Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ultima IV: Won!

Alas, I cannot seem to find Origin Systems' web site.

Well, that was distressingly quick and easy. All that stuff I had written about last time be damned, I decided it was time. Dupre, Shamino, Mariah, and Iolo had achieved level 7, Jaana and Julia level 6, and Katrina level 5. I had decent enough equipment. Time to go forward. I made one last stop at the Bloody Plains to restock on mandrake, figuring on the need for a lot of resurrect spells, then headed for the Island of the Abyss.

In a comment on my last posting, Lord Quipworthy noted that I had forgotten about the mystic weapons and armor. I had, but I also remember from past games that you don't really need the mystics in the Abyss. Although it's true that non-magical weapons don't work, magic wands, bows, swords, and so on work fine. Since the mystics are not ranged weapons, there didn't seem to me to be any reason to pick them up.

Okay, let's take it step by step. To get to this final dungeon, you'll recall, I had to:

  • Achieve avatarhood in each of the eight virtues by conducting myself in an exemplary manner. This included not cheating blind peddlers, not fleeing from battle, allowing wounded enemies to flee, allowing non-evil creatures to escape battle, answering truthfully when people asked questions, displaying humility when people asked if I was best or greatest at something, giving to beggars, donating hit points at a blood bank, and talking to Hawkwind the Seer frequently to check my progress. I then had to find the runes and learn the mantras for each of the virtues and meditate at their associated shrines.
  • Obtain the bell of courage, book of truth, and candle of love, each hidden at a different location, by getting clues through conversations.
  • Explore the dungeons and find each of the eight stones of virtue, using them in the dungeon altar rooms to obtain the three-part key.
  • Obtain the word of passage of three parts from the lords of the three keeps dedicated to truth, love, and courage.
  • Build up my experience and gold through copious combat; buy decent weapons, armor, and reagents. Mix spells.
  • Learn about the relationships between the virtues and the three principles of virtue.

Once I reached the Island of the Abyss, the magic wheel I found on the ruins of the H.M.S. Cape proved fairly useful, increasing my hull strength from 50 to 99. The cove leading into the island, you see, is crawling with pirates.

Fortunately, I defeated them all and lined up their ships into a bridge in case I had to return. As it turns out, I didn't.

The next stage involved walking through poison and then healing my characters at the end. Amateur stuff.

Ultimately, I came to a large patch of lava and had to wade my way in to the center. I used the bell, book, and candle (oddly enough, in that order--you would have thought that it would have gone book, candle, bell--in the order of truth, love, and courage) and the lava parted to reveal the entrance to a dungeon.

I entered and immediately tried a spell. In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that it didn't work.

Finding your way through the Abyss is a sometimes difficult process that involves wandering through a variety of rooms until you reach each level's altar. The rooms have a lot of lava and nasty critters. Here, for example, is one of the early ones, full of fire and fire-breathing lizards.

Magical mapping gems help a lot. Without this gem on Level 4, I would have wasted a lot of time entering dead-end rooms instead of going through the secret doors.

As I said, each level has an altar at which you demonstrate your knowledge of the virtues by answering a fairly simple question, then choosing the correct color stone.

This Level 4 room was a bit eerie:

This Level 5 room was the most annoying location in the game, full of reapers that cast the "sleep" spell over and over and over again. It took about 45 minutes to get through it one slow move at a time. The "awake" spell barely helps because they put you to sleep again almost as fast.

Level 6 had a series of rooms arranged in a block that formed something of a maze. It took me a while to get through it. Here is one of the rooms--note that nothing connects the east and west sides. Also note that for some strange reason, I'm fighting tornadoes.

On Level 7, the rooms got tricky with the secret doors. It took a while to figure out how to open up the walls and get through this room. It didn't help that the balron in the center kept putting me to sleep.

Finally, I reached Level 8. In a memorable penultimate room, I found myself face to face with my own party. It was pathetic how quickly the doppelgangers died.

At last I reached the final altar and found myself in the Chamber of the Codex, where my three-part key and the password VERAMOCOR gave me access (the image, I emphasize, comes from the XU4 remake, not the original game):

A mysterious voice (discussion question: who is the mysterious voice? God? The Codex itself?) began to ask me again of the virtues. Each correct answer filled in part of a symbol.

Then suddenly the Xu4 remake failed me. I couldn't get past "justice" without it crashing. Fortunately, the save game was transferable to the original. The rest of the screenshots are from the original DOS Ultima IV. To see the difference, here is a shot of one of the dungeon rooms and the altar.

