Posted by Adam Brower on Sep 13, 2012

Ultima – Changed Me and the Gaming Landscape

I wrote a note in the rune alphabet to a girl I had a crush on… I was prime age at the dawn of the video game revolution. Stand up arcade games gripped me when I was 7. I got my first Atari 2600 console when I was 8. I remember obsessing over the photo’s in the Sears catalog longing for the electronic dreams that could possibly be mine.  It was a passion and lust to have the interactive experience at home. If it was electronic and I was able to manipulate the outcome, I had to be a part of it. But after time, my sense of adventure and travel matured and my yearning for new quests and exploration grew. I did not want to stay on the road in Pole Position, I did not want to be held in 8-bit chunky walls. I wanted to expand.

Ultima 4 Screen shot showing game play and local mapI spent some time growing up on a 520 acre ranch. It was a great place to grow up, the land had every sort of terrain an adventurer would want. There were fields, forests, hills, large rocks bigger than large rooms (with rumors of a cave with lost bank robbery treasure), ponds, creeks, and remnant of old houses from the early 1900’s.  My sense of exploration was peaked. I explored every inch of that land, but often thought, “why can’t a video game allow me to explore a new world?” It was only months after when a friend of mine, who had an Apple II monochrom screen, introduced me to a game called Ultima. I was in 7th grade, and it was Ultima IV to be exact. The world of technology was rapidly evolving.  I didn’t have any way of knowing about advancements in general, and especially in some hick town. I prided myself on trying all things, but was now thrusted into a new world of computer gaming.

Ultima IV will go down as my favorite game of all time. It was pivotal to my paradigm and my first role playing game (RPG). Ultima was an entire world that was given to you to explore, discover, complete quests, and ultimately solve the mysteries of the entire realm. Boundaries were no longer existence.  I could go where I wanted, while battling creatures and collecting gold. Ultima 4 Britannia MapThere were many towns scattered around the world to discover as well.  Some on a clothe map that came with the game, some left to be discovered.  Each town was even a whole new place to explore and discover.  As you wondered, you interacted with the people of the town, picking up clues and hints about the world you were in, and working toward figuring out how to solve the genius planned complex game. By todays standards, the graphics were not much. But it was perfect, it still left enough to allow your imagination to run wild in fantasy and adventure.

I soon went back during high school and solved Ultima’s I through III.  But for some some reason I dont know, I never completed Ultima IV.  I don’t really know why, even logging countless hours or even days of gaming – I may try again soon.  It is free on

Ultima IV came with a map that was riddled with real Druidic runes. I became so consumed with Ultima, I even memorized that Druidic ruin alphabet. And to embarrasses my self more, I remember, in 9th grade, I wrote a note in the ruins to a girl I had a crush on.  Well, luckily I never had the yarbles to actually deliver the note. I was also very certain one day I would work for Lord British at Origin… well.

Druidic Runes translation chartToday, I am able to travel and explore for real.  But whether I am in the streets of Tokyo or a castle in Ireland, that same yearn for exploration is well intact.  I get the same sense of satisfaction in traveling and fantasy. I travel abroad now, and I can thank video games in both – satisfying my natural instinct to travel and explore, as well as keeping that interest intact.

I would love to hear from anyone that had a similar experience.



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15 Responses to “Ultima – Changed Me and the Gaming Landscape”

  1. Ted says:

    I sent Richard a gift, an inscribed copy of an illustrated Wizard of Oz (Truth, Love, and Courage).

    I wrote notes *about* a girl a had a crush in runes. About 10th grade. It was great, i showed her the note, and she saw it, but couldn’t read it.

    More importantly, the virtues were fundamental in my personal ethics system. I wear them proudly tattooed on my arms, and spend one year in contemplation of each. I think it was pretty significant. It’s tough to tell people they came from a game, but it was more than that.

  2. Stef Brower says:

    Adam, Do tell them about the Sonic the Hedgehog tattoo – its pretty epic!!!

  3. Eric Lamb says:


    I completely agree with you. Ultima II was my first Ultima game on the Commodore 64. I played Ultima III when it came out, but just couldn’t get into it… Ultima IV was a real eye opener… a REAL epic story, and like you, the rune alphabet, and the virtue system really meant something to me. The entire experience.

    I also am in the same place as you… I went back at one point and actually finished Ultima I-IV, but never made it through the others.. inspired by other bloggers and the GOG releases, I have started over… from scratch, with Ultima I, and I plan to finish them all… every last Ultima game… I am almost finished with III, and then will begin my favorite trilogy… IV-VI…. having never finished V and VI….

    I did play VII-IX when they came out… but I never seemed to have a good enough computer at the time, and the experience was never good… but that is no longer an issue!

    Great article! Thanks!


  4. Arlen Brower says:

    I never really got into the Ultima series, exactly, but I did get into Ultima Online. At the time, I was actually moving overseas and didn’t have much of my stuff, save some clothes, a book, a laptop and a copy of Ultima Online. With the prospect of being homeless for a few days, living in a Best Western, UO quickly became something that pulled me right in. There was an entire world out there for me to discover, after all! Much more interesting than whatever would’ve been on TV. And what got me was similar to what got Adam — the exploration and discovery of a realm.

