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

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ultima VII, Day 13

To my surprise, finishing this game took almost two hours, although the eventual ending is a pretty sudden one. There's a lot about the final dungeon at the Isle of the Avatar that makes it appealing though, the most notable aspect being the Thrones of Changes and of Virtue, the former of which teleports you without providing any immediately obvious indication in your surroundings--it would have been much harder if I were not able to see the rooms around the throne room!

Another memorable aspect of the game is the large blank maze, which is just black space between rooms with a candle. As it turns off, i never had any reason to use it, because I ventured across a liche and some explosions without noticing the dark path, and only later realizing it existed when I happened to bump into its other side. The Isle is also quite notable for the presence of the Armageddon spell, which I have not used but which kills everything in the game in a manner that prevents you, sadly, from inspecting their inventories.

I'm not sure what final thoughts to add about Ultima VII, except that when I first played it years ago, perhaps a year or so after it came out, it was a revelation to someone raised mostly on console RPG's. I played Ultima VI before Ultima VII (my brother brought his computer home and I played it during Christmas break; we had no PC at the time), but Ultima VII was the first time I had a game "all to myself," so to speak. The game has a huge degree of open-endedness, with only a few areas inacessible at the beginning of the game, and there's just such an immense amount of stuff to do without even really paying attention to the plot.

Its only significant downside, in my opinion, is the somewhat weak plot. There's an element of veiled menace inherent in the Fellowship throughout the game, but it doesn't really build to a climax, it simply seems as if everything is simultaneously revealed. You don't build a significant chain of evidence implicating the Fellowship in dastardly deeds; rather, you pretty much get told about it by a gypsy. That undercuts the suspense a little bit, but the existence of the Guardian was a surprise and very weird.

Incidentally, this game has my favorite introductory sequence, with you actually somehow playing Ultima VII, and the recognizable map from Ultima VI in the background.

With that in mind, I will next embark on a total side project--Ultima: Runes of Virtue, an action/puzzle spin-off that was produced for the Game Boy around the same time that Ultima VII came out. It was more related in plot and presentation to Ultima VI than Ultima VII, but I have chosen to follow a more or less chronological sequence in playing the games.

I'm not sure of my total time playing Ultima VII. I would like to estimate it at approximately 26 hours, perhaps, maybe a little less? I am expecting Runes of Virtue to go rather quickly by comparison!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ultima VII, Day 12

It would seem one more day will be required to completely finish Ultima VII, at least in terms of plot! My most recent adventure was entirely centered around Buccaneer's Den, where I encountered the great-great-grandson of the fat Budo of Ultima VI, as well as a pair of sentimental pirate buddies whom the Fellowship had driven apart. The cube proved useful in getting me access to Hook's chambers, where I found a sweet Juggernaut hammer, the first one I have found so far (save for the one in the weapons chamber of Serpent's Hold). I also found a dead Alligator, for some reason, in an otherwise inaccessible room. It occurs to me that I might have been able to get into Hook's lair with the use of a simple Telekenesis spell in the Fellowship hall, opening a secret passage in the back room! In this respect, Ultima VII suffers from the fact that it has no way of obfuscating the areas behind doors the way earlier games did.

In those secret passages I met a relatively unfriendly torturing troll, a dragon trap, and some magic weapons which I didn't pick up because I am so completely overloaded with magic stuff at present. I also spent a bit of time relaxing at the baths in the city, although without female (or for that matter, male) companionship because I don't find the portraits very attractive. I was able to get into the building, again, through the secret doors. I contemplated some gambling, but I am so close to the end of the game, it doesn't matter. I just remember my strategy in the past was to play Virtue Roulette, and simply open my inventory and place my bet while the wheel is paused, just before the final click that decides the winning color. In that manner I experienced the collapse of the universe described elsewhere, when wall start spontaneously vanishing.

After that I headed to the Shrine of the Codex, which for some reason Shamino insists is the Shrine of Humility, and also beat up on a group of pirates nearby, finding a whole suit of magic armor in the process. Those magic gorgets are hard to come by! I seem to remember the game has something like 8 complete suits of magic armor scattered around Britannia, except lacking one helmet, or maybe it was lacking one gorget. I'm not sure. I quit playing after about two hours, standing around beside the throne of the Guardian on the Isle of the Avatar.

