The Collectible ULTIMA

ULTIMA Underworld

"The unexplored fields, mountains and seas of Britannia lie waiting to be discovered and investigated by those who would travel them. And for those few who would take the risk, the ancient uncharted caverns and waterways beneath Britannia offer both danger and fabulous rewards. I urge you, reader, be less daunted by the risks involved, and more inspired by lands yet unseen, strange, beautiful and, yes, terrible beings and artifacts yet to be found."

-- from A Safe Passage Through Britannia

In 1988, Origin made the design decision to remove 3D dungeons from the game they currently had in production, Ultima VI. The reason was simple: they wanted to incorporate a consistent set of physics in the game objects, and while it was possible to do this in 2D, at that time it would have been forbiddingly difficult to do a good 3D engine with real-world object physics. So, the 3D dungeons had to go. But Richard Garriott wanted to bring them back in due time, in a game of their own, which he envisioned as "Ultima 3D". Richard got his wish right after the completion of False Prophet, and Ultima VI director Warren Spector was moved over to head up the new first-person, role-playing project. And fortunately, someone came up with a more creative name: Ultima Underworld. Way ahead of its time, the first Underworld game not only predated Doom by two years, it predated Wolfenstein 3D by two months, yet had a far more advanced engine, not to mention real-world object physics, and all the extra complications of a role-playing game. It was such an achievement, in fact, that even today, years later, people are hard pressed to name a title which has filled the first-person role-playing genre as well as Underworld did. The game almost immediately bred a "sequel", related in perspective but unrelated in plot. Both games were hailed as revolutionary, both are dearly beloved of hard-core gamers, and both sold rather mediocre numbers on the mass market. That's unfortunate, in my opinion; the Underworld "series" is truly an example of computer gaming at its finest. Sadly, there is no Ultima Underworld III, and while Origin has talked the talk about creating another game, the earliest we could possibly see such a thing would be during or after the year 2000. In reality, it may be that Ultima X (should it ever see the light of day) would bring the 2D and 3D genres back together again.

Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss Ultima Underworld:
The Stygian Abyss
  • Platform: PC.
  • Publisher: Origin Systems, Inc., © 1992.
  • Characteristics: UPC 17814-78810. 3.5", 5.25" (5).
  • Included: Player's Guide book; Memoirs of Sir Cabirus book; Stygian Abyss paper map; Runestone drawbag (6 runes, BIJLOS).
  • Original List Price: $69.95
I could go on and on about Ultima Underworld, my favorite game, using every manner of hyperbole I could think of. But I won't. I'm simply say that Ultima Underworld is the greatest, most wonderful, most utterly fantabulous creation to have ever, ever come down the game industry's pike. And now you know why I'm called Underworld Dragon. :-) Special thanks for this game to a lonely spectre named Warren, and Paul Neurath, co-founder of Looking Glass Technologies. It may be a little difficult to obtain an original copy of this game today, though I'm sure it can still be had through Usenet.

Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds Ultima Underworld II:
Labyrinth of Worlds
  • Platform: PC.
  • Publisher: Origin Systems, Inc., © 1992.
  • Characteristics: UPC 17814-80410. 3.5" (5), 5.25".
  • Includes: Player's Guide book; A Safe Passage Through Britannia book; Castle British paper map.
  • Original List Price: $79.95
Labyrinth of Worlds was Origin's sequel to Stygian Abyss. The story involves Lord British throwing a party on the one year anniversary of the Guardian's defeat at the Black Gate. During the party, the Guardian casts a spell to trap all the important figures of Britannia inside British's castle. Improvements over the first game included better character graphics, better use of skills, an enhanced spell system and (ahem) an actual plot. It also shows the true nature of the Guardian far better than either Black Gate or Serpent Isle. It's a heck of a lot of fun. I've seen this game frequently on the old software shelves of various stores - KayBee Toys, Software Etc., and so on. It can also be had via Usenet fairly easily.

