Blogging Ultima

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fake Ultima 7, Day 5/6

I'm back! I've played a few more hours of SNES Ultima VII the past couple of days. Among other things, I tracked down and destroyed the sphere and I'm currently--literally, right at this very moment--in a dungeon beneath Serpent's Hold where I am waiting for my magic points to regenerate enough to cast several Unlock Magic spells. This version of the game only has a few of the tunes from the original game, so I am listening to an endless loop of the music I associate with the taverns. The MIDI you can download has a particular name, but it's not coming to mind. I was sad that the Fellowship music doesn't seem to be present, which was always my favorite from Ultima VII. I even taught myself to play part of it on the piano, an amusing experience since I had not otherwise played piano :-P

I am getting off topic. Most of the past few gaming sessions have been spent in dungeons. It seems I never give up hope that I'll find something cool in them! I am specifically targeting the dungeons for which maps don't exist. However, I am beginning to understand why maps don't exist...For example, in the Britannian Sewers, I worked my way to the third level or so and all I get is a door with a brick wall behind it. In fact, the Guardian's head pops up and for some reason expresses his disappointment (see screenshot). I would have enjoyed hearing the Guardian voice from Ultima VII say that, actually. There's also some kind of system of caves by which multiple dungeons are connected, but I have such low confidence that the dungeons will be worthy of exploration that I'm loathe to figure it out.

I just took a break to play the game and discovered that instead of finding my way to the cube generator, I seem to have found my way to the Fellowship Meditation Retreat--And what an un-relaxing retreat it is, full of mongbats and giant spiders firing yellow spheres and green blobs, respectively. This seems to mean I need to delve back into the dungeon. Argh! I should probably create a map this time around...

I have attached some screenshots. These include the stupid brick wall (maybe I should have used a powder keg on it?), the destroyed sphere generator and a conversation with Zorn. Why Zorn? Well, I talked to him recently and it's probably worth seeing how the conversation system has changed. I feel like, but am not certain, that a bunch of the graphics were taken from the SNES Ultima VI. Especially the potted plants and cauldrons, which look suspiciously familiar! I'll need to include those next time.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fake Ultima 7, Day 3/4

Well, I'm back. I played an awful lot of Ultima 7 SNES the past couple of days, and a high degree of disappointment is beginning to set in. I feel like the broken-ness that plagued Serpent Isle and Ultima VII is showing itself in this release as well. I say this because I spent about an hour wandering around Dungeon Stonegate yesterday, and eventually had to give up and load an old saved state because the dungeon appears to be insoluble. Understanding why this was required entails some understanding of the absurdity of the SNES Ultima VII dungeon system: When you enter a dungeon, you are teleported to a beginning spot in a maze and are unable to exit until you find a usually-weakling boss, kill it, and retrieve the "dungeon key" which can then be used on a particular kind of door, teleporting you out of the dungeon. Most of the dungeons are fairly small and repetitive, but they frequently have puzzles including levers, switches that look exactly like Ultima VI's wall switches, and even Zelda-esque holes in walls created via powder kegs. This is all well and good, except a decent percentage of the levers and switches don't seem to do anything at all. There are also keys, most of which look identical, and each of them goes to a particular type of door. Sadly, it seems that keys don't even exist for some of the doors in Stonegate (also true of Conceit, and probably other dungeons). Sigh!

The other thing I don't enjoy about the SNES Ultima 7 dungeons is something that was also an issue with the dungeons of Ultima IV and before: There's just no reason to go in except for quest items. I spent another hour earlier in the week exploring dungeon Conceit, and found nothing except junk--small amounts of gold, potions, and weapons already available from monsters. One of the fun aspects of Ultima VI and to a greater extent VII was that you never knew quite what you would find hidden in the depths! In this game I've become leery of doing any exploration because I might be wasting time and mapping.

I attached some screenshots. One is of the sea navigation system in Ultima VII--Hope you like selecting destinations from a map! Another features the Time Lord with some special purple tiles created just for him. Another includes a stone harpy from the dungeon that replaced Sutek's castle, and the remaining image is of the ethereal monster, which brings to mind another irritant: One of the townsfolk in Moonglow commented that Penumbra had been asleep forever andno one knew how to wake her, but maybe I could figure it out! Well, guess what? The provision shop sells an "awaken" potion! I guess no one thought of that? Anyway, they sold it for 1000 gold, which is pretty absurd given that most monsters drop only a handful of gold coins, maybe 3 or 4. Or else a turkey or a lockpick or one of several fairly crappy weapons. Fortunately, just like Ultima III, you can engage in absurdity to load up on the gold by repeatedly casting "lift" on a big rock near Minoc, fetching a stack of gold, entering a house, exiting, and repeating. That's how I earned enough for the potion and for the boat, which required 3000 gold.

