The Ultima cup runneth over.
As of this writing, Shroud of the Avatar, is currently in a fully backed KickStarter phase with 16 days to go. Launched by Portalarium and fronted by the inimitable Richard Garriott, Shroud of the Avatar is shaping up to be an unofficial successor to the Ultima games of old. But… what the heck is it?
At this point, it sounds a lot like an infomercial. It’s an MMO! It’s an offline DRM-free single-player game! New York Times best-selling author, Tracy Hickman! A dynamic world! It makes julienne fries! Okay, maybe not that last one… but it almost seems like it could at this point.
Despite my mentioning Britannia and LB giving his Twitter seal of approval, SOTA will not be taking place in Britannia. Copyrights and trademarks and whatnot.
To say the least, I’m excited. The first RPG I played way back on my parents old IBM back in 1990 was Ultima VI and I was hooked. I loved it. Having played all my gaming on an Atari 7800 up until that point, Ultima VI was a totally mind-blowing experience. Instead of sending planes through barns, inadvertently squishing captives with a helicopter, and jumping over an alligator’s head for the umpteenth time, here was a full fantasy world to explore! A fleshed out world, too. Stores were only open during certain times of the day, the inhabitants of the world all had daily schedules to keep. Can’t find that one guy you needed to talk to? If it’s around dinner time, check the tavern or try to head to his house. Ultima VII came out and playing it was a no-brainer. However, it strained my parents old system to it’s limits. Aside from the stuttering vocalizations of the Guardian from those damn Soundblaster settings, I remember it taking about 10 minutes to save a game to the hard drive, which was already filled to the brim with the game! 20 Megabytes! Compared to today, that’s like a game taking up about 450 GB. But my parents, being the saints they are, let me enjoy it.
What followed was a love of the Ultima series. To this day I’ve played Ultima IV, VI, VII, VIII, and IX to full completion. In fact, in order to make Ultima IX play I bought my first real computer upgrade, a new video card that I had to install myself. So, in effect, the Ultima series is even to blame for starting my love of modifying and building PCs!
Anyway, the Shroud of the Avatar site has a multitude of videos to watch about the future game including Garriott interviewing Greg “Dupre” Dykes and David “Iolo” Watson, which for any Ultima fan are definitely a must watch.
Ultima: Savage Empire part of the Worlds of Ultima series using the Ultima VI engine.
But what of EA and Mythic’s forthcoming Ultima Forever? When I first heard of the title, I was definitely intrigued, but the gameplay trailer stopped me in it’s first couple of seconds…
You catch that? “Coming soon to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch”… did I mention my love of modifying and building PCs and playing those previous Ultima titles on PCs? I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that if you’re an Ultima fan, you’re most likely pretty knowledgeable of your PCs… so what are they thinking? The iPhone is popular here in the US, but I wouldn’t quite call iOS the most widely used system. For that I’d use Android. I’m sure there are a few techies out there who love their iPhone and got in on the ground floor when it was brand new, but they are far from the majority of current iPhone users. At where I work the tech department are all rocking Android. Android has that versatility and customizability that techs crave, and a recent article even posits that Android has a 70% market share! So initially snubbing the Android and PC crowd? When being an Ultima fan essentially EQUALED you being a whiz with your PC? Okay. We’ll see how that goes. Shroud of the Avatar, by the way, is primarily being developed for PC first and foremost with possible stretch goals to mobile.
Now, to be fair, when I asked them and on their Facebook page, they do state that they plan on releasing the title for other platforms as well, like PC and Android, but they plan on releasing those in their own dear sweet time.
So, essentially, it doesn’t appear that EA is really targeting previous Ultima players as its demographic. Huh. Well, that’s fine. The industry today is far different than the industry of the 1990′s. It’s more action oriented, it’s more social, it’s more about skipping fluff quest text and getting to the meat of the game. But, for me, that’s not really what I want from an Ultima game.
Ultima Forever certainly looks nice (the huge hulking Warrior is an… odd choice), you do get to party in the old Britannia, and I’m sure playing from your tablet will be awesome. But when it comes down to what is the heart and soul of what the Ultima titles were, what was behind the graphics, it was about the story, about the choices you make and understanding your choices have consequence. From the racial issues in Ultima VI to the yin and yang of good and evil in Ultima IX, the Ultima series is ultimately about striving to be a better person.
Truth, Love, Courage. Garriott has already proven himself worthy in this department. EA, and some of their recent decisions… well, we’ll see.
P.S. – Good Old Games is giving away Ultima IV for free and has every single Ultima game, putting them on sale often. Graphically dated, but still classics. Especially Ultima VII.
P.P.S. – For the Ultima fans out there, just because you really shouldn’t miss this, David “Iolo” Watson playing Stones on his lute (queued up to the right time):
Do you know of Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin? If you don’t, stop reading and go and listen to it now. That, my friend, is the first piece of music specifically made for a video game to ever win a Grammy, and although I don’t agree with the Grammy committee on some of their decisions, that is easily one of the most inspiring pieces of music out there. Well done, Grammy people.
