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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Ultima Underworld, Day 2

Today, the first thing I did with Ultima Underworld was install a mouse. Trying to play that game with a touchpad is a painful proposition (at least, immediately afterwards it is...ouch). I have continued my thorough exploration of each level in about a two hour period--and I think I'll be able to keep it up until level 6 or so, most likely.

The quests on level 2, the home of the mountainfolk, are not very comlplicated. First, an ironwitted fellow named Ironwit lost some blueprints, and sent me to retrieve them. A headless and a bunch of flesh worms later, he got them, and gave me a fly potion as payment. Yay! I also found a lantern, which is my favorite light source in the game, and elsewhere on the level, sliced and diced something like six grey goblins.

The second quest was to invade a mine and kill a mean old gazer which is staring at everybody, and probably eating them too. This wasn't too hard, though the gazer has some tough hide and took a bunch of hits. Also, I have found that my mouse freezes up once in awhile, leaving me unable to move or attack, and I can be easy prey in such situations! At any rate, my reward for killing the gazer was to get a medallion of some sort, which I swear looks like a pizza cutter. Offering the king of the dwar...ahem, the mountainmen some gold also got me a look at his treasure chamber. It strikes me that treasure is not of much value in the abyss...but I leapt in and attacked the golem guard anyway! Unfortunately, he pounded me flat into the ground.

I didn't realize the keyboard arrow keys don't work in Underworld I (or at least not in DOSBox), so getting around is a little frustrating. I'm so used to Half-Life-ish interfaces, where I can use the mouse to turn and keyboard to move forward that it's hard to use the older interface! I did eventually realize that w and x move forward and back, so I was able to use that knowledge to fight better. Speaking of fighting better, I improved my attack skill at the shrine, and I also discovered that using the multiple-skill mantras gives you far more cumulative points than the skill-specific ones. That seems to be by far the best way to improve my mana! For kicks, here is a rundown of all the skills and my opinion of them:

Attack: Highly useful if you decide to engage anything in combat
Defense: Useful if you enage anything in combat, and they are likely to fight back
Axe: Useless for me, since I don't use axes
Sword: This one is good for me, but it takes some time to find the mantra as I recall
Missile: I never found much use for missile weapons in the Underworld
Mace: There are some good magic maces, I think, but I don't look for them much.
Mana: Absolutely required for magic.
Casting: Required for magic that does not backfire and hurt you...
Lore: I like a high lore skill to identify magic items
Appraise: Since bartering is not very useful, neither is this skill.
Charm: See appraise
Swimming: Possibly the most useful in the game, at least before you can cast Water Walk. Thus far, 10 has been sufficient for all the swimming I've had to do so far.
Sneak: Not sure how exactly it works--It is useful in concept but I'm not sure if it is in practice.
Search: I have not seen a direct effect from increasing this skill.

I have a lot more skill points to use (1 + my level, it seems), but I don't want to spend them until I can increase swords or lore. In summary, I don't have the mantras I need, and I am a bit weaker than I ought to be at level 9 as a result :-(

On level 2, you can find Corby, Cabirus' scribe, but without knowing his ages when he wrote the Memoirs and when I met him now I can't get much info from our encounter...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ultima Underworld, Day 1

No rest for the weary! Before I start talking about Underoworld I, I will mention a forgotten loose end from Martian Dreams and offer some final thoughts on that game.

5) Who is the lady with glasses who wears green, the first person you see in the line of people to go back to Earth?

Martian Dreams was a little less fun because I had already played two games with the same engine; there was less excitement in starting it because I had gotten used to that style of play. It also suffered a little bit from a problem that Savage Empire had, in that the difficulty level of certain monsters (especially the crawling cactuses...I despised those things!) discouraged me from exploring Mars as much as I explored Britannia in Ultima VI, which is why I missed those shoes (also, according to Paulon, they were hidden under a rock...) and the green lady. I did try to explore some places, though, it's just that I didn't find muh to see. I went over every nch of the terrain west of Hellas, for example, when I was waiting for that seed to grow, but just didn't see much. I think the plot of this game was vastly superior to that of Savage Empire, but the interactivity went a step backwards (at least in terms of building stuff from raw materials), as did the NPC scheduling to some extent (I saw Carnagie vanish and reappear elsewhere on a number of ocassions, and Yellin never moved, let alone slept).

I think Martian Dreams did highlight the desperate need for a conversation tree system like Ultima VII. There was a LOT of text, and sometimes it is hard to both read all the details, and also keep in mind all the keywords you need to ask about. I tried to keep a queue of keywords in my head, but I sometimes forgot them because one keyword would generate so much more information. Also, I remember asking Carnegie about "cannon" referring to the space cannon that would launch everyone back to Earth, but instead he talked about how it was too much work to make me any cannonballs. Eh? That being said, the choices of character icons was improved over Savage Empire, and I liked how all the characters in an area seem to have a distinct icon (a strategy also used in Serpent Isle to great effect).

Now, onto Underworld. I love Underworld--It didn't usd to be my favorite Ultima game, and it still isn't, but it's moved way up there, maybe to #2 or #3 (note to self: do a countdown at the end). The plot and the game engine and the quests and all seem perfectly in tune with one another, and it presents kind of a "micro story" of an event in Britannia, a fairly mior historical note, that we don't otherwise see in the games. Mygame time today...Well, there is very little to talk about. I thoroughly explored level one of the dungeon, chatted with goblins and wimpy loser human outcasts, and so on. It had the feel of an "introduction" level; even the treasure that I found didn't seem very impressive (it sucks to do an annoying jump only to find a "servicable leather cap" for the effort...)

