Ophidian Dragon blogs his way through the entire Ultima series, from beginning to end.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ultima thoughts, comments, play style, etc.

First, thanks to these guys for advertising my blog. I am told they insult me in their description, but I generally assume anyone talking about me in French is insulting me :-)

Next...I'm certainly not suffering for lack of comments, and there are some I would like to address!

I'm a big fan of the Ultima remakes, but I'm not so much a big fan of playing them. For me, a big part of the thrill of playing these games is that I am not only transported into a fictional world, but I am also transported to the time and context of the games when they were made, so the primitive graphics, the technical peculiarities and so on add to that. I feel the same about most of the more "true to the original" remakes, including the 1986 remake of Ultima I and Exult, which are the same game but with bugs fixed and added helpful features. I will probably give Lazarus a try sometime--but remember, my computer is about 7 years old now! Another reason to stick to ancient games...

Sadly, it seems the old California Pacific Computer telephone number has been disconnected! I am assuming they went out of business along with lots of other game companies sometime around 1982, right? In 1982, I was a few months old.

NES Versions:
I think the NES versions of the games are a bit underrated. Ultima III is very close to the original game, with a few new items added. In fact, I'd say they are added reasonably, to prevent you from accidentally finding the mystic arms and armor early in the game! Ultima IV was also quite fun, as I recall, on the NES. My first Ultima experiences were those two games; or rather, my first Ultima experience was watching my brother play those games for hours on end. I am less familiar with the other ports, although I understand the Sega Master System version of Ultima IV is excellent.
I tried briefly to play some of the C64 ports of the games, but the music sounds IMO far worse than the Apple II music, when it's there (this might be an emulator issue) and how can you get used to the wacky key mappings and lack of arrow keys!? Aye carumba.

I agree, it wold be useful to have each game's posts in one place, but it's hard to do. Perhaps I will simply adda link to the first post for each game in the links section on the right of the screen.

Ultima V:
Paulon's comment that LB's prison was probably meant for someone else strikes me as reasonable; I had interpreted Lord British's statement to mean, "the magic the Shadowlords used was older than Mondain," rather than the room itself. It does bring to mind the mirror-bound Arcadian in the Forge of Virtue, however! I have no idea if Garriott intended me to think too hard about this, but I think it's a sign of quality art that players are able to make these associations.

Someone also mentioned not following the main quest in Ultima V, and spending time exploring and interacting with every object. I did some of this, but found that many objects were just decor. It was fun to smash mirrors and push chairs around, though. The lack of an explicit "Use" command probably limited the interactivity of the enviroment. I'm also not quite convinced concerning the benefits of multiple party members, but it seems to have worked well for others!

Ultima VI:
I won't be transferring my character to Ultima VI, because it seems more "fun" to start over from scratch like a new player, and be forced to deal with the early stages in the normal way. Ultima VI can probably be finished in an hour if you skip all the mysteries and just aim for the main plot, since a big portion of it is talking to the right people, and the game gives you freedom of movement. Which brings me to my next comment...

General Play Style:
I suppose it could be argued that I rush through the games, but I don't think so. To some extent, already knowing the plots means I blast through quests that might otherwise be hard, but in general I try to let the game inspire me. I didn't get the Chaos Sword, because the plethora of magically locked doors in Blackthorn's Castle annoyed me, since they re-lock if you enter and then leave combat. However, I do have a complete set of hand-drawn underworld maps now! I also did not spend as much time as others might in dungeons, for the simple reason that the treasure was basically randomized, even though it is more interesting than just gold--In Ultima VI and Ultima VII, I feel very excited about dungeons because I can find unique and interesting items, but I didn't feel that way in Ultima V. You'll note I didn't just use spells to get through the dungeons as I did in III and IV, where there really was almost nothing to see or do.

Anyway, if you're curious what inspires me and what drives me to make the choices I do when playing the games, it's this:
1) Exploration--It's fun to find unique places and interesting people
2) Interaction--I like manipulating the enviroment and talking to characters
3) Atmosphere--Each stage of a game has a distinctive atmosphere, and I like to get a taste of all of them...even if some might be "die a whole lot."
4) Story--I like the way the story unfolds, especially with respect to details I had forgotten (eg, Captain Johne)

Here's some of the things that serve as a disincentive to playing a game:

1) Strategic combat--I find this tedious beyond belief, unless there's something really unique. The final battles in Doom were fairly fun (maybe one room too many), as were the floors in Exodus, and the famous battle-yourself instance in Ultima IV. However, most other encounters are simply tiresome.

2) Annoying technical defects--This includes limitations on saving your game, various program bugs, and other miscellaneous technical shortcomings that make doing certain things hard. Not being able to save in dungeons in Exodus made delving in them a lot less appealing, for example. Same for the magic-door-relocking issue in U5--some technical limitation makes things frustrating, and so I avoid them. Also, the fact that you only get one save game makes going back to explore less appealing (I'd have to do so using my backups).

In Ultima VI, you'll see some of #2 with respect to the "chunk" system the game uses for the game world. Certain areas are repeated ad nauseum; I am thinking specifically of this chunk with a swamp between several tiles of mountains. The repetition makes mapping and exploring a bit more annoying.

Now I should probably go to sleep...I had a late night yesterday ;-)


Jérémie said...

The CanardPC news doesn't really insult you; they have their own style, all in 2nd (or 3rd, 4th) degree which is very hard to translate. It's along the "get a life" theme, which can be understood from an external point of view :)

Even if your blog is my Proust's Madeleine relating to video game.

Anonymous said...

If you're looking to replay Ultima IV, check out http://xu4.sourceforge.net. It's a remake that's faithful to the original with small enhancements, like being able to mix multiple sets of reagents for a spell at once, rather than hitting m,c,b,c 99 times in a row.

Also, check out http://exult.sourceforge.net when you get to Ultima VII.

StyxBoatman said...

Found your web blog thanks to Joystiq! (http://www.joystiq.com/2007/03/29/ultima-marathon-the-employed-need-not-apply/)

I have to say, I'm REALLY enjoying it!!! I never got into Ultima, for some reason, even though I played my fair share of CRPG's and such starting way back with the Apple ][ and C64. So I'm having a blast reading about those games and figuring out what I've been missing. Too bad I don't have the time to play and dedicate myself to these games. But, I guess I don't have to now! :-)

Thanks for letting me live vicariously through your exeperience! I'll share your site with some more people I know that will appreciate it...

Anonymous said...

Your connection of the daemon-prison mirror in Forge of Virtue to the Soulstealer mirror in U5 is interesting....we made the exact same connection in Lazarus and filled in the fiction just a tad to imply that this mirror was created ages ago to serve the same purpose as Arcadian's. :)

Eric said...

I think the nicely furnished mirror-prison is a metaphor for the computer game itself. Get too close to the screen and zwoip! You're sucked in, with no way to escape until the game has been solved.

Wismerhill said...

Rushed translation of the CanardPC news:

The Ultima quest of a relentless guy.

If you think that you are a die-hard regardings the games for real men, you will be perhaps beaten by this person, fan of Ultima. Certainly in suffering, the man - or rather “Ophidian Dragon” from his war name, indeed all true fans of Ultima are named “Something Dragon” - thus started a marathon consisting in entirely finishing all Ultima, from first to the last. And so that everyone benefits from this iron determination, Ophidian Dragon holds a travel diary on its blog, linked above. Thats been already a month and a half that the race started for this 25 years old Virginien. Heck, Virginia seems to be a real nice place. Anyway, his next challenge will be to do something with his life, if he did not die of old age before having finished.

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