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

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ultima IX, Day 10

Time to begin the last post for the last game!

Before heading off to Terfin to confront the Guardian, I had a brief chat with my Companions in castle British. This part of the game was notably more lame than I'd expected--a few made dubious claims about their past help to me (Mariah didn't do jack fighting Batlin...), but most just told me to keep in mind whatever virtue they represent.

From there, I hit Terfin. I was hoping to avoid a cheesy conversation with Raven, but it turns out her telling you about a secret cave causes a giant rock to move out from in front of said cave. From there it was into the dungeon! And what an amazingly longer-than-expected dungeon it was. This time I had to find a big stack of power cubes, as well as kill off a lot of monsters. The gargoyles towards the beginning were the hardest because they did a huge amount of damage with each hit. Later on, it was just endless Wyrmguard that get sliced down in one or two hits from my lightning sword.

I encountered three other people. One was a girl who was searching for treasure and asking for help finding the key to the treasure room. Of course, she never goes anywhere or does anything with the key. Another was an insane guy in blue who thinks I caused the Guardian to turn away from him. He tried to punch me but died rapidly. The third was a woman who was poisoned by some gargoyles in a torture chamber, and demands that I kill her; I politely refuse and tell her "just go cast cure." Well, it didn't give me the option of doing that, but that's what I imagined!

There weren't that many exciting sights in this place. There was a room full of aquariums that was kind of cool, and some severed heads, but for the most part it felt like a barracks, with weapons around and books you can't read. Eventually, I finally made it to the Guardian's entirely black chamber. I put the sigils around on some highly convenient pedestals, causing him to pop through the nearby black gate. Here he is! Boy, he might actually be a little shorter than me. And he does look like a muppet. The Guardian was much more threatening in Ultima VII, somehow, particularly because he puts his dukes up like a boxer when you attack him. Yeesh. In the end, I create a "barrier of life" and then cast Armageddon, destroying the Guardian and myself, and making an ankh appear in the sky. The end!

Well, that's it for 20 years or so worth of gaming. Ultima IX was not as terrible as I remember it, but it was just as disappointing in terms of what I would have expected from an epic conclusion to the series. The failure to emphasize the cool characters the series had developed is a prime reason for complaint, as well as the poor manner in which the various set pieces, mostly designed for an unrelated plot, were all tied together haphazardly with the modified game. I tend to think the complaint voiced in comments about the bad dialog is related to this. I understand the difficulty here--it is very easy to fall into a trap where every conversation is "insider" stuff, that only the guys who've played all the games will get. Ultima IX went the opposite way and we we end up with "What are gargoyles?" and other idiocy from the Avatar.

Still, it's clear that they had a pretty cool world-building tool to play with in creating the Ultima IX we have now. My thinking is that if they'd stopped development on the engine and spent, say, 6 mos or a year creating a world and filling it with people and stories, we would have had a much better game. However, it's unlikely this could have happened without budget being slashed or people yet again being pulled away to work on the internet version of Ultima.

Note my weird phrasing--I've discovered that if I say the actual name of that not-off-line version of the game, I get piles of stupid spam comments. So I'll resist. I particpated in both the pre-alpha and beta test of that game, and got the "charter edition," and you can even find Ophidian Dragon mentioned in the original version of the hint book! But I really didn't like the game at all, or any MMORPGs for that matter, so I've ignored it here.

Did Ultima IX invite you to kill children? A missing feature!

One fun thing to waste more blogging time might be to reflect back on all the games, and see if I can decide my final "ranking" of the various games. I am pretty sure the main canon would fall in the order of (worst to best) 2-1-9-8-3-4-5-6-7, but working the spin offs in would be hard. Except for Drash, we all know where it ends up!

Well, thanks for reading. Maybe someday I will have UW2 screenshots posted! The person I thought was interested in the giant screenshot collection was actually interested in pirated games, so no, I won't be providing those. I own all the games I played, save Drash and Akalabeth; if you really want to grab them illegally, Google makes it easy enough.

If you haven't gotten enough Ultima over the past year, someone else is running a similar blog, in a somewhat less purist manner (I think it's called "My Ultima Journey"). And if you like video game blogs generally, check out Blogging Zelda and Blogging Final Fantasy and other similar blogs; I don't read them (not being into those games or, frankly, any non-Ultima RPG) but it's cool to have started something of a blogging trend. Actually, probably someone did this before me, so I'll rephrase and say it's cool to think I began a trend I may not have actually begun!

