Damn Kids! Get Off My Moongate

Grandy reminded us all of how great Ultima IV was a few weeks ago.  Sadly, there was a story today about how young people can't stand the game. A professor has his students play the game as part of a class on the Art & History of Videogames. It doesn't go well.

His students complain about not getting what is going on, and don't read any of the extra materials (is there a chicken & egg thing going on with the current depressing state of game manuals?) I guess they didn't even get to the dungeons that they had to map themselves, or the silly rune language on the map. Man, if they had trouble with this, imagine Wizardry I or even the original Bard's Tale?

Sigh, kids today.

Last 5 posts by Ezra


  1. says

    My son found Ultima III playable enough, but too hard in that he would randomly end up dead from taking on the man-o-wars. I think it's time to skip him to U4, because at least there you are given a restart path when you die.

    Back in my day, we had to stick with the hard game, because it was this or Apple Panic.

  2. Imaginary Lawyer says

    Don't you DARE hate on Wizardry, man.

    But the article is really an attempt by this guy to generate a Kids These Days story. I mean, come on. They can handle text adventures but because his students don't all love Ultima IV, "we've finally reached the point where the gap separating today's generation of gamers from those of us who once drew maps on grid paper is nearly unbridgeable"? Yes, professor, we get that you love the game. That doesn't make it a great game, and it doesn't mean that us oldies would have chosen it over Baldur's Gate or WoW if we'd had the choice.

  3. says

    No Wizardry hate here, I assure you. But I was imagining those poor kids having to map the spinner level on graph paper.

    See, I think games like Ultima and Wizardry are tough for today's gamer not because of manuals, but because of modern journals and auto maps. Ultima has none of those things. You have to write down (or remember) the mantras, the locations of shrines etc. If someone tells you to talk to a certain character, you can't just wander into the city & look for the character with an exclamation point over their head.

    They were harder days, and they were better days. And, in some ways (certainly not graphically, I grant you) Ultima is a better game than Baldur's Gate – especially if you adjust for their relative "wow" factor for their era.

  4. says

    I tried U-IV recently. I got stuck in a spot where I was dying of poison, trying to rest and heal myself, eventually my companion died and a sea serpent would poison me again every time the moongate opened and I tried to get to it. I gave up. I solved that game when I was 16. Once will have to be enough.

  5. Imaginary Lawyer says

    They were harder days, and they were better days.

    You realize you now might as well have CRABBY OLD FOGEY tattooed on your forehead?

    But really, 'today's gamer' had to write things down when playing Planetfall, too, and if you think 'today's gamer' doesn't need graph paper or notes, you haven't played a modern game like Eve Online. His article brushes aside that the dang kids were fine with oldie games – except for this one, which he really likes, and tries to blow up into a "back in my day, we had to carry DICE around! and they were HEAVY!" routine. (Which, in fact, I have actually unleashed on my children, whose gaming books consist of PDFs.)

  6. Fnord says

    Isn't this a good sign for making games into a respectable medium for academic study and high culture? Having masterpieces that can't be appreciated by uneducated laymen?

    More seriously, I'd point to a few things:
    1) "The Art and History of Video Games" may well attract the "easy A" students, while the type of students most likely to be interested in games like Ultima 4.
    2) The (considerable) innovation in Ultima 4 led to a "wow" factor at the time, which will be considerably diminished by players who have played more modern games that include (and indeed improve) many of the mechanics.
    3) If every single student failed to read the auxiliary materials, that's a teaching failure: a professor (especially in a freshman class) needs to adequately explain the context and nature of material studied.

  7. Matt says

    Throw my hat in with Fnord's point number 1. (I agree with 2 and 3 as well, but I think selection bias is definitely the most important factor.) Students who sign up for that class are not going to be a representative sample of modern youth, modern college students, or modern gamers.

    Moreover, the bias seems almost tuned to select the students _least_ likely to be interested enough to understand U4 in its historical context…without which, a modern gamer is left with "ho hum". Even if they know that when U4 came out, nothing like it had ever been done before, growing up around modern games is going to incline them to regard it as purely a historical curiosity…much the same way a modern driver would view a Model T. "Yeah, interesting, I guess…but we have so much better now…"

    And, much as it pains the nostalgia freaks (among whose rank I include myself, by the way), it must be admitted that the only thing about U4 that isn't found in modern, better games, is the philosophical protest by the author against the game writers of his time (including himself). And the reason it's not found in modern games is that the protest _won_, and by winning, made further such protests unnecessary.

  8. says

    Yeah, all the good comments have been made already. Having to map out a dungeon on graph paper is in no way a superior experience to auto-mapping than randomly clicking on pixels is a superior experience to hovering a mouse over a hi-res screen until something highlights.

  9. says

    U4 versus WoW or BG is a false choice. The latter exist in an era where things like quest journals existed, the former predates such things.

    U4 would be a better game with quest journals, no doubt. But it isn't quest journals that separate Bg and U4. And Quest Journals would not rob U4 of it's U4-ness. They would just take notes for people automatically.