Category Archives: Legacy Games

The summer of Ultima VI

Ultima 6 Gypsy

My brother & I alternated answering the gypsy's questions...it made for an interesting Avatar!

When I was a kid, my whole life was turned upside down when my parents divorced (don’t worry…this isn’t going to be a “my parents never loved me” kind of post). It was a series of typical events that I’m sure many of you can relate to, so I won’t delve into the superfluous details. Suffice it to say that my father ended up getting his own apartment, and my brother, Jasen and I were subjugated to required weekend visits twice a month. There wasn’t a whole lot to do during the weekends we spent with our father. He wasn’t exactly what you’d call a “hands-on” kinda dad, and would mostly spend his time locked away in his bedroom watching TV, leaving my brother and I to our own devices.

While we did have a Nintendo console, it remained chained to the single television which was usually in my dad’s control. However, there was an old IBM x286 that sat in a relatively empty office room, and somehow that became the center of our world during those weekends. There were two of us and only one computer, and miraculously, instead of fighting over it (which we were prone to do), we learned to compromise and share.

One of the few games that we had at our immediate disposal was Ultima VI: The False Prophet. Jasen and I quickly devised a system of game play that satisfied us both. He being older (by a year and a half) would be the captain and I would be the navigator. This meant that he actually got to control the game, while I sat next to him and helped steer the course. Four days out of every month would find us sitting in our respective chairs; my brother at the helm and myself to his right, clutching a pen and notebook as we immersed ourselves in the world of Britannia.

Ultima VI did not have an in-game map, quest journal, nor any of the other features that you find in today’s games. When entering dialogue with NPC’s, certain words would be flagged in red that indicated more information would be available on that topic. If you weren’t paying attention, it could be relatively easy to miss something good. But thankfully, there were two sets of eyes and we rarely missed anything. One of my jobs was to catalog all of the topic keywords, while my brother typed them in. I coordinated our quests, while Jasen guided the Avatar through them. When we entered a dungeon, I dutifully sketched maps of the area so we wouldn’t get lost, while my brother controlled the combat with the various dungeon inhabitants.

This might sound tedious to some folks, but for me, it was a hell of a lot of fun. And although I didn’t realize it, or truly comprehend this until much later in life, I really learned some valuable things that summer, hovering around a computer screen. Through our cooperative method, I honed the keen attention to detail that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. I got to spend time with my big brother (who I secretly idolized, even though he gave me indian burns and endless noogies). To top it all off, I soaked in the abstract concepts of teamwork and compromise, and working together to achieve something.

In time, we beat the game, and our temporary alliance would end. That summer brought a truce between siblings who were often at odds with one another, although adulthood thankfully brought the growing pains of sibling rivalry to a close. And I can definitely look back now and count those hours spent gaming with my brother as one of my most fun, and most memorable gaming experiences of all time.

I’d love to hear about your favorite gaming moments, so please feel free to take a moment and drop a comment below. Happy gaming!

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I credit my high WPM to Sierra

KQ1

It might just look like a blob of blue pixels...but it's clover. Really.

When I type, my fingers dance across the keyboard like a trailblazing cowboy. I didn’t develop mad typing skills in keyboarding class…my Keystroke Kata began well before school required that as a part of the daily curriculum. And I owe it all to Sierra.

The early text-based adventure games like Quest for Glory (originally dubbed Hero’s Quest), King’s Quest, and…ahem…Leisure Suit Larry really helped to shape my typing techniques because this style of game required you to input verb commands in order to progress and complete quests. As the graphics technology of this era were limited (but still awesome), you couldn’t always get an in-depth view of your surroundings. Commands such as “look around” or “look at” followed by what you wanted to examine returned an in game pop-up panel that gave you a literary description of what you were actually looking at.

The early Sierra games really required you to think. You drove the story with your commands, and so you had to think about what or how you wanted to do something, tell the game what you wanted to do, and make it happen (or not – depending on your command). The text parser system within these games translated your command inputs into something the game could understand, making it easier for the player to react to the game’s response. For instance, if you issued the command, “get the gold key”, the game would strip the input and understand “get key”, resulting in your character picking up the key in the game.