I finished answering the questions about the eight virtues. They weren't very difficult because they proceeded in the usual order: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, sacrifice, honor, spirituality, humility. It would be better if the game tricked you a little by asking them out of order.

Then there were three questions about the principles of virtue, again presented in the usual order: truth, love, and courage.

Finally, the last question. I remember that this caught me off guard when I played Ultima IV as a kid. You find the answer by writing down the letters you see in visions as you achieve your avatarhood in each virtue. I didn't write them down. I also didn't want to go back and do it all again, and there was no Internet at the time, so I called Origin systems and got the answer from a helpful woman on the phone.

I still don't fully understand what "infinity" has to do with it, but there it is. Having given this final answer....

I've always been a little confused about what the Codex actually is. Who created it? Who put it at the bottom of this dungeon? If my quest was to find it, does anyone get to read it afterwards? What does it say? I'm not sure that later Ultimas help much with these questions.

The game at this point tells me:

The boundless knowledge of the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom is revealed unto thee. The voice says: 'Thou has proven thyself to be truly good in nature. Thou must know that the quest to become an Avatar is the endless quest of a lifetime. Avatarhood is a living gift. It must always and forever be nurtured to flourish. For if thou dost stray from the paths of virtue, thy way may be lost forever. Return now unto thine own world. Live there as an example to thy people, as our memory of thy gallant deeds serves us.

Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, right? I mean, it would have been nice to get some congratulations from Lord British or something. Oh, well. The game continues:

As the sound of the voice trails off, darkness seems to rise around you. There is a moment of intense, wrenching vertigo. You open your eyes to a familiar circle of stones. You wonder of your recent adventures. It seems a time and place very distant. You wonder if it really happened. Then you realize that in your hand you hold The Ankh. You walk away from the circle, knowing that you can always return from whence you came, since you now know the secret of the gates. [This is an odd line, given that in all subsequent games the Avatar is explicitly summoned to Britannia, with no evidence that he ever used the gates at-will.]

And then it's over. It only took me 82,395 turns and practically two months. Going into it, I thought it might take as little as one long weekend.

I believe that the game's exhortations to "return now unto thine own world" and "live there as an example to thy people" are an honest attempt on the creators' parts (primarily Richard Garriott's part) to instill a codified sense of morality in the players of the game. So I'll tell you what. Here's what I'm going to do tomorrow:

  • Confess to my wife that my PhD program is actually costing 50% more than I originally told her.
  • Call up a friend who's going through a tough time and spend as long on the phone as she wants to talk about it.
  • Give my umbrella to the first person I see walking in the rain without one.
  • Lend some more money through Kiva.

That covers honesty, compassion, valor, and sacrifice. Any ideas for honor, justice, spirituality, and humility?

Let's do a final ranking for Ultima IV and then, regrettably, move on.


  1. Sounds like quite a jewel of its time, this Ultima IV. Although I don't think it would particularly bask in popularity nowadays.

    I, for one, play games to enjoy, relax and entertain myself and even though Ultima's story and main idea are intriguing, the game struck me more like a virtualised codex of moral values, than an actual game! May be just me, but still...

    Not that I prefer games of mindless bloodshed and click-festing, with no real story and a plastic world. Actually, I'm quite the opposite, I love games with in-depth stories, complicated game mechanics, intriguing atmosphere and continuous replay value. But I don't like when one aspect of gameplay stands high above others. In this case that would be the avatarhood aspect. I hope you understand my babbling.

    Anyways, kudos to you for going on, keep up the best of works!

  2. That is kind of what I was going for in my final ranking. It's fascinating as a story and quest, but not quite as good as a game. I don't mean to suggest it's BAD, though. I like games with lots of places to explore and lots of people to talk to, which Ultima IV has. But I also like games in which combat is tactical and dangerous, and this is not true of Ultima IV.

  3. Honestly, I'm one of the few people I guess who did not like U4 much at all. Loved U3 and U6. Didnt like U7 either :P Whereabouts is Magic Candle and Wasteland on your list? I thought they both rocked.

  4. To be honest, Stu, I'm having a tough time figuring out your preferences if you liked III but not IV, and VI but not V and VII. They're all worth a second look if you only tried them once!

    There are, regrettably, 20 games between me and Wasteland, and 34 between me and Magic Candle. I've never played either and I keep hearing great things about both, so I look forward to them...just as soon as I get past Wizard's Crown, Bard's Tale II, Might & Magic I, Phantasie II, Shard of Spring, Starflight, Wizardry IV....

