Sunday, April 12, 2015

Game 185: Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire (1990)


Re-use of a game's "engine" appeared in some of the earliest RPGs. For instance, Epyx built a dozen titles off the Dunjonquest engine between 1979 and 1982, and the programming framework of Wizardry (1981) served untouched for three games and slightly modified for two more, all the way through 1988. Eamon (1980) gave us the first engine specifically built to be modular, and Stuart Smith offered us a "construction set" for RPGs in 1984. By the end of the decade, we'd be knee deep in "Gold Box" games that offered the same interface and mechanics, and almost all of them are great games. These days, the fact that a game re-uses a popular engine is a selling point, not a point of criticism.

Given that, it's always surprised me how reluctant Origin was to re-use its Ultima engines. Ultima V, in particular, was brilliant. It could have sustained titles all the way through the mid-1990s and I'd be raving about them. But they used it once.

Thus, it's a good thing that the company got some additional mileage out of Ultima VI, one of the best game engines we've seen so far. Yes, none of us like how limited the map window is. Let's get past that. No other top-down game of the era--and few of any era--offers a more complex approach to inventory management and world-interaction. I like the Infinity Engine moderately better for combat, and of course the graphics improved, but in Ultima VI there are a score of things I can't do in the Infinity Engine, or the Aurora Engine, or almost any other engine for that matter, including repositioning objects to get a tactical advantage in combat, smashing furniture, setting fires, and using objects interactively with each other, such as storing common objects in their own bags.

(U)sing a random tree gives you a branch from it. Putting that branch in fire gives you some charcoal.
     
I wasn't looking forward to The Savage Empire going into it, and I still have some reservations about the content, but almost all of my fears evaporated when I started playing the game and remembered how much I liked the "sandbox" feel of Ultima VI. Add to this the detailed dialogue and virtue-based roleplaying that the Ultima series has become famous for, and I'm already hooked.

As with most Origin titles, the manual is particularly well done. It's credited to Aaron Allston, prolific writer of game manuals, D&D supplements, and novels set in the Star Wars universe. This, Wing Commander, and Wing Commander: The Secret Missions--all 1990 games--are his first video game credits. He died a little over a year ago, at age 53, after suffering a heart attack at VisionCon.

The creatively-presented game manual.
        
The manual is presented as a pulp magazine from the early 1900s, most of it written by the Avatar himself using that pen name. ("He's a modern-day adventurer who prefers to keep his identity a secret," the editorial introduction says, "But we've heard of him for several years and can attest to his courage, resourcefulness, and truthfulness." Note how "resourcefulness" replaces "love" in the three principles of virtue here.) The writing has taken place after the Avatar's triumphant return from The Savage Empire, but since this is only the first issue, we only get enough information to impart a backstory and a description of flora and fauna. The backstory covers 16 pages and is recapped in the game's opening screens.

The Avatar has been experiencing disturbing dreams of a faraway jungle and an endangered princess. Lord British has been showing up in these dreams, commanding the Avatar to find out more about a "ruined moonstone," so the Avatar decides to see his friend, Dr. Rafkin, curator of a local Museum of Natural History, because clearly a paleontologist is the right person to analyze a stone capable of opening portals to other worlds. At his office, the Avatar runs into "ace reporter" Jimmy Malone. "Oh, what a file we have on you," Malone says. "Every so often, you disappear for days on end. Usually come back really tanned. Your neighbors are curious about all that, you know...What's the story? You CIA? Helping US-backed rebels somewhere?" Why they don't assume I'm just flying to St. Croix for a long weekend is anyone's guess.

Is this the 1940s?
         
Anyway, it turns out that Dr. Rafkin has been analyzing a damaged moonstone, sent to him by a former student, who discovered it on a dig in Central America. The student's employer, a Dr. Spector, disappeared while examining it. When Dr. Rafkin starts frigging around with the moonstone, it opens a moongate and sucks the Avatar, Rafkin, and Malone into The Lost World, complete with dinosaurs and Amazonian tribesmen. Within moments, they come across a pterodactyl attacking a "she-warrior," Princess Aiela of the Kurak tribe. ("She didn't have the pouty, perfect features preferred by modelling agencies, but oh, she was beautiful.") The four of them manage to kill the beast before they're surrounded by Aiela's tribe. One of the tribesmen looks exactly like Shamino but calls himself "Shamuru."

        
The visitors pass some time with the Kurak people and learn that they're in an isolated valley called Eodon. Princess Aiela has lately been dreaming about someone who looks like the Avatar saving her from an insect creature. Shamuru is agitated because he thinks he recognizes the Avatar but can't place him. The Avatar is forced to explain to his companions about Lord British and Britannia.

I've told you I occasionally do favors for a foreign dignitary who goes by the name of Lord British. That's true. I sort of led you to believe that he was European, that his name was a code-name, but that's not true. British lives in a place--a world--he calls Britannia. I like to think of it as a distant reflection of our world. I get the impression, from his choice of names and other clues, that he's had some contact with our world, but I've never gotten the whole story out of him. [It's hard when all you ask about is NAME and JOB.]

