In many senses, the Ur Example
for the computer Role-Playing Game
is a long-running
series of CRPGs
created by Richard "Lord British" Garriott, which includes the following:
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- Ultima Trilogy I·II·III
- Ultima The Second Trilogy IV·V·VI
- Ultima I~VI Series
- Underworld Series
- The Complete Ultima VII
- Ultima Collection
- Ultima Complete
- Ultima IV Part II
- Multi-player Ultima
- Mythos: Caribbean Pirates and Legends from Greece
- Unnamed Pencil and Paper Ultima
- Arthurian Legends
- Ultima Underworld III
- Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale
- Ultima Online 2 A. K. A. Ultima Worlds Online: Origin
- Ultima X: Odyssey
- Ultima Reborn
- Ultima Resurrection
series more or less invented or defined all the classic computer role playing game tropes. Though the series was computer-based, its general mechanics became likewise imprinted on the console RPG
market thanks to its influence on the mechanics of the Final Fantasy
and Dragon Quest
saga begins, it is generally considered, with a primitive Dungeons & Dragons
-inspired game called Akalabeth
(and which Garriott now refers to as "Ultima 0", though this title has never been made official), which introduced the character of Lord British, king of a pastiche medieval/high fantasy type world.
Originally titled "D&D28b", as it was Garriott's 28th game, Akalabeth
was also heavily influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien
's The Lord of the Rings
books; the name Akalabeth
itself derives from Akallabęth, the fourth part of The Silmarillion
. The game was hand-coded entirely by Garriott in Applesoft BASIC.
This world was fleshed out to form "Sosaria", the world of Ultima
(later subtitled The First Age of Darkness
). The Evil Sorcerer
Mondain is stopped by The Hero
The series continues with Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress
, as space-time distortions threatening Earth are Best Served Cold
by Minax, the
widowed lover of the last game's dead villain. Time Travel
is required to save the day.
The series started to find its legs in Ultima III: Exodus
, in which the evil robotic child of the previous two villains wreaks havoc across Sosaria. This game started laying the foundation of RPG elements such as towns, overworld, dungeons, and monster encounters in the way many video game RPGs came to emulate. It has been cited for inspiring Dragon Quest
and Final Fantasy
But when people speak of the Ultima
series, its tropes and mechanics, they tend to think of the next three games in the series, Ultima IV
, collectively called the "Age of Enlightenment". In these games, "the Avatar", another visitor from our world (By Ultima IX, he appears to be a middle-aged park ranger) becomes a key player in upholding Britannia's virtue and keeping the world safe.
With the unification of Sosaria under the rule of Lord British — a visitor from "our" world, the place was renamed "Britannia". After the fairly cataclysmic events which ended Ultima III
, the whole world was largely rebuilt, and its geography and culture would remain more or less unchanged for the rest of the series history. (As a result, the cloth maps given out as Feelies
for some releases of the games can be used for any game in the series.)Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
sets the player out on a quest, essentially, to bring virtue and general goodness to the land — the main objective of the game is, quite simply, to live a virtuous life. In Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
, the Avatar must once again journey to Britannia, to reclaim Lord British's throne from a usurper. The last game of this era, Ultima VI: The False Prophet
, deals with some of the long-term consequences of the events of Ultima IV
, as the Avatar must save his own life from the gargoyle race, whose ancient and infallible prophecies tell them that he will one day destroy their race (also, they're pissed off that
the Council stole the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom two games ago
The third age of Ultima, "The Age of Armageddon," is a mixed bag, despite considerable technological improvement. In all three, the Avatar battles an other-worldly being called "The Guardian." Ultima VII: The Black Gate
pitted the Avatar against a cult seeking to allow the megalomaniacal "Guardian" into Britannia, and is often considered the best game of the entire series. Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle
featured the Avatar returning to one of the lands from Ultima I
that is now a separate world
. Each of these games had an expansion pack that added new sub-quests and locations to the game.Ultima VIII: Pagan
follows on from Serpent Isle
. The titular "Pagan" is a very different world from Britannia, to which the Avatar has been banished by the Guardian
. Pagan lacked the Britannian virtues, and while there, the Avatar found himself forced to violate them as well, eventually sacrificing that entire world.Ultima IX: Ascension
is the last canonical Ultima game (though fans say otherwise
, for a good reason
). It changed things even further, replacing the traditional tile-based top-down (later isometric) display with a standard 3rd person 3D view, and made numerous deviations from the canonical series history. The Avatar was summoned one final time to Britannia, where the Guardian has resurfaced and totally corrupted the hearts and minds of the people (not to mention the code of the game
), perverting the traditional virtues.
