Monday, April 19, 2010

Ultima IV and Virtue

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin recalls that once he established himself as a successful printer in Philadelphia, he "conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection." Through his readings, he had identified a list of 13 virtues that together would equal this perfection: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. Realizing that trying to practice all 13 at once would be impossible, he set up a system by which he focused on one per day, carefully recording his progress in a ruled "score sheet" he set up in his notebook.

"I determined to give a week's strict attention to each of the virtues successively. Thus, in the first week, my great guard was to avoid every the least offence against Temperance, leaving the other virtues to their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of the day."

When I was 13 or 14, I did the same thing Franklin did, only not having been exposed to his autobiography at that point, my list of virtues was different: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. I wrote each with its definition on an index card and every morning I shuffled the cards and chose one at random. That one, I did my best to practice for the day. If honesty came up, I was careful to tell no lies throughout the day. If it was sacrifice, I looked for ways to do something charitable. Valor was always a tough one. I scoured Bartlett's Familiar Quotations in the school library and made little signs to hang around my room. I still remember some of them:

  • "Honor and shame from no condition rise; act well your part, there all the honor lies." -- Alexander Pope
  • "God hath sworn to lift on high he who sinks himself by true humility." -- John Keble
Not many, I suspect, would admit to deriving what amounts to their religion from a computer game. But I had rejected conventional religion even as a pre-teen. I balked at Judeo-Christian doctrines that seemed both haphazard and arbitrary: meticulous rules about food and dress, but none about the need to actively seek out and destroy evil (my interpretation of "valor"); commandments against adultery and sabbath-breaking, but none against assault and slavery. Ultima IV, on the other hand, offered a comprehensive and completely nondenominational--secular, even--system of virtue. It fit me like a glove. Perhaps if I had read philosophy, the history of the samurai, or Ayn Rand, I would have encountered an equally suitable virtue system that would be more "respectable" as a source. But I didn't. Instead, I played Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.

Ultima IV's system seems to owe something to Hindu mythology, particularly in the concept of the "Avatar," which I think has been misunderstood by Ultima players and critics alike. In Hindu belief, an avatar is an earthy manifestation of a god--a form the god takes to walk on the mortal plane. In the Ultima series, however, your character is repeatedly described as the "Avatar of Virtue." "Avatar" in this sense is not being misused as a synonym for "exemplar" or "missionary"; rather, the game is suggesting that virtue itself is made manifest in your character; that abstract concepts like honor and valor can, in fact, be given physical form. By using the term, the creator is equating virtue with godhood, suggesting that our gods can be--perhaps should be--principles as well as beings. Why, indeed, should we worship a god who personifies truth, love, and courage when we can instead worship truth, love, and courage themselves?

At the same time, the use of "avatar" has a subtle second meaning. The character that moves around the screen is literally your, the player's, avatar in the game world. From the opening cut scenes of several of the Ultima games, showing you sitting at your computer, a soda can at its side, the games invite you to engage in a sort-of metacognition about the CRPG dynamic in which your fictional alter-ego acts in a way that is more virtuous, more courageous, more adventurous than in the real world.

In most games, this process is one-way--usually, at least, and thankfully so. Gamers who spend hours killing fictional enemies and then go out and kill real enemies are justly labeled as murderers, with negative consequences for their victims, their selves, and the gaming community. In less dramatic examples, no one learns how to sword fight from Oblivion or cast real magical spells from Wizardry. But here, in Ultima IV, we have a game that invites us to apply its lessons to the real world--to improve ourselves in the same way that we improve our in-game character. And if we decline to do this--decline to take this system of virtues seriously--just because its source is a "video game"...well, what better example do we have of a failure to live up to the most difficult-to-master of the eight virtues: humility.

Creating your Ultima IV character.

There has never been, and I suspect never will be again, a CRPG--or, indeed, any game--like Ultima IV. Today's gamers wouldn't have the patience for it. I'm surprised they ever did. Perhaps it was only because CRPGs were so young, computers less ubiquitous, and computer gamers more cerebral (in the 1980s, mostly nerds had computers), that Ultima IV ever found an audience in the first place. Imagine, today, a game without a "big boss," but rather a more complicated quest to become a moral exemplar; a game in which progress is made less through combat than through meditating at shrines; a game whose character creation process invites you to explore your own morality; a game in which, to win, you must give gold to the poor, sacrifice hit points at a blood bank, always tell the truth, and let fleeing monsters escape; a game in which NPC dialog occurs not by choosing among options but by actually typing the words you want to speak.

