Well, today I accomplished many important things--the most important, by far, was crashing the game! I have already experienced a game freeze when I die in solo mode as one of my party members, but this one was more inventive. I killed Blaine, then cast seance to talk to him. He seemed normal. He said he'd like to join me, and I said yes...except it came out as Ylem instead of yes. Uh-oh. Eventually I got a blank cursor and had to restart. Why doesn't DOSBox have a reset key that keeps all your settings the same? This prompted me to mess around with some other spells. I discovered to my annoyance that I was unable to use the replicate spell on gold coins or nuggets, but I did find an alternative solution in casting animate and then clone on a magic bow and selling them for 150 gold over and over again--I had been trying to use Nim to get gold, but Dr. Cat cheats. I remember once when i first played the game trying to cast ressurect on the ancient bones of Zog in the Britannian museum, but I don't remember if it worked. Sadly, I am not 8th level so I cannot try (and I doubt I will ever get to 8th level now). It's hard to decide what the least useful spell in the game is. I think two that qualify are trap and reveal. Trap spells can be used to trap a door or chests or such things, but NPCs have no trouble opening doors in spite of the trap, and only you can open chests. So besides suicide, what's the point? Similarly, the reveal spell reveals objects hidden by the vanish spell. What, am I supposed to literally cast reveal on every tile in the whole world, hoping someone hid an object there?
Besides messing around with spells, I found some balloon plans and built a balloon today. Finding the plans was pretty silly. I dropped by Blackthorn's old castle, which has now shrunk rather drastically, and descended to the basement where I found a two-headed horse named Pushme-Pullyu. They had what appears to be an insoluble riddle. I understand the concept--One head always tells the truth and the other always lies, etc. The problem is that each head tells you this! That is, both heads state that the Pullyu speaks the truth and that the Pushme always lies, which is highly problematic. In short, I couldn't keep track of which head was saying which statement--the character portrait would reverse itself, but often both the regular portrait and the reverse would say the same thing! I gave up and figured it out myself.
Turns out, one of the two ladders you can choose leads to a burning pit of fire in the depths of another dungeon, whereas the other leads to a safe set of catacombs with the balloon plans nearby and a helpful tough man named Gorn who joined my party. Yay! To my annoyance, building the balloon involved bouncing around Paws, New Magincia, and Minoc, though for some reason the silk bag cost only 125 total whereas the basket cost 300! From there I used a magic fan, found in the treasure trove with the silver tablet, to wave my balloon over the so-called mountains to the Shrine of Singularity. How come my balloon can fly over mountains, but not human-built structures!? Anyway, the shrine kicked me off to the other gargoyle shrines after quizzing me on my motives--A nice touch, forcing me to think about why i was doing what I was doing, besides "cause the plot told me to."
That's one of the huge advanages from the keyboard-entry conversation system that was lacking from the trees used in later games, incidentally-being able to answer off-the-cuff questions based on your own knowledge, not some game flag set somewhere. The drawback, of course, is absurd conversations in which, for example, Lord British insists he knows nothing about his own jester.
Now to address some comments: First, I am surprised at how short Savage Empire might be, but the last time I played it I was about 12 years old, so perhaps by problem-solving skills have improved since then ;-) I do recall Martian Dreams being a bit tough, since monsters killed me an awful lot and there is a bit of uncertainty wabout what you're supposed to be doing at times. The game I am most looking forward to is Ultima Underworld, which I have played several times but still seems fun. It was shocking to play when it first came out, maybe more so than any of the other Ultima games, because all the other first person RPGs suddenly seemed like garbage by comparison. It's also the most fun game to try and fit into the main Ultima storyline, since pretty much everyone forgot or never knew about the whole affair ;-)
I glanced at Raph's blog--Hey, I remember that guy! I emailed him a few times back in the early days of Ultima Online--and saw it linked to that article about how the classical violinist playing in the streets and no one cared. I saw it earlier this week (though I have still failed to read the whole thing, since it zips off on very boring tangents), and the first thing that ocurred to me is that a huge percentage of people wouldn't have recognized the violinist's name if you told them, and the vast majority would not bother listening to classical violin music evn if they were NOT in a rush to get something done. I'm listening to that Bach Chaconne right now, and find it relatively boring, for example, because my ability to appreciate the style is low. All the article suggests is that to most people don't notice music that bores them, which one could gather just by glancing at CD sales figures.
As for online games, I think people do not stop to smell the roses, so to speak, in large part because the roses don't smell very good. In a game like Ultima VII, exploring unecessarily is a lot of fun, because you will find either cool items that are directly useful (magic swords, etc.) or locations that are simply intriguing (like a hidden cave with a dead pirate and some really old ship deeds). None of this translates well to mutiplayer games, because no matter where you go or what you do, chances are someone else has already done it. There is no thrill to exploring land that has already been explored, and with thousands of users it won't take long at all for all the "planned" secrets to be found.
It's also important to note that people who value "smelling the roses" are uncommon, generally, and I believe having other players who don't care about such things detracts from the enjoyment of those who do. Thus, part of the problem is simply that the game requires mass appeal. Most people want instant satisfaction, especially from their entertainment, and I think attempting to design a game that forces people to appreciate things in a different way is effectively trying to change contemporary cuture in a radical way, a tall order for a video game. The only "smell the roses" game that could succeed, I think, is one intended and designed for the niche market. There's lots of examples of sucessful creations that do not have mass appeal in film and music, so why not in games?
Wow, that was more longwinded than usual.