The Avatar is about to go spend some private time with Aiela when the Urali tribe attacks, led by Darden the Huge, who wants Aiela for his own. The attack scatters the companions, the Avatar is knocked unconscious, and Aiela is kidnapped. Begin character creation.

She looks a bit like Courtney Cox, but she wasn't famous yet in 1990.
          
The character creation process mimics the gypsy from Ultima IV but with a tribal wise man in a dirt-floored hut, presented as Intanya, a healer who is trying to rouse the Avatar from unconsciousness. "In order to heal your spirit, Intanya must known your spirit," he says, and progresses through a series of role-playing decisions. 

  • You fight a warrior you hate, and knock his spear from his hands. Another blow and he will be dead. Will you (a) let him surrender, and spare him if he does, or (b) slay him where he stands? The fact that I hate him doesn't seem enough to warrant the death penalty. I hope I would choose (b), but who knows what I'd justify when the adrenaline is pumping?

I didn't get this one with my final character. It's the only one that offers a true dilemma.
  
  • One warrior borrows another's spear and fails to return it. Days later, he mislays his own spear and you find it. Do you (a) return it to him, or (b) give it to the warrior who is owed the spear? Another warrior's debt is none of my business. No one asked me to get involved in this. It's (a), naturally.
  • A huge, powerful warrior stands against you and demands you give him your food. Will you (a) throw his demand in his teeth and attack him, or (b) give him your food, since it is clear he is hungry? This is like the time I got mugged. I'd like to say (a), but in reality I'd probably do what I did in New Orleans, and go with (b). Since this is a fantasy game and I'm creating an ideal character, it's (a).

There's a larger bank of questions--I got different ones when creating different characters--but you only get three of them when you start the game. Instead of determining class, the answers seem to determine your starting attributes.

My starting stats. Don't I look like a proper H. Rider Haggard hero.
        
The game begins with the Avatar waking up to the ministrations of Intanya. In short order, the Avatar is having a dialogue with him, learning the fates of his companions. Scattered after the Urali attack, Rafkin found refuge with the Yolaru tribe to the east, Jimmy ended up with the Disquiqui tribe to the south, and Aiela's fate is unknown but presumably she's a captive of the Urali. Intanya loans his apprentice to the Avatar to help with his travels; the apprentice, Triolo, looks suspiciously like Iolo. He might even be: Triolo claims that he "came stumbling from the jungle, bereft of name and memory" some time ago and was taken in by the Kuraks. Anyway, the Kurak chief wants to see me before I head off looking for my friends.

I hope those wash off.
          
All right, let's get the backstory stuff out of the way. Yes, it's kind of stupid. The Avatar from Ultima IV was supposed to be the player's "avatar," not some specific guy who lives in a specific city, has a friend named Dr. Rafkin, and writes stories for pulp adventure magazines. Yes, Origin has reversed themselves, and the Avatar can no longer be anything but a white male with blond hair. Yes, the stuff the Avatar says about Lord British contradicts previous dialogue and manual text (the Avatar knows he's from Earth). Yes, in the real world of 1990, reporters didn't look and talk like a character in a Howard Hawks film. Yes, the game has perhaps too-literally adapted the conventions of pulp magazines when it comes to certain ethnic caricatures. I thought I was going to go on about all of these things for an entire post. But that's all I'm going to say--one paragraph. I'm going to seal all of that in a box and try to enjoy the game.

Gameplay starts in Intanya's hut, and even in this little space, we can see many of the things possible in the engine. I can (L)ook at the various objects on the floor (the three skulls are magic totems); (T)alk to Triolo or Intanya; search his pot for reagents and (G)et them; pick up some food; get or extinguish the torches on the wall, move the various items around to different positions, and finally open the door to leave.
 
Outside the Shaman's hut.

A couple of tribe members lurk outside. I talk to them. The game's dialogue system hasn't changed from Ultima VI. Everyone responds to NAME and JOB, and keywords that will lead to further conversation are highlighted in red, green, or brown. As in all Ultima titles, dialogue promises to be a huge part of the game, imparting quests and game lore. 

One change soon becomes apparent, though. Outside Intanya's hut, a woman named Tindira tells me that the Kuraks are the greatest tribe, at war with the Yolaru, Urali, and Myrmidex.  The Yolaru are a fierce tribe of black warriors. I'm going to have to talk to a madman named Topuru to find out where the Urali live (he's apparently a Urali defector). The Myrmidex are human-sized insects who "live only to kill." Their nest is to the west.

I then talk to a man named Padrag, and he tells me the same things, using the exact same language. So does the next guy, a tribesman named Enokor. And a woman named Jana, and a woman named Shalan. In all previous Ultimas, there were generic guards and whatnot, but usually all named NPCs have unique dialogue. Here, I guess we're going to see a lot more re-use.

        
The tribe's chieftan, Aloron, does have his own things to say. He's pretty upset about Aiela's kidnapping. He also directs me to Topuru, somewhere on an island in the far north, to learn about where the Urali live. His second daughter, Tristia, is nearby. She seems a little spoiled.