In other news, I had a very brief conversation with a reader who reminded me that the Ultima IV on the Sega Master System is very good, and that it takes the unusual step of featuring 2D dungeons.

Finally, have I already mentioned the strange partially obfuscated backpack in Vesper, which is totally inacessible without cheating? It's positioned such that its straps are visible in a window in the Provisioner's shop, I think, but it cannot be manipulated. I wonder if I should include a list of the things you can do in Ultima VII that I neglected to do...Well, here's a few:

-Visit the lost cave where a note from a despairing fellow can be found
-Find a field of sleep-inducing flowers with the only love arrows in the game
-Find all the randoms tuff in the great forest, including a pirate hangout and a soldier encampment.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ultima VII, Day 11

Sometimes Blogger annoys me by failing to display the "new post" link when I would like it to, meaning I have to navigate back to the home page and log in through there. Aie yie yie. Is that how that is spelled? On to the gaming...

Today was all about exploration as I tried to hit some of the highlights of Ultima VII's game world. First, let's start with Zac's Island Adventure. Actually, it wasn't much of an adventure, but I did visit about 7 or 8 islands scattered about the coast of Britannia: Near Serpent's Hold, Destard, ad Jhelom. The highlight of the first set was an amusing mountain-top lodge with a pirate and a mage that I killed, plus a cool suspended patio with stairs leading to it. Unfortunately, the barely-hidden bag in the corner contained items that my companions didn't like me stealing. Idiots. The next isle of interest was a small hole in one of those same islands, where you can find a big stack of gold bars and a dead pirate. I blieve this is the same spot you get told about if you whack a parrot on the head. Near Jhelom, the most interesting island is certainly the one which has a hidden passage to a pirate headquarters with some crazy old ship deeds to ships made over 250 years ago. I'm not sure how this compars to dates given in Ultima VI, or if any of the names match up to Ultima V or VI. The final isle of interest contains a very useful item--it is a small shack full of dead chickens just near Destard, and on the ground is a big yellow key that serves as a skeleton key, and it will unlock or lock any pick-able chest! Wow!

Next up was Zac's Dungeon Adventure in the dungeons of Destard and Wrong. Destard, as usual, is packed to the brim with unfriendly dragons, but also has a lot of gold bars and such. Too bad I have plenty of gold bars! The dragons are much easier to kill now, with the black sword and some other powerful weapons, though to my great annoyance the Avatar is never willing to kill anyting; he attacks until the enemy is weakened and then just quits. That gets frustrating. Destard, or near Destard, is also the home of the unicorn Dasher, who I am happy to pet because I am apparently a virgin, as I regained my virginity by stepping through a moongate (having previously somehow lost it in college in spite of my computer engineering major and fascination with old video games). This leads to some unfriendly comments by my Companions...Also in the dungeon is this weird human-gargoyle bonded pair that raised my eyebrows, and a fool who wants to prove his virginity so that a barmaid will marry him.

Of less interest was my trip to Wrong, a series of three jail-themed dyngeons, complete with a wizard, some torture devices, a liche, and a real life guard who will talk to you, but who is killed if you go int combat mode. He called me an idiot for asking his job. :-( The place also has a lot of mid level monsters, and very little in the way of treasure besides a little gold and some potions. I actually got a bit bored wandering around--even the mage and liche have no treasure to speak of when you kill them! Gone are the days when the hardest monsters left the best treasure...Hmm...

In Ultima I harder monsters gave more HP; in II, they gave different magic items. In III and IV they were all the same; in V hard monsters had better stuff, but in VI and beyond few monsters had anything good. So when I say "the days when the hardest monsters left the best treasure" I pretty much mean "Ultima V."

After that (and after a quick trip to the now swamp-infested Stonegate, where I found another Magebane sword) I began Zac's Jungle Adventure and headed to that most famous of locations, the big black X near the desert to the east, where the Guardian intones a mysterious backwards phrase! I remember this fondly, how back in the day I had to use a tape recorder to save the sound, then record it in Windows 3.1's sound tool, then reverse it, then play it back. With DOSBox, it's easy just to save the sound to a WAV and reverse it with my audio program. Still amusing after all these years. Finally, here's the issue of the big box full o'trash that sits atop the X. Inside it is a mysterious key. What does it go to? I knew once...I think it turns out to go to the chest in Serpent's Hold, in the big meeting room, that you cannot seem to open. I might try it out next time and see if my ancient memory is correct. I seem to also recall that chest held nothing useful.

