Ultima is a series of fantasy computer role-playing games from Origin Systems, Inc. Ultima was created by Richard Garriott, a.k.a. Lord British. Several games of the series are considered seminal games of their genre. Today, Electronic Arts holds the brand.
The main Ultima series consists of nine installments (the seventh is further divided into two parts) which are grouped into trilogies or "Ages": The Age of Darkness (Ultima I-III), The Age of Enlightenment (Ultima IV-VI), and The Age of Armageddon (Ultima VII-IX). The latter is also referred to as "The Guardian Saga" after its chief antagonist. The first three games were set in a fantasy world named Sosaria but during the cataclysmic events of The Age of Darkness, it is sundered and three quarters of it vanish. What is left becomes known as Britannia, a realm ruled by the benevolent Lord British where the later games mostly take place. The protagonist of all games is a canonically male resident of Earth who is called upon by Lord British to protect Sosaria and later, Britannia from various dangers. Originally, the player character was referred as "the Stranger" in the games but by the end of Ultima IV, he becomes universally known as the Avatar.
The Age of Darkness
In Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (1980), the Stranger is first summoned to Sosaria to defeat the evil wizard Mondain who aims to enslave it. Since Mondain possesses the Gem of Immortality, which makes him invulnerable, the Stranger locates a time machine, travels back in time to kill Mondain before he creates the Gem, and shatters the incomplete artifact.
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress (1982) details Mondain's secret student and lover Minax's attempt to avenge him. Minax launches an attack on the Stranger's homeworld of Earth. Her actions cause doorways to open to various times and locations throughout Earth's history, and brings forth legions of monsters to all of them. The Stranger, after obtaining the Quicksword that alone can harm her, locates the evil sorceress at Castle Shadowguard at the origin of time and defeats her.
Ultima III: Exodus (1983) reveals that Mondain and Minax had an offspring, the titular Exodus, "neither human, nor machine", according to the later games (it is depicted as a computer at the conclusion of the game, and is generally held to be a demonic, self-aware artificial intelligence). Some time after Minax's death, Exodus starts his own attack on Sosaria and the Stranger is summoned once again to destroy it. Exodus was the first installment of the series featuring a player party system, which was used in many later games.
The Age of Enlightenment
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985) marked a turning point in the series from the traditional "hero vs. villain" plots, instead introducing a complex alignment system based upon the Eight Virtues derived from the combinations of the Three Pinciples of Love, Truth and Courage. Although Britannia now prospers under Lord British's rule, he fears for his subjects' spiritual well-being and summons the Stranger again to become a spiritual leader of Britannian people by example. Throughout the game, the Stranger's actions determine how close he comes to the ideal. Upon achieving enlightenment in every Virtue, he can reach the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and becomes the "Avatar", the embodiment of Britannia's virtues.
In Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (1988), the Avatar returns to Britannia to find that after Lord British had been lost in the Underworld, Lord Blackthorn, who rules in his stead, was corrupted by the Shadowlords and enforces a radically twisted vision of the Virtues, deviating considerably from their original meaning. The Avatar and his companions proceed to rescue the true king, overthrow the tyrant and restore the Virtues in their true form.
Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990) details the invasion of Britannia by Gargoyles, which the Avatar and his companions have to repel. Over the course of the game it is revealed that the Gargoyles have valid reasons to loathe the Avatar. Exploring the themes of racism and xenophobia, the game tasks the Avatar with understanding and reconciling two seemingly opposing cultures.
The Age of Armageddon
Ultima VII: The Black Gate (1992) sees the Avatar entangled in the plan of an ostensibly virtuous and benevolent organization named the Fellowship (inspired by Scientology) to create a gateway for the evil entity known as the Guardian to enter Britannia.
An expansion pack was released named Forge of Virtue that added a newly arisen volcanic island to the map that the Avatar was invited to investigate. The tie-in storyline was limited to this island, where a piece of Exodus (his data storage unit) had resurfaced. To leave the island again, the Avatar had to destroy this remnant of Exodus. In the process of doing so, he also created The Black Sword, an immensely powerful weapon possessed by a demon.
Ultima VII, Part Two: Serpent Isle (1993) was released as Part 2 of Ultima VII because it used the same game engine as Ultima VII. According to interviews, Richard Garriot felt it therefore did not warrant a new number. Production was rushed due to deadlines set to the developers, and the storyline was cut short; remains of the original, longer storyline can be found in the database. Following the Fellowship's defeat, its founder Batlin flees to the Serpent Isle, pursued by the Avatar and companions. Serpent Isle is revealed as another fragment of former Sosaria, and its history which is revealed throughout the game provides many explanations and ties up many loose ends left over from the Age of Darkness era. Magical storms herald the unraveling of the dying world's very fabric, and the game's mood is notably melancholic and sad, including the voluntary sacrificial death of a long-standing companion of the Avatar. By the end of the game, the Avatar confronts the Guardian but is overpowered and thrown into another world, which became the setting for the next game in the series.
