Richard Garriott‘s famous Role-Playing Game series began officially in 1981 with “Ultima” for the Apple II. It was a pioneering mixture of single-player adventuring, combat and levelling, with humble beginnings, starting out on early 8-bit systems and working its way up to modern PCs in the 1990s. The Ultima series was always evolving; always innovating, and constantly proving to be a considerable influence on story-based, single-player RPGs, and the fantasy adventure game market in general.
Akalabeth: World of Doom – first released in 1979 by California Pacific Computer – is considered to be a precursor to the Ultima series and is similar in many respects to the first Ultima, but it is not an “Ultima” game as such – more of a prototype.
In total there have been three complete trilogies in the Ultima series: “The Age of Darkness“, “The Age of Enlightenment“, and “The Age of Armageddon“, with the series ending with Ultima IX: Ascension in 1999. In the first trilogy you played as “The Stranger“, who later morphed into “The Avatar” at the start of the second trilogy and through the third.
What is significant about the Ultima series: 1. Each game shows a clear progression, while still adhering to the same style of single-player gameplay. As though each game is preparing you for the next. 2. The detail and complexity increases with each title, with the game engine being completely re-written from scratch, to make them innovative and fresh. 3. The Ultima games are a masterclass in how to create a complete game world and base a series of stories upon it. And as each game goes by the level of detail in the world, and the characters that inhabit it, increases. 4. The Ultima series demonstrated a number of firsts in the fantasy Role-Playing Game genre, such as persistant characters; party-based combat; complex magic systems; game saving and loading; different modes of travel, and evolving, open-ended gameplay. And 5. The Ultima games always pushed the envelope of each system they appeared on, using different programming techniques to create the game world, and using floppy disks in an innovative way to allow the player to access more data than the host machine was capable of storing in memory at any one time.
A number of ‘spin-offs’ from the core Ultima series – such as Ultima Underworld, The Savage Empire, Martian Dreams and Runes of Virtue – were also released, and we’ll look at the spin-offs separately later (at least: the ones we haven’t already featured).
While it’s fair to say that the Ultima games are not for everyone; for Role-Playing Gamers of the Eighties and Nineties they were at the cutting edge of fantasy gaming, and they still linger in the memory of those who’ve played them. And they’re still played now – even though they’re considered “archaic” by today’s standards. Ultima‘s enduring popularity has even seen a number of modern remakes, which are also interesting to play.
Ultima later evolved into one of the very first Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games ever made – as the groundbreaking Ultima Online – which lasted from 1997 to 2004 (before being relaunched by Electronic Arts as Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn, from 2004 to 2006), and it still persists to this day. A “spiritual successor” to the Ultima series, called Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, was first released in 2018 and was directed by Ultima series creator, Richard Garriott.
Here’s a list of all the English language versions of Ultima on The King of Grabs. There were a number of conversions produced for the Japanese market, which are of course in Japanese. They’re not too difficult to find, if you want to play them, but I’m just featuring the English language originals in this special.
More: The Ultima Series on Wikipedia
More: Origin Systems on Wikipedia
Akalabeth, Apple II (1980)
Akalabeth, PC (1980)
The Age of Darkness Trilogy:
Ultima, Apple II (1981)
Ultima, Atari 8-Bit (1983)
Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, Apple II (1986)
Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, C64 (1986)
Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, PC (1987)
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, Apple II (1982)
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, Atari 8-Bit (1983)
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, C64 (1983)
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, PC (1983)
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, Atari ST (1985)
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, Apple II (1989)
Ultima III: Exodus, Apple II (1983)
Ultima III: Exodus, Atari 8-bit (1983)
Ultima III: Exodus, C64 (1984)
Ultima III: Exodus, PC (1985)
Ultima III: Exodus, Macintosh (1985)
Ultima III: Exodus, Amiga (1986)
Ultima III: Exodus, Atari ST (1986)
Ultima: Exodus, NES/Famicom (1988)
The Age of Enlightenment Trilogy:
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Apple II (1985)
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, C64 (1985)
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Atari 8-bit (1986)
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, PC (1987)
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Atari ST (1987)
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Amiga (1988)
Ultima: Quest of the Avatar, NES/Famicom (1990)
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Master System (1990)
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, Apple II (1988)
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, PC (1988)
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, Atari ST (1989)
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, C64 (1989)
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, Amiga (1990)
Ultima: Warriors of Destiny, NES/Famicom (1992)
Ultima VI: The False Prophet, PC (1990)
Ultima VI: The False Prophet, C64 (1991)
Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Amiga (1992)
Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Atari ST (1992)
Ultima VI: The False Prophet, Super Nintendo (1993)
The Age of Armageddon Trilogy:
Ultima VII: The Black Gate, PC (1992)
Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle, PC (1993)
Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Super Nintendo (1994)
Ultima VIII: Pagan, PC (1994)
Ultima IX: Ascension, PC (1999)
Ultima Series Spin-Offs:
Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, PC (1990)
Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams, PC (1991)
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, PC (1992)
Ultima: Runes of Virtue, Game Boy (1992)
Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, PC (1993)
Ultima: Runes of Virtue II, PC (1994)
Ultima: Runes of Virtue II, Super Nintendo (1994)
Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, Super Nintendo (1995)
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, PlayStation (1997)
Vintage Computing and Gaming for Ultima VI: The False Prophet advertisement.
Big Box Collection for Serpent Isle box art.
Rob’s Adventure Game Page for Forge of Virtue box art.
The Digital Antiquarian for Ultima VIII box art.
GOG.com for Ultima IX: Ascension wallpaper.
and Denis Loubet.
2 thoughts on “Ultima Special”