Friday, February 23, 2018

Game 281: Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992)

             
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss
United States
Blue Sky Productions (developer); Origin Systems (publisher)
Released in 1992 for DOS; 1993 for FM Towns and PC-98; 1997 for PlayStation
Date Started: 15 February 2018

You almost had to be there to understand what Ultima Underworld accomplished for the RPG genre. To fire it up after more than a decade of Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, and Might and Magic is to witness--instantly, not in increments--the death of abstraction as the primary paradigm of gameplay. Tiled movement is replaced with continuous movement. Fixed views in only four directions are replaced with angular views and the ability to look up and down. Artificially even and uniform "levels" are replaced with slopes and true three-dimensional spaces. Binary lighting is replaced with dynamic (and realistically dim) lighting. Simple textures are replaced with hand-crafted scenes. All objects, monsters, and NPCs with whom you can interact actually appear in the environment; there's no more stumbling into a seemingly-empty square and having it trigger a textual encounter.

Unrealistically large mobs of varied enemies are replaced with manageable numbers of unique individuals, living in spaces large enough to accommodate them. They have beds and bathrooms. They have clear sources of food, water, and lighting. You creep, run, swim, and jump through their world, your explorations punctuated with moments of both fear and awe.
        
Note the ramp sloping downward, right in the opening room. Also, note that my view is angled downwards.
          
Underworld was not developed by Origin, but rather by Blue Sky Productions, founded by former Origin employee Paul Neurath. An article on the now-defunct Computer and Video Games web site (retrievable via Archive.org's Wayback Machine) goes extensively into the game's background, with quotes by Neurath. He conceived of Underworld while working on Space Rogue for Origin, which as you may recall featured real-time, first-person space combat. He reasoned that the same approach could be applied to an indoor environment. Dungeon Master's puzzles and real-time combat system were also inspirations. He started working on Underworld as an independent game, only later inserting it into the Ultima series after signing a production contract with Origin.

Some cursory research into the game's history suggest that some of its mechanics, including inclined surfaces, looking up and down, and jumping, appear for the first time in any indoor first-person game, not just an RPG. (We'll test these claims and fill in the background as we go along.) To some extent, these features were inevitable as computers grew more powerful and programmers grew more skilled, and their first appearance could easily have been in an unplayable curio--a game notable for its technological achievements but otherwise unremarkable. Fortunately, these "firsts" came from the hands of programmers and producers already experienced with creative, immersive RPGs, and thus the engine is only one aspect of the game's quality. Underworld is equally notable for its NPC dialogue options, its inventory system, its magic system, its character development, and (aside from aspects of the backstory) its plot.

Nonetheless, Ultima Underworld is not a perfect game, and players of 1992 could be forgiven for seeing it as a step backwards, or perhaps sideways, rather than forward. Dynamic graphics meant a general reduction in graphic quality, for instance. The sound is synthesized and low-quality. The real-time combat system depends too much on player reflexes and too little on tactics. The control scheme, which does not benefit from decades of hindsight, has some odd and uncomfortable inputs, such as dragging with the right mouse button, or using the 1 and 3 keys to look up and down. And, man, the game is dark. You absolutely can't play it with a dirty monitor or next to a window during the day.
            
The backstory benefits from Origin's typically high production quality.
          
In my opinion, its biggest flaws are pushed in your face at the outset. Even the most forgiving Ultima fan, accustomed to absurd retcons in every new title, has trouble swallowing the backstory presented in the game manual. Supposedly set 10 years after the events of Ultima VI, a lord named Cabirus has decided to establish a Town of Virtue on the Isle of the Avatar. Not on the surface, of course, which would make sense--but within the multi-leveled Stygian Abyss itself. His dream is to gather various "societies" of Britannia and have them live in harmony according to the eight virtues. In a dungeon. These societies include several races and factions making an appearance in Britannia for the first time, including goblins, lizardmen, and "mountain-folk," or dwarves ("though they detest this name"), suddenly re-appearing for the first time since Ultima III. To them are added trolls, some mages from Moonglow called "seers," and a faction from Jhelom called the Knights of the Crux Ansata. The process of settling the island is commanded by a Baron Almric, and if that title isn't making an appearance for the first time, it certainly wasn't common before.

Cabirus had gathered a set of eight artifacts representing the eight virtues (e.g., Book of Truth, Shield of Valor) and planned to distribute them among the factions, but he died before he could accomplish this. After his death, the predictable results of gathering men and monsters in a dungeon ensued, and contact was lost with the colony for 50 years. (Note that if you're taking this seriously as an Ultima game, it's the first indication that a large amount of time has passed in Britannia since Ultima VI. Such will soften the shock when we get to Ultima VII.) It probably didn't help that Baron Almric sealed the entrance to the Abyss with a locked iron door.

That brings us to the present day, in which a confusing series of events is relayed in an animated introduction using voiced dialogue. Players who encountered this game for the first time in 1992 will have to report on whether the sheer novelty of a fully-voiced, animated introduction managed to eclipse the crimes against humanity committed by what the manual laughably calls the "voice talent." Astonishingly, these individuals (apart from Richard Garriott, voicing Baron Almric) aren't credited as anything other than voice actors, meaning that they're not programmers pressed into last-minute service but rather people hired specifically for this job. You have to watch it to believe it. Perhaps the one saving grace is that the "actors'" attempts at dialogue are occasionally drowned out by obnoxiously blaring music that you have no way to adjust.
           
I hope whoever voiced this guy's dialogue found later work as a mime.
         
What you can gather from this introduction is that the Avatar is awakened one night by a ghostly apparition screaming: "Treachery and doom! My brother will unleash a great evil! Britannia is in peril!" Somehow the ghost transports the Avatar to Britannia, into a bedchamber at Almric's castle, from which Almric's daughter Princess Arial has just been kidnapped. The Avatar arrives just in time to see a shadowy figure apparate out of the chamber, remarking that "thou shalt serve to draw the hounds from the scent." Looking out the window, the Avatar sees a troll heading into the woods with Arial slung over his shoulder in a sack.