Well, I think the time for ending Ultima VII is fast approaching. I've baked bread, hit most of the dungeons, found a big X, talked to naked beekeepers, and even killed Lord British (and then reloaded). There is plenty more to see and do in this game, but after a month I think it's about time to move on. Perhaps the next blog will take us straight to Buccaneer's Den and then to the end of the game!

PS: I added all the missing screenshots
PPS: Yes, I know British gave me a boat. It's more fun to buy one.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Forge of Virtue, Day 3

Today (well, yesterday) was my final adventure on the Isle of Fire. The first task was to get out of the courage test, where a drake would easily burn me away with his fireballs. By some weird luck, opening the door near him caused him to go back into an alcove and I could race by, and back to the beginning of the test. From there, I created the black sword. This was among the less exciting parts of the game. Here is the process, in short:

1. Fill a trough with water by using the bucket on a well, then the trough; repeat thrice.
2. Click the bellows until the forge is hot and the sword turns white in the center.
3. Move the sword to the anvil.
4. Hammer until it gets cool.
5. Drop in the water.
6. Repeat until you decide you've done all you can do.

On the plus side, the animations of Erethian creating all the forging equipment were pretty amusing, especially as Paulon noted if you have not yet fixed the ether. I also was amused by the blind Erethian's destruction of candles as he found his way back to his bedroom.

I enjoyed hearing Arcadion's back story concerning the daemons, where he asserted that they were enslaved by some ancient Britannian race, and that the magic used to do so was older than the mages that currently made use of it. Once I got his essence into the black sword, I enjoyed Arcadion even more! He enabled me to complete the Courage test, where the dragon Dracothraxus announces that she her will is not her own, and dies. The Love test was a lot faster and simpler--it involved pouring blood on some rocks to heal a dead golem. The golem was brought to the location by his brother, who then gives up his heart to bring the other back to life. The other helps you make a new heart, and once they areboth alive, they go and stand around and say almost nothing. The ending of that quest was a bit of a letdown.

Time to take a side track--exactly what were the virtue tests 250+ years ago, when they were built? The love test dealt with recently injured golems, and the courage test dealt with killing a dragon who also only recently wandered in. I didn't see much evidence in the love area, for example, of anything that might have been a test. Now you could say it was all magical--that the forces of destiny or some such coerced all these vents to happen, and that's fair enough, but Lord British surely didn't know all this would happen when he comissioned the tests, right? Hmm.

Anyway, back to the plot. After finishing all three quests, I am told to seek the talisman of infinity, which I acquired by stealing the lenses I used in Ultima VI from the museum in Britain. The purpose was to banish that infamous Dark Core of Exodus to the void, een though I thought from my Ultima VI conversation with him/it that Exodus had learned his/its lesson! I guess he was still evil. In a way, I wish you could still talk to the statues of Mondain, Minax and Exodus; they were one of the few remaining connections to the earliest games.

With all that complete, I was off to my boat. My only regret is not exploring part of the Love test. I didn't realize its moongate would quit working after I departed! it was also foolish not to do the Love test first, because then dashing past monsters in the other two would be easy.

It was funny, too, that the statues told me the virtues I was supposed to learn about during each test. The Love statue said I learned about compassion, sacrifice, and justice. Fair enough. The courage one said I learned about valor, honor, and spirituality, and that I should receive his gift with humility. Valor...maybe. But spirituality? And the Truth test didn't even claim to teach me anything!

Overall, this was a fun add on. There was lots of treasure, and the plot was a great connection to earlier games; lots of "smile moments" for longtime fans. About the only letdown, despite my nitpicks, was the Truth test, which was a lot of rather purposeless difficulty.

Off to the rest of Ultima VII! I expect I could finish the game in one more day, but it would be fun to explore some dungeons and such first. For the record, the Forge of Virtue took about 5 hours to complete. Almost as long as Ultima II!

