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

Friday, March 2, 2007

Ultima III, Day 5

Well, I finished up the game today. Actually, I finished it up twice! The first hour was spent with the classic Death Gulch to Ambrosia trip, in which I maxed out the dexterity and strength of my wizard and druid. Afterwards, I hit the dungeon of time to meet the Time Lord, and killed guards to raise my level to 25 for all characters. In the midst of the last part, though, I encountered a very frustrating bug: Basically, when I attacked an enemy, the main world map would be used instead of the combat map. The more I played, the worse it got, so i went ahead and finished the game (barely) "just in case" I were unable to ever finish it the normal way.

The dungeon of Time was challenging, but being able to cast spells to take me up and down dungeon levels made it much simpler--I just zipped down to the 8th level and met the guy, who has a moongate on his belly, and zipped back up. I guess the image of the Time Lord is some kind of proto cutscene, except the image is made up of graphics from inside the game! It's sort of like Ultima IX in that respect; i think a lot of the cutscenes there involved the same engine.

Exodus Castle when you are too weak to tackle it is EXTREMELY difficult--It's hard to regain hit points, because inside the castle random explosions blast you while you are passing your turn as magic points replinish in order to cast a heal spell. I gave up on that and simply used the wizard's mass-kill spell and lots of AppleWin save states to get me through. Later on, the bug I experienced seemed to spontaneously fix itself, and I was able to play the game normally. I raised my druid and wizard up to 25000 hit points (they were half that previously) and I was able to tackle Exodus' castle without much difficulty. The same strategy persisted, but I no longer needed save states. I would cast mass kill, then my paladin and ranger would simply march up and destroy the enemies with their exotic weapons. The most absurd part of the game comes towards the end, when the floor tiles in front of the Exodus computer terminals attack you. It was entertaining but not that hard, because one hit kills them. I simply got my chaaracters into a line and had no trouble finishing them off.

This brings me to the antagonist of the game--Exodus! First of all, ths is a stupid name for a demonic computer--exodus is a noun that describes a journey. Did Garriott choose this name just because it sounded cool? Second, it's not clear what he does or what he is--he's got terminals obviosuly, but is there some kind of intelligence here? I know he had a dark core and a psyche from Ultima VII, and in statues he is always presented as a demon. So the way I think of Exodus is as some very powerful demon trapped by Mondain and Minax within the computer that presumably they built using futuristic technology of the earlier games. Why a particular seires of cards destroys him, I do not know!

In the final analysis, Ultima III was a vastly superior game to its predecessors. The world itself is much more interesting, with unique towns, all of which have unique features or clues. Still, it suffers from a lot game balance issues. For example, I could spend 3500 gold on a +2 bow. But why would I ever do that? The regular bow kills things quickly once you have increased your strength and dexterity. The dungeons are also extremely difficult for their contents. That is, there's no point in doing anything but zapping down to the bottom, getting your mark or whatever, and zapping back up to the enterance of the dungeon, because there are so many random traps and monsters, and nowhere near enough treasure to justify sticking around. Ultima VII improves this a bit, with lots of unique details worth seeing. I believe the same problem is a part of Ultima IV and to a lesser extent Ultima V.

I also approve of the fact that Ultima III has no meta junk in its game, no characters say (as one did in Ultima II) "Isn't this game great?" Lord British is still a bastard, of course, but at least the game sticks to its genre. The combat was also not anything close to as tedious as I originally anticipated--Once I had a boat, the cannons killed the land monsters, saving me a lot of hassle. In all, I finished Ultima III in about 14-15 hours, I suppose. Sadly, AppleWin's sound emulation is awful and the copies of the disks that feature music barely work, so I played without music. In the case of Ultima IV, however, I will be using the DOS version plus upgrades, so I shall have plenty of music to go with it. It may take some effort to get it working precisely the way I want it to, however--I need DOSbox or another tool to allow screenshots, for example, but getting the music to work inDOSbox may be tough.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog, it sure brings back some memories. I noted in your profile, you are too young to have played this when it came out, but I remember playing this back in the day with a friend on his very expensive Apple ][+. Hard to imagine that just a few people in town actually had computers in their homes at the time, so sharing was the order of the day.

Even way back then, we were quite underwhelmed by the final Exodus "scene" where we invoked the [spoiler hidden] only to hear the staticky "crunch-crunch" sound of Exodus' death knell. But getting there was all the fun.

