Where do you start with the most important computer RPG? With Colossal Cave, Zork and the original text adventures? With Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest in Japan? With Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder and the games that bought the genre to the masses? Or with Ultima, the game that set down many of the core concepts of the computer RPG, and spawned a series that would in turn inspire today's narrative-based RPGs, first-person RPGs and MMOs?
That's why we've plumped for Ultima. Richard Garriott's defining RPG began the process that turned simple dungeon crawls into epic adventures with strong storylines, rich character interaction and huge lands to explore. Ultima didn't just bring us a series of caverns and castles in which you could battle trolls and goblins without the aid of a trusty D20. It bought us a vaguely realised world, complete with the concept of the Avatar (here called the stranger) plus characters like Iolo, Shamino and Lord British who would run throughout the whole series.
Ultima's story is basic, but it is there, and its mixing of exploration on an overworld map with dungeon delving once you found key locations would influence not just other US RPGs, but the Japanese RPGs from Square and Enix.
Despite competition from the various Wizardry, Official Dungeons and Dragons and Might and Magic lines, the Ultima series went on to dominate the Western RPG genre during the eighties and nineties, throwing out genre-defining classics like Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Ultima Underworld and Ultima Online. All are fondly remembered by long-time RPG fans today.
Mention: Ultima Underworld - without it we'd have no Elder Scrolls: Arena or System Shock, and thus no Oblivion or Bioshock.
Don't mention: Ultima IX - one of the most anti-climactic finales to any long-running games series, ever.