If you just dig me, I'm probably going to begin some other totally unrelated blog project soon. My CageBlog was cool, and I learned rapidly how to (not) write a topical blog; I wish I had not finished it so soon. Blogging Ultima has been a big improvement over that project. I'm glad it took a year to complete; I almost wish I had dragged out the earlier games a bit longer, in fact! Hopefully the next one will be even better. It's been a blast especially due to the quality & quantity of comments I get, so thanks to everyone who contributed in that way!

I also encourage you to start your own blog on whatever peculiar topic interests you, since there's always a few other people out there. And if you're a nerd like me, nothing attracts dates and money like a giant video game blog. Just kidding. But it's fun anyway.

Go in Virtue!


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Ultima IX, Days 8 and 9

Well, the Stygian Abyss proved to be pretty hard! Well, some parts of it did, anyway. Getting there has to be the least coherent part of the game by a mile--you summon Pyros--PYROS--from a different planet (also, I thought he was dead), and he opens the Abyss for you.

Hey, wait, this is Day 9. I need to discuss Day 8. Let's backtrack...

In order to get to the Abyss, the final dungeon you have to clear, it is necessary to visit the now-destroyed (again?) city of Skara Brae. There, I spoke again to a statue of Shamino, who told me I needed to fetch the Bell, Book, and Candle and bring them back here, put them around him and use them to bring him back into this world. He also suggested that I fetch the Ankh of spirituality and visit the nearby Temple of Souls, a nice reference to the Well of Souls from Ultima VII. In order...

Book: Easy. I visited the oracle in the Lycaeum. It asked me who was to blame for Britannia's Guardian woes. I said the Guardian. The oracle told me to piss off. I reloaded the game, said it was me, and I got the book. Yay!

Candle: Off to the ruins of Empath Abbey, where a monk spouts platitudes and a dragon stands around on an ice floe about 50 feet away. A few ignite spells later, I have the candle, and swim back to Yew.

Bell: This proved more complicated. The ruins of Serpents Hold are, well, sparse. And much of it appears to be underwater. I swam through a force field (it took me forever to realize I needed to try this--I assumed I needed to do something to make the field go away), and faced an evil arch mage! He killed me rapidly with fireballs, and I tried again several times but could not reach his platform. Then I realized it was actually the swampy goo UNDER the platform he stoof on that was causing me such harm. From there I stepped outside the doorway and shot a dozen arrows into his head until he died. A lady who apparently never needs to go to the bathroom opened a wall she was hiding behind and gave me the bell.

Ankh: Ah, memories of Ultima V. The sandlewood resides on Lord British's desk in his bedroom. The king had since vanished to face off against Blackthorn, and I learned I needed to follow him. The box vanished after some harpsichord-ed Stones, and I got the ankh!

Back to Skara Brae, where I put the items around the statue of Shamino, and nothing happened. Hmm. Eventually I realized when Shamino says "bring them here and put them around me" he meant where he actually was, not where his voice came from. I leapt into the well of souls, chatted with some fairly cool characters about truth, love, and courage (though I never found the baby...) while in the background was some garbled, echo-drenched words similar to Robert Ashley's "Automatic Writing." I found Shamino in trance, then woke him as instructed.

The next part is, as I said in the beginning, totally off the wall. Shamino brings up Malchir for no reason (I think I missed a line of dialog somewhere), and I nearly scare him away. Shamino tells him his pain after death is a consequence of the hatred he holds for me after I caused Pyros to destroy him. I do not get the chance to say, "SHAMINO, YOU MORON, PYROS DIDN'T KILL HIM, I DID BECAUSE THE JERK ATTACKED ME!" From there it's off to the Isle of the Avatar, and the beginning of this post, summoning Pyros with a very conveniently placed demon skull on an equally convenient pentagram...

The Abyss itself consists of a long vertical drop, and four levels corresponding to the elements of earth, air, fire and water, bringing to mind Pagan. It would be cool if someone were to design a game based on our modern understanding of elements, with levels devoted to Hydrogen, Helium, Nitrogen, Boron, Lithium, and all the other hundred-something. I guess that would be a lot of work. In any case, you beat each of those levels, and teleport to some lands where you fight each of the elements to subdue them.

Air: Lots of floating pillars and a dragon. This one was tedious because it's easy to fall off the floating platforms, but the dragon is weak.