She also looks kind of mean.
         
And that's about it for NPCs in the Kurak village. The game doesn't seem to have a strong opinion about where I should go next. I could seek out Rafkin or Jimmy, or go look for Topuru to get intel on the Urali tribe, or go anywhere else, I guess.

In his initial inventory, Gideon (my Avatar) has only a knife. Triolo comes with a bow, some arrows, and some pouches filled with reagents. The huts around the village have a lot more stuff, including obsidian knives, food, cloth, spears, shields, and torches. I don't know if this is the kind of game where you happily loot that stuff or the kind of game where you lose karma for stealing. Figuring I'm off to rescue their kinsman, I take some food and a few other items from the huts.

Looting food from a house full of jaguar pelts.
         
By the time I'm done, night is falling. Knowing how much of a pain it is to navigate in the dark, I find an empty hut and (R)est until sunrise.
      
The world  map. You start in the upper-center.
       
I head north at first, looking for Topuru, before I realize I don't really have a plan for getting to an island and I don't know exactly where I'll find him on the large map. Since the Yolaru camp is much closer, I decide to turn east and go there.

Well, hell.
           
On the way, I'm attacked by an Allosaurus, who gets Gideon down to 2 hit points before we kill him. Combat in The Savage Empire is absolutely identical to Ultima VI, down to the way you can theoretically program companions to behave in specific ways, but they don't really follow the commands anyway. It was late in the battle before Triolo decided to finally use his bow.

I fight a carnivorous dinosaur with a knife while Triolo helpfully wanders off-screen.
        
Hit points don't regenerate automatically, so it's time to explore the magic system. There are three totem skulls in the game--Heluzz, Aphazz, and Motazz--and three reagent "offerings" you can make to each totem--chocolatl, pinde, and yopo. This leads to nine spells: light, eagle eye, detect hostile creatures, charm enemies, heal, protection, summon animal, curse enemy, and battle frenzy. You cast a spell by (U)sing the appropriate totem and then specifying the offering. I guess you have to be a shaman or shaman's apprentice to cast spells in the game. My Avatar can't, and among my companions, only Triolo can so far. Oddly, the game doesn't let me specify who to heal, but it seemed to figure it out anyway. Unfortunately, it only heals him 4 points, so I cast it a few times.

Triolo uses totems and reagents to slowly heal the Avatar.
        
Later, we fight another quick combat against a deinonychus. This would be a good place to mention that both the Avatar and his NPC companions start at Level 6 or 7. The character that makes the kill gets the experience.

The manual has Professor Rafkin's notes on the various tribes in the valley, and among his description of the Yolaru, we have the first hints that we might either still be on Earth, or that the people of Eodon (an obvious corruption of "Eden"?) originally came from Earth. "Their antecedents are definitely African," he says, and  "their dialect of the common valley language contains elements of what I believe to be Bantu."

I'm so grateful that he didn't say, "What up, blood. What it be?"
         
Rafkin is living among the Yolaru. He's educated them so much that they want him to be their shaman, but he has told them that he'll be their "schweitzer" instead, a clear reference to Albert Schweitzer who was, among many other things, an African missionary.

         
I found him in one of the huts. He seemed glad to see me and offered me recipes for creating bombs and rifles in case they should become necessary. He indicated he'd set up a lab somewhere south or southeast of the Kurak village (how long was I out?!). A simple JOIN got him into my party.

I suspect it's going to be necessary.

A few other notes before I wrap up the first post:

  • The interface has redundant mouse and keyboard commands. You could use one or the other exclusively or do what I do and switch flexibly between them.
  • There's some evocative background music, some of the most complex we've seen so far in a DOS game, with a a tom-tom beat and African rhythms underlying complex melodies. (It's credited to "The Fat Man" George Alistair Sanger. This was his first year in game music, but he later went on to score Ultima Underworld, The 7th Guest, and The 11th Hour.) Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any way to turn it off independent of the sound, and as much as I like the game music, I really don't want it playing while I play the game. Since other sound effects are sparser, and a combat theme appears jarringly every time you see an enemy, I've been playing with the sound off.
  • I'm not sure if there's any economy in the game. I don't have any gold (or other currency), and I haven't found any in a few hours of play. The manual doesn't really mention it.
              
Night falls, as it frequently does, and we camp on the road.

Definitely a fun game so far, and I am mildly intrigued to see what happens with the Shamuru/Shamino and Triolo/Iolo mystery. I hope it doesn't turn out to be really, really stupid.

109 comments:

  1. This is a fantastic game that probably won't score well on the GIMLET because it's very willing to throw RPG conventions (like gold) to the wind. But it has its own charms in its unusual setting and makes clever use of that beautiful sandbox engine with more "crafting" than any other Ultima game outside of the Underworld series.

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    1. I always wanted to try an RPG with a barter economy. Is this it? (I've only played through the opening scenes.)

