Ultima Collections, Books, Other
Lord British Starter Kit, 1981
Ultima Trilogy, 1989
Ultima: The Second Trilogy, 1992
Ultima I-VI Series, 1993
The Complete Ultima VII, 1993
Ultima Underworld, 1993
Ultima Collection, 1998
The Genesis of Ultima, 1999
Ultima: Best of Both Worlds Edition, 2000
Ultima Complete, 2001
Ultima Online: 7th Anniversary Edition, 2004
There are likely ones besides these, but they're going to be fairly obscure. More information on the various Ultima releases can be had by visiting the Ultima Collector's Guide.
Ultima Books and NovelsUltima has had a large selection of literature associated with it, even beyond the outstanding writing work done in making the manuals that come with each game. All of these books are long out of print and there are no plans to republish any of them any time soon, though the novels by Lynn Abbey and Austen Andrews are fairly easy and inexpensive to come by via online bookstores.
The various clue books written by Origin for their Ultima games are unique in that they follow the same conceit that game manuals do: they are written as in-universe books, narrated by characters from the games. Pentology, the clue book for Ultima VIII, for instance, is written as a lecture from Remvatos, the demigod son of the Pagan God of Balance Apathas, guiding the Avatar through the perils of Pagan by providing 'not strength, but wisdom'. Each cluebook includes additional artwork, including some that didn't make it into the games or their manuals, as well as additional insight into the characters and worlds of the games. The two cluebooks for the Ultima Underworld games are particularly notable about this, filling in plenty of background detail and information that goes unstated either in-game or in the manuals as well as providing some impressive artwork not found elsewhere. Most of these cluebooks can be downloaded on Replacementdocs.com.
Ultima Books and Novels
The Official Book of Ultima, by Shay Addams
Master Ultima: Mystery, Magic and Strategy, by Ralph Roberts
Ultima: The Avatar Adventures, by Rusel DeMaria and Caroline Spector
Ultima: More Avatar Adventures, by Caroline Spector
Ultima VIII Pagan: The Ultimate Strategy Guide, by Joe Hutsko and Raymond Lueders.
Prima's Official Guide to Ultima Collection, by Chris McCubbin and David Ladyman
Prima's Official Guide to Ultima IX: Ascension, by Chris McCubbin and David Ladyman
Ultima Exodus NES Hint Book, by author unknown
Origin's Official Guide to Ultima Online, by Tuesday Frase and Melissa Tyler
Ultima Collector's Guide, by Stephen Emond
The Ultima Saga, by Lynn Abbey and Richard Garriott
A series of original novels written by Lynn Abbey with creative input from Richard Garriott and published by Questar Fantasy, taking place in Britannia just before and during the reign of Lord Blackthorn and the Shadowlords. The book's official plot summaries say it best:
"Four young adventurers: Lord Ironhawk's son Jordan Hawson, beautiful Althea, a headstrong blacksmith named Drum, and Jordan's kid brother Squirt heed a mystic globe's dark warning to find Balthan, Althea's magician brother. It is a quest that will take them through the perils of trolls, harpies, and gypsies until they discover the mission is far more crucial than they ever imagined. A vast evil has sunk its claws into Britannia. Lord British's ruling Council of Mages is in hiding, its members marked for death. And only the elusive Balthan knows the truth behind it all." -The Forge of Virtue
"Jordan Hawson and his companions return to Hawksnest only to receive a bitter welcome: their home has been tainted by the same evil they confronted and escaped in the northern forests. Even Jordan's father, Lord Ironhawk, is in the thrall of the corrupt inquisitor Lohgrin. With Jordan blind and disheartened, the Inquisitor moves swiftly and without opposition. Magician Balthan is condemned as a traitor, young Squirt becomes a fugitive in his own home, but the worst befalls Althea. The beautiful young woman will become Lohgrin's bride unless her friends find within their hearts the will and courage to free themselves from the Inquisitor's malignant sorcery." -The Temper of Wisdom
Lynn Abbey has sample chapters of the books available on her official website.