Guards soon burst into the room and, using the worst accents ever, blame the Avatar for the kidnapping. Dragged before Almric, who must be awfully old to have a young daughter, the Avatar learns that the soldiers pursued the kidnapper to the Stygian Abyss, where goblins and other monsters ambushed them and foiled the rescue. Almric is skeptical at the Avatar's story, and he commands him to rescue Arial from the Abyss. A guard escorts the Avatar to the doors and locks them behind him.
           
The baron passes judgment.
            
The fun begins at this moment, so I won't ruin it by complaining more about how poorly the backstory, physical setting, magic system, method of arrival, and so forth fit within the rest of Ultima canon, or how senseless it is that the Avatar is yet again the hero instead of just some random Britannian, perhaps one of Almric's soldiers. (Seriously, are these people capable of doing nothing for themselves?) That it was originally developed as Underworld (without the Ultima) seems clear to me, although I don't know how far the game had come when the producers made the decision to merge it with the Ultima mythos.

(Aside: I first played this game back in 1994 or 1995, and I would have sworn that the introduction was completely different, depicting the Avatar arriving through a moongate, at night, in the middle of a rainstorm, and pounding at the door of Almric's keep. Am I remembering some other game, or did the intro differ across releases?)

Character creation is more extensive here than most Ultima titles. You can choose a male or female Avatar, your "handedness" (which only affects where you put things on the paper doll, not your actual controls), and your class. The full set of character classes from Ultima IV has returned here--fighter, mage, bard, tinker, druid, paladin, ranger, and shepherd--though with some adjustments, such as no weapon and armor restrictions (by class) and every class being capable of magic. Attributes are strength, dexterity, intelligence, and vitality. Strength controls carry weight as well as combat power. Intelligence controls the number of spell points.

I experimented a bit with the different classes. Every time you try a new character, you get 60 points distributed among strength, dexterity, and intelligence, so there's no point in re-rolling incessantly to try to get high values in all three. (Oddly, the shepherd only gets 56 points.) I decided to favor strength, since I tend to be a hoarder and get annoyed quickly with messages saying I have to drop things. I found a pretty good balance with a tinker and went with that.

Underworld adds a twist to the Ultima character template by including a set of skills for each character and a numeric score assigned to them. You get a few skills when you select your class, and then you can pick two more. My tinker got attack, defense, and repair and could select from among unarmed, sword, axe, mace, and missile for his first round and picklock, traps, search, appraise, and repair for his second. Other skills include acrobat, casting, lore, sneak, swimming, and track. I'm not 100% sure how you add new skills after character creation, but I presume it can be done. Normally, I would tend to favor exploration and interaction skills (e.g., search, track, lore) over combat skills, as I'm more concerned about missing content than making combat easier. (I just re-started Fallout: New Vegas on my console, and despite a pledge to do things differently this time, I ended up with 8 intelligence, 8 charisma, and a skill focus on science, lockpick, and speech.) I wonder if it's better to specialize in a weapon or just use the best weapon available and pour your skill points into the generic "attack." In any event, I went with axe and picklock.

The next choice is the character portrait. It would be interesting to hear from various people about how they make their selections. When I (rarely) play a female character, since I'm not female myself, all bets are off and I mostly go for someone who's going to be interesting to look at for 50 hours. I guess I have a bias for red hair. When I play a male character, I gravitate a little towards someone who looks like me. This translates into a slight bias towards white characters, but I have a much stronger bias about hair. Specifically, I don't want a dude with facial hair (I could put up with an unobtrusive goatee, but not a full shaggy beard or a 1970s porn star mustache) or a dude with long hair. Thus, black guy it is.
          
The top guy isn't so bad, but what is he trying to prove with that stupid curl?
           
The final decision is whether to play on "standard" or "easy" difficulty, which I typically interpret as "are you a real man or some kind of tofu-eater?" and select accordingly.

The character starts unarmed, unarmored, carrying nothing, in the dark, with the iron door shut and locked behind him. An inscription on the wall nearby recounts the doom of some other party, led by a guy named "Elsmore," which was unable to escape. (One wonders how the troll got out and back in with Arial.) A sack on the floor nearby offers a badly worn dagger, a torch, some food items, and a map that serves as the game's automap. Some bones litter the ground and some weeds grow up through the dirt floor.
             
Looking at an inscription on the wall.
         
My first 20 minutes were spent just getting used to the game's controls. You can do everything with the mouse, theoretically. Left-clicking in the main window and moving the mouse allows you to look, turn, and move forward, but so do the WAXD keys, and I generally find it easier to move with the keys and use the mouse for actions. Because left-clicking is for movement, you need to right-click on objects in the environment. The actions performed by right-clicking depend on the icon selected on the left (game options, talk, pick up, look, fight, pick lock); if no icon is selected, the game does the thing that contextually makes the most sense, and it's generally pretty good about it. If you just right-click on an object, for instance, it treats it as "look"; if you right-click and drag, it treats it as "pick up."

The 1 and 3 keys let you look up and down; 2 reverts you to a normal view. Since so many objects are on the floor, however, I find that I spent most of my time walking around with the view slightly angled downward.

Down the hallway, I decline to pick up a broken axe. (I don't know if broken weapons can be repaired at all.) A pull chain opens an otherwise-locked door and leads to a room strewn with bones. Another sack holds some candles, a mushroom, and a worn cudgel, which replaces my dagger. Since you only have 8 inventory slots, sacks and other containers are clearly going to be necessary to keep things organized.
       
A Dungeon Master puzzle already!
          
There are two locked doors in the room, and while I have a lockpick skill, I don't yet have a pick. You can bash locked doors with weapons, but it damages the weapons, and I suspect it doesn't work with metal doors anyway. I make a note on my automap and move on.
          
Yes, the automap allows custom notes.
          
A little further down the hall--and the hallway is dark enough, even with the torch, that I have to careen from side to side to make sure I'm not missing anything--I find two spell runes, Ort and Jux. A little beyond that, amidst bones and bloodstains, is an adventurer's pack containing a key, four more runes (Bet, In, Lor, and Sanct), and a love note from "Sandra" to "Alfred." The implication is that Alfred was exiled to the Abyss by the Baron for some kind of crime and died there.