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    2. More or less, but it's very content-driven. Certain characters want very specific things from the world in exchange for their goods. It's a pretty light economy, but it feels natural.

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    3. We'll see. I've yet to play an RPG that I thought was honestly good but the GIMLET rated it unfairly. The bonus category helps smooth out the edges if that's necessary.

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    4. The problem with your GIMLET is that if a game came along that was exactly like Dungeon Master, a carbon copy, but it had a couple of NPCs to talk to, you would rate it higher than Dungeon Master even though it didn't innovate anything.

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    5. It's not an innovation rating, so I don't see why that's a problem.

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    6. Fallout has a barter system, Jason. It can get superfluous later on, at least on the default difficulty, but Fallout's one of the very best CRPGs regardless.

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    7. I don't regard that as a problem, given the GIMLET seems designed not to be an objective scale of quality for RPGs, but a subjective scale of what our Addict host -values- in CRPGs.
      Someone else can use a different scale if they want to rate things.

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    8. What xyzzysqrl said. The GIMLET rates a game's quality as a CRPG and that's ok!

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    9. Secret of Evermore too, as well.

      IMHO, the Economy section of the GIMLET may well cover all sorts of resource management/rarity/redundancy issues. That's what the forces of economy are, anyway, Demand & Supply; Needs & Wants. So, even if there is no currency in the game, as long as there is a form of transaction that reflects those forces, it should do nicely in the Economy section.

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    10. Fallout has bottlecaps which somehow work like gold pieces in any other RPG. That's not a barter system.

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    11. The largely forgotten space simulation, kinda-RPG game 'Nomad' largely had no money at all. You had to barter items and equipment for better items and equipment. Not a popular game, not one that'll appear on this blog, but one I greatly enjoyed back in the day and still do occasionally.

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    12. The existence of currency doesn't negate the possibility of bartering. What exactly would you call that thing you do when you press the button labeled barter that shows up during every extended dialogue, then exchange goods for other goods of roughly equivalent value? You know, that thing that's influenced by the player character's barter skill?

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    13. @Anonymous: I would describe Eye of the Beholder almost that way - A slightly-improved Dungeon Master - but it was still a good CRPG. I've read almost all the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels, and they're all the same - words on paper, one of a few settings, same sense of humor - yet I consider each one worthwhile because each has a different story.

      A "Dungeon Master clone with a few talking NPC's" and maybe a bit more story would be a welcome game. As opposed to Chaos Strikes Back, which tried to be an "expert" level Dungeon Master, and as a result was too painful to play for more than a few minutes.

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    14. @Man of Stone: The existence of bartering doesn't make a "barter economy". You can barter for stuff in modern times, but that doesn't somehow do away with modern centralized banking.

      But yeah, good point in general. You could probably play Fallout ignoring the bottlecaps altogether.

      I was meaning "do away with the system which seems to be in every RPG of cranking through enemies for more GP" (or pelts that can be turned into GP, or pretty much somehow something valuable every time an enemy gets slaughtered).

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    15. >>I would describe Eye of the Beholder almost that way - A slightly-improved Dungeon Master

      I'm not sure about that. Sure you might malue those really few NPCs as interesting, but the gameplay is surely worse. The dungeon design is really awful in comparison and the interface is also worse.
      I personally value gameplay far above all else.

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    16. One thing I like about Chet's rating system is that it DOESN'T try to say how good a game it is. It rates how well the game lives up to Chet's theoretical ideal RPG. A lot of people seem to miss that. Adding a few NPCs with dialog might not make it a better GAME, but it does move it (slightly) closer to Chet's idea RPG. So that makes sense to me.

      I've not gotten super far in Fallout 4, but I like how the base building soaks up most of your items, so I never feel like I have too much money, and if I want to buy something fancy I have to give up using some items for leather. That said, I'm also not clearcutting fields to make more vegetable starch and am trying to outfit all my villagers, so I might be atypical.

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  2. I remember really enjoying Martian Dreams, which was a lot more outside the box setting-wise. A lot of the fun of the 5-6-7 Ultima games, though, was revisiting the same locations and watching them grow up as the tech improved.

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  3. Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire is btw free on GOG

    http://www.gog.com/game/worlds_of_ultima_the_savage_empire

    mpx

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    1. So is Martian Dreams. One should get both for twice the enjoyment. 'One' is you.

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  4. You have misunderstood Rafkin's comments about the lab, but since it's in the manual it's not really a spoiler (page 12):

    When you were transferred to this world, it was by an exploding/expanding moongate and the whole lab went with you.

    As for the NPCs, there is a "generic" NPC model for each tribe as you noticed. The only thing different for each is the name, though sometimes they do have quite important things to say. (Sometimes there is also a slight difference in what they say by gender.) In my playthrough, I quickly came to recognize the stock phrase they use for "JOB" and then just moved on when I saw one I had talked to before. Annoyingly, these "stock NPCs" also do not give their names when you (L)OOK at them like in U6, so it is harder to tell if you have talked to a NPC before just by looking. (In U6, any person that you've talked to before gives their name when you look at them.)