Fire: Hard! There's lots of daemons and even more lava. At the end, I faced a gigantic demon I must have hit with my lightning sword 100 times before he finally expired. I'm not sure what the issue was there; I may have needed to killed him inside the pentagram on which he appeared, because the final blow took place when he walked back in.

Earth: This was pretty easy. The big earth golem crumbled under my attack. I also picked up some nice armor.

Water: The plane of water was very attractive, with waterfalls everywhere, and raindrops splashing. The bad guy there was a big sea serpent, who flopped around a whole lot when I whacked him, but who died rapidly.

From there it was a quick walk to watch the extremely crash-prone sequence where British battles Blackthorn. I watched it about 9 times before I finally got through it without crashing, and the crashes dramatically lowered the drama. I found it amusing that Blacky's last words were, "Why won't you die!?" which is a question I think we've all asked about Lord British once or twice! I headed back to Raven, who took me to the Castle, and British sent me off to cleanse the shrine of spirituality.

So I guess this last dungeon was something of a Pagan homage. It seems like a lot of the Ultima games get a mention or two, or at least an homage, at some point during Ultima IX, from cleansing the shrines, the (granted, TOTALLY misused) gargoyle prophecies, Malchir, the well of souls, the sandlewood box, words of power, the bell, book and candle ritual, and even, dubiously, the city of Dawn. Too bad the spin-offs and earlier games don't get very much, especially U1 and U2. I was grateful to have an Ultima that finally acknowledge U2 took place on Earth, though!

To a commenter--no, I won't be listing all the pages dealing with a particular game on the right-hand side; it's easy enough to look at the archive listing below that. I just thought having the games by title or group rather than chronologically would make it easier to find the beginning of the posts dealing with each game.

Tomorrow, I will narrate the final visit to Terfin and the defeat of the Guardian. That, I guess, will end the blog. I'm not sure what I might do here after that...I could play the SNES Ultima VII at some point, but there's not much else. Sort of melancholy weekend I guess. For what it's worth, Ultima IX is not a 10-day game, unless you play an excessive amount during those 10 days. I estimate Ultima IX all in all took me 36 hours, basically as much time as Serpent Isle, which stretched out to 17 days. Take that how you will!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Oh yeah...

So I noticed a very old comment where I said, "maybe I'll add a list of links to each game on the right side of the page." Well--there it is! Enjoy.

Ultima IX, Day 7

Well, my blog is more interesting when I make random contreersial statements. But more on that later! First, I must cover the Ultima. Today's quest was to visit Destard. Actually, it was to visit the town of Valoria (I guess Jhelom was eaten by the volcano?), discover that I am not allowed to get in without slaying a dragon, and then going to Destard to do so. Getting to Destard was a bit of a pain. I tried to get to the ice-capped mountain with a secret entrance through an area west of Britain, but without a great deal of luck. It turns out that the easier way is through the city of Dawn, a ruined town southwest of you. The name Dawn amuses me--although everywhere on the game map is east of somewhere, I would have imagined dawn would be in the far east on the usual orientation of the map of Britannia. But maybe the sun rises in the west here? I never checked.

Anyway, Destard has one of the more bizarre quests around--like several dungeons, a major part of the quest is to gather items that serve as keys to unlock another locale. In this case...it's broken dragon eggshells. Glad to see dragons are still in Destard! Several of the pieces are scattered in a Wyrmguard hideout where a cult worshiping the giant dragon living in Destard is located, too. Her name is Taloria, right? Aren't Talorians the big headed mind-reading people who Captain Pike meets in the un-aired pilot of the original Star Trek? Anyway, the main thing you have to do is collect the eggshell bits, which I managed to do. One of the most memorable encounters in the dungeon was with this utterly gigantic zombie torso what I think yells "Boo!" and attacks me when I open a grave.

There's also a liche defending an eggshell chunk and some bone armor, a helmet I think. Throughout the game, I encountered several pieces of bone and/or blackrock armor, but it always bugged me because they always seemed to be either boots or helmets, but due to my swamp boots and my helm of radiance, I really don't want those kinds of armor, lest I lose the benefits of the old stuff. Oh well.

