Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ultima: Won!

United States
Independently developed; California Pacific Computing (publisher)
Released in 1981 for Apple II and Atari 800
Remade and re-released as Ultima I in 1986 for Apple II; 1987 for Commodore 64 and DOS; 1988 for PC-88, PC-98, and Sharp X1; 1989 for MSX; 1994 for Apple IIGS
Date Started: 16 February 2010
Date Ended: 18 February 2010
Total Hours: 8
Difficulty: Easy (2.0/5)
Final Rating: 34
Ranking at Game #413: 292/413 (71%)
In the few hours since I've posted, I:

  • Finished six quests
  • Wielded a light saber
  • Flew a space shuttle
  • Shot 20 tie fighters and became a space ace
  • Slaughtered a jester and six guards in cold blood--three times
  • Rescued a princess--three times
  • Went back in time
  • Killed Mondain and shattered his gem
  • Chased a bat around hell for what seemed like forever
  • Won the game

Before I break it down, I want to point you all to a fun, if old, web document that I found after winning the game. [Ed. It is no longer online, nor could I find it in an archive. Alas.] I was curious what others had to say about the disappearance of dwarves, elves, and hobbits from Sosaria/Britannia after Ultima I (or after Ultimas I-III, it turns out), and also the absurdities involved with starting in a medieval world as an elf wizard and ultimately journeying into space.

15 years old now, this FAQ was written by an Ultima apologist who tried to find logical consistency in the elements of the first few Ultimas. He or she tries to answer why the non-human player races disappeared (a combination of continental destruction and self-isolation), why space shuttles and air cars show up in Ultima I (Mondain, intent on world domination, altered dimensional doors to travel to the future and bring back technology), and why Ultima II takes place on Earth--but ah, we haven't gotten to Ultima II yet. Fun stuff, and I'm sure I'll refer to it again.

Anyway, I won a lot more quickly than I expected after my last post. First, I kept visiting the Pillar of the Argonauts and got, in succession, a triangle (no idea, but it did some serious damage to a few pirate ships), a pistol, a "light sword," a phazor, and a blaster. The last two turned out to do more damage than the lasers on my air car, but I have to confess I kept myself primarily armed (until the end) with my light sword, enjoying the thought of going all Luke Skywalker on orcs and evil rangers.

I next spelunked some dungeons and finished the quests that each of the kings gave me. For each king that wanted me to kill a monster, when I returned to him I found out something more about the main quest:

  • Rondarin: "The time machine must be used in order to win."
  • Lost King: "It requires four gems to launch the time machine" (each king gave me a gem, too).
  • Black Dragon: "The princess will help a Space Ace through time."
  • Shamino: mutely gives me a white gem.

I also discovered a White Dragon castle, which I'm again pretty sure (I'll bet you're sick of me saying this) returns in Ultima VII.

Becoming a Space Ace involved purchasing a space shuttle from Britain, launching it, docking with the International Space Station, and paying 500 coins to rent an X-wing with lasers. You think I'm kidding, but there it is on the bottom.

Alas, on my first trip, my elf wizard forgot some of the more elementary principles of astrophysics:

My second time, I remembered to purchase and wear a vacuum suit, but then I accidentally flew into the sun. My third trip, I didn't bring enough gold for more than one ship rental, which turned out to be too little. Success followed my fourth trip.

To become a "Space Ace," I had to shoot down 20 tie fighters. When I mentioned tie fighters in yesterday's posting, you probably thought I was kidding. Hell, I thought I was kidding. But there it is.

Killing them with cursor controls turned out to be a bit of a pain, but ultimately I got through it and returned to Sosaria. Of this space silliness, the manual says, "'Tis said that the Evil One [Mondain] has formed alliances with starwalking monsters of unparalleled savagery. These malicious creatures stand poised to swoop down upon our people and devastate them." With light swords, tie fighters, and X-wings, does anyone else want to venture the opinion that Mondain is a Sith lord? It really makes perfect sense. He even has an evil apprentice. And in Ultima VI it turns out that the gargoyles worship him; their three principles of virtue are control, diligence, and passion--which sounds an awful lot like the Code of the Sith presented in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Anyone with me?