A full discussion of the magic system will have to await a later entry. For now, suffice to say that to cast a spell, you need runes and a rune bag. Once you have them, you click on the runes to line them up on the "rune shelf" (to the right of the compass) then click on the shelf to cast the spell. Casting depletes mana. Spells are organized into eight "circles," or levels, and half your character level, rounded up, must equal the spell level. With the runes I have, I can cast In Lor ("Light"), Bet In Sanct ("Resist Blows"), or Ort Jux ("Magic Arrow"), all in the first circle. I'll need to find a Hur stone to cast Sanct Hur ("Stealth") and both Mani and Ylem runes to cast In Mani Ylem ("Create Food"). I need no new runes to cast Bet Sanct Lor ("Conceal") or Sanct Jux ("Strengthen Door"), but as they're third-circle spells, I'll need to hit Level 5 first.
           
Stringing together the runes for a "Light" spell.
          
The system is similar to that in Ultima V, where you had to string together syllables, but is unique in requiring runes rather than reagents. The backstory hand-waves the inconsistency with some nonsense about magic behaving differently in the Abyss than on the surface. I don't know if there are "hidden" spells that you can find yourself with logical combinations of runes. There are some spells here that have existed in no previous Ultima, including "Fly," "Levitate," and "Telekinesis."

My first combat is with a rat. To fight, you activate the combat icon, then right-click on the screen and hold down the right mouse button. Where you click determines the nature of the attack, from an overhead bash (top third of the screen), sideways slash (middle), or thrust (bottom third). The longer you hold down the right mouse button before releasing (up to a point), the more power. I can already tell that I'm going to frequently forget a) where you click on the screen, not the enemy, matters; and b) you just need to right-click and hold down, not move the mouse. It's also going to take some time to get a feel for where the enemy needs to be relative to the center of the screen for the blow to hit. I killed the rat, but only after whiffing an attack and accidentally picking up one of my bags in the process.
          
Great. Another game that requires mouse acumen.
          
I'm having two persistent annoyances, one the game's fault, one not. The one that's the game's fault has to do with sound. As you walk, there's a constant "bing-bong" sound effect, sounding nothing like footsteps, to accompany your stride. In general, sound is a lot poorer in the game than I remembered. There haven't been any atmospheric or ambient sounds so far, and the attack sounds are only a few lines of code removed from beeps and boops. If it's supposed to sound better, let me know. I'm using the configuration supplied by GOG, and it looks all right to me.

The second issue has to do with tabbing out of the game widow to write notes for my blog entries. This causes the cursor in the game window to go crazy, flying back and forth even when I return to the window to play. I can generally make it stop by leaving the window and re-entering a few more times, but it's annoying. Turning off cursor capture solves the issue but creates new problems.
          
"Wow, that's pretty--hey, do you feel something?"
        
This entry is getting pretty long, so I'll save a full account of Level 1, including NPC dialogue and inventory interactions, for next time. For now, suffice to say that within a few more minutes, the cavernlike nature of the dungeon changed when I emerged onto a platform and saw a river roaring several stories below. This must have been awesome in 1992. I was so caught up in admiring the view that I failed to note a goblin hurling sling stones at my head. That happens to me routinely in games like Skyrim these days, but here it's definitely a first.

Time so far: 2 hours

******

Bob's Dragon Hunt is going to be the first 1992 game to fall to the axe. When I researched, I thought it was an RPG, but instead it's one of at least three games produced by Neurosport, an independent Texas developer, to showcase their "VirtualDungeon" technology. The other three were Majik Adventure, which I've been unable to find, AntKill, and Crystal Deception.
              
             
The technology allows for quasi-continuous movement and action combat in a three-dimensional game, which is noteworthy given that we're praising Ultima Underworld for the same thing. The problem is that Neurosport's technology hasn't aged well, if it ever worked right at all. The vector graphics draw at molasses speeds, even when the CPU is cranked, and any movement sends the character into an endless spin.

Even if it worked, there's no character development. Instead, every new character is assigned a random class, level, and inventory (justified by the backstory in which the character has found a magic ring that turns him into a different legendary hero every time he puts it on). The goal is simply to kill as many dragons and score as many points as possible. It's an interesting curio of its age but not a full RPG. It and AntKill disappear from my 1992 list.

199 comments:

  1. Its really exciting to see this transition. It really was a huge divergence from the typical dungeon crawlers of the time, if only because of the technology. I love all of the Blue Sky/Looking Glass games, and this one if no exception. And I'm not sure if you're using it, but I found the easiest way to play the game was to use the mouse mode where right clicking activates things, rather than using the sidebar options constantly. I forget what it was called, but the manual mentions it.

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    1. Oops, you did mention the context controls.

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    2. For me who has long railed against the mouse as a primary game controller, I think UU is actually a pretty good example of a mouse game. I thought the fighting method of low, middle, high was kind of cool and made combat more than just clicking on an enemy.

      Long mouse clicks are also an advanced control method.

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  2. You can raise your various skills. You'll discover the means to do so soon enough, as you explore the first level. Raising the correct skill is a little more complicated.

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    1. One of the things the game does poorly in my opinion. I love this game, but it is frustrating that unless you're cheating it can be quite some time before you figure out the means to increase the skills you want to.

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  3. The other three were Majik Adventure, which I've been unable to find, AntKill, and Crystal Deception.

    Oh, does that mean you were able to locate a copy of Crystal Deception? If you could share it, I'd be pleased to document that for MobyGames (the presumed source of your jaunt down this dead end, my perennial apologies) in any event.

    The problem is that Neurosport's technology hasn't aged well, if it ever worked right at all. The vector graphics draw at molasses speeds, even when the CPU is cranked, and any movement sends the character into an endless spin.

    Hm, that ain't right! I remember that its controls were ... loose, but I was able to make my way around it enough to document it as a functioning game rather than a fundamentally broken one. I'm wondering if DOSBox might be getting in the way somehow.

    In any event, that won't be changing the basic kind of game that it is -- I just saw it as a title somewhere on the related roguelike spectrum... not a great CRPG specimen, but closer to that than any other genre.

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  4. When I played it back in the days I was very impressed with the graphics, I couldn't care less (and I still don't care much) about how it fitted in with the Ultima "lore" (it's _really_ not what the game is about), and was annoyed by the wishy washy sound effects.

