Monday, August 29, 2011

Ultima V: World Tour

Thanks for getting my hopes up, Nikolaj.

Aboard my magic carpet, I decided to follow up on my clues, visit the major towns, and see the world, hopefully earning enough money from random encounters to buy a frigate and start hitting the Island of the Abyss.

I started heading for the eastern desert, but I popped into a lighthouse called Waveguide and encountered this guy:

No one who says "in the name of Mondain" (the very evil villain from the first Ultima) can be a particularly good fellow. He didn't have much to say except to yell at me, and his wife was practically catatonic, like Chris Cooper's wife in American Beauty. A sad little side trip.

In the eastern desert, much sooner than I expected, I found the hut of the daemon who supposedly knows something about the Shadowlord of Hatred. I found him working in a field.

Now, I want to be clear here because I think Ultima VI or Ultima VII does a major retcon on this character. He's a daemon. There's no question about it. He has the daemon icon. If I attack him, he's capable of summoning other daemons and possessing me. If I (l)ook at him, it says "thou dost see a daemon." Got it? He's a daemon. Not anything else.

Anyway, he says that he served evil until Lord British apparently did a reverse-Stockholm Syndrome on him, and he made his way to the surface to be a farmer. None of my prodding got him to tell me where Lord British actually is. He gave me the name of the Shadowlord of Hatred--Astaroth (which traces somehow to Babylonian mythology)--but warned me not to yell it.

From there I went to Moonglow, partly because it's the first city in the order of virtues and partly because I had a clue to ask someone named Malik about swords of glass ("it was a passable game to which thou didst not give enough of a chance"). While there, I chanced upon Lord Stuart the Hungry, who had a "create food" spell that he gave me. I found Malik, just a kid (not a Sith lord), and he sent me on to a pirate in Buccaneer's Den for the glass sword clue. His grandmother, a fortune teller, told me where to find Blackthorn's Castle, the Word of Power for the Dungeon Deceit, and the Mantra of Honesty. The developers got a little lazy on this one.

A guy in a tower in the center of town cleared up my question about the stars and comets. (judgemonroe gave me the clue in a comment yesterday, too.) The stars represent the eight towns, the three comets represent the Shadowlords, and looking at the firmament tells me which Shadowlords are in which towns. Since the worst you have to do is wait a day if they're present, I'm not sure what this information does for me--unless I need it to go hunting them later. Anyway, when I gave the wizard the Resistance password, he sent me on to a mage named Goeth in Jhelom to ask about a new "power of the moongates."

Leaving Moonglow, I decided to go along the north coast of Britannia, stopping in Minoc before turning south to Skara Brae and Sir Simon (someplace "west of Spiritwood"). I'll spare you a blow-by-blow account of all of the towns, but here are some highlights from the cities and my wilderness exploration:

  • All of the towns are in the same locations as Ultima IV, but there are a lot more places to explore. IV had eight towns, three keeps, Lord British's castle, and I think three hamlets (oddly, Vesper is gone in V, or I somehow missed it). V has almost all those plus a bunch of lighthouses, huts, castles, and new villages. I like finding new things in familiar territory.
  • The game doesn't do a great job of it, partly because there isn't quite enough dialogue and it's not subtle, but it accurately portrays how some people, even "good" people, can come to support tyranny. We have a healer in Minoc, for instance, who praises Blackthorn for instituting martial law--it's cut down on factional skirmishes that leave people injured. A mayor likes the new laws for their unambiguity. Complexity and nuance are the enemies of tyranny.
  • A frigate will run me 1121 gold. I found this out from Captain Blythe in Minoc, who works his two apprentices 7 days a week making sails. One of them gave me the mantra of sacrifice, and her mother Fiona, who runs the poor house, knew the Word of Power for the Dungeon Covetous.

I pictured her looking like Fiona from "Burn Notice."

  • A beggar in Minoc, after I gave him a bunch of gold, told me that the armorer had been going about town at noon looking shifty. So I followed him and watched him dither around by a tree. Searching the tree after he left, I found "5 odd keys." Apparently, they open magic locks. I bought 5 more from a chef in Serpent's Hold.
  • Like Ultima IV and Might & Magic, the game map wraps back around on itself, which makes no sense unless the world is a cube (and even then it might make no sense; I'm having trouble visualizing properly).
  • I found Iolo's hut again and talked to Smith, and got the joke where he told me about INFINITY. Dumb horse.