Tomorrow I intend to devote some time to adding screenshots for this and some of the past entries, so next time you see screenshots, be sure to go back into May and look for other new ones!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Forge of Virtue, Day 2

The most recent foray into the labyrinth of the Isle of Fire primarily involved wandering around the test of Truth, which was overall pretty tedious. In particular was a very annoying room with totally invisible walls--it was a maze, but you cannot see the contents. of course, the automatic pathfinding came in handy to some extent, but it was pointless because it just led to one of the many "fake amulets" scattered about the dungeon. Eventually, I quit exploring--needing to feed my party and tired of them getting hurt by fire fields--and headed to the exit, which is hidden by a hood. I remember I played this and found it fair and square originally, but I also remember thinking what an absurd solution it was! besides randomly walking at walls, how were you supposed to figure it out?

After finishing Truth, I tackled courage. This one proved to be far more difficult, and in the first battle my party members all died--due to a mage who summons a liche and some skeletons, plus some stone golems which are inordinately hard to kill! I decided to take a page from my Ultima V book, and ditch every member of my party wbhile making extensive use of my invisibility rings. This got me through a series of puzzles, including putting a glass sword on a pedestal and trading some helmetsto open a door. The hardest part was a drake who could see me even when invisible, but thankfully the near-impossible stone golems could not. Eventually, I reached a female dragon named Dracothraxus who promised me the Love amulet if only I kill her, but she is immortal. Crud is the esponse I had, followed by a glass sword which knocked her out--only for her to rise from the ashes and give me a free gem. No coincidence here, since that demon Arcadion just recently asked me to fetch a gem for him to live in!

In any case, I stopped after that because I had to escape the dungeon, having stupidly NOT chosen to keep the stone I marked at the enterance to the Courage test. Agggh. I don't know what I was thinking--you can't get back into the Truth test, but the courage moongate is perpetually open. Anyway, I am outside the door with the drake I mentioned earlier behind it, and I need to scheme a way past besides, well, running and healing. We shall see. Geez I wish I could mark a stone at Dracothraxus, man. I did not plan this well.

The extra dexterity from finishing the Love test would probably have come in handy too! Speaking of which, I don't know why dexterity is associated with the principle of Love in the Ultimas. It's one of several things that don't make sense about the virtue system. Another is the coloring of stones--Spirituality is white, which combines all the colors. But this assumes that we're talking about light, where the primary colors are red, green, and blue. Yet in Ultima, Compassion, Valor, and Honesty, the "prime" virtues, are yellow, red and blue respectively, suggesting we're talking about pigment combinations.

But of all the absurdly nitpicky things to complain about, I think that is the nitpickiest. I think I will go to bed now :-)

I'll get screenshots someday. I have a pile but they are not resized and sorted. Maybe I need to hire a secretary?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Forge of Virtue: Day 1

I've returned, as promised! I tentatively expect to post a new blog each Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and sometimes Saturday. It removes some of the joy by scheduling it like this, but I'll get used to it. One of the downsides of this Ultima blog is that after about halfway through Serpent Isle, it's almost all downhill, with the shortened Serpent Isle plot, followed by Ultima VIII, and then Ultima IX. Speaking of which, I need a game disc for Ultima IX. Maybe I can find one on eBay.

Anyway, today was the Forge of Virtue! At least the second half was. The first half of today's adventure was Wander Around Trying to Find the Flying Carpet Because I Forgot Where I Put It, Dammit. I never found it, and instead spent 800 gold on a ship at the Britain shipwright, but not before killing Lord British with a well-placed plate to the skull, reflective of a real-life (but thankfully nonfatal) incident that happened to Richard Garriott.

The Forge of Virtue is one of my favorite sequences of any of the games, because it shows a detailed understanding of the series' history. Just chatting with Erethian, the mage that runs the place, we get in quick sucession references to the skull of Mondain, the Quicksword Enilno, the nature of Exodus (he emphasizes it was a "machine you destroyed"), the gem of immortality and the subsequent Shadowlords, and the gargoyles. It's this awareness of the rich history of the games that makes Ultima VII and Serpent Isle so spetacular, and the lack of it that makes Ultima VIII and Ultima IX such disappointments. In any case, I also stopped by to visit the Dark Core of Exodus--apparently, the thing was composed of a demonic psyche of some kind, the dark core, and a control mechanism which I destroyed in Ultima III. So the poster who recently called the ending of Ultima III a "fourth wall type ending" with Exodus as a mainframe with a medieval interpretation is more or less right, except there is some kind of distinct magical or demonic element to Exodus.

Speaking of the fourth wall, one of the humorous instances where Ultima breaks through it is if you start Ultima VII without a mouse. Give it a try.

