Ultima IV

In the spirit of Blaugust, I'm reflecting on the games that were important to me throughout the years.  One that comes to mind pretty much immediately is Ultima IV.

If I could get a print of this to frame and hang I would!

I was almost 11 when this was released, and at the time I was completely beholden to whatever software my dad was purchasing.  I don't think I'll ever know what made him pick this up--maybe a favorable review in a Apple magazine at the time?  But at some point the game with the fantastical cover above just showed up at the house.

I distinctly remember that we set up our Apple IIc with monochrome monitor in a corner of the basement next to the laundry room door.  Looking back, the monitor itself had a tiny viewport but at the time it seemed amazing.  And so crisp too compared with the Intellivision and TI-994a that were run off our old TV.

It ain't easy bein' green

I don't recall the details of how or when I decided to start playing, but I do distinctly remember creating my first (and only) character named "Gregory".  Since this was before I had gotten into Middle-Earth or cut my fantasy teeth on David Eddings it seemed like a proper fantastical name.  Looking back too, it was pretty ingenious that the character creation was all based off a tarot deck and if you didn't really know the game, you didn't really get how to tweak your character into whatever class you wanted.  Perfect for a kid who would have been overwhelmed by a D&D style character sheet.

So I created Gregory and apparently valuing sacrifice above all else, ending up a tinker outside of Minoc.  And away I went into this amazing world rendered in shades of green.

I was well and truly hooked.  I'm pretty sure that it was the first game that I ever completed.  Being a kid with time on their hands I remember doing everything.  Everyone that could got a magic ax (because you could throw it at a distance it would return).  I cast tremor with abandon.  I delved dungeons with Yup and ZDown.  I hung the cloth map on the wall.    I learned and became proficient at reading and writing runic. I made a necklace out of twine and the novelty ankh included in the box. 

At some point I decided that I needed to take a look at the disk I was using as my save disk in Copy II+ and peek at the raw sector data.

I did a string search for my character's name, and low and behold "Gregory" appeared in the random string of characters on the disk.  Interesting...  Oh, and look, these numbers here look like his stats.  What happens if I set them to FF?  Suddenly all of my characters were maxed and I was crushing everything in site.  If I remember correctly I was also able to max out inventory, so things like reagents were never an issue again.  Nor was gold.

The sector editor as pulled from the manual

Then one fateful day I accidentally had the wrong floppy in the drive and walked around Britannia and had geography data paged in from the disk.  And it put garbage on the screen.  But that garbage on the screen was all sorts of different pieces of terrain and creatures.  Which made me wonder, what happens if I open up my save disc in sector editor again, and look for long sequences of the same number?  Would that correspond to the map of Britannia?

It did.

So, that led me to find a convenient chuck on the map, and dutifully count between 0 and 255 and place them on the map.  I suddenly had a map of every integer to "tile" in the game.  

This led to me completely reworking overland Britannia--not unlike you can do with Minecraft these days.  While my memory is a bit hazy, I remember dutifully constructing long walled passages between the cities so that I could travel without the annoyance of random monsters or waiting on moon gates.  I ran them across the vast ocean too (who was represented by 00 IIRC), so that I could forgo having to keep track of a ship.  I was an 11 year old laying down an interstate in my fantasy world.

Looking back I don't recall ever making it farther than hacking the overland map, since the dungeons were 3D and I don't ever remember trying to rework those.

But that aside, Ultima IV was probably foundational for the individual that I became both personally and professionally.  It really sealed how much I loved video games (RPGs especially).  It showed me that I could use computers to modify someone else's creation and later construct my own.  I'm especially thankful that my parents sacrificed a good chunk of change way back when so that we'd have an investment in new technology and that they encouraged me to enjoy it and harness it.


  1. I read stuff like this and realize how little I did in the world of computers as a kid. Had I actually been interested in hacking my way through games like this, I might actually have gone into game development, maybe!

  2. When I first got out of college I had an interview at Tiburon to work on the Madden NFL games. Touring the office I saw someone play UO and thought what an amazing job! I didn't get it and ended up as a corpo doing enterprise development for years.

    Looking back I'm happy I avoided game development, given how poorly devs are treated and compensated.

    So I wouldn't feel _too_ bad about avoiding game development. I think it looks a lot more glamorous than it actually is.


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