    My first moments were pretty amazing ones. I quickly got lost in a forest, having no idea of where I was. I wandered lost for a long time, before I found someone… I can’t even remember their name now, only that they had a wide-brimmed hat and a black cloak. I told them I was lost and they helpfully told me they’d take me to the nearest town. What followed was an interesting adventure of following a road, seeing some interesting sights and…

    He told me to stop. Ahead of us was a gargoyle, far too powerful for me to take on. He took out his sword and ran right in! I watched with bated breath as they came to blows in a close battle, but eventually my mentor pulled through victoriously. Afterwards, we crossed a sizeable bridge, met a mage and they opened a moongate to Vesper — which then became my home for the next year or so.

    I was so utterly lost that day, I had no idea where I was. In fact, it took me many, many months later to find that same road we followed, that same bridge we crossed. I had wandered lost to almost the extreme southern end of the main continent!

    And that was just the first day.

  5. Eric Lamb says:

    Just a side note… Ultima 1-5 are pretty bad on the PC… I finally switched back to Commodore emulators. Much better experience!

    • Adam Brower says:

      good to know! Gotta link to share to which emulator you use?

      • Eric Lamb says:


        I use the VICE emulator. It is a bit better on the PC than it is on the MAC (not sure what platform you use…) but it works on both. Also, if you do a google search for ultima 3 gold and ultima 4 gold you will find a commodore 64 version of both games that a fan decompiled, and optimized, so they run faster and better then they did when originally released! Give it a try!


  6. Ultima III (NES), IV, V and VI (IBM-PC) were influential to me as a gamer and game developer.

    Ultima III came at a time when I was familiar with Final Fantasy [1] and Dragon Quest [1] on the NES, and had only played Might & Magic [1, 2] and The Bard’s Tale [1] on PC. Other than being a sandbox like The Legend of Zelda or Rygar, it was my first experience robbing and killing “friendlies” such as merchants, guards and random townspeople. It even gave you treasure chests, as if you were actually performing a -successful- robbery. That basic principle of gameplay is forever ingrained in me; the freedom to be human, for better or worse.
    Ultima IV came at a time when I’d discarded the religious dogma that had been fed to me by my parents and society at large. It helped me realize that people could choose to be good without having to swallow traditionally popular mythology.

    Ultima V for IBM-PC had the nicest 16-color graphics for a regulation EGA palette I’d ever seen. I got it for Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s house in Jacksonville, Florida, and couldn’t play it until I got back home to Atlanta for lack of my computer. Before playing it (and after playing Ultima IV at home earlier) all I did was pore over the box artwork and the sight, smell and feel of each manual page, the cloth map and the Codex symbol.

    Ultima VI came at a time of technological upheaval in the industry, with increasingly unsure responses about system requirements and hardware specifications. 16-color EGA graphics aside, VI used the MCGA mode, which was like 320×200 with 256-colors. Same resolution, 16-times more colors. Water flowed to the sea by clever use of separate “directional” water textures and color-cycling. Schedules persisted, -not- being eliminated from the previous version (V). Day/night cycles were kept from V, though dungeons deviated in graphical perspective.
    If I had to file taxes on how Ultima changed me, I’d write this:
    Question: Take nothing for granted and put your mind to everything.
    Learn: What one says is as loud as what many say.
    Act: Let not your lessons become unused.

  7. RichardCyberPunk says:

    I played Ultima I – IV on my Atari 800XL with two diskdrives. Never finished any of them. When i was playing Ultima IV for about 3 years each night, i discovered that i only had discovered 10% of the world. I was so disappointed that i stopped playing it. I got the game as a copy from a friend of me, including photocopies of the manual and the map. I had about 100s of A4 pages with my own scribles of information about people, places, quests etc of Ultima IV. It was amazing to play the huge enormous world of Ultima IV on my old Atari.

    The graphics were not fantastic, but that was the charm and magic of this game. You had to use your own imagination to play the game. Like reading a book, creates a world in your mind, this game had me make my own version of Ultima in my mind.

    Ultima IV was also the last Ultima game by Origin, that was made for the Atari 800XL (8bit). Ultima V was never released on the Atari 8bit.

    I read on the forum of that there is a prototype of Ultima V on the net. The programmer of that game is also a member of AtariAge. You can find the topic “The Mysteries of Ultima V for the ATari 8bit” here :

    I am 40 years old now, and have the latest consoles for games. But i miss the 80s. I dont care for the current game tech.

    Yes they have fantastic graphics and cool videos etc. But the gameplay is bad. Old games like Pacman, Asteroids, Star Raiders (on Atari 800), Donkey Kong, Ghost and Goblins (C64) are still cool to play.

    Greetings from a Cyberpunk and 8-bit retro fan.

    Richard Vermeulen from The Netherlands, also known as RichardCyberPunk

    • Adam Brower says:

      I am right there with you – maybe for the same reason, I never actually finished Ultima IV.
      I also recently purchased an Atari 2600 and started replaying a lot of the games. I like the book analogy, there is much more left to the imagination. I never really got into modern gaming – the last RPG I played and solved was probably Final Fantasy 7 on the original Play Station – then I just kinda lost it from there. But always thought about playing the Ultimas again. I looked at the App Store several times hoping there was some sort of clone or port available for the iPad. It would be some awesome to take the iPad out on the porch (or park), sit in a chair, and just play ultima. Thanks for the insights.

  8. B says:

    Ultima I was my first “big” game that I played end to end and I remembered being legitimately bummed when I killed Mondain sorta that way I felt when I finished the Lord of the Rings the first time through. The best stuff always goes by too quickly.


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