Category Archives: origin

Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, a computer game RPG by Lord British/Origin 1986

From Akalabeth To Earth Orbit: Ultima and Lord British

As a teenager in Texas in 1977, Richard Garriott confounded his high school teachers with adventure games produced on paper tape using a mainframe computer. He would chase his dreams of computerized D&D-type adventures all the way to the pinnacle of the computer games industry.

While working at a local computer store in 1979, Garriott produced his most elaborate game world yet, titled Akalabeth. Only a few copies ended up selling, painstakingly packaged by hand in Ziplock bags, but one copy winded up in the hands of California Pacific Computer Company. They purchased the rights to distribute Akalabeth, and eventually sold 30,000 copies.

The same company sold Garriott’s next game, Ultima, in 1981, which later received the subtitle The First Age of Darkness. A tile-based RPG programmed in BASIC, it sold more than his first attempt but Garriott eventually soured on his relationship with his publisher and signed a deal with Sierra for the sequel, Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress, released in 1982. For Ultima III: Exodus, Garriott teamed with his father Owen and brother Robert, along with Chuck Bueche, to found a new company to produce the popular Ultima games: Origin Systems. The company signed a distribution deal with EA in 1984, the result being the groundbreaking Avatar trilogy.

And so it goes, as the Ultima games became one of the biggest franchises in gaming history.  The Ultimas went 3D in Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss in 1992, and blazed a trail in the MMO genre with Ultima Online in 1997

Garriott himself blazed a trail into space in 2008 as a customer of private space trip facilitator Space Adventures; he was also a principle investor in the organization. The Ultima creator was simply  following his father’s footsteps, as Owen Garriott himself was a NASA astronaut.

With his more Earthbound adventures, Richard Garriott has made an indelible impact on computer and video gaming.  For more information on Lord British and Ultima, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

A Spiritual Successor to Wing Commander/Freelancer

Wing Commander and its many sequels deserve a place among the pantheon of the most influential games for the PC. Chris Roberts’ epic space-shooter ushered in the era of eyeball-popping graphics, married to an epic storyline that fully immersed players in an expansive universe. The first iteration of the classic series was released in 1990, and in 1993 the Privateer games were spun-off from the original as open-world (or galaxy) space simulation games set in the same universe but allowing players to forge their own path: soldier, merchant, mercenary or something in-between.

When EA shut the door on Roberts’ developer Origin, he went on to create Freelancer, a further treatise on the space shooter/exploration genre released by Microsoft Game Studios in 2003. The free-form space exploration and combat genre has since been sporadic in nature, perhaps most fully pursued by the X series, started by Egosoft in 1999.

Now, via Kickstarter crowdfunding as well as pledge packages via the RSI website, the spiritual successor to Freelancer is set to pick up the space exploration and combat mantle in a grand, AAA-title way.  Surpassing 15 million dollars in funding and counting, Star Citizen should push the genre further than any big-name publishing company would dare. Planned features include accurate physics modelling, dozens of ship designs to meet any play-style, vibrant system economies, all playable through either MMO style in a universe populated by other players, or in a campaign mode featuring drop-in/out co-op with friends.

However you choose to experience it, Star Citizen should prove to fill the vacuum of space simulation gameplay.  Roll-outs of various player experiences based on the actual graphical engine for the game will appear periodically over the next couple of years, and gamers can expect the finished game to jump into this star system in early 2015.

Origin Systems logo circa 1982

Ultima Underworld: The Abyssmal Voice Acting


While I love the game Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, I always have to sit through the lengthy cinematic at the beginning and chuckle at the horrible voice acting.  It’s unfortunate too, because in all other respects it’s an exciting and visually stunning intro that I’m sure amazed a few people back in the day on their x486 PCs.

Once the sprites start opening their mouths though, whoo boy.  It sounds like the programmers just recorded a rather dull high school play and just animated to that.

Here’s our gameplay video, judge for yourself whether the actors should be thrown into the Stygian Abyss:

Title screen for Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, a computer RPG by Origin and Lord British

Return of the Avatar

Play Ultima IV online, complete with saves, with this link. It is a slightly updated, but completely faithful version of one of the best Ultima experiences ever. Ultima IV was the first of the vaunted “Avatar” trilogy of Ultima games, and its feeling of epic accomplishment was a gaming revelation.

You can read more about it, Origin, the Ultima series, and Lord British, in this article on TDE.