A short plot recap: A mysterious blue bearded fellow contacts me as I sleep and yells in a hilarious voice, "treachery and dooooooom!" His brother is releasing a great evil. I am sucked into his wobbly blue head and appear in the bedroom of the local Baron, whose daughter has just been kidnapped. I am tossed in the Abyss, suspected of conspiring to kidnap her. That's basically all the information you start with.

I will take some time to talk about my choices in creating my character. A lot of my choices were based on my memory of the game, specifically, you eventually get a Sword of Justice that you have to carry around all the time, so it seems quite reasonable to start with a good swords skill. I also recall that swimming is *extremely* tedious if your skill is low, so I chose that too. My final option was the Lore skill, which helps me identify magic items, also a nice skill! My chracter class was Bard, because 1) it's what I always end up as after the virtue test and 2) it allowed me to choose both swimming and lore.

I am currently level 6, but I have not used any of my skill points yet--you raise skills by using the points at shrines, but you must know the mantra for each skill, and I have not found any mantras yet (not for specific skills anyway). All I have I a recipe for rotworm stew. I will probably be using a lot of those points on magic skills--currently, I think I have a whopping 2 mana points, which is not very useful for spellcasting...

Also, as a special feature, and for this game only, I am going to make a list of "When did it happen?" evidence that I get from in the game, because one of the most fun parts of Ultima Underworld is figuring out when it happened with respect to the 200 year gap between Ultima VI and Ultima VII.

-The king of green goblins knew Cabirus, who died not long before the greys stole off into the night.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Martian Dreams, Day 5

I finished Martian Dreams somewhat earlier than anticipated--the most interesting fact is that I had absolutely no recollection of a lot of the quests leading up to the end, even though I played them before. Specifically, I don't remember the quest Paulon correctly referred to as the most long and boring in the game--Bringing a cart full of iron ore to Carnegie from the mine I had visited at the beginning of the game to fint the Iolo, Shamino and Dupre clones.

Let me backtrack--when I visited the pumping station with my new robotic friend Cshesket, I was told by Diver, another robot, that robots needed a special coating to get past the steam blasts nearby, so I went to rubberize Cshesket. She complained that I didn't have the dye--which was true, if you recall from yesterday. So it turns out she can just walk through the steam without any coating at all! Hooray. Anyway, that go the canals working, and it was time to get iron for Carnegie. I began by sailing a nearby barge, filling a wheelbarrow with ore, and taking it in. Not good enough. I needed a whole cart full, and for that I needed to go get a totally different barge from the other side of the world and sail it to the mine. I was unable to sheel a cart out from inside the mine to outside the mine, because the idiot Yellin was standing on the track and wouldn't move. So instead, I had to drill the ore and shovel it to a nearby cart. Then I pushed that cart down somewhat close to the mine enterance. Next, I shoveled that into a wheelbarrow, one shovel-ful at a time, and rolled it out to the barge, and put it on the other cart. Once I had seven loads, I was free, and I took it to Carnegie. He told me he'd have his men mine the rest of the ore he needs, and gave me cannonballs to enter Aryre with.

1) What men!?
2) Why did I have to bring this big pile of ore? Couldn't I just tell you? Ahhh.

The rest of the game took about an hour. I made Cshesket look like a hot nude woman because those rouge berries and the rubberizer in the pumping station were just that good, and then challend Raxachk in the dream world (he abandoned Rasputin's body, killed his henchmen, and retreated). The challenge was against the three Shadowlords, and they were not ultimately all that challenging. The first, deling with determining a real from a fake Spector was easiest. The second involved giving a healing potion to a grouchy martian, and the third required me to run up against but not actually fight a big sand monster of some sort. My favorite quote was when I hit one of the Spectors in the first room of Falsehood, and Faulenei teleported me out and told me, "Resorting to violence, Astaroth would be so proud!" It was cool to see the Shadowlords again, at any rate.

The final part of the game had me grab use some glowing dream stuff to make a modern weapon with which to kill Raxachk, but I don't really know how I did it. There was a big blob of dreamstuff, and when I tried to use it or get it, I was told "you lack the mental capacity" or "cannot be used." Then I ate three berries of different colors, and it worked. Maybe that was the idea? Anyway, I dreamed up an M-60 and blew through Raxachk's crystal walls and shot the plant to bits. I enjoyed the endgame--all the characters are in a line as I head to the space cannon, and I got to say goodbye to all of them.

The total time came out to about 12 hours, I think, a few longer than Savage Empire, but still quite short! Here's my canonical list of loose ends:

1) Apparently the martians in human bodies survive a long time, long enough to give me a photograph of myself. Why does history not record these events? There is a parade at the end! Maybe the manual explained this and I missed it.

2) Only about three of the martians I met were given robo-human bodies by the end of the game. Where'd the rest go?

3) Paulon said to be careful with the cannonballs--I'm assuming he probably put them in a cannon facing thr wrong direction, because barges cannot be turned and the wall you have to blow up is to the left. Fortunately I had tried with regular cannons!

4) There are shoes somewhere that will take you home, as Paulon mentioned in a comment, but I didn't find them. Granted I didn't explore as thoroughly later in the game. I'm not exactly sure where they are, but I remember finding them last time.

Sadly, I was not invited to write to Lord British to report my feat this time, but I did get an email reminding me that I haven't tried to install Tabula Rasa yet, so perhaps I will give it a go. It's probable my laptop will not handle it, but I said I would try.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Martian Dreams, Day 4

The first hour or so today was spent killing time, waiting for my pod to grow. I went hunting for the lab at the north pole, never being able to find it. The dream-world martians told me to go up there and look for it, and finally asking one of them about "icecap" resulted in her telling me that the lab is sometimes frozen over. Aye carumba. I then repaired the three ruby lenses which use the sun to melt the icecaps, or rather, I repaired one of them--the other two needed help from the currently-posessed occupants of Elysium.

