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Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

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Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is the fourth game in the series and the first installment of the "Age of Enlightenment" trilogy. It was published and released in 1985 by Origin for the Apple II, C64, IBM-PC and Atari 8-bit. Ports for the Amiga and Atari ST with some enhanced graphics followed 1988, for the NES and Sega Master System ports were released in 1990. In 2013, the game was made available on the iOS.[1]

Gameplay Edit

The game became much more complex and deep with this installment, compared to Ultima III. The people of Britannia can talk interactively. The puzzles are more complex, and more information has to be gathered to solve the game. Cities, castles and dungeons are much more detailed, as is the wilderness. The number of items to be found has risen, and the total party size is expanded to eight.

The most significant improvement for the game's creator is the plot, where the player has to follow a path of Virtue to win. The killing and thievery of the three earlier games is now strongly discouraged. Instead, the player must prove to be a "good guy." The whole system of virtues in this game changes the RPG experience.

The Story Edit


Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.



With the end of the Triad of Evil and, therefore the Ages of Darkness, a new age has begun for Sosaria, which now is Britannia—the "Age of Enlightenment". In the now united kingdom, the people search for spiritual enlightenment now that they are enjoying an age of prosperity.[2] However, there is one thing still missing: a role-model to be an example of the Eight Virtues. The people need this paragon of virtue called the Avatar.

The player again plays the Stranger, but this time the ultimate goal is not to defeat an evil villain—instead a path of Virtue has to be followed and a virtuous life led. Together with seven companions, the Stranger manages to master all of the eight Virtues by talking to the people, meditating at shrines and setting a good example by living the Virtues. Recovering a number of important artifacts, as well as the Key of Three Parts, the party then descends into the depths of the Abyss, where they ultimately recover the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. The Codex asks a series of questions relating to the Virtues, after which it confirms the Stranger as the Avatar, the hero of Britannia and defender of Virtue.


Spoilers end here.



Development Edit

Part of the reason for the change in direction in the series in this installment were letters from concerned parents and other parties, whom Richard Garriott felt misunderstood the games.[3] Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons was one such organization. This made Garriott consider the impact that the games have on the players, and therefore sought a more edifying theme;[4] therefore, the Virtues.

Differences between platforms Edit

There are quite a number of ports of Ultima IV that are significantly different from each other. The original version was the one for the Apple II, from which all others were ported.

The 8-bit ports for the Apple II, C64 and Atari were similar in terms of graphics and music, and indeed shared much of the program code, as all these systems were based on the MOS 6502 CPU or derivatives thereof. The Atari 8-bit lacked music and had fewer colors, and on PAL Ataris it was black-and-white; the Apple II version offered more voices of music than the C64 version, but a sound card (Mockingboard or compatible) was required for music, as the Apple lacked an on-board sound chip. The C64 version had only black-and-white graphics in the 3D dungeon view.

The 16 bit-ports for the PC, Atari ST and Amiga were quite different. While the overworld graphics looked the same, the introduction sequence and dungeons looked better on the Amiga and Atari ST. Also, the PC lacked the mouse support and musical score of these ports. For more see Computer Ports of Ultima IV.

The NES port has many of the same problems as the port of Ultima III, although the graphics aren't as simplistic. The port for the Sega Master System, on the other hand, is surprisingly accurate and has good graphics and sound, with obvious limitations only on conversations. For both ports see Console Ports of Ultima IV.

Translations Edit

Ultima IV had the dubious honor of being the first Ultima game translated into French, with both manuals and in-game text fully translated. While the translation for the manual was decent (albeit with some obvious mistakes), the in-game translation appears to have been done by people with no understanding of French.

An example of the mistakes in the translation is the translation of the traditional "Board Frigate" message seen when boarding a boat. It was translated as "Tableau Frégate", which translates "Board" as a noun, not a verb.

The French version contains a very severe bug which prevents the use of any item—since items to be used are supposed to typed, and the game recognizes neither the French nor the English spelling. As such, it is extremely difficult to become an 8-part Avatar, since the player can't use the Silver Horn to get to the Shrine of Humility.

Release Edit

Ultima IV was a sensation in 1985. Because of its unique story, it sold very well and inspired many other developers.

The game was included in several compilations:

Included with the game Edit

The release of Ultima IV included these item with the game:

Upgrades Edit

Bug patches Edit

The versions for MOS-6502-based 8-bit systems (Apple II, Commodore, Atari 8-bit) suffer from a bug where the player always gets the same message when meditating in the Shrines, no matter how many cycles they stay. This doesn't make the game unwinnable, but removes some more or less important hints to the player. Patches exist at least for Apple and Commodore.

Upgrade Patch Edit

The fan-made Ultima IV Upgrade Patch for the IBM-PC version lifts the graphics to 256 color VGA, and also adds the missing music, a frame limiter, hotkeys and several other fixes and extras.

xu4Edit

There has also been an fan effort to create a platform-independent port of Ultima IV called xu4. Xu4 is a nearly complete and extremely accurate port of the original Ultima IV. Advantages include greater compatibility with modern operating systems (DOS sound drivers work poorly in Windows) and an array of options to either improve the gaming experience or help retain the original feel. It is also an open source project.

Flash VersionEdit

Ultima 4: Online Flash Version is fan-made, and as of May 2010, it is still under development.

RemakesEdit

There are also a couple of Ultima IV remakes; the most notable ones are two mods for the game Neverwinter Nights. They are Avatarship - Ultima 4 and Ultima IV Reborn.

Bugs, easter eggs and real-life referencesEdit

Trivia Edit

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  • First appearance of Britannia and the Eight Virtues.
  • This is the only Ultima that is now freeware.
  • Richard Garriott himself sees it as the best part of the series, a little before Ultima VII.
  • This is one of the few RPGs where there is no villain to defeat.
  • In early Apple versions, if you answered the final questions in the Abyss incorrectly even once, you are ejected back to the surface.[5]
  • For the first ten thousand moves, only four types of monsters spawn, for the second ten thousand only eight, and after that the game "breaks loose."[6]
  • In the earliest Apple versions, it was impossible to finish the game without attacking a civilian if you started the game as a Ranger, because you needed to talk to the Ankh in Skara Brae and the Ranger that joins the party blocks the way.

References Edit

  1. Download Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar on iOS for Free
  2. The History of Britannia (in-game). Page 20.
  3. Addams, Shay. "More than 'Just Beating Up Monsters'". The Official Book of Ultima. COMPUTE! Publications, Inc.: 1990. Page 35.
  4. Addams, Shay. "The Turning Point". The Official Book of Ultima. COMPUTE! Publications, Inc.: 1990. Page 37-38.
  5. Computer Gaming World 25 (1986): 14
  6. Computer Gaming World 26 (1986): 20

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