If you came here for gameplay details, I apologize for the long and abstract polemic. I'll actually start playing (re-playing, in this case, for the first time in 10 years) in the next posting. But this discussion explains, I think, what ultimately led me to create this blog. Ultima IV wasn't my first CRPG, but it was among the first few, and for years it has stood in my mind as the foremost example of what a CRPG can achieve. If this intrigues you at all, ignore that it's old, ignore that it has lousy graphics and sound, ignore everything but the plot, and just play the game.


  1. I've been waiting for this one since Rogue. Please give us many, many postings! Someday I'm going to play this one again, and this time I'll finish it.

    Inspired by your blog, I've taken up Might and Magic 4 and 5 (World of Xeen). Back in the day I finished Clouds but never the Darkside; I hope to complete the whole thing for good this time.

    The story is thin of course, but the game is a lot of fun. Remembering back, I think it was the most advanced inventory system in any RPG. Good stuff!

  2. Excellent post! I loved all the games in the Ultima series, but IV was definitely special and unique.

    Last year I read the book "Dungeons & Dreamers" which is about the history of role playing computer games, and focuses especially on Richard Garriott and the Ultima series. Anyway, it talks about how he received a lot of complaining letters from parents after Ultima III and decided to make IV more of a moral quest. It is probably a book that you would really enjoy. You can read the first chapter on the book's website.

    Thanks for your very cool blog!

  3. Couldn't agree more. The first Ultima I got into was 2 (well, 1, really, but I was having more fun pressing ^C and typing LIST to read the source than actually playing it). Both 2 and 3 absolutely rocked my world, but I was simply not prepared for what "Quest of the Avatar" had to offer.

    Looking forward to your reviews.

  4. Andrew, I think you'll like Might & Magic IV/V a lot. It's one of the last games that feature movement by discrete squares instead of continuous movement (don't know if there's a term for this). I'll get to it in...oh...about three years.

    cbeust, if I had been playing the Ultima games when they were first released, I probably would have quit after Ultima II and assumed the series had no more to offer. I'm glad I got into Ultima IV first.

    Rusty, THANK YOU for that book recommendation. I can't believe I've never heard of this. I have just ordered it, and I expect it will help fill out a lot of my postings. I also found another one, while I was searching, called "Dungeons & Desktops," so I ordered that, too.

  5. Ultima IV was the very first CRPG I ever played and still possibly my favorite. I was probably about 11. I remember that even at the time I wasn't impressed with the graphics but I soon got sucked into the gameplay as I started to learn about the virtues and different elements such as the Dungeon quests. I'm currently replaying it as I've never actually completed it.

    My children tease me about Ultima as it's hard for them to understand how I can enjoy playing a game with such simple graphics compared to the XBox and PC titles they've grown up with.

    It's interesting what you said about Ultima IV, its virtue system and application in the real world. I've thought similar things over the years where I find myself considering real world issues from an Ultima perspective!

    Regarding books I've been thinking about ordering "Dungeons & Desktops" myself. Matt Barton who is the author has an excellent weekly review series of classic games on YouTube. He's covered many CRPGS (including Wizardry and Ultima 7) and often has some interesting interviews. Just search for "Matt Chat".

  6. First Ultima game (first computer game) I ever played was Ultima V. I only tried out Ultima IV after it was released as freeware. Since I had already played through Ultimas V-Pagan, as well as Martian Dreams, Savage Empire, and the Underworld series, I found that I couldn't appreciate the simple graphics of U IV. I'll be interested to see it played from your perspective.

  7. I know that this is an older post, but after reading it, I wanted to highly recommend "The Complete Book Of Ultima" by Shay Addams... The first half-plus is focused on the background of various elements of the Ultima games and Richard Garriott's experiences writing them. A quote of his describing his intent with Ultima IV resonates well with your post, I think:
    "The idea I'm trying to put forth is more philosophical than religious -- that in a society where people have to interact with each other, there are certain kinds of rules whose rationale you should be able to understand. It's the difference between morals and ethics: ethics exist for logical reasons, while morals exist because somebody says so."

  8. Thanks, xyzzy! I hadn't heard of the Addams book before. I'll try to read it before I play "Ultima V."

  9. there are two editions of shay's book, you want the second edition over the first! Its a very good book, also prima's ultima collection is very good and I have Master Ultima which has some good background info in it. these three books are more than just walkthroughs, they have loots of good info in them from design to technical.