UIII was so cool in its day that it got away with being over the top. The little things were played up big, like a little trouble in the countryside would start off with the message "CONFLICT!!! BRIGANDS!!!" I don't know if there were ever enough exclamation points in those messages. My favorite though was "You have found: plague". Joyous.

Keep it up! I look forward to future blog entries.

Ryutgarve of UO
and Ultimas III through VII

Anonymous said...

awesome project- definitely please keep it up. A few years ago I struggled to get the music working using a few different emulators, but eventually gave up and used applewin without sound, as well. so I guess it's ripe for a remake, too!

Anonymous said...

Here's something else that came back to me from oh-so-many years ago (junior high?!): I played U3 on the Macintosh, and I don't know about other versions, but as I recall, in this version it was actually possible to kill L.B.! How? Go into the castle, out the back door with a key... there was a ship waiting there (trapped in the moat, too bad). Sail around to the front, piss off the guards, and eventually L.B. himself comes huffing furiously out the front gate. Run back into the ship and blast him with the cannons!!!! (It's a bit anticlimactic as he just disintegrates like any other monster.)

Also, with a disk editor, I eventually managed to install an escape canal out of the moat at Castle Britannia. Riding the ship through it left you outside on the coast by the castle--with a ship! That was a big improvement, because there were almost NEVER any pirates in that version of the game--you could play for days and just despair of ever getting a hold of a ship.

Anonymous said...

Regarding a sequence of cards killing Exodus, I believe that this is a reference to older computers which used punch cards for program code. My assumption is that the cards, inserted in the correct order, cause Exodus to crash.

Anonymous said...

Erik O is right

Exodus is a Mainframe Computer. Those cards are Floppy Disks.

The whole "child" and "demon" thing is a medieval interpretation.

Its a Fourth Wall type ending


Ultimate Carl said...

Though funny, that is kind of an anticlimactic ending. I guess you could say the whole final castle is hard enough to count, but it seems like kind of a letdown that you don't get to fight an actual big nasty at the end. Also, don't you just love how the ending text is essentially an ad for the next game?

Anonymous said...

As stated in a previous post, it is tedious to heal yourself in the late game, and basically impossible to do in Exodus. Waiting 40 turns per 10 MP to cast a heal is merely annoying in other castles and dungeons, but it's actually dangerous in Exodus with the random fireballs.

If 2550 HP and a maxed-out party isn't enough to get you by the monsters, there are at least two ways to make your life easier.

I can't remember if powders (Negate Time) worked in Exodus, but I think they did. If that's the case, then you can move the monster to one extreme of the wall (with only the force field separating you), use the powder, and move around them to safety. Very reminiscent of how you might have tackled Shadowguard in Ultima II.

If you want to take it a step further than that, you'll need (I think) three ships and a horse. Move each ship past the earth serpent and build a "bridge" from the moongate that appears on the right of the castle area. Once you can walk from the moongate area to the castle proper, buy a horse, ride the horse through the moongate, and gallop into the castle.

I've never actually combined the powder-and-horses method, but I would be willing to bet that you could get to Exodus largely unimpeded via that route (assuming my memory is correct and powders work). You still have to fight the floors, but I don't think that can be helped.

Also, while, yes, Exodus (as it is in U3) is a computer, the cards are _not_ floppy disks. They're punch cards, which is what many mainframe computers used to run on.

It is at least conceivable that LB- programming in a floppy disk world in the early 80s- could have thought of this as a metaphoric crusade to wipe out the "evil" of punchcard programming of the 70s (and times earlier), especially if he, or someone he knew, had experience with the latter. Anyone who had to use the damned things very conceivably could have thought of the devices as _quite_ demonic. ;o

Anonymous said...

I played UIII 'back in the day' on my C64. I'm playing it again on my Pocket PC w/ a emulator at the moment. I'm kinda stuck. I'm running around on the main map mounted on horses. I just found and defeated another pirate ship, how the heck do I get off the horses and board the ship? Any help would be appreciated, thanks!

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly, Garriot did in fact program the earliest version of Akalabeth on his high school's mainframe using punch cards. He would write out all the code ahead of time in a notebook and scour it for errors before going through the tedious process of entering it into the computer. To play the game, you actually had to wait for the computer to print out each frame since there was no moniter.