  • In Skara Brae, I found Froed, whose father, Greymarch, I had met in the jail in Yew. I returned to Yew to tell Greymarch, who gave me a clue about Lord British's sceptre, which apparently has protective powers. I need to find Sir Simon (who I was already looking for) to ask about it.
  • Lord British finally showed up at night and raised me a level.

  • At some point, I realized that the Ultima IV classes no longer apply. I am an "Avatar"; Shamino is a fighter instead of a ranger; Iolo and Gwenno are bards, so that's cool; but Julia is also a bard instead of a tinker.
  • Toshi wasn't doing anything for me, so I dumped him at the inn in Skara Brae. At the same inn, I met Saul, who told me where to find mandrake and nightshade (same places as in Ultima IV). Oddly, though, these reagents are for sale at shops now. You don't have to find them in the wild.
  • I have a pocket watch that tells me the time (it's more precise than watching the sun at the top of the screen). I just noticed.
  • Blackthorn is seeking the mantras to the shrines so he can destroy them. This from a guy named Kindor who was nearly killed by Shadowlords.
  • In Serpent's Hold, I met a manacled prisoner who claimed he helped build Blackthorn's castle. He said it was full of traps.
  • I started hearing about "shards." This vaguely rings a bell from the time I played the game as a teenager. Apparently, there are three of them--one for each Shadowlord--located somewhere in the Underworld. A guy in Serpent's Hold said he had a vision about where to find one of them.

That is one specific vision.

  • Monsieur Loubet, the fencing master of Serpent's Hold, gave me the clue that was probably supposed to start my quest for the magic carpet. He said he arrived in Britannia on one as a child, then sold it to a mage named Bandaii in Paws (who first gave me the clue). He was oblivious to the fact that I was, in fact, riding his magic carpet during the entire conversation.

Eventually, I decided I had seen all of the world that I could see from my magic carpet, so I decided to head into the Dungeon Covetous, which is about six steps from Minoc, until I had enough gold to return to Minoc and get my frigate. The dungeon had an undead theme, and it took about two hours to get the necessary gold, but when I was done, the world was open to me.

Next stops: Buccaneer's Den, New Magincia, the Island of the Abyss, Jhelom, and that island where Sir Simon is.


  1. It is awesome how much complexity they stuffed in so little space (640k in this case, I think) in those days ... I love it, though I sometimes feel sad I coudn't play so many of these games back then.

    By the way, I am glad to read you again this often, dear CRPG Addict. I really liked Sentinel Worlds when I played it in 1989 but, man, screw it... It is much better to read you when you enjoy your time, so I don't miss at all not reading about it.

    I hope that the next games in the list that I know first hand, "Bloodwych", "Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Princess" (released as "Kult" in Spain and not exactly a CRPG... soz for saying that here), and "Dark Heart of Uukrul" won't disappoint you. Well, the "Chamber..." will, if only because the next game following right after ;P

  2. If the world map loops you around from top to bottom, left to right and both vice-versa, then your game's world is shaped like a torus (or donut).

  3. If you are fastidious in your searching of hollow tree stumps, you might find that magic axe you seek. If I could only remember which town of valor it was in...

  4. Sorry about the axe thing. It seemed worth a try, though.

    Does the Ultima world change over the course of the series, apart from new towns and such? I've only played 7 and 8, and as I recall Moonglow was on seperate island (to the east, i believe). I could be wrong, though, it's been a while.

  5. @Caron: The original implementation of Ultima V was on the Apple II, in 64k of RAM.

    @Nikolaj: Ultima is set in Britannia for VI, V, VI, VII (part 1) and IX. Although the map looks roughly the same, things move about or change a bit.

    Ultima IV and V probably have the best continuity, because they're basically the same 256x256 map. V just added to it to give it more depth.

    Ultima VI has the shape, but with a single-scale. Ultima V and VI also carry over the same business names; taverns and shops are identical between the two, and some of the music is the same too.

    Ultima VII is way different. It re-adds Vesper to the map, but trying to push and squeeze in map features has created some oddities. (Stonegate being in the middle of a swamp, for example.) The single-scale really starts to impact the game's scope at this point.

    Ultima IX is far worse. The 3D engine makes things SEEM smaller. Even though the building count in Britain is the same between VII and IX, it totally lacks the metropolis feeling. A lot of classic places are in the wrong locations, but fans were far less forgiving of it in IX than they were of VII.

  6. Nikolaj, no problem. I thought you had some inside info, though, rather than just guessing! I'll try judgemonroe's solution or just earn the money the hard way.