  10. Indeed, Truth, Love, and Courage are better principles than Faith, Hope, and Charity. Glenn Beck will never be an Avatar.

  11. What's the difference between the first and second editions of the Addams book? I think I've got the first, and I'm curious.

    On the virtue front, I think I played Ultima IV in 1986 and I had a lot of trouble with the virtue of Sacrifice. I spent almost the entirety of the game as a "self-serving slug" and only managed to work my way up by systematically donating blood. A year later I did read Ayn Rand, who is well-known for her criticisms of self-sacrifice, and liked her a lot. The game accurately modeled a significant element of my own moral character based on my choices during play! That's got to be a unique form of role-playing.

    One other fond memory of Ultima IV -- I remember going to an Ultima panel at a science fiction convention. I literally finished Ultima IV the day before. When the panel started, the main speaker started out by noting that he hadn't yet completed Ultima IV and asked if anyone else in the room had. I was the only one. Go me!

  12. Out of a roomful of people at an Ultima panel, you were the only one to have completed the most famous Ultima game? Man, that's pretty lame. Please tell me there weren't a lot of people there.

  13. @Kyle, they added walkthroughs for Savage Empire, Martian Dreams, Stygian Abyss, Black Gate, and several Nintendo Ultimas. Also added around 60+ pages.

  14. My first Ultima game was Ultima III, which I mainly bought because I thought the box art was totally badass. I was amused to learn just a couple of years ago that parental complaints against the "demonic" art, along with some immoral behavior possible in the game, were a big motivator behind IV's emphasis on virtue.

    Currently playing Ultima IV and I think I'm making good progress toward finishing it for the first time...

  15. Good luck! Write again if you win.

  16. Have often thought about why games are abandoning any kind of complexity that would produce such enjoyment with a little persistance and investment by the player. Never considered the point that, as you say, geeks got hold of computers first. Now every mental sloth is online, and the smarts market is a small and obviously unprofitable one. Still doesn't fit with marketing though... the pie has gotten bigger. Targeting the dork market should still be achievable, but I guess not with advertising costs, the latest game engine and expensive graphic designers.

  17. Baron: Ultima IV was a risk when it came out too. A game based on ethics, philosophy, and personal behavior seems counter-intuitive to a genre traditionally defined by leveling up, amassing gold, and killing bosses. But Ultima IV was willing to take that risk and it came out on top as a result.

    The reason we don't see those games today isn't because they won't succeed, it's because gaming companies today are loathe to take any kind of risks at all. Ultima IV's game engine was programmed chiefly by Richard Garriott himself, with the support of a small team of creative geniuses. A modern CRPG is made by a massive multi-department development team that could rival the crew size of a Hollywood blockbuster. There are literally millions of dollars and executives' jobs on the line with each and every release.

    That's the cost of a modern, awesome-looking, effects-filled game: they're just not going to take many risks.

    1. Obviously everyone reading this, you potentially included, may know that 2012 was the year when the smaller teams of creative geniuses rose again via Kickstarter, but it is certainly worth pointing out that in the next year or so we are going to have at least a half-dozen oldschool-styled CRPGs coming out that have a decent chance of rekindling the kind of magic they once had.

  18. Too bad those millions of dollare are wasted on reinventing yet another graphics engine, cut scenes and voice acting...

  19. You can still find some good, risky games within the indie scene, due to the lower development costs. Part of the problem could also be creative inbreeding. Back when CRPGs first appeared and you wanted to make a game you wanted it to be like D&D or a book. Now it is just (or more) likely that you want it to be like FFVII or Dragon Age or Ultima VI. Therefore the same ideas get propagated along, the same plotlines go from archetypes to cliches and the same game mechanics stay around.

  20. I remember hearing about this game through "Applesoft", a sort of shareware diskette one could buy at the store. I was so jealous, since it apparently wasn't available for the Apple IIc. The preview had some screenshots, along with an interview with Richard Garriott, describing some of his ideas on the game's development.

  21. I recently discovered this site and stumbling across posts like this just solidify it as the greatest blog ever.

    I played a lot of these games, but you've inspired me to go back and play some of the ones I missed (like Might & Magic).

    To quote from Lionel Hutz:
    "I don't use the world 'hero' very often, but *you* are the greatest hero in American history."

  22. That's quite a superlative, Chris. I'm glad you like it!

    Thanks for mentioning me on your blog, too. Actually, I followed one of your commenter's links tot he Ultima Forever site and was shocked to see Bioware's logo at the bottom. What involvement do they have with Ultima?

