Posted by: seanmalstrom | March 10, 2017

Email: Zelda and Ultima

Master Malstrom,

I have little to say here personally because I haven’t played any of the Ultima games and I’ve yet to play BotW, but I stumbled across this article comparing BotW to Ultima VI and I immediately thought of you. Figured you might appreciate it.


Thank you for the link. It is very much appreciated!

Back in the day, an Ultima game (meaning ultima 3,4,5,6,7,7 Part 2 + Ultima Underworld 1 + 2) was something you feasted over for months. The games were massive. There was even cloth maps, multiple manuals, spell cards, etc.

I’ll talk more about Ultima in a second. Lately, I have noticed interest in what I have said or say about Zelda from a gameplay perspective. I think it may be that people really enjoy Breath of the Wild, at least enjoy it more than what we have been getting, and remember I’ve thought Zelda has been WAY off track since Ocarina of Time (which I blame Aonuma since he took over Zelda then).

Consider the CRPG Addict review of Ultima VI:

The engine is just brilliant in these possibilities, and perhaps most notably, it features some mechanics that we no longer see. As much as I love the last three Elder Scrolls games, do you know what I can’t do in any of them? Destroy a chair. Play an instrument. Batter down a door. Throw a wine bottle across the room and have it shatter on the floor. Row a boat. Start or douse a fire. Lock a door. Oh, Ultima VI has plenty of limitations itself, of course, and I don’t want to suggest that it’s “more advanced” than modern games, but the sheer number of possibilities that it offers puts the gameplay experience at the top of the list, with everything else it does well making up for the relative ease. Score: 9.

Breath of the Wild has an open world made massive in part due to all these systems running in the background. Ultimas very much did this. Ultima III was an inspiration to the original Legend of Zelda as well as Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy (Ever wonder why the best spell in Final Fantasy 6 was called ‘Ultima’? Now you know).

Above: Even the spell effects for ‘Ultima’ looks like Britannia is flowing through. When Final Fantasy 6 came out, Ultima 8 was coming out.

Now, I want to invite Warren Spector to this blog post as he shares a most interesting story about Ultima 6 that connects to what the Time article is saying. Speak, Spector.

Image result for warren spector martian dreams

Above: No, your eyes do not deceive you. The above is a screenshot to the second Ultima 6 spin-off: Martian Dreams. Warren Spector is not only the producer, he is an actual character in the game and is in your party! In the above photo, the Avatar (i.e. you) greet him.


“I’ll tell you a story. I was working on Ultima VI and I was watching one of the testers play one day. He was in a place in the game where you needed a magic spell to succeed to keep going; it was a place where there was a portcullis between you and a lever that would open the portcullis. He came up on one side and he didn’t have the telekinesis spell necessary to flip the lever, so I was sitting there going, ‘you’re screwed buddy – you’re not making any progress now.’ What he did was – he had a character in his party named ‘Sherry the Mouse’ – and the portcullis was simulated just deeply enough that there was a gap at the bottom, and he had Sherry the Mouse go under the portcullis, go to the lever, and flip the lever, raising the portcullis. That was a solution to a problem that Richard and I didn’t plan. I fell on the floor […] That kind of thing happened all the time there. Nobody knew what they were doing – we were making stuff up as we went along. Creating genres and advancing the state of the art and role-playing.”

Breath of the Wild’s multiple paths to sold a problem based on all these interconnecting systems is NOT new. The question is why didn’t Nintendo or other companies pick up on this? I suspect I know what, which I will tell the dutiful reader later.

What the reader needs to know is when Ultima 6: the False Profit came out. It was released in 1990.

The reader asks, “But what was gaming like in 1990?”

NES Era. While you were discovering Super Mario Brothers and maybe buying Mega Man 3 when it came out, the experienced gamers were playing Ultima 6. While the game and its interface have definitely aged, it was that far ahead of its time.

The original Zelda was, in part, inspired from Ultima 3. It is curious why Nintendo didn’t seek to be inspired by other Ultimas. (Zelda 2 seems partly inspired by Dragon Quest with its random battles.) But Nintendo was inspired by Elder Scrolls. Elder Scrolls is inspired, and the closest spiritual successor, with Ultima. So Zelda did return to its roots in a roundabout way.




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