Anyway, here's where the game gets ugly. The Black Dragon king said the princess would help me through time. The princess is locked in Lord British's castle (actually, every castle, but LB's is the one I went to). The jester--who, it also turns out, has been stealing my equipment--keeps yelling "I have the key!" Hence, I need to get the key from the jester. I can't talk to him, and (s)teal doesn't work. The only way I could determine to get it was to kill him.

This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me.

As you can see, I gunned him down right in front of Lord British. This caused the royal guards to attack me, and I had to massacre them, too. But in the end I unlocked the princess's cell and led her to safety.

This is great and all, but do you think maybe Lord British could have just given me the princess? I mean, I'm there at his behest to save the world and all. And the worst part is the jester was named "Gwino." It's a slightly different spelling, but I'm pretty sure I blasted Iolo's wife. Presumably, Lord British resurrected her after I left.

After I got the princess to safety, she told me...well, I don't know. The screen only stayed up for a fraction of a second. I must have the frame rate set too high in DOSBox. Long story short, I had to repeat this gruesome process three times before I finally figured out she was telling me the time machine was to the northwest. As you'll soon see, I now had three time machines.

The end of the game was remarkably simple: enter the time machine, blast Mondain until he turns into a bat (yeah, the Sith Lord theory breaks down there), (g)et his gem to destroy it, and keep firing away until Mondain was dead. But don't rely on my banal description: you can watch it! I downloaded some video recording software so I can record the ends (and other notable moments) of all the CRPGs I win.

Lord British's accolades ring a bit hollow since he did absolutely zip to help me kill Mondain. All he did was send me off to a graveyard and give me some strength and watch passively while I mass-murdered his castle. It was all the other kings who gave me the tips I needed to win. Here's hoping you develop some virtues as you get older, young LB.

Verdict: Should you play Ultima I? Absolutely, without question, if you intend to play any of the later Ultima games. It introduces you to the lore of the land and the basic mythology of what will become Britannia. The dungeon crawls are fun and the space stuff is silly but inoffensive. Finally, as you've seen, it takes a mere few hours to win.

Next up: Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord.


Further reading: The story continues with Ultima II (1982), Ultima III (1983), Ultima IV (1985), Ultima V (1988), Ultima VI (1990), Ultima VII (1992), Ultima Underworld (1992), and somewhere in there we have the dreadful Ultima: Escape from Mount Drash (1983). For a British copy of the original Ultima, see The Ring of Darkness (1982).


  1. The guys bending over backwards to establish continuity through the first 3 games are pretty funny! The continuity between Ultima 3 and the rest of the series is pretty easy to establish (and in fact, the schism between Sosaria and Britannia is half the fun when one finally gets to U7p2!), but U1 and U2 seem pretty obviously 1-off efforts based on what Garriott thought was fun as a 20-year old (Star Wars! DnD!) and a 21-year old (Time Bandits!).

    The space section is hilarious, and it's so jarring to go into it – epecially when you're playing with (as you are) the updated graphics set. One second you're in a perfectly serviceable CRPG, and the next thing you know you're in a remarkably good (for the time) space simulator. I have often wondered why Garriott didn't split the game into two separate games.

    I'm glad you posted the skull face – I can still remember the first time that popped up when I was playing the game (upstairs, darkened room, Apple][c humming away) and I just about shat myself. :)

    Your thoughts about the similarity between Mondain and the Sith are a lot of fun to contemplate, but I don't think that Lucas had probably put much thought into the Sith by 1981 (and after having seen Eps 1-3 I'm not sure he's put much thought into it now, either! *rimshot*).

