i learned quite a bit about the ultima series off of wikipedia. i used to own ultima:exodus and ultima:avatar when i was younger, for the NES, and i played them a little bit. i couldn't beat exodus, the collapsing castle always killed me, and avatar didn't keep my interest in the storyline. mrfun pointed me at an abandonware site and i found ultima 7, and downloaded it along with a newer win32 runtime, exult. i played it for probably 4 hours. i'll probably play it again as research, but its not really my kind of game.
[edit: although A fistful of Ultima 7 makes me wonder if i should go back in and goof around some more [grin]]
looking into my past would reveal that i purchased Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale II. they're the only two "big" pc rpgs i've played. i've done the ____Quests and a few c64 d&d games, so i'm not a complete pc-rpg noob. i do know that they were all massively boring to me. i've tried a fair share of console rpgs and some have hooked me, and some have bored me. most of the rpgs i've played on consoles were from japan. i bring this point up because japanese rpgs are very focused peices of software. game budgets don't rely on GTA freedom to make their sales, so you better have a good idea of what you want the experience to be, or it won't likely be done. its hard to sell freedom.
ultima7 let me do some things i've never been able to do in games. for one, you can't usually touch the environment, much less rearrange (or steal!) it. if there was a potion behind a picture in final fantasy, and you checked, it's supposed to be there for you to find. the problem with the amount of items and freedom to do things with them is that most interactions are purposeless. i can pick up a cup off of a table and put it on the floor, or another table, or a bed, or in my backpack. but what would be the point of that? you can pick up and move chairs if you want. for all the added interactivity with the surroundings, the user really isn't getting alot back from all the extra effort you put in to allow for it.
the other thing i thought was a noteworthy difference was that if you did bad things in front of people, they would eventually call the guards. if you took stuff of theirs, they would holler; if you attacked them, they would holler. i killed a barmaid and equipped her to my left hand, walked out of the tavern and talked to some townsfolk. none of them batted an eyelash. what i'm talking about here is that there are no real consequences to doing bad things. i know that there was the reputation thing in Fable, and i own it but haven't played it alot. it was boring too. but its more than consequences. i was expecting people to treat me different when i just took the scroll sitting in front of them and put it in my bag. i was even allowed to keep the things i stole! they didn't fight to keep it or pester you about it. it was gone and they just gave up on it. i stole some things from a clinic, and guards came to teach me a lesson. i killed them in front of the person than hollered for them and when the battle was done, i talked to him again and his script ran exactly the same as if i hadn't stolen or killed in front of him at all. i was most disappointed about that.
the thing i wanted to do with actionRPG most was to have a few party characters that would actually 'live' to a certain degree. they would interact with you sometimes, change moods, have opinions about your actions, and basically act as something more than just a pet. i'm probably dreaming the same dream many people that write rpgs do. i don't want to have a fully-featured 3d rendering engine and a plot that will beat any FF game (though that wouldn't be too hard nowadays). i want the games i play to last past beating the end boss and watching the final cg movie. i'm not so sure if i want to have a world full of useless cups, but i DO want to have more interaction than i've been getting.