I am now 35 years old, and this damned curse still follows me!
It all started when I first started playing the Ultima games, started with Ultima IV, Quest of the Avatar in the mid 1980’s. At first, I saw my older brother playing the game and only knew that if you kept fighting the bad guys, you will increase in level and get stronger. So I made a deal with my brother: while he was out I would just fight “bridge trolls” over and over again so he would advance in level.
Of course, the tedium of that caught up with me after a while and I got the urge to play the game myself from the start. Having already gotten the gist of the game, my original intentions were just to have fun and play the game as a villain who just killed everyone in his path. So, I named my original character “Destroyer.” This must have angered the gods, because little did I know a curse had been laid upon me! Ignorance is bliss, however.
My good nature doesn’t really allow me to be evil even in digital form, so my original plan went by the wayside and I almost immediately started taking the game very seriously. I spent hours, days, weeks, playing the game. I got so addicted to it that it was pretty much all I thought about (this game addiction still is present with me today). I remember looking at pamphlets of what games were out for the Commodore 64 at that time and seeing U4 in there; I would read and re-read the description, stare at the cover art (tsk, tsk, I had gotten a copy of the game and never owned the original until much later). I clearly remember seeing it described as having about 80 hours of gameplay. I would always think to myself, “I’ve been playing more than that, I must be getting close to the end!” I was very excited.
Anyone who has played Ultima 4 knows that it was quite a large and long game. And me, being the little obsessed child that I was, was eagerly awaiting the triumphant climax of this grand yarn I was in the middle of.
I had gotten to the last dungeon in the game. At the very end, there is a riddle to solve. Well, my young mind couldn’t tackle the mental task put before me, and every answer I tried was incorrect. This left me sour, as the thought of starting over was daunting. You see, as much fun as I had playing the game and even though I loved it wholeheartedly, the idea of starting over and going through all this again just seemed like… work. Not fun, but long, tedious work. So, I put the game aside.
But oh was I excited when the next installment came out! We had gotten a legit copy of Ultima 5, with the clue book and everything! It looked fantastic, and I dove right in. Just like in U4, U5 was a very long, expansive game. It took next to forever for me to be on the precipice of completing it.
During that time, the group of us that were into computer games would often trade with one another, or lend games so that copies could be made, etc. We didn’t know that what we were doing was wrong, all we knew is that “Pio has a copy of XYZ, I want one too!” So many floppy disks were passed around back then. Many a hole was punched out to magically turn a single-sided disk into a double-sided disk.
Anyway, even though I can’t remember the exact circumstances, I had loaned out my U5 disks to a friend of mine. I figured that he would know that he shouldn’t mess with my game, especially given how nice I was to lend the disks to him in the first place. All I really do remember clearly is getting the disks back, and being extremely excited to load up my saved game to finish the final levels of the game. Oh, the confusion as I loaded the game to find not my beloved “Destroyer” in there, but some other name that I didn’t recognize. It didn’t dawn on me right away that all my progress, all my hard work, was totally deleted. I thought I could find some secret place where my precious game was still saved. Alas, that wasn’t the case.
When I confronted my friend about it in the school the next day, I was so mad at him that I started calling him names. He should have known better! He knew how into the Ultima games I was! How could he be so careless?! And the worst thing of all: he didn’t even like the game! He said he played for about 5 minutes and never loaded the game again!
This was a travesty of epic proportions in my young life. Just like before in U4, I couldn’t fathom doing all that work again to get to the end of U5. It was at this time that I started recognizing I had a curse when it came to the Ultima games, but I shrugged it off, thinking it was an overactive imagination.
No, it wasn’t. My curse followed me to Ultima 6 as well. First, it killed me that U6 was released for other computer systems before my trusty C64. I remember looking at ads in the paper where they would say what new games were out, and it seemed an eternity before U6 was available for the C64. Well, as it turned out, I wish it would have taken slightly longer because there was a bug in the game that impeded further progress. So, yet again, I was stuck in an abyss. It was only when I upgraded to the Commodore Amiga that I could play the game through to the end.
But I still loved the Ultima games so much that eventually bought a combo pack of the first three Ultima games. (I still have the box for that on a shelf in my room.)
Ultima I: I think this was a curse-free game. I can’t remember anything bad happening with this game. The gods were merciful!
Ultima 2: Not so much a curse, but it felt like it at the time. Anyone who remembers U2 knows that the game was a bit of a pain to play. There were parts of the game that you just couldn’t do anything unless you had a ship. Well, ships appeared at random and often were not there for you. I remember a day when it had snowed pretty heavily the night before, and I was going to to play and help shovel. I knew I would be gone for a few hours, so loaded U2 and kept “jumping” (it was a way to pass time in the game without losing food), figuring that in all that time a ship would have had to appear. I remember putting a marble on the ‘j’ key, and the game box on top to weigh it down. Hours passed… who knows how many “jumps” were done, but there was no damn ship! Argh! I guess it all worked out somehow, but that was extremely annoying.
Ultima 3: Ah, good to know the curse was still in effect. Towards the end of the game you had to meet a “Time Lord” who would give you crucial information. All I knew was the Time Lord was at the bottom of a dungeon. But I couldn’t find him. I actually started the painstaking task of making maps as I walked through the dungeons, square-by-square, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. But nope. Every square inch was covered. I guess that Time Lord was on vacation at the time, because I damn-well was sure he wasn’t sitting at the bottom of any of these dungeons! Yet another Ultima where I had gotten so close only to have the door slammed in my face.
Ultima 9: fast-forwarding here, I think it’s fair to say that everyone was cursed with this final installment. It was so buggy that I think everyone who tried it thought they were cursed.
Ultima 8: I can’t really think of any curses here either. I remember there were parts where I was extremely lost, but that was due to game design rather than a curse. I think.
Ultima 7, part 2: This is the last game I played in the series, and only recently too. For some reason, I had never played either part of Ultima 7 when they came out. I think it was because they didn’t port the game to the Amiga. It was at this time that “IBM-compatible” computers were all the rage, and our beloved Commodore’s started collecting dust on the shelves of computer stores everywhere. But, after many years I finally decided to finish out the series I loved so much as a kid. I played U7 and had gotten through it relatively unscathed, but not part II: Serpent’s Isle.
Once again, I had gotten almost to the end. There was an important item you needed to get to a necessary part of the game, but the way U7 handled items was a bit cumbersome. You would have 100 things in your backpack and sometimes finding what you needed wasn’t easy. So, I eventually threw a lot of items out for the sake of cleanliness. The items weren’t important, by any means. At least that’s what I thought. That harmless flute was just taking up space anyway, right?
Ah, well. When the time came where the flute was said to have magical properties, I did a Homer Simpson “d’oh” and started a brand new mini-game inside of the U7:2 called “find the missing flute.” I had no recollection of where I put the thing, just like most people wouldn’t know exactly where they dumped a piece of trash. I eventually gave up the hunt, and still to this day, on some remote patch of dirt in Britannia, there lays a magical flute. It’s magical properties? To curse me! I have still not completed Ultima 7, part 2: Serpent’s Isle. Once again, the idea of starting over proved too daunting. I know that eventually I will play it again, to finish the series I love so much despite this curse following me around for two and a half decades now.