    You're right, the only way to get the kill from the jester is to kill him. It's interesting to note the evolution of Garriot's game design, from the immorality – in fact it's amoral, I think – of the first two, to the encouraged theft (for gold) in part 3, to the establishment of a system of ethics in part 4. Despite the design of U1, I think Garriott began to have a genuine problem with it.

    The recording is great, keep it up.

    Oh, and good luck with Wizardy I: you're gonna need it!

    1. I remember reading (don't recall the source) that Garriott introduced the ethics system in response the criticism that D&D, and games of the era, about teaching amorality. I wonder what the fourth game would of been like had there not been such an outcry.

  2. You make a good point about Richard Garriott. These early games are individual or small group efforts--not major corporations with dozens of staff members, like today. The elements of first-generation CRPGs reflect the interests (and, in some cases, philosophies) of the designers. Ultima IV's system of virtues is based on Garriott's own ethical musings. It's hard to imagine such a CRPG, with such an odd quest, even EXISTING today.

  3. Congratulations, belated!

    Great comments, too.

  4. Greetings Grey Star!
    'Tis I, Lord British, known here on Earth as Richard Garriott de Cayeux.
    Long has it been since the days of time travel into the deep past and possible futures. The lands of Britannia are deeply indebted to your service to the lands and the people will sing praises of your deeds.

    - Lord British

    1. I guess that's one more thing to tick off Chet's bucket list: Have Garriott comment on blog.

      Nice work mate!

      (And nice of the space traveler to stop by)

    2. Great to hear from you!

      Listen, I don't know if you just chose to comment on this one randomly or if you're going to look at all my posts on your games, but if the latter, please don't get angry and leave after Ultima II. I say very nice things about the later games. Even though I...uh...try to kill you in some of them.

      U5 remains the highest-rated game on the blog.

    3. I found the blog via Ultima VI, skipped back to IV, and then sought out V. I haven't read that yet though. It's my favourite game ever so I thought I'd delay the gratification and start at the beginning of your blog. So far so great. Awesome that Richard Garriott chimed in on this one!

  5. I just quit playing the 1987 re-release for DOS bought from It took me 57 hours (according to Xfire game logging) to have enough of the game. Ofcourse I could have win and complete earlier, but I wanted to improve all skills to 99 and have 9999 for Hits, Food, Exp. and Coin and do some systematic exploring.

    Before Ultima I, the only other Ultima I had ever played (and completed) was Ultima IV Amiga version somewhere around 1991.

    Ultima I was fun in all its simplicity. I really like games that have only one difficulty level, so I don't bother myself on having to complete it on all chosen difficulty levels or choosing which one to use.

    Playing with Dwarf Fighter was my choice because Figher is the only class to add +20 points to skills and Dwarf adds +5 to the other skill that is boosted with Fighter clasee. So that combination gave +25 points to the most important skills if you ask me.

    I decided to test if it is possible to complete this game with minumum use of magic. So played dwarf fighter and bought no spells. Climbing up from dungeon level 9 took some tries because it is not possible to save in dungeons and I didn't want to buy ladder down, ladder up or any spells to remove those red force fields.

    I too was bothered by some illogical stuff. Hostiles should battle each other too. Humans and beasts in dungeons all allied together against the player just does not make sense. I need food so much and so should they.

    Like you said the same princess on every castle, just does not make sense and why would this princess have the information she has anyway. I had very likely already visited the grid containing the time machine without seeing it. So it just spawns there later, which is lame. I would have preferred it to rise up from sea or something.

    The number of secret doors in dungeons is just hilarious. Sometimes there were like 5 secret doors in a row on same corridor. Not to mention the fact they autoclose when you change the level of the dungeon and you have to re-find them when returning.

    Weird looking thing in my item list was that I had 2 Red Gems instead of 1. Probably because of doing a certain quest twice. But three time machines in your game is way much more an achivement.

