chapter  23
Ultima(1980):TheImmaculateConceptionofthe ComputerRole-PlayingGame�����������������������������
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The unprecedented success of Ultima surprised no one more than its creator, Richard Garriott, known by his friends and fans as “Lord British.” Released in 1980 for the Apple II, Ultima wasn’t the first computer role-playing game (CPRG), but it soon became the one that all others would be judged by-the one that really mattered. The game and its sequels would become so popular and influential that it’s hard to imagine the industry without them. The Ultima series would last for nearly two decades, and its pioneering online incarnation, Ultima Online (see Chapter 24, “Ultima Online (1997): Putting the Role-Play Back in Computer Role-Playing Games”) is still active today. The story of Ultima is primarily about one man’s drive for ultimate perfection-or at least his determination to make the perfect videogame. Not all the changes that Garriott would introduce to his famous series over the years would meet with universal praise, of course, and many fans consider 1992’s Ultima VII: The Black Gate as its finest moment. In this chapter, we’ll discuss Ultima and the vital role it played in shaping the industry-so, in the words of Akalabeth’s famous card insert, “Beware, foolish mortal!” Ultima was not Garriott’s first attempt at a CRPG. His earlier

game Akalabeth (circa 1979) was also released commercially, but he’d been quietly developing less-ambitious CRPGs years before. At this time, personal computers and commercial software were so scarce that it would certainly be a stretch to call it an “industry.” Software was typically sold mail order and in local, privately owned computer hobbyist shops, copied by the developers themselves, and packaged in plastic baggies with amateurish inserts. Such was the case for Akalabeth, a very early CRPG for the Apple II that featured first-person perspective and wireframe graphics, rendered Vintage Games. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-240-81146-8.00033-6 © 2009 Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.