As I’m sure Syp would agree with me, a good musical score is one of the big reasons you keep coming back to a particular game. Stones, a simple song from the Ultima series, for example, I find myself whistling from time to time. It’s stuck with me after all this time even though I haven’t played an Ultima game for years. Still, I want to periodically head back, possibly just to hear it again. It holds such emotion and such feeling, I can’t help but remember it fondly. Or even the music of The Shire in Lord of the Rings Online conveys a peace and serenity that’s perfectly matched to the zone, making it, in my opinion, one of the greatest zones in any game out there. It’s no coincidence that the background music plays a big part in that. And who could forget the strains when you first exit Ascalon City into Lakeside County in Guild Wars? It holds a sweet and yet somber fall melody, as if to gently foreshadow coming events. Awesome and amazing, all of them, I highly suggest a listen or two or ten.
… Then there’s the other side of the spectrum.
Some people don’t want and/or even like game soundtracks. They find them a waste of time, and the repetition bothers them to no end. I feel you there, too. Not all game soundtracks are winners. The music from the Barrens zone in vanilla World of Warcraft was terrible. Why did they have to include grunts when the music started? It was just an audio cue that reminded you “Oh yeah, you’ve been here long enough, it’s starting over again.” And with the size of the Barrens… you ended up hearing it a LOT.
That’s when you bring in your own music to play. Getting into PvP, for example, is always made a little more exciting when you blast some hard rock to go along with it.
To that end, I wanted to let all of you music lovers out there know of an event a good friend of mine is doing soon: This Thursday, September 13th from 7 to 10 pm, my good buddy Jersey Jim is hosting an online radio show ”Jersey Jim Makes a Scene”. Sticking with mostly the harder stuff, in his own words, you’ll find “Lots of good music and good times to come.” Great music to game to, definitely. Something to get the blood pumping. Here’s a link to his FB page, detailing the event, and here’s the site, GasHouseRadio.com, he’ll be broadcasting live from.
Seriously, do me a solid. Give him a listen and Like his page. If you like what you hear, let him know!
So which do you prefer? Your own or the games soundtrack? Got any of your own favorites? Let me know down in the comments!
For those about to rock, I /salute you.
P.S. – I also saw recently it was detailed where you can alter the music in Guild Wars 2 to your own playlists. Awesome, but why one would want to change the fantastic score for GW2 is beyond me.
P.P.S. – I also just discovered Gangham Style. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner?!! Too much. I’m dying over here…
I’m a sucker for a good game sale. A total sucker. Once I found out about Steam, Impulse, and GOG, my compulsions take over and I get hit with a huge burst of nostalgia. Well, right now over at GOG.com there is a sale that was giving off a siren song that was way too hard to pass up.
Two iconic game series from the 1980′s and 1990′s, Wing Commander and Ultima, are at a steep 50% discount until Monday June 4th at midnight (EDT). $3 per game pack is essentially my pricepoint, so… I picked up the whole lot. For the record, thats Ultima Underworld 1&2, Ultima 1+2+3, Ultima 4+5+6, Ultima 7 Complete*, Ultima 8 Gold, Wing Commander 1+2, Wing Commander 3, Wing Commander 4*, and Wing Commander Privateer. That’s $27 for more great nostalgic hours of gaming than you could shake a proverbial stick at. (* necessary)
Ultima 7 Complete tops the list as being my favorite game. Period. It has also been quoted by the esteemed Richard Garriott as being the pinnacle of the Ultima series, so he agrees, too:
“Ultima VII represented the pinnacle of virtual world simulation where I really felt I had done the best job of interactive storytelling and of world detailing to create a play space and a play environment and reasons to be there. I felt that was the most masterfully executed of the Ultima series, so to speak.” – Richard Garriott in an interview with Gamespot.com
I was ridiculously excited when the movie Avatar came out, until I realized it was just Pocahontas with blue aliens and nothing to do with Ultima…
I 100% agree. Every Ultima game on sale right now is a great game, but especially Ultima 7. I hate to say, but the only Ultima game that doesn’t make the cut as far as quality (and the sale) was Ultima 9. Maybe it was EA’s interference but Ultima 9, storywise, was just not that good of a game.
Wing Commander 4 also stands apart as being the best of the Wing Commander series. Not necessarily for it’s gameplay, but for it’s ridiculously stellar cast list (Notice that I just linked to it’s IMDB page). If there is any game that could claim to be an interactive movie, this one is it!
Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, and Tom Wilson make this more than just a game, and $3 is a steal (although Wing Commander 3 also stars the inimitable Tim Curry, I still prefer Wing Commander 4).
Make popcorn and bring a date. If they had made the Wing Commander movie with THIS cast, it would’ve been a MUCH better movie.
Game well, my friends. Game well.