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<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Introduction

Page 2:
0: Akalabeth
I: The First Age of Darkness

Page 3:
II: Revenge of the Enchantress

Page 4:
III: Exodus

Page 5:
IV: Quest of the Avatar

Page 6:
V: Warriors of Destiny

Page 7:
VI: The False Prophet

Page 8:
VII: The Serpent Isle / Black Gate

Page 9:
VIII: Pagan

Page 10:
IX: Ascension

Page 11:
The Savage Empire
Martian Dreams

Page 12:
Ultima Underworld
Ultima Underworld II

Page 13:
Escape from Mt. Drash
Runes of Virtue
Lord of Ultima

Page 14:
Ultima Online
Cancelled Games
Legacy

Page 15:
Killing Lord British
Interview: Richard Garriott

Back to the Index


Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash - VIC-20 (1983)

Cover

From the game manual:

Escape from Mount Drash is a game of life, and unless you can prevent it, a game of death. You are a prisoner of the wretched, evil Garrintrots whose stronghold is high atop the treacherous Mount Drash. The mountain is honeycombed with old mining tunnels that have been long since abandoned by human life. The Garrintrots have stocked the caverns with all manner of creatures, and now use the caverns as gaming arenas where you are the main attraction

The previous paragraph has almost nothing to do with the actual gameplay, but that's to be expected in the early eras of computer gaming; Atari VCS plots get much thinner. Escape from Mount Drash is a very odd game. It was created by Keith Zabalaoui, a friend of Garriott's who helped to program Ultima II. It has been a persistent myth that Mount Drash was released by Sierra On-Line with no permission or involvement from Richard Garriott, but more recently it has been revealed that he was well aware and consented to using the Ultima title, to help coerce Sierra into publishing his friend's project. Escape From Mount Drash has little to do with the rest of the series and is related to Ultima only in name ('The Mines of Mount Drash' are a location in Ultima I). The game is a simple dungeon crawler that looks superficially similar to the dungeon-crawling of Akalabeth and the first four Ultima games. The screen is divided into a first-person viewpoint in the upper left, an overhead map in the upper right, and a side-view of your character fencing with monsters on the bottom half. You have 99 seconds to find your way through the maze to the exit, and there are fifteen randomly-generated mazes in total. The game handicaps you slowly as you advance through the levels: at level 5, you must now find hidden gems to use the exit. By level 7, the maze overview disappears, by level 9 monster encounters now happen without warning, by level 11 your compass vanishes. The game requires an 8k memory expansion cassette to run.

It's very simple as dungeon crawlers go. It is also absolutely terrible. It is absolutely, horribly unplayable, and all because of the handicap. After level 4 the game simply becomes a frustrating exercise in pure luck to play, and when the maze map vanishes you might as well stop there. Without a fantastic sense of direction you'll be blindly stumbling around in the dark, and forget drawing maps on graph paper in fine Wizardry or Bard's Tale tradition, because you only have 99 seconds and the maze is randomly-generated each time. This isn't to disparage Mr. Zabalaoui directly (the game is, after all, an early work), but Mount Drash just isn't very fun to play at all.

In 1983 Richard Garriott had already left Sierra to found Origin Systems, taking the lucrative Ultima brand with him. It seems like Sierra, in an attempt to milk the name a bit more, slapped it onto an unrelated game which was intended for their SierraVentures series of adventure games. Any history on Escape From Mount Drash is little better than hearsay; Sierra themselves barely advertised it (one ad in Compute!, July 1983) and not many copies were ever shipped. The release was low-key enough that Richard Garriott himself didn't know the game existed until some years after the fact. Sierra seems to have sold enough copies to recoup production costs and pay the author, and then dumped the rest of the cassettes. In a callback to the internet-famous apocryphal story of thousands of unsold Atari E.T. cartridges dumped into a New Mexico landfill, one of the known surviving cassettes was actually found in a garbage pile. Escape From Mount Drash has become something of a collector's darling in recent years due to the extreme rarity of the game, and eBay auctions on surviving cassettes have reached nearly $2000. If you happen to have one gathering dust in the closet somewhere, by all means go cash in; it's not like you'd want to ever play this thing. Go play Runes of Virtue instead.