The end of the dungeon came when I confronted Taloria, who offered to join me and fight the Guardian to rule Britannia. You've got to be joking, right? This dragon is a fool. And I was very was not to agree to her terms, because I simply drank an invisibility potion, and killed her in like three slashes from my lightning sword. Weakling! After returning to Valoria, I was allowed in, and I saved the life of a wizard, whom the Guardian suddenly killed. This I found very confusing, because if he can just arbitrarily undo all my actions, why did he only undo this one? Weird. Anyway, I convinced the townsfolk to help be fight off a trio of demons, got the sigil as a consequence, and cleared the shrine. Tomorrow, the Stygian Abyss! And a weak "arch" mage.

Onto comments. With regards to plot construction, I guess I wasn't clear. I find the game highly disjointed, especially the Ambrosia->Hythloth jump, and the Buccaneer's Den->Deceit jump. Or the summoning of Pyros(!) that occurs tomorrow--the feeling you get from these is that chunks were sort of haphazardly spliced together to make a storyline, and that's pretty much what happened.

I disagree with those who say you get the main elements of the game working, then add the details. To my mind, what made Ultimas good was the style in which they were made--a world editor with lots of cool features, and then the world created to exploit those great features. Ultima 9 had several versions of this game world, it seems, and again, the game is spliced together from elements of all of them. Had they started with one world editor and then developed the whole game with it, I think it would have been great, even with something very close to the present story arc.

As to art...I don't believe I said art was operating within constraints, but rather that the desire to do that is a trait I associate with artists. In any case, the statement that "...it has virtually no validity when applied to other art forms" is just silly. I don't know anything about painting, but there are enormous numbers of very specific forms, structures, and systems in music that serve to limit the materials used, and/or the way in which are used, from large scale structures with required movements, to rigid systems dictating the ordering of tones or allowed harmonies. People experiment with new forms, new instruments, etc, but there is also a strong conservative movement in music.

But that's beside the point--The reason many people might not consider games as art is because gaming is an experience, in the same way that cards cards can obviously be artistic but solitaire, the process by which someone uses the cards, would not be art. Similarly, a play is considered art--but the experience of an actor as he performs in the play, is that itself art? To my mind, that's the root of the problem. Obviously I have a broad definition of what art is (see my John Cageblog; lots of Cage's music is in the form of processes to be carried out to structure and create a performance rather than objects to be performed). Using art as a value judgment is also idiotic; just because some piece of art is terrible doesn't make it not art.

I think that covers it all for today! Great comments. I guess playing a recent game draws people in more than the ancient stuff, though I enjoyed the oldest ones that rarely get airtime the most; I felt I was offering a service to them in some sense!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ultima IX, Days 5 and 6

First of all, let's start with a link:
Games as Art

I'm generally skeptical of the concept. Games, to be games, are necessarily entertainment, but I don't generally expect art to entertain me. On the other hand, sometimes it does, and much art is made for ulterior motives besides just desire to make art. All the games it discusses are relatively recent. Which reminds me, one thing I think of when I think of art is the concept of purposeful limitation--choosing to write a sonnet because the limitations of the form forces originality. But to my knowledge, game designers don't normally choose platforms that are limiting because of the limitations.

Back to the blog! I've combined these two days because, like the last two, I can't think of anything really exciting about the dungeons involved. There were two--Wrong and Shame. Actually, there were a lot of neat details in Shame. Wrong was also pretty creative, in that being touched by a guard in this prison (quickie backstory--Raven's falsely accused; you must rescue her) sends you back to a jail cell without your equipment. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for said guards, it was not hard to sneak up behind them and kill them pretty rapidly! Wrong is overall pretty small in size, but there's large numbers of doors between the discrete chunks of the dungeon, and it is maze-like despite the small size.

Escaping feels sort of exciting, because Wrong has a fortress surrounding its entrance, and a gigantic bridge separates you from he mountains nearby, so looking over the edge of the fortress walls seeing a bridge disappear in the mist is pretty cool.

Getting to and from Wrong is a bit of a nuisance, since there's a lot of mountains. On the way there I stopped and picked up the Quill of Justice (an odd sigil!) from a big static bird of some kind, who asked me some very dubious justice questions. The one that bothered me the most asked if it was just to hunt down a wolf who had killed a child; it claims the answer is no because it's unjust to kill a wolf merely for being a wolf. This seems incoherent, because since anything a human does is being human, it would seem that punishing someone for his crimes would also be unjust, for the same reasons. Moreover, if killing a wolf because it is dangerous is unjust, wouldn't it be even more unjust to kill, say, a corn stalk merely because you want some popcorn?