    I just have to try finding something someone else has never thought. In this game it was this: When boarding Space Shuttle press H to skip countdown and save some time. Reminds me of some similar tricks I found in Elite (C64) and Elite (Amiga).

    In the end fight I recommend everyone to first take the gem and then hammer Mondeo err.. I mean Mondain and then the bat. This way the bat will not be resurrected by the gem. But note that taking the gem makes your 9999 Hits go down to 2500.

    Been computer gamer since 1984 and I do not remember ever playing a game that ends to a text Press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart.

    Great blog by the way! Found it earlier alredy, but never commented before today.

    1. I'm glad you like the blog. I think maybe you were expecting a little too much in programming savvy and thematic sophistication from a 1981 game, but then again, I wrote my blog as if I was, too.

  6. Sort of wondering why exactly it's a princess that has the time machine. It's obviously not explained in the game but I wonder what logic Garriott went through to come up with that, if any.

    1. She's locked up in a castle. She has to pass the time somehow; why not by inventing things?

  7. I just finished Ultima 1 (new release on MS-DOS) and restarted the same version on Apple II (again, new release by Origin). In space, shooting down tie fighter was much easier with Apple II version. Except that, most of others are very much similar and I love Apple II's graphic.

  8. I only recently found this blog! I'm glad you enjoyed Ultima I - it's not my favourite RPG, but I felt like as I'm interested in both the series and speedrunning... it would make sense to speedrun this game. I managed to beat it in a little over 36 minutes. Take a look if you want:

    Looking forward to reading through the entire blog over the next few weeks.

    1. Well done. I wouldn't have thought it would have been possible that quickly. I never found out about the trick you did right at the beginning where you drop gold for weapons.

  9. "After I got the princess to safety, she told me...well, I don't know. The screen only stayed up for a fraction of a second. I must have the frame rate set too high in DOSBox."

    na, I think its the game. I just finished it on a 5mhz 8086 and I had the same issue. Unless this one particular screen is that speed sensitive. I didn't feel like rebooting the machine to see what was said so I wondered around a bit and luckily randomly stumbled on the time machine.

    1. Now I want to know what the screen said. Someone must have video.

    2. [URL=][IMG][/IMG][/URL]

    3. sorry, wrong kind of link. here you go

    4. Thanks for solving the mystery. The rewards are so meager that I didn't even notice getting them.

  10. Ultima 3 was my first Ultima, followed by 2, then 4, and then 1 (on the Commodore 64, back in the day). I remember playing this game for the sake of completeness, and it really didn't make enough of an impression to ever want to go back and play again. I was impressed by the size of the world, though, and also want to note that the space ace bit was an interesting mini-game within the larger quest.

  11. Greetings, if you see this, I would also like to add that one of the princess's name was Julia (maybe even the one you saved). No connection could be found between the two, but maybe she's the same Julia.

    1. Indeed. Thanks for nothing that. I didn't recall that any of the princesses were named at all.

  12. I'm Reading the blog from the start and wondering if this comment belongs here or on any of the "upgraded" posts on the Ultima series, but here it goes anyway :

    1) On space-opera tropes : I like to think that Garriott, unknowingly or not, was just taking part in the late 70's - early 80's "zeitgeist" of simultaneously enjoying sci-fi, space opera and swords and sorcery-style fantasy. George Lucas and his "Knights", "sabers" and force-using (i.e. magic) "Lords", "Masters" and "Apprentices" comes to mind. Animation such as Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards" and the "He-Man" serial, and the movie "Krull" are also examples of this trend. I would go as far as saying that Garriott was something of an innovator, since he wrote Ultima I in 1980-81, before most of these kind of Works, and "inverted" the genre's conventions: instead of a space-technology setting where some magic and medieval things are present, he used a medieval setting rich in magic where some space-tech elements have been introduced. Furthermore, take into account that he was very young and that he later admitted to have gotten much more inspiration in his career from audio-visual content than from books. We could say that there's is a subtle "method" to Garriott's "madness", even in Ultima I.

