What Ultima Is To Me

To explain what Ultima is to me I must first explain the events that took place one fall in the mid 1980's. I had my trusty Apple //e with 128k and 2 disk drives. I knew of Ultima III: Exodus, but never gave it much attention. The games I played around the clock were games like Rescue Raiders, Karateka and Castle Wolfenstien. One of my best friends, Brent, had played Exodus and kept telling me that a new Ultima was out that I should get. Taking his word for it I collected my various funds and purchased Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. During the car ride home I examined the contents of the box... 2 disks, a manual, and... a cloth map.

What came next can only be describe as one of those moments that you just knew you were onto something amazing. Before the car pulled into our driveway I had already deciphered half the map. Names like Vesper, Britain and Minoc covered the land masses in something called 'runic'. I was without question intensely excited and anxious to begin traveling throughout this mysterious new world called Britannia.

Over the next several weeks I played it with reckless abandon. Asking every character within the game for clues like Mantra, Rune and Wheel. More than once I was caught by my mother still playing at 2am on a school night. This was not, I might add, a 'good' thing. My most vivid memory of Ultima IV came when I was closing in on the Codex. I had been playing since after dinner when my mother came in and asked
"Have you been playing that all night!?"
"Yeah, why?" I asked, not really understanding why she was angry.
"It's time to get up!!!" She barked.
"WHAT!" I said in disbelief. The sun was rising and I had been playing it none stop, and was so engulfed by it that all sense of time was gone. I was in shock, to say the least. It felt like I had only been playing for a short time. That day at school is something of a mystery to me. I was still confused as to the time, and I continued to have the urge to 'Hole Up & Camp'. Once school was over I got home and climbed back into my chair to finish this amazing quest I had undertaken. Within the hour it was complete. I was triumphant. I was the Avatar.

When Ultima V was released I had already saved up the money for it and had it up and running on my Apple the day it was released. Yet again, I was off to save Britannia...

During my freshman year in college I worked part-time for Babbages, a computer software store. My beloved Apple //e sat in my closet at home collecting dust. And, despite working at a computer store, my days as a 'hacker' were long behind me. Then Ultima VI came out, and it looked awesome. It took very little convincing for me to purchase the next title in the series I loved so much. There was however, one slight problem... I didn't own a PC compatible computer. Over the next several weeks I badgered my manager to bring in his computer to use for demoing software. I was not in the least bit successful. Finally, I found a guy who lived on the floor below me in the dorm that had a PC. He was very easy going and didn't mind if I used it to venture forth into Britannia once more. This Ultima is still my favorite. The complexity of the map and surroundings blew me away. Even my old friends Shamino, Iolo and Dupre had returned. Sitting night after night in a cramped dorm room in front of a monitor I was, oddly, home.

By the time Ultima VII: The Black Gate hit the shelves I had my own PC and was once again in hacker mode. This time I was ready for it. In keeping with my tradition I picked it up and installed it immediately. The anticipation I felt the day I bought it soon gave way to disappointment. It wasn't the same Ultima I remember so well. I couldn't dive into it like I had thrice before. Within a week it was off my hard drive and on the shelf. Why? I know now that it wasn't the different game engine, nor the new graphics, it was me.

I had lost something so simple. And until recently, I didn't know I had lost it. I no longer had what I call the 'Suspension of Disbelief'. What does that mean? In the most basic terms, it means to drop that layer of logic that says "That's not real" or "That's just make-believe". To turn off the person inside us that knows dragons do not exist, and just for a short time... believe.

With the purchase of the next two Ultimas I experienced the same series of events. Each joined Ultima VII on the shelf, unfinished. It is here where we must set the Way-Back Machine for April 2nd of 1996. I had been surfing the web for a little over a month when I came to a page called the PC Release List. It contained various new demos of up & coming games. At the top was a link for Ultima Online and 15mb zip file. Having no clue what it was I downloaded it anyway. After all it was an Ultima title, so what the heck. With a password from Origin I was ready to begin. After entering my character name and a few other things I moved on to the next screen which said “Choose A Server”. The three servers available where dungeons of Britannia; Despise, Destard and Wrong. As I had experienced years before, I knew I was onto something amazing. With a corny grin I said to myself, “I can’t go wrong with Wrong.” and I was off...

I found myself beginning my travels in The Wayfarer’s Inn. A place I’ve come to know well over the years. I said hello to the Innkeeper and ventured out. After exploring the streets of Britain for the next few nights, I was still a little lost. I didn’t know anyone else online all that well and the bunnies were getting bored with killing me. It was then that I was approached by a man in full red armor/clothing.
“Need help?” He said.
“Um, Yeah... More than you know.” I replied.
“Come with me.”
I followed him to a local Armorer where he bought me an axe and armor. I thanked him and he was off. “Here bunny wabbits!” I exclaimed and left to conquer Britain. With that I began to acquaint myself with my fellow adventurers over the course of the Pre-Alpha test and the E3 demo. Old friends like Shamino and Dupre were not to be found, but new ones such as Ishamael, KyserSoze and Kildaren were always close by. I was home again.

As of this writing, the Ultima Online Beta is around the corner and Ultima IX is in development. As I await for the Beta I have returned to my forgotten Ultimas. I'm enjoying now what I should have enjoyed years ago.

There are many people that have worked on the the Ultima series since Richard Garriott started it long ago. To all those people, and especially to Richard,

I Believe. Thanks...
David "Auric" Hernly

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