Eventually, I broke down and slept in my tent for the next five days. With the pod ready, I went to the dream machine and sucked in Prektesh, I think, the leader of the Hellas martians, currently living in the dream world. He was thrilled to have a new body until he suddenly whithered and died. He told me to take is corpse to Tekapesh, the leader of Elysium (whose occupatns are currently posessing a number of people I need to talk to) to earn his trust. I did so, but Tekapesh refused to free the bodies so I could melt the ice--i spent another half hour or so looking for the lab again. Eventually I gave up, and consulted a walkthrough, which told me to ask Tekapesh about "plans"--This didn't work because he interpreted it as "plants." A less incompetent walkthrough gave me the word better. Good grief! I hate wasting time when I was supposed to just say something to someone. I was told to show him the body and I did so, and I simply assumed that the fact that it didn't work was a bug. Ahhhh.

This led to a few more activities--first, freeing more dream world occupants. Wyatt Earp required me to buy him, in horse form, over a normal horse and the infamous Smith (too bad he did not show up in Savage Empire). Melies, the guy most famous for his silent movie where the moon gets a rocket in the eyeball, was rescued simply by dodging some panels that shrink walls, while Lowell's rescue involved finding Pluto. No wonder I remembered him as discovering the (former) planet! The hardest was Clemens, who required me to navigate through a void filled with invisible shoals and collect manuscript pages for him. Once they were all freed, I got a dull cutscene and a surprisingly long and angry seres of threats from Tekapesh.

From thee, it was easy to fix the pieces of the lenses to melt the glaciers (man, I bet this is getting confusing to those who have not played the game) because the relevant people, such as Tiffany and Carver, were free. Why were both of those stuck in the dream world associated with Hellas anyway, when they went into the dream machine through Elysium? Whatever. With the ice melted, I was able to find a sexy golden robot in a lab, and give it a heart.

This is where I began suffering from "one more quest" syndrome. To get the heart, I needed a gemstone; Hearst has it, but demands the safe return of a camera held by a nearby corpse. I fetch the camera from the very dubiously named and very dead Boringstoke, and gave it to hearst, who had feared for the life of his precious camera...But then I had to get the picture developed, which meant going BACK to Meleis! Finally! I was able to suck the feminine martian Cheshket's soul into the robot body, but to my dismay she is upset that she's a big golden robot and I have to make her pretty.

AHHHHHH! Stupidist quest ever!


That otherwise worthless actress in Olympus is willing to give her some make up...But fist I have to go retrieve some berries...And give Cheshket a shower in the pumping station (...). Fortunately, I had to do that anyway--meling the glaciers was not enough to get the canals filled, it appears. In fact, long before I ever made a big gold robot, Sherman told me to go visit that station, and I did, only to discover that you needed a robot to get through some steam. Incidentally, I am pretty sure you can really screw up some game flags by using the equipment in the pump room before you have Cheshket the Golden in your party...I seem to recall doing that the first time I played, towards the beginning of the game, and this big golden head popped out of nowhere telling me to put some rubber in the machine, or some such.

Anyway, that's about where I quit for today. I expect I will finish Saturday, making this game just a bit longer than Savage Empire.

Or maybe Andrew Carnegie will make me go rescue his poor kitty cat or something before building the rocket to take everyone home. Grumble. On a side note, I got a freeze ray gun, but it is not so cool as to turn people into ice cubes. I used it to murder Hearst and try to steal his gemstones, but apparently he had them hidden and not on his corpse.

Martian Dreams, Day 3

Martian Dreams is interesting because often I am not explicitly told to solve particular quests. Rather, someone mentions that something exists somewhere, and then I can go off and fix the problem or what not if I feel like it. The first part of today was spent repairing the power on Mars, and I am shocked by the ineptitude of the explorers who could not figure it out, especially because in the power generation area, there is a robot standing right there who explicitly tells you what to do! I repaired a broken conveyer belt and shoved some coal into a furnace, and now everything works.

Or so I thought. I went aboveground to find a bunch of wires had exploded, and was sort of confused when all of my companions refused to assist me. Sherman is afraid of heights, Nellie Bly doesn't want to do it in skirts, Dibbs has no science training, and Spector tells me he is "not stupid" and "not expendable." The real reason for their reticence was shortly explained because fixing the wires myself provided an in-game cinematic! Obviously I had made a big step towards finishing the game.

Next on the agenda was...Nothing, actually. I now had access to the teleporters, so I finally visited far-away Elysium, where martians had taken over the bodies of an array of humans. From them I learned some details about growing a new martian from one of the handful of live pods in Hellas, a city on the southeast of the map where I previously met a guy named Marcos. So it was off to Hellas again...where I also found a dream machine! I was loathe to go into it without being told to, for fear of corrupting the game, so for awhile I just hunted fruitlessly for the missing seeds, eventually concluding they must be in a room with a rusted door. For want of better to do, I finally went into the dream realm. There I rescued a few historical personages: Lenin (Red guy), Tiffany (glassware guy), George Washington Carver (panut guy), and...What's his name? He wrote the Invisible Man, the one that isn't by Ralph Ellison. I am no good with names.