After cleansing the shrine of Justice (and clearing Raven's name, and handing off the gargoyle queen egg to Vasagralem), I hit the sea to Trinsic. The dungeon shame is one of the most fun in the game, but since it's all a series of puzzles (and lots of eyeballs with squishy eyeball noises), I don't think I'll go into much detail. The Trinsic quest proves to be probably the most compelling in the game--Blackthorn accosts you in Shame, and destroys the Sigil of Honor; however, you learn that the sigils themselves are irrelevent and merely embody the virtuous energy of the townsfolk. By risking his life to defend others, the cup of honor is re-grown. I have never much liked honor--it seems like it depends on the other virtues, such that something that is unvirtuous is necessarily dishonorable (I think U4 may agree with me here). But that is higher criticism! The way honor is used here is pretty good, though it would have been a bit more compelling had Dupre not shown up to explain everything in detail, like the guy at the end of a TV show who explains the moral of the episode.

Now, on to comments. I got some weird ones. Two people said that changing the name of the gargoyle city to something gargish instead of Ambrosia would be highly un-canonical. This I don't understand. Why would the gargoyles, acting out of racial pride, choose a name for their great city that has nothing to do with gargoyles? Mjs says that the blog was more fun to read before the U9 hate. I didn't think I was particularly hateful towards the game--in the last post I praised the music; in other places I said the dungeons were well designed. Most of U9's problems are based on the disjointedness of the quest (being rewritten at least twice definitely did not help matters here) and the fact that it's been dumbed-down to not intimidate new players.

If you discount the crashes and another annoyances, it's not a terrible game, it's just a dissapointing end to an otherwise (well, mostly) fine series. I don't "hate" the game, because it doesn't make sense to hate a video game.

Also, I agree with Justin, who says the original Guardian-homeworld plot would have been good. I agree, but I don't think it would have been appropriate for the final game in the series. At that point, of course, it wasn't conceived as being the final game! I tend to think the famous Bob White plot is way, way too epic to possibly work and be believable. You would have been stuck on a linear course worse than anything in the present U9 or Serpent Isle. The present ending is pretty good--the Avatar makes the ultimate sacrifice for Britannians who have realized they must be self-sufficient, British finally admits he really needs to get out and do things, etc. There are a lot of things that disappointed me (Blackthorn proving that mercy is stupid, for example), but even with something like the present plot the game could have been good with proper execution, and had it not been restarted so often.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ultima IX, Days 3 & 4

So the next two days of my game playing were not very thrilling, especially the second. They deal with my brief visits to the dungeons of Deceit and Covetous. After my completion of Hythloth, I headed to the dungeon of...Hold the presses. I feel the sudden urge to make fun of stupidity come on!

pride, leading to death by one's own deeds. Also one of the anti-virtues in the world of Ultima
"Hythloth caused many many deaths when Hitler tried to raise up the Nazi's, his master race."

Ohhhhh boy. Even if the writer were correct in the definition, the usage doesn't make much sense.


From Hythloth, I returned to Buccaneer's Den, where Blackthorn captures me and tosses me into a dungeon! Specifically, the dungeon of Deceit. Which, strictly speaking, isn't a jail. Escape involved the use of a phase spider statue, which allos me to enter a parallel universe exactly the same as the present one, but where I can pass through tables, chairs, gates, and other non-door items. Manipulating levers there causes equivalent gates to open in the real world.

I'll just let that paragraph pass without comment, because there's no hope in trying to make any sense of it. Just let it pass, because the rest of Deceit is fairly entertaining, with weird timed-arrow shooting puzzles, some lava draining and filling, and so on. Eventually I met Mariah, though y ou don't seem to be able to avoid her via conversation; instead, i just ran past her. Outside in Moonglow, I am sent on random quests by a wizard who wants me dead, and whose quests are simply wild goose chases. In the last quest he sends me to...a cave where I find the item to control his soul.



OK. Continuing...Another wizard wants Mariah's shield. I go into her house and down to her basement, and flip some switches to retrieve the shield. Mariah appears out of literally nowhere, tells me to watch out for the mage, then vanishes as if she never existed. Trading the shield for the sigil lets me cleanse the shrine, and I'm done! Oh yeah, I made the "Lycaeum," which is now a floating building with a dubious oracle in it, appear. It told me the mantra that I already knew...

