As a child I was an avid player of computer games. Primarily, as I mentioned in a previous post, I played Commander Keen; funny side-scrollers were about my speed, and I liked the graphics. I also had a passing fixation on the King's Quest games, primarily the fourth one, which I was given by my father when he brought it home from some expo or other.
Then, one day, when poking through my dad's old computer games, I found a box. It said "Ultima" on the cover, and was specifically a small collection, consisting of Ultima VII: The Black Gate
and Serpent Isle
and their attendant expansions. It took some time for us to get them up and running, but finally we managed it, and I was totally lost. I played the games I had. I played them more. I got the Ultima Collection and played the others. I stopped playing, because I had a new computer that couldn't run the ones I really liked, and then discovered Exult
and started playing again.
The Ultima games taught me about stories. Sure, hey, King's Quest 4
had a story, but it was very involved, and a lot of stuff at the beginning depended heavily on knowing the stories that came before. I have all of those too, of course, but I don't love them in the same way I love Ultima. The stories in Ultima VII
and Serpent Isle
are, while not immensely complex, still complicated and interesting, with exciting side quests and subplots and a lot of humor. You got to fight dragons
and sometimes dress up like the Grim Reaper.
Of necessity, because I began playing these when I was about eight, the Ultima games also taught me to love walkthroughs. I do take great pride in completing games unassisted, but in this case, a lot of me didn't give a biscuit with two shits in it about the puzzles in the game: all I really wanted on a first playthrough was to enjoy the story. On the second playthrough I could poke around, trying for different options (say, getting laid by the other slut in Monitor) and checking out stuff that was weird.
Tangential to walkthroughs are cheats, which the Ultima games also taught me to enjoy, for their entertainment value if nothing else. I've spoken mainly of the two parts of Ultima VII
so far, but besides the hack mover, for real cheating fun one must go to Ultima VI
. That game has my favorite cheat system of all time. As I recall it's partially a debug menu, left over from development. It's activated by saying "spam spam spam humbug" to one of your companions, and once opened will allow you to dial up, using a number of codes, anything your twisted little heart might desire. Plot items, food, random kitchen utensils--the codes could even be combined, using some formula I can't quite recall, to mix together any two normal items to create a third, say a musical duck, or a loaf of bread that acts like a greatsword. There is fucked-up shit you can do in Ultima VI
, as Doug the Eagle's awesome website
will let you know in full.
The expansions to Black Gate
and Serpent Isle
had some fantastic game breaking going on. The expansion to the former, for example, would max out your stats, and you got to talk to a dragon. The Serpent Isle
expansion, The Silver Seed
, got you high stats, lots of cool stuff, and a ring that provided infinite spell components. It is the sexiest thing.
And then there's the fan community. I already linked to Exult, the entirely fan-made program that deals with the weird memory drivers in my favorite two games so that they're playable on modern machines. Pentagram
is a similar project for the eighth game, Pagan
, and there are countless remakes. A lot of them are done as mods of popular modern games, the most successful and complete being the glorious Lazarus
, a remake of Ultima V
using the engine from the first Dungeon Siege
. It looks like this:
Isn't that pretty?
Also there were a few cool tangential games, my favorite being Worlds of Ultima: Martian Dreams
. It's a little pixely pulp-novel game! With Tesla!
So basically, the Ultima games taught me about everything that I find awesome about video games in general. They have good gameplay, great stories, entertaining cheat modes, and one of the most spectacularly dedicated fanbases I know of. I enjoy them on ever level, and the replay value is immense. The Ultima games are a big part of why I play video games at all.
...also Ultima was the subject of the first piece of fan fiction I ever read. Which is another story. Oh the shame. -_-