Anyway, rescuing these guys is one of the most fun parts of Martian Dreams, because each has a unique little quest. Tiffany required me to lead a minotaur into a room to stop him from breaking all of his fine china. For Carver, I had to defend a pod plant from some worms by planting worm-repelling plants that, for the record, did not seem to do jack to repel the worms. My fists served that purpose. (Quick, ID this quote: "Killing worms can be boring.") Finally, Lenin made me distribute a pile of rubles for the common good. He wanted to take the leftover three for "the good of the people," but I burned them to prevent the Commie bastard from taking them. He also wanted a gemstone, but I wasn't sure how to destroy it, so I went ahead and gave it to him. I am tempted to replay that section and see if I can get rid of it without corrupting the guy whose corpse is incorruptible (granted, they cheated) in a glass case in Moscow. Finally, saving guy-who-isn't-Ellison involved navigating a weird maze where all my controls were screwed up-the left arrow took me up, etc. Eventually I had to kill some invisible footprints. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure you could get drunk and have a similar loss of control in Ultima VI...

I also visited a grove full of martians inside the dream world, where I learned about a forzen lab I need to visit, and where I got more details on growing a Martian, and was told to use oil to open that lone inacessible door. Once out, i went ahead and planted the seed, and then I quit, because evidently it takes nine days to grow a martian, and I need to decide on a plan of action to get the canals working and to visit the mysterious polar lab. So, I think the game is nearing it's end--I remember from last time that getting into the Rasputin (you know, weird Russian mystic guy)-controlled city of Argyre led upto the last two quest or so, and it was shortly after that where my game was corrupted, so I'm unsure how much was left.

Now, to reader comments. First, no the surprise is not the SNES version of Ultima VII, though so few people have ever completed that game that I may make it an amusement when the whole process is completed. And no, it's not the Runes of Virtue games--but only because I already said I will be playing them at the appropriate chronological points in the real world, though they do not fit into the canonical Ultima timeline at all.

As for the add-ins for Ultima VII and Serpent Isle, my thinking is this--I will play the game about halfway through normally, and then do the expansion packs. That way I will have a taste of what it was like to, say, keep track of a billion keys in Serpent Isle, or get around without a free ship at the beginning in Ultima VII. They will be installed from the beginning, but I will ignore them until later.

Oh, I also found the book that gives the game it's title, as it contains a poem that wishes its subject good martian dreams.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Martian Dreams, Day 2

Another day, another gaming experience. To begin with, I did sucessfully find Yellin, Duprey, and Sherman, the three xplorers who look just like Companions from Ultimas previous. Sherman joined me, and the others might as well were I to ask, I guess. However, I find keeping everyone with a good supply of oxium to be annoying. I did discover that smashing "oxium geodes" provides more of the stuff, but I will eventually run low I'm afraid. Rescuing those fellows was pretty simple, and after that i headed to Olympus, where I conversed with everyone and mapped a rather large mine (but nothing compared to dungeons from Ultima VI). I was surprised to find a fair number of secrets--stuff buried in corners, or hidden in holes underneath crates. I have gotten in the habit of picking up all the random objects that I find, from wrenches to rivet guns and hand drills, learning from my Savage Empire experience that essentially everything is useful. Spector is carrying around a carpet bag full of pliers, hammers, shovels, and all kinds of other junk.

The town was fun. I had only heard of some of the people I met, such as Marie Curie, the future president Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and William Randolph Hearst, while there were a few others, like some random actress, I don't know of. To my annoyance, Hearst is willing to sell me Martian junk, but is unwilling to buy it from me! And I had collected all that stupid Martian jewelry for nothing. Andrew Carnegie is also there, and expresses sympathy for the working man. Here's a random fact: When people like Edison were inventing sound recordings, what were the most important uses they envisioned? From what I can gather, the answer is...recording dead people's last words, and making talking clocks. The oldest surviving recording, from 1878, built by a French guy on a metal cylinder, is of the latter variety.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the town. I explored another mine, got a masonic symbol from a guy who was killed by unfriendly worms, killed a huge quantity of the same unfriendly worms, and gathered radium, eventually heading out and talking to a guy in Hellas, far southeast, about dream machines. There is one such machine in Olympus, and I got the impression I was supposed to repair it with the assitance of Edison and with some radium as a power source...Apparently not, though, since I could find nowhere to install a required panel. Thus I will have to continue with a few of the other threads of plot I have available:
-Get the power on Mars working again
-Go to the oxium mine that I was given the map to
-Fill the canals with water and use a barge to transport some iron
-Yell at Nelly Bly, the reporter who is following me, because her information is far less helpful than Jimmy Malone's was in the last game.

Tomorrow I will probably head off to have a look at the power distribution thingies in the northeast. This game may go faster than I anticipated, much like Savage Empire. I am keeping my eyes wider for non-plot related things to do in this game, though! I have also made my first backup, in case something goes horribly wrong...

Oh, I read someone's comment about my blog saying that they "can't wait" for Ultima VII, but I am going on with the spinoffs now. Sorry about that. But Underworld is much more famous, and there's lots of cool stuff to talk about with it. I think I also have what will be a brief, hopefully amusing surprise just after Ultima VII, too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Martian Dreams, Day 1

Among all the Ultima games, Martian Dreams features one of the most creative plots around. The backstory is thus--Perveival Lowell, the guy who didn't discover Pluto but for some reason I thought he did, unvelied a space bullet which could be catapulted to Mars at the 1893 world's fair. Due to sabotage, the bullet was launched with a handful of well-known personalities from the era on board. Communication was lost, and it was up to Nicolai Tesla to build a new bullet to seek them out. The Avatar is contacted in his own time, and uses the orb of the moons to teleport back to that era, and subsequently launches to Mars, which you find to be inhabited (or formerly inhabited--the canals are bona fide canals, at any rate).

The graphics are...very red. The game also plays mysteriously slowly, unless I am in solo mode--I think it has to do with the huge numbers of monsters that will chase you tirelessly. I have not accomplished a lot so far--I just visited the old crash site, and rescued an old miner named Coot. On my way back I ran into a mean looking fellow guarding a gate who demands the signatures of the suspiciously named Sherman, Yellin and...I forget the third, but it's an obcious play on Dupre, so I can enter his town. In any case, they ar off exploring a mountain on the other side of the planet, and that seemed like a good place to call it quits for the first day!