The Technocrat War, by Austin Andrews
A three-part trilogy of novels written from 2001 to 2002, Austin Andrews' Technocrat War Trilogy was created to tie-in to the in-development Ultima Online 2 and is based on that game's story. From the plot summary:
"A sorcerous cataclysm has remade the ancient and magical world of Sosaria, where a misguided plan to bring ultimate order to the land has altered its destiny forever. Now past, present, and future are one...a unity that sets in motion an astonishing age of discovery and conflict for this strange new world. Once separated by time and space, the warlike Juka, the calculating Technocrats, the matriarchs of the Meer, and the Virtuous knights of New Britannia are now on a collision course. Fragile alliances threaten to unravel as treachery and deceit pit kingdom against kingdom. Unless bitter enemies can put aside their vengeful differences long enough to uncover the truth, all Sosaria will be ripped asunder."
These books received unusually good reviews from both gamers and fantasy fans. Andrews has published the first chapter of each book as a free preview, but his website is down as of this writing.
Circa 1988-89 when Pony Canyon/FCI was publishing Japanese editions of the Ultima games, Japanese book publisher JICC released four full-length manga series loosely inspired by the games' stories. (Anybody familiar with Japanese comics will understand what 'loosely' means in this context). In addition to these, Ultima also appeared in short stories and comics in a variety of different Japanese magazines due to the wild popularity of Japanese-flavored western fantasy in Japan in the late 80's and early 90's, a popularity that was largely inspired by Ultima and Wizardry.
JICC No. 1: Ultima: The Terror of Exodus
JICC No. 2: Ultima: Quest of the Avatar
JICC No. 3: Ultima: The Fall of Magincia
JICC No. 4: Ultima: The Maze of Schwarzschild
There's little information on this anime, and the sole information that seems to be available is a one-page web article written in Finnish, so this section is entirely speculation and not to be taken as a citable source of facts.
It seems that sometime in the late 80's (1989?) TV Osaka had created a one-episode straight to video cartoon based on Ultima: Exodus in order to promote the release of the NES/Famicom port of the game and the recently-released NES Quest of the Avatar. For unknown reasons it seems like the anime was never shown on television nor actually sold on tape. It's possible, however, that a television ad for Ultima: Exodus aired in Japan may include images from the Ultima anime; screenshots of this ad show a cute, childish anime cleric, the same one from the Exodus Famicom box art, and a closeup of her chest and hips. Sigh, Japan.
The only evidence of the show's existence is a few tapes found in the wreckage of a TV Osaka warehouse destroyed in the 1995 Kobe earthquake. The tapes of the show were discovered after having been lost for many years; it seems the studio's inventory list made no mention of them. No video of the anime has ever made it to the internet, nor any screenshots of it running, and it's not clear where those tapes are now. Possibly they may have been part of an auction of old TV Osaka material meant to help victims of the earthquake, which at 6.8 was quite severe and caused Japan a great deal of damage.
Another potentially more believable explanation is that it was simply a small bit of animation created specifically for a television commercial. The text scroll at the bottom of each screen reads off its features (2 megabits of ROM with battery backup, and so forth), with would certainly indicate that it's an advertisement.Links:
The only known source of info on the Anime on the entire internet; in Finnish.
Killing Lord British
The character of Lord British has been a near constant throughout the entirety of the series, and Richard Garriott's erstwhile author stand-in usually has a few of the same traits: he's the one who brought you here, he heals you when asked, he's (almost) universally beloved in-game, and he is invincible. In Ultima's open, free-form world, Lord British alone cannot be slain by your blade, Avatar. ...or can he?
Though he's usually (apparently) immune to the standard sort of backstabbery that less than scrupulous Avatars may engage in, it's usually entirely possible to kill him somehow, and through this, one of the most beloved and ancient traditions of Ultima players was born: figuring out how to murder Lord British. RPG gamers can be a creative bunch, and the methods here have passed into role-playing legend.
Akalabeth: World of Doom
Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness
Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress
Ultima III: Exodus
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
Ultima VI: The False Prophet
Ultima VII: The Black Gate
Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle
Ultima VIII: Pagan
Ultima IX: Ascension
Ultima Underworld: The Sygian Abyss, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams
Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
Conclusion: The Ultima Legacy
The people at Origin created worlds. It was right there in their company slogan, even. Is it any wonder that even thirty years later Ultima is inescapable? Pick an RPG, any RPG; you're looking at designers influenced by Ultima, or by someone else influenced by Ultima. It's been more than ten years since Ascension and love for these games is as strong as it ever was, with fan projects, upgrades and remakes out there by the bucketload. How many franchises today are going to inspire this sort of dedication, are going to be such a central part of their players lives three decades down the road? Call of Duty? Ultima is characterized as a series by world interactivity, storytelling maturity, sense of continuity between titles, constant revision of past lore to create a more complex whole, and the sense of personality imposed on even later installments by the series author. They pushed new ground that others have yet to cover today.