    I'll keep my tongue on a few other things you mentioned that I am sure you will figure out in time or that might be a spoiler.

    I only noticed after I played, but I wonder if Intanya is a more subtle take off of "Britania". I do not think he's Lord British (he doesn't LOOK like Lord British, unlike the Shamino and Iolo clones), but I think the developers were making a joke because he's the guy you get to see when you kick the bucket.

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    1. Thanks for the lab information. I did misunderstand. I probably would have realized it when I actually got to the lab.

      I wouldn't mind a spoiler on whether it's okay to just scoop stuff up, because I don't think I'm going to get any gear otherwise.

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    2. You can play the game virtuously. There is a spot that you will discover soon as you explore that will get your team into fighting shape with weapons and armor, as well as a small but adequate number of places where you can trade to get more and better gear, or just refills on things like arrows.

      That said, I gave up a number of hours in because I did not see any negative consequences to stealing from tribes that liked you. It seems that the primitive villages are a bit communist: property is theft, so you can swipe what you need.

      There is a chance to role-play here, but I do not know the game well enough to say that something doesn't change if you just go and steal everything-- but I didn't personally observe any problems once I gave up on being fully virtuous.

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    3. I don't remember there being any penalty for theft, unlike the main Ultima games. You can definitely beat the game stealing, at the very least.

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    4. Also of note is that you can know which npcs you need to talk to by looking at them because all yh important ones have unique pictures. I did find the numbers or generics annoying though.

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    6. So, on further thought I am not sure what the "intent" is.

      I just went through my notes from my playthrough and I do not think there is any point in the game where you have to steal from peaceful folk. Loot the bodies of the fallen villains, yes, even raid hostile towns for important items, but you can leave the peaceful villagers houses alone and it's fine. You do have to use some of their stuff for crafting, but that isn't stealing.

      Where you run into problems is resource management. The reason I started stealing in my game is because that was easier than the alternative and I justified it in my head because I was knocking out all sorts of helpful quests for these guys, of course they wouldn't mind loaning me these arrows, that sword, and... the 20 pieces of meat you just happen to have sitting by the fire that they were about to eat.

      But I have no idea whether the game was intended to be played virtuously or not, nor whether there is any benefit or drawback from choosing one play style or the other. I did really try to not steal, but eventually I stopped caring.

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    7. First played this game when it was a few months old, a friend loaned it to me, along with the Hint Book, and the original map, books etc.

      I seem to recall a line somewhere in that printed literature that mentions that the locals in this game do not have a "normal" sense of ownership or property.

      Therefore you can take what you need without risking a loss of virtue.

      Really wish I could remember where that was listed. That being said I've beaten this game at least 4 or 5 times and do not recall ever having a problem due to theft.

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  5. If I can offer one non-spoiler bit of advice: Don't die.

    Just as in the previous Ultima games, you lose experience when you die but I did not consider *how much* and it is quite difficult to recover the experience. I had to fight through a much more difficult middle and end game because I was less lucky and did not survive some of the attacks early on before I had decent equipment on and it essentially locked me out of leveling. Fortunately, you start pretty strong.

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    1. Actually, a few deaths are probably okay. But I-- like an idiot-- was pushing too hard at something I shouldn't have been trying yet and died over and over again. I did not catch up to my starting experience by the end of the game.

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    2. I appreciate the tip. I'll try hard to avoid your experience.

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    4. (re-posing, minus *spoilers*)

      IIRC your experience is halved if you die.

      This game tends to not emphasize combat as much as previous Ultima games though.

      Your starting level is likely sufficient to complete any combat related challenges you need to overcome to complete the game.

      (Chet, please let me know if that's too spoiler-y for you. I'm trying to avoid that, but it's hard to tell if I'm doing that with the comment above.)

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    5. Shouldn't it be doubled since we get to relive all our past experiences seconds before we die?

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  6. It does sound a bit like a parody, or at least a tongue-in-cheek adaptation. So good luck with it. Now I sort of expect a Might and Magic-like ending.

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  7. its a real shame both 'Worlds Of' games are so bugged :(

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    1. I assume you're speaking from experience, since I don't think my post described anything that indicates a lot of bugs.

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    2. I hit two bugs on my recent playthrough:

      One was my being an idiot and dropping an object where I shouldn't have and not realizing I was screwed for several hours (and I resorted to downloading a cheat patch to respawn the object so I did not have to start over). But really, I was colossally stupid.

      A second was that I left an important (but not irreplaceable) object in the woods where I thought I could return for it and it disappeared.

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    3. You don't get in trouble for stealing other people's stuff, but I guess it goes both ways - don't expect your stuff to be there when you get back.

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    4. I ended up save-editing Martian Dreams. Got through, though.

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    5. I had a number of items disappear when I unequiped or dropped them, nothing important though.

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    6. There is also a potentially game ruining bug later on... I don't want to give too much detail so as not to spoil anything, but one of the quests has you killing something. When you do, there is a possibility that a party member will get dropped out of your party and will freeze in place. As far as I know they cant be re-recruited since you cant interact with them and if you have quest items on the person (like I did when I played) they will be gone for good. Check your party members before you make any saves so it doesn't happen to you.