    2) Best version of Ultima I : inspired by your blog, I started my own CRPG Project of playing through all of the Ultima series, taking advantage of the most enhanced version for each title. In the case of Ultima I, there's the Little-known version by Bill Heineman (of Interplay fame) for the Apple IIGS, published by Vitesse in 1992. It features tiles from the enhanced 1986 relase, multiple saves, mouse control, quality music, color drawings of enemies and sound in the dungeons, and the grinding seems smoother when building up new characters for the first quests. Since you abolished your initial dos-only rule, I thought you should mention this version in the blog.

    Ultima I - Apple IIGS available at "What is the IIGS ?" :

    1. #1: I fully agree with you, and this is exactly the type of more in-depth analysis that I would offer on my blog NOW, but wasn't offering in these early days.

      Eventually, I'll probably go back and re-play some of the best games from my first year of blogging. If I do, I'll definitely check out different versions. I looked at the screenshots from the IIGS version that you linked, and the monster portraits, in particular, are quite good. If only the IIGS wasn't such a nightmare to emulate. Have you had any issues with that?

    2. The funny thing about the Sci-Fantasy theme in RPGs is that: Just when Garriot is giving it up for Ultima 4, Might & Magic showed up with its pseudo sci-fi theme and Wizardry also started to sport spaceships & stuff in their series as well.

    3. Just finished Ultima Underworld for the first time (awesome,) so I'm going back to look at the Ultima blog stuff. The above comment makes a lot of sense... We automatically look at these old Ultimas as straight fantasy with weird out-of-place sci-fi elements, but they actually make sense in the magic post-apocalypse settings of those 70's/80's films. Rather than try to pretend away those elements, they actually give a kind of weight to the fantasy settings of the later games... It suggests that the later games are so far in the future that the technology disappeared and was phased out, not to mention that maybe there was a highly advanced society even pre-Ultima 1, and the current setting could be "the dark age" after its downfall. Throw in inter-dimensional gates between worlds and time-travel, and the Ultima universe becomes a legitimately strange and mysterious place- where it begins and ends becomes less clear...

  13. "Shamino: mutley gives me a white gem."

    Cue Muttley laugh while Snidely goes crazy.

  14. Ultima I really is a feat for its time. Although everything is very basic, Garriott managed to cram everything you want in a fantasy RPG into his game. It really is fun to play.

    I have finished it twice and now, playing it a third time, I discovered a completely new feature... You can drop coins by water in towns and castles, which has several effects -- raises a random stat, heals you (cheaper than Lord British), gives you food (also cheaper than the food shop), and even gives you any weapon right up to the Blaster from the very beginning. Amazing that a 1980 game still keeps amazing you :)

    Which is why I would really like to see a GIMLET for this one. I thought you had done them all along :)

    1. I've always been curious about the original 1980 version of Ultima since I've only ever played The First Age of Darkness, but the fact that the dungeon layouts change every single time you enter them seems like it would be off-putting. Does it not affect your ability to complete the game as much as one would expect?

  15. this one was pure, unadulterated fun. well. except the space stage. to be fair: it's a pretty cool /looking/ space stage, because it does that neat trick with making you think that you're flying forward, but you're not actually.

    but i could have done without that.

    however, the rest of it was kinda neat to power through, even if - again - it didn't take very long. this is largely because the first tavern keeper you meet pretty much spells out more-or-less what you need to do. after that, it's just a case of doing it.

    if akalabeth was a demonstration of "i can do dungeons," then i think u1 is very much, "but here's an over world, too," which he really only kind of flirted with in akalabeth.

    it's also interesting to see the leap from the one idea to the other, because in u2, i think he gets this idea VERY right [even if the game surrounding it is...pants. shall we say?]

    anyhow, i continue to read your back catalogue and continue to enjoy it a great deal. thank you for your time and effort.


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