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“Ultima? Nope, sorry. Never heard of it.”
Ultima is a medieval oriented fantasy computer role playing game series designed by Richard Mariott (a.k.a. Lord British, the hidden father of Paris Hilton). Some have claimed that the Ultima series was the precursor that led to the wide adoption of Role Playing Games by gamers and the gaming industry alike. Some critics (and some lawyers) claim that Ultima is just a remake of Pong (c.f. Ultima v. Pong, Lower circuit court of Nairobi, Kenya, 1980).
The series title itself was quite presumptuous. What was that supposed to mean? That this game with the ultimate video game? Fool!
edit Ultima 0
The prequel to the game - sometimes referred to as Ultima 0 is Akalbakabeth (or something similar). No, it's not a good game. Actually, no one has probably ever played it. Furthermore, it required an Apple ][ super computer with 256 GB of Ram and a 2 Peta Bytes hard drive, which, even at the time of release, was pretty hard to come by. Shipped in a 3'x3'x3' crate of floppy disks.
- Rating: 0.03/100
- Graphics: Non-existent.
- Dialogs: Non-existent.
- Playability: Uh?
- Sound/Music: You must be kidding me right?
edit Ultima I
"Ultima I" was originally released for the Apple II computer in 1981 and you know that was a long time ago because this was before Apple decided to put an "i" in front of everything they sell to make it sound all Internet-y. In fact, "Ultima I" was originally called just "Ultima," much the same way that "Star Wars" eventually became "Star Wars: Episode 4: A New Hope" once George Lucas realized he was about to make aircraft carriers full of money off of a re-imaging of the Flash Gordon premise. Once Richard Garriott, the "George Lucas" of the Ultima franchise, realized that he could make similar boatloads of money, he added roman numerals to his creations, too, because roman numerals make everything look fancier (but not as Internet-y as adding an "i").
Since no one involved could have imagined that this franchise was going to be even slightly successful, the plot reads like someone phoning it in but while using LSD at the time. You play as an unnamed hero battling an evil wizard (because, let's face it, when has a wizard ever been good?) who created a gem that grants immortality. The wizard is so bad-ass that the only way to stop him is to go back in time and kill him before he makes the gem.
Let's stop right now and make this innocent observation: Ultima I = 1981. The movie Terminator = 1984. Let's continue.
In order to go back in time, you need a time machine that is powered by four gems (Who knew that gems could do so much?). There are four continents in the game, each with their own lord and each lord has - Wait for it - One of the gems that you need to power the time machine.
Let's stop right now and make this innocent observation: Ultima I = 1981. The game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic = 2003. Let's continue.
Clearly, these lords aren't going to give up their bling to just anyone, even if it is to power a time machine that will kill the one who constantly oppresses them. No, these lords will task you with killing a monster in their land before the bling is handed over to you. OK - You do that.
Are you done yet? No. See, no one knows where the time machine is or even why there is a time machine in an alternate medieval world. So, you have to go find the time machine. How does one go about searching for a time machine? Why, by purchasing a space shuttle and traveling into outer space, of course. Let me write that again - you purchase a space shuttle and travel into outer space. What? You thought NASA was simply going to donate their space shuttles to something stupid like a museum? Heck no. Not only that but they retrofitted the space shuttles with weapons so that you can shoot down space enemies. Why are you shooting down space enemies? So you can rescue a princess from a castle. That's why. No, I did not make that up. Even Richard Garriott, the man behind this franchise, admits that he only added the "Go into space and shoot space enemies" because he had extra space on the floppy discs and didn't want them to go to waste.
Let's go back and retrace our steps - Need a time machine - Need gems from lords to power the time machine - Need to find the time machine - Buy space shuttle (used, presumably) - Shoot down space enemies - Free princess from castle. Why are you freeing the princess? Because she knows where the time machine is. That's why. Doesn't it all make sense now?
I won't spoil the ending it but it has to do with going back into time, killing the evil wizard and destroying the gem that caused this whole problem to begin with. Actually, given the primitive nature of gaming for that era, that is the ending.
The graphics for Ultima were so eye-bleedingly crappy, even for 1981 standards, that they were updated in 1986 and re-released (because, let's face it, everyone likes paying for everything twice? Right, DVD and Blu-Ray owners?) as "Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness."
In this early age of gaming, game play consisted of "Throw it against a wall and see if it sticks" mentality which, sadly, is also the mentality of modern-day gaming.
Ultima switched from third-person, turn-based gameplay when traveling by land to first-person, turn-based when fighting in dungeons to third-person, real-time when shooting space enemies.
Even in this more innocent "WTF are we doing?" phase of Ultima's franchise, some traditions were begun: Some NPC's (Non-Player Characters) were introduced that would be consistent throughout the franchise for no other reason then because they could get away with it & fighting in dungeons would be in first-person until even they had to admit it looked fairly dorky and removed it in later games.
