Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness


Thanks for the Obvious News Flash, Sherlock. I think the skull laughing at me and the warlock wandering off over there with my axe already gave it away!

Wait… What’s happening?

Flipping Mother oh Jehoshaphat, I’m back in business!

Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness

1982 – Apple II – Richard Garriott

(played using 1986 DOS remake)

My first play through with Ultima was with a female human wizard, and I went in entirely blind. This was a mistake, for this game is brutal and relishes giving you as little information as possible. Very quickly, as I couldn’t figure out how do anything, I downloaded the manual from GOG and read the backstory. Good, now I have idea of what’s happening. However, the manual doesn’t actually tell what any of the keys do, like why, when I hit “T” at what looks like a merchant store to me, does the game keep yelling at me that the King isn’t around to transact with? Or what do I do to get the key from the jester that keeps yelling at me, presumably to unlock the Princess that this monster King is locking up in the dungeon?

So I turned to the Internets, and armed with a cheat-sheet of keyboard shortcuts (See Footnote 1), I dove back in. And died. Quickly.


Like I said, brutal. Back to the Internets for some basic knowledge like, “How do I heal?” (Turns out, you pay the King gold for Hit Points.)

After my one trip into Wizardry (You’re a Wizard, Bill), I landed on a fighter for simplicity’s sake. Reading online, I found that you can kill the jester to get the key, but only one key. There’s two cells, and if you get the wrong key the Princess is out of luck and you are going to die a quick death as the guards give you a beat down. But if you succeed, you get several thousand Hit Points, Food, and Gold. SIX TIMES I tried to get the right key. SIX TIMES I got the wrong key.

Sigh. Again.

I gave up and just started exploring. Turns out that 3000 HP isn’t that big a deal, and I’d have lost them in the first dungeon. However, another handy way to get HP is to leave the dungeon alive. When you leave you get HP relative in some way to the amount of monsters you fought underground. So, you can go in with 500 HP and leave with 1000 HP if you don’t die. Same with gold, it’s pretty easy to gather as you dungeonate (See Footnote 2).

After this I hit a groove. Down into a dungeon, fight until almost dead, hunt for the ladders out, explore to find kings/towns and get better equipment and food.

Footnote 1: Okay, Richard Garriott. I get it that you are Lord British, creator of a historically significant RPG series. I get that you were learning how to build computer games as you went. Regardless, this DOES NOT excuse you for using K for “Klimb” or Z for “Ztatistics”.

Footnote 2: Difficulty ramps up a lot between Level 2 and 3. Level 2 I’m fightings bats, rats, and skeletons. Hits take 10ish hit points. Level 3 I’m fighting orcs, trolls, and gelatinous cubes and they are taking 50 HP at a time. Be prepared.

Good: Ultima is weird. It’s a wonderful mash up of medieval fantasy, time travel, blasters, swords, and more crazy stuff. It’s also stupid in the best way that old pre-Professional Game Design often is.

Castle, Ultima I – DOS Remake

For its age, there’s a surprising amount of things going on. Weapons, mounts, quests, multiple venues, wit and humor. I played about five minutes of Ultima II and the color scheme gave me an instant headache, so I was glad for the remake’s enhanced graphics. The original Ultima I was closer to Akalabeth.

Bad: It gets repetitive quickly, and with little actual story meat on the bones, it’s not an easy one to eat more than a few bites. It was fun until it was not.

Tids and Bits: As was so often the case in those early gaming days, Richard Garriot was literally learning how to make a computer game during the development of Ultima during his freshman year of college.

The original title was Ultimatum, but was shortened to Ultima. Neither word has anything to do with the plot or the world.

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