Ultima Underworld / Wing Commander II
  • Platform: PC.
  • Publisher: Origin Systems, Inc.
  • Characteristics: UPC 17814-79615. CD (1).
  • Includes: Underworld paper map; other stuff (?).
  • Original List Price: $79.95
This was one of Origin's early CD products. The games install to your hard drive, rather than playing from the CD. I don't know everything that comes with this product (presumably, there's a reference card and some Wing Commander documentation), but I don't think the Underworld trinket is included.

Ultima Underworld I & II CD Ultima Underworld I & II CD
  • Platform: PC.
  • Publisher: Origin Systems, Inc., © 1993.
  • Characteristics: UPC 17814-81015. CD (1).
  • Includes: Stygian Abyss paper map; Castle of Lord British paper map; Handbook; Reference Cards for UW1 and UW2; Install Guide
  • Original List Price: $79.95
As above, this was one of Origin's early CD products. It includes a combined handbook and paper maps for both games, but not the trinket from Stygian Abyss.

Underworld CD Classics Ultima Underworld 1 & 2
Electronic Arts CD Classics
  • Platform: PC.
  • Publisher: Origin Systems, Inc. and Looking Glass Technologies, © 1992, 1993.
  • Characteristics: UPC 14633-05470. CD (1).
  • Original List Price: $14.95
This product in Electronic Arts' first "CD Classics" line was released not long after EA bought Origin. You can tell because, aside from the fact that it says Electronic Arts on the box, the UPC number corresponds to EA's products, not Origin's. Most of the documentation for the games is on the CD.

Ultima Underworld 1 & 2
CD-ROM Classics Gold
  • Platform: PC.
  • Publisher: Origin Systems, Inc., © 1996.
  • Characteristics: UPC 14633-05738. CD (1).
  • Original List Price: $14.95
  • Availability: Still in some stores.
This re-release of a re-release by Electronic Arts gives one more generation of players the chance to have the Underworld experience. At under $15 (usually under $10 these days) for two of the finest computer role-playing games ever made, it's quite a bargain. The games are identical to the originals, though I believe the latest bug patches have been applied. Theoretically this version contains help for running the games under Windows 95, though I've found it easier just to run them from DOS.

Ultima Underworld for PlayStation (Japanese) Ultima Underworld
PlayStation version
  • Platform: PlayStation
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts Victor, © 1997.
  • Characteristics: Japanese release only.
  • Original List Price: 5800¥ (about US$45)
  • Availability: Japanese videogame retailers.
In early 1997 there was a Japanese re-release of Ultima Underworld - for the PlayStation! There is a Quicktime movie(~600K) of this game available, which shows a little of the gameplay. At the least, the title music has been redone, and someone who has played this version says the monster graphics have been improved as well. Unfortunately for American gamers, there are regional lockouts built into the PlayStation, so that Japanese games will only play on Japanese consoles. While there are ways around this, they aren't easy, and can destroy your unit, so I can't recommend them. Still, if you can read Japanese and can get ahold of a Japanese PlayStation, you might want to check it out. To my knowledge, this is the only Ultima game ever done for the PlayStation.

The Ultimate RPG Archives The Ultimate RPG Archives
  • Platform: PC
  • Publisher: Interplay Productions, © 1998.
  • Characteristics: UPC 40421-13748. CD (1).
  • Original List Price: $39.95
  • Availability: Interplay.
This collection contains 12 separate classic CRPGs, most of which weren't even published by Interplay. I'm really not sure quite how they pulled this off, but it's pretty impressive. The games include:
  • Ultima Underworld I and II
  • The Bard's Tale Trilogy (I-III) and Construction Set
  • Might & Magic: World of Xeen (including M&M IV and V)
  • Stonekeep
  • Wasteland
  • DragonWars
  • Wizardry Gold
If that isn't enough to keep you occupied, I don't know what is. This collection had some problems (some maps and documentation inadvertently omitted), but it does include over 500 pages of the original documentation, condensed into a single booklet, which is a lot better than some publishers (ahem, ahem) are doing with their collections today...

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