So far, the hardest part of the game is not dying. monsters, including cacti and beans, attack you regularly, and much of my time is spent reloading my game to avoid tiring encounters. Unless you are buried in warm clothes, freezing is also likely late at night, and you require "oxium" in order to not essentially suffocate in the thin air. Freaking convenient, that oxygen-containing chewable mineral, eh? Coot is the guy who prospects for oxium all over the planet, and rescuing him got me a map to the "mother lode," which conveniently is not too far away from where my trio of signature-weilding explorers.

I played this back in the spring of 2003, and once before back in the fall of 1995 or so. I remember posting on Origin's CompuServe forum (I think they were in GAMAPUB, for Game Publisher's Forum A), with the title "Sextellegers kill Wild Bill and Jane." I wasn't kidding--some monsters, called Sextellegers, killed two main characters, and I had saved the game. Oops.

My second effort eight years later was more effective, and I got to the very end of the game, where you enter the land of your dreams and rescue some people. Sadly, I reloaded my game to do the rescuing again (it is quite fun!), and a character who assists me refuses to recognize a plot flag, and the game was basically insoluble at that point. Very frustrating.

So my history with this game is pretty negative. I will be doing more frequent backups (the joys of colossal hard drives--I just back up the entire MARTIAN folder) in order to prevent this from happening again.

Glad to see comments from a Savage Empire developer! As a side note, the duration of the day in Savage Empire probably has nothing to do with the frame limiting, because time passes in a turn-based manner and time does not pass unless I move. I think the day-night cycle is just faster. Thankfully, in Martian Dreams it seems much, much slower, and you are practically forced to sleep through the night.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Loose ends, comments, and so on!

A few loose ends from Savage Empire--I spent a little time wandering around places I had never visited, but without much to show for it onight. I then perused a walkthrough, and found that I missed a huge number of characters--most notably the Dupre clone Dokray, who is supposed to be wandering around the Jukaritribe , but I never found him in the game, even tonight when I went a-huntin'. The same applies to a handful of other unique characters in villages--the game trained me in the first two or three places I went that most of the NPC's are cardboard clones, and so I quit investigating them--I just looked for the one with different clothes, who was probably a chief or a shaman.

The other big thing I missed was the "secret area" near where Fritz' cave is (for the record, I did find Fritz earlier-- was directed to him by the Pindiro). You had to knock down a tree, and supposedly Segallion lives there--but again, I never found him, even tonight when I went specifically looking :-/ I was somewhat discouraged from exploring by the mass of Myrmidex hanging around that area, though.

Is this the first instance of significant plot-unrelated stuff in an Ultima game? There are a few similar quests in Ultima VI, I think, and there were some odd locations in Ultima V, but most of those were told to you. In this case, Segallion and other characters would need to be found simply through random exploring--Ultima VII and the Underworlds are full of these sorts of things, and it raises my opinion of Savage Empire! I think I'll have to be more thorough in my Martian Dreams exploring ;-)

I got lots of recommendations to talk to my party members, which I did, but they never told me much without prompting unrelated to the difficulty--Rafkin tells me how to make stuff, but he doesn't do so in response to queries about the specific quest.

Going back in time, someone mentioned that the fear spell in Ultima V reduces enemy hit points--I noticed this was also true for invisibility. When I put a ring on, I could kill every monster in only one hit.

By the way--where the heck was the hidden magic axe in Utlima V? I thought there was one hidden in a tree somewhere, but I thought I searched every tree in the game!

Back to Savage Empire--Yes, had I read the SE manual more closely I would have probably asked about bombs, since it's mentioned in a letter (I mostly read the magic and tribes sections and not so much of the rest). I still think it's weird that a bomb that barely hurts me when it blows up in my backpack can move a huge boulder, though...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Savage Empire, Day 5

So it ends. I built a drum and beat on it, summoning lizards and humans to my aid. Interestingly, there was no travelto the caves--the game just through me in! The Myrmidex caves are an enormous complex, but having the moonstone-tracking device and the Kotl black staff, made getting through very straightforward! OK, it was still a windy road, but I did eventually get to the end. I was surprised by how little time it took, actually--I made one map, which did not lead me to the moonstone before I was fnally killed. However, it ruled out a huge portion of the rest of the maze as being the location of the moonstone, and the next time, tracking it down was very easy because it was clear where it had to be.

The Myrmidex queen wasn't too tough either. She just sat there unable to move or hit me while I electrocuted her with a black staff. After that proceeded the endgame! It wrapped up a few random loose ends, such as the German guy Fritz, who I found in a cave--it claimed he fought the Myrmidextoo, but I never saw him. In fact, I united the tribes but I didn't see them doing much! On the other hand, the first time I delved into those caves I was literally surrounded by Myrmidex at every turn (even when I would come out of a dead end, they would sneak from behind!), so I guess the other tribes mostly served to draw a lot of them away.

Savage Empire has a bit more of an adventure game feel to it than the other Ultimas--You are given a series of quests, and at least three of them have somewhat unreasonable solutions. The RPG aspects are still in the game--there is magic, and you can raise stats--but they are sbstantially de-emphasized. I played through the whole game never using magic, for example. The reason is that the combat spells are less effective than my fire axe and a rifle, and a spell like the one that confuses your enemies is only useful when you have lots of them. In retrospect, it might have been helpful when dealing with the poison-dart weilding Urali. I also could have used the heal spell some. The overhead map, by contrast, was of limited value because it simply didn't show enough--in particular, the outdoors overhead maps were hard to comprehend. I was also a bit frustrated by torches, which last only a minute or two, and by the day-night cycle, which seems to fly by at a bizarre rate (I could spend the whole day or night simply waling between buildings in a small village).