As of 2003, Ultima fan Kasper Fauerby has made available a Windows SDL port of Escape From Mount Drash which is faithful to the very rare original. The Windows port of Escape From Mount Drash has been released under the GPL and is open-source, and is available for download from Dino's Mount Drash Guide, a website which is linked below. Since the tape image of the original game has been intentionally withheld by the current holders to prevent the creation of counterfeits and fake cassettes, this is the only real way available to play the game. All screenshots in this article are from the Windows version of Mount Drash.

In 2006, amateur programmer Santiago Zapata, going under the handle Slash, released DrashRL, a roguelike dungeon-crawler based heavily on Escape From Mount Drash and Ultima lore as an entry for the 7DRL Challenge, a contest where programmers are asked to design a Rogue-style game in one week. The game still receives infrequent updates and has a small fan community.

Keith Zabalaoui is currently the president of Atomic Games, a North Carolina developer known best for the Close Combat series of computer wargames.

Quick Info:

Publisher:

Designer:

  • Keith Zabalaoui

Genre:

Themes:


Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash (VIC-20)

Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash (VIC-20)

Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash (VIC-20)

Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash (VIC-20)

Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash (VIC-20)


Ultima: Runes of Virtue - Game Boy (1991)

Japanese Cover

'Tis a dark time in the realm of Britannia. The Black Knight has stolen the eight Runes of Virtue from Castle British. As the boldest adventurer in the land, it is your quest to recover them!

That's it. What, were you expecting some kind of epic story?

An oddity among the Ultima games is Runes of Virtue, a very simplistic Legend of Zelda-inspired adventure game. You pick one of four characters to play as: Dupre, Shamino, Mariah or Iolo, and proceed to go solve puzzles in maze-like dungeons and hack at monsters in order to retrieve the stolen Runes and defeat the evil Black Knight who seeks to overthrow Lord British and cause trouble. You find different weapons, armors and magic items to help you navigate the dungeons and world, and occasionally interact with an Ultima VI-era NPC such as Lord British, the jester Chuckles, or Sherry the Talking Mouse. Each character starts with the Avatar's ankh, and using it will warp you back to Castle British at any time. Runes of Virtue saves progress using a battery and can save one player at a time.

That's really all there is to Runes of Virtue, but it's what we in the business refer to as a true hidden gem. It is surprisingly entertaining and well-done for what it is, a simple overhead-view, dungeon-delving, Ultima-flavored puzzle game, and it's got plenty of amusement in store for Ultima players who can look past the total absence of anything that could be called complexity, or a plot. Runes of Virtue seems to have faded into obscurity from all but the most hardcore Ultima fans and is nearly totally unknown by everyone else. This is a crime. As Game Boy RPGs go, Runes of Virtue has all the charm the platform can muster without the battery-draining seriousness of games like, say, Final Fantasy Legend. Runes of Virtue includes a two-player mode through use of a Game Boy Game Link cable, allowing both players to wander through a set of new levels. Games cannot be saved in two-player mode, though both players can import their currently saved characters to use.

Runes of Virtue was published by FCI in 1991, and created by a very tiny team of developers led by David "Dr. Cat" Shapiro and Gary Scott Smith, with Amanda Dee and Denis Loubet providing artwork, and Amanda Lee working with George Sanger to create music. There's no available trivia in particular for the game's development, though it's the first game in the Ultima series to include a multiplayer function. Ultima: Runes of Virtue seems to have been largely ignored by contemporary game publications. Online game database Mobygames only lists two professional reviews, both middling. All of these people? They are absolutely wrong, and it's time to change that. Give a game recognition for what it is.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Publisher:

Genre:

Themes:


Ultima: Runes of Virtue (Game Boy)

Ultima: Runes of Virtue (Game Boy)

Ultima: Runes of Virtue (Game Boy)


Ultima: Runes of Virtue II - Game Boy (1993), SNES (1994)

Japanese Game Boy Cover

American SNES Cover

"Welcome to the land of Britannia" Lord British says upon your arrival. "We hath summoned thee through the moongate to once again aid our realm. The Black Knight, whom thou vanquished years ago, is up to his old mischief. He hath abducted Lord Tholden, mayor of the city of Britain. Thou must rescue him!"

Yes, that's really the whole plot. Once again, it's quite simple.

