Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness is the first official game in the series (Akalabeth is the "unofficial" start). It was published for the Apple II by California Pacific Computer Co. on June, 1981, simply under the name "Ultima" (before it was known that there would be more than one installment). Ultima inspired many other RPGs of the early to mid-eighties, laying the foundation for a whole genre.
At a time where the age of computer games was just beginning, Ultima I was something very new and for its time showed much detail. While complex for its time, it lacked practically all features of later installments, making it a simple hack-n-slash game.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
The wizard Mondain, after his first defeat in Akalabeth, attacks Sosaria again with his hordes of evil and foul magic, threatening to crush the world beneath his heel. The Player, in the role of the Stranger, travels to Sosaria for the very first time, to stop Mondain's plans from succeeding. However, Mondain has become immortal thanks to a magic gem, and his fortress is unreachable, making the mission difficult.
The Stranger must fulfill several quests for the various kings of the land, in order to obtain four different colored gems, before venturing into outer space to battle malicious "starwalking" creatures. After this is done, a freed princess reveals the location of a hidden time machine, with which Mondain's fortress can be breached. Confronting Mondain, the Stranger shatters the Gem of Immortality so that Mondain can be defeated, and Sosaria free of his evil. Thus, Sosaria is finally safe from the evil wizard.
Spoilers end here.
Unlike Akalabeth, Ultima I was from the start a commercial product. The original version was an actual two-man production: only Richard Garriott and Ken W. Arnold were part of its development.
The game was re-released on December 23rd, 1986 by Origin on a number of other platforms, including Apple II, IBM-PC and C64. This version has extras the original was missing. Details were changed and the whole game got a face-lift to make it more appealing to the players of the mid-eighties.
Differences between platforms
There aren't any differences between the C64 and IBM-PC versions of the 1986 re-release, apart from the graphical superiority of the PC-port (by the standards of the time). Other than that, the two ports are totally equivalent.
An enhanced Apple IIgs port was made, but is an extremely rare find. Versions for other systems do exist, including versions for Atari 8-Bit, FM Towns, and MSX2.
For more details, see Computer Ports of Ultima I.
The original was quite a success in its time, when computer games were something completely new, and started the Ultima series. Reviewers at the time were impressed by its colour graphics and detailed gameplay. It sold 50,000 copies. For a time where computers where only seen as tools for the workplace, this is an amazing feat. The re-release of 1986 sold better, with the series already established and well-known.
The game was later included in several compilations:
Included with the game
The original release of Ultima I from California Pacific included the following:
- The book Playbook.
The 1986 re-release, together with the game, contained the following things:
- The book The First Age of Darkness and a Player Reference Card.
- A cloth bag containing five Coins of the Kingdom (1 gold, 3 silver, 1 copper).
- Paper maps of the four continents of Sosaria.
- For bugs in this game, see Ultima I Bugs.
- For easter eggs and real-life references in this game, see Ultima I Real-life references and easter eggs.
- For nitpicks for this game, see Ultima I Nitpicks.
- For a map viewer, see Ultimatrix.
- For a saved game editor, see Ultima Saved Game Editor.
- Early on, the title "Ultimatum" was chosen, but the name was trademarked by a board game already, so the publisher suggested truncating it to "Ultima."
- While the cover of the re-release is the same as the original, the name was changed to "Ultima I", to reflect that it is the beginning of the series.
- This is the first commercial game to use tile graphics to display the surroundings.
- When the game was remade, Garriott changed the monster "Balrogs" to "Balrons". It is not known if this was because of possible legal trouble with the copyright owners of Lord of the Rings.
- Ultima I (as well as Ultima Underworld and ten other classic games) is available on the July 2000 issue of PC-Gamer Magazine (CD-ROM edition).
- Softline, Volume 1.1, September 1981. Page 18.