Like many gamers in the 80’s and 90’s, I loved playing the Ultima series. Luckily for me, I played the ones most fans consider to be the best of the series: Ultima III, IV, and V (on a C64). The Ultima series was considered one of the best RPGs out there due to its cutting-edge game-play, and for its elaborate story. Most RPGs back then (and arguably, even now) are fairly straight-forward dungeon crawl, in which you have to hack-and-slash your way to the Big Bad. The Ultima games not only introduced elaborate spell casting, but also gave us important, informative interaction with NPCs. The game also had its own theology: a core set of virtues in which, you, the player became The Avatar: the embodiment of the values of truth, love, and courage. Ultima IV was the first game in which a player was rewarded for being virtuous and penalized for typical RPG character behavior of robbing, stealing, pillaging, and wanton slaughter. It was also one of the first dungeon crawls to use the first person POV (i.e. 3-D vector graphics).
I’ll spare you the history of the series and the plot synopsis. The turning point of the series had nothing to do with the story; it all had to do with the gameplay. The last few games were rushed out to market too soon, and many patches were needed to fix the multiple, horrendous bugs that ruined the fans’ enjoyment of the entire series. In other words, it was the technical issues that doomed the franchise. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t work in another medium. (All right, that was a double negative.) What I’m trying to say is that Ultima could be resurrected by the one aspect that have been consistently praised since Game I.
Many video game franchises have been given the multimedia treatment: Halo; Mass Effect; (dot)hack; Mortal Kombat. One function of the novels is to expand the workings of that series’ world. Heck, all of the canon the Star Wars novels are labeled “expanded universe.” The stories provide the back-stories of the some of the supporting cast, secondary characters, and ensemble darkhorses. And one of the top questions every Ultima fan has is, “What the hell are these characters doing in Britannia between games when the Avatar is back on Earth?” And if you can get any of the top science fictions and/or fantasy writers out there to author these stories, I would buy them in a heartbeat. When it comes to magic, I’ll take the Avatar’s Armageddon spell over any spell Harry Potter could cast. And I’d rather have the Mystic or Serpent weapons over Katniss’ bow and arrow. And there’s no contest between the Avatar’s moral fiber, and the actions and motivations of Bella Swan. And after reading a novelization of the Quest of the Avatar on their iPad, kids could then download and play a port version of it. That’s synergy, folks!
- The Spoony Experiment Ultima Retrospective: Ultima VIII:Pagan (spoonyexperiment.com)
- Ultima X: A virtuous road (biobreak.wordpress.com)