Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss is a computer game developed by Blue Sky Productions (later Looking Glass Studios) and published by Origin Systems in March, 1992. It is part of the Ultima series. In 1993, a sequel Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds was released.
The game was born from a concept brought to Origin by Blue Sky of a "simulation style" RPG using advanced 3D engine technology that was later combined with the Ultima gaming universe created by Richard Garriott. It was released before and featured significantly more complex technology and gameplay than the exceedingly popular Wolfenstein 3d by id Software, but had higher system requirements. Id Software programmer John Carmack has himself said that the engine used for Wolfenstein 3D was inspired by a technology demo of the first Ultima Underworld game.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
On the Isle of the Avatar, a colony was built in the Abyss to promote Virtue. But the colony failed and in the end the Abyss became a prison.
The player is cast in the role of the Avatar, the protagonist of the Ultima series. After being drawn back to Britannia by an apparition, the Avatar witnesses the kidnapping of Baron Almric's daughter by the wizard Tyball. The wizard escapes and the Avatar is caught by the baron's guards and taken before him. The Avatar is found guilty of the crime and banished to the Great Stygian Abyss, to either rescue the baron's daughter or perish within. The player has to deal with the survivors of the failed colony and, in the end, discovers a plot to summon a daemon, the Slasher of Veils, into Britannia. In relation to the main Ultima series, the game takes place between Ultima VI and Ultima VII.
Spoilers end here.
Ultima Underworld was originally only called Underworld and had no relations to the Ultima series, which explains the appareance of some rather unusual races in Britannia. The game was later integrated into the Ultima series at the suggestion of Richard Garriott, who was still fondly attached to the idea of 3D dungeons in Ultima games, even though he ended up removing them in Ultima VI.
Differences between platforms
Ultima Underworld was originally exclusively produced for the IBM-PC. A port for the Japanese FM-Towns computer was made, but it is an exact copy of the original.
Several years later there was a Japanese release of the game for the Playstation. Most the storyline is identical between the ports except for a few key differences. The introduction and endgame sequence of the Playstation port consists of a cinematic movie using completely new graphics. The Playstation port uses 3D models for all in-game characters. All menus have been altered in the Playstation version to compensate for the system's lack of keyboard or mouse. Read more here: PSX-Port of Ultima Underworld I.
Ultima Underworld is one of the first games which shipped with part of its documentation translated in foreign markets. However, the game itself and the book Memoirs of Sir Cabirus remained in English in most international edition.The spanish version had the two mannuals translated to spanish .The installation guide had French, Italian ,spanish and German sections. Of note is that the Japanese FM-Towns port and the Taiwanese edition have fully translated manuals.
The remake for the playstation is completely in Japanese.
Despite its technical excellence, and being voted the top role-playing game of 1991 by Computer Gaming World, the game was not a great financial success. Today the game has a cult following among fans of the Ultima series, in some abandonware circles, and by the occasional nostalgic early 1990s gamer. In 1993, Ultima Underworld won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1992.
It was later also released in the Underworld Series.
Ultima Underworld (as well as Ultima I and ten other classic games) was available on the July 2000 issue of PC-Gamer Magazine (CD-ROM edition).
Included with the game
The release of Ultima Underworld included these things with the game:
- The book Memoirs of Sir Cabirus.
- A paper map of the first level of the Abyss.
- Bag with six metallic Rune Stones (which appear in the game).
The Japanese FM-Towns version came with an Ankh Paperknife trinket.
Ultima Underworld inspired the Wolfenstein 3D engine:
- "According to id Software programmer John Carmack, the game's engine was inspired by a technology demo of Looking Glass Studios'/Origin's first-person CRPG, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss from 1991. Carmack claimed he could make a faster renderer. In this he was successful. The Wolfenstein engine lacks many features present in the Underworld engine, such as height changes, sloped floors and lighting, but it runs well on relatively weak hardware."
Ultima Underworld also partially inspired The Elder Scrolls: Arena.
Ultima Underworld has only one upgrade available: A patch to convert the music for General MIDI usage instead of Roland Sound, thus making it much nicer for the ears. Look at it here: MIDI Patch
- For bugs in this game, see Ultima Underworld Bugs.
- For easter eggs and real-life references in this game, see Ultima Underworld Real-life references and easter eggs.
- For nitpicks for this game, see Ultima Underworld Nitpicks.
- For weapon and armor details, see Ultima Underworld Weapons and Armor
- Towards the end of the game you can learn a spell that will destroy all life. If you cast it, all other creatures, items, doors and even stairways are destroyed, leaving only the walls, floors and ceilings.
- Despite the mispronunciation of "Stygian" during the introduction, the correct pronunciation is stij-ee-uhn.
- Ultima World Wide Web Archive
- StygianAbyss.com - UW 1,2, Arx Fatalis and, Dark Messiah information site.
- Through the Looking Glass forums
- Underworld Adventures !DISCONTINUED! A project to recreate Ultima Underworld I on modern operating systems, using the original game files.
- PocketPC Ultima underworld Ultima Underworld for the PocketPC.
- Ultima Aiera Ultima Underworld resources
- Computer Gaming World, Number 100. November 1992. Page 110.