About games and gaming thereof!

The Ultima IV Manual

As I basically stated in my previous post, I think I’m done with Fallout, for now at least. I really wasn’t expecting the game to be so unforgiving. I mean, people told me it was brutally hard, but I suspected people might have been exaggerating or influenced by nostalgia. As it turns out, no, Fallout really is a brutal game. So brutal that it just comes off as obnoxious.

What surprised me was the number of people who actually supported this decision to quit. I was expecting everyone to say, “No, dude, you’ve got to stick with it just a little bit longer! It’ll get better, I swear!” But instead the resounding opinion was, “Yeah, if the game is this frustrating, it might be best to quit.”

Thanks, guys. I really appreciate your understanding.

Anyway, I want to find another CRPG in the meantime. I have a lot of options available, but I figured I’d try out Ultima IV since it’s free now and it’s considered so hugely groundbreaking and all that.

So I started up the game, I went through lots and lots of text, I went through a pseudo-personality-test, and then I experienced what might be the most horribly unintuitive control scheme and interface I’ve ever seen in a game.

There appears to be no help screen, though if there is it’s not like the game tells you how to find it. All I can do is press buttons and try to figure out what they do. Here’s what I’ve got so far: A = attack, S = search, Q = save and quit.

Christ. Okay, I think I might actually have to read the manual this time around.

Now, I remember reading an Escapist news article about a year ago that talked about how kids are so stupid because they didn’t think it was necessary to read the manual for an old game. Actually, the article wasn’t that insulting toward the youngins, but the comments in the following thread certainly were.

As I’ve said before, I utterly resent the notion that “anybody who doesn’t want to read the manual is an idiot.”  That would be like saying people nowadays are lazy asses because they’d rather drive to work than walk there. Modern technology is better than the technology before it, and you can’t blame people for becoming accustomed to it. Personally, I’m really glad games are accessible enough nowadays that people other than neckbeards can play and enjoy them.

But I figured that if I want to enjoy Ultima IV, I’ll probably have to be a bit less stubborn. So I downloaded the manual off of GOG.com and skimmed through it.

As it turns out, the manual isn’t as long as I thought it would be. It’s only 21 pages long. Granted, each page is absolutely packed with text, but at least it isn’t as long as Fallout’s manual. (124 pages, FYI.) But here’s the punchline: The control scheme is not listed anywhere in the manual. In fact, the manual says nothing about how to play the game.

You see, the manual is titled The History Of Britannia, and it’s essentially a great big brick of flavor text about the history of the world. It’s not actually an instruction manual, despite its Adobe file clearly being named “Ultima_4_manual.pdf.” I suppose explaining the impenetrable control system to the player would have counted as breaking the fourth wall.

I am at a loss for words. This is truly baffling. I understand that technological limitations meant they couldn’t stick a tutorial or a help screen within the game itself. I get that. But what’s the manual’s excuse? Had instructions not been invented yet?

This game was released in 1985; in other words, before we had Gamefaqs. How did anybody learn to play it?


20 responses

  1. First of all, regarding Fallout, I believe that all the Fallout fans were asking you to give ONE more chance to the game, not to drag you all the way to the end. And you give a lot of chances. So, if the game didn’t stick, move along.
    Second, about Ultima IV and its weird manual with no control scheme… you can try the Ultima III manual available at http://www.replacementdocs.com/download.php?view.950. It looks like the first Ultima doesn’t change so much between installments. We can believe that the old Origin Systems aren’t so newbie-friendly…
    By the way, today there are a lot of Gamefaq pages dedicated to Ultima IV (http://www.gamefaqs.com/search/index.html?game=ultima+iv)

    September 9, 2011 at 3:04 PM

  2. A crpg to play, you say? You frequently use GOG.com?

    Arcanum sounds like a great choice, and I’m not just saying that because it’s one of my favourite games ever.

    [/blatant lies]

    September 9, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    • JPH

      I’m not sure if my brother has Arcanum, but he has a whole bunch of other CRPGs in his closet. Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Icewind Dale 2, Planescape: Torment, Morrowind, the list goes on.

      I’ll probably go with one of those if I can’t get to grips with Ultima 4.

      September 9, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      • Eldiran

        Ooh, yeah, those sound like excellent alternatives. Honestly I am surprised you are turning to Ultima IV to avoid frustration… I tried playing it but decided it was a bit too old and obtuse for my tastes. Personally I recommend Baldur’s Gate 2 (skip BG1) or a heavily modded version of Morrowind. I can name the essential mods for you if you want some suggestions.

        Either that, or I’d recommend playing Ultima VII if you haven’t. Now that is a game that is excellent enough to be worth overcoming the obtuseness. Wouldn’t be surprised if we saw it on GOG soon though.

        September 11, 2011 at 1:03 PM

  3. IIRC, Ultima IV game with a reference card for controls. I think I still have the box at home, though, so I’ll double-check for you in a few hours.

    (Bonus about the box? Cloth map included. Feelies!)

    September 9, 2011 at 3:51 PM

    • JPH

      Did every copy of the game come with a cloth map, or was that just a bonus edition type thing? Either way, that’s awesome.

      September 9, 2011 at 4:05 PM

      • Every single one. We didn’t have “special editions” back in the day.

        September 9, 2011 at 4:08 PM

      • Quasimodem

        Apart from cloth maps in each game, every copy of IV also came with a small metal ankh, too. Part V came with a coin with the symbol of the virtues. Part VI came with an ‘Orb of the Moons’ stone. Part VII had a Fellowship medallion. VIII had a pentagram coin. IX had tarot cards. Underworld came with a small bag of runes. I still have all the cloth maps and trinkets.

        February 16, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    • Or I can just google photo evidence that such a thing exists (that’s it in the bottom centre).

      Apparently GOG didn’t include this, and no one on the internet has ever scanned it in full.

      September 9, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      • JPH

        Ah. So that’s GOG’s fault, not the game’s fault. Well that’s a shame, then. I guess that means I might have to use a FAQ.

        September 9, 2011 at 4:23 PM

        • Hey look, I found it.

          September 9, 2011 at 4:30 PM

          • Though that’s the C64 version. You actually use the arrow keys to move on the PC.

            September 9, 2011 at 4:31 PM

          • JPH


            Thanks, man. I owe you one.

            September 9, 2011 at 4:32 PM

          • That’s pretty amazing. Do you think they set out with ‘bind a function to every key on the keyboard’ in mind?

            I like the function ‘Klimb’, but I especially love the volume controls, with a grand total of two different volume settings. Want to turn your music down a little bit? Well nuts to you!

            September 9, 2011 at 6:59 PM

            • JPH

              I suppose making that many key-binds is a good way to guarantee no console ports.

              Don’t want those dirty console peasants ruining things for the glorious PC-gaming master race.

              September 9, 2011 at 7:14 PM

              • JPH

                Er, wait, it turns out Ultima 4 actually did have an NES port. I wonder how that one works…

                September 9, 2011 at 7:15 PM

            • Quasimodem

              I’d love to hear how you propose “turning down your internal PC speaker a little bit”.

              February 16, 2012 at 9:44 AM

  4. Fang

    Oh wow. That’s even… wow. I just tried and that is worse then I thought. Wow.

    September 9, 2011 at 4:12 PM

  5. Ultima IV was groundbreaking for it’s day and I remember putting far too many hours into it, because I was fascinated by the story. I never quite completed it though.

    Scarily enough, my fingers still remember many of the keys …

    October 18, 2011 at 7:18 PM

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