One of my all-time favorite videogame series was the Ultima series. I hopped on with Ultima 3, which I played over and over. Ultima 4 introduced a radical different approach to adventure RPGs: your goal was not to kill a bad guy, but to achieve self-enlightenment to become the Avatar of Virtue. In Ultima 5 we saw the virtues corrupted and perverted, and in Ultima 6 we saw a society which had developed an alternative, yet compatible, set of virtues.
My love of the Ultima series is part of what spoiled me for computer (and console) RPGs later. Having seen a story unfold in such a way that was not just an inevitable End Boss Battle made me uninterested in games which, for the most part, only had that to offer. None of Ultimas 3-6 ended with a giant combat, and all were immensely satisfying.
It was Ultima 7, however, that blew me away. Its expansive-seeming world, gorgeous graphics, and rich storyline drew me in, even as it cast aside some of the familiar trappings of RPGs (combat is pretty much an afterthought in the game). Even the fact that it shipped with a bug that made the game more or less uncompletable (this was in the era before you could just grab a patch off the website) was something I overlooked due to the literal game-changing innovations on offer.
If that wasn’t enough, Ultima 7 added two more things. First, The Forge of Virtue, an add-on to the original game, which may have been one of the first ever game expansions. Then they released Ultima 7, Part 2: The Serpent Isle, a sequel that was just as good as the original, and that too got an expansion.
Sadly, all this innovation came at a price, and in those days the price was an alternative memory manager for DOS. MS-DOS just couldn’t handle all the awesomeness of Ultima 7, so Origin systems invented VOODOO, which the game used to run. As a result, the game is unplayable on modern machines, which don’t know what to make of this Voodoo business. Some folks tried to work around this, with a team of programmers working to essentially re-code the game for modern systems. I guess someone got it running, because the other day I was informed that GOG.com, a site where you can buy old PC games, had The Complete Ultima 7, playable on a modern computer, for sale. For six bucks you can get Ultima 7, Ultima 7 Part 2, and both expansions, in one package that will happily run on Windows 7. And I did.
Yep, moonpatrol, the Avatar of Virtue, is back in town after a long time away! (Presumably with a jazzy little 8-bit theme song accompanying him.)
The only unfortunate thing about replaying Ultima 7 is knowing that it ends on a cliffhanger, which was picked up in, naturally, Ultima 8. This is unfortunate because Ultima 8 is horrible in terms of story, gameplay, graphics, everything. Seriously, the quality slope between the two is pretty much a line plunging vertically downwards towards infinity. And I never even bother with Ultima 9, which was, by all accounts, a buggy, sluggish foray into first-personing a game that didn’t need it. I know a lot of people who played Ultima 7, few who even started IX, and none who finished it.
But that sadness is overcome by another discovery I made while at GOG.com. Turns out they had another Origin Software game that I loved and which was also formerly lost to modernity due to an arcane memory management system. Crusader: No Remorse, which I never thought I’d be able to play again!
Once again I can suit up as a red clonetrooper and massacre corporate-government workers as part of the revolution! I am the 99%!
I’m sure that the cruel grind of time will dull the shine on these games I once adored, but I’m glad to be able to give them a try again. I’ve got my eye on a few other memories that GOG has for sale (Starflight, Lands of Lore…)