    Adamantyr answered the question correctly about the map. You're right that Moonglow is on an island to the east, but it's so close to the mainland that it's accessible without crossing deep water.

  7. Congrats Addict! You've made MeFi!

    Metafilter is a pay-to-join site, that has a strong geeky following: I found you via it's post on Crontendo, the guy whom is trying to play every official Nintendo game ever. Well, you should see a nice bunch of incoming links from MeFi now.

    Just thought you might want to drop in and read the comments. If you want I can also pass any comments you have through the paywall for you (Or you can for $5).

  8. @Adamantyr: Actually, Ultima V was closer to a megabyte in size. True, some of the computers for which it was released had only 64K of available RAM, but the game was released on four double-sided disks whose data the program would swap in and out of memory as required.

  9. I wonder does that lighthouse have any significance...

  10. Hey, that's awesome that you made MetaFilter! I lurk there frequently and one of these days will actually join. Glad to see you are enjoying a game again.

  11. I think our host will enjoy Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess if he reads the manual. It'll be a nice short diversion after the epic of UV.

    Dark Heart of Uurkull, however, is possibly the best 'gold age' dungeon crawler. I predict our host will not only enjoy it, it will haunt his dreams for years to come after he solves it.

  12. @Tristan: Oh yeah, I know. My main point was the PC version is the best for playability because it doesn't require disk swapping. I've tried playing the game on an Apple II and a Commodore 64, it's pretty painful.

    CRPG Addict, you'll be making those voyages to the Isle of the Abyss quite often. :)

  13. Thanks for the update, 'geek. I don't have anything to add just yet, but I'd been meaning to check out Metafilter, so this might be the impetus I need to join.

  14. The Dread Pirate RodgersDecember 8, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    Adamantyr said...
    ...A lot of classic places are in the wrong locations, but fans were far less forgiving of it in IX than they were of VII.

    I wonder how much of that was VII being an awesome game and IX being... well, I actually don't know. I've never managed to quash enough bugs to get it to run for more than 5-10 minutes.

    One thing I missed in the later games was the sheer scale of the map. Ultima VI nearly had it, but it was lost for VII. Playing III, IV, and V really felt like you were exploring a whole world.

  15. Things to try in U5:
    1) Wish for "British" at a well.
    2) Murder Blackthorn in his sleep.
    3) Fire a cannon at Blackthorn.
    4) Load 100 skiffs into a frigate.

    1. Since I'm not going to get back to U5, can you tell us what these things do? I know that #2 doesn't work. I can't remember what happens: either you keep missing, or he gets up and attacks you.

    2. You really need to update your sidebar, Mr. Addict.

    3. Can you be more specific there?

    4. U5 is still listed as needing to finish, but you just said you aren't going back to it.

    5. I think you've mixed up Ultima V with Wizardry V. I finished U5 ages ago.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. I can't remember too, but I do remember being amused by what happened after I tried. But for #4... because you CAN. :p

    8. Kenny, you dog. I reloaded U5 and started a new character JUST to wish for "British" at a well, and all I got was "no effect."

    9. Regarding #4, I haven't done this but did do something similar. On the Apple II version, I tried to build a bridge out of skiffs from the mainland to Buccaneer's Den. When you stand on a skiff in the deep ocean you aren't damaged like you are when sailing the skiff. Since there is no moon gate at BD I thought this was a functional, as well as interesting project. The end result was a total, but interesting, failure! Funding the purchase of the dozens of skiffs required was not a problem, but after the first dozen or two, they started disappearing once I moved out of the region and the disk drive loaded more map data. My theory is that the game had a very limited amount of memory allocated for on map objects like frigates, skiffs, and horses. I can see how it might be possible to put 100 skiffs on a frigate though, as long as the skiffs were not all on huge map at the same time. Skiff quantity is probably an attribute of the ship, thus only requiring a few bytes to store that information rather than the more significant memory requirements of map objects. These speculations on U5 design are based on experience programming a tile graphics engine (for fun, never did anything with it) in the early 1990s.

    10. If that had worked, I'd practically consider it required for all future plays.

    11. Yeah, it would be awesome. That reminds me, my friend who I gamed with back in the 80s tried building a skiff bridge at the same time as I did. His goal was more modest and more successful. If I recall, his bridge went between serpents hold (or one of its southern islands), and the mainland (I think the peninsula the dungeon Wrong is on). This was a much shorter distance and the game didn't run out of memory to store the skiff objects. Pre-gate spell, this could be very useful. After acquiring gate, it seems less useful as I think most people tend to do less overland travel. Whether it makes sense financially in pre-gate spell point of gameplay is another question. When we did it were level 8 and had been looting sand traps and dragon dungeon rooms until we were richer than Lord British, and had nothing better to do than build skiff bridges. If/when I play U5 again I'll delve further into the practical questions.

