Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Zombie Ultima

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 11, 2010

Confession time, here. My secret shame. I’ve been playing… Lord of Ultima. I don’t know why. I guess I’ve always been a strategy game fan, especially the more “builder” oriented ones, and I’ve even been a developer on an indie “MMORTS” where we did something similar (but with much more interesting combat, IMO, and probably with a smaller budget than these guys…). So I have kind of an interest in these sorts of games. I’m too busy to invest much time (or, really, any money) into them. But I figured I could check it out. And I’ve been playing for a while.

I knew it wasn’t Ultima. I knew it had nothing to do with Ultima other than some names and a few scattered paragraphs where they tried to rebrand an otherwise generic game into an old and much-beloved franchise.  I signed up out of curiosity when it launched, and managed to build up a few cities, fend off some attacks, join up with a powerful alliance (in the top ten!) which has since been gutted, and even “leveled up” to the rank of emperor. I never invested much time (nor any money) into the thing, however, which is probably why it fell flat for me, and isn’t much more than a medieval SimCity for me.  But hey, I always liked SimCity. Why did I play this one instead of the zillions of others? Well, it was probably the name, “Ultima.” In spite of all I knew, I went willingly in the hope of seeing some glimmer of the past glory that was the game series.

In some monster shows featuring people getting turned into mindless zombies or bloodthirsty vampires, there’s usually a  protagonist who has trouble accepting that this creature wearing the form of former friend or family member isn’t really their loved one. There’s a turning point in the movie where they finally come to realize that the person they once knew and trusted is gone,  and that this monster only wears the form, or maybe also wields the memories as a weapon. Or, maybe, if a shadow of their old friend remains, it has only enough strength to become an ally to sacrifice itself to help the hero destroy the monster they had become.

For me, that moment came with the big updates. They decided to name the updates after the subtitles of the classic game series. “Serpent Isle.” “Ascension.” “Forge of Virtue.”

Yes. I’m not kidding, here. And while I knew better, there was this stupid little glimmer of hope that maybe, MAYBE these expansions would actually bring a little of Ultima’s history and flavor into this game. And maybe even a tiny bit of the old series’ gameplay? I mean, you send armies to these dungeons and against the boss monsters and stuff, maybe that could be expanded on, given a little bit more RPG flavor?

Yeah, right. Dumb. There was nothing like that, as far as I can tell. These were actually good updates, the latest adding whole new areas of advancement for veteran players to make attacking each others’ cities less predictable. If the game was called, “Massively Multiplayer Slow-Paced Medieval Domination Game” or something, it would be decent stuff. But I’d never have played it.

But for me, invoking the names of the old games of the series was really just a twist of the knife. An ugly reminder that Ultima – the real Ultima – was dead.  And this wasn’t even the undead shell of a husk of the old series – it was just some zombie with a nametag on it saying, “Hi, My Name Is: Ultima,” written in magic marker. The pointlessness of it hit me. I thought, “You are not worthy to wear that title.” The brief amusement I’d experienced playing it – before recognizing that I needed to invest more than just a few minutes a day and real cash to be able to participate as anything more than a slow-moving target for other players hit me – died.

Ultima is dead. If I want to enjoy a glimmer of its past glory, I just need to run Exult and run the REAL Serpent Isle. It may be almost twenty years old and I may have already played most of it already, but it’s still a far better experience than its fake modern spin-off.

Filed Under: Free Games, Retro - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

  • Xenovore said,

    We cannot expect anything good to come from the Ultima setting at this point. Richard Garriott is long gone and EA’s treatment of it has been and ever will be no more than a pale husk of what it once was.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Well – while I think in practice this is true, I don’t know if it’s absolutely true in theory. I think there are actually many designers & developers who have a passion for the series and really understand what made it tick, and could actually reboot the series in a way that fans would be (mostly) happy about.

    But those people are not employed at EA, and the game they would make would NOT be greenlit by EA because it would lack the multi-million sales potential they demand, so it will not happen.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    There’s also the split in the IP ownership.

    Most of the characters from the Ultima series (or at least those made as avatars of Garriott himself) are his IP. EA owns the rest.

    So to reboot Ultima would require both EA and RG’s permission.

    Agree about the sales issue being EA’s problem.

    Mind you, if I were to pitch it to EA, I would begin by suggesting Ultima Underworld.

    First person RPGs do sell well (point to Bethesda) and could be re-made relatively cheaply (depending on voice acting costs). It’s also apart from the main Ultima timeline, allowing more creative freedom.

  • McTeddy said,

    I know the feeling. Between the new Castlevania’s lack of Dracula… to the linear boredom of Final Fantasy 13… to the the fact that X-Com is now a shooter… I’ve seen good things butchered to be more “inviting” for all players to maximize profits. Nothing remains of the game’s I once loved… only the name.

    The only condolence that I can offer is that my current project is inspired Ultima (to the point of Starring Richard Garriot). While the game won’t be Ultima, hopefully it’ll at least bring back some good memories of that Ultima has brought you.

    I guess, that I’ll stick with the old Cliche… Ultima will never die so long as we hold it in our hearts. While it won’t ever come back in the form we know, it will continue to inspire those who are willing to remember it.

  • skavenhorde said,

    @McTeddy don’t forget Jagged Alliance 2 Reloaded ditching turnbased gaming in favor turning it into realtime with pause. In addition, there is no longer any line of sight (they called it fog of war, but if they played the dang thing then they would have known it was LOS). Now you can see everyone on the map.

    Gripes aside there may come a time where a company surprises you with a decent remake of an old classic. I never thought I would ever say these words, but Bethesda is actually looking like they might really care about RPGS…..I think I’m going to be sick 😉

    Seriously, Obsidian/Bethesda’s Fallout: New Vegas is absolutely amazing. While Bioware is slipping into WTF land. I’ve been disheartened by the reports I’ve been reading about Dragon Age 2 and while I did enjoy Mass Effect 2 it wasn’t an rpg by any stretch of the imagination. I enjoyed MA2 for the same reasons I enjoy any good FPS game, but not for the same reasons I enjoy a quality rpg.

    So Bioware now looks to be the nemesis of good rpgs and Bethesda is now leading the charge into quality gaming. When the hell did I enter Bizarro land? 😀

  • Stu said,

    I log in once a week, its pretty boring, but to let my town die 🙁 sniff…