Aug 19 2009
All Ultima games had, until this point, been created by Origin, in-house. This game was actually created by Blue Sky Productions who would later merge with another company to become Looking Glass Technologies. This departure from the norm turned out to be a huge success for Origin and the critical praise they received for Ultima Underworld, while misplaced, was something they did little to redress.
When I first saw Ultima Underworld running, I knew that the Amiga’s days were numbered. Here was a fully textured, 3D game – something the Amiga could never hope to manage. Up until this point, first-person RPGs like Dungeon Master and the Eye of the Beholder series had been largely tile-based – moving the player forward ten feet at a time. It was released a few months before Wolfenstein 3D which was hailed for being ground-breaking and its closest technological rival – Doom would not be released for another 18 months!
Ultima Underworld gave the player unheard of freedom – now the player could look up and down, jump, negotiate chasms and multiple heights and interact with true-3D objects. Even within the confines of the RPG system, they made inroads. Realistic non-player characters, interactive conversations, multi-path problem solutions, a rune-based magic system and a flexible inventory system. Quite a feature list for 1992! The physics system that was imbued into the game allowed the player to pick up 3D objects and throw them, having them bounce off walls and arrows arced through the air. Water was not just an effect, it could be swum in and had current. Icy floors were slippery and doors could be swung open and closed and even bashed through.
Once again taking the role of Avatar, protagonist of most Ultima games, the player must search the Stygian Abyss for Baron Almric’s daughter to refute the kidnapping accusations that have been levelled against you. Apart from the mention of Lord British and the token references to the Ultima universe, both Underworld games had very little to do with the rest of the Ultima series.
Possibly due to the high system specs, possibly because it was so far ahead of its time, sales were average. This was to be a pattern for future Looking Glass games and something that would eventually lead to the company’s demise. Origin brought the franchise back in-house and the trilogy was never completed, though its impact on the gaming industry was enormous.
Ultima Underworld gave us our first look at an immersive 3D first person environment.