  16. Hahaha! Gotcha! There's loads of red herrings on U5.

    1) Burying all the moonstones in 1 single location and enter it at night.
    2) Cast 'Kal Lor'.
    3) Kill Smith.
    4) Let Blackthorn capture you repeatedly and kill off every single recruitable NPC then visit the Codex.

    1. You are a rarely specific kind of troll.

    2. Yeah, it's the "Bullshit! Really? Hmm... Sounds possible... DAMN YOU!!!" type of troll. =p

    3. When spammers specifically target someone it is known as spear-fishing, so I guess this is spear-trolling.


    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. The proper visualization for that RPG-typical map wrapping is that of a torus. Or a doughnut, for non-mathematicians. I like that.

    -- Gen.Error

  18. Why is U5 a torus and not a globe or sphere (like Earth)? I remember when I played U5 the world wraps around so if you all the way north you appear at the south end of the world. Same with east and west. How is that different than the earth?

    1. The long answer has to do with coordinates and map projections. If you represent the map as a rectangle (the way that Ultima does, you're essentially using a Mercator projection. This works fine for coordinates and such, but in real life, the world converges into a point at the top and bottom of the globe. It doesn't make sense that the northernmost horizon is of equal width as the equator.

      The only way it DOES make sense is if each map square along the top and bottom of the map is supposed to represent a much smaller distance than the squares in the middle, just as the distances between lines of longitude get smaller as you converge on the poles. Since in a CRPG, the whole thing is an abstraction anyway, Gen. Error and I are probably being needlessly pedantic about the whole issue.

    2. Well, it could. You have to distort something; Mercator is considered one of the worst, but it is very popular as it makes the US looks big. It would cool to see a game use a non-rectangular map projection, like the one National Geographic uses.

    3. It makes Canada look even bigger. That's why Gerardus Mercator received most of his patronage from the Canadian government and it's illegal to use any other projection in Canada.

    4. So your saying that, in the political world, mapping techniques boil down to comparisons of who's is bigger?

      Sounds about right for politics.

    5. .....I'm pretty sure we can use any map projection we want. But yes, it does also make southern Canada look bigger, while making Northern Canada look smaller.

    6. I might have been wrong about Gerardus Mercator, too, since he lived from 1512-1594 in Flanders.

    7. I thought it was a bit older then Canada, but didn't feel like looking it up. I do think it would be cool if RPGs started using weird map projections though. Great educational opportunity.

    8. I am amazed that nobody pointed out that when you do "all the way north" you certainly do not end up in the south on earth - you end up at the north pole, from which you can't go further north. On earth, you don't magically teleport to antarctica if you step over the noth pole. It has nothing to do with projections, a sphere simply isn't a torus.

    9. "All the way north" is not exactly what the commenter meant. He meant if you walk consistently in one direction. Thus, walking directly north will bring you to the north pole, and continuing your walk will bring you south along the back side of the earth until you wrap around the south pole and return to your starting position.

  19. So here I decide to quit reading about Ultima V because it joins my to-play-list. The fun of playing this game oozes out of your writing, Addict.

  20. NES differences abound:

    I mentioned it before, but there are definitely fewer locations with even fewer NPCs.

    The game world strangely does not wrap back around on itself, and is bordered by a strange black space with white stars.

    The same dumb joke about INFINITY is there, but given by a sage in Paws that comments on Smith's absence.

    Levels are gained automatically once enough experience is gained. No need to wait for Lord British to appear.

    1. Huh. The starfield border is another thing NES U5 lifts from U6...

  21. You've probably discovered this in subsequent play, but the game's somewhat responsive economy means that frigate won't always cost 1121 gold.

    Re the comments about U5 vs U7 and U9: I guess I'm a bit of a U9 apologist, but I think world, town and dungeon design is its strongest feature. The world is small (and gated by the story) but densely packed with interesting details and it feels hand-crafted in a way few other games do. Gothic II and Risen feel closest in this regard. Towns are likewise small but inventive. Dungeons are thematic and full of (easy) puzzles. There is some cool equipment in the game and the magic acquisition system is nice Even the bugs are mostly dealt with by now.

    It's just a shame U9's combat is so shallow, the economy is pointless, the story is painful and none of the NPCs are worth interacting with.


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