Monday, June 7, 2010

Ultima IV: Dungeons


Fighting thieves in the narrow corridors of a dungeon.

Dungeons, I have to say, are pretty cool starting in Ultima IV. The game continues the tradition, going back to Akalabeth, of contrasting top-down surface exploration with first-person dungeon exploration. You see doors, chests, and monsters from your characters' eyes.

In Ultima I and Ultima II, you engaged in combat from this perspective, too, but starting in Ultima III, when you encounter a monster in a dungeon, you transition to a top-down tactical combat screen. Ultima IV expands upon this by including dungeon "rooms" that switch you to third person. The rooms include a lot of varieties of textures, monsters, and items, and many have secret doors. If you want to escape the room to the east, you may have to wander around until you trip the floor plate that opens the eastern wall. (Ultima V will notch up the complexity by having secret doors triggered by attacking walls or objects in the room.) Here are some examples of the various dungeon rooms you find:

Monsters around a campfire.


Two of my characters had to stand on secret doors to open the passage north.

The rat-covered corpse of an unfortunate adventurer.

Reapers, which put most of your party to sleep almost every round, are easily the most annoying creatures in the game.

In Ultima IV, you must brave the dungeons in order to find six stones associated with each virtue. Eight stones must be used at the end of the game. Six are in the dungeons, but I had to get the white stone of spirituality from a little nook atop a mountain range by flying there on a balloon while judiciously using the "wind change" spell, and the black stone of humility was found at the location of a moongate when both moons were dark.

Once I had the stones, I had to use them in correct sequence in the altar rooms of truth, love, and courage to get a "three part key" I need to enter the Abyss and win the game. This was fairly easy, as each altar room is accessible from the bottom level of the dungeon associated with its virtues. Since spirituality is associated with all three principles of virtue, you can access all three altar rooms from the bottom of the dungeon Hythloth, the antithesis of spirituality.

The three-part key is one of several things I need in the Stygian Abyss.

Dungeons are also a good place to find treasure. Most of the dungeons have at least one level in which multiple treasure chests are found in the corridors. Dungeons re-set when you exit and return, so a good (if lame) way to quickly build up your finances is to find an easily accessible "treasure level," take all the chests, cast the "x-it" spell to leave the dungeon, re-enter (perhaps using the "z-down" spell to get back to the level), and repeat. Another strategy is to find a room with lots of chests, and repeatedly exit and re-enter the room. I also found that Xu4 has a bit of a big: if you take all the chests on a level, save the game, quit the game, and re-load, the chests reappear. This strikes me as cheating, though, so I left that alone.

One step closer to a suit of magic plate.

Other various points about Ultima IV dungeons:

  • Gremlins are back. These are little food-stealing bastards who can leave you starving. But at least you can face and kill them here, unlike in Ultima III, where you just got a message saying they'd stolen your food and you had no recourse.
 
Revenge for Ultima III!

  • Traps, including pit traps and falling rocks, are rife on some levels. If there's one thing I can't stand in CRPGs, it's unavoidable traps. Ultima IV doesn't give you any way to get past them. you just have to take the damage.
  • Ladders can be tricky. Certain parts of a level may not be accessible from other parts, and you may have to go up and down several ladders before you reach where you're trying to go. Fortunately, peering at gems gives you a map of the level. I don't think it's cheating to take a screen shot of this map and keep it open as I explore, is it?

A gem map of Level 8 of the Dungeon Destard.
 
  • Some of the things that look like chests are actually mimics that start attacking you when you get close.
  • Each dungeon has at least one glowing ball that, when you touch it, ups your statistics. This is based on the usual symmetry we've come to expect in Ultima IV. Truth is associated with intelligence, courage with strength, and love (for reasons that make little sense to me) with dexterity. So the balls in the dungeon Deceit (the opposite of honesty, or pure truth) will up your intelligence by 5, while the balls in the dungeon Shame (the opposite of honor, truth combined with courage) will up both your intelligence and strength by 5. Like treasure chests, they reappear if you exit the dungeon and return. But they take a heavy toll: 200 hit points for every stat they increase. If you're not careful, you can kill your characters.

The glowing ball of intelligence. If Katrina touches it, she will die.

My note on strength, dexterity, and intelligence reminds me of something. I hardly ever think about my characters' attributes because combat is frankly quite easy. In my entire time playing Ultima IV, only one of my characters has died, and that was from a succession of traps. Even high-level monsters are dispatched quite quickly, and there are any number of ways (holing up and camping, spells, Lord British, fountains) to restore hit points. I could spend a lot of time exiting and re-entering dungeons to use the balls and build up my stats, but it hardly seems worth it where combat means so little. Combat in general, especially from my ship, is getting rather annoying and repetitive. It is not one of Ultima IV's strong suits.

I spent most of today exploring dungeons, finding stones, using them, and getting the three-part key. In other news, I picked up my last companion, Katrina the Shepherd, in Magincia. She's about as useless a character as I can imagine: she starts at Level 1, she can't use most weapons or armor, and can't cast spells. But she's here to remind me of humility. When I played the game as a youth, I pretended that my main character was in love with Katrina, mostly (I think) because I liked the name.

I also managed to get partial avatarhood in justice, so I just need honesty. I bought some good weapons and armor for several of my characters--magic wands, magic chain, and such--although it took almost all my gold. I'm pretty sure I just need to get that last bit of avatarhood, to stock up on reagents and guild items, and to fight a bunch of combats to jack up my characters' levels, and then I'm ready for the journey to the Abyss. Look for my next entry to be the "won!" posting.

