Ultima 8 Was Released 22 Years Ago, Today


Ultima 8: Pagan — the eighth numbered instalment in the Ultima series, and the ninth game in the main series overall — was released on March 15th, 1994.

I suppose, after over two decades, we’ve hit the point where there isn’t much that needs to be said. Ultima 8 was controversial at the time, not just because there was a huge flaming pentagram on the box art, but also because of the numerous changes it brought to the Ultima experience. Gone, for example, was the open world of its immediate predecessors, although its level-based world still offered a fairly high degree of interactivity. The game also introduced a new jumping mechanic, which was buggy at first and eventually had to be toned down quite substantially in a much-welcomed patch.

This is also the game that formally canonized the Avatar as a blond male, a design decision that made perfect sense at a technical level, but which was nevertheless not welcomed by many Ultima fans.

I don’t have any new content lined up to commemorate this anniversary of the game’s release, but there are a number of interesting Ultima 8-related materials already up on the Origin Gallery. For some interesting insights into the game’s development, meanwhile, I can do no better than direct you to this interview the Codex did with Mike McShaffry a couple of years ago.

Oh, and if you haven’t yet played the game, you can grab it for cheap via GOG.

11 Responses

  1. Malketh says:

    I have to day, I would like to see some sort of remake of this. The world of Pagan, and it’s history always intrigued me. But then again I was always drawn to the darker seeming games of the series.

  2. kobrakai says:

    My favourite Ultima. It is one of the few games that you, the Avatar, need help… but you are not welcome to stay, you are alone, you have nowhere to go, there seems to be no safe place, the people live at the mercy of the Titans… that is… you just an ordinary man who is induced to leave your comfort zone and prove yourself worthy to justify your title of Avatar in Pagan too… while… you promote chaos and revolution, which is not necessarily related to good or evil, in the structure of power in that world. It means you save yourself and free the inhabitants of Pagan from the Titans, but, like Stellos once told, “at a great cost” (many people die in the process).

    The manual is excellent! There’s more insight of the plot there than what you actually see in the actual game (thanks to several plot holes).

    The encounter with the Titans never ceases to amaze me. The Avatar, as wise and mighty as the tales of Mordra and Mythran explain, is totally powerless before the Titans. Lithos makes him fall, call him “worm” and make him bow. Wow!

    Definitely agree with Malketh. This game needs a remake… and its potential “remakability” is great, because you don’t have Lord British, Iolo, Shamino and many other © real figures hanging around in Pagan.

  3. Well actually we never saw the Avatar’s face during the game up until the final video sequence. It was Ultima Online and a couple years later Ultima IX who canonized the Avatar as a white blond male even if it was already the case in Savage Empire cutscenes and the U7 sprites.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      What about the inventory screen?

      • Malketh says:

        That’s not entirely true… He was depicted on the box art of The False Prophet, facing towards us for once. I don’t think cover of the Quest of the Avatar counts, but other ingame depictions were almost always (if not always) based on what the player selected during character creation

  4. On all game covers the Avatar was depicted as a male, even if you could play lady. In all games, with the exception of Savage Empire you could choose your character sex and between Ultima VI and Ultima VII part 2 you could also choose a portrait. The Avatar sprite, for the sake of animation simplicity would be set. BTW while the bow cover of Ultima VI depicted a blond male, the ingame sprite was raven-haired.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      Yeah. Still, the image of the blond male Avatar did begin with U6, then was carried on in SE, and then cropped up in U7 when the only character choices were the blond male and a blonde female.

      And then U8, mostly due to technical limitations, made the Avatar only a blond male, and nothing else. That was mostly visible in the inventory paperdoll; the character sprite, meanwhile, was Bucket Head.

      Finally, in U9, we could see the blond male in normal gameplay. But he’d already been well established by then.

      • kobrakai says:

        You have your arguments and they are valid. Only consider that Ultima VIII presented the Bucked Head, which could be whoever you wanted. The paperdoll is just a art and could be replaced by anything they liked. The game depicts a male Avatar, but there’s nothing in the main plot which could be affected by that.

        Ultima IX could just do what Ultima VII part II – Serpent Isle had done: even with the male and female blond Avatar in part I, part II let the played choose sex and race of the Avatar. On the other hand, the whole plot of Ultima IX is related to the relationship between the male Avatar and Raven. You might consider a female Avatar and homosexuality, but that would affect everything in the game (and in a would-be sequel).

        Therefore, the blond male heterosexual Avatar was created in a process since Ultima VI and was estabilished, irreversibly, in Ultima IX.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I still maintain that the establishment of his blond maleness was prior to U9; the absence of plot-critical events that depend on his being male doesn’t change that he was depicted as a he.

        To be fair, I could just as soon have done without the Raven romance, but that’s hardly the defining event by which the Avatar’s depiction as blond and male is made concrete.

      • kobrakai says:

        Agree… that’s not the defining event.

        But that’s not my point. The way of how the Avatar’s appearance was defined was through a process, thus, not a single event. Even the blond persona, to whom Ultima VII clearly refers to, was later redefined in Serpent Isle.

        Ultima VIII, again, returns with the blond person… now a male Avatar. I remember Origin’s devs claiming that a female Avatar was in their plans for Ultima IX. So… the process went on…

        Then, Raven’s romance with the Avatar was not the defining event for the Avatar being depicted as a blond male (that idea was planted in Ultima VI and was nurtured by Ultima VII part I and Ultima VIII). The romance, the Tapestry of Ages and I would add a few cents to Ultima Online estabilished mainly a point-of-no-return. You can hardly think of creating Ultima X ignoring the fact the Avatar is a blond male, due to the importance of that fact to the plot.

        That’s only my view of things… but we know logic is multifaceted.

      • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

        I think after U8, re-introducing a female Avatar would have felt odd. Not that they couldn’t have done it, but…because U8 was operating under technical constraints that limited it to the male Avatar, going back to having a female option would have at least seemed out of place, however welcome it might have been.