  23. Origin was purchased by EA way back when. Bioware was purchased by EA much more recently.

    With the launch of that website, I have to imagine they're cooking up something interesting.

  24. I was taught that Ben Franklin invented "electricity" only to find out recently that he only invented a lightening rod and that electrical experiments had been going on for several centuries prior.

    Can you go to "hell" in this one (like Diablo) if you choose wrong?

    "I am Pardue, and I am a holy man." -- Robbie Wheeling

  25. Well, clearly he didn't invent electricity more than anyone "invented" water. But I think he was the first to determine that lightning IS electricity, and he did a lot more to develop theories of electricity.

    Yes, you can go to hell (of a sort) in Ultima IV. You have to, in fact.

  26. I was originally interested in Ultima 4 because I am a Catholic, and it seemed fascinating to me to find a game that seriously discusses virtue; not just as a side plot, but the whole point of the adventure.I'm just starting- it's fun but very deep, kind of intimidating.
    Also, you may be interested to know that the Church does not consider God to personify the Virtues- rather, they exist as part of His being as a neccisity.
    Theological lesson over.

  27. I'll own up. Nearly the whole of my system of spirituality is based on the Eight Virtues of the Ultima games. I've spent the last fifteen years of my life working out the details. Someday maybe I'll write a blog about that. I found your blog while searching for someone - anyone - who might understand how lonely that is. Even my husband thinks it's kind of weird. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for writing that. You made someone feel a tiny bit less lonely.

  28. I'll own up. Nearly the whole of my system of spirituality is based on the Eight Virtues of the Ultima games. I've spent the last fifteen years of my life working out the details. Someday maybe I'll write a blog about that. I found your blog while searching for someone - anyone - who might understand how lonely that is. Even my husband thinks it's kind of weird. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for writing that. You made someone feel a tiny bit less lonely.

  29. I'll own up. Nearly the whole of my system of spirituality is based on the Eight Virtues of the Ultima games. I've spent the last fifteen years of my life working out the details. Someday maybe I'll write a blog about that. I found your blog while searching for someone - anyone - who might understand how lonely that is. Even my husband thinks it's kind of weird. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for writing that. You made someone feel a tiny bit less lonely.

  30. Canageek, you are SO on the money.

  31. Nice to hear it Niceman! I thought of it after reading a similar idea when Bioshock first came out.

  32. U4 is what revolutionized the CRPG scene back then. Less killing and more talking. Also, I remember that, to have some decent stats, you should never... ever... choose Humility.

  33. Ultima IV was a profound, life-changing experience. Never before or since has any book, movie, or game as much challenged me, personally, to become a better person. It wasn't merely a revolution in game-play: it took an ignored, maligned, and ultimately pretty silly new medium and used its one new feature -- interactivity -- to force a person to sit and ponder its meaning. You could not progress in the game without coming to terms with its virtues. I know because tried. I didn't even know what some of the terms meant when I started the game, but boy did I learn.

    I never really finished the game way back when, though. The quest, for me, was to become the Avatar. Finishing the final dungeon was... anticlimactic. I got bogged down in the slog and then never got back to it. Afterward, I was worried that the game wouldn't stand up to my memories of it. I finally played again 5 years ago and was gratified to discover that while the concepts cannot, of course, still be new to me, they remained true to my recollection, and I found the game to be an intriguing romp through my own past thought processes. I did complete the final dungeon this most recent time, and, indeed, found the ending anticlimactic.

    My brothers and I still speak of morality in terms of the Principles and Virtues. I will say, however, that the game may have ruined me for modern games. I cannot for the life of me play through Grand Theft Auto, KotOR as a Dark Jedi, or any other game requiring an evil path. I just don't enjoy them.

    Thanks much for the very interesting article. I just found your blog today and have been reading around. Much fun and nostalgia, but this article was the best so far.

    1. I'm glad you're enjoying it, and that you have the same memories that I do about the game.

    2. If you are truly elite at Ultima IV, you must finish it as a Sheppard. You must choose humility.

      Ultima IV is one of the best CRPGs ever. Now that the consoles abound they will not make a free and open game like it. The keywords will be locked as controller selections. I loved typing in a word to someone random, and getting a response I didn't know I was going to get. Or talking to the criminals, the demon, or the horse. Staring at my tv to see the small dot in the wall for the secret door. Read the book of History. No, REALLY, READ THE BOOK OF HISTORY. The map reminded me of Time Bandits.

