on ultima iv

I think over the next few days I’ll tran­fer some of my old fidlet.com pages into posts — oth­er­wise I think that they will for­ev­er float in cyber­space lim­bo. I shall start with my trib­ute to Ulti­ma IV:

For those of you not famil­iar with the mas­ter­piece that is Ulti­ma IV: it is a com­put­er role-play­ing game that came out in the mid 80’s, pro­duced by the Ori­gin soft­ware com­pa­ny (now owned by Elec­tron­ic Arts). Although prim­i­tive by today’s stan­dards, it was rev­o­lu­tion­ary at the time: instead of the tra­di­tion­al where you fight some big bad evil at the end, your ulti­mate quest was a moral one.

You had to mas­ter eight virtues (like val­or, com­pas­sion, hon­esty, etc.) in order to become an Avatar — a par­a­digm of virtue — so that you could be a shin­ing exam­ple of all that is good and fine for the land of Brit­tan­nia. So, in the game, all of your actions had moral con­se­quences — if you killed non-evil crea­tures, lied, stole, etc. — your progress in the game would suf­fer. This was a far cry from most com­put­er role-play­ing games at the time, where moral­ly ques­tion­able acts (like steal­ing) were reward­ed (or, at the very least, not punished). 

I played this game when I was just a lit­tle one — around nine years old — on my Com­modore 64. Truth be told, I nev­er did fin­ish it (I most­ly just did­dled around on it for a few years). But, I do think it played some role in fash­ion­ing my moral char­ac­ter. To this day I roman­ti­cize this game, and, indeed, it did have some­thing that today’s games lack. Besides the deep­er moral quest, games of that day had to make up for a lack of fan­cy graph­ics with exquis­ite pack­ag­ing: Ulti­ma IV came with a cloth map, two “pleather”-bound books (one on mag­ic, one on his­to­ry), and a met­al ankh. There was noth­ing more deli­cious than slow­ly unfold­ing the cloth map for the first time in my trem­bling hands on Christ­mas Eve. 

Well, enough with my roman­tic bab­bling. The rea­son I put this on my “good things” list is most­ly because I had dis­cov­ered remakes of this game. Besides myself, there are oth­er die-hard fans of the game who have gone through the pains of mak­ing this won­der­ful game avail­able to today’s mass­es. There are sev­er­al dif­fer­ent remakes (although I think some of them are still in the works). One of them is a faith­ful remake of the orig­i­nal (in fact, I don’t think that it is a “remake” at all — I believe that it uses the orig­i­nal pro­gram but some­how makes it playable on today’s machines) — the oth­ers give the game a com­plete makeover uti­liz­ing today’s sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nolo­gies. So, here is a list of the remakes I have found:

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