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Ultima is a long-running series of computer RPGs created by Richard "Lord British" Garriott, which includes the following:
- Akalabeth: World of Doom (1980)
- Ultima: The First Age of Darkness (1981)
- Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress (1982)
- Ultima III: Exodus (1983)
- Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985)
- Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (1988)
- Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990)
- Ultima VII: The Black Gate (1992)
- Ultima VII Part II: Serpent Isle (1993)
- Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994)
- Ultima IX: Ascension (1999)
- Ultima VII: Forge of Virtue (1992)
- Ultima VII Part II: The Silver Seed (1993)
- Ultima VIII: Pagan Floppy Disk Speech Pack (1994)
- Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash (1983)
- Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire (1990)
- Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams (1991)
- Ultima: Runes of Virtue (1991)
- Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992)
- Ultima: Runes of Virtue II (1993)
- Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds (1993)
- Lord of Ultima (2010)
- 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 Online (1997)
- Ultima Online: The Second Age (1998)
- Ultima Online: Renaissance (2000)
- Ultima Online: Third Dawn (2001)
- Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge (2002)
- Ultima Online: Age of Shadows (2003)
- Ultima Online: Samurai Empire (2004)
- Ultima Online: Mondain's Legacy (2005)
- Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn (2007)
- Ultima Online: Stygian Abyss (2009)
- Ultima Online: High Seas (2010)
- 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
The Ultima 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 series.
The Ultima saga begins, it is generally considered, with a primitive Dungeons and 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 Akallabêth, the fourth part of The Silmarillion. The game was hand-coded entirely by Garriott in Applesoft BASIC.
The series continues with Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, as space-time distortions threatening Earth are Best Served Cold by Minax, the
jilted 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, V and VI, 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 Brittania'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
he 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. Between the loss of virtue and the drastic changes in gameplay, this is where most claim the series jumped the shark.
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 isomorphic) display with a standard 3rd person 3D view, and made numerous deviations from the canonical series history. (Though, truth be told, there is still more continuity between Ultima IX and the previous Ultimas as between any two games in any other videogame franchise.) 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:
- 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.
- A 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).
- 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.
- Themes about the evils of totalitarianism.
- Bizarre anachronisms (especially in the first two games).
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential (And Video Game Cruelty Punishment) in spades.
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe -- Everything was written in this style: dialogue, room descriptions, the manuals, everything.
- A Chekhov's Skill in the form of the Armageddon spell, first learned in Ultima VI as proof that knowledge isn't always good, and appearing in every game afterward to the point it's nearly a Running Gag. When used, it wipes out every monster, NPC (save Lord British), item, etc. in the world. In the last Ultima game (and the end of the "Age of Armageddon" as mentioned above), it actually has a good use when used inside an impenetrable shield to destroy the Guardian.
Akalabeth 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. (With the roaring success of Dragon Age, however, EA is unlikely to turn back towards their old property anytime soon.)
Recently, Origin released Ultima IV as a freely-distributable download on the internet. A free version updated for modern systems exists.
The first eight games (with the first six bundled into two trilogy packs) and both Underworld games are all available from Good Old Games for a quite reasonable price.
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.