So the game is a brief, entertaining diversion. I enjoyed the use of various native cultures from a wide array of times. This was not too thoroughly explained--Obviously the Aztecs and the ancient indo-Europeans were not contemporaneous, let alone neanderthals--so I assumed when the Kotl left to visit the outer world, where they endd up was a random time due to the moonstone screwing up time around them, and thus they got an array of different natives. Yet, why no more modern people? Strange. I also wish the cultures had been elaborated on a bit more, with more unique characters.

The only other complaint I have about the game is the tile set, which took some getting used to--it's cool to have a detailed jungle, but it's not cool when it's difficult to tell which trees and plants you can walk over and which you cannot; it always struck me as odd in Ultima VI and in Savage Empire that you cannot walk under those big bushy trees, for example.

The ties between Savage Empire and the rest of the series are tenuous. One of the only references I can think of in the main numbered games is in Ultima VII, when Spark makes some reference to a beast from Eodon towards the beginning of the game. As I recall, the only reference to Martian Dreams in another game is in Underworld II, where you see yourself in a crystal ball.

That's a good segue to my next effort, which is Martian Dreams. Savage Empire took far less time than I anticipated, so my commenters were correct about its brevity! I am unsure, but I think Martian Dreams will probably be a little bit longer, and Underworld much longer. I'd say about 10 hours, total, but happily all that time was spent doing interesting things, whether exploring crazy underground cities, or making tortillas and pots. Savage Empire, overall, took the interactivity of Ultima VI to a new level, and I only wish the plot had a little more depth.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Savage Empire, Day 4

My Internet seems to be OK, so I will make some substantial changes to this post, and finish up the game tomorrow.

Exploring the underground city was a bit dull, but not near as dull as the worst dungeon in any Ultima--the Chaos city of Serpent Isle, which is one huge and mostly-empty maze, with nothing of interest to find besides, as I recall, a Wall of Lights. Anyway, the Kotl city had a few cool items. These included some energy staves that kick Myrmiex...umm...thorax? and some shields that didn't seem to do all that much. The place is roughly divided into Kotl housing and human housing, and for whateverreason, the humans liked to live in a gigantic maze. However, I did get more backstory--the lizards (Kotl) were in charge, and snatched up human slaves, who were unreliasble. They were later replaced with ant monsters, who were reliable, save for their murderous rebellion.

Turning off the power to the city was fairly simple, once I had a decent map--I just had to smack a control panel a couple of times until the world began to collapse around me. Spector was not happy about it because he quit glowing, but on the plus side, he is no longer insane. I also discovered I can't die anymore, or random party members get turned into weird creatures. I was turned into a winged demon once, and Rafkin was turned into a pony. I think Ultima IV and V have been the only non-buggy Ultimas so far!

It's worth noting, by the way, that (Johann) Spector wears a clown suit for some reason. Check out his icon in the party manifest...

I had no idea you could build bombs, which were needed to move some boulders around (on the head of a T-Rex, and blocking a waterfall, respectively). Rafkin told me to ask him about rifles once when I first spoke to him, but I don't remember anything about bombs. These two quests were a little contrived to my mind, even if I were to think that bombs would move a boulder. In one case, the T-Rex is absurdly standing underneath the boulder, unmoving, for all eternity. In the other case, I have to use a boulder to clog up a waterfall because the falls block a small part of a cave enterance. I guees the Avatar is hydrophobic, or has not learned the fine art of stepping slightly to the side to get in the cave...

I figured out how to deal with the Fabozz statue using the "random item" method. I simply investigated my inventory for random items I had never used--Blinking device from Kotl city? Nope. Blue ball? Nope. Turnips? Woops, ate them. Camera? Hey, it worked! Well, I didn't *literally* try all of them, I just sat around in bed last night, thinking, "What of this junk in my inventory has anything to do with light?" Then I remembered the camera, and my next thought was along the lines of, "If this works, it will be extremely silly." Turns out, as Paulon notes, that burning some magnesium does the trick, too. Hooray for multiple solutions! I just wish one or the other made a little more sense ;-)

Now all I need to do is build a drum, and go kill a Myrmidex queen. I remember this is where I gave up last time, because the maze was just so gigantic and I died every few seconds! This time I have the blinking moonstone locater, though, and I will be able to head to the queen more easily this time.

Admission time...I went ahead and finished the game tonight. I have no idea why I had so much trouble before. Did I not realize how the anti-Myrmidex weapons worked? It was not "easy" per se, but time consuming, although the nest is pretty fun to map. Tomorrow, I will do a long wrap-up o this game, and some more thoughts on Ultima VI, since there isn't actually much to say about the Myrmidex caves themselves.

One brief thought: Ultima IV took 24 hours, while Savage Empire took about 10. Yet I think of Savage Empire as a longer game, since so much of Ultima IV was spent leveling characters....

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Savage Empire, Day 3

Well, the gaming continues in Savage Empire, though my Internet has been down all day and I'm unsure when I will be able to post this! I forgot about gorillas and T-Rex's for awhile whie I went and finished two quests for two other tribes--The jukari chief wanted a hide history back, so I zipped over some lava made hard with a fire extenguisher to get it, while the Neanderthal leader needed a shield from a spider den. Dealing with spiders, of course, requires some fire to burn their webs, and making the torches required a rather tiresome process of cutting cloth, wrapping them around sticks culled from trees, putting tar in a bucket, and then using the tar on the cloth and the tarred cloth on a branch. Yowza. The spider cave additionally has an enterance to what appears to be a big series of Myrmaadex caves, which are not terribly appealing and I died very quickly, attacked by endless drones.