    The game was designed for the Roland MT31 card, and IIRC that's how the default CFG file is set up.
    To get decent sound effects on a modern computer with DOSBox the best bet is to emulate a Roland MT 32 card (like Munt) and edit the CFG file accordingly. You will need to pirate some ROM files for this though, since last I checked they could not be aquired otherwise. Full details are in one of the stickies in the Ultima sub forum on GOG.

    Last time I played I played with the mouse only and it worked very well. Using the right mouse button to interact with is very elegant, but for movement using the keys may still be the best choice.

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    1. Or, to make things simpler, change Underworld's configuration to use the Sound Blaster instead of a MT32 that isn't there. I have a genuine MT32, it's great where it works, but it isn't all that important really.

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    2. I should have clarified, but the version I bought did come configured for Sound Blaster.

      I'm not an audiophile. I'm not interested in spending a lot of time reconfiguring sound to make a bloop sound slightly less bloopish, and frankly that's what people usually mean on my forum when they say "blah blah" sounds SO much better than "yadda yadda." If emulating Roland MT32 suddenly makes ambient sounds appear, simulates echoes, and makes a realistic crack when a mace strikes a head, let me know and I'll try it.

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    3. Okay, so it wasn't "a lot of time." You're right that it sounds better. Not great, but better.

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    4. You could easily check some youtube videos with original MT-32. I personally think the difference is huge, but that might be exactly what you are referring to above.

      I think MT-32 was just used for music, all sound effects and the voice acting come anyway from Sound Blaster (you can use both cards at the same time).

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    5. I hope it was clear that I wasn't talking about music, which I immediately turned off when I began playing. I don't really care about variances in music quality.

      But the changes I made did affect non-music quality. Walking sounds like plop-plop instead of twang-twang. A nearby monster sounds like someone tearing scraps of paper rather than someone banging his head on a piano keyboard.

      I'll get excited about sound when I can hear something that sounds like a waterfall when I get near a waterfall, or when I can stand at a door and eavesdrop on voices on the other side. Until then, yes, it's mostly just bloops and less-bloopish bloops.

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    6. Just a quick comment- for those of us who were in the formative 2-5 years of age when these games were being played, the various qualities of bloop have a powerful effect on our imagination, which is probably why it's more common for people around my age and younger to enjoy electronic music as much as we do.

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    8. Shame you turned off the music. It's very gloomy and greatly adds to the atmosphere. It also changes depending on circumstances such as if you are in combat.

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    9. As mentioned, UW does use MT-32's pre-loaded samples for sound effects in addition to its midi instruments for music. In fact, I think it evens utilizes CM-32L model's expanded effect library (streaming water sound, etc.). You of course need the CM-32L roms for Munt to hear these. My recollection is that these were much better than Soundblaster's FM synthesized sounds, I think they are actual digital samples. In any case, the sounds in UW are of course sparse compared to later games.

      This was some weird transition period for Origin as they already had begun using Soundblaster for speech but not digital sound effects. That's why Wing Commander 2, Underworld 1 and Ultima 7 Pt. 1 setups offer separate options for speech and sound effect output. Optimal configuration was Roland CM-32L for music and sound effects, and Soundblaster for speech. Very expensive at that time, though.

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    10. Addendum to the previous comment:

      Just installed and played the game a bit with CM-32L sounds. They weren't as good as I remembered, footsteps and sword swings sound rather bad, those are definitely synthesized. I must've been thinking of UW2 which used digital samples for all effects. The water sounds are nice anyway.

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    11. Ohh, but the music is marvelous! Mysterious, melancholic and epic depending on the track and the situation-- a perfect mix for exploring the Abyss.

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    12. Sweet! My CM-64 will finally get some use when I get around to playing this for myself!

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  5. I had a copy of this back in the day, but I think it looked slightly different. Maybe it was UU II oder just a demo version. I never got very far with it, and early 3D/Pseudo-3D games tended to make me sick. I'm looking forward to experiencing this game through your blog, headache-free.

    And yes, no beards, no long hair. I always take the bald guy if that is an option.

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  6. Bob's Dragon Hunt is a game I had just as an EXE file on a shareware CD at the time, and I tried to play it basically like Nethack with worse controls. You are missing very little, because it really isn't much of an RPG, but I had always wondered if there was some point or goal to the game beyond "points".

    Thank you for confirming there wasn't.

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  7. I remember destroying my weapons on doors to bash them in. Later I just used my hands. Some doors opened after 30 minutes repeately beating on them with my fists.

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    1. That takes some serious patience.

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    2. You might get to that point yourself, if you get stuck at a door with no keys. Bashing in doors is a vital Underworld skill.

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    3. You can bash through any locked door or chest that isn't described as "massive" when you look at it in a minute or so at most.

      I honestly never noticed any significant difference between bashing a door with even a cudgel or with your bare hands, so I just bashed them with my hands when needed. This makes lockpicking pretty superfluous skill. (I'm not even sure if there are any massive doors that you can pick, but can't bash.)

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    4. The "thief" skills in general are pretty useless in this one. But I do love how you can bash things open, I wish modern games allowed me to do that!

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  8. Quick note to answer your question: That's definitely the original intro - the line "hounds from my scent" even rings a bell with me.

    I don't remember thinking the voice acting was bad, but I was 15 or 16 at the time.

    I've been waiting for you to cover this for a long time. I played this game when it first came out and fell in love with it (although yeah, the controls weren't great then and really seem bad now).

    In fact, I've now been a game developer for 19 years and Ultima Underworld is when I decided that's the career I wanted, so it had an enormous impact on me. No game that I've ever played has had as big an effect on me.

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    1. It's going to take Blue Sky/Looking Glass several games to figure out a decent control scheme. We get to see a similar hybrid of mouse and keyboard in System Shock and Terra Nova, complete with a bunch of extra options for body movement that you wouldn't need if you had proper mouselook.

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    2. Mouselook wasn't really an option for Underworld or even System Shock, as these games were targeted for a 486. You really need the amazing horse power of a Pentium to have a fully textured 3d environment with completely free rotation and smooth movement simultaneously.

