter is broken- can’t tell if you are serious or not :)

      To be honest, I hadn’t thought about that aspect of my life in years! However, I still have a soft spot for those old games, and I am definitely a through-and-through pc gamer now. I think an in-game map where you can input your own notes is still a brilliant and underused concept. It is something that would be great in minecraft, for instance.

      Also, my parents have kept all their old early PCs, in the thought that they will someday be valuable as collectors items. Not sure about that, but whatever makes them happy!

  15. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    Yesterday NPR’s Diane Rhem aired an extremely interesting interview with Joshua Foer, author of the new book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Most of what I heard was a discussion of Simonedes and the Memory Palace technique.

    The book definitely sounds like it’s worth checking out.

  16. Casimir's Blake says:

    It’s depressing that a Dragon Age 2 article receives upwards of 400+ comments (not that they were undeserved, in this case, as Yogscast also broadly found out), and this immense classic receives… 30? (As of this writing.)
    Any coverage of Ultima Underworld is welcome, thankyou RPS for this tremendously interesting article. It does help if the player has reasonable spacial awareness to enjoy these games, I suppose. I never bothered drawing maps, never needed to! I found my way around King’s Field 2JP without needing it…

    A shame that practically no-one is making first-person adventures like this any more. Elder Scrolls doesn’t count, over-worlds aren’t “interesting”, but I suppose most people don’t find mazesque-level-design interesting any more. Perhaps because it’s unrealistic? Despite being potentially more intriguing precisely because it is unrealistic and abstract.

    • Starky says:

      I think you’ll find that people still love maze-like level design, especially if randomized and included in a larger world.

      As evidence? Minecraft.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Yeah, Minecraft owes a lot to Underworld as well – the mazes, the texture of the undergrounds, the way the music works and sounds.

  17. Tom Camfield says:

    Good good good, more please.

  18. eeeickythump says:

    Small quibble — it’s Dame Frances Yates, not Francis.

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Oops, you’re right. If anyone with admin powers is reading, could they change it? We don’t want to anger 1960s occultists…

  19. BobsLawnService says:

    Up until right now I didn’t know it was called a memory palace but it turns out that I’ve done a similar thing with my childhood home. It was a huge, decrepit, old hardwood floor semi-mansion on a smallholding with a leaking roof and high ceilings. Somehow I’ve just associated events in my life with feelings that ring about the different rooms in the house.

    But enough about me. That was a stunning article Dan, and I’d just like to say thank you. For some reason I could never get into Ultima Underworld 2 when I first tried it.

  20. Megadyptes says:

    This is a brilliant article, thank you!

  21. Wulf says:

    A lot of this recants how I feel about Uru. Uru feels like my home (Uru is my home now, and I would die to protect it! – Gods damn it, Ironclad) in much the same way. I’m even currently playing through it again for the bazillionth time, with the excellently written Prima guides in hand. And when I leave it for a time, it feels like something of an archaeological expedition through a place I used to live.

    First things first, I need to get me a Maintainer suit. I don’t feel right without it. It’s like my pyjamas, and the experience feels incomplete if I’m not sporting one, since a mildly tubby hippie in a Maintainer suit has become such an iconic part of my Uru expeditions that I can’t ever walk through Uru again without. I know these realms, I’ve seen them so many times, and yet they’re still hauntingly beautiful. Uru is like an interactive painting, one of the most beautiful works of art I’ve ever seen, and one I enjoy sitting in whenever I’m feeling introspective.

    I might be missing the point of this article – but I suppose everyone has a game that feels a bit like home to them. One that had such an incredible impact that they keep going back to it, because after a while, something feels missing if one doesn’t. And after a while, you feel like the uncontested master of these domains, as though you’ve intertwined with it to such a degree that it wouldn’t be it without you as well. And that other people may never be able to see what you do in it.

    It’d be interesting to hear more of this, from the other RPS chaps, and even from RPS commenters about the games that matter to them in this sort of way. But I’ll shush now because this was a largely irrelevant post. Sorry about that.

  22. Acosta says:

    That was beautiful Dan, thanks for sharing.

  23. Samuel Hill says:

    Thank you for bringing back some good memories of the first time I played UW2. Its one of those games that just feels right.

    My two personal highlights are the, at times, hauntingly beautiful music and the spell system.

    It is a great shame that EA/Origin didnt make more of them.

  24. Griddle Octopus says:

    Thanks for all the kind feedback guys – this is something I’ve been trying to get out of my head for years and it’s lovely to know that it’s interesting, and I’m not just mad. :)

    Just to say; I’m currently replaying Underworld II and I still can’t kill that damned headless in the first layer of the sewers. First lesson of UUII; knowing when to run away.

    • Shadram says:

      Definitely very interesting, yes. Although you may still be mad. One way to test is to explore your memory palace for bioluminescent badgers or howling catmonkeys. If you find any, you may want to consider moving to a new memory palace.

  25. bill says:

    I never played UU1 or UU2, but I always wanted to as the oc gaming mag i used to read as a kid always had them listed at the back as the best games ever.

    But I tried playing UU1 on dosbox a while back and couldn’t really get into it. It’s aged of course, and that plus the controls and slightly bland brown setting made it a little uninvolving.

    – is UU2 better from this respect (more worlds and colors) and do i miss anything plotwise by not playing UU1 first.
    – are there any mods/updates for these games?
    – any other tips?

    • Griddle Octopus says:

      Yes, it’s better looking than UU1, but still not anywhere near modern standards. There’s a lot of GUI on the screen at all times. Someone was doing an UU2 redux project a few years back, but I’ve not heard anything for a lonnnng time.

      Main tip: make sure you have 25 strength to start, don’t bother with archery, repair, track, and anything minor – focus on magic and combat. Remember; you won’t be able to kill everything the first time you encounter it. Run away, get strong, and come back. Especially with the Reaper in the sewers.

  26. OriginMuseum says:

    Brilliant article, Dan. I too have a memory link to the Ultima Underworlds. I was fortunate enough to be able to meet Warren Spector back in 2001, and by weird happenstance, Doug Church (programmer for the Underworlds) was in his office.
    I (badly) explained this very concept to them, and that these games (especially Underworld 1) form a link in my mind of past memories. The loneliness I felt when I moved happened just as I began to explore the depths of Underworld, and I still link new true friends I made to each of their ‘Knights of the Crux Ansata’ counterparts. Mr. Spector and Mr. Church looked at me a bit strangely (probably because I was not nearly as prolific as you), but I think I got my point across.
    Thanks very much for a writeup that so clearly expresses what I’ve been trying to say for so long!

  27. Towercap says:

    I love Arx Fatalis. If you like UU, you owe it to yourself to give Arx a go. It’s basically UU3; the devs just didn’t get the rights to publish it as such. It’s also the only game I can think of that strikes the same vein as UU.

    It’s not that buggy. D: