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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Runes of Virtue 2, Day 4

Welcome to my final blog for Runes of Virtue 2! Yes, I am writing it something like a month after I finished the game, but oh well. I am fortunate in that temporal proximity to the game wouldn't have added much to the blog, because all the levels are basically puzzles and thus I only need to say anything about the entertaining highlights!

First some awards:

Most Annoying Monster: Djinn Man
I don't know what this guy actually is supposed to be, but he looks pudgy and turns into a spinning tornado. I've had some very strange luck with him--when I hit him normally, he takes absolutely forever to kill, but he seems to not take so long when I attack with a weapon and a ping pong paddle in tandem. In any case, his most annoying feature is that in his spinning mode, he outruns you and then suddenly stops spinning right in front of you, and does an enormous amount of damage with every hit. Once you have the magic paddle, thse guys are easy but before that they are a serious pain...

Most Useless Item: The Snake Staff
With this staff, you can summon a pair of snakes who die. Yay.

Most Insane Level: The Pie Factory
OK, ROV1 had a boulder factory in one of the early levels, as I recall. Or was it the rock factory? In any case, for some reason the center for pie production in Britannia is halfway down the Great Stygian Abyss. I really enjoyed this level because it brought back fond memories of Ultima VII, except pies taste better than bread. I think you can make pies in Ultima Online? These pies are made with flour and milk, so I suspect they don't taste very good. The puzzle in the level is to manipulate levers so that the pies go out for delivery rather than landing in a dumping area. Quite amusing, and appropriate for a Nintendo game I think.

The other parts of the Stygian Abyss were not that incredibly hard compared to Hythloth; there were a few tough rooms, but nothing like the endless barrage of spinning deaths mentioned in the last post, and overall the game seemed more puzzle-ey than Hythloth. The final room was a bit anticlimactic. The black knight pops out, swinging his sword, and you stab him till he's dead. The guy does a lot of damage and moves fast, but as one might expect the ping pong paddle and boomerang combination make quick work of him.


They would have, had some fool not dropped his boomerang by accident :-/ As a result, I was stuck using the crappy whip, which does good damage but is not really a ranged weapon, and it has a long lag time before you can whip again.

Also, there were some dragons in the Abyss. The dragon is of the multi-tile monsters, but it's so fat it can't get up and move or be very dangerous.

And so ends the second Game Boy adventure! British thanked me for my service, and then offered to let me continue playing the game, an offer which I politely declined.

So my Ultima IX quest has since begun in earnest. I'm currently hanging out in Magincia. If you're bored, you can go read some bizarre glowing reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. One guy says it's a great game like Ultima VIII, and almost as atmospheric. (Was this actually a comment on the blog? I can't recall where I read this). Another guy tells us that it's one of the greatest games everyone made, and everyone needs to play it.

I will concede that it's atmospheric; it's very fun to peer out over the ocean near the shrines at night, and looking at the world from above in a tower or whatnot is always fun, too. But what else is good about this game? I mean, good atmosphere is like step one of a good game. As a long time fan, I am disappointed by the disconnect from the rest of the games (even the attempts to include history are fatally flawed...what the hell is Mondain's skull doing in the museum!?), but just as a regular old gamer I found the combat pointless and most of the quests predictable or so cheesy I can barely stand it. The game has a certain condescension about it, too, whether it's the Avatar's brainless journal comments or the linearity of the story.

In any case, I will persevere! I did encounter the flying-rune problem, but it turns out I can grab them out of midair without cheating, so it's not a big deal. I do not intend to cheat my way through the game, since I have been trying to avoid even walkthroughs unless I get terribly stuck (having a good memory of previous play-throughs helps...), though i have sympathy on the commenter who used the fly cheat because, yes, the Avatar is TERRIBLY slow. Aggh.

The game runs extremely fast. I guess that's what almost 9 years does, lol. The biggest problems I have are:
--Raven's boat and most other wooden objects are a hideous purple
--Lots of shop walls render as totally black
--There are no sound effects. Zero. No combat sounds, no monster sounds, no door sounds, no footsteps, nothing. I get muic and voices and sometimes weather sounds, but that's it. I guess I get magic sounds too. So it seems random...Are there supposed to be other sound effects?

Dunno when I will begin blogging U9. Expect the screenshots to suck--I seem to not beable to get good ones; sometimes, the result is just a black square, sometimes I lose all the on-screen objects, etc. I think it's got to do with whether or not the items on-screen are moving around.

As a final note, i think Tseremed or someone else nearby clues you in on the nude guy and gal in Ultima VII. And yes, Ultima III NES is different from the Apple version, but I liked the Apple's music more, and I didn't see much depth to Zelda or to Ultima III. They're just two cases of kill-the-foozle-who's-evil-cause-the-manual-says-so. I guess Ganon kidnapped someone. I like both games because the gameplay, at least for their respective times, was excellent and fun, but I don't see them as deep.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

U9 notes

Well, my copy of Ultima IX finally arrived today--mosre than two weeks after ordering it, as I recall. In any case, the game runs with D3D, with two oddities--
a) Is there supposed to be any kind of sound from beasties and combat? I see a wold howl, but hear nothing, but other assorted sound effects come through fine (fires, etc)
b) Weird colorings on the doors to my pantry and on the boat in the lake behind my house...They're purple! And the waterfall is black...

Other weirdness includes the "pressure plate" that a vase is sitting on in Stonegate looks more like a shelf, and items I throw seem to fall to the floor in moon gravity. Weird.

I tried using the dgVoodoo Glide emulator to play U9 as it was meant to be played, but when I ran the game, the floor of my house was missing. Eeep.

Has anyone had success with other Glide emulators & Ultima IX? I am thinking about buying an old video card to play this on, though I fear it would not work in my machine. It seems like Ultima games experience software rot faster than others I've played, but I guess that is a consequence of being cutting edge.

Oh yeah, I never wrote the last ROV2 blog...need to hop to that this weekend!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Runes of Virtue 2, Day 3

So after I finished the three dungeons mentioned in the last e-mail, I was somewhat at a loss as to what to do next. I knew that the last dungeon, the Stygian Abyss, was in its usual spot. I also knew that Pride was not in its usual place; that is, it fails to not exist in this game. But how to get there?

I've played enough Ultima to know the following statement:

if (there exists a whirlpool && you have a boat && you have nowhere to go)
sail into the whirlpool;

Sure enough there is a whirlpool. Sailing into it took me where I expected--the city of Cove, which is unreachable through anyother means. Cove is a bit different than I remembered it, as all the townsfolk of the city of Love have been murdered by beasts foul and ferocious. Hacking my way through spiders and skeletons, I found a stairway down which leads to, you guessed it, the dungeon of Pride!

I just took a detour to see if the word "hythloth" had an actual definition. It shows up in the Urban Dictionary (!?) as a synonym for pride, which surprises me, but nowhere else. I guess it's invented. Hyth is a small haven; loth is a variant of loathe. Haven of loathers? Beats me. I am quite certain it is not intended to be the "cave opposite to humility" though, and I think Ultima IV states that explicitly.

Before I go on to pride, I should mention that Lord Quenton of Skara Brae is imprisoned here--somewhat backwards from the usual dungeon/mayor association since he is neither mayor nor from the town of humility. In any case, his kid is obviously a lot younger than in Ultima VI, so I speculate this is something of a prequel. Quenton offers an in-joke, when rescued, saying his experience "will haunt [him] for the rest of [his] days." Ho ho ho.

Anyway, pride is both extremely hard and very silly. I'll highlight things that are hard and then the thing that is silly. First off, the dungeon is HUGE. It's got four tracks you can follow; one for the mayor, and three for other items. I never tried the fourth; the third was the mayor, and my second effort I abandoned. After descending through some unpleasantness, I reached a room full of spinning black saws that do an enormous amount of damage with each hit, and black tiles on the floor, that when crossed, generate more spinny death things. But avoiding those tiles and not dying was hard enough that I gave up; even when I finally made it to the end alive, there were far too many more saws blocking the exit! I failed to note that the increase in saws would cause some clogging in front of the stairs to the next level.

The first track I took was the most interesting that I tried. It also featured an outrageously annoying teleport level, which was composed entirely of tiny rooms with teleport pads. I made a map of these pads (a leads to a; b to b; etc), but got very frustrated when I hit my 26th teleport pair and had to switch to greek letters that I remember from statistics. Eventually I finally won, but it took forever.

Later, I encountered the serious absurdity--a giant level full of trolls playing ping-pong. No, this was not the most insane thing I have ever seen in a video game. That belongs to either the whole premise of Decap Attack (the title is quite literal; your attack involves tossing your own decapitated head) for the Sega Genesis, or the bosses in Monster Party, which include dancing zombies, a kitten, and a large fried shrimp. Yet, ping-pong playing trolls does come pretty close. I was amused that when you killed one troll, the other would continue, and the room would soon have ping pong balls flying all over.

Unfortunately for the player, these ping pong balls freeze you, an you are prone ntil they wear off. Fortunately, you soon thereafter acquire your own magic ping pong paddle,which can be used to open doors and switch levers from a distance, which is cool except that all future puzzles are designed specifically to prevent this. In any case, freezing fast-moving monsters is very helpful. Also, when you open a door without going through, the monsters exist "underneath" the roof, but they cannot exit and attack you, yet you an throw your weapons and kill them from outside. This is very handy for the painful magic-bolt shooting reapers.

The other items in the dungeon were a magic sword and magic armor, both of which I did not go after. It seemed like a lot of work when my paddle + boomerang was extremely potent, and non-range weapons suck in this game generally as too many beasties either move fast or shoot ranged weapons themselves. I also found a whip, which is an OK weapon, but you can't walk away after attacking with it, so it's no good for a attack-dodge-attack strategy.

So from there I freed the mayor, and took him back to Skara Brae, where the game messed up and I was stuck inside the city, unable to leave. Eventually, I manged to rescue the soon-to-be-ghost with his annoying puns, and also leave Skara Brae. I'm unsure what caused the problem.

Next up, the Great Stygian Abyss!

I think i should put up my UW2 screenshots sometime as well, but I have been procrastinating since September; why stop now?

Because it allows me to procrastinate from Ultima IX, of course! :-D

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Runes of Virtue 2, Day 2

It will be awhile before I get Ultima IX done so don't hold your breath. My enthusiasm is so low for it that any excuse I have to not play it I tend to take, lol. In any case, I still need to finish up my discussion of Runes of Virtue 2.

Day two was spent in three more caverns--dishonesty, selfishness, and cowardice. The former is on, as expected, Verity Isle, next to the lyceum, which now has "the orb of the moons" at the top, which has turned essentially into a collection of moongates that send you to the various towns. For what it's worth, Yew also has a moongate that sends you to Moonglow, though I think it's the only town that does. None of the caves had anything in them of any great interest. Well, aside from 1) a boomerang, which turns out to be a pretty powerful weapon, and 2) a snake staff thing that when used summons two snakes that rapidly die. Impressive. There are similar weapons for summoning other mosnters, including cyclops (cyclopses?).

One other random side quest in this game is that I am sent to new Magincia to give a letter to the mayor Anton, warning him about being kidnapped. I am given gold for this effort, though I already have so much gold I have reached the limit of 99 and cannot carry what I am given. Ooops.

They key to Runes of Virtue II is the food; the only bad thing that happens in the dungeons when you have emulation-enabled save feature :-P is that you can run low on health and not quite be able to complete the room; however, if you have a huge number of bowls of soup in you inventory, you can just blithely run through enemies without bothering with the puzzle. But this does not always work; we shall see in Day 3 that there are some areas that are simply so insanely difficult that no amount of eating and saving would get me through, and I simply gave up on them.

The neatest feature about ROV 2 is the ships, I think. You need a boat to get to the various island dungeons, and like the older Ultimas you have to sit around and wait for some pirates to approach you and capture their boat. However, in this game, the battle sequence is much prettier than any of the previous Ultimas, with three types of pirates; some with swords and some with arrows, and on each ship, two that fire cannons at you. The arrow guys are pretty dangerous. Once you have the ship, you can kill monsters on shore or at see with your cannon, like the old games. Pretty cool.

Now I'll make fun of this website.

I choose it simply because of the line:
"Interestingly, the Game Boy versions of both Runes titles support two-player cooperative/competitive play, predating Ultima Online"

First of all, the game would predate Ultima Online whether or not it supported two players. They probably meant "presaging Ultima Online." But that seems pretty silly as well, because if two player cooperative/competitive play was a hint as to the future of gaming, then that old Mario Bros. arcade game was the same way. There's really no relationship at all between the two, and I'd guess that was stuck in the description for the sake of tying it to a popular game.

I also disagree with the site's characterization of the game as combat heavy and light on puzzles. Unlike the early Ultimas (which WERE combat heavy). the ROV games have a lot of very weak monsters, many of which only serve to accentuate the puzzles, which are far more Lolo-esque than anything in Zelda, the NES game that the site compares these to. Additionally, I don't believe rooms reset when they are left; I think that like ROV 1, ROV 2 has a small cache of recently-visited rooms whose contents stay as they were left.

Yes, the last tqo paragraphs were filler because I had so little to say about the game itself, but it's so very similar to ROV 1 that there's just not much to say. The last two dungeons are a bit more interesting, though, so I may be able to work something out of them...

PS: he whorlpool screenshot belongs on the Day3 blog based on my description, but it fit here niely and technically I sailed into it on Day 2...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Runes of Virtue 2, Day 1

For my Runes of Virtue II gaming experience, I chose to play the Game Boy version, for two reasons--first, I am pretty sure it was first. Second, I've heard bad things about the SNES version, although it might be substantially different. If I do as a commenter suggested and play the SNES version of Ultima VII, I'll probably do ROV2. But both are not likely at this point! After a year, finishing this blog up seems appealing :-)

Runes of Virtue 2 is an awful lot like Runes of Virtue 1, but with a number of enhancements to make it seem, on the surface (literally--the surface world of Britannia) much more like the canonical games. In particular, the map looks pretty much like Britannia and all the towns are in the correct spots. Those towns are inhabited by equivalent characters from Ultima VI, including the mayors, whom a bored Black Knight has decided to kidnap. The Black Knight is one of the lone characters carried over from ROV1, but by my recollection he played very little part in that game besides blocking a bridge.

The mayors are kidnapped in more or less the expected order, slowly getting farther and farther away from Castle Britannia, where you, the Avatar, are summoned. Actually, it seems the Avatar was busy, because you really play Iolo, Maria, Shamino, or Dupre. Just like last time, I chose Shamino, because he has average stats and begins with a ranged weapon, the throwing axe. Just like the first game, I uncovered a second axe in the first dungeon, which was useful for pumeling enemies into submission during the first several levels.

My memory and enthusiasm do not permit a complete description of the first three dungeons (renamed as usual for the vocabulary-impaired NES crows: Hatred, Dishonor, Injustice), but I can say they have not changed a lot from the first game. Most of your time is spent moving rocks, barrels, and vases. The latter are slightly different because you can move more than one at once. There are plenty of chests, but also plenty of mimics that zap you ith lightning when you try to open them. The other major block of your time in ROV2 is spent with monsters, usually snakes, rats, mimics, wisps, and sometimes skeletons in this first part of the game. The more challenging beats include panthers or hyenas or something that runs fast, looks like a cat, and bites you. Reapers are omnipresent, but easy to kill. There's also some kind of goblin thing that runs away as soon as you hit him once--coward!

One curious detail is a side quest after finishing these three dungeons--Lord British asks you to clear up a Liche haunting Empath Abbey. Indeed, when you visit the place, it is totally infested with monsters! Yikes. The liche proves and interesting beastie, because one hit kills it, yet it comes back to life a few moments later and is much more difficult to kill. Most of the dungeon differences in this game are minor improvements to the original, such as this additional complexity.

A few random thoughts...

1) I believe whoever built this game must have been inspired by Gateway to Asphai, an old Coleco and possibly other system game, basically a dungeon crawl. I say this because a lot of the sound effects like the ghosts and the squeals of panthers are eerily similar to Gateway, as is a lot of the basic game structure. The thought immediately leaped to mind as soon as I began playing. Anyone else remember Gateway?

2) There is a very limited bit of NPC scheduling in the game, which was impressive! For example, townspeople in Trinsic will walk from one place to another, from the kitchen to the center of town, etc. Later in the game you can observe townsfolk picking up crops, and in Britain there is a blacksmith you can observe forging an axe.

3) The magic rope that somehow creates a walk-across net(!) over water is in this game, just like the last one. I still don't really understand how this works.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Ultima VIII, Day 6

Well, I hope everyone had good holidays; mine was spent with quite a bit of Ultima-ing, so that I now have all of ROV2 completed and ready for a leisurely blog-through. Actually, it may not be that leisurely, because geez, I don't know what to say about the ROV games because their plots are not, shall we say, overly dense.

But before that, I have to zip through my final gaming in Ultima VIII. I'll upload screenshots later because I seem to have forgotten to prepare them--this blog was not really planned, I just happen to need to kill time while a gigantic number of files copy. Anywho--

There were really three parts to this day, actually about three hours worth, of gaming enjoyment. The first was very brief, but required wrapping up the sorcerers. I knew I needed the Tongue of Flame, which our good friend Malichir possessed, so i went into his house (well, cave) to see about getting it. He was not thrilled to see me, and summoned two daemons, and launched fireballs at me. Holy crap! I used my focus of invisibility, waited a REALLY long time, and finally turned invisible inside his flame circle. Then I smacked him with Flame Sting until he was dead, after which I banished the two local daemons. Well, that's one way to get an item. I deny the claim of murder here, since he attacked me first, in spite of what one "List of Evil Things the Avatar Does in Pagan" says. In fact, very few of my actions are questionable. The only dubious one comes about ten minutes after obtaining this flame tongue, when I go take the Breath of Air from Stratos. I guess I stole it, but on the other hand she did nothing to stop me, and I seem to recall at least one of the Theurgists being OK with it. In any case,I dumped a bunch of red potions around to save them the trouble of casting healing spells in the future.

The second part of this day was titled, "How the hell do I get the Heart of Earth?" A book I read suggested visiting the Pit of Death. Boy was this ever a mistake. I spent a good 45 minutes wandering around a maze devoid of any valuable treasure (though there is a cheat room...) and full of zappies, spikeys, and flamies. As it turned out, all I had to do was either create a golem or use a key or climb over a wall, then cast Open Earth in a big chamber with a zobie or two, and take the Heart of Earth for my own. At least I got a free (minus effort) map of the Pit of Death out of it! I then hit
Tenebrae, after a quick trip to the Sorcerers to stand inside the Pyros Pentagram in order to free him. Oh no, flaming rocks falling everywhere!

It's clear now that I need to become Titan of Ether, gaining unsurpassed power to...basically do nothing with! Yay! The only missing piece is the Tear of the Seas, which is Hydros's blackrock object needed for teleporting. What great quest will I need to do to fetch it? An underwater city? Oh boy!

No, turns out Devon found it in his nets one day and he gave it to me. Then Mythran taught me the ethereal travel spell, and it was off to finish the game! First, to kill all the titans by using their own Blackrock doodads against them in their own domains!

The domain of Earth was first, which was full of blowing-up mushrooms and cliffs inside a dank cave. Overall, it was boring, save one "oh, screw this!" moment in which I am standing on a ledge before a bunch of lava, and I had previously read a book saying to toss some rocks to find my way across. I did that for a bit. All the rocks sank into the lava. So I just cast Endure Heat and ran across.

Waterland was just changelings, curvey bridges, and water. Hydros zapped me with lightning but died quick. Air was even shorter; besides some falling hovering rocks, it was only a few steps before I could kill the Air god, who just abruptly vanished--no cool death scene.

The final elemental plane was that of fire, which was also rather tough because getting to Pyros requires a lengthy gauntlet of daemons and floaty eyeballs and other meanies, just when you ot finished exploring an ultimately worthless abandoned house. But evnually, your each Pyros's gigantic pot that he calls home. Why does he live in a giant pot? I do not now. In any case, I kill him, though maybe he's not really dead since he shows up later.

On a different planet.

And somehow he helps me get into a dungeon.

Man, Ultima IX is crap. But you already knew that.

With all the Titans dead and the Pagans free from being turned into zombies for eternity, being exploded by sorcerers, and subject to the will of Tempests (and from the oppression of good health) I was free to leave and go to...Mystic White Pillar Land! And then Guardian Head on a Hill Land! And then I get to wait six year for a garbage sequel. Man, thinking about it still makes me mad!!

Now my final conclusions. Wait, first, a comment on a comment--the blue pentegrams that crash the game are not the regular old pentegrams, which are not blue; they are the ones you collect in order to get out of the Obsidian Fortress. Also, the default on my installation of DOSBox did not match yours.

The two things that annoyed me most about Ultima IX were the removal of great features from the earlier games, and the severely restricted choice of actions. A moral dilemma is not much of a dilemma when you have little freedom in your actions or, especially, choice of words. Curiously, the jumping puzzles and the other action game detritus distracted significantly, for me, from the more interesting aspects of the game, such was the overriding question of, how do you behave when thrust in an unknown situation? You could tak Star Trek approach, and refuse to interfere with the natural delopblah blah blah, as in that stupid episode where Wesley is going to be executed for stomping some flowers on the planet of random nakedness. I think even Captain Picard himself would be OK with undoing the havoc wrought by an arch enemy on Pagan. Except for an hour or so of falling flame rocks and some mist, I think overall Pagan is better off after my departure. The Theurgists can quickly learn to heal the natural way (red potions!) and the Sorcerers can learn to blow townfolk up the natural way (mushrooms!), and the guards in Tenebrae can continue interrogating peasants for all eternity.

So ends the game. It's not the worst in the series--I'd put it slightly behind Savage Empire, but ahead of Ultima I and II--and in terms of the concept and "what could have been," it's a very good game--a compelling but not epic plot (necessary after the insane scope of Serpent Isle), a new locale, and so on. So Imaginary Ultima VIII is probably in the realm of Ultima VII or VI, but sadly my imagination, though vivid, isn't what I actually played.