      I've never really found the control scheme in Underworld particularly cumbersome. ASDX (plus W for running), 1-2-3 for up/down and mouse for the rest works fine. Of course I don't have much experience with anything recent, as I don't think I've played a game released after 1995. Aside from Threes!, that is.

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    3. Belive it or not but the problem with "mouselook" wasn't power. It was the philosophy behind control schemes that was different. It was widely belived that people wanted to use or the keyboard or the mouse. Even Quake at launch didn't have it as selectable from the options screen, you had to start it from the console (the one you opened with "~") and digit "+mlook". The common scheme "WASD + Mouse" was considered too complicated by many! Incredible, I know. Do you want to know something even more incredible? In 1992 the mouse was just starting to be as ubiquitous as it as been since the arrival of win95! That's why most programs had "hotkeys" for functions that can activate with a click.

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    4. Whatever the philosophy may have been, in 1992 power was most definitely a barrier in even attempting something like mouselook in UW. There's a reason why Wolfenstein 3D and Doom have only vertically drawn walls and looking up or down in UW results in heavily distorted textures. Perspective correction just wasn't feasible and 3d rendering with completely free camera was pretty much possible with only low poly count and non textured indoor environments.

      It's true that there was a clear dichotomy where most users expected the controller be either mouse or keyboard, not both. But the exception to this was flight simulators where the preferred control scheme was joystick + keyboard, or for fancy players joystick + throttle. It's true that you could play those with only keyboard (and most probably did) but they were certainly designed to be played with dual controllers.

      The flight simulator control scheme is a kind of mouselook (joysticklook... joylook?) and many in fact could be played also with mouse + keyboard. That's how I played e.g. X-Wing and Tie Fighter.

      And it's no coincidence that flight simulators were the only games of the era to offer "true" 3d environments. Free 3d movement kind of dictates this sort-of-mouselook control scheme.

      So, power decides which kind of environments are possible which drives the development of suitable control schemes or "philosophy." And the first popular games offering true indoor 3d environments were Descent and Quake. Which required a Pentium to run smoothly (OK, Descent ran decently on a 486 but definitely required more power than UW and had much more limited interaction possibilites). And those games were largely responsible for introducing true mouselook, however hidden it may initally have been. One could say the dominant 3d game control schemes appeared the very moment they became technically possible.

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    5. No, Ronconauta is correct - it wasn't about power. UU's angled walls already involved exactly the same kind of mathematical transformations as would be involved in rotating the camera. So mouselook would not have increased the system requirements.

      But you cannot just change the control paradigm completely. Given all the other things UU changed, it would be too much all at once, to expect players to adjust to a new way of controlling the game as well. They would, sooner or later, but the learning curve would have been steep enough to alienate many buyers.

      As Ronconauta noted, even with Quake, mouselook wasn't a default option. I actually have the great joy of experiencing personally that transition in the most visceral of ways: we played Quake regularly on our school network. One day, one of us suddenly became faster and more agile - yes, by adopting mlook. Others would either resist, or seek to imitate. And some would struggle and fail, continuing to swear by the keyboard, and gradually falling behind in skill, until subsequent games kind of forced them to get with the programme. But this took place over months, and during that time, there were many, many loud debates about which control system is better, and whether the innate difficulty of using the mouse is ultimately offset by its advantages, or if it's all just hogwash. For quite a while, those who insisted on sticking with the keyboard were able to hold their own, because they also happened to be among the best players in the first place. So, what I'm saying, is that even when there was a clear advantage to be gained from the transition... that clear advantage was anything but clear at the time. In retrospect, yes. But at the time, to many it just seemed like you're making things harder for yourself to be fashionable.

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    6. I really don't think angled walls imply that the engine would have allowed rotating the camera. Look at those screenshots when the view is shifted down: the geometry is completely distorted. There's some sort of faking going on with rendering the environment to provide better speed.

      Continuous, fast rotation in the z direction, in addition to the xy-plane, would've probably brought the frame rate massively down, especially during fights. And with that distortion it would've looked like the Avatar had seriously munched on those mushrooms found on the dungeon floor.

      System Shock had proper rendering of the geometry and up/down view looks correct, that was the first game where mouselook probably would've been possible. Still, that was 2.5 years later and average PCs had gotten faster. At the time of UW when a 386 was the average gaming PC, CPU speed was limiting the possibilities.

      Quake players sticking to just keyboard for a few months hardly represents some sort of general aversion to mouse + keyboard controls, more likely it was just the concept of playing a fast paced FPS with anything other than keyboard that felt weird, as people were so used to the Doom controls. But as I mentioned, some games in other genres were already using mouse + keyboard, and at least I and everybody I knew played even Underworld using both.

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    8. OK, played around with the game a bit...

      Technically, you can rotate the camera freely, but since the game lacks proper perspective correction (i.e. corners were cut to increase speed), it would be virtually unplayable, the massive wobbling of the walls starts to really hurt the eyes. In practice, proper mouselook is not really feasible with this engine.

      You can try it yourself by rotating the view and pressing up/down keys simultaneously.

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    9. I really don't think angled walls imply that the engine would have allowed rotating the camera.

      It's not just the angled walls; it's the angled floors, and the fact that, unlike in Doom for example, the polygons making up the world can be arbitrarily positioned. As Jakub Majewski said, the game's already doing the necessary calculations to handle the angled floors and walls; if you've already got polygons that are angled in all directions, then there's nothing magically different about angling the view vertically.

      As for the geometry being "completely distorted" when the view is shifted down, I don't know what to say except that, well, it isn't. The geometry is a little distorted when the player is close to a wall, but that has nothing to do with the angle. There's no additional "faking" going on when looking downward; rotating up or down doesn't add any additional complications to the math, and wouldn't put any additional demands on the CPU.

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    10. Yes, I realize the game has proper polygon handling beneath, but the issue is with the perspective of the textures. Rapid changing of the view angle along both, horizontal and vertical axes, causes serious wobbling. It's not really playable, you would have to really carefully move your mouse or just lock it to rotate along one axis.

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    11. In technical terms, Ultima Underworld uses affine texture mapping. It interpolates the texture coordinates linearly in X,Y,Z space. Perspective correct texture mapping has to interpolate in X, Y, 1/Z space which is very expensive because you need one division per pixel.

      Even Quake (and one of Quake's innovations) was that it cheated. It does the expensive perspective correction only every *eigth* pixel and linearly interpolates between. And it still required a Pentium class machine.

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    12. Small addendum: division is THE most expensive math operation in a computer. It wasn't uncommon that it takes 10 times longer than a multiplication (which already takes 10 times longer than addition/subtaction). Of course these days all those take 1 clock cycle, but at the time it was a Big Deal.

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    13. I assume the very low resolution textures in UW add to the effect of it looking as messed up as it does. Still, all of them necessary measures to get the game running at reasonable speed.

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    14. Thanks for the info Viila, very interesting.

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    15. Viila: I... uh, stand corrected - I think? :) You went into far more technical details than I could understand, so I'm not quite certain if what you're saying is that no indeed, Ultima Underworld could not have had a rotating view. I assume that's the gist of it, though.

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    16. I think Villa was just explaining why the Ultima Underworld display was slightly distorted compared to more modern 3D games, not saying anything about vertical rotations of the view. Though I could be wrong.

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    17. Concerning "arbitrarily positioned polygons", IIRC, that's also not quite true - I remember reading that UUW only had (and only could have) slopes going up 45 degrees.

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  9. I played Majik Adventure back in the day, one of many shareware games I pulled off the local BBSes. It was very similar to Dragon Hunt, with a random character, random gear and a random dungeon with random monsters, but it was 2d iconographic instead of 3d. There was no story to speak of.

    I think they wanted it to be a sort of roguelike, but they liked the procedural generation and randomization so much they forgot the story and character progression. You may find it a briefly amusing diversion, but I suspect you'll cross it from your list for the same reasons as Dragon Hunt. Options being limited for a kid who had shareware and nothing else, I played it for hours.

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    1. I think the shareware version I played was Quick Majik Adventure. Video linked so you get the idea.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZdpfwTsZAk

      Dumps you on level 75 with a levelled character and you generally die horribly in minutes. An incomplete game.

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  10. On ramps and looking up/down:
    As I recall(and I might be wrong) from hearing stories from the developers, looking at any angle other than straight ahead caused performance issues, so (1) I think the game naturally returns you to looking at a flat angle when possible and (2) a game like Wolfenstein 3D would really not have wanted to support it, since it needed a much smoother framerate than Underworld did.

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    1. IIRC there's a keyboard command to "level out" your view to the default. That must be why it's there.

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    2. Wolfenstein (and later Doom) used a completely different pseudo-3d renderer that was very fast, but had lots of limitations on level design. Even in Doom, each x,y location in the map had a single floor z and a single ceiling z. So you couldn't have a bridge, for example. In those engines, the math is harder when you aren't fixed in 2 axes.

      I believe Ultima Underworld was actually using a real 3D renderer--much like the same ones in use today--except all in software on ancient computers. It was much slower at the time, and the viewport was a small portion of the screen. In that case, I don't know why looking down would be any worse than looking any other direction.

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    3. I think a 'Level Out' button is a service to the payer regardless of any possible effects on framerate. It's easy to get disorientated when you're looking at the floor or ceiling and a monster attacks you.

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    4. One thing to remember, too....a lot of the processors did not have the math co-processor in them. A lot of the gaming computers people had were 286 or 386 with no math co-processor. This added a lot of load to the cpu of the time.

      I remember adding a math co-processor to my computer shortly after trying to play this game and it made a huge difference at the time.

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  11. Bob's Dragon Hunt seems to work fine on online emulators (e.g. myabandonware), being a little slow but within what I'd call playable. I encountered the spinning but it only happened sometimes and felt more like a stuck key, since trying to turn on purpose would fix it.

    No strong opinion on whether or not it's a real RPG but it certainly was aping a lot of the conventions of roguelikes.

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    1. I can't help laughing at two games from the same developer being called 'Dragon Hunt' and 'Ant Kill'. An imported party from one to the other would be either very underwhelmed, or very scared.

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  12. In my opinion this is one of the games that defines crpgs. I was totally immersed in it as a youngster. These days I love good looking graphics too much to play play, but I can still find no fault with the world it represented.

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  13. This was technically amazing in its day and it is satisfying to see the further technical improvements the sequel benefited from only a year later.

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  14. While searching for some info on the original, I saw that the team behind it is currently developing a new sequel/reboot... It stills seems in early stages of development, not much to see, but it might be promising if it keeps some of the "vintage" vibe instead of turning in another TES/Witcher 3 clone.

    It's called Underworld Ascendant, clearly dropping the "Ultima" part and throwing back to their original working title, but I won't link to it since I have no affiliation whatsoever with them and don't want to appear like I'm doing publicity or anything.

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    1. This is one of those things where . . . I mean, EVERY game is doing this now. So while I can appreciate UU for what it offered at the time, it's not like this game specifically demands a modern sequel.

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    2. I believe Neurath's aspiration was less about technical innovation and more about creating a simulated environment and letting the players use it in creative ways to achieve their goals. With UA the goal is to crank up this emergent gameplay aspect by increasing the simulation detail level - having actual physics goes without saying, but they are e.g. simulating ecosystems with creatures preying on other creatures and affecting the environment in various ways.

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    3. My guesses: UA will not be groundbreaking, will not have much content, and will not come out this year.

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    4. What I thought when reading some UA previews last week: "wow, somebody's falling into the Spore trap once more". I concur with Tristan Gall, I don't expect much of the game. And the Addict is sadly very correct that the Underworld line in particular doesn't really need a modern entry.

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  15. I'm pretty sure you can fight easily with the keyboard instead of using the mouse. Actually I remember you can accomplish most things in the game without using the mouse much. I think there are detailed instructions on how to use the keyboard effectively in the manual and in the quick reference card.
    In the last page of the quick reference card it mentions:
    P Bash
    ; Slash
    . Thrust

    Also, about spells, I remember reading somewhere that: lbh pna perngr lbhe bja fcryyf juvpu ner abg yvfgrq va gur tnzr. Xvaqn yvxr uvqqra fcryyf.
    But I don't know many details about that.

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    1. Yeah, that works but for various reasons I find it easier not to take my right hand off the mouse.

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  16. GOG's sound config is awful for this. Always wise to read their forums if you find a game is off, because they do this frequently. For instance, Planescape: Torment runs way faster than it should. There's a quick fix to make Underworld sound better and more elaborate fixes emulate other devices. Someone already mentioned it, and it's imperative. Both of those faults mentioned are due to emulation.

    Seems a bit hyperbolic on the voice acting... Not great, but also not awful. Played it for the first time last year, so no nostalgia goggles here.

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    1. I followed the instructions on the GOG forum. I agree that the sounds are slightly better, but they're still not "good." It's still sparse, and synthesized rather than recorded. Other games of the era were doing a better job.

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    2. The early 90's was still the era of "Sound Blaster" simple sound effects and use of MIDI for music.

      I don't recall the exact moment that "digital" sound became prevalent enough to be the norm. If I remember, Baldur's Gate (1996) had fully digital audio and music.

      It will be interesting to discover which CRPG could claim to be the first to use digital sound and music!

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    3. As far as sound goes, the Sound Blaster line was pretty good, particularly after the Sound Blaster 16 came out in 1992. The problem was support - these were still uncommon devices at that time, and developers were still struggling to make good use of them, and there was always the "how much development time and money should we put to this device that is of only limited adoption?" question.

      This has always been the PC's Achilles Heel - the huge variety of hardware configurations that can exist. Nowadays, at least, DirectX ensures that developers don't have to worry about different standards for different hardware devices, but 1990s developers didn't have that luxury.

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    4. It wasn't till the late 90's that digital music became the norm. Baldur's Gate came out in late 1998 by the way.

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    5. Ah I got the year wrong, thanks! I was thinking digital music was more late 90's. Ultima 9 was the first Ultima to only have digital music. Even UO still used MIDI.

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    6. Star Control 2 which we'll get in 1992 uses digitized samples for its music. But it is admittedly a rare case.

      It's probably the first game we get which also has vocals... "We come in peace!" :D

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    7. Fred Ford`s programming wizardry on Star Control 2 cannot be praised enough, particularly with regards to the sound. All the music used the then bleeding edged .MOD format, the darling of the demo scene (and the music itself was outsourced via usenet in the form of a contest). The true magic however is the way he got so many disparate sound devices to work beautifully, including getting the humble internal PC speaker to produce (scratchy) digitized voice, supposedly he had to monkey with the BIOS clock to get that to work.

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    8. It's not a matter of sound blaster Vs mt32 but how good was the specific sound programming in that game: eob2 has a fantastic sound design using the opl2 (adlib) synth and same good use of synths are in the Cryo's KGB, or mt32 in the Sierra games, or sometimes developers skipped that and just went on with the speaker as it happened with Xenon2. Not a matter of 1991 or 1992 but of investment and effort

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    9. Underworld 2 almost made it into the same year as Underworld 1 (closely missed Xmas release), and uses mostly digital sound effects. Music is still MIDI iirc, though. But those sword slashes and clangs, those dropped items splish-splashing into water, and that iceskating "ring" really make a difference.

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  17. Yeah, Origin's voice acting was terrible back in the day... Serpent Isle has Richard Garriott providing the voice of Lord British in the opening intro and he's just... Well, he sounds like a Texan, not a fantasy king. :)

    The FM-Towns version of Ultima VI has fully digitized speech for all the in-game dialogue with NPC's, read by the Origin development team. It's actually slightly better because they're not TRYING to do accents, it comes off more like an accessibility voice reader.

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    1. If Lord British is supposed to actually be Richard Garriott travelling from Earth, should he not sound like a Texan?

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    2. Technically, yes! But if you read the background in the Ultima V manual, they establish that Lord British was from the British isles, which is where he derived his given name. No mention of Texas is made. In a weird circular fashion, the first person he met in Sosaria was Shamino, his "counterpart".

      I honestly like and admire Richard a lot, I just wish someone had been around Origin at the time to say "Dude... Someone has to tell you this. You don't SOUND like Lord British, even if you are him."

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    3. Ironically, the story goes that Lord British got his nickname from the fact that to other kids at school (or at some camp, or something, I don't recall), he sounded British :).

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    4. The intro to Serpent Isle still makes me groan with its awful voice acting by....

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    5. I was disappointed to find out Shamino was pronounced SHAM-in-o and not sha-MEE-no (like El Camino).

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    6. ...It was?

      I guess I never played any of the games that had voicing, and I've been assuming it was pronounced sha-MEE-no for thirty years...

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    7. I remember the reaction I had to it very clearly, but I can't for the life of me remember which game it was that actually said it. I'm pretty sure it was Garriot himself saying it, so you can't chalk it up to the talent not knowing how to pronounce it...

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    8. "But if you read the background in the Ultima V manual, they establish that Lord British was from the British isles, which is where he derived his given name. No mention of Texas is made."

      Well, Wikipedia says:
      Richard was born in Cambridge, England, the son of American parents Helen Mary Garriott née Walker and Owen K. Garriott, one of NASA's first scientist-astronauts, who flew on Skylab 3 and Space Shuttle mission STS-9. He was raised in the United States from the age of about two months, in Nassau Bay, Texas.

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    9. Well, yeah, he was born in England, but he definitely doesn't have an English accent, which makes sense since he was only there for the first two months of his life (and his parents were Americans who had only been in England for work, so he wouldn't have picked up an accent from them, either). I wouldn't say he "sounds like a Texan" either, though, if by "sounds like a Texan" you mean he has a southern drawl; he seems to me just to have a general American accent, not perceptibly different from most people here in California -- though maybe that kind of southern drawl isn't common in Austin anyway; Texas is a big state.

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    10. Texan accent ain't a Southern drawl.

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    11. That's what I think of when I hear Texan accent, but I've never been to Texas and was just going by pop culture depictions like King of the Hill. You're no doubt right that that's not what real Texans sound like, but I still don't think there's any sense in which Garriott specifically "sounds like a Texan" -- if I didn't know better, I wouldn't know from his accent that he's not from California.