    3. Ug. I am so sick of hearing how consoles are the death of everything. Of course on a console you'd never get a creative game that blends stealth and RPG (Deus Ex: Human Revolution), turns a point and click on its head to tell a story (Walking Dead), reverse standard genre conventions to examine a moral issue (Spec Ops: The Line) or something strange no one has thought of before (Flower, Journey, Portal)

      What kills creativity is high budgets and bad studios/publishers. There is no reason a console can't be as creative as a computer game. Code is code. Controlers have some upsides and some downsides (Aiming sucks, but movement is more fluid then WASD) In the house right now, and in use as gaming machines are 2 PCs, 2 xboxs (Normally 1, but brother brought his home for the holidays), a PS3, and a Wii. Also a gamecube, N64, SNES and a bunch of C64s. All of them have upsides and downsides (Well, the modern ones anyway). PS3 has better exclusives, but the controller sucks balls compared to the xbox one. I can play games on the xbox and PS3 in the family room and be with the family, but then I can't mod them and they talk during cutscenes.

      And stop talking about games needing less attention today. Rubbing every item against every other item doesn't take much brain power. Grinding for 16 hours doesn't make it a better game. Also; The WORST games I'm playing now have a better story then ANYTHING on EITHER Trickster or Chet's blogs. Yes, INfamous (or InFamous or inFamous) has a horrible story, inconstant characterization and it feels like the writers didn't talk to eachother. And you know what? It has a more complex and nuanced story then ANYTHING on either blog so far, and I'm sick of people telling me how short the attention span of my generation is, and how stupid I am for not liking brutally hard games with a zillion hours of grinding. I beat Dragon Quest I (Ok, the Game Boy version, but still). I worked on II and III. You know what? Golden Sun was a better CRPG in every freaking way.

      ...sorry, its been a long week.

    4. This is one of those 'many variables contributing, but can't single out one factor' issues. If I may ramble for a bit...

      It's not the bedroom coders losing out to the big software houses, or the extra hoops programmers and designers have to jump through to publish on the consoles, or the money-driven market, or the barriers to entry, or the broader audience, it's all of these and none of these.

      I venture that you (pardon the generalisation - I'm using the collective "you") were young adults, teenagers or younger when you first experienced them. They became a part of your identity, became your standard measure for "RPG".

      When someone rubbishes an old game for being old or clunky, it's like they're dismissing you, mocking your fond memories of the hardship you went through to wrest the fun from said game or one like it.

      Rather, when you ask yourself, "Why don't the games I play now seem as good as I remember the ones I played being when I was younger?" and "What happened to story?", ask "What are current games doing better than the old games?". It does you good to argue for the opposite party.

      There is stagnation and hand-holding in current CRPGs, but what percentage of this is due to the lack of 'market' and focus testing and what percentage is due to the main features already having being invented and becoming convention? (Seriously, I don't know. Can we find out?) If you'd had, say, Fallout 3's plot (sometimes considered the weakest) and setting with era-appropriate graphics, the same open world converted to 2D, and about a third of the things you were able to make and do available to you in 198x, your mind would have been thoroughly blown. F3, as with others, built on what came before.

      If you doubt the lack of roleplaying potential or richness of current games, well... I post on reddit's Fallout subreddit and people will occasionally come up with entire stories for their characters as they play them. The Elder Strolls is the chronicle of someone who set out to have the most unexciting life he could manage.

    5. I'm very glad to hear I'm not the only one who writes additional dialog in my head about games like Skyrim and Fallout 3. (Including details of why I can loot the store right in front of them without them considering it stealing)

  34. Canageek- You keep hearing it because its true, and everybody realizes it. You will not get a variety of innovation that you get in the good CRPGs. The Ultima story is awesome, and better than 99% of the RPG line for Xbox, PS1/2/3, and camecube & Wii combined, except where ported from a computer game. Clearly, you are not playing some BAD worst games. Go watch AVGN.

    ...apology accepted

    1. Apology retracted. Now you are just parroting idiotic ideas that a zillion other idiots have posted. Have you actually PLAYED a console game recently? You'll find a void of good story telling, they only have games like Bioshock, Mass Effect 1-3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonoured, The Walking Dead, Heavy Rain.

      Personally my favourite CRPG is available on console (though a much worse version): Fallout 3.
      Baldur's gate isn't on console, but it is on fucking iPad, which is an anemic, input poor piece of crap that is closer to something a caveman could use then a real gaming device (Og poke shiny screen with finger!)

