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EA and the Ultima IV Crackdown

If you’ve been on any gaming news site this week you’ve probably seen a story about EA cracking down on people hosting free downloads of one of the all-time greats, Ultima IV. Combine this with long-running rumors about a mystery project at Mythic that may or may not be Ultima-related and speculation about an Ultima IV remake is running high. Although personally I’d like nothing more than a quality re-do of one of my favorite games, I remain firmly in the wait and see camp. What upsets a lot of people, though, is the notion of EA issuing mass take downs on ancient game code that interests relatively few people. The corporate monster, fresh off banning users from playing their games for being jerks on official forums, is at it again, right? But before you run off and send some hate EA’s way -it is, after all, a national past time- make sure to stop on by one of the better remaining Ultima pages, Ultima Aiera, for a few corrections and clarifications at the core of this story.

If you don’t want to make the jump (over to Aiera), here’s the most important take home: EA has not issued takedown notices to every site featuring an Ultima IV download. Sites (two of them) that long ago obtained official permission to host that version of the game (which came from a PC Games/Computer Gaming World pack-in CD from way back) still have those downloads available. It’s anyone who came in after and just decided to throw it up there that received the take down notices; at least, according to Aiera. (I’m not interested in fact-checking the assertions, but there’s no reason to doubt them.) Whether EA’s action is necessary or not (I’d lean towards not), there’s not really a villain here, so good news! We can all move on to the next outrage. How about this: The family house cat: Friend or foe?

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EDIT: One group not mentioned in my post are the Ultima IV remakes, of which two Flash-based efforts (that I presume re-use copyrighted code) received takedown notices. Situation sucks considerably more for them and I do think EA’s action here is unnecessary and counterproductive. But whatever. It’s not like EA has been a friend to Joe Gamer lately. It’s just par for the course.

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at

8 thoughts to “EA and the Ultima IV Crackdown”

  1. Gonna sound like a total muppet, but….

    What is Ultima exactly? Is it just a top down RPG or what? Is 4 the latest one, or just the one people class as the best?

    I assume I should play it, but I don’t think I’d have the time or patients for one of the old-school, billion hour long rpgs.

  2. Kids these days!

    Ultima IV is regarded as a classic mostly because it’s not a quest to defeat a great evil, but to become a better person. It’s the thematic heart of the series, and absolutely worth playing. Just get yourself into an archaeology mindset first

    I played it on the Sega Master System of all things when I was a young lad, a cherished gaming memory.

  3. Cool. I might give it a shot. I only got into gameing at the Mega Drive, and didn’t have a pc game until well after 95, so I missed out on a lot of this great stuff.

  4. Ultima 4 cannot be returned to. The rapturous joy I felt as I discovered a new town amidst the hostile landscape, or a town hidden in sea caves or on islands, or suddenly stumbled upon a dungeon in the mountains, or happened to find a warpgate amidst a pitch-black forest, or harvested special spell reagents at exactly midnight, or discovered a NPC in a otherwise hidden spot in a town, or found a rune in a well-hidden place, or first noticing that certain types of walls can be walked through, or wasting spell reagents until I finally discovered how to make the most powerful spells, or learning what was necessary to complete my 8 virtues, or discovering what the great mystery was behind the 8 shrines, or the answer to the codex questions, and how the virtues combine…(big breath) is simply inacessible now. It’s opaque to a player of modern games, because you have to use your imagination to enjoy it. This was the adventure of a lifetime for a 12 year old. It’s nothing, now.

    And to think this thing will be remade, by a group like EA? It doesn’t make me sad, it actually makes me think that they’re wasting their time. It would have to be miraculously jazzed up to work in this time period.

    If Bioware/Whatever have noticed the nice things that people have said about it, and have started a remake as nice as Fallout 3 (same exploration and discovery mechanics) then it might be the best game they’ve ever made.

  5. Expect a tough go if you give it a shot. No mouse and a ton of keys to remember keep this from being something you can just leap into. And, well, the graphics up top are as good as it gets. It was a marvelous game with ideas no one had tried at the time but keep those expectations measured.

    Words you will type a lot: name, job, health.

  6. In a lot of respects I agree with you. Even if there is a remake it will never live up to memory. That said, I love the prospect of making a new memory, if not for me then for everyone who missed out. Even were it to capture just half the magic of the original It would be something to see my kids get the chance to play a modern iteration. I’m not exactly holding my breath though. EA could be working on anything right now.

  7. The Ultima series should be thought of as a very early version of the birds-eye JRPG, except the entire overworld is accessible immediately. Dragon Warrior/Final Fantasy were like the mobile-phone versions of ultima 1-4: more accessible, and grindier.

    DW/FF used the ‘things get progressively harder’ mechanic, while Ultimas were more like Oblivion: you don’t really get stronger, but you gain more options and knowledge of the world.

  8. I never played any of the Ultima games. They were before my time. But it fascinates me when people talk about them. This whole aspect of wonder and exploration and then having to use your own imagination because of the limitations of graphics in the day. As people have already pointed out the Bethesda games seem to be doing some of that still, but I can’t think of anyone else doing it.
    It’s this sense that you can walk into any direction and find something that tells you a little story. Even an empty building in Fallout 3 tells you that something happened there. Sometimes there is a little note, sometimes its just an arrangement of object.
    It also surprises me how few people know about Ultima, and its influence on the art.

    Now, about the article: I absolutely feel the same way. Just yesterday, I’ve been talking to a friend about a similar matter in GTA4 and how we felt that there was a huge disconnect between the gameplay and what you see in the cutscenes. He tried to Role Play Nico in the game, and so tried to not kill innocents and run over pedestrians with his car.
    I then gave the example of JRPGs that have these amazing cutscenes and in the next moment you are dropped into an abstract turn-based battle.
    There is little relationship between the story and the gameplay in those cases.
    In Bioware games, in doesn’t help that they choose do go with small compartmentalised levels. So you have to keep telling yourself that, while this town has only about 10 NPCs just standing around in a tiny area, it’s meant to represent a city with a couple thousand inhabitants.
    Bethesda does a better job of giving a sense of place. Gothic 1 and 2 were also great in that respect.
    It’s just that Bioware has much better writers…

    Now I feel like playing a good immersive RPG.

    EDIT: For some reason my mind got mixed up. The 2nd part is really a response to the previous article about Dragon Age >.>

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