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The Avatar
Game series Ultima
First game Ultima I (as the Stranger), Ultima IV (as the Avatar)
Created by Richard Garriott
Voiced by J.C. Shakespeare (Ultima IX)

The Avatar is the main (player) character in the Ultima series of games. He (or she) is not an embodiment of a god (as in the traditional meaning of the term "avatar"), but of a set of ethic guidelines called the Virtues. In the game, from Ultima 4 onward, the player must balance the Avatar's actions and have him behave according to the Virtues, or have negative consequences result from it.

HistoryEdit

The Avatar was first known as the Stranger (or, more fully, Stranger from another world) in Ultima, when he (or she) defeated Mondain. He returned to bring an end to the revenge of the enchantress Minax, and to dispatch their hellspawn, Exodus. It is widely debated whether or not the Stranger and the Avatar are the same person, as the games themselves are not quite consistent on this issue. Ultima IV says the heroes of the first three games were several different persons, and implies that the party of heroes from Ultima III still lived in Britannia. But later Ultimas (Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle as the most definite example) imply the Stranger and the Avatar are one and the same person.

As far as the gameworld itself is concerned, this could be explained with gradual muddling of history (as Batlin explains in Ultima VII: The Black Gate). The games cover a very long time span, and due to different rate of time in Earth and Britannia, there are intervals of up to multiple centuries between the games.

While the Stranger/Avatar followed the Virtues in later games, in the first three the player is not bound by any moral guidelines, leaving the future Avatar free to steal and murder, with only the authorities to stop him/her.

The fourth time the Stranger returned, his quest took a different task. Instead of defeating an enemy, his goal was to follow the path of the Virtues, and retrieve the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom from the Great Stygian Abyss. In the fifth episode, the Avatar defeated a repressive regime over Britannia, and in the sixth he brought peace between men and gargoyles.

In the seventh, eighth, and ninth episodes, the Avatar battled the Guardian, finally destroying both himself and his foe to rid the world of him.

DialogueEdit

In Ultima I to III, no speech by the Stranger was ever shown. In Ultima IV and onward, the player must choose keywords (in early parts by typing them out, in VII by choosing the keywords from an on-screen list). Thus the other characters discuss things with the Avatar, but apart of the topic, the player never sees what the Avatar actually says. By tradition, the dialogue choices the player knows beforehand are "name", "job" and "bye" (and also rarely "health"). This is also parodied in Ultima VII where an actor playing the Avatar boasts about how he has hundreds of lines to memorize, only to reveal that every line consists of "name", "job" and "bye".

The first time the Avatar actually spoke directly was in Ultima VII, but even in those games, full lines were very rare and only appeared in one or two instances.

Ultima Underworld broke this tradition by being the first Ultima to give the Avatar full dialogue throughout the game;Ultima IX would later follow this tradition, and add digitized speech.

Appearance and customizationEdit

Since the games focus on spiritual growth and hope to teach some good ideas to the players as well, the implied idea behind the Avatar character is to make the in-game character a mirror image of the players themselves (the character in the game, in a way, becoming an "avatar" of the player), but this is not explicitly mentioned.

In all Ultima games (except for Ultima IX), the player is allowed to name the Avatar character how they want. Because the Avatar's dialogue consists of digitized speech, Ultima IX does not allow the character to be named; a fan-made patch for Ultima IX allows the player to name the Avatar, but the spoken dialogue is disabled.

In Ultima IV and V, due to graphical limitations, the player could only choose the gender of the Avatar character, but in most later games (including Ultima VI, Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle and the Ultima Underworld series) several different character portraits with different skin and hair colors are available; however, in Ultima VII: The Black Gate the choice is reduced to gender only - both the female and male portraits have blond hair and fair skin. (If played with Exult with Serpent Isle installed, the Serpent Isle portraits are also available in the Black Gate.) The Avatar sprite is determined by class in early games, and always the same in Ultima V and VI. Ultima VII has two different sprites, one for each gender. In Ultima VIII and IX, there is no choice in gender, portrait or sprite/3D model - the character is male with blond hair.

The Avatar's trademark clothing often includes a chain mail, with a white, red or orange tunic (with a golden Ankh symbol on the chest and back) over it, and a red cape. Typically, he's also shown wielding a sword. His appearance varies from game to game and version to version, but usually follows this schema - and it is, of course, possible to use whatever other clothing, armor and weapons that the game provides.

In Ultima VIII, the Avatar's face is obscured by a large helmet. The appearance of the helmet gave the Avatar the fan nickname of 'Ol' Bucket-Head', since the helmet resembled a tin water-bucket.

Cameos in other gamesEdit

The Avatar is also the last heroic adversary in Dungeon Keeper, also released by EA (though developed by different subsidiary, Bullfrog). He is also humorously shown in the last cutscene, locked in a wall as a knife-throwing target practice. This Avatar has the same appearance as in Ultima VIII.

"Avatar" is one of the titles the main Hero can purchase for himself in Fable, yet another game by Peter Molyneux (one of the creators of Dungeon Keeper). It is, notably, the most expensive title one can purchase in the game.

ReceptionEdit

In the book Religious architecture in videogames: Perspectives from curriculum theory and religious education by Mark Alan Hayse, Ph.D., TRINITY INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, a dissertation is made on how the ethical character building of the Avatar character first seen in Ultima IV, develops in the game morally as what he describes as the same as religious architecture.[1]

Cultural impactEdit

The first use of the word "Avatar" as meaning virtual representation, was in Ultima IV, released in 1985.[2] The character redefined the word.

The Avatar was the second main character in a video game, ever, which could have the gender set to female, and the first which presented a feminine form without doing so in any overly sexual manner. [3]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Mark Alan Hayse, Religious architecture in videogames: Perspectives from curriculum theory and religious education (TRINITY INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, 2009).
  2. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.85.9323&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  3. Gender inclusive game design: expanding the market‎ by Sheri Graner Ray, page 27


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