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    7. I think I found a potentially game-ruining bug early on. If someone tries to hand you a key plot item and you're already at carrying capacity, it just disappears into the ether.

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    8. Ugh. I did not hit that, although when I was in a similar situation I found the object that I thought I was being given on the ground.

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    9. Which item? We might be able to tell you if there is a replacement?

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    10. Oddly enough I beat both "World of" games back on a i286, when they came out.

      Bugs seemed to be minimal at the time, BUT I had the Hint Books for both games, so that could be a YMMV thing.

      Really wonder if this is buggier on modern platforms due to technical reasons (e.g. clock speed, RAM, etc.) or if the currently common versions were buggier than the original, or if I was just really lucky.....

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    11. Joe, I caught it before it was a problem. I reloaded, emptied some inventory, and got the item.

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  8. Courtney Cox might not have been Friends famous in 1990, but she wasn't unknown either.

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    1. I somehow doubt they decided to model that character after her as she honestly did not look like that in 1990. At that point I think she was most famous for her appearance in Dancing in the Dark, and she has super short hair in that video.

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    2. You've clearly forgotten that she was also in 1987's movie classic - Masters of the Universe!

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    3. She had a pretty big role in the final seasons of Family Ties, complete with big '80s hair.

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    4. @Dariel - God, please no, don't remind me!

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  9. Eodon may allude to Eden, yes. But there is a different possibility, too:
    "Eo" makes me think of "eocene", the era in which most dinosaurs died out (in this case, "eo" would be derived from the Greek goddess Eos), and of the Greek suffix "odon", like in "mastodon", an ancient relative of the elephants, or "smilodon", the sabre tooth tiger, which means "tooth".

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  10. I hope I would choose (b), but who knows what I'd justify when the adrenaline is pumping?
    --I wonder what's the fate worse than death. :)

    In case you miss it, you can also (u)se knife on some monsters that you slayed, such as bears and tigers in order to get food and skins. Try (u)sing it on humans and coatlicues. :)

    And there's someone in the game who will respond to the word "nyuk." I will let you figure out who s/he is.

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  11. You will find three far more famous people in the game at a later stage. And yes, they work as a trio. And yes, that Nyuk is a clue.

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  12. Just as a note, Gates of Delirium is listed as an upcoming game, but I did some more research and it clearly didn't come out until 1987. 'Tis a pity, as I'd love to read an entry on another TRS-80 Color Computer game, but.

    BTW I've noticed that the site is sometimes horrendously slow for me and/or fails to load, whereas other Blogspot blogs are OK. Is there anything going on that might be messing things up, or is it just me?

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    Replies
    1. "but" = "but it'll have to wait", that is

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    2. I think you were the one who first told me that it was 1984, so since I don't have any other reason to keep it there, I'll move it to 1987. Thanks for the update.

      I personally don't have any problems loading the site, but if this is a problem for other people, let me know by e-mail and I'll look into it.

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    3. I've been having a similar problem. Occasionally I'll try to load this blog and it'll load halfway with broken images, then just stop loading. It seems specific to this blog, but I doubt it's anything controllable.

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    4. ^That's exactly what I've been experiencing. No idea what the cause is.

      Delete
  13. Ultima 6 was one of three games (the others being Wing Commander and Red Baron) that led me to upgrade from the Amiga to my first pc. So much so that I bought the games well in advance of the pc (had to do some saving to pay the incredible price asked for pcs in those days).

    It was the stunning SVGA graphics on the box cover of Ultima 6 that did it for me.

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    Replies
    1. It's really funny how spoiled we've become with graphics.

      I remember freaking out over how good the Martian dirt looked in Words of Ultima 2, Martian Dreams.

      Pretty sure they used a low quality BMP of some sort, but at the time it seemed nearly photo-realistic. Background details in modern games look better, but for the time it was AMAZING lol.

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    2. VGA. :) The first (and only, if we don't count Ultima Online) Ultima to have SVGA graphics was U9.

      320x200x256 colors (as in U6, 7 and 8, and Wing Commander 1 and 2) is just VGA. I think the Crusader games (which used a modified U8 engine) supported some SVGA (640x480x256 colors), though.

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    3. >>VGA

      I stand corrected.

      Still nicer than the Amiga though :)

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    4. I find it interesting. The game I think looks the best right now is Dust: An Elysian Tail, which I'm going to say it, looks much better then any older game. How does it do that? Fancy 3D graphics? Nope. Hand drawn art. Or at least it looks hand drawn. However, it is at a higher resolution, makes use of all the colours of the rainbow, and has a quirky style that makes me think of the old Disney Robin Hood and similar movies. Sure it is 2D, but it is 2D without any jadded edges, weird colour choices, and with a ton of attention to detail like little bits of slime flying off slime enemies when you hit them with a sword.

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  14. Replies
    1. *tattattattat-pingpingpingpingping* Scratch one German plane!

