When Ultima V came out I had just started as freshman in college. I took my aging Apple II+ with me and tried to make the best of it. That machine was showing some serious signs of age and stress, but I still managed to cause plenty of trouble for myself. It’s amazing what you can do with a modem and some custom written “dialing software” written in Apple Basic. But that’s a story for another day.

Ultima V would be my last Ultima for quite some time. Not because I was judicious student bent on making good grades and a name for myself. Quite the opposite. I had fallen into the trap of not going to class and thinking I could pass tests when I wasn’t in the room to take them. I had discovered the universities HP mainframes and devoted a great deal of my time to understand Unix and trying my hand at C coding. The Unix went well, the C not so much.

It wasn’t until the summer of that first year that I really got to explore Ultima V. When I wasn’t working for a burger place called Fuddrucker’s, I was diligently sitting in front of the Apple II making my way around Britannia. I also spent a lot of time swapping between those 4 double-sided floppy disks. Hard drive? Bah humbug.

I hooked back up with my friends for one last go round of gaming before we would part ways again. Although they weren’t as plentiful as we would have liked, we did manage to spend a couple of weekends playing all night, editing the hell out of the game. We didn’t have much time so in many ways we skipped to the end to see how it would turn out. For the most part we played on an IBM PC with a full color screen. Ah, the wonders of CGA and EGA.

I remember the towns being bigger, the graphics sharper and more defined as well as a lot more area to cover. There was also the reagents, having to rest the party and hoping you didn’t get attacked while resting and the moongates. I truly wanted to dedicate more time, but I simply had too many commitments. Work truly did occupy 60 hours a week. As with all the previous versions we did our best to play the game the right way, but that hex editor is too damn compelling. We also loved fiddling with the disk to see what kinds of security and protection they contained. In the end, I never really committed to Ultima V. I remember the Shadowlords and Empath Abbey, casting spells and the combat, but it was all so hectic. Alas, far too much of Ultima V is a blur, which is a darn shame. I recall it being such a good game and a worthy sequel.

By the time summer was over and although we’d hacked the hell out of it, I’d made no headway in playing legitimately and had to abandon. My Apple II didn’t last much longer and it would be awhile before I would get a new machine (an 80286 12mhz to be exact and it would be nearly 30 years until I got another Apple). After I got that machine I had no money or time left for games. I was writing essays and crafting massive reports for my degrees. It would be years before I would come back to Ultima and even then my attempts to play were always thwarted. I only saw glimpses of Ultima VI and thought to myself, “Oh, I should play that one day…”

With those three games, Ultima had encompassed a full 5 years of my life, taking me all the way through high school and giving me the inspiration to dig into the innards of computer coding and discover how computers worked. It inspired me to try and write code, even though I would never come close to what Ultima could do. But that really wasn’t the point, it was and still is about creating something and have it work. It kindled my passion for computers and what they were capable of doing. I still marvel at Ultima, what it did, how it changed the way games worked, how it pushed graphic technology and how it unraveled a huge story through it’s gameplay. Ultima was a pretty significant part of my life and I look back on those games very fondly.

It’s also still amazing to see aspects of Ultima still lingering around today. One game that hit close to home was Diablo. That was a game that came close to the wonderment I felt with Ultima. It was a different approach, but it reminded me so much of “the good ol’ days”. By the time Diablo II came around I was off on adventures with my friends just like I had done all those years ago. The only real difference is that I was using the networks at Corporate America to play multiplayer rather than playing solo-player.

More brilliant musings about my adventures in New Britannia

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