The Silver Seed was an expansion pack for Ultima VII Part 2 where the Avatar travelled back in time on Serpent Isle to plant a silver seed to balance the forces that hold Serpent Isle together. Like Forge of Virtue, it created an isolated sub-quest that was irrelevant to the original game's storyline, but provided the Avatar with a plethora of useful and powerful artifacts.
In Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994), the Avatar finds himself exiled to a world of the same name by the Guardian. The Britannic Principles and Virtues are unknown here. Pagan is ruled by the Elemental Titans, god-like servants of the Guardian. The Avatar defeats them with their own magic, ascending to demi-godhood himself, and finally returns to Britannia. A planned expansion pack, The Lost Vale, was canceled after Ultima VIII failed to meet sales expectations.
Ultima IX: Ascension (1999), the final installment of the series, sees Britannia conquered and its Virtues corrupted by the Guardian. The Avatar has to cleanse and restore them. The Guardian is revealed to be the evil part of the Avatar himself, expelled from him when he became the Avatar. To stop it, he has to merge with it, destroying himself as a separate entity. The unreleased version of the plot featured a more apocalyptic ending, with the Guardian and Lord British killed, Britannia destroyed, and the Avatar ascending to a higher plane of existence.
Because it was only released with a truncated storyline and contained many plot holes and inconsistencies with the established Ultima universe, some fans refuse to accept Ultima IX in its released form as the series' conclusion.
Worlds of Ultima spin-off
In Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire (1990), a failed experiment transports the Avatar to the Valley of Eodon, a jungle world populated by thirteen primitive tribes whom he unites against a common enemy, the insectoid Myrmidex.
Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams (1991) takes place after The Savage Empire and sees the Avatar travel back in time to the Victorian era and eventually land on Mars to rescue humans stranded on it by accident and to restore the native Martian civilization. The third game, Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 3: Arthurian Legends, was planned to be set in the times of King Arthur but was canceled in 1993.
Ultima Underworld spin-off
The second spin-off series, Ultima Underworld, consisted of two games.
Set after Ultima VI, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992) sees the Avatar descending into the Great Stygian Abyss to rescue a Britannian baron's kidnapped daughter and prevent the summoning of a powerful demon.
Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds (1993) is set between the two parts of Ultima VII and starts with the Guardian trapping Lord British, the Avatar and his companions within an impenetrable barrier in their castle. To free them, the Avatar has to travel through several parallel universes looking for a way to undo the spell.
Ultima Online MMORPG
Ultima Online (1997), a MMORPG spin-off of the main series, has become an unexpected hit, making it one of the earliest and longest-running successful MMORPGs of all time. Its lore retconned the ending of Ultima I, stating that when the Stranger shattered the Gem of Immortality, he discovered that it was tied to the world itself, therefore its shards each contained a miniature version of Britannia. The player characters in Ultima Online exist on these "shards". Eight expansion packs for UO have been released (The Second Age, Renaissance, Third Dawn, Lord Blackthorn's Revenge, Age of Shadows, Samurai Empire, Mondain's Legacy and Stygian Abyss) . The aging UO graphic engine was renewed in 2007 with the official Kingdom Reborn client. Ultima Online 2, later renamed to Ultima Worlds Online: Origin and canceled in 2001, would have introduced steampunk elements to the game world, following Lord British's unsuccessful attempt to merge past, present, and future shards together.
The canceled MMORPG Ultima X: Odyssey (2004) would have continued the story of Ultima IX. Now merged with the Guardian, the Avatar creates a world of Alucinor inside his mind, where the players were supposed to pursue the Eight Virtues in order to strengthen him and weaken the Guardian. Ultima X was developed without participation of the original creator Richard Garriott and he no longer owns the rights to the series. However, he still owns the rights to several of the game characters so it is impossible for either him or Electronic Arts to produce a new Ultima title without getting permission from each other.
Ultima game boxes often contained so-called "feelies"; e.g. from Ultima II on, every game in the main series came with a cloth map of the game world. Starting with Ultima IV, small trinkets like pendants, coins and magic stones were found in the boxes. Made of metal or glass, they usually represented an important object also found within the game itself.
Not liking how games were sold in zip lock bags with a few pages printed out for instructions, Richard Garriott insisted Ultima II be sold in a box, with a cloth map, and a manual. Sierra was the only company at that time willing to agree to this, and thus he signed with them.