No one much played Ultima I, with the franchise first gaining mainstream recognition with "Ultima II: Ultima I but with a much bigger budget."
edit Ultima II
Ultima II debuted in 1982, one year after it's predecessor, Ultima I. Back then, computer games didn't take decades to make; Most graphics looked just like an ASCII symbol and the sound effects sounded like they were borrowed from a microwave oven.
Ultima II was released during a time when games were so boring that they had to add little trinkets with the game in order to entice people to play them. That's right; Back then, the regular game was the Collector's Edition, except you didn't have to pay an extra $10-20 dollars for it. See how wonderful progress is? In the case of Ultima II, the player received a cloth map of one of the game worlds or, as women often describe it, "a hand cloth." It could also be used as a bandanna but only if you were a child.
Ultima II was distributed by Sierra On-Line, the predecessor of Sierra Entertainment, the company that would later bring glee to thousands with adventure games where players would search endlessly for the right "verb-noun" combination in order to get their character to pick up a rock and throw it at a lever or some other silly task that a normal person could accomplish in real life in mere moments. However, this would be Sierra's only Ultima game as the franchise would become large enough to establish it's own studio.
Remember Ultima I (or just plain Ultima, for all you status-sensitive early adopters), where you kicked Mondain's butt and gave him a taste of the dirt nap once you took away his Botox-inducing "Gem of Immortality"? Well, Mordain had a lady on the side named "Minax." Well, the little gold-digger didn't like the fact that you derailed her gravy train so she's decided to destroy Earth and, more specifically, YOU.
Now, when you killed Mondain, you created all of these time doors which are sort of like moon gates except that Richard Garriott didn't call them that then because he's still in his "Experimental" phase of the Ultima franchise, which just means, "I still don't know what I'm doing but now I have a lot more money to do it with." These time doors go to different time periods from Earth where Minax has dispersed her evil minions for which you must defeat. There are also other planets that you have to visit and it all culminates in you going to a plane of existence called the Time of Legends to off the wench once and for all.
Do I need to describe that you need a ring and a special sword to off this lady? No, I don't because, at this point, you're not going to play the game and I know you're not going to play the game so I could just make anything up and you'd believe it.
edit Other Useless Trivia
Enthusiasts of the Ultima franchise will note that, just like Ultima I, that this game makes absolutely no sense! In fact, it wouldn't be until the next sequel, Ultima III, where Richard Garriott finally decides to create that gameplay gimmick called "a plot" and actually use it for the remainder of the franchise.
Also like Ultima I, this game was released a few years later with better graphics and sounds in an attempt to sucker people into buying the exact same thing they had bought only a few years prior.
edit Ultima III
After U1 and U2 sales plummeted due to poor Q&A and incendiary reviews, Ultima III was released as a last ditch attempt to save the series and Origin Inc, Richard Gariott low life company. In this game, the goal was to defeat "Exodus", the offspring of Mondain and Minax - which incidentally - was a robot. Anyway, here you are in the middle of Sosoria (dubbed Suckoria by even the most die hard fans) swinging your mighty sword at orcs and ettins! Eventually, you reach the end of the game, defeat Exodus and... voila. that's it. Hasta La Vista Baby.
- Rating: 1/4
- Graphics: 16 Colors VGA tiles with little icons moving up and down the screen... belch!
- Dialogs: Still very limited.
- Playability: Broke 2 keyboards.
- Sound/Music: Required a $1500 ROLAND-MT32 with 1024 Midi output channels, with the $500 Sound Blaster Expansion pack, all this worth about 25 times the price of the game by itself!
edit Ultima IV
Ultima IV "The Quest of the Avatar" (A poor translation of "Al Qaeda will slaughter you all") was released 36 month later after Richard Gariott had managed to secure some secret Al Qaeda funds as a promise that this new game would bring an end to the Western civilization altogether. Again, this was a complete failure which led to a Fatwa on Mr. Mariott's head. Nonetheless, this game was close to reaching its goal since it is so depressing. The player is supposed to be the champion of virtues! Yes.. That's right... virtues! Who cares about virtues? Anyone can be virtuous in real life. But in a video game? Come on! In a video game everyone wants to be the champion of vice! That's the point. Anyway, you go meditate at shrines, collect Mantras, and reach the Codex Of Ultimate Wisdom which is supposed to be some Holy Book of some sort granting you with some universal wisdom and knowledge. And now - the cherry on top of the cake: there is no villain to slay. This is as bad as it gets. Eventually, the player finishes the Game as the Avatar of Virtue. Note that early beta releases had the Avatar blowing up shrines with explosive vests - but this was later removed for some unknown reason.
- Rating: 2/5
- Graphics: Still the same tiling extravaganza.
- Dialogs: "Go Chant MU at the shrine of Justice". (Not the brightest dialog.)
- Playability: Kept on getting stuck into walls.