      Get your head out of your ass and think before saying things. All console does is change the controller. Hell, the PS3 can even take mouse and keyboard input, so you can port *any* RPG to it given the budget.

    2. Lets name of some other good CRPGs, just to show what an idiot you are:

      Baten Katos: Pure RPG, based on deck building and poker hands plus an elemental base. Great story, I really didn't expect at least one of the plot twists. I need to finish it. Gamecube. Had a sequel, haven't played that.

      Skies of Arcadia: Note GREAT, but solid JRPG with flying ships and light, fun dialog. Base building and writing give you a sense of effecting the world. Gamecube & Dreamcast.

      Golden Sun and Golden Sun 2: Solid party paged RPGs for Gameboy Advanced. Interesting Dijinn trade-off mechanics (Can use them to summon big attacks, but that weakens your character). Better story then Ultima, if not by much. It actually has this thing known as a 'plot twist' which is something only Gold Box RPGs seem to have discovered by this point in Chet's explorations.

    3. Oh and lets not overlook fucking MASS EFFECT, the single longest story told in an electronic game so far, with some of the most interesting characters and world, and the only game to ever make me have a hard time with a decision I was making. Oh, and I am just making that on ME1, which was the most CRPG of the three; the 2nd was supposed to be the strongest of the series.

      Lets see, you MIGHT have heard of Skyrim, one of the most satisfying games to come out lately, that I've put 160 hours or so into, as has Chet and a number of the other members of our community. Because that doesn't have customizable characters at ALL, no of course not, it is on fucking consoles, which are for idiots. Right. Bite me.

    4. Oh, lets see, Ogre Battle 64, a combination RTS-CRPG for N64. Oh, it only had this tiny little advancement called, what was it, oh yeah, multiple freaking endings. You know, based on how good/evil you were on your playthrough. Not just two of them either, like Fable or some garbage. Not, it apparently had a bunch of them based on both how you play the game and your dialog choices.

      Lets see, what console HAVEN'T I found a good RPG for yet? Oh yeah, how about the Wii exclusive, The Last Story? Very JRPG, not much freedom, bland battle mechanics, but interesting universe and very, very engaging characters. I don't like numbers enough to get into the whole upgrade system and tweaking my battle performance, but hey, console exclusive CRPG.

      So lets see, I've listed what would be known as a 'metric ton' of good through excellent RPGs for consoles, all off the top of my fucking head. At least 3 of them are exclusive to consoles (Skies of Arcadia, Golden Sun, The Last Story). So yeah, waiting to hear about the magical property that causes consoles to be unable to run RPGs.

      Hell, porting Ultima to console could be done by a braindead monkey as it is all menus or text entry. Sure, it would be a bit painful with an on screen keyboard, but not hard. And you could add it a list of recently typed things, to save you time when typing spells in or asking everyone in town about the same thing.

      So yeah, come back when you actually learn to, you know, think, instead of parroting shit you read other places on the internet.

      Join me next time when I show how everyone who claims that triple A development kills genre blending games and risky games is an idiot by pointing out that my brother and I's game collection is more then half genre-mixing games, such as that tiny, low budget FPS with RPG elements by the name of Far Cry 3 (Inventory, Levels, abilities, economy.... Chet might have to play it!)

    5. There are good ideas being debated here and good points on both sides, but I think you're both getting a little hot under the collar.

      I generally agree with BelriX that controls have been dumbed down in recent games. The late 1980s and early 1990s mark the end of the era for flexible dialogue, text-based controls, and even games that used the full keyboard layout for in-game commands. I disagree, however, that this is necessarily because of the growth of consoles. We saw this happening even when PCs were absolutely dominant in the CRPG market; witness, for instance, the transition from typed keywords to selectable keywoards between Hero's Quest and the VGA remake (Quest for Glory). Granted, the need to port games to the console is probably one factor in keeping the controls a bit simpler, but I don't think it was the cause of it.

      Beyond that, though, BelriX, I don't see why modern games--even console games--can't be as immersive and interesting as games of the 1980s. The equivalent of staring at the screen looking for that dot in the wall shows up all the time. My wife and I are playing Fable II right now, and I'm constantly having to study the screen for cracks in the wall or other tell-tale signs of secret areas and treasures. The map for Skyrim is easily equal to the map for Ultima IV, just screen-based rather than on paper. And there's now way that you're going to convince me that the history of Britannia is the end-all, be-all when it comes to world building and lore. Plenty of modern games feature worlds and stories that are equally complex and fascinating. I don't agree with Canageek that the worst games of the current era have better stories than the best games of the 1980s, but in general, I don't see a correlation either way between the quality of the story and the era in which the game was made.