16 comments:

  1. Incase you arent already aware of these:

    http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070223a/barton_01.shtml

    http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070223b/barton_01.shtml

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1571/the_history_of_computer_.phpl

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  2. Well, I finally managed to read the whole blog, and boy, am I glad I did so. Such an unique opportunity to go through all those old RPGs without having to actually play them and endure all those hardships on my own. Keep up the brilliant work, Sir Addict.

    Concerning Ultima, never played single one of them. Tried the "Exult version" of VII, but couldn't really figure out the controls, so I let it sail. I hope you'll get there some day and show me what I've been missing.

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  3. Thanks, Deadly. I strongly recommend that you give the Ultima series, and some of these other old games, a try. I barely think of Ultima VII as an "old game" any more--it has as much role-playing quality as most modern games, and the graphics aren't distressingly bad.

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  4. Hmm. I'm pretty sure there's a crass joke lurking involving dexterity, love and touching balls, but I'm way too classy to think of it. :-)

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  5. Well, according to Ultima: Martian Dreams, love improves dexterity because it means that you enjoy friendship and camaraderie and should go play team sports.

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  6. I'm actually going to have to play that game at some point, too.

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  7. I just found your blog and now I'm reading through all the Ultima IV entries - good stuff! Ultima IV is the kind of game you keep coming back to.

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  8. From what the Ultima Wiki implied, Katrina should have a Wisdom score of 40, as opposed to the maximum of 30 which everybody is limited to; making her the wisest person to ever walk the face of Britannia. Pity there's no such attribute in U4. :p

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  9. If you're roleplaying a character that has eidetic memory, then it's not cheating to take screenshots. Or if you pretend that you're describing what you see to another party member who writes it down. =) (Hey, kinda like Joseph Smith!)

    And yeah, I'd have thought it's obvious how love and dexterity are related... =)

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  10. I have been playing Ultima 4 and it is fantastic, but I got stuck and needed a hint: the white and black stones do not seem to be possible to find without cheating.

    I'm playing the GoG version, but in Skara Brae you are told to ask about the white stone at the tap in Trinsic-- but that does you no good. No one there knows anything about it and the bartender does not seem to have a hint. Somehow you are supposed to figure out that you have to ask the ghost in the Skara Brae inn about the stone to find out that it is in the mountains. I guess you could see the shrine there in the balloon anyway and go, but I suspect there is a broken conversation script here.

    The black stone is the same, but I cannot figure out the "real" way you are supposed to find out about it. You find out from Nate the Snake in Magincia that you have to ask at the pub in Britain about the black stone, but that is no dice.

    Do you know how to find the stones without cheating? I am feeling like there is a bug here. Oh well.

    This is a fantastic game overall and I made it this far without hints, but after exploring every city again, getting all eight Avatar parts, all of the other stones, and the mystic weapons and armor-- I had enough of wandering in circles.

    All I have left is to get the black stone, get the key in Hythloth, and brave the Avatar's island. Not sure if the endgame is another dungeon, but I am looking forward to finding out.

    Incidentally, I found this game much harder than you did. Until the late game, I was behind on the monster scaling and got my ass handed to me with alarming frequency-- I could not even get the 300 to resurrect my characters without losing someone else. Ended up just being easier to suicide the whole party to get a Lord British refresh. You would think that good old LB would resurrect dead party members, but he seems to draw the line at that.

    I should be able to finish this week!

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    1. I just finished the NES version. I'm not sure how closely the clues match, but I kind of stumbled across the ghost in Skara Brae by spending the night at the inn. I didn't find any clue that he existed beforehand. The clue for the black stone, I'll look through my screenshots when I have more time, but I have it written in my notes that an NPC behind a locked door told me about it. This weekend I'm hoping to get through a good portion of the PC and SMS versions for comparison.

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    2. I found a site that had a script dump. Merlin tells you about it in Cove, if you ask him about "stone". My guess is the missing tavern clue would have told you to talk to him.

      I *believe* that the tavern clues were changed in the NES version because Nintendo did not want kids to drink, but it has been almost 20 years since I played Ultima 4 for the NES and I could be misremembering.

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    3. Ah, found it. It was a man in Vesper (ranger sprite), upstairs through a hidden passage to the left of the guild. In the NES version there's no keywords. Each NPC only has a single thing to say.

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    4. Joe, after searching through my own notes and several script sites, then firing up the game again, I think you're right about the path to both stones being broken. In both cases, you're told to ask at a pub, but there's no opportunity to talk to the bartenders and none of the patrons know anything.

      Sloven, a hermit in Cove, tells you to ask the ghost of Isaac about the white stone, but nobody tells you to talk to Sloven. Neither does anyone tell you to talk to Merlin in Cove about the black stone.

      So I'm not 100% sure how I found them. Either I remembered from my previous plays or I just asked everyone about STONE until I got what I needed (which is probably what I did back in 1985). Either way, you'd think I would have commented on it.

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    5. Ah, wait! Moments after posting, I hit upon it. The bartenders in Britain and Trinsic DO tell you to talk to Sloven and Merlin in Cove (actually, the bartender in Britain, where I tested this, knows about both the black and white stones, so perhaps you can visit any bar). First, you have to order ale. Then you have to over-pay for the ale so you get a dialogue option.

      Here's the unintuitive part: unlike every other dialogue in the game, you can't cue the response with just four letters of the word, like BLAC or STON. Even BLACK and STONE don't work. You literally have to type BLACK STONE and WHITE STONE to get the response.

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  11. Dungeons are mostly the same in the NES version, except there are no traps, and the floors are much smaller (8 x 8). I don't know how well the SMS keeps to the original layouts.

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