My next quest was the one I started the game with--rescuing Aelia, the warrior princess of the Kurak tribe whose clothing does not protect her breasts very effectively. Once I found out where she was held (The theiving tribe, the Urali, hid itself and had to be acessed through a cave--long story), it was a matter of creatively avoiding a Tyranasaurus, and then avoiding huge numbers of guys with poison blowguns. Aelia was in a cage in a cave, and as I saved her, Darden the Huge came in--but a couple of bullets to the face prevented him from doing much to prevent my rescue. Humorously, ow that Darden is dead, it seems my attacks from random villagers increased! Though I can talk to them, and they thank me for killing Darden, when I say goodbye they go back to shooting me with darts.

I decided to give them some time while I took Aelia's giant crystal across the valley, stuk it in a slot, and got an underground stairway to open. That's where I am now--Kotl city! I remember from my last experience with Savage Empire that it is big and mostly boring. I am debating whether to map it, or to simply try to rush to that power generator and shut it off, so that I can go back to the valley and solve another quest.

I spent a brief period with the Frobozz statue, which is a glowing-eyed spirit thing I am supposed to bribng out of the cave to the center of the city for the Urali tribe to talk to. However,it's unhappy without any light. Trying to move the thing directly, as well as trying to attack it and pick it up and so on, was ineffective. I might consider trying to get some sunlight to it, but the villager was pretty specific about me needing to bring it out, and I am unsure how I will do that since none of the obvious solutions (dragging it and taking it apart, piece by piece) seem to work.

Paulon gave some tips with respect to the gorilla-saving and T-Rex killing quests, but unfortunately they did nt bear fruit. I asked my party members about things including boulder, waterfall, gorilla, dinosaur, tyrannasaurus, rescue, unite, lever, push, cave, cliff, climb, rope, ladder and pole, with little succcess. Rafkin did tell me to ask Nahuatla tribesen about poles, but none of them seemed to care. I suppose I might try building my own raft to use on the river, since one tribesperson said I needed to tie together four logs--a plausible in-game action, I guess.

The game has grown on me a small amount, but I am tired of random Myrmadex attacks (these happen all the time, often with no warning) and the fact that going up in level seems to be a pretty worthless exercise.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Savage Empire, Day 1 & 2

I have played some Savage Empire on and off for the past two days. The game is not as fun as I'd hoped it might be. It's less familiar, so I will quickly describe the premise--Experimenting with some black stones on Earth gets you, a profressor, and this annoying reporter with weird mannerisms from 1935 teleported to the Valley of Eodon, where several random primitive tribes from various parts of the world are hanging out. Your job is to get back home and rescue Aiela, a warrior princess who is supposed to be attractive and would be if it were still 1990.

Anyway, there is more to the plot, but I haven'tgotten that far yet. all the tribes represent an array of cultures, from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and even some Neanderthals and intelligent lizards. The game boils down to solving quests, one per tribe or so, in order to get them to unite to fight the Borg-like Myrmidex species, overgrown ants who attack you randomly as you wander around the world. What is disappointing is that the tribes are not very impressive, and each "village" has about one or two people who are unique; the rest are generic a la Ultima II. Quite a step backwards! Wandering around the cities is amusing--for example, I recovered treasure from the Aztec-derived Nauatla treasure room simply by walkig in and picking it up.

I have been given quests by the tribes, and when I solve them, they agree to unite against the Myrmidex. So far I've put a bell around the neck of a Tyanosaurus for some Three Stooges lookalikes, and stolen a boatload of swords. My current task, which is proving troublesome, is trying to rescue a kid from a mean gorilla on a ledge I cannot get up to. I have attempted to use a vine to climb up, but no luck. There is also a cave door behind a waterfall but again, I can't seem to step into it--even though there is clearly space to walk there. I figured I needed to sail a raft there, but the only rafts seem to be in rather useless locations.

In desperation, I sought another quest, this time from some lizard people. They demanded that I rescue their grove of green fruits from a Tyransaurous who is blocking access and eating everyone who comes near. I found the grove by accident a few minutes earlier, when i explored away from a teleport pad that helps me get around the valley. He is standing on a cliff, directly under a really big boulder. He doesn't move at all, and sure enough, I can go around and climb up to the ledge, and push the boulder off. or in theory. In reality, I don't know how to cause a boulder to fall off the cliff. i tried using the use and move commands, and then tried using a stick to pry it up over the edge a rope to tie around it, all to no avail. Undoubtably this is a puzzle where I'm supposed to have som particular item (rock hammer, maybe?) but I have no idea what it might be.

Thus far the game has not been too inspiring. I have dealt with three of the eleven tribes, and if I can get this rock moving and figure out how to get to the gorilla, that will be five. But I'm not too hopeful. One of the things that stinks about having only one save-game slot is that I can't reload at a point before I came all the way to this boulder, and now I have to walk back. Bah.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


No blogging tonight. My profile says I'm in Blacksburg, VA, where 32 people were murdered Monday, but as a reminder I am actually in Birmingham at present, though since names hae't been released yet I don't know if my friends or any of my students were hurt. I actually also got a job offer today, so the bizarre mix of really bad and really good news has me discombobulated, but I'll work on Savage Empire sometime this week.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ultima VI, Day 12

Well, Ultima VI is finished. The final esctions of the game are some of my favorites in any of the Ultimas, really--You visit the catacombs and are a bit shocked to have some chats with Mondain, Minax and Exodus! I especially enjoyed the references to the details of the earlier games, especially how the intro to Minax mentions that you "destroyed her castle and all her works," which mirrors the endgame text from Ultima II. I also appreciate how the three dungeons for the Gargoyle virtues of Control, Passion and Diligence relate to their theme. Control is all about pulling levers to open eight gates and two force fields (!!), but many of the levers do the same thing. Diligence was the one that gave me the most trouble when I played the game back in grade school--4th grade, to be exact. It's one big grid of dungeon rooms with monsters hanging out, and it took ages for me to find the secret door that leads up to Exodus. Of course, this means that puzzle has no replay value! In any case, it was cool to see high-res portraits of my enemies from the first few games, since the original artwork, shall we say, left a bit to be desired (In the original game, Minax was exactly the same as mondain but with two fewer pixels on her hips...)

