The Old Role-Playing Game The Kids Can't Stand

Michael Abbott teaches undergraduates about the history of video games. They must play the old, ugly stuff. Defender? They can deal. Planetfall? It's a struggle. But there's this one game they just can't take.

Ultima IV.

Historic, important, innovative, (no, I've never played it), legendary role-playing game Ultima IV.

He gave them five days to play it. Some of the students' problems:

• When I start a game I like to do it all on my own, but it's been impossible to do so with Ultima. I've asked friends for help, looked up FAQs/walkthroughs, and even searched for Let's Play Ultima 4 on youtube and am still uncertain as to how to get further in this game.

• I tried for awhile without any walkthroughs to get the full gamer experience sort thing and within the hour I gave up because of a combination of bad controls and a hard to get into story for me at least. It reminded me of a bad runescape.

Some of the teacher's woes:

I had supplied them with the Book of Mystic Wisdom and the History of Britannia, both in PDF form, but not a single student bothered to read them. "I thought that was just stuff they put in the box with the game," said one student. "Yes," I replied, "They put it in there because they expected you to read it." "Wow," he responded.

Abbott perseveres. He believes Ultima IV is too important, "too foundational" to remove from his syllabus, but he now also believes that he can't ask his students to "sink or swim".

Cue the stories from all you old gamers about how in your day there were no mini maps, video walkthroughs and floating arrows that pointed toward victory.

Unplayable [The Brainy Gamer][Pic]


    Would have loved to see them attempt Phantasy Star 1 without any sort of maps/faqs/guides.

    No where near the same sense of achievement with modern games compared to the older ones.

    Kids these days! Ultima IV was a pivotal game in the history of games. For once the objective of the game was not to kill everything in sight ... something that was unthinkable in the more simplistic days of Bards Tale and Wizardry. You had to think about what you were to do in the game and you had to read the material that came with the game. You had to play by the 'virtues'. And it set the scene for then set of Ultima games ... which is some of the best RPG games made.

    But in these days of slick interfaces, quests/missions handed to you on a plate and "run and gun" gameplay, U4 must seem like an ancient artifact. Back in my gaming days, it was magical.

    Kid these days ...

      rofl, there you go Stephen, here's your fossil XD

      Took the words right out of my mouth. Kids these days have gone completely soft. I'd like to see how they'd handle the original Legend of Zelda.

        The original Zelda game isn't exactly difficult in terms of gameplay. Unless the person playing it is the "These graphics suck! Why is it in 2D? I can't see the individual leaves on that tree! How do I attack? Why is this guy so slow?" kind.

    One of my favourite gaming memories is playing the zork games. They came with oodles of maps and stories and history of the gameworld. It made the game that much deeper. The only problem is that you need to dedicate non-game time to actually reading them.

    Begin game, dont know how to play, press a key, press next key, remember what each one does.
    Play game :)
    I recall this is what just about every rpg game was like back then and we made our own maps.
    And when bored we hacked out mates save game and set his HP to 1.

      Yep they need a spirit of adventure transplant stat! I'm an old timer in my 30's & I remember that as well as drawing maps, we'd make notes about what we found and we'd discover undocumented key combos.. we felt like explorers, pioneers and trailblazers. Kids today only want to be entertained if they don't have to work for it. Pesky young whippersnappers!

    The roguelike genre would swallow these children whole.

    I think my brother still has his boxed copy of Wizardry somewhere. 3D wireframe graphics. No maps at all let alone minimaps.. All the game maps were hand drawn by my brother and Dad on graph paper hahah..

    How's it any different from giving people a text book to read, then testing them on it? They don't read the book, they fail the test. they don't read the instruction manual, they fail the game. *Shrug*

      It's different because you play games to have fun, not to relive the HSC.

    Ahhh. Good ol' Ultima 4. A true visionary of sandbox gaming - yes I said it - sandbox gaming. Yes you had a quest but you could do each piece in any order you chose. You could collect characters or ignore them. Or you could just kill loads and loads of monsters.

    Played it to death on C64. Though to be honest I preferred death lord.

    Realms of Quest is a recent commercially available Ultima-like for the Vic20. :3

    Remember when manuals where things in every game not just special editions.

    You know with story and information not just X shoots Y jumps. Now play the tutorial stage.

    Take 99% of games today, they don't come with a manual they come with a pamphlet.

    To be honest, sounds a lot like what I hear on a daily basis while studying games at university. Fresh-out-of-high-school 18 year kids grew up with the likes of CoD4 - they're not interested in studying pixelly older games, especially not when they thought studying games would just mean refining their ability to get headshots.

    I played, figured out and beat games when I was younger that I needed a walkthrough for now (Full Throttle for example).
    Not relevant, but thought I'd chuck that in there.

    Nagging my dad for some more graph paper so I could continue to map out the levels in Eye of the Beholder is one of my oldest memories.

    The manual, oh the manual. Lost hours reading that thing, many of which on the toilet :P

    Started my love affair with D&D. (the manual... not the pooping.)

    I played this game almost nonstop for 2 years when I was younger. One of the best games ever written. I can understand the learning curve difficulties though...even just giving a list of commands might help? I know I had the patience to spend hours creating lists of what reagents made what potions by random combination, also I just pushed every key on the keyboard and noted down what it did. But I can see it would seem pretty painful in a modern context.

    The only part of the game I didn't work out at the time was how to access the shrine of Justice (I think it was justice?) But back in those days we had "hacking the game data" which was our version of the internet. I even learnt how to rewrite maps just from the hexadecimal code, and also worked out how to give my characters 100s of thousands of hit points. Great times. :)

    Props to Blake for mentioning it:

    You aint played no "old school" RPG until you spent hours lovingly mapping out a dungeon on graph paper.

    My brain almost exploded the first time I played a game that had automapping!

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