The Ultima series is one of the most influential game franchises of all time. Released in 1981 by publisher California Pacific Computer Company, Ultima I was one of the first computer role-playing games (RPG) and is considered a pioneer of the genre. Subsequent installments to the Ultima series continued to make innovative breakthroughs, introducing many features to the gaming world that remain staples in today's most popular RPGs.
Ultima I was one of the first RPGs to feature an open-world design. Free to explore the Realm of Sosaria as they wish, players travel across a diverse landscape completing various quests. They discover and explore castles and dungeons, converse with townspeople, even travel through time and explore outer space. Ultima VI, released in 1990, introduced the consistent perspective to open-world games. Whether the player is engaged in combat, walking around town, or crawling through a dungeon the perspective remains the same. Modern open-world games such as Grand Theft Auto owe their design to Ultima VI. Ultima Underworld, a spin-off of the Ultima series, brought RPGs into the 3D world. The first action-RPG to feature a first-person 3D perspective, Ultima Underworld offered a revolutionary viewpoint and advanced graphics that allowed players to interact with the game world as never before. It also introduced innovative features such as the ability to look up and down and interact with 3D objects.
The Ultima series was at the forefront of advancements in character and in-game story development. Ultima III represents the first instance in which conversations with non-playable characters (NPC) were integral to gameplay. Subsequent editions introduced increasingly in-depth conversation systems in which players typed in keywords to receive information. Ultima IV epitomized the story-driven approach to gaming, introducing the theme of morality which persists in modern RPGs. The plot remains one of the most unique concepts in gaming history. In Ultima IV there is no specified villain. The objective is to become a spiritual leader and virtuous citizen by adhering to a series of moral codes that discourage stealing, boasting, fleeing from battle, and killing enemies who are not evil. Personal accountability is a key component to plot development. The player's actions, whether ethical or unethical, determine every major development in the plot. Unethical actions such as stealing or murdering innocent townspeople have consequences. Any game with a morality system owes that feature to Ultima IV.
The Ultima series culminated in nine editions, multiple spin-offs and the highly successful Ultima Online. Launched in 1997, Ultima Online is one of the earliest and most successful massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPG). It opened the door to future MMORPGs such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft. Introducing game-changing innovations throughout its three-decade run, the Ultima series holds an important place in the history of electronic games.