Cove...erm, Minoc...uh...Cove...that is, Minove was next. It seems like Minove was the least-thought out portion of the entire game. Blackthorn is in the town hunting for the lenses with which he can view the Codex; when the townsfolk refuse to hand them over, he puts a curse on the town using some really ridiculous magic words (I think "klunk" was one of them), which I assumed to be fake because before he said it, he added "You folk are a supersticious lot..." But it turned out to be real! Ahh. The dungeon on the island was Covetous, where I retrieved a blackrock crystal ball which always tells the future, but which for whatever reason I can't use to, you know, help me in my quest. The dungeon itself was a fairly tiresome one, with multiple levels and some fairly tough monsters (Skeletons that come back to life unless you steal a bone--I had about a dozen skulls in my backpack at the end).

Oh yeah, it had the worst enemy of all--massive numbers of crashes. Maybe every 10 minutes. The experience was so thoroughly miserable that I used a walkthrough to get me through it in as little time as possible. That allowed me to find a powerful bladed staff which actually doesn't seem very tough, and a helm of radiance that there is NO way I would have found on my own! Maybe I'm missing lots of other magic items, too.

That done, I headed back to Britain, hoping to never set foot in Covinoc again. I did learn one random plot detail--Julia, the guardian of the glyph of sacrifice, is in love with me. Poor girl. Is that why she'd always be seriously mad at you when you asked her to leave your party in the previous games? Hmmm...

Moonglow also posed a lot of problems for me--saving my game there and then reloading did not work, so I had to go back into Deceit every time. This was quite frustrating. I also experienced crashes, but switching to emulated Glide let me get through without a problem. I anticipate finishing the game tomorrow, but the blog will continue for a few more days. This is a LONG game and I have spent an enormous amount of time playing it!

One of the troubles of this blog, of course, is that it's so goal centered that I don't feel compelled to spend as much time just exploring and seeing what's around in this or the other games. Actually, I guess I did in the beginning (I remember visiting all the planets of Ultima II), but this late in my effort I am honestly pretty eager to be done! I can't believe it's been a year.

I have written on my hand a note that occurred to me at work yesterday, while writing interrupt routines for some printer firmware and listening to music--The song "Hope Road" by Anne Clark has some cheesy electronic music that for some reason brings to mind the castle music in Ultima III for the NES. My brother played that game for many hours when I was much younger, and listening to the MIDI version of the game music now brings back a lot of memories. Plus, the tune itself is fairly wistful. Which leaves me to think about Ultima music generally. Ultima IX's is very nice; a variety of presentation, with each town involving the melodies of its requisite principles of Truth, Love and Courage...I need to figure out how to extract it. Ultima IV and V have some good songs as well, and I also like the "Bane" theme from Serpent Isle. The most cohesive music is probably in Ultima Underworld II, where there's this attractive recurring theme in all the music, most notably in the haunting tune from the Tombs of Praecor Loth and the one from the ice caverns...

I wish I had a better MIDI synth. In fact, I don't know why it's not possible to just go buy some gigantic wavetable, store it on your hard drive, and then let your PC generate extremely high quality waveform files directly from the MIDI. Or maybe it is easy to do that. Whatever the case, you could end up with some sweet versions of the Ultima music.

Oh yeah, Ultima IX's cutscenes have suddenly quit showing. Not that it's much of a loss.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Forgot a comment!

I forgot to make a note re: Hacki's Ultima Nitpicking page. I've never been a fan of it, largely because the description of all the Ultima games contains at least one dig on Ultima IX, which is sort of amusing because I don't think it's a good game, but which makes me almost feel sorry for the poor thing from the pile-on. Also, there's a lot of "just plain wrong" in there, e.g., I was "off to kill Malichir" in Ultima VIII--dude, he attacks you--or, "Erethian doesn't notice the magic problems" in Forge of Virtue, when in reality there is specific dialog for that very situation when he tries to magically create a forge. I am amused by the effort (I fondly remember a "Star Trek" nitpicker's guide of the same genre) but the way it's presented rubs me the wrong way.

Ultima IX, Day 2

Well, my second day went pretty well, still no significant crashes. I have discovered that I *DO* get sound effects, but that they are inexplicably quiet. If I shut off music and speech and turn the volume on my receiver all the way up to the point I can hear static, then I can hear the Avatar's "Ahh" when he punches the air, and the sound of smashing barrels, etc. Very weird. On the other hand, that doesn't seem to add much to the game, so I am not upset at its lack.