The game developers at Sierra had a quirky sense of humor that often coincided with the players themselves. You could enter in some not-so-politically-correct commands and the game would provide humorous admonishments about your lack of manners. I can clearly recall one instance in Quest for Glory where I instructed my character to “pee on bush” (come on…I was 12) and the parser responded with “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Sometimes this would turn into a personal conquest to determine how many insults I could fling at the game and get a response for.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, the complexity behind these early adventure games was almost mind-boggling when you stop to think about it. Every interaction, every consequential combination of objects, all of these aspects had to be carefully planned and coordinated by the game’s designer. The designer not only had to plan out the story’s sequence, but how the multitude of players would play the game and interact with the world. At some point, the designers of Quest for Glory anticipated the juvenile requests exploring the possibility of urinating in the woods.

The cool thing about text-based games is that you were really drawn into the game on an interactive level. These games weren’t just about mashing buttons mindlessly. They were about putting together the bits and pieces, unraveling the story one step at a time. You had to apply reason and conscious thought – if you got stuck on a puzzle, you couldn’t just Google the answer. However, on the flip-side of button mashing, if you were at the mercy of a non-intuitive puzzle, oftentimes you would end up typing out every combination of interactions with every item in your inventory. It’s tough to be the only kid in your sixth-grade class with carpal tunnel.

The introduction of mouse-driven game engines saw the decline of the text-based adventure game era. But thanks to games such as the hit titles in the Sierra lineup, it only took me 29.6 seconds to type this blog post.

Through the Moongate

Ultima Logo

Greatest. Series. Ever.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a longtime fan of the Ultima series and its creator, Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British). To me, the Ultima series represents an age of eternal innocence in my life, and every time I return to the series I manage to recapture moments of my youth.

There were nine games throughout the main series that were divided into three trilogies, and chronicled a time span within the world that comprised Ultima. These time spans, referred to as “Ages”, narrate the heroic deeds of the Avatar, a time traveler from Earth who is transported to the troubled kingdom of Britannia via the Moongate, a trans-dimensional doorway.

In the Age of Darkness, the first trilogy, the world of Sosaria was beset by the foul wizard Mondain (Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, 1980) who sought to conquer the world using the Gem of Immortality. The Avatar triumphs over the the evil sorcerer by destroying the Gem, but is later called back in the second canticle to face off against Minax, who wants revenge for the death of her paramour, Mondain (Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, 1982). In the third installment, the Avatar returns to Sosaria to battle Exodus, the demonic offspring of Minax and Mondain’s union (Ultima III: Exodus, 1983). The Age of Darkness ended, but not before a cataclysm ruptured the world, leaving only the realm of Britannia to be presided over by the enigmatic monarch, Lord British.

The Age of Enlightenment refocused the series away from the “good-guy vs. bad-guy” theme, and introduced an intricate system of principles known as the Eight Virtues to guide the Avatar on his quest to become Britannia’s superlative savior and vassal of virtue (Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, 1985). The Eight Virtues include Compassion, Justice, Honor, Valor, Sacrifice, Humility, Spirituality, and Honesty, and each Virtue is guided by the Three Principles of Truth, Love and Courage. The goal of this game was truly unique in the fact that you became the spiritual leader of an entire world, and not in a creepy-bites-heads-off-chickens-cult kind of way. In the fifth chronicle, the Avatar answers Britannia’s call once again to rescue Lord British from the Underworld and dispose of the throne’s usurper, Lord Blackthorn (Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, 1988). Soon after, Britannia is invaded by Gargoyles, a race of intelligent creatures who harbor a hatred for the Avatar, who they believe will be responsible for the genocide of their race (Ultima VI: The False Prophet, 1990).