  5. lol my preferences.. U3, U6, Pool of Radiance/Azure Bonds, Wasteland, Magic Candle, Demons Winter, Questron II... Not a fan of Wizardries, Might and Magics (Did like BT2+BT3 tho).. EOB 1+2 + Dungeon Master + Lands of Lore were good but not my first tier.. I like lots of things and dislike lots of things :P

  6. Damn you. I was 87108 turns.

  7. The reason for the "bell, book and candle" order is because that used to be how people are excommunicated from the Catholic church.

  8. Thanks, automata. I kind-of got that--"bell, book, and candle" is the order you usually hear it in--but Ultima IV is so pathological about presenting its virtues, and principles of virtue, in the same order. In this case, I would have thought it would be book, candle, bell since they correspond to truth, love, and courage--the order in which the principles are always presented. But it seems the creators decided to go with the traditional order rather than go for in-game consistency.

    1. I always assumed the order was an homage to Zork.

    2. It's possible. But the phrase "bell, book, and candle" goes all the way back to Vatican excommunication rituals in the first millennium, and it appears in a Marlowe play, a Broadway play, and a 1958 Jimmy Stewart film, among many others.

  9. When I played Ultima IV more than 20 years ago I found it very enjoyable as a game. I liked the exploration and putting together the puzzle, but found the combat lacking and too repetitive.

    I remember mapping every square of the map and writing down every piece of conversasion, and yet I was totally clueless on the final question. I was so near and yet - with no internet or any friends who had completed it - so infinitely (pun intended) far away from the ultimate goal of the game.
    The unfairness of this led a young boy away from avatarhood and he was seduced by the Dark Side...

    Anon PetrusOctavianus (same anon that commented last at

  10. I had the same experience of the end game. I called Origin, though, and they clued me in--reluctantly, I might add.

  11. Hey Addict, myself and others have experienced xu4 crashing/freezing when nearing the Prison in Lord British's castle.
    Did that happen to you as well?
    Me, I think I'll play the Amiga version instead. The graphics are clearer and crisper, especially in fullscreen mode, and the sounds and music is much better. I guess I'll have to live without the fixed stuff and the enhanced scenes when you meditate.

  12. No, the only thing that happened to me with Xu4 was a freeze at the very end, when I was at the codex. The Amiga graphics and sound are probably better, and if you don't have the mental block for non-DOS games that I do, it will probably be a better experience.

  13. Seems like the freezing was a problem with the latest build.
    I've progressed a bit playing the Amiga version.
    One thing that annoyed me with xu4 was that shop keepers wouldn't list prices for weapons and armour; fortunately that is not the case with the Amiga version.

  14. Regarding my comment above about my first playthrough, I misremembered. It was not the final question I could't answer, but the Word of Passage to enter Chamber of the Codex.
    There are several clues to the final question, from the visions in the Shrines to talking to the mages in Cove, but I now have the same problem I did 20 years ago - there is nobody to ask for the Word of Passage. I the player know I have to ask the three lords of Empath Abbey, Serpent Castle and The Lycaeum, but I have found no in-game clue to this.
    What am I missing?

  15. Petrus, I do have some notes on this issue to the effect that a guy named Zair in Cove told me that each king knew a syllable of the Word of Passage.

  16. Thanks! I managed to backtrack the "information flow" and it turns out Romasco in Skara Brae is the one who is the first part in the chain.
    He asks "know ye of the Abyss?" and I must have answered NO at the time, so he did't tell me of the Word of Passage.
    Still, quite brutal that this is the only way in-game to learn the Word of Passage.

  17. How far we've come that now games are always designed with the option of the player being good OR evil as if they were equally valid decisions.

  18. "They weren't very difficult because they proceeded in the usual order: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, sacrifice, honor, spirituality, humility. It would be better if the game tricked you a little by asking them out of order."

    NO, definitely NOT! :-)
    Because on the C=64 (and I suppose on the original Apple version) you could not save inside of dungeons, and every wrong answer you'd give would instantly teleport you back onto the surface and to the entrance of the Abyss. Happened countless times to me because I was completely puzzled about that final question for "Infinity".

  19. Declare hostility towards a street thug openly (honor), punch him on the face (justice) then lecture him on the ways of Virtues (spirituality) and ending the sermon that you did not come up with the philosophy yourself but through a computer game (humility)?

    1. I'm glad you offered this while I'm still in New Orleans.

  20. I stumbled uppon that last question too when I was a child (infinity). I wondered for weeks til I decided to fire up an HEX Editor and look at the ROM file. (I played the SMS version).