Electronic Arts continues to own the Ultima brand name and associated intellectual property. Their treatment of it in the last decade has been spotty. Foisting off the IP like garbage to a cheap browser-based Evony clone isn't doing the title justice and it seems many of EA's newer biz guys don't even know what Origin Systems was - witness their online download service, titled Origin when none of the marketers thought of it as anything other than another IP lying around. They've been improving at the same time, though; Electronic Arts' deal with Good Old Games to make many of their older games available has made Ultima accessible for the first time in a long time.
There's been rumors on the internet and usenet recently, though; certain messages from a certain Bioware leader's Twitter account has been hinting about a "big project" to do with Origin lately. EA chose 2011 to create an Ultima Anniversary retrospective page. Maybe something's going on?
As for Richard Garriott, he never gave up the rights to the name Lord British; as we speak, he's developing something, tentatively titled Lord British's New Britannia, using social networking services as a platform. With the past as any indication it'll be massive; maybe Facebook will finally be able to throw off the tyranny of Zynga and host a game worth playing for once? Time will tell.
Interview with Richard Garriott
Richard Garriott, aka Shamino Salle Dacil, aka Don Shamino, aka Lord British, original author of Ultima and one of the founding fathers of computer RPGs.
Let's start at the beginning. Can you tell us about how you started programming back in high school? How was the Apple II better than connecting to a mainframe computer via teletype?
When I began in 1974, I was inspired by three things: The Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons and the unused teletype my school had in one classroom. I wrote 28 small BASIC D&D games before discovering the Apple II and its real time graphics! I immediatly wrote "D&D 28B" which became Akalabeth.
What were those first 28 games like? Since you didn't have the Apple II's graphics, would they be something like text adventures or dungeon-crawlers with ASCII graphics like dnd?
Ah... they looked a lot like Ultima! Just "*" for walls, " " (blank spaces) for hallways, "$" for treasure and "A" for Giant Ant as examples. It was a lot like a top down tile game, but made with ASCII characters. Also you had to wait 10-30 seconds for each new "frame"... very low "framerate". :)
It's hard to even imagine what programming was like in those days, having to wait while your data went to some hulking giant elsewhere on phone lines. What were you trying to do differently with Ultima I? And how did you and Ken Arnold distribute the workload?
"Hulking" is the right word... by today's standards, unbelievably slow. Coupled with that 300 baud accoustic modem! Ken was my connection to assembly language. Ken wrote the first tile graphic copying routine in assembly for me. While his later work in Ultima music is still great, it was that one subroutine that put Ultima on track!
My significant other keeps getting Quest of the Avatar's combat music stuck in her head thanks to the Ultima playing I've been doing these past few months, so I can attest he did some work. :) I'm curious about that Space Ace section in the first game. It seems to play a lot like Doug Neubauer's Star Raiders that came out a year or two earlier for the Atari 800.
Yes, the music still plays in MY ears too! I do remember Star Raiders too, and no doubt it was a strong influence!
In the first half of the 80's, you were competing neck and neck with Sir-Tech's Wizardry for sales. What kind of relationship did you have with Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead over at Sir-Tech? Did anything they did affect how you designed an Ultima?
I know them both well and we have always been friendly competitors. Our games were different enough, that I rarely looked to them for inspiration. Odd really, likely should have studied them more... but I was too caught up in my own path at the time.
You certainly diverged in design philosophy rapidly. Ultima changed scope while Wizardry seems to have been content to keep refining the formula.
I agree. I was caught up in the rapid expansion of my skills... Ultima I in BASIC, Ultima II in assembly, Ultima III in far better assembly...I knew I could get much more out of the little machine, with each fresh restart.
I've compared the speed of Ultima I and Ultima II on an AppleIIe machine myself. The difference is very noticeable. Back in 1982 your games were briefly distributed by Sierra On-Line, and then you had something of a falling-out with Ken Williams prior to the development of Exodus. Ken Williams' side of the story is in Stephen Levy's book 'Hackers', where it seems like he was wary of independent authors and trying to replace them with traditional hired programmers. What's yours? What wasn't working?
