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Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss
GameSpy inducts the Blue Sky classic into its Hall of Fame.
By - Rich "Zdim" Carlson

In 1992 Blue Sky Productions, later to be known as Looking Glass Studios, debuted with one of the most innovative and influential first-person perspective computer role-playing games in the history of the genre. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, set in the universe of Lord British's Ultima series, may have been the first CRPG to actually capture the tense claustrophobic excitement of a grand D&D; styled fantasy dungeon romp. It did so with an attention to details and a level of programming sophistication rarely seen before or since.

With full 360-degree player movement, textured surfaces, and realistic lighting Underworld's non-linear levels were marvels of subterranean creepiness. Underground fantasy terrain had never been experienced like this in a computer game before. Besides the usual maze corridors and rooms, Underworld added features like bridges, waterfalls, rivers, lava pools, sloped floors, and lockable doors (which could also be bashed) that would visibly swing open and shut.

The player character could walk, swim, jump, and with the aid of sorcery, levitate and fly. Items had multiple uses, both mundane and inventive. Undocumented spells could be extrapolated from the runic magic system. Parlay or barter could be initiated with intelligent dungeon dwellers, and an alien language could be interpreted and learned. Underworld also featured musical instruments that could be played; learning its song was actually part of an important sub-quest!

A skill system allowed for character customizability over time. Damaged weapons and armor could be repaired. One could fish in pools and underground rivers for edible fish. One could eat slain vermin, at some risk of ill health. Mushrooms could be picked and eaten, at some risk of a psychedelic experience. Of course, one could always conjure food; a random foodstuff would appear: cheese, bread, turkey drumsticks, and that cob of corn that was barely edible, but what happened when it was put into a torch? Popcorn!

Underworld was an amazing interactive excursion into a darker realm of conflict, survival, and intriguing high adventure. All that had been pioneered in the Underworld games eventually became the technological and philosophical core for subsequent Looking Glass Studios action adventure releases.

"Ultima Underworld went on to sell nearly half a million copies, win all sorts of awards, and become one of the top Origin titles," said Paul Neurath, formerly of Looking Glass Studios. "Furthermore, it established a new genre, combining first-person action with traditional role-playing to deliver an immersive experience. Looking Glass would go on to explore new dimensions of this genre with System Shock and then Thief, but Ultima Underworld will always hold the special distinction of being the first of its kind."

Essential Links Next: Hall of Fame Index...

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