      Finally, BelriX, I utterly don't get your opening sentence, that "if you are truly elite at Ultima IV, you must finish as a shepherd." The whole point of the character-creation exercise is to test YOUR association with virtue, not to engineer it to make an easier or more difficult game. I think starting as a shepherd might actually make an easier game; since shepherds are the hardest to level and they can't use any ranged magic items, it would be best for the party to have the shepherd as one of the earliest characters and right up in front in battle.

      Canageek, you make some good points, and generallly I agree with you--but you have to cool off, man. Try not to resort to name-calling and profanity even when someone makes a point you think is jaw-droppingly ignorant. This isn't RPGCodex.

    6. Sorry about that, I was way out of line. Feel free to edit the profanity out if you'd like.

    7. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesApril 9, 2015 at 2:21 PM

      Metal Gear Solid Rising Revengeance had a scene that was a far better commentary on human nature and war than the entirety of Spec Ops the Line. Raiden had been given cyborg implants which made him see enemies as cartoonish figures, dying with wacky slapstick bloodshed, and he was told that they had all signed up for their missions, and therefore should not be treated with sympathy. This worked until the villain turned off the mental blocks in Raiden's implants, and he suddenly saw the reality: The corpses he left behind were covered in bones and bile; the enemies were simply men, desperately trying to survive and pleading to be allowed to live and enjoy everything again; and he was attacking like a violent sociopath. It was a great scene, the gameplay was unusual, rather than a generic shooter, and it showed how poor a game a story Spec Ops was.

      Walking Dead is a complete mess of a game with a horribly-written story, dozens of plot holes, cliches every few minutes, and quick-time-events instead of puzzles or fun.

      Little King's Story is a great story with a lot of subtle themes, implications, metaphors and potential interpretations, and plenty of insanity. It is also a console game. Xenoblade Chronicles is a clever game with an elaborate plot with themes established at the beginning that foreshadow events 110 hours of gameplay later. These are just modern games: Go back a little farther, and you can see classics like Mother, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 6 and 7, Zelda, Gunman's Proof and Crystalis.

      I enjoy Mass Effect, but watch Smudboy's videos about it: He really shows how the plot falls apart into nonsense and plot holes over time, leading to the worst ending ever.

      Quest for Glory is awesome, and one of my favorite Sierra games. You should play Superhero League of Hoboken, a C.R.P.G. which also mixes in adventure game puzzles, except that it uses turn-based combat, and has the unique humor and style of Steve Meretsky. It has the kind of imagination usually found in a Japanese game.

  35. Canageek: none of those are proper RPGs. They're JRPGs, with the exception of Mass Effect, which is a third person shooter combined with dating simulator.

    The only proper RPGs ever released on a console are direct ports of PC games.

    1. We can argue all day about what makes a "proper RPG," but in my view:

      1) JRPGs are CRPGs. I may not like them as much as western RPGs, but I can't deny what they are.

      2) Almost any absolute statement is going to turn out not to be true, and your closing sentence is a perfect example. There are plenty of valid RPGs released only for consoles or released first for consoles, and if you refuse to consider them "proper RPGs," you're going right to the "no true Scotsman" fallacy without even trying.

    2. Sorry, what is the "No True Scotsman" fallacy?

    3. I believe it is basically that you argue "no True Scotsman would do [x]" despite the fact that the concept of a "True Scotsman" itself is not actually defined. Ergo, "those are not real RPGs" is easy to argue when the very concept of an RPG can never be definitively decided upon anyway.

      There is something to be said about the fundamental difference between CRPGs and JRPGs, but honestly JRPGs (speaking generically) in some ways play more like these 1980s CRPGs than modern CRPGs do. Grind for its own sake, one path through the game to victory ... though obviously they have come a long way in graphic fidelity and scripting, haha.

    4. It should also be pointed out that the two styles have been cross pollinating as of late. I think some of the Final Fantasy games are more WRPG open world style, while games like Mass Effect have picked up the detailed storytelling of the JRPG.