Ultima VI began the use of copy protection in the form of in-game questions, preventing the player from progressing any further if the questions were answered incorrectly. In Ultima VII, this practice was continued, although in both games the player had an unlimited number of tries to answer the questions correctly. Answers could be obtained by consulting the manual or cloth map, although the manual released with the Ultima Collection contained all copy protection answers for every game.
In Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle, the copy protection was changed slightly. Players were asked questions at two points in the game, and if they could not answer after two attempts, all NPCs said nothing but altered versions of famous quotes, such as "My kingdom for a hammer!", "Honor thy father and thy hoe, babycakes" and "Oh my, twig, I don't think we're in Britannia anymore". Everything would also be labeled "Oink!", preventing the game from being playable. From Ultima VIII onward, copy protection questions were discontinued.
- Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (1980)
- Ultima II: The 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 Two: Serpent Isle (1993)
- Ultima VIII: Pagan (including Speech Pack) (1994)
- Ultima IX: Ascension (1999)
- Ultima Trilogy (1989) - an early compilation of the first three Ultima games released for the Apple II, Commodore 64 and DOS by Origin Systems.
- Ultima: The Second Trilogy (1992) - a later trilogy of the second three Ultima games released by Origin Systems for Commodore 64 and DOS.
- Ultima I-VI Series (1992) - a compilation of the first six Ultima games and published for DOS by Software Toolworks. Includes reprints of the instruction manuals and original maps.
The Ultima Collection is a CD-ROM collection of the first eight Ultima computer games (MS-DOS versions only), including their respective expansion packs. It was released in February 17, 1998 for Windows 95/98 and DOS. The disk will not work as such on Windows 2000 or newer; a DOS Emulator such as DOSBox and some manual work is required to get all the games working on modern versions of Windows. The included version of Ultima II is incomplete; see its own article for details.
Along with Ultima's I-VIII this collection also included:
- The PC port of Akalabeth.
- A sneak preview of Ultima IX with an interview with Richard Garriott.
- A complete atlas of the maps used in each game.
- The original documentation converted into Windows help file format.
- Akalabeth: World of Doom (a.k.a. Ultima 0) (1980)
- Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash (1983) — not considered canonical part of the series, as it was produced by Sierra On-Line without any authorization from Garriott and has little in common with the other games of the series. Highly sought after by collectors due to extreme rarity.
- Ultima: Worlds of Adventures (a.k.a. Worlds of Ultima):
- Ultima Underworld:
- Arthurian Legends (canceled in 1993)
- Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale (expansion pack, canceled in 1994)
- Ultima Worlds Online: Origin (a.k.a. Ultima Online 2, canceled in 2001)
- Ultima X: Odyssey (canceled in 2004)
UO spawned two sequel efforts that were canceled before release: Ultima Worlds Online: Origin (canceled in 2001, though the game's storyline was published in the Technocrat War trilogy.) and Ultima X: Odyssey (canceled in 2004). However, several expansions were released for Ultima Online, adding new features and areas to be explored. They are The Second Age, Renaissance, Third Dawn, Lord Blackthorn's Revenge, Age of Shadows, Samurai Empire, Mondain's Legacy and Stygian Abyss.
Console versions of Ultima have allowed further exposure to the series, especially in Japan where the games have been bestsellers and were accompanied by several tie-in products including Ultima manga. In most cases, gameplay and graphics have been changed significantly.
- Ultima: Exodus (NES)
- Ultima: Quest of the Avatar (NES)
- Ultima IV : Quest of the Avatar (Sega Master System) — A faithful port of the original. Only released in English.
- Ultima: Warriors of Destiny (NES)
- Ultima: Runes of Virtue (Game Boy) — Non-canonical, action based gameplay and puzzle solving. The game's antagonist is called the "Black Knight." This is Garriott's favorite console-based Ultima.
- Ultima: Runes of Virtue 2 (Game Boy, Super NES)
- Ultima VI: The False Prophet (SNES) — Gameplay adapted for the game pad. Includes plot changes and reduction in violence.
- Ultima VII: The Black Gate (SNES) — Gameplay adapted for the game pad. Includes plot changes and reduction in violence.
- Ultima: The Savage Empire (SNES) — A graphical update using the Black Gate engine for the SNES. Japan only, canceled in the US.
- Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (PlayStation) — Uses 3D models rather than the 2D sprites of the original. Released only in Japan.
Remakes and new games
- Ultima V: Lazarus - A remake of Ultima V by volunteer programmers using the Dungeon Siege engine. The final version of the game, Ultima V: Lazarus v1.2, was released on April 1, 2006.(website)
- The Ultima 6 Project - A remake of Ultima VI also using the Dungeon Siege engine, was released on July 5, 2010.