There's not much else to say about the game I guess--finishing it is very straightforward, involving going to the Codex and doing what it says. This leads me back to one of the first posts, where a comment mentioned how it was possible to beat the game while killing only three things. I propose that the game can be defeated without killing anything. Here is my brief hypothetical walkthrough--the only question is where to get a few invisibility rings to avoid the few combat areas, and where to get some fast gold. I am not sure if certain things trigger game flags or not, so I wrote this under the assumption that no conversations trigger game flags at all. If they do, then you have to talk to more people...But here it is anyway:

-Talk to LB, learn tu use the orb, get spellbook/gold/reagents, have Sherry joing you, then go get rune of Compassion and a cauldron
-Teleport to Yew, get rune of Justice, a log, and buy Unlock Magic, Dispel Field, and Telekenesis from Nicodemus [unless he doesn't have them, I don't remember], and buy 40 spider silk
-Take the road East of Yew, take the skiff to Stonegate and get the Vortex Cube, have Dupre carry the skiff
-Teleport to Jhelom, get the rune of Valor, have Sherry leave
-Teleport to Gargoye Land near Hythloth, talk to Captain John, get the vocab, and have Beh Lem join.
-Surrendur, get the broken lens, have it repaired
-Teleport to Moonglow, get the key and the rune of Honesty and get the Britannian lens
-Teleport to New Magincia and get the rune of Humility.
-Sail south to Sutek's castle and get the balloon plans
-Teleport to Minoc, make a board, get the panpipes, get the rune of Sacrifice, have a basket made
-Teleport to Trinsic, get the rune of Honor and walk to Paws, get the silk thread made.
-Teleport to New Magincia, get the bag made.
-Teleport to gargoyle land, near shrine; visit shrine, talk to it twice and say the mantra to get a sacred quest.
-Teleport to all the shrines in turn and liberate them, gathering the moonstone
-Teleport to the Codex and end the game.

I think this should do it. The only monster of note is the hydra in Sutek's castle, but you can justwalk around it to the secret door. I believe you can win without killing a thing!

Speaking of Sutek, Paulon makes an argument for the logic of the Pushme Pullyu, and I think he is right--as long as you know that the opposite head is talking, it doesn't really matter which is qhich. The problem I saw was that the heads themselves introduce the puzzle, and I can get boh sides to make the claim that "Pullu always lies," and they can't both say that without breaking the game I think it would be better if the claim about who lies and who tells the truth were made elsewhere.

I also must correct my "most useless spell" claim, since evidently you can make spikes vanish with vanish. I think I will give the award to...Eclipse! I can't think of how an eclipse does you much good, besides looking cool. Which reminds me, I didn't see any eclipses this game, but I saw them sometimes when I played my first time...

Some final thoughts on Ultima VI...It was less fun than I expected, but that's only because I played it through last year, and most of the puzzles were still fresh in my mind. Given other couple of years, I'm sure I will forget a lot and it will be enjoyable again! One of the disadvantages of playing the game with foreknowledge is that I didn't make any of the random discoveries I did in Ultima V, such as finding the mystic armor in the middle of nowhere without even knowing it was in the game! Equivalent events in Ultima VI the first time I played included finding lots of map pieces by accident, and...Actually. I guess it was mostly limited to finding random map pieces! I also failed to experiment with the enchant spell, which can be used to enhant magic staves. I can't remember how that works--I think the staff can be used to cast another spell of your choosing? overall, though, I think I squeezed out mostof what the game has to offer. I even sold some grain to the miller in Paws!

One og the mos important additions Ultima VI had was the character portraits. it's hard to overestimate how much value this adds to the game, simply because it's far easier for me to associate people's faces with their names. In Ultima V I had to remember "the guy that hangs around the orchard is Terence," whereas in Ultima VI I can simply recall the face and look around. Also, seeing the face allows my imagination to picture this specific person talking, and it also serves as a visual clue to previous conversations. One of the unhappy parts of Ultima VII was the way in which these portraits are dramatically smaller! The new, more colorful tileset brings the world to life in a way that was not the case with the previous games--as did the presence of lots of random creatures, like rabbits bouncing around, birds surrounding you in the moongate locations, and deer dashing through the woods. There was a much stronger sense of the world's continuity, overall--The "set piece" battles on the road were particularly fun, like meeting (and killing) another party of dventurers (and a party of headlesses and trolls) on the way to Skara Brae; the fact that you meet the same thing in the same place later only detracts a little bit from the suspension of disbelief.

I had more fun playing it than Ultima V, but the familiarty was a bit of a downer. I'm glad it's been years since I played Ultima VII and the rest of the games (Except Serpent Isle and Underworld 2)! Even Ultima IX, I have not played since 2000, and am likely to find it to be a new experience. As for Savage Empire, well, well that will be almost an entirely new experience!

Speaking of Savage Empire--when I hit journey onward I am dumped back to a DOS prompt. I have to use game.exe to play. Anyone else have this issue?