A number of other Ultima
games exist: the Ultima Underworld
sub-series were first-person RPGs set in the Ultima universe. Two games based on the Ultima VI
engine, and outside of the primary continuity, were called Worlds of Ultima
, one based on a prehistoric land, the other on Victorian space travel
. A Britannia-based MMORPG, Ultima Online
was the first large-scale MMORPG success. There were also two aborted MMOs that would have followed: Ultima Worlds Online: Origin
and Ultima X: Odyssey
, the latter of which was intended to be a direct continuation of the storyline of Ultima IX and among other things
, was to have incorporated the Virtues of Ultima as a significant gameplay mechanic.
There was also Ultima: Escape from Mt Drash
, which came out between Ultima II and III. Richard Garriott had nothing to do with this game; Sierra just slapped the Ultima logo and the words "Mt Drash" (a location from Ultima I) onto a pretty awful RPG in an attempt to boost sales. They did this without Richard Garriott's permission; as a result, he fell out with Sierra and left to found his own company, Origin Systems Inc.
Major tropes and elements of the Ultima series include:
- Author Avatar: Lord British, the ruler of the kingdom, very heavily based on Richard Garriott himself. Lord British is always asking you for favors and is Nigh Invulnerable. Clever players amuse themselves by finding creative new ways to kill him.
- Artificial Script: The default Runic, Gargish, and Ophidian Alphabets.
- Awesome but Impractical: The Armageddon spell, which destroys the entire world. It doesn't kill Lord British, though.
- Butt Monkey: Lord British wasn't originally this, but after the rise of the Lord British Postulate players trying to murder him in innovative new ways became a beloved series tradition. One game even features an Easter Egg in which the player can drop a plaque on his head to kill him and get away with it.
- Create Your Own Villain: The Avatar is indirectly responsible for the problems of every game in the series except I and IV.
- Flat World: In Ultima IV, V and VI, surrounded by an ethereal void. Ambrosia, the land of the Gargoyles, was the flip side of the world in Ultima VI. (In Ultima IX, it is a domed underwater city instead.)
- In Ultima III, IV and V, a separate and distinct interface for combat than the usual world map (see Fight Woosh).
- Magic A Is Magic A:
- A consistent spellcasting system (in Ultima IV-VII), where spells consisted of incantations built up from individual semantic atoms (thus, the common "Help" spell was "Kal Lor", literally "Invoke Light"; noting which constructions were spells in a previous game, and what their requirements were, sometimes allowed a player to access high-level spells early in the next game), and were powered by alchemical formulas (more-or-less consistent across games) which had to be mixed.
- In Ultima IV and V, magic spells had to be explicitly mixed before use, requiring the player to look up which reagents were needed and, frequently, do all this in the heat of battle. In Ultima VI and VII, reagents were mixed automatically, so long as the player had enough on hand. By Ultima IX, reagents were only needed once for each spell, as a "binding ritual" allowed the player to cast the spell whenever he liked afterward.
- In Ultima VIII, much of the story and gameplay revolved around the Avatar achieving mastery over not one, but five exotic magic systems, each of them manipulated differently, themed upon the five (western) elements.
- A recurring cast of NPCs, especially those who (from Ultima IV through Ultima VII) join the player's party, most of whom are based on Garriott's friends.
- An Aesop: Themes about the evils of totalitarianism.
- Bizarre anachronisms (especially in the first two games).
- Old Save Bonus: The ability (in some games) to import character data from an earlier game.
- Perhaps one of the most memorable notes in Ultima VII was the extended Take That against Electronic Arts. The company devoured Origin quite soon after, implying a win for The Fellowship, which proved rather prophetic considering the states in which VIII and IX were released...