- Sound/Music: Still the same low-tech MIDI bliss.
edit Ultima V
Ultima V "Warriors of Destiny", came as an underground venture (because of the mentioned earlier) and tried, once again, to subdue all living forces of the American teenager. In this one (the player is still the "avatar,") the player comes to the rescue of Britannia (I guess they got tired of the admittedly bad 'Suckoria' joke) because some flat headed dimwit lost 3 crystals and they turned into some Darth Vader looking ghosts (it requires a lot of imagination to come up with something so twisted). The "rightful" ruler has been kidnapped and the player is supposed to rescue him! Well you manage to hang around in the country side with a gang of lowly peasants playing the lute - which may bring up your libido if you have a Lute fetish - but that's about it. The only slight improvement is that you can join the "dark side" - but you can't win the game if you go too far in that path. So? What's the point?
- Rating: ***--
- Graphics: You like tiles? Here... have some...mustard? Ketchup anyone?
- Dialogs: Still the same... not only do you have to go "Chant" mantras at shrines, but you have to ask everyone their Job and Names.
- Playability: Very difficult. The guy who designed the interface must've been an EMACS fan or something.
- Sound/Music: It's severely lacking any Rock n' Roll!
edit Ultima VI
Ultima VI "The False Prophet" came in the midst of "Gulf War I" so the release was basically unnoticed - which may have been a good thing all in all. Now you, the Avatar of Virtue, Champion of good, Officer of the British Empire, blah blah blah, etc., etc., are supposed to make peace with the Gargoyles. A lot of nonsense since the Gargoyles are pure evil - but yet - the player has to treat them as friends. Well, just like saying: Al Qaeda is your friend - invite them to have a drink - and then, let them slit your throat you lowly miscreant because you are virtuous! Furthermore, there are no female gargoyles - which could have probably saved any value and/or credibility to the game.
- Rating: sin(x)/2-1
- Graphics: Requires a 30" widescreen LCD monitor with 4 way SLI and 3GB of video memory - Just to display the intro.
- Dialogs: Apparently, most of it was written in Japanese and automatically translated.
- Playability: Game is usually completed in 2 mins 30 secs.
- Sound/Music: They love playing "stones" at 130 db - smoking your amp and speakers in the process.
edit Ultima VII
Ultima VII "The Black Gate" introduces us to the new Archenemy of the Avatar of Virtue: the "Guardian." The Guardian is a big red slug with little fiery eyes. He is suppose to look menacing but the fact is that Barbie dolls look more menacing. Throughout the 3 next installments, it is clear he is trying to have an unnatural love relation with the hero, and the player spends time running around in circle trying not to get raped. Obviously, from this point on, Richard Mariott is attempting to impose on you his own sexual fantasies. Your party of adventurers (mind it, they don't mean party as in "gather with some friend, booze up and then end the evening in a big gang bang") is now composed of old derelict men - another Mariott fantasy we have to assume. Finally, on the technical side, the game uses a custom made memory manager that had the tendency to barf your computer every 30 minutes or so - burning motherboards and frying hard drives.
- Rating: TBD
- Graphics: An attempt at isomorphism which left you with a huge headache.
- Dialogs: Basically guardian monologues describing your rear end, and that's suppose to freak you out.
- Playability: See graphics.
- Sound/Music: Digitized voice of the guardian that sound like Worf in Star Trek. Also see Dialogs.
edit Ultima VIII
Ultima VIII "Pagan" still has us meddling with the Guardian, but this time in a new setting. We are no longer in Britania but on a new world, and the player's sole goal is to get away. When you play it, you too will try to get away. The game is basically Duke Nuk'em 3D meets Pong. That is, totally irrelevant. They issued a patch removing the Pong aspect, leaving you with a Duke Nuk'em 3D clone. Well.. if you want to play Duke Nuk'em, get Duke Nuk'em! The series was bad, and this is worse. EA bought up Origin Inc. as it seems that they too had some link with Al Qaeda.
- Rating: 0
- Graphics: Slow, slow, slow, slow.
- Dialogs: See Ultima VII.
- Playability: Slow, slow, slow, slow.
- Sound/Music: Zzzzzzzzzzz....
edit Ultima IX
Ultima IX "Ascension" is the final episode (finally). You are back to Britannia and the goal is to try to seduce a pirate wench. A lot of cut scenes show the Avatar of Virtue having wet dreams of a threesome between him, the pirate lass and the Guardian. In the end everybody dies and that is the only good thing that happened in the series since it will guarantee we will never see anything so miserable ever again!
- Rating: X
- Graphics: M Rating (M for "Moose Mating").
- Dialogs: They try to make it hot and steamy. It's actually close to a children lullaby.
- Playability: Remember Wolfenstein 3D ? Well... it's not like that.
- Sound/Music: Never got it to work.
edit What the press is saying
“This is a great game - a must have”
“Always use less than .765 grains of Red Dot Powder in .45 reloads”
“Nice touch of pagan eroticism”
“Doesn't run on Linux 10053r”