Following Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, in 1991 Origin Systems released Martian Dreams, the second and final game in its Worlds of Ultima spin-off series. The Worlds of Ultima games are RPGs built on the Ultima VI game engine and designed to feature the Avatar's journeys into times, places, and genres far afield from the fantasy realm of Britannia.
In 1893, at The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the greatest minds and most renowned luminaries of the Victorian age have gathered to inspect the world's first spacecraft -- a space bullet constructed by astronomer Percival Lowell. An unseen saboteur ignites the Phlogistonite explosion that sends the space bullet hurtling towards Mars, with everyone on board.
In the late 20th century, the Avatar and his friend Dr. Johann Spector have recently returned home after their adventure in the Savage Empire. They are summoned by a mysterious woman who gives them a parcel containing instructions to use the Orb of the Moons (the Britannian artifact used to open moongates) to open a portal through time. Arriving in 1895, the Avatar and Dr. Spector are greeted by Nikola Tesla, who has built his own space cannon and enlists their aid in a rescue mission to the red planet.
After a journey through space, the Avatar and his companions arrive on Mars and begin the search for survivors of the first "expedition." Soon they find that the Victorian-era humans have not only survived, but have discovered and inhabited the ruins of a lost Martian civilization. To find a way home, the Avatar will have to restore the Martian global electrical system, re-fill the canals of Mars, and resurrect a Martian in an android -- or more accurately, gynoid -- body.
Complications arise with the discovery of Dream Machines, devices used by the Martians to enter a shared dream world where the rules of reality are malleable. A group of Martians whose minds were preserved in the dream world take over the bodies of several humans, and trap the humans' minds in prisons created from their own aspirations and nightmares. The Avatar must enter the dreams of historical figures such as George Washington Carver and Nikolai Lenin to rescue them and reunite them with their bodies.
The Avatar is joined on his journey by several characters.
- Nellie Bly is the fearless female journalist who joins the Avatar from the start of the journey. She is the only historical figure in the Avatar's party.
- Dr. Johann Spector is an archaeologist and the Avatar's friend from the present day. He appears in both Worlds of Ultima games and is clearly based on Warren Spector, the game's producer.
- Lieutenant Dibbs is a British royal guard from the 1893 expedition who will join the party and explain the basics of life on Mars.
- Richard Sherman is an explorer and an incarnation of Shamino, one of the Avatar's longtime allies in Britannia. Alternate versions of Iolo and Dupre also appear but do not join the party.
- Chesheket is an ancient Martian whose mind survived in a Dream Machine. She eventually joins the party after inhabiting a mechanical body.
Luminaries of the Victorian Era
The historical figures in the game each play a role in the adventure that fits their area of expertise. Examples include:
- Sigmund Freud provides insights into the nature of the Dream Machines. His psychoanalysis replaces the role of the fortune teller during the character creation sequence.
- George Washington Carver unravels the mysteries of the Martians' plant-based biology.
- Marie Curie provides radium that powers Martian ray guns.
- Andrew Carnegie forges the steel to build a new space cannon.
- Nikola Tesla helps to activate the network of electricity-transmitting towers.
- Robert Peary's expedition discovers lens towers built around the planet's polar ice caps.
- Louis Comfort Tiffany repairs the ruby lenses needed to melt the ice caps.
- Theodore Roosevelt uses his police expertise to track down the space cannon's saboteur.
The 19th century Mars depicted in Martian Dreams is inspired by the works of Jules Verne and the theories of Percival Lowell. Here, Mars is a dying planet with thinning air, yet it can still support human life. Human respiration is aided by chewing on an oxygen-rich mineral called oxium. Although the civilization of the Martians is long dead, some plant-based creatures roam the surface, and hideous worms and mollusk-like monsters live underground. Reactivated Martian robots also pose a threat. The planet is mostly desert, but a few plants remain, including berries that can temporarily induce psychic powers when eaten.
The in-game map is roughly based on the actual geography of Mars, with major Martian settlements at locations like Olympus Mons, Elysium Planitia, and Argyre Planitia.
Beginning in 2012, GOG.com began distributing Martian Dreams and its predecessor The Savage Empire as free downloads.