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

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ultima IX, Day 1

Well, my gaming of Ultima IX has begun; in fact, it's continued for several days. It seems that in general I either am in the mood to play the game, or to blog, but rarely do I do both in the same day! In any case, the past several days I have made much headway, and I have to say I'm pretty eager to wrap this up. I'm hoping I can do so before Feb 14th, marking the end of a year since I started this effort!

This blog concerns day 1. With a few exceptions, it seems that I can cleanse a shrine in about 2-3 hours worth of gameplay, from my first arrival in the town to the cleanse. This first day is probably about 2.5 hours; Despise is short, but there's a lot of pre-emptive stuff you have to get out of the way. The beginning of the game is terribly incoherent, in my view--for some reason, you're back on Earth. At the end of Ultima VIII, you had just appeared on a bleak landscape with fire everywhere, right? I guess starting on Earth makes some sense (you have to learn how to play). but it's still pretty disconcerting. The game really begins when you are tossed into Stonegate (after a brief appearance on a mountaintop--again--you are whisked away).

Someone apparently decided to rebuild Stonegate into a freakishly gigantic tower, and also to create some Shadowlord statues from outside. So Stonegate hints at one of the things I find generally annoying about Ultima IX--it tries to pay homage to previous games, but it does so in ways that are just kinda disconcerting, like this spontaneously rebuilt Stonegate.

But before I rip on the game too much, I should probably mention some of the good points. I think the dungeons are, by far, the highlight of the game, the early ones, at least, are well designed and challenging without being frustrating. The puzzles are interesting and inventive, and make good use of the 3-D engine. The outdoor world is also interesting, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore with unexpected items laying around. However, the outer world is pretty darn cramped, and feels tiny. There's a brigand living right behind Lord British's castle!? The fact that monsters re-spawn forever, at least outside, can also be tiresome--I must have killed that thief near the east gate of Britain at least 30 times; you'd think the thieves would quit lurking there. I know the older games had this problem too. One of the interesting things about the cramped world, also, is that it's accentuated by the 3D view--because you can look in the distance, you can see the island that you won't get to any time soon, or the goblin on the mountaintop, or whatever' Ultima VII was also a pretty crowded game, but since you were stuck in the overhead isometric view, it didn't feel as much that way.

But that's a long digression from the plot points! Britain has been corrupted by the column and its inhabitants are not quite so compassionate as they might be, shipping the poor off to the swamp town of Paws. Things reach a head after you finish up Despise and the mayor's daughter is carted off. He eventually learns his lesson, as you would expect. What's interesting is that his compassionate-ness seems to improve even before cleansing the shrine. Each shrine requires the glyph from the column and a virtue-themed artifact from the town (in this case a big blue crystal heart--which seems to be as big as my head; how do I fit this in my backpack!?) to be cleansed, after which the music (sometimes) changes to a happier (and IMO a worse) tune. Despise is a simple dungeon to work through, but it has some interesting features, such as a non-essential magic shield quest (which I never completed--you need four crystals; I found three and learned all the shield did is improve your magic and gave up), and a lot of log books and other such things that indicate that Lord British has sent expeditions into the dungeon and has almost created a little town there, albeit a totally self-insufficient one (all the guard posts have been abandoned...)

In the bottom, you meet Iolo, who has been corrupted but who is a weakling. Fetching the glyph apparently cures him and he goes back to stay with Gwenno nearby.

So one of the more interesting places in the game is the big museum in Britain, which collects a wide array of miscellany from previous games, from the obvious like the cards that killed off Exodus (they are playing cards, but I envision them as more akin to old computer punchcards) and the vortex cube (which does not seem to be cubical) to the obscure, like Khorgin's fang from Ultima VIII and the blue tassel from Ultima II.

Once upon a time there was a website which had 3D representations of a bunch of the magic weapons from various games in the series; a similar effort at making representations of some of the interesting quest items could be worthwhile too.

A word on screenshots...I'm not posting any for now because they come out so terrible. I'm going to have to ponder what I will do about this.


Anonymous said...

Great to hear that you started blogging U9 - many aspects of the game are bad, but from a blog reader's perspective, this is what makes it interesting. It's like looking at a car crash site.

I agree that some dungeons are pretty cool - I guess Destard is my favorite. Others are simply horrible, especially Deceit, Wrong, Shame and the Abyss.