      Red Baron and Microprose's F-19 blew me away as a kid, though I never got the hang of carrier landings in the latter game.

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    2. Yeah f-19 was another big deal for me. I loved that keyboard overlay and manual. As you say though, landing on a carrier was harder than a 5 v 1 dogfight.

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    3. Anyone who loves flight simulations back in those days should really try Top Gun.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofM11nPzFo0&hl=en-GB&gl=SG

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    4. Yeah, Top Gun was great - as were 1991's offerings Chuck Yeager's Air Combat and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe.

      That era was pretty much the heyday of military flight sims.

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    5. Aces over the Pacific and Wing Commander were also great simulations around this time.

      1991 was a great year for video games: The Super Nintendo launched with Mario World, Castlevania 4 and Zelda: A Link to the Past, Willy Beamish, Conquests of the Longbow, Cotton, Civilization, Doki Doki Amusement Park, Joe and Mac, Parasol Stars, The Rocketeer, Timequest, Vice: Project Doom and Wing Commander 2.

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    6. I was joking about Top Gun. I could beat most NES games that were considered near-impossible to beat. But I never got beat Top Gun. I could wipe out the entire enemy squadron if only there was 1 mission... because I always crash on the landing.

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    7. My memories of top gun aren't as brutal as I've seen claimed online. I seem to recall it was hard, but also short.

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    8. And after watching that vid, it appears I was playing Second Mission.

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    9. Oh, the shooting and refueling was fine. I can deal with that. It's really just the #&%ing landing.

      Top Gun 2: The Second Mission is a cakewalk when compared to Top Gun 1.

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    10. Even Wiki agrees with me. Just see the last line.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top_Gun_%28video_game%29#The_Second_Mission

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    11. Man, Top Gun. Refueling was THE WORST. My dad actually flew tankers in real life, and he couldn't even figure out WTF you were supposed to do.

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    12. Never played realistic flight sims, but loved X-Wing and Tie Fighter back in the day.

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  15. Ultima VI is my favorite of the mainline Ultima (ignoring Underworld) engines. VII tipped the complexity just too far for me (losing stuff in bags because it was buried under other stuff), feeding each party member individually, etc.

    I never really fell in love with Savage Empire, but I was a big fan of Martian Dreams.

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    Replies
    1. While I liked Ultima VII better than VI (and I also really enjoyed Serpent Isle), I am in complete agreement with you on the Worlds of Ultima. I only played through Savage Empire once but must have played through Martian Dreams about five times.

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    2. I always preferred the fairly open vistas of Mars to the somewhat cluttered and claustrophobic jungles of Eidon.

      Probably because of my intense frustration with jungle exploration in this game. Anytime I had to go off the trail I regretted it ;-).

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  16. I tried playing this once but it seems like even though they're using the same engine as U6, they downgraded the graphics a bit for this one.

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    Replies
    1. Huh, what platform are you playing this on?

      On both EGA and VGA graphics modes this looked substantially better than U6 when it was new, per the standards at the time.

      I seem to recall the palette was much brighter and broader. Overall the UI looked smoother, animation was a spot or two better, etc.

      Could have been a compatibility issue on your end, or maybe you selected EGA by accident, but yeah the Worlds games always looked better than U6, at the time, on that gen's hardware.

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    2. I think I just don't like the palette they use, the font they use, the character art isn't as good as U6, etc.

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    3. Weird, I always saw those as improvements. Character art always seemed better (I'm assuming you are talking about the portraits) that font seemed to work for the setting and help differentiate it from U6.

      Guess it's just a personal opinion thing.

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  17. Despite it being an Ultima spin-off, I simply can't bring myself to play this game. It's kind of stupid, but I just can't deal with dialog that has "native", or "noble savage" characters referring to themselves in the third person, omitting articles, and using only words that wouldn't challenge a three-year-old. I know it's perhaps a small gripe compared to the many other pulp inspired sins against political correctness, but I'm a linguist, and it really bothers me.

    There's a major suspension of disbelief in the notion that the NPCs and the avatar would be able to communicate at all, but if we're assuming they can, why hobble their speech in this specific way other than to implicitly paint them as less intelligent, less articulate, or less capable of forming complex models of the ongoing discourse? ARRRGH! I'm working myself into one of those "Hulk Smash" moments...

    Anyway, I'm also pretty sure this was not The Fat Man's first score. I'm pretty sure he did Maniac Mansion (among many other lesser known games). His website says he's been active in the games music industry since 1983.

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    Replies
    1. I still don't know how to feel about the tribals in Fallout. Esp New Vegas, where you have these secluded societies that go philosophically and technologically backwards and are speaking a weird creole of 'Native American English' plus bits of other languages.

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    2. To me, New Vegas tribals make some sense - these are essentially the descendants of middle class, suburban, white people who were forced to go "back to the land" - something they were wholly unprepared for. In the process of constructing a new identity for their communities, they co-opted as much culture as much as they could from fetishized versions of Native American cultures.