- Pretty obvious once you notice that the Guardian's blackrock generators looked like the shapes in EA's logo at the time.
- An Ur Example of the Digital Avatar with its deeply customizable characters
- Darker and Edgier: Ultima VIII was Darker and Edgier than Ultima VII-2, which was Darker and Edgier than Ultima VII, which was Darker and Edgier than Ultima VI, which was Darker and Edgier than Ultima V, which was Darker and Edgier than Ultima IV (that was pretty idealistic).
- Sequence Breaking: Parts IV-VI had you converse with NPCs by typing in keywords. A good chunk of quests had you follow the chain of a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who has what you need. If you knew who the final link in the chain was, you could skip right there and type in the keyword. From VII onwards conversation options were set to match what your character knows.
- Spiritual Successor: Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues to the core series and Ultima Online, Underworld Ascendant to Ultima Underworld.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential (And Video Game Cruelty Punishment) in spades.
- Wide Open Sandbox: Ultimas V to VII offer a fully interactive world that carries on with or without you. NPCs follow their own schedules (sleeping at home at night, going to their place of work, then to the inn for lunch), and almost everything can be interacted with - shear a sheep for wool, spin the wool into thread, etc. Even before Ultima V the game was completely non-linear and you were free to travel through the world. That changed in the second part of VII, Serpent Isle.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: Not only does time on Earth flow ten times slower than in Sosaria/Britannia, but people from Earth age ten times slower than natives even when living in Britannia.
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe — Everything was written in this style: dialogue, room descriptions, the manuals, everything.
- You Keep Using That Word — There are "gremlins" in the series that are little critters that steal food. In Ultima VIII they're shape-shifting creatures with a mocking laugh. Neither of those descriptions even remotely matches the concept of a gremlin.
was first self-published by Garriott, then picked up California Pacific Computer; Ultima
was originally released by California Pacific; Ultima II
and subsequent re-releases of the first Ultima
(retitled Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness
) were published by Sierra On-line. Ultima III
through Ultima VII
were released by Origin (a company formed by Garriott after he became dissatisfied with Sierra), and the remaining games were released by Electronic Arts (which bought Origin).
While Garriott no longer owns the rights to the games, and is no longer with EA/Origin, he does still hold copyright on several of their characters, and therefore future Ultima games can only be made if EA and Garriott can be persuaded to get along with each other. In July of 2012, BioWare announced a new Ultima game
, Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar
, to be released later in the year. It will be a freeware multiplayer game for the PC and iPad, based primarily on Ultima IV
with a few changes (for example, Lord British is now a woman since Garriott didn't give them the permission to use the character.) Meanwhile, Garriott himself has announced plans to produce an MMO Spiritual Successor
, Ultimate RPG
. He's also expressed possibly buying the rights to the series back from EA and releasing it as an actual Ultima Online 2
. Garriot eventually turned to Kickstarter
to fund Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues
, a Spiritual Successor
to both the classic single-player Ultimas
and Ultima Online
, and closed with a respectable $1.9M
Recently, Origin released Ultima IV
as a freely-distributable download on the internet. A free version updated for modern systems exists
All nine games of the main series (with the first six bundled into two trilogy packs) and both Underworld
games are available from GOG.com
for a quite reasonable price. Both of the Worlds of Ultima
games are also available from GOG for free as well.
There's also a widely praised Fan Remake
of Ultima V
, done with the Dungeon Siege
engine. Featuring lots of added content like extended side-quests, an optional, alternate main quest for evil-inclined players, and an improved class and skill system.
Finally, there's Exult, a reverse-engineered reimplementation of the Ultima VII
engine that can either use the data from the original games (Ultima VII
and U7-2: Serpent Isle
) or can be used with Exult Studio to create new games. It was originally written to allow Ultima VII
to be played under Unix, but it's now cross-platform and adds some new features, both cosmetic and gameplay-affecting.
In 2013 Richard Garriott successfully funded a Spiritual Successor
, Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues
, with Kickstarter
. It remains to be seen whether it will live up to its pedigree.