The final trilogy (and my personal favorite) was the Age of Armageddon, and it pitted the Avatar and his/her loyal companions against the Fellowship; an evil cult that twisted the Eight Virtues and was led by Britannia’s ultimate nemesis, the Guardian. The seventh installment was released in two parts and showcased the game’s new engine, which was a graphical revelation that pioneered trends such as AI and multi-layered objects that are prevalent in today’s games (Ultima VII: The Black Gate, 1992 | Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle, 1993). There were also two expansion packs released with each game that added additional game play features and story arcs. In the end of the seventh game, the Avatar is thrown through a portal and lands within the Guardian’s home planet of Pagan, a wicked world that is bereft of the Eight Virtues and controlled by the Guardian’s servants, the Titans (Ultima VIII: Pagan, 1994). After defeating the Titans and escaping from exile, the Avatar returns to Britannia for his final battle against the Guardian in the conclusion of the series (Ultima IX: Ascension, 1999). In the apocalyptic ending, the truth behind the Guardian’s existence is exposed. When the Avatar became the embodiment of the Eight Virtues, all of the taint and corruption within his soul was expunged, eventually taking shape in a new entity…the Guardian. The Avatar sacrifices himself and coalesces his spirit with the Guardian’s, thus destroying him forever. The Avatar ascends to another realm of existence, never to return to Britannia again.

My Ultima Collection

My personal Ultima collection

The Ultima series will always hold a special place in my heart as a string of games that challenged the status quo, introduced innovation and progressive technology, and…perhaps most importantly, taught me what it meant to be an Avatar and uphold the principles that are illustrated within the Eight Virtues.

The adventure begins…

I promise, this isn’t going to be one of those, “Back in my day, we had to walk 30 miles through the snow to get to school,” kind of posts. But it is going to cover some ancient history. I’ll try to keep my geriatric diatribes to a minimum. 🙂

Adventure for Atari 2600

Wikipedia: Adventure Game Cover

The very first video game I ever remember playing was called Adventure, which was published in 1979 and released for the Atari 2600 console. I was a small child in the early 80’s, but I’ll never forget the sense of wonder I felt when roaming (lost) through an 8-bit kingdom filled with mirror-image mazes, and searching for the Enchanted Chalice (which at that age, might as well have been the Holy Grail for all I knew).

Adventure was the first of its kind. Besides having honorarily popped my proverbial video game cherry, it was also the first action-adventure game, for without which the genre might never have been born, and we might never have had series such as King’s Quest, the Legend of Zelda, or Fable. This game also held a secret – the first ever “Easter Egg” known in video game history. In those early days, Atari did not credit the actual programmers for their work, and because of this, the game’s designer, Warren Robinette created a secret “room” in the game that could only be found by sheer luck and an eye for detail. In the secret room, the words, “Created by Warren Robinette” were displayed vertically across the screen. Another first in the history books was the introduction of an inventory system, in which the player could select one item at a time to carry, without the need to type in a myriad of commands.

Easter Egg from Adventure

Introducing the Easter Egg

This wasn’t a game you played because the graphics were so smokin’ hot, or because the story’s plot was bestselling material that inspired you to do great things. This game was about possibilities – you used your imagination to fill in any of the gaps that technology simply couldn’t cover. As a kid, I had a rampant imagination (and still do to some degree), and could clearly picture the single dot that represented my player character as a sword-wielding battle maiden, with flowing golden hair and eyes that shined like sapphires. It didn’t matter that all the TV screen reflected was a monotone blip…I could see it in my mind and that was good enough for my eight year old self.

I’ve watched the world of video games shift and transform over the years into a definitive art form. From graphics that leave you slack-jawed and drooling, to story lines that are continuously engaging…the technology just keeps getting better and better. But I do like to think about the game that started it all, at least for me. And I can’t help but wonder what the youth of today’s generation would think about playing a game that only used 4KB of ROM, 128 bytes of RAM, and a whole lot of grey matter elbow grease to see the kingdom of Adventure in the same light I saw it in 26 years ago.

Adventure Screenshot

And to the West...a Key!

What was the first video game you ever played? Inquiring minds want to know, so drop a comment below!

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