Day 2 comprised four events--probably there was some overlap with Day 1 and 3, but shh, it's convenient to break it up by dungeon.

1) Buccaneer's Den
Raven takes me here to meet Samhayne, who wants me to go off to Hythloth and fix that column, offering the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom (!!!) as an incentive. I guess he just found it laying around somewhere. And why not? In Ultima VI, the vortex cube was possessed by a cyclops family! In any case, I leave him behind, and go to Magincia through the tunnel. The password through said passage was "keelhaul," which Raven considered to be a pirate joke, but which I don't get. Outside of the passage is this annoying ghost who wants rum--annoying because every time you come within several feet of him, he asks "Have ye got the rum?" Ahhh, it drove me batty trying to explore the area.

2) New Magincia
In echoes of some of the Ultima VI rune quests, before Katrina (the lone inhabitant) will give me the rune, she needs me to accomplish some inane quests. including setting fire to a buzzards nest and killing a wolf who guards a shepherd's crook, a weapon oddly more powerful than anything I have thus far, including my flaming sword. Did I talk about the flaming sword? It was in the hedge maze near Lord British's castle. I got it the easy way, by climbing attop the hedges, ignoring the maze, and leaping to the center. That's one of the nice things about Ultima IX--if some aspect of traveling in the outer world seems annoying, you can often ignore it completely and find a way to climb over the mountains or another way around. Anyway, Katrina finally gives me the sigil, and then I get sucked by a whirlpool into Ambrosia!

3) Ambrosia
This quest and the stuff in New Magincia proved to be very brief, as compared to some of the quests in other towns. In Ambrosia, the gargoyle city, all I did was turn on a crappy sculpture on a tower and shatter their underwater dome. Sorry, guys. I then killed the queen and disappeared with a queen egg using a teleporter. The city is one of the more attractive locales in the game, with lots of floating buildings and some guy who built a boat out of rocks. I forgot to rescue a gargoyle from a prison (a side quest I have forgotten the content of), but after I smashed the dome, he showed up anyway, and a rock fell on him.

4) Hythloth
After Ambrosia, for some reason I end up in Britannia's sewer system, which is, again "for some reason," located in the middle of the ocean. And it has scattered magic statues to open up the exit back to Magincia. I guess you could argue that the gigantic towers on Magincia (all since fallen) suggest that they might also have had an extensive sewer system...In any case, Hythloth is divided into two parts--the part that leads to the exit, and the part that leads to absolutely nothing of value. I did not take the second leg of the journey, and opted to head back to Magincia directly. I started on it, remembered the "use tiny levers to turn on colored lights" puzzle, remembered hating it, and then ran back to the escape teleporter. I remember you have to turn them in a certain order to get gates to open, right? Is there any hint as to the order, or is it all trial and error? I've noticed that in Ultima IX I tend to overlook books or signs that are hard to see and which offer tips and explanations for this sort of puzzle...If there was anything, I missed it.

Once I cleansed the shrine, that was that.

As to comments...

I feel OK criticizing Ultima IX for spontaneously inventing a giant tower, because in Ultima V I don't remember there being more than one floor to the Shadowlord's keep, and because Ultima VII had a book documenting its history--inhabited by cyclopses, knights, a mage, then overrun by a swamp. I don't mind the fact that it's in the mountains again--I guess the swamps receded, and the mountains grew back(!?!?)--but it was weird that the history specifically made for it in VII was tossed out.

I don't understand the complaint about the fan patch renaming Ambrosia. They obviously wanted a gargoyle name for a gargoyle city; why would they choose something that sounds like Ambrosia if the point is they think gargoyles wouldn't name something Ambrosia? I've never used the dialog patch, so I can't say how much I agree with the changes that were made.

Another commenter insists Zelda is deep, though I still don't see it. Things which are "deep" are things which can be understood on multiple levels, or whcih consist of multiple layers; Ultima VI had this because the situation as it appears when you arrive is not the reality you uncover later on. Although I can't think of any games that I would call deep throughout, there are many aspects of the Ultima games that think have depth to them, beginning with the ending of Ultima III, where you discover that the supposed child of Mondain and Minax is some kind of machine to be destroyed a punch card program. It's something that I find interesting to think about once the game is over. There's other things, too, like the inexplicable presence of the Time Lord in one location in one cave in order to say once sentence and then disappear. It seems as if Garriott must have made this person for some reason as opposed to just making it a sign or plaque or something telling you the order of the cards; presumably, he ties into the fact that Exodus is actually a machine, and the Time Lord is the only person around that understands it.