As a final note, I was vaguely aware of the guy on a forum somewhere playing through all the Ultimas with extra screenshots. I seem to recall there were also some blogs for Zelda and for Dragon Quest, but I am not sure if they made it all the way. There's also a masochist out there who is going to play every RPG, and insists on avoiding save states, which seems impossible for some of those early, poorly balanced games where you are wiped out by a tough monster as soon as you enter the dungeon. If life were D&D I think he'd have a higher constitution than I.

I think the blog project the world *REALLY* needs is someone to write about playing every single Tetris-esque game ever made!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fake Ultima VII, Day 1/2/3

Well, I did it. I began the SNES Ultima VII. My opinion is pretty torn. On the one hand, it''s much less fun a game to play than the original; it feels as if someone took the basic plot outline of Ultima VII and stapled it on top of a fairly typical console action-RPG. Here''s some of the similarities to the original and some of the differences:

1. Most of the monsters and character figures are the same as on the PC, with some strange exceptions. There are bouncing green heads as monsters in addition to the skeletons, scorpions, rats, headlesses and trolls. Similarly, the generic robed man has been replaced with a robed man with no hood, and the generic grungy townsperson is now a same grungy townsperson but with blond hair!

2. The world geography is quite similar, but on a much smaller scale. Most of the dungeons have shifted in position or ceased to exist altogether. Unlike the PC game, the dungeons are on a distinct map from the overworld (more like Ultima VI). All of the dungeons have been completely replaced inside; none of the maps are even close. They are much more combat focused than the original, with monsters being generated even if you walk only a few feet away! The puzzles at least so far are nearly nonexistent, besides the ocassional lever or object that needs to be lifted to reveal...well, another lever!

3. The towns are all there, but reorganized. The conversations are also generally there, but dramatically truncated, and most of the quests have been shifted around. For example, Skara Brae''s quest is largely handheld. Mordra allows you to speak to people; Trent gives you a music box; Rowena gives you a ring; Trent builds a cage; Rudolfo (!) attacks you; you put his bones in a cage; put the cage in a well; use the potion Caine gives you.

4. The game does not seem very dramatic at all. A typical example if Owen the shipwright--instead of killing himself, he just expresses mild annoyance that he won't get a statue of himself.

I suppose today''s entry is just a brief introduction. I have been a bit of a lazy bum and not captured screenshots...maybe next time. My next entry will describe some of the things I find entertaining and some of the things I find highly irritating. Overall, I don''t think the game''s horrible reputation is all that deserved. It feels a lot like Runes of Virtue, actually--less serious, more action-oriented, but still with a certain amount of charm. The downside is that it's a port of a very different sort of game, and it suffers badly for the comparison.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ultima VII again, sort of!

Recently I had a sudden inspiration: It might be fun to blog an experience of playing that infamous Ultima VII port for the Super NES. I remember trying it once and hating it, but at the same time being eager to see just how different the game is as you go further into it. It is interesting to me how the Ultima III and IV for the NES were in some ways superior to their PC cousins, yet the SNES Ultima VII was so much worse. I assume it has to do with the gap in time between their respective releases--NES graphics are obviously superior to the Apple II graphics, even if I always thought the NES versions were irritatingly cartoonish. I also recall how Ultima III for the NES had a little bit of additional game balancing by forcing you to get the gold and silver picks before you could go dig up the exotics. It's been too long since I played the NES version of Ultima IV to remember any major differences there. Well, besides the toilets in the hotels!

Anyway, I think I'll start that sometime soon. It should prove amusing. In the comments someone asked for my e-mail address. It seems like there ought to be a way to send a message to me through Blogger that provides your email such that only I can see it...but I can't find any such method, so you can send me an email at I'm leery of getting new messages from spambots, but on the other hand I get so much spam already it won't matter much.

Friday, February 19, 2010


A commenter recently asked if this blog was defunct. I guess there's two answers:

1. Yes, because the stated objective was completed long ago. Consequently, there is nothing compelling me to come back and add posts.