      Sulik though... God, I hate his characterization. Other tribals in FO2 aren't portrayed like he is. I think he was intended to just be crazy.

      Delete
  18. >Ultima VI, one of the best game engines we've seen so far

    Seriously? I never played U6 for more than a few minutes because I can't stand the engine.

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    Replies
    1. And the carefully-constructed, 25-year-old lie comes crashing down. You're right, random anonymous commenter. All of the praise that Ultima VI has received over the years is just Origin's clandestine marketing team at work; its positive reviews in nearly every magazine were planted; its sales figures are lies. The company's decision to build two more games off the same engine was a product of Richard Garriott's delusions, not a reflection that thousands of people loved it.

      Lord British, stop sending me your checks. I can't do this any more. I shall retire in ignominy.

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    2. Brilliant! Made my evening! ;-)

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    3. Anonymous is probably the U7 game engine creator. XD

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    4. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me; I just can't stand it when all they say is "I disagree," especially when I've taken the time to explain my position in detail.

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    5. I think, for it's time, it was a good engine.

      Compared to Goldbox, it had a much stronger dialogue system and far greater world interactivity. On the flip side, the combat and exploration were significantly weaker. I think which engine you prefer depends on what it is about RPGs that you most enjoy.

      I'm not sure which is the first top-down/isometric RPG engine that could be reasonably described as 'better' than those two. Might not get there till '97

      I think it would make an interesting post, evaluating the merits and limitations of some of the famous early engines - which were or weren't used to their full potential, which deserved another game etc.

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    6. As, um you know, someone that was alive and actually playing games when U6 came out, I'm going to have to agree with Chet/our illustrious addict.

      That engine was really in its own league. Nothing at the time compared to it, and it was immediately copied by almost every other game company.

      Trolls are bad, mkay?

      Delete
  19. Hydlide is coming!

    Will you be playing the US NES version or emulating the original Japanese computer version?

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    Replies
    1. That's like asking if you want to be run over by an 18-wheeler or a dump truck. Let's go with neither. If it had to be one or the other I vote PC-88. Ten seconds of the NES port's bastardized Indiana Jones theme is enough to make me murder a kitten.

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    2. Looking at it, I'm not sure that Hydlide is a cRPG at all. Looking through some "Lets Play" videos, it seems to be more like a proto-Zelda game that is primarily action-based with a few RPG elements sprinkled on top. Your character does seem to grow in experience as you beat things up and there are items you can pick up and use, but that's about it.

      It seems to have FEWER cRPG credentials than Zelda 2 or Castlevania 2 (both 1987): at least those ones have towns, NPCs, shops, etc. (But even if the Addict were to play console games, I suspect these should be skipped as they are action games first and RPGs second.)

      But then again, Hydlide is sometimes considered the first Japanese RPG. Maybe it is worth looking at for that reason...

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    3. Historically relevant to RPGs, scarce rpg credentials.

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    4. If the character gains experience and there's an inventory, it's an RPG under my rules.

      I was planning to play the Japanese PC-88 version, because I was told it was released in English even though it was only released in Japan. That's the only way it makes it on my list.

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    5. Ugh. You will not enjoy the experience.

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    6. Eh, Hydlide's basically a one-day game, two at the most. It's not really that bad -- I had no beef with the NES version when I beat it back in the day (probably 25 years ago), and I beat it again earlier this year without too much grumbling.

      The puzzles aren't as cryptic as people claim (and BTW there are a few non-puzzle inventory items), and most people who complain about them seem like console gamers who expect to have their hands held. Honestly most of the people who complain about the game to begin with seem like console gamers who are offended by anything that's not Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, or their descendants.

      Not saying Hydlide's a masterpiece, because it's not, but it's taken a lot of guff for not being what it was never trying to beat in the first place. And the fact that a 1984 game was released five years later, more or less verbatim, making it seem absurdly dated? That's FCI's fault, not Hydlide's. It was a reasonable enough effort in 1984.

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    7. Ugh - not being what it was never trying to BE, that is.

      Delete
  20. This is the only Ultima game that I have no experience with at all, either directly (I wasn't that big a fan of Ultima VI from a gameplay POV, so I didn't see any point in trying the spinoffs) or vicariously (For some reason or other, Nakar (whose excellent LP of Ultima IV-VI was highly praised by the Addict awhile back) doesn't seem to have covered this one, although he did do Martian Dreams, U7, and Ultima Underworld 2), so I'm highly curious as to how this one will go.

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    Replies
    1. I think Nakar skipped this one because Steve the Avatar was female, and this is the only one that doesn't allow a female Avatar.

      Delete
  21. you really dont want to do Gates of Delerium, I did a playthrough on Armchair Arcade a few years ago (wow 2007!) (I think AA broke all the picture links even tho they are internal to AA)... Its not a real game, its a broken tech demo, easy to make the game unwinnable. its.. a VERY BAD clone of ultima ii more or less (but oh so very less). I'm not sure without cheating it is really even winnable...

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    Replies
    1. Sounds like it might be an entertaining post, though. We have a while before we get to it, anyway.

      Delete

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