  21. For spirituality, study philosophy, mathematics and physics!

  22. I just finished U4 last night. Took me over 140 000 turns even if i had played it almost to the end before. But that was when i was a teen, over 10 years ago. That time i got stuck at "VERAMOCOR" - just couldn't figure out how to phrase the word. With spaces (VER AMO COR) or like VER-AMO-COR. Also I didn't know the correct order. It still shouldn't have been THAT hard to brute force since I had the syllables. I don't remember if I had figured out about INFINITY at that time though. Anyway, all these years it bothered me that I couldn't finish the game that I enjoyed so much.

    So a few months ago I picked it up again and it certainly was a great journey. At the end the battling started to get boring plus I had to get to the bottom of Abyss twice (first time I didn't have Katrina since I didn't seem to need her). When I finally finished the game, it was a great relief. I had literally accomplished something I wanted to do for many years.

    It is a great game and exceptional for the story and effort put into the details of the world. The freedom and non-linearity are really important for me to stay interested.

    About the length of the game: I can't believe anybody who never played the it before would be able to finish it over a weekend or two. It took me a lot longer and I already knew many of the basic concepts. But I'm not a CRPG super geek, so that's just me :)

    Anyway, thanks for the cool blog and extensive work on my favorite game!

  23. Once again, the NES version cuts out content by removing the "word of passage." Even the final word to give to the codex isn't necessary. Instead, the codex tells you the word as the final truth uniting all the principles.

    That small cove leading into the island didn't have any pirate ships. Also, the Abyss is a solo dungeon on the NES port. Once you enter, all other party members disappear.

    Lastly, I believe some of the locations for the runes and principal items were moved in the NES version.

    Everything else looks the same. I never did find a clue as to the order of the bell, book, and candle. There's no final message to take the virtues to heart and return to the real world, but at least we get some final words from the companions and Lord British.

    1. The SMS port proves that 8-bit consoles could handle Ultima IV just fine, with no meaningful compromises. Why the hell was so much of the game nerfed? (Conversation system, party cut to 4 characters, extra walking in shrines and similar places, etc.)

  24. Awesome stuff!

    I prefer to avoid the pirates and the swamp by sailing my ship to latitude O'a", longitude "A'a", (X)-iting, and Blinking west.

    What's with the map view on Level 4? Is this a bug in the Xu4 version? The map drawing algorithm is supposed to stop at walls to avoid senseless map repetition and to hide off inaccessible areas.

    The "Negate Magic" spell is by far your best defense against enemies that cast Sleep like that room full of Reapers. Just have to make sure you keep casting it as soon as it expires.

    You actually CAN cross the water in that level 6 room. The key is to use the Twisters themselves as platforms, since it is legal to walk on them. However this is much easier said than done. It's extremely time-consuming, frustrating, and you'll likely lose a few party members. I find it's just not worth it.

  25. Thank you for this link back to my own childhood. I remember playing this game on the C64 where the map was split into 16x16 sections and the game was slowed down a lot by loading section after section from disk when traveling in a straight direction. I played it again on the Amiga which was a much better experience. I remember reaching avatar level in a bunch of virtues and also losing them again by misbehaviour, but I cannot remember if I ever finished the game and if not, where I stopped. May be I lost interest in the dungeons, secret doors and all.
    I think there was a kind of cheat by first buying max. amounts of expensive ingredients from the blind dealer for 1 gold and then to regain the virtue by many transactions where you slightly overpay cheap ingredients.
    For many years I had a school exercise book where I had written down all the conversations from the game. As this book was part of a stack with lots of exam papers written down in the same type of books, it survived for a long time while all my beautful, handdrawn, and multicolored maps from Bard's Tale are lost. I actually recreated some maps from the first dungeons a while ago because I love this mix of time in front of a computer and in front of some drawing paper, but after a few errors, not enough money to revive my chars or buy MP from Roscoe's and because I nowadays need reading glasses for the drawing part, I lost interest again. I never finished Bard's Tale when playing it the first time because undetected teleport fields caused me to draw bad maps and I lost all interest in continuing.

    1. It's nice of you to share... if you weren't ANONYMOUS!

    2. Kenny, if you attack them you'll just drive them off!

      Anonymous: Thanks for sharing, Chet has remarked several times that he loves hearing such stories. However, we do prefer it if you identify yourself in some way; there are a bunch of log in options, or even the Name/URL field, and you can just leave the URL blank. It just lets us know if the same person comments more then once, and lets us keep comment threads straight.

      Thank you very much.

  26. Brilliant! I was playing the game on the C64 and when I was asked "What quality compels you to share in the journey of others?" I wrongly replied HONO then on the next try COMP and the abyss didn't accept that although I'm sure it must be right. Maybe I should not have abbreviated it to 4 chars, but you could do that on all other conversations in the game.

    Anyway, thanks for recalling my childhood memories!


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