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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ultima VIII, Day 5

I suppose I should take a few moments to specify my blogging goals going forward. Obviously, ultima VIII is nearly done, leaving Ultima IX and ROV2 to play. I tried a little ROV2 today, and I'm betting on < 8 hours of gaming to finish this guy up. Ultima IX will be more difficult, but new copies of the discs are on their way, and I have begun looking into Glide emulators so that I can play Ultima IX without huge numbers of crashes that result from using its normal Direct 3D support. Note that I have really not played games much in the past, oh, six-to-ten years, so I am far from an expert--as I understand it, Ultima IX used Glide, and then Glide died. Way to go guys. According to Random Website, Glide was particularly for Voodoo graphics cards, which I find curious considering a certain other use of "Voodoo" that caused Ultima-related headaches sometime before :-P

I guess I will probably need to be playing on my new desktop instead of my laptop as well...

Back to 1994. My last blog left off with me mastering the extremely easy magic of the Theurgists, and I subsequently decided to go see the sorcerers. I got there and spent a good half hour or so wandering around, trying to find a way over the giant lava river. A note on lava in this game--if you touch it once, you will probably die, because the Avatar just says "Agh!" and does his pain animation, and moves a step back...usually into more lava. So you get him saying "AghAghAghAghAgh" over and over until he's dead; you cannot run away due to the tiresome pain animation needing to run its course. In any case, I eventually gave up and went back into the cave from which I came, a very large cave off of the catacombs, full of water and random zapper traps and a few ghosts. I recalled one other door, and this one led to Carthax Lake, which is the home, sort of, of Hydros aka the Lurker, who controls Tempestry. She lives off of a big white platform with a dolphin on it, and she talked to me briefly, promising that she'd give me Tempestry powers if I freed her. All right! So I did so, and spoke to her again. Turns out I'm an idiot, and she'd rather go kill Devon--"Let's see who can reach Devon first!" Granted, she is (?) the sea, but I bet I reached him first by double clicking on my recall item...Devon was mildly upset, but to my surprise didn't seem to care that I freed hydros, saying that I have an odd luck about me. Then he tells me "Go see the sorcerers" but "Dude, I just CAME from there" is not a response option offered. Incidentally, freeing Hydros causes random fog. So if some of my screenshots seem washed out, that's why.

This whole sequence raised a few questions...
-If Hydros is trapped, in what sense does someone who dies at see "rest with the Lurker?"
-So when i first played Ultima VIII, I thought Hydros was some sea creature, and her tentacles rose from the sea to speak to you. But this time, playing on a gigantic screen, it occurs to me that these might actually be extremely long, thin waves. I propose a vote--is Hydros manifested via tentacles, or long thin waves?

I then continued on to Daemon's Crag, the sorcerer's domain, and home to a huge amount of lava. I chatted with two of them--Bane the Friendly, and Vardion the Jerk. Thinking that these guys are a bunch of liars, after speaking to Bane, I used the "Speak Truth" spell before talking to them, or at least before talking to Vardion. Bane had previously informed me of my and her truenames, and she asked me to help get Vardion's. Ah, what a dilemma! But since the "Speak Truth" spell had no effect, I assumed that Vardion was genuinely concerned about Bane, and therefore gave him her "truename" which he promptly used in order to kill her with a daemon (I guess she didn't have "banish daemon" prepared?)

With her dead, and me surprised, the Sorcerer leader Malichir comes by and tells Vardion to hurry up and train me. I will skip over the training, except to say that sorcerer spells are a pain in the rear to set up, but nowhere near as annoying as before the patch is installed. I had assumed that, much like Necromancy, I would be wandering around with the spell reagents in a container, but since the reagents do not stack, this didn't happen! In any case, with that training done, he sent me off to the Obsidian fortress, which is worthy of a new paragraph.

There are basically 5 things to note about the obsidian fortress:

1. Arcadion, the black sword daemon, is there. He's been trained as a sorcerer, but he doesn't recognize you. Apparently this is him back in the past or something.

2. Much of the rest of the fortress is spent wandering around, collecting pentagram symbols. These symbols are blue, and you should avoid at all costs single-clicking on them, because your game will crash. Apparently someone didn't bother to give them an official name.

3. Flame Sting, a nice weapon which causes bursts of fire when you use it, is hidden, well not so hidden, in the Obsidian Fortress. It's probably my favorite weapon, even though i was also fond of the thunderclap produced by the Slayer mace.

4. At one point, you are attacked by some random children. So this game has at least two cases of kiddy attacks! Wow.

5. Vardion is also a jerk--he never bothered to tell me I need an ignite spell prepared, though he did tell me about the candle I needed. After you pass the Obsidian fortress, you summon Pyros with the assistance of Malichir and some other sorcerers. But since I did not have ignite prepared, I tried to light my candle myself. Silly me! This made Malichir mad, and he began shooting fireballs at me, but I was wise and dodged behind one of the other sorcerers. Thus began a massive sorcerer battle royal, in which everyone summoned daemons and send blasts of fire at everyone else, while I hid myself away. I assumed this was not the way the game was supposed to proceed, and reloaded.

I still was unable to create an ignite spell, because of the paucity of Malichir's reagent selection, but at least P survived this time. Pyros is not as violent sounding as he ought to be; I think the voice is not so great. Afterwards Malichir expresses his irritation wit me via a flame bolt. Jerk!

I quit at that point, having played for more than the usual two hours. The next thing to do was to go speak to Malichir about the tongue of flame, which I need to escape the island...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ultima VIII, Day 4


Thus says the spiderwebby skeleton of Khumash-Gor, just before his ghost arises, which in turn is just before I cast "grant peace" before he can toss an exploding skull my way. Stepping back twenty minutes, and I'm wandering around the Zealan temple. This part of the game was one of two or three that required a walkthrough, due to this one annoying part where you have to toss a tiny little rolling sphere to activate a pressure plate that I did not realize existed. This part of the game also featured a multi-colored laser beam that kills me if I walk through it. Odd.

Speaking to the Zealans was interesting. I don't remember their names, but there was a generic woman, a Klingon-sounding warrior, and a guy that sounded like he was extremely bored about the whole process. In any case, they instructed me to steal a pyramid tip for the purposes of getting off the island.

From there I headed to the Argentrock Isle, where the Theurgists hang out. I encountered a few old guys, some generics, and one young fellow who had done a great job passing the theurgist test, except for the final one, where all you have to do is cast heal on a Torax. Humorously, I never did figure out how to get out of the pit with the injured Torax in a legitimate way, and I then used Mythran's recall item to get away. The first test I passed was a series of simple questions, and in the case of the second test, it merely involved collecting lumps of silver from underground. In fact, the lumps were large enough that with each one of them I had to dump some other object onto the ground, beginning first with my mass of "destroy trap" scrolls, followed then by yellow potions.

The metal was required for creating spellcasting focuses--and in fact, I am happy to note that all that's needed to cast the very useful Theurgist spells (notably--"Aerial Servent" to grab objects from afar, "Restoration" to...well, restore you, and "Wings of Air" to allow you to leap over obstacles and land far away from here you intended, usually drowning in the process.

So apparently, about an hour of training allows me to become a Theurgist, blowing away even the young fellow I mentioned earlier (Torwin) in my speed of learning. It's cool that in Pagan, becoming a high powered mage takes a few minutes. Of course, I have the sizable advantage over other students of being able to save and load my game. Ever considered how useful such a feature would be in real life? In any case, creating the focuses required a trip back to Tenebrae, where I decided to take the time to rescue poor old Devon from the jail. A cinematic encounter later and Mordea is dead, and the two other Tenebraean characters are laying on the dock groaning. With the focuses I headed back to the island where i discovered that Brother Xavier's healing touch focus was stolen, and he was too stupid to cast "Hear Truth" and talk to the other three people in town about who might have it. Turns out it was the young fellow Torwin, who intended to use it to resurrect his father, the guy executed at the very beginning of the game. Of course, his father's head is in the sea, so resurrection entailed that Torwin jump off the cliff and into the water and die. Oh well. He dropped his ring on the way, and I took it back to his mom in Tenebrae. Actually, I did that waaaaay later, but pretend it was now.

From there I spoke to Stratos, the maternal whirlwind sitting on a rock nearby. She told me I could not have the breath of wind which was too bad, since I had only just then realized that the breath of wind would be a cool artifact to have.

Now I will agree with a comment: Theurgy sucks. In fact, I only ever bought the very first spell, the confusion blast, which I never used because the damned reagents were so insanely expensive, though I almost felt I SHOULD use it because otherwise I have no use for obsidian in the game. By the time I hit Stratos, i was almost covered in magic armor, so the stores in Tenebrae were not much use, and I don't need to eat either. Oh well. I


I feel compelled to reply re: "Have you ever played Zelda?" I was thinking specifically of the side-scrolling palaces/bridges/etc in Zelda II where, as I recall, leaping around bridges suspended in midair, jumping over chasms, and crossing collapsing rock-bridge were all common requirements. Maybe Castlevania would have been a better comparison. I was trying to think of an analogy with some other RPG that involves lots of jumping around traps that are difficult to imagine actually existing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ultima VIII, Day 3

So the game continues in the third day! As mentioned last time, the quest involved in his day was to seek out some corpses, talk to them, and then jump across lots of dopey Zelda-esque platforms. Well, actually, the latter was not specifically sated, but I've learned that it is implicit in all quests in Ultima VIII. The necromancers, of whom I took several screenshots which I have no room for (due to the need for an absolutely essential two-shot sequence later), were mostly friendly, except for one who did not trust me, and called me "meat." What an insult. Just what are you? Rotting meat! Not very logical, Necromancer. Anyway, they taught me some spells one or two of which I actually used. Specifically, I used "grant peace" to banish some ghosts. There is also an "avoid death" spell that the necromancer who told me of it said I would need at some point, but which I do not seem to need. Leaving the necromancers put me on the roof of the catacombs, and leaping off required some extra healing potion because they are very tall indeed.

From there it was off to Tenebrae to be confused wondering what the heck I did wrong, and then subsequently off to the catacombs again in order to go talk to Lithos, the Titan of Earth, and connoisseur of corpses: "Her rotting flesh will perfume my garden of delight" was most definitely his most memorable line. The way there was riddled with danger, mostly in the form of more Zelda transplants, including mysterious rocks floating in mid-air for no reason, rising and lowering stones, and everyone's all-time favorite--Vanishing platforms! I also had to explore this annoying area where pillars produced dangerous blue fields between them, though once I got to the end, I received the treasure of the appropriately named, "Blue Field Passage Gem." Ever wonder how the Avatar just knows the names of stuff you click on? It was particularly silly in Serpent Isle; click on a weird glowing circle and it says "Chaos Serpent Eye." Oh...of course! In any case, this quest was kind of tiring, due to the sheer amount of craling and jumping and monster ignoring you have to do. On the plus side, I found a sweet axe called Deceiver nearby. My only complaint is that it isn't very fun--Slayer claps thunder when you kill a monster; Flame Sting burst flame, but this one just sorta kills things, with no special effects :-(

When I returned to the necromancer (what's the guys name? Vividos or something? I keep thinking of "Vardion" but I know that's not him) he told me I was now able to seek the Birthplace of Moriens. He describes the amazing experience he had there, though not in any detail. He also made me totally confused by giving me "the key of the scion," which looks exactly like the magic wand with a skull that is used to cast necromancy spells, except this one actually oens doors...somehow. Anyway, it opens a lot of the locked doors I found in mapping the catacombs, and one of them is labeled "The Birthplace of Moriens." In the pre-patch version of the game, it was labeled as "Towards Fate Do You Travel," and the Birthplace did not exist. That's the kind of totally bizarre problem that I just do not understand--how can that have gotten through any kind of playtesting, or even a brief survey of how the quest was supposed to be accomplished?

In any case, the end result is not as inspiring as implied by Mr. Vividos. You can almost see the little speech bubble over the Avatar's head saying, "What, this is it!?" Fortunately, just around the corner there's a bunch of Zelda traps that you can easily escape, including...well, I won't say dumbest, but man it's silly...the rolling spiked ball. I think it's in the top 5 absurdities of Ultima VIII. Let's make a list:

1. Morgaelin's complete lack of continental shelf
2. Rocks floating conspicuously in midair
3. Physics-defying spiked rolling balls
4. Vanishing midair red platforms
5. The skull of quakes

The Skull of Quakes you ask? Why, it's found pretty nearby to the spikey balls I just described. What possible use could a skull of quakes be? Isn't it obvious that you would go somehow place it inside a mysterious red half-circle, thereby causing an earthquake to open a teleport pad? When I first played Ultima VIII, the only reason I thought to do this was way into the game, when I was literally double-clicking the Skull of Quakes and trying its little cross hairs on everything. So bizarre! Ahhhh.

If you have other notable absurdities, please add them in comments! I might start having to approve them due to excess spam, but I hope not to...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ultima VIII, Day 2

Well, my second day was focused on the necromancers, although for some reason or another, I don't seem to have any screenshots of the necromancers. Maybe they are actually in Day 3? Anyway, this involved two quests. One involved collecting some reagents--Executioner's Hood, which was under a tree near the cemetery (and which is aptly named), and some sticks, which, humorously, only come from one tree off in west tenembrae, and which are called "dead man's elbows" (not so aptly named). The second one was one of the more amusing quests in the game due to its absurdities--Mordea, the Tempest and leader of the city of Tenebrae, stole the ceremonial dagger that is needed to kill of the dying Necromancer. I am unsure why she did this--the net result would ultimately be Lithos, the local titan of the earth, getting annoyed and causing earthquakes and so on. Anyway, she has it hidden in her bedroom. The key to her bedroom is hidden under a pillow, and her servant gave me the key to the chest in her room where the dagger is hidden. Well, I wandered in to fetch the thing while Mordea was asleep, and made the mistake of assuming the chest in question was behind her bed--needless to say, she got upset and killed me. This happened repeatedly, until i broke down and slept so that she'd leave.

And slept.

And slept more.

But she never got out of bed! Then I remembered a notable detail of this game--time doesn't pass until you trade screens. Did I talk about this in the last blog? Anyway I went out and came back in, and indeed, Mordea was awake in her throne room, yapping about the need for more executions. So I just walked past her, into her bedroom, opened her closet, retrieved the dagger, and went and returned it to the Necromancer, and he was kind enough to make me his acolyte. Technically, he was not yet the Necromancer; instead, it was a woman on an altar, who he promptly stabs to death. From there I was sent to the catacombs to meet the previous Necromancers.

And boy did this waste a huge amount of time--nowhere in the game are you told "this is the necromancer's den." Instead, you just have to randomly walk into a room whose floor collapses under you. Of course, it's surprisingly hard to go down holes in this game (this is why I did not get Slayer), and I ultimately had to aim a jump just right to end up falling in the hole. But that is tomorrow! There are also some levers that turn the world upside down. I don't understand what this means, exactly, in terms of the actuall experience of the Avatar, though.

In the meantime, Bentic was executed. Eek. Poor library guy. Devon, the fisherman who rescued me, was also imprisoned. I had a chat with him, and saw Bentic's book hidden in an evidence room in the jail. I need to do something about this, but I was unable to find a way to get into the evidence chamber...

Finally, some comment replies. I agree that the characters are well animated, but they are ugly in the first place, and a smoothly-moving blurry blob is still a blurry blob. I also find the animations pretty annoying, in terms of interaction with the world--it's infuriating when I can't attack a monster because I am busy going through some random animation sequence (or worse, when I am going through the various directions of rotation before I can turn around and run away). Agh. Finally, I would note that it's a bad idea to get too creative about getting places. I have a screenshot here of me hidden underneath the waterfall, because I accidentally fell behind the wall there. I have similar shots in the catacombs and elsewhere, so we'll see more of this.

The day associated with this part was pretty good. Except for the catacombs, which are interesting but which need better directions. Making the map was particularly fun; I haven't ade many maps since Ultima VI or so.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ultima VIII, Day 1

Well, it's the moment everyone hs been waiting for. Well, only a few oddballs who love this game. I for one, do not love this game, and I was going in with such low expectations that if it had electrocuted me, I would have been impressed. Actually, that's Ultima IX--Ultima VIII would impress me by merely kicking me in the shins.