- Exult - In the late 1990s, the Ultima Dragons, an Internet-based Ultima fangroup, produced an unofficial 'rerelease' of both 'halves' of Ultima VII, and their subsequent expansion packs. Titled Exult, the project updated both games, tying off loose plot threads and updating some of the duology's graphics and user interface, as well as correcting numerous typographical and continuity errors. For copyright reasons, Exult requires that the original Ultima VII data files be present on the user's computer to operate, and is entirely non-commercial.
- Ultima IX: Redemption - An entirely original installment of the Ultima series using the The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind game engine. Ultima IX: Redemption is an effort to create an alternative to Ultima IX: Ascension, writing a new ending to the Age of the Guardian saga of the Ultima series. Production is approximately 90% complete as of April 2009. Ultima X: The New King, a sequel to Ultima IX: Redemption, will be created by the same team and will likely feature The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion game engine.
- Ultima: The Dark Core is a post Ultima VIII game made for web browsers by Michael D. Hilborn.
- EUO, a retro massively multiplayer online RPG largely based on the early Ultimas and Ultima Online
- The Ultima Saga, by Lynn Abbey (Warner Books)
- Ultima: The Technocrat War, by Austen Andrews (Pocket Books)
- Machinations (2001)
- Masquerade (2002)
- Maelstrom (2002)
- Ultima: EXODUS No Kyoufu (The Terror of EXODUS)
- Ultima: Quest of the Avatar
- Ultima: Magincia no Metsubou (The Fall of Magincia)
Other Ultima merchandise
In Japan an Ultima soundtrack CD, two kinds of wrist watches, a tape dispenser, a pencil holder, a board game, a jacket, and a beach towel were released. There was also an Ultima cartoon.
The people of Britannia, the fantasy world where the games are set, speak English, and most of the day-to-day things are written in Latin alphabet. However, there still are other scripts, which are used by tradition.
Britannian runes are the most commonly seen script. In many of the games of the series, most of the signs are written in runes, with no actual transcription for them given. Some could see this as part of Origin's clever anti-piracy ploy, where people who do not have the manual would be far more confused while playing the game. Many players of the games learned to read runes without aid.
The runes are based on Germanic runes, but are slightly different. In actual games, the runes have been in use since the early games. They gained steadier use in the games proper since Ultima V, which was the first game in series to feature a runic font and use it for most of the display of various signs. Earlier games featured runes only in other graphics; For example, in Ultima IV, visions got from meditating use runic letters.
By the time of Ultima VII, the runes had started to fall in somewhat of a disuse: Old establishments still used runes in the signs, while new ones, such as The Fellowship, used Latin characters. Curiously, they're also used in the cloth map of Ultima VIII, even though it is set in a world with no ties to Britannia.
Gargish is the language of the gargoyles of Britannia and the language used in spellcasting within the game. The language is complex and flexible, but the vocabulary is prohibitively small, limiting its use. The Gargish language has its own alphabet, although it can also be written in the Latin alphabet. The difference between nouns, verbs, and adjectives is expressed through intonations and gestures. Because of this, written Gargish uses suffixes to denote part of speech, grammatical tense, and grammatical aspect. In some cases, these suffixes are also used as independent words. Gargoyles avoid using pronouns or verb tense unless it is crucial to comprehension; therefore the language is often spoken in the infinitive.
The Gargish alphabet is featured in Ultima VI, though it is seen in the games very rarely. Ultima VII and onward does not feature anything written in the alphabet, with the sole exception of some books to be found in the gargoyle colony in the underwater city of Ambrosia in Ultima IX.
The Gargish language and alphabet were designed by Herman Miller.
The ophidian alphabet, featured in Ultima VII: Part Two - Serpent Isle, was used by the ophidian civilization that inhabited the Serpent Isle. It is based on various snake forms.
Ophidian lettering was quite difficult to read, so the game included a Translation spell that made the letters look like Latin letters.
- Origin Systems, Inc. (redirects to the Ultima Online website)
- The official Ultima WWW Archive - Information and files concerning the entire saga
- 'Ultima series at MobyGames
- The Ultima Legacy from GameSpot - A historical overview of the series
- Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter
- The Codex of Ultima Wisdom (Ultima Wiki)
- Ivanhoe's Ultima Universe Fan Site
- Gargish and Britannian runes
- The Ultima Collectors Guide
- Gargish alphabet at ConScript Unicode Registry
- Ophidian alphabet at ConScript Unicode Registry