Runes of Virtue II is largely the same sort of thing as the first Runes of Virtue. Britain looks nicer, and the world's been rearranged. You're still picking from either Shamino, Dupre, Iolo or Mariah to delve into dungeons, solve puzzles and retrieve the mayors of the eight Towns of Virtue and thwart the Black Knight's latest ill-intentioned mischief.

In addition to appearing on the Game Boy, Runes of Virtue II received an SNES/FFC port. The port looks much nicer since it's on a vastly more powerful piece of hardware. The character sprites are large and are viewed from the same angle as Ultima VI, although it looks much nicer than the SNES port of that game. Despite the graphical upgrade, it's otherwise the exact same game. It's still very fun for what it is, if you can get past the shallowness of the premise. Hey, people seem to love Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, so what's wrong with a simple premise in a Super Nintendo game?

Runes of Virtue II was designed primarily by Gary Scott Smith, with a handful of other Origin employees pitching in. Like the previous game in the series, both incarnations of Runes of Virtue II are largely unknown and ignored by the general gamer public, critics and Ultima fans. Again this is rather a shame. There's not much else to say about it.


Comparison Screenshots


Lord of Ultima - Browser (2010)

Essentially a clone of city-building browser games like Evony or Travian, Lord of Ultima is a city-building real-time strategy game that takes place in a land called Caledonia, which arose after the destruction of Sosaria. It was developed by EA Phenomic (formerly Phenomic Development), a German development house best-known before the Electronic Arts acquisition for their SpellForce series.

For people who have stayed away from these free-to-play browser games, Lord of Ultima plays essentially like later installments of Sid Meier's Civilization, where you create and develop cities by building add-on structures that provide various benefits, for the purpose of acquiring resources and training a powerful military force. Other people are doing this as well, and you can interact with other players by communicating, trading, going to war with them and forming alliances. Players compete for a high score, and through the cooperation of alliances, a particularly powerful player can reach the "Lord of Ultima" rank. The eight virtues figure into the game as sort of a resource used to upgrade particular aspects of your cities and troops, and city layout and planning is a large part of the game strategy. Lord of Ultima is free to play, but like all games of this sort, you have the option of paying money for an advantage. Money gets you Diamonds, a resource that can be spent in an in-game store for special items that give you an advantage over more frugal players. People willing to pay can essentially steamroll other players, though the game does use a 'mana' system for activating paid-for artifacts which curbs this potential abuse a bit.

All in all, it's a decent game. It's certainly rather better designed than utter garbage like Evony, as it involves some strategy and thought, particularly in city design. It remains, however, just a clone of other similar browser games. It's designed to hook people with the 'free play' aspect and then drain you of small amounts of cash slowly, playing on the human brain's inability to intuitively correlate the money loss of multiple tiny payments with single larger payments. People who pay will be the people who win, and ultimately your money went to a glacially-paced time-waster with no real goals to accomplish. Like Evony, it even sells itself with cheesecake imagery; Phenomic wasn't exactly above this before their acquisition by EA either, as the covers of their SpellForce games will attest.

But the most damning part? This game has nothing to do with Ultima other than a few names. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The Ultima aspects of this game seem to be drawn essentially at random from a list of names and places that EA provided, a way to use just another old piece of IP that Electronic Arts had lying around and nothing to use with. Sierra putting the Ultima name on Keith Zabalaoui's dungeon-crawler to try to get more sales with branding is one thing, but the very existence of Lord of Ultima almost seems like it was purposefully designed as a slap in the face to Ultima fans and the people at Origin who worked so hard bringing worlds to life.

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Publisher:

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Lord of Ultima

Lord of Ultima


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Introduction

Page 2:
0: Akalabeth
I: The First Age of Darkness

Page 3:
II: Revenge of the Enchantress

Page 4:
III: Exodus

Page 5:
IV: Quest of the Avatar

Page 6:
V: Warriors of Destiny

Page 7:
VI: The False Prophet

Page 8:
VII: The Serpent Isle / Black Gate

Page 9:
VIII: Pagan

Page 10:
IX: Ascension

Page 11:
The Savage Empire
Martian Dreams

Page 12:
Ultima Underworld
Ultima Underworld II

Page 13:
Escape from Mt. Drash
Runes of Virtue
Lord of Ultima

Page 14:
Ultima Online
Cancelled Games
Legacy

Page 15:
Killing Lord British
Interview: Richard Garriott

Back to the Index