In all seriousness, as I play the game (this blog is also retrospective, but on the advice from the Serpent Isle posts I will not specify how retrospective) I can get a pretty good idea what a really cool game with the same premise and world would have been like. The first thing you notice, from a modern perspective, is how absolutely desperately his game wants to be 3D, from the jumping and climbing, to the excessive frames in the character art, to the fact that the walls are so huge that it's easy to randomly lose objects behind them. But the fact that it's decidedly not 3D leads to some of its biggest drawbacks...

1) The isometric perspective where you and monsters are constantly hidden behind walls and other objects
2) The hideous character art. Faces are like smudges. Beren looks like Gumby with his weird parabolic arms. They're all like really low-res 3D models
3) The fake 3D models require huge numbers of animation frames, wasting space that could have been used for more monsters, weapons, more everything

As far as plot goes, this day was spent wandering around Tenebrae. The place is mostly empty except for generic peasants and guards, sometimes in pairs, spouting the same lines about paying taxes over and over again. Let me see if I can remember everyone inside the city walls...There's the tempest, her manservent, her bored girlservent, Orlock the bartender,his waitress, the goth buffoon with the giant axe and no clothing, the trainer, and...oh yeah, the blacksmith. That's eight. I guess it's better than the typical town in Savage Empire, but yeesh. Beyond that we've got three guys living around tenebrae, four tempests, five(?) sorcerers, and a necromancer. And an old hermit. So the whole word is pretty tiny.

I forgot Bentic, the dude who is unable to rise from his chair! He is at least colorful-looking.

Like I said, my first day was all wandering around--I found a pit that as I recall leads to a magic mace, but for the life of me I can't figure out how to climb into the hole; the Avatar merely walks around it. I also talked to Mythran, the old hermit, who gave me an item that recalls me to various locations (with the inventive name "Recall Item"). He also makes potions and has a bunch of physics-defying, endlessly rolling spiked balls in his foyer. I'll save my floating platform/sinking stone/etc. bashing for later, when it becomes extremely absurd. But suffice to say you end up feeling like you're stuck in Castlevania in this game.

None of this is to say that the game is necessarily bad, but the first impression when you play is, "Holy crap, what did they do!?" Most of the cool features that have been hallmarks of the game since Ultima V have vanished, some of the best features of the latest game (the paperdoll inventory, the awesome character portraits) have been eliminated, or in the case of the paperdoll inventory, made so non-functional that it might as well not exist.

Now I feel compelled to list some high points of the gameplay.

1) Being able to climb and jump allows for some quick navigation. In Serpent Isle, there was this ridiculous walled-in area east of Monitor with teleporters inside, and it was simply insane that you couldn't just jump over the section of wall that looked about 1 foot high. Here, you eel less absurd because you can.

2) I'm having trouble thinking of anything that isn't plot or concept related instead of an aspect of the gameplay or construction of the world itself. I know a lot of people love the music, but I find almost all of it forgettable. I enjoy breaking out tunes from Ultima VI and Ultima VII outside of the context of the games now and then, but in Ultima VIII they seem like mood music that is uninteresting outside the game context.

So this blog is a downer. I will be nicer when I actually get involved in the plot. I thought it was ironic, though, that Ultima VIII included a parody of a competitor, the description of which might apply to this game ("a pale imitation").

Man I don't look forward to playing Ultima IX. Oh, I should add that I looked up ways of improving DOSBox performance, and found that you can set the CPU core and cycles to "Auto" and the improvement is shocking. The game went from barely playable with slow movement and skipping music to almost too fast. Why, why, was this not the default!?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Serpent Isle, Day 18

Well, it's time to end the Serpent Isle blog! But I must first acknowledge an error--In the last blog, I described killing off the Trapper, when in fact that happened on this day, as you will note from the screenshot! (Did I mention he oddly killed the remainder of the Gwani but left their bodies just laying around instead of skinning them?) It was the last thing I did before Dupre was sent to sacrifice himself.

Actually, that is a mistaken phrase. In reality, after I finished off the Trapper, Xenka informed me that one of myself or my Companions had to sacrifice him/herself for the greater good. I drew the shortest straw, and so we were all sent to Monitor, where I removed Renfry's ashes from the crematorium machine (Renfry rand the cremation service in Monitor--this was one of the more amusing details of the city's destruction) and pulled the lever, intendeding to hop in. But alas! Dupre felt guilty for all the crimes he had recently committed, and leapt in in place of me. A sad tune plays and you see a nice brass urn roll out from the machine.