The rest of my time was spent wandering around the Test of Truth, by accident--I didn't realize I would get teleported there by the statue who asked if I wanted the boon of truth. I remember the secret to beating it, but I wandered around just to remind myself how infuriating the dungeon really is. The thing is gigantic and full of not much treasure, but plenty of annoying traps. Shamino seems especially susceptible to being killed by explosions for some reason. in any case, I wandered around for wuite awhile, solving a "room of keys" to no apparent purpose, crossing another one of those neat bridges over the mountains, and lopping the heads off of many a troll. I had come close to heading back to the enterance to finish the test when the game locked up. I believe this is unique to DOSBox, and I don't know what causes it.

I'm debating how I should tackle the quest of Courage--my companions can help me kill monsters, but they sure die a lot. Should I take them with me or leave them behind? Hmm. Before I venture in there, I need to remember to drop off some of my magic junk in my ship's hold so that I don't have to carry it around anymore. I remember managing to fit some barrels on the magic carpet at one point and use them as a ship's hold...But I won't be able to try that again if I can't find it :-(

Thanks to all for your patience. I am becoming settled in my new home--Lexington, Kentucky, USA for those interested. I expect sporadic absences from my planned blogging routine since there's still a fair number of things I need to accomplish outside of work.

One of which is upload all those missing screenshots! Argh. I shall get to that soon, it's just a bit of a tedious chore.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


I feel bad for not posting in awhile! Most of my time has been eaten up due to computer failures at home, sadly. I *think* I've gotten it taken care of--either a damaged AGP slot or a damaged video card, I can't tell--but the phones here still aren't working. Moving is a hassle.

Now that I'm working, expect a slower pace. I figure I'll play for a few hours every other day, and write the blogs the days I am not playing Probably the next one will be this weekend or thereabouts, depending on how the setting-stuff-up goes. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Ultima VII, Day 10

Wow, it's been a long time since I blogged! But moving into a new apartment and traveling back and forth across the country do that to you, don't they? I begin work on Monday, so I think the blogging pace will be slower than in the spring, but faster than present--I'll probably play, then blog the next day, etc. Maybe 2-3 days between updates.

In any case, the latest effort was to find Caddelite--located easily thanks to help at the Lycaeum--and acquire it. The substance's location is interesting, because there is a gigantic serpent hidden in the grasslands of the area, and there's also a mysterious tower in the center of the island (Ambrosia) that I cannot get into as a consequence of a) not having a boat and b) not being able to cast unlock magic due to the magic-tegating flashing dust in the area. There's also a big hidden room with a mage and a squashed-head-man in the southern section, but which is mostly devoid of good treasure. i got a few gold bars, but that's all.

Zircon in Minoc made me the helmets I required, and I headed back to the cube generator on the Fellowship Island. Note that I landed my carpet there, so there was no need for me to join the Fellowship! But maybe I should have. In any case, the cube is one of my favorite parts of the game. Basically, it's a series of concetric squares, and walking on different points causes explosions and other walkways to appear, yet ome areas are blocked by invisible force fields. The goal is to reach the center, and I love how the Guardian taunts you all the time, chuckling when you step onto a ledge that leads to a wall, for example. That or telling you "that is the proper direction to travel, Avatar!" as you waltz into flames and explosions.

The cube is a curious tool because it causes Fellowship members to speak the truth, but unfortunately I have not been inspired by its results. Batlin vanished when I used it on him, but no one else seems to care about it--So far I've tried it in Moonglow, and also had it on me while the Trinsic leader gives his speech to his congregation, to no effect. Too bad.

I think Ultima VII is pretty short, as far as the actual plot is concerned, but there's at least three dungeons I can think of offhand that I've not had any reason at all to visit (Destard, Wrong, Covetous). My next day or two of gaming may simply be exploring those locations, before or after which I can hit the Isle of Fire. I wonder how long that will take? The test of Truth is far easier since I remember its solution, but I think I will wander around that one some just for kicks. I look forward to Serpent Isle, and playing Silver Seed again, because I have not solved those quests in many years.

At the present time, the only flaw with Ultima VII is a certain lack of urgency to the game--maybe it's because I've played it before, but I know that I could sleep for the next 10 years in the game and the astronomical alignment will simply never occur. So I'm free to explore at will, in spite of the Time Lord! Which reminds me, I need to try out to play myself in the Britain theater...