Name: Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss
Developed By: Looking Glass Studios and Origin Systems
Published By: Origin Systems
Year: 1990

Description: One of the very first first-person games available, and the very first first-person RPG available. Ultima Underworld details a sort of "side story" in the history of the Avatar that occurs between Ultima VI and Ultima VII. The Avatar arrives in Britannia just in time to be accused of kidnapping a Baron's daughter and is unjustly thrown into the Stygian Abyss, the largest and most complex dungeon in Britannia. There the Avatar discovers a much deeper plot and must eventually confront a great demon known as Slasher of Veils.

Notables: As noted above, this was the first real-time first-person RPG available. It's also notable that you could jump and look up and down in this game, long before such advances became available in first-person shooters. The magic system was simple (much simpler than in other Ultimas), and the dungeon design quite complex (perhaps a little too much so in some cases). A superb automapping feature was also included.

My Opinion: A great RPG. It looks a bit primitive today, but still provides many fun hours of play.

Notes: This game is still available from Electronic Arts.

Encyclopaedia of Computer And Video Games


Ultima Underworld was not the first first person RPG/Action RPG available. What it was, as far as I know, was the first first person game (of any sort) that allowed free-form, instead of tile-based exploration, e.g. the dungeons of Ultima I, or Dungeon Master. Wolfenstein 3D, the second free-form first-person game, came out a few months later. Also, at the time of development, Looking Glass Studios was known as Blue Sky Productions.

Additional Information:

A sequel, Ultima Underworld 2 was released a few years later. Although a fine game in its own right, most people seem to prefer the original.

Salient Game systems :

  • A roll-your-own spell system based on runes. Each rune had a meaning, such as big("vas", in the game), negation("an"), or life("mani"), and by combining them into a "sentence" you could form a spell, such as "big heal"(vas mani), or "great death" (vas an mani). Most spells were documented in the instructions, but some were only discovered by logical experimentation. Players found the runes throughout the course of the game, increasing their spell "vocabulary" as they went.
  • An automapping system that has never been even equaled in any game I have since played (excluding the one sequel). The automap was not only accurate, but provided the capability to add notes to the map to indicate important locations. It also looked so nice it was always a goal of mine to fill it in completely.
  • Fairly detailed conversation trees with choices that affected how NPCs perceived your character.
  • A respectable attempt at realistic physics. Thrown objects would fly through the air and then slide a bit along the ground, and a superball was even included that bounced quite nicely.
  • A large persistent world. From anywhere in the game you could go back to any other location, and all game state was saved.

New Information:

A version for the Pocket PC is currently being developed by ZioSoft. No release date was available at their website as of late April, 2002.

A French developer, Arkane Studios, is developing a spiritual successor to the games in the form of Arx Fatalis. A demo for the game is already available, but the game has not yet been released. The game will be published by Fishtank Interactive.

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