HA! Mine is FAR more basic. THEY QUIT PAYING THE ROYATIES I WAS DUE! My first publisher California Pacific quit paying me because the owner was a major drug user and squandered the money they owed me. Sierra also just up and stopped paying, as they had financial troubles as well. In both cases I brought in my brother Robert to try and collect... never could... so we went into business ourselves, and started Origin!
"Not being paid" sounds like the most basic reason to quit a job, sure enough! Speaking of Origin...The video game and computer industry crash in 1983-1984 has been much mythologized. You were there at the time starting up Origin Systems with your brother, Ken Arnold and Chuck Bueche. What exactly was going on in the industry from your perspective in '83, and how did Origin Systems manage to thrive as a startup when so many established companies were crashing down around you?
The companies that were crashing were terribly mismanaged. Most were run NOT by business people, but by enthusiasts. Most squandered their money as they made it. When we started Origin, it was with a known top franchise, Ultima. And, my brother had two undergraduate degrees from Rice, and a masters form Stanford and a Masters from MIT. Plus he had worked at Texas Instruments making the first 64k RAM chips and worked at a venture capital firm studying software companies. HE is the one that kept us in business.
Great programmers and game designers aren't necessarily the best at business, I suppose.
You've told the story behind the design of Quest of the Avatar many times, how you were inspired to create a game more about role-playing a hero than slashing through dungeons and gathering loot. Tell me about the "satanist" backlash against fantasy game designers back then. Were you really getting death threats over Exodus? Still have any of them?
Death threats... no. Hate mail... yes! People would see just the advertisements of the Exodus cover (which looks a lot like the Disney demon on the hill from that early animation they did), and would write to me, calling me "The Satanic Perverter of America's Youth". At first I was shocked and hurt... over time, as I realized that these idiots neither knew me or what they were talking about, I later embraced the title. Now I am proud to be called that! :)
Turns out Exodus doesn't even look like that in-game anyway! I remember when I reached the end of Ultima III, and I always imagined him as one of those priest-operated IBM machines that the early MIT hackers considered their mortal foes. That wasn't intentional, was it?
Not specifically, but you got the drift of it!
Many characters in Ultima are based on people you know personally or your friends from the Society of Creative Anachronism. Starting in the Age of Enlightenment trilogy the characters based on real people proliferate at a lightning pace. How has the SCA influenced you in general and Ultima in particular? On the same subject, is Smith based on a real horse?
A lot! The SCA provided much fodder in the areas of the romantic feeling of the era, as well as perocnaities and situations. I owe a lot of the early work to the local SCA group. Smith... let me see... I don't recal... may have been the horse that lived outside a local restaurant in Austin for many many years.
Playing Ultima at times feels like wandering in the sort of world the SCA likes to imagine, an idealized medieval land.
What led to your declining involvement in the actual coding work for Ultima after Quest of the Avatar? If I understand it correctly, you left most of the programming to others for Warriors of Destiny and stopped entirely afterwards.
Again, a very simple explanation. I nearly put Origin out of business betting on the Apple II, when the IBM PC took over. We had to quickly scramble to convert the in progress game to the PC. So I directed all new programmers and could not code in C myself. So that was the end of my programming... till now! I have written a few hundred lines of code recently for the new game!
A lot of us are looking forward to Lord British's New Britannia, you can be sure!
Speaking of the changing world of platform dominance. With The False Prophet you mostly left the Apple II and other 8-bit systems behind as platforms; John Romero on usenet told me that Origin had cancelled release of one of his Commodore 64 conversions because the company didn't think it would sell well. Was there ever any real attempt to make Ultima VI on the Apple II? What kind of programming trickery did Imagitec use to get The False Prophet onto the Commodore 64, and why did it have no enhancements for the C128 like Ultima V?
Yikes, you are testing my memory... Back in those days we had to convert a game to as many as 7 platforms: Apple II, Mac, IBM, Amiga, C64, ST, Atari 8-bit... so no one version could take too much time, else we lost money on the fractured market.
In the late 80's and early 90's, FCI was publishing Nintendo console ports of several of the Ultima games. Were those games made in-house by Origin, or by FCI in Japan? What input did you and Origin have in their marketing in Japan? It looks like Ultima did pretty well over there, to put it mildly.
FCI did the work. And yes, Ultima sold more in Japan than in the USA many times!
The Runes of Virtue games tend to receive little attention from Nintendo fans or from most Ultima resources. I've tried them myself and thought they were pretty entertaining. Could you tell us anything about those? Were they entirely David Shapiro's pet project?