If you want to have the full U9-nightmare-experience, please read every new entry the Avatar makes into his quest journal.

One last thing: Of course the cards that defeated Exodus should be punchcards. It's this level of reality that makes U3 clever. It's a shame that Ascension decided not to be clever.

An essential link for everyone who is interested in Ascension is Hacki's Ultima Page, which lists all the plot inconsistencies.


It also plugs the "Ultima: IX Dialogue Patch" which I wrote with the help of a few others.

Adamantyr said...

Sounds like something is definitely amiss, if you're having so many graphics glitches. Still, if the game doesn't CRASH, I'd call yourself fortunate. Just make sure you save plenty and often so you can restore if you need to.

Regarding Stonegate, if you recall, it was a tower in mountians in Ultimas 5 and 6, and then in 7 it was inexplicably moved to a swamp. So it's a bit unfair to slam Ultima 9 for putting it back to it's original form, while ignoring what Ultima 7 did, isn't it? :)

I've checked out the dialogue patch, but it has some elements to it I don't agree with. This is a common issue with fan works; a fraction of the fan-base likes it, the rest discount it as "not canonical". Fact is, like it or not, U:A is the ninth Ultima, and unless Garriot buys back the Ultima franchise from EA and says "I declare it an ungame, now we're going to make it properly." and does a new one, it's what we got.

In particular, I can't fathom why they renamed Ambrosia "Baltergres"... which means in Gargish "Bad opening". How is that in any way similar to Ambrosia?

Anonymous said...

The cards should obviously be punch cards, but I like to think that the items in the museum aren't necessarily authentic! Just a shame that the Avatar didn't notice that they weren't the originals.

Anonymous said...

Terrible screenshots are better than no screenshots. Please post at least one or two.

Anonymous said...

Hehe, I am pretty sure Baltergres meant something different. But I can't bother to look it up. Evil Feak Dragon, who wrote tons of Ultima fan fiction, came up with that one. Originally I didn't want to change the name, but it was quite silly to call it "Ambrosia".

Yeah, I agree that canonicity is a problem with fanwork. We decided to take chances since, for so many, the original U9 did not feed canonical at all.

Leprechaun Sniffer, Esquire. said...

About the closeness of Ultima VII: I agree with it, but there was one thing that worked with it really well: the fact that Britannia was slowly modernizing. The way everything began to cramp made me think of how all this technology was making Britannia less of a grand area and more of a world that is slowly being conquered of all its dangers. And, of course, of the new ones that hid underneath the civilization.

Anonymous said...

Re: Grandor Dragon. I don't get it. If your goal was to make the game feel more canonical, why would you change names to make them LESS canonical?

Anonymous said...

I think the 3D representations you were talking about were on Televar's site; http://www.surfing.net/ultima/index.html

But I can't find the items on there anymore... I think I have them on my harddrive somewhere...

RE: Grandor
I agree with Justin on this. Changing the name from Ambrosia to something else would be breaking canon wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

I don't see what's so canonical about Gargoyles naming their city "Ambrosia". There is no motivation for it, and considering what Ambrosia was in Ultima VII, I'd say it's just damn weird.

Anonymous said...

How did that dagger from U8 end up in the britannia museum anyway? Maybe the guardian just dropped it there with a note to the curator.

Anonymous said...

This was my second Ultima (my aborted efforts to play U6 notwithstanding).

The game, mehh.

The player is led about by the nose throughout the game. Whereas U5 allowed the gamer to explore at his own pace, and choose when to venture out on a particular quest, U9 puts you on a path and won't let you stray. Consequently, this game never felt like it was MY game; it felt like I was merely abiding the desires of a programmer.

Additionally, the world did seem small Brittania lost its epic feel, this despite numerous references to its epic past.

While I don't hate the game, I do hate that it is mediocre.

Ritchian said...

As far as the opening goes, I think a lot of the initial continuity errors between Ultima VIII and IX could have been easily fixed with one little change. Flip the tutorial level and the cinematic of the Avatar arriving in Britannia around. The Earth sequence could be, as cliched as it sounds, a dream the Avatar has while recovering. I mean, it wouldn't be the first time the Avatar was trapped in a dream world.

Then again, I'm talking about Ultima IX here - the game that continuity forgot.

Anonymous said...