    5. Personally I consider JRPGs (Japanese Role-Playing Games)to be a subset of CRPGs (Computer Role-Playing Games). My reasoning goes as follows.

      a) JRPGs have been mostly released on video game consoles. I don't think there's anyone that can argue that a console is not a computer, namely a computer specifically designed for entertainment and gaming purposes. Thus any RPG released on a console will technically be a Computer Role-Playing Game.

      b) Even if we discount consoles as "true computers", there are JRPGs that have been released on Japanese personal computers like the MSX family, the NEC PC-88/98, or the Sharp X68000. Thus (at least some) JRPGs would technically be Computer Role-Playing Games.

      c) Even if we discount Japanese personal computers as "true computers", there is still the case of JRPGs that were in fact released on "Western" PCs, including the IBM PC compatible that has dominated the PC market in at least the last two decades. Thus a JRPG (like Final Fantasy VII) would still be a Computer Role-Playing Game.

      Now if anyone is going to make a distinction, it should perhaps be between Western RPGs and JRPGs, regardless of the platform they were released on.. but to be honest I rarely bother make that distinction. There are plenty of examples that blur the line between what a WRPG should be and what a JRPG should be. Hell, there are even games like Septerra Core that were made by Western studios, thus technically making them Western RPGs, yet feel and play much like Japanese RPGs.

    6. Also, I think you are wrong on that most of them are for consoles. I think most of the one that have been translated are for consoles, but there are a CRAZY number of obscure JRPGs churned out on PC that never make it to the west outside of fan patches. (Doom DOOM Chet, DOOOOOOOOOM)

    7. Perhaps you're right, perhaps you're not. I honestly have never seen a statistical breakdown of Japanese RPGs by platform release. Besides, whether there have been more of them on Japanese personal computers or on Japanese consoles is irrelevant to what I wanted to say.

  36. I hope you're proven wrong in your second to last paragraph. There are a few examples to nearly all those points, but no one game I can think that offers them all.

    1. I still haven't found another one with a main quest quite as original, but overall I agree I was a little carefree with the language there.

    2. I definitely haven't played as many CRPGs as you have, and all the ones I know of basically follow the same "stop the big bad man."

      From your own list, there was Drakkhen, which was "find all the gems and bring peace." There were mandatory battles, but it wasn't the main quest.

      Upcoming, Fallout has a main quest that doesn't involve fighting a specific bad guy, but allows the option to resolve the conflict through dialog options. You're just going out to get some water originally. The sequel may be similar.

      I don't have any examples where the ending isn't violent though. I'm sure they're out there, but I can't recall any at the moment.

  37. This post sparked some curiosity about Benjamin Franklin's ethical system. I went on a search for more information, finding some other discussions and even a web site that used his 13 virtues as a sort of challenge for members. Then on a whim I picked up a biography of Franklin, where I also learned that after inventing this system *he only stuck with it for a few weeks*. Yes, after defining thirteen different virtues, he didn't actually make it through one week of focus for each of the virtues. In part when he quit his program he rationalized that while it might be making him a better person, it was at the detriment of his relationships, because it was also apparently making him unbearable to others.

    I found that pretty funny, and also odd that most of the other references to Franklin's system don't realize or acknowledge it was so short-lived and never completed.

    Another note: in his initial plan Franklin thought he could master the whole thing in just 13 weeks, with one week being enough focus to have him set for life. Further in he realized it was a bigger challenge than that (surprise!) and came up with the idea of rotating, so that in 52 weeks of a year he'd spend 4 weeks on each virtue.

    1. I had forgotten about that. In his autobiography, Franklin discusses the whole thing in a tone that suggests he's making fun of his own youthful naivete, so I didn't imagine that he ever did achieve moral perfection, particularly given some of the things he admits to later.

    2. *Ben Franklin takes a drink*
      Ankh: "Thou hast lost a Thirteenth!"
      Ben: "#%&#! It was just a sip, you fu-"
      Ankh: "Thou hast lost another Thirteenth!"

    3. You could pluck Ben Franklin out of his own time, put him in modern America with some modern clothes and I don't think he'd miss a beat. IMO he'd fit in just fine. The average person would probably like hanging out with him - not because he's on the $100 bill but because comes off as a chill kind of guy.

      Offhand, he's the only pre-1950 historical figure who I can say that stuff about. Though Teddy Roosevelt comes off as a character, too.

  38. After reading that I am ashamed that back in the 80's, I preferred The Bard's Tale and Phantasie to this game although I did play Ultima IV a fair amount.

    I wasn't a very enlightened teenager. I'll have to dig up a copy of this again, and view it through the failing eyes of a 43 year old.


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