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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ultima VI: Day 1

Today I began my quest in Ultima VI. I explored Britain for an hour and a half, essentially, plus a side trip to Cove. Among other things, I had a stimulating chat with a dog, talked to a fat man who I thought was a woman, and got Iolo killed by a wizard's pet dragon (thus cutting short my Cove vacation). Aye carumba.

I think the technological leap between Ultima V and Ultima VI was something like the leap between uUtima III and Ultima V, it's just totally staggering. Gone are the one-key-per-command interface, replaced with a handful of icons for using, moving, talking, attacking and a few others. Added are attractive portraits of everyone you meet, a huge number of new tiles and items, and just a lot more color in general.

In fact, I think it's color that really distinguishes Ultima V and VI in appearance--There's a lot more black in V. Grassland tiles are specks of green on a black background, whereas here they are all shades of green. Ultima VI's character creation was much like that of its predecessors, except this time you get to choose your face, and there are a handful of hair colors for white avatars, and a black avatar as well. I always wondered--did the term "avatar" as a general word for an online presence have its origin in the Ultima games? I thought the original word meant some kind of leader, so it's weird that would get co-opted for the Internet.

Anyway...people are very talkative, and I've already been hit on by the nice girl at the treasury. Ah, if only I were really the Avatar! Then the teller at the real-world bank would try to woo me rather than simply say "WELCOME PLEASE SLIDE CARD."

Ultima VI is open-ended, and I managed to catch a whole lot of threads of plot and non-plot to follow, just from this one town: I have to find the jester's clues, I must find a book for Lord british, I have to see Penumbra, save the shrines, and talk to a hurt dude in Cove about gargoyles, though he actually had remarkably little to say!

I think the game starts off on the wrong foot. First of all, the castle is completely deserted, save for British, a cook, Geoffrey and the mage Nystul, the last two of whom literally do not converse with you; they just give the same long-winded speech over and over again. Second, you appear in the throne room, and they just sit there why gargoyles (who follow through a moongate after the Avatar is saved from a sacrifice...long story) try to kill you!

One of the amusements in this game and Ultima V (and later games, too) is to read tombstones. For some reason they are almost all these silly insulting poems. An example:

Roger's manner was formal and stiff
Until one day he fell off a cliff
Now his body's a cordial host
To worms and maggots for now he's a ghost.

Ew. This prompted me to invent a prayer to use when I camp in the woods:

As I lay me down to sleep
Pray British my soul to keep
And if I die before I wake
Don't let Iolo give me a rhyming tombstone

Speaking of camping in the woods, it seems to be the only choice for sleep. I was given a room in the castle, but the bed does not seem usable for sleeping. Hmmm...

Speaking of sleeping...


Anonymous said...

Re: "specks of green on a black background"

This is a common "feature" of many early tile-based RPGs.
Especially of the ones which originate on the Apple II.
Examples are Phantasie, Questron I, Magic Candle I, Wrath of Denethenor, Darklord and Xyphus.

Part of the reason surely is that the standard hires graphics mode of the Apple II has several peculiarities because of its hardware implementation.
To avoid unwanted colors when two differently colored tiles are next to each other its often easier to use black or white "borders" around the shapes.

I guess black is also the wiser choice when a game plays in "darker times".

Several of the above mentioned games were also heavily "inspired" by the Ultima series so this developed into some kind of fashion which died away with the more colorful newer platforms.

Re: "avatar"
Actually this word has its roots in religion:


Jeff said...

You sure you can't [U]se the bed?

Unknown said...

Basically, an "avatar" is a god who has taken human form on earth. The general idea is that the avatar in the ultima series is an "avatar" of the person on their computer, or some variation on that, depending on which game you are playing.

The internet version of the an avatar could be called your personal incarnation on the web. My guess, however, would be that it could have originated from all the people playing their "avatars" in Ultima Online?

Anonymous said...

True and astute comment on the technical leap that Ultima VI represented. This was astonishing to me a the time and what I had always hoped would be possible in an Ultima.

Most objects in the game had names, weight or other characteristics and many could be manipulated. Oh joy!

I spent countless hours "click-exploring" the wonderful art of the game's creators - just standing there looking at candlesticks mounted on walls, handcuffs on crates, reading tombstones (as you mentioned) and many, many books. Great stuff!

Ultima Online was the ultimate execution of this level of detail - truly a click-explore paradise. Oops, I skipped ahead. On with U6!

of Ultimas III-VII and UO.

Anonymous said...

You can't "use" beds in the game -- all sleeping has to happen a set distance from any piece of "civilization" (except, sometimes, vineyard trellis structures).

Oh, Ophidian...the baker in Britain who is near the armourer and fletcher...I dare you: try and just buy one roll from the guy.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say Rock On! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your progress so far and will continue too until you reach your endgame! Good luck and know that so many of us are cheering for you in the background. Do not give up!

Rodneylives said...

On the origin of the term "avatar" as it applies to computer games:

The term originates from the Hindu meaning of an incarnation of a higher being, which is fitting considering the role that video game alter-egos have relating to a player.

The first use of the term in this capacity was probably in the old virtual world Habitat (the first true graphic virtual world), where all player characters were "avatars." The use of the term in Ultima dates back to the same origin, but is different: the Avatar in Ultima games is a specific character who only happens to be the player. He is not The Avatar because the player controls him.

Anonymous said...

Of ocurse you can sleep in an inn. You do it through the dialogue though. The innkeeper gives you a price for your party (for room and breakfast), and then, AFAIR, you type in the number of hours you want to sleep.

Ultimate Carl said...

This was my first Ultima, too, though I played the SNES version. Great game!

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Anonymous said...

The game may have been a technological leap from U5.

Nonetheless, my first reaction upon seeing the game on my friend's C64 was, "Ughh."

WE loved U5. I could not get beyond the graphics of U6. The colors and so much more distracted me. High School had a way of changing the paths my friend and I were on. I never finished the game with him. To this day he tells me what a good game it was. I believe him. It just wasn't for me.

Tim Wu said...

I am playing Ultima VI right now.

I agree with those who think Ultima made a wrong turn with VI. It is just too hard to figure out what's going on and where you are going.

I feel like the world was much bigger in Ultima V in a certain way. Just compare the Lord British castles in each game.