As much I enjoyed Ultima 9 for what it was, the Guardian's Homeworld concept was a magnigicent idea with loads of portential for greatness! They never should have scrapped it. Back in the day, I recall reading a fairly detailed article that contained an interview about Ultima 9 in which they asked Richard Garriott what Ultima 9 was to be about... and he said that it was to answer the question "What is the Guardian?" He (RG) went on to say that he wanted the Guardian to be one of a whole race of such interdimensional godlike beings, and that he wanted the Guardian to be the weakest of them. He said he envisioned the Guardian as being: "like Darth Vader, with the Emperor being right around the corner". These much more powerful beings (can you imagine any MORE powerful beings than ol' big red?) would live on their own homeworld, and the point of Pagan was for the Avatar to become a being on their level, a god, so he could fight against them on their home turf. I can imagine that the plot of that version of U9 would have entailed gaining the powers of each god you slay, until you can finally take on the "emperor" and win the game. That would have been AWESOME! Even moreso... if their home planet was actually not a planet per se but the Lands of the Dark Unknown from Ultima 1, a land which they never revisited in the later Ultima games. The twist I'd have loved to see would be having the ruler of those gods be revealed as Exodus, who is revived by the Guardian's retrieving the Dark Core from the Void while the Avatar was on Pagain... and thence having the Guardian reuniting Exodus' spirit with the Core. In a further twist, the Guardian turning out to be the evil spirit of Mondain would have rocked! They could have tied the story to Ultima IV by saying that when the Avatar destroyed the Skull of Mondain, the Guardian (Mondain's spirit) was freed from the Skull. Thus still making it be the Avatar's fault, but far more spectacularly. They could have easily explained that this is why the Guardian was present in the past, because he was Mondain and the Guardian is one of the evil wizard's guises. Mondains could have easily been retconned to be centuries old (like Lord British, only vastly older) and also having the power to traverse dimensions. Heck, he was immortal so he also could have been omnipoent as well. Freed from his body, he could be unlimitedly powerful. Godlike. His consort on his homeworld could have been made to be Minax, who is reborn in this time period though she was killed in the original time period in which the Avatar fought her. Since time reset after Ultima II after all, Minax could have reasonably been reborn as a result. That would bring back the Triad of Evil for one final battle with the fates of both Earth and Britannia (Sosaria) being in the balance. Your fights with each one could mirror the original fights with them in the classic games. Richard Garriott said he wanted one of the gods to be a woman with multiple arms like a Hindu goddess so imagine if Minax came back in that kind of form. Awesome stuff. If they wanted to bring back Blackthorn too, they could have had him be the high priest of the Triad of Evil, since he was after all tainted by their evil through the Shadowlords in Ultima V. Epic enough? Heck yes! That's how I would have designed Ultima 9, along the lines of RG's vision but with taking every past Ultima game into consideration the way I laid out in this post.

Anonymous said...

Imagine that! I'd have loved to see the Guardian's Homeworld idea taken to such a level also. I also always thought that bringing back the Triad of Evil for one last go would have tied up a lot of loose plot threads such as the Skull of Mondain, the Dark Core, and the nagging thought that as you said: if time reset, then where in this time period was Minax! Minax as the Ultima equivalent of Kali with Mondain as the Guardian being essentially Shiva would make the Exodus as Brahma epic beyond all imagination. Minax was death and love all rolled into one anyway, since she sought vengeance for love's sake, however twisted. Mondain was basically a destroyer and the Guardian was called the Destroyer of Worlds, which is like that famous Hindu saying from the Mahabaratta: "I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds!" And Exodus was patient, logical, and nearly on a godlike level anyway. It could be explained that the spirits of the Triad from those statues in Ultima 6 were actually the good parts of their souls... while the evil was still out there plotting revenge for their former defeat at the Avatar's hands. I'd have loved for Blackthorn to be something grander too. High Priest of the Triad... hmmm... they could call themselves the "Divine Triad" now instead of Triad of Evil. And Blackthorn could have been the Cyborg Blackthorn from UO, while keeping the story of him being made into one by Exodus, but thus making it part of the official Ultima saga and not just UO's mythos. Bring the Juka and Meer into it by having them be the Triad's soldiers on the homeworld and you've got me sold on the whole idea! Just imagining how all that is what could have been makes me all the more sad for what was not. Ah well, I suppose we should be grateful the series was ended at all and not just left hanging at the end of Pagan. That really would have been horrible!