I loved the Runes of Virtue game. Instead of porting, we just wrote a new Gameboy game. A far better idea than many of the ports we did. It was not just Dave's pet... trying to remember the main programmers name who was really responsible for lots of the work... :)
Gary Scott Smith?
Yes! Gary deserves great credit for RoV.
Had something of an intention to make people more aware of those with this piece of writing, let's see if we can get him the credit he deserves. The Guardian trilogy of games is distinctly thematically darker than the Age of Enlightenment. What changed in how you wanted to tell stories between Ultima VI and VII?
Well, IV to VI explored the goodie goodie side well enough. It just felt like time to reintroduce a real malevolent force. Especially one that would last beyond a single game.
And you came up with old muppethead. Who was responsible for designing the Guardian? He's still unique as villains go in his preference for mind games over shootouts.
I can take credit for the idea of the face in the screen. The muppet like appearence... well that just happened. Loved the way he would go destroy towns you had already visited.
Speaking of villains! It's no secret that you weren't a fan of Trip Hawkins or his business strategies, you made that clear enough in your games. It's kind of perplexing that Origin was sold to his company Electronic Arts after all that. Why EA and not, say, Virgin or Activision?
Trip was long gone from EA when we sold. EA remains a great company in many ways.
He was off to work on the 3DO company at the time, I think?
Yep. Trip was far too "cutthroat" beyond the moral / legal line in my mind.
Some of his business strategies were questionable. It seems the sale did benefit Origin greatly in the short-term.
Allen Varney wrote an article for The Escapist magazine a few years back about the circumstances surrounding the sale of Origin to Electronic Arts and some of the factors involved in why it had to be done. He focuses quite a bit on the cost of manufacturing, particularly the cost of the many disks that were needed for games like The Black Gate and Wing Commander II. The CD-ROM caught on in popularity as a storage medium barely a year after the sale of Origin. Do you think that, if the CD had caught on just a bit earlier, Origin could have stayed independent?
No. The issue was access to distribution. The likes of "KMart" would only by from the top 3 distribution sources. Origin was #10. So to stay on shelves we had to either sell or partner. We debated a huge partnership with Broderbund and a few others to reach #3, but it did not come together.
Thanks for taking out the time for this interview, Mr. Garriott!
Links: Origin employees and Companions of the Avatar
Links: Bibliography and further Ultima reading
Resources consulted in the research of this guide also include:
Credits and Acknowledgements
Screenshots, in this article were primarily made by the author, but box-shots, some screenshots (particularly of the Japanese platforms) and some other images are provided by or used here with permission of Mobygames, Howard Feldman, Ultimaaiera, Antoine Vignau, The Sierra Museum and Stygianabyss.com.
The author of this article consulted a large number of very kind and helpful people in the writing, without whom this could never have been completed, and would like to thank the following:
UltimaAiera, for general research help and giving permission to use their Codex of Ultimate Wisdom screenshots for this article
Mobygames, for screenshots contributed to this article as well as release information and game credits.
Stephane Racle, C.E. Forman, John Romero, Stephen Emond, Howard Feldman, Holger Bachert, Antoine Vignau and the rest of the SWCollect usenet group for valuable research help.
Stephen Emond, for allowing access to his book, information on Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale, and for answering my deluge of questions over email.
Antoine Vignau of Brutal Deluxe Software, who supplied the screenshots for Ultima I AppleIIGS used in this article
Holger Bachert and the Ultima Collector's Guide, an absolutely value resource on Ultima release information
Howard Feldman and the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History, for research help and allowing this article to use his images and screenshots.
Lee Stanton, all-purpose idea bouncer-offer and commiserator.
Ed Vreeland, for help and oversight on the section on Ultima VIII: Pagan
Guntank17 [Real name withheld by request] - for Japanese translation assistance and help translating the sole available page on the entire internet containing information on the Ultima Anime.
The maintainers of the Computer Gaming World museum, for preserving an important part of software history and contributing greatly to this article's research.
Kurt Kalata and Hardcore Gaming 101, for hosting this, and more importantly, paying me for it.
Danielle Fleming, my lovely, dashing and intelligent significant other who put up with me typing late into the night for months while this was being written.
Finally, Richard Garriott and the entire crew at Origin Systems from 1983 to 2004. They created worlds.
Pride is not a virtue, Avatar.
Hay, thou hath met thy nemesis, thy doom, and his name is Smith!