Forgotten Ruins: The Roots of CRPGs - ORIGIN Systems

13 Dec 2010

The second portion of Bitmob's "Forgotten Ruins: The Roots of Computer Role-Playing Games" series is now available, and this time they turn their attention to ORIGIN Systems. My favorite video game developer of all time gave us some stellar moments:
Ultima's amazing success on both sides of the world owed itself as much to Garriott's hard work as it later did in challenging the player later with social questions and deep narratives that expanded the fictional world of Britannia, such as when Ultima 4 revolutionized the genre again in '85 by replacing the typical world-destroying threat at the end, which stamped its chest with even more accolades from the press and CRPG fans in general.

Instead of facing off against a terrible evil, Ultima 4 tasked the player to overcome challenges in order to become the Avatar by learning virtues such as honesty, compassion, and valor. That broke the stereotypical mold of the combat-heavy CRPG. There were still plenty of monsters to slay, but leading a one man war against them was considered secondary to Ultima 4's goal of truly becoming a virtuous "hero."

And some disappointing ones:
Ultima 8's action-oriented approach was a radical departure from the successful formula of Ultima 7. Fans criticized it for its lack of polish, the missing detail and storied focus of its predecessor, and the Super Mario-esque platforming. I remember staring at the screen when I played this thinking that the game really looked good, but why is it an action adventure?

...

Ultima 9 remains a controversial title today with several citing it as the sole reason for Origin's demise while others laud its revolutionary concepts for being ahead of its time. The new Britannia was rendered atop the rising wave of new graphics accelerators, first-person shooters, and the 3D craze of the late nineties. With Bethesda already demonstrating its own panache for vast, open worlds with Daggerfall and Redguard, bringing the legendary series to life in the same way seemed only natural for Origin. When Ultima 9 turned out the way it did, it becomes easier to understand why many (including myself) regarded its lost potential with almost as much disappointment. It was, as Richard Garriott had put it, "the bastard child of Electronic Arts."

Ultima VIII was ugly, Ultima IX was unplayable, but I will always look back at Ultima Online as the greatest MMORPG to ever grace the Internet. In its original incarnation, anyway.