So what did Dupre do, anyway? Iolo slaughtered people in Fawn; Shamino blasted them in Moonshade, but it's not clear that Dupre did anything at all, besides sit around the White Dragon Castle and plan for my doom. Anyway, this sacrifice by Dupre fulfilled the crystal ball prophesy in the ice caves of Ultima Underworld II, which I am sad to report I did not get to see due to that game's bugginess :-(

The rest of the game was a whirlwind tour. Xenka immediately sends me off to the Skullcrusher mountains (AGAIN!) to open the Chaos Wall of Lights, and send Dupre's soul into the void so that he can control the Chaos serpent while I go and release the great earth serpent. The more I think about this, the more confusing it is. Why doesn't the Order serpent need anyone to bind to it to control it, or the Earth Serpent for that matter? In any case, this qualifies as the most boring quest in the Ultima series. It entails nothing more than exploring three levels of a gigantic maze in the back of that dungeon (after blowing up some big golden doors). The maze is mostly devoid of anything interesting at all. There are a some rooms, and a few monsters (particularly a dense forest of gremlins that are extremely annoying; I didn't even try to fight them) but no treasure, no books, nothing else. Eventually you reach the Chaos temple area, and if you are lucky, notice a secret door in the back through which you enter and see the Wall of Lights. With the Chaos banes (oh yeah--maybe that's why you need Dupre to undergo this binding; I forgot about that) you send Dupre into the void, and he prevents the Chaos serpent from attacking you.

Side question--where can I download all the ultima voice files? I have a tool that extracts them from Ultima VII, but it doesn't quite work for Serpent Isle, and I am additionally way too lazy to convert the .voc files.

From there I head back through the maze, chat with Xenka, who finally sends me on to Sunrise Isle, a huge dreamland-like "island" which on the map takes the place of where the Eastern Signpost was in Ultima I (creative reference, almost as good as Bulldozer -> Sleeping Bull!) but which gives no evidence of being on the planet at all. Actually, Gwenno did freeze to death there, so maybe that indicates it is in the frozen north somewhere (I gave up trading boots between the Companions and just let her die). Sunrise Isle is largely a series of puzzles--Collect the items that symbolize each virture. Then gather cubes of ice and fire(!!!). The hardest part is the very first one--you have to remove blue and red serpent statues from some pedastals and place them on the scale. The only problem is that the "scale" looks absolutely nothing like a scale I've seen. The only clue that it's supposed to be a scale is a) a chain nearby and b) the complete lack of anything else to do.

In any case, I finally made it to the last chamber, right after I presented the Great Earth Serpent with the serpent crown, staff, and armor, the emblems of the Great Heirophant, which somehow got scattered all over Serpent Isle. As a reward, I was given the Order Serpent Eye, a blue glowing thing. This was good, because I had the Chaos Serpent Eye, and I was certain that the Order one must be around somewhere, but I never saw any mention of it! And the Chaos serpent eye just showed up in the random secret room behind the Great Heirophant's mummy. This was one of the more confusing aspects of the game, I'm afraid. Anyway, from there I took out some servents of the Order serpent (ice elementals), and heard the famous alliterative line, "Slay me! Slay me with the Serpent Sword, and send my soul back into the void!" That sword was the rusty-looking Ophidian sword Xenka gives you, and it's lucky I remembered to keep the damn thing with me.

As a side note, the last time I played this game, I totally forgot to pick up the Chaos blackrock serpent from the slot I dropped it in when I used it to send Dupre in the void, and I was so mad that I broke down and cheated to create a new one. This time, however, I remembered it and finished the game entirely legitimately!

In the void, I see the Serpents all combine with each other in a manner reminding me of the serpents-around-a-staff medical emblem, and then the Guardian snatches me out of the void and drags me to "another world altogether!" Then the game crashed, and I immediately reloaded, played through the last scene again, and finally saw the credits in a relatively anticlimactic manner. I am sad that I didn't get a "You beat Serpent Isle in XXX days!" message, so I'll end this game with a screenshot of a gigantic hand!