2. No, because I remain alive and periodically have the urge to do Ultima-related stuff. See the replay of Underworld.

I hope my non-answer was useful :-) I have some other possible blog topics I could do. I tried doing one on the books I have been reading, for example, but it proved too time consuming and too reminiscent of schoolwork.

I do need to go in and delete all the spam comments on this blog, though. SO there's at least one more thing to do!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

UW, again

Turns out I had a backup copy of UW in, not shockingly, a subdirectory called "backup" in the UW directory on my laptop. I think I had simply corrupted some files or something because the backup played fine. Playing as a mage wasn't terribly different from playing as a fighter, though--except that virtually every skill is obviated by magic. The exception is combat! Most of the offensive spells are ranged, and the others like flame wind and sheet lightning seem kind of random in their effectiveness. One thing to keep in mind during the game is that a decent number of the harder quests can be ignored until later in the game, when they become almost comically easy. My favorite example is Rodrick, whom I ignored until I'd fully explored levels 5 and 6. Then I took him out with two fireballs. The gazer in the mines was also very easy with a couple of lighning bolts.

Here's a few random thoughts for some of the spells:
--detect monster, much like the tracking skill, seems pointless when there's a save game feature. The rune of warding also seems pretty dubious.

--You get a lantern early enough in the game that there's not much need for most of the light and night-vision spells, unless of course you want to ditch the lantern. I might have late in the game when I had to lug around those talismans, but instead I just dumped them by the level 8 staircase.

--poison could be a good spell, but it's too hard to tell what its effect on the target is.

--Remove trap and the equivalent skill are the most worthless in the game. I can't even remember any traps that they worked on.

--By contrast resist fire may be the best spell in the game because fireballs are so incredibly powerful and those fire elemental in level 7 really blast you with them.

--Open is of limited utility when the only doors that open with it are ones you can bash to bits with your fist anyway. The same goes for picklock as a skill.

--gate travel could have made life easier in a few places (like going all the way back up to see Shak) but I never really bothered to use it.

--I could have sworn there was part of the game where telekinesis was required, but apparently I was wrong. Must be remembering most of the other Ultimas :-P

--ally and summon are cool in concept, but it's a bit of a nuisance that the creatures don't start attacking immediately. It's also kind of pointless since they attack you after beating the enemy.

--invisibility doesn't seem to be all it's cracked up to be. Monsters don't seem to have much trouble seeing me.

--reveal is a weird one. Is there anything invisible out there? It's hard to know where to cast it unless you know something is invisible!

--Fly is very helpful in navigating big areas quickly, especially on level 8 when I want to go back to the stairs.

-flame wind and sheet lightning seem kind of inconsistent. I enjoyed using flame wind to blow away a gazer and four goblins during the trek to the key of courage, but sometimes it didn't seem to do much of anything.

--Sheet lightning and tremor were even less effective. I don't think the few times I used them that they hurt anybody!

--roaming sight is a lot of fun but very hard to control.

This time I also played as a mace user, but there's a lack of great maces. Maybe I should play as a ranged weapons user instead! That might be impossible. lol, or maybe unarmed!

As I mentioned a year or two ago, when I first wrote about the game, the thing I wish most were different is that the major quest items, the talismans, are almost all useless. I don't know exactly what I'd have them do, but it's annoying to lug around a bottle of wine I can't even open.

Enough ranting! I enjoyed replaying the game. I think I'm going to go amuse myself with roaming sight. I can get the same sort of effect from the Underworld map viewer out there, but it's not as fun because roaming sight also shows the items and creatures.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I just spent about an hour and a half searching google to no avail, when I decided I should use the blog instead! I was feeling the urge to play some Underworld as a mage for the first time, but DosBox fails. The graphics on the "looking glass productions" screen are totally garbled, but the "Ultima Underworld" with the flaming letters looks fine. The next screen, with journey onward etc. does not appear at all. The sound works great and I can even select the intro and hear (but not see) my dream and subsequent visit to Britannia.

I haven't played the game or, as I recall, changed any settings since my blogging back in 2007. It's very strange that it spontaneously quit working. Any suggestions out there? I also brought the game to a different PC (I wanted to play UW on my 28 inch monitor just to enjoy the absurdity size mismatch) and had the same problem with v0.73 of DosBox as I had with 0.72 on the laptop. Perhaps the game itself is corrupted. Too bad the CD is a few hundred miles away at present!

Kind of sad I might not be able to play the game again. For what it's worth, though, UW2 works fine.