Of course, depth does not equal fun, and plenty of decidedly shallow things are quite fun. I consider Zelda, whether considered when I played it in 1987 or today, to be in the latter category.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ultima IX, Day 1

Well, my gaming of Ultima IX has begun; in fact, it's continued for several days. It seems that in general I either am in the mood to play the game, or to blog, but rarely do I do both in the same day! In any case, the past several days I have made much headway, and I have to say I'm pretty eager to wrap this up. I'm hoping I can do so before Feb 14th, marking the end of a year since I started this effort!

This blog concerns day 1. With a few exceptions, it seems that I can cleanse a shrine in about 2-3 hours worth of gameplay, from my first arrival in the town to the cleanse. This first day is probably about 2.5 hours; Despise is short, but there's a lot of pre-emptive stuff you have to get out of the way. The beginning of the game is terribly incoherent, in my view--for some reason, you're back on Earth. At the end of Ultima VIII, you had just appeared on a bleak landscape with fire everywhere, right? I guess starting on Earth makes some sense (you have to learn how to play). but it's still pretty disconcerting. The game really begins when you are tossed into Stonegate (after a brief appearance on a mountaintop--again--you are whisked away).

Someone apparently decided to rebuild Stonegate into a freakishly gigantic tower, and also to create some Shadowlord statues from outside. So Stonegate hints at one of the things I find generally annoying about Ultima IX--it tries to pay homage to previous games, but it does so in ways that are just kinda disconcerting, like this spontaneously rebuilt Stonegate.

But before I rip on the game too much, I should probably mention some of the good points. I think the dungeons are, by far, the highlight of the game, the early ones, at least, are well designed and challenging without being frustrating. The puzzles are interesting and inventive, and make good use of the 3-D engine. The outdoor world is also interesting, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore with unexpected items laying around. However, the outer world is pretty darn cramped, and feels tiny. There's a brigand living right behind Lord British's castle!? The fact that monsters re-spawn forever, at least outside, can also be tiresome--I must have killed that thief near the east gate of Britain at least 30 times; you'd think the thieves would quit lurking there. I know the older games had this problem too. One of the interesting things about the cramped world, also, is that it's accentuated by the 3D view--because you can look in the distance, you can see the island that you won't get to any time soon, or the goblin on the mountaintop, or whatever' Ultima VII was also a pretty crowded game, but since you were stuck in the overhead isometric view, it didn't feel as much that way.

But that's a long digression from the plot points! Britain has been corrupted by the column and its inhabitants are not quite so compassionate as they might be, shipping the poor off to the swamp town of Paws. Things reach a head after you finish up Despise and the mayor's daughter is carted off. He eventually learns his lesson, as you would expect. What's interesting is that his compassionate-ness seems to improve even before cleansing the shrine. Each shrine requires the glyph from the column and a virtue-themed artifact from the town (in this case a big blue crystal heart--which seems to be as big as my head; how do I fit this in my backpack!?) to be cleansed, after which the music (sometimes) changes to a happier (and IMO a worse) tune. Despise is a simple dungeon to work through, but it has some interesting features, such as a non-essential magic shield quest (which I never completed--you need four crystals; I found three and learned all the shield did is improve your magic and gave up), and a lot of log books and other such things that indicate that Lord British has sent expeditions into the dungeon and has almost created a little town there, albeit a totally self-insufficient one (all the guard posts have been abandoned...)

In the bottom, you meet Iolo, who has been corrupted but who is a weakling. Fetching the glyph apparently cures him and he goes back to stay with Gwenno nearby.

So one of the more interesting places in the game is the big museum in Britain, which collects a wide array of miscellany from previous games, from the obvious like the cards that killed off Exodus (they are playing cards, but I envision them as more akin to old computer punchcards) and the vortex cube (which does not seem to be cubical) to the obscure, like Khorgin's fang from Ultima VIII and the blue tassel from Ultima II.

Once upon a time there was a website which had 3D representations of a bunch of the magic weapons from various games in the series; a similar effort at making representations of some of the interesting quest items could be worthwhile too.

A word on screenshots...I'm not posting any for now because they come out so terrible. I'm going to have to ponder what I will do about this.