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  18. If you don't like the voice acting, you can always do the same I did with my friend back in 1992 (we were 14 at the time). The audio files are simple .wav files in one of the subdirectories, we just recorded our own lines with the Sound Blaster card and replaced the game files.

    You can believe we had lots of fun with that.

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    1. That's funny. I mean, I didn't plan on watching the intro more than once, but if it continues to bother me, maybe I'll explore that.

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    2. LOL. My friends and I were in our mid 20's at the time and we did that too :)

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    3. They were .voc files in my 1992 copy, IIRC. As for the speech itself, it was impressive enough for this native Spanish speaker to learn the whole voiced intro by heart, bad accents and all (not that I could tell them from good ones). Even today, I can recite it word by word!

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    4. Yep, you're right. .Voc it was for sure, I just misremembered the format.

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    5. I believe that all games of the era that had speech in the intro, when they were configured for Roland to play both music and effects (no Soundblaster), they displayed text instead of voices in the intro. I think the same happens in UU as well (not entirely sure though).

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  19. Regarding the voices: you can rest easy knowing that all actors, not just Garriott, weren't professionals, but Origin employees: G.P. Austin was a writer/designer, Mary Margaret Ipser (Arial's scream) worked in HR, Brian Martin was a tester/designer/manual writer and the legendary Martin Galway was of course Origin's in-house sound guru.

    I remember thinking at the time that the voice acting was pretty awesome, but I'm certain that that was mostly because of the novelty as well as me (after only a few years of learning English) not realizing how ridiculous the accents were.

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    1. Ms. Ipser did a decent job, anyway. I can't complain about the scream.

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    2. Ah, so that's it. TerokNor explained the one thing I was puzzled about in the description of the introduction. The actors weren't credited as developers on the game, but it certainly wouldn't have been like Origin to hire professional actors at this point. The mystery is resolved when you realise that the actors were Origin employees rather than Blue Sky employees.

      I wonder how the Blue Sky team felt about the voiceovers when they arrived... but of course, back then, just having *any* voiceovers was truly so exciting.

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    3. Martin Galway! Legendary indeed and surprising to see his name crop up in this context.

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  20. I’m so glad you’ve reached this game, it’s One of my favourite games of all time (although I’m bracing myself to be disappointed by the overall score). Most of the criticism you make is valid of course, particularly the piano note footsteps.

    Personally I think it would have been better if it wasn’t an Ultima game at all, it almost seems like they crowbarred in the fact you are on Britannia long after development had started.

    I’ve played the game about 5 times, most recently a couple of months ago and think it still holds up favourably against modern games. I think it’s big strength is the sense of exploration, finding secrets tucked away in the corners of a beautifully well crafted dungeon. Really looking forward to the rest of the postings on the game!

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    1. It is amazing and is one of my favorite games of all time too. I compared it to the Jazz Singer in another post but maybe Star Wars is a better comparison. When Star Wars came out it was a technical marvel as well as great fun. This is the same and was like it came from a new epoch.

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    2. Blacbraun, are you human?

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    3. Since Blacbraun's not pushing penis-enlargement pills or get-rich schemes that his/her aunt is in, I guess Blacbraun's real enough.

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  21. >> "The second issue has to do with tabbing out of the game widow to write notes for my blog entries."

    Have you considered setting up a netbook next to you while you play? A separate computer for things other than the game itself could make certain things easier.

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  22. This is a game that gets a lot of praise but I was never really able to get into it. I liked Wolfenstein 3D and Doom but I just couldn't quite get into this blend. I know this came out before W3D and Doom but the computers my family had were always way behind the times so all my playing was done at friends' houses -- this could be another reason why I didn't do much with this game, although at some point I had a computer good enough to run it and borrowed it from someone.

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    1. A lot of people must have felt that way. Ultima Underworld is one of those games that are better known now, than they were at the time of their release. Originally, it (apparently) made surprisingly little impact, which is why everybody remembers Wolfenstein 3D and Doom as the first major FPP games, instead of this one.

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    2. It certainly had a tremendous impact on me. I was still stuck with my Amiga, and watched enviously my gaming buddy play it on his 486. First time I played it was on my brother's 286. It was slow, and I had to use lower graphics settings, but it was still a glorious experience.

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    3. And those system specs are a really important part of the story, I think. Ultima Underworld did have high requirements, but unlike Doom, it really wasn't a "killer app", the IT-business term for an application or game that's so exciting, it drives hardware sales. People wanted to upgrade their computer for Doom. Upgrading for Ultima Underworld was less probable.

      That said, I did check up a little more, and apparently the game did ultimately sell fairly well (about 500k units), it's just that it took a long time for it to get there, because initial sales were poor and in consequence Origin kinda gave up on marketing it. Ultimately, it spread by word-of-mouth.

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    4. Yes, high system requirements were most definitely the main issue with UU at the time. Yes, you could play it on a 286, but then it looked like crap and frame rates were poor, making the controls even more difficult than they already are.
      Wolfenstein on the other hand was geared towards cheaper PCs. It ran fine on a 286, *and* it was shareware, so everyone and his dog was playing it.
      And I just looked up the original price of UU in Germany: 120DM. That's really, really steep, I'd say easily 100$ in today's money. This also explains why Origin was pretty much forced to make this an Ultima game: it was an established brand with a big following among older players which could afford it.
      The next game I remember that was severely hampered by its system requirements was the first System Shock, which only gathered a cult following years later when PCs became cheaper.

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    5. Origin always kinda pushed the envelope where sysreqs are concerned. Ultima VII required a 486 to run smoothly, and the Wing Commander series practically required a new generation of CPU with every entry.

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  23. I'll always wish Origin had been a bit less ham-handed about trying to force the Avatar into their Ultima properties out of the main story - Savage Empire, Underworld, and Martian Dreams. They had good plots, no need to force it. That and the missed opportunity for Ultima V - Part II using the Ultima V engine once more... Heck, I'd a taken Ultima IV - Part II as well!

    Enjoying the blog greatly as always Chet! Your counterpart at Digital Antiquarian was just blogging about Worlds of Ultima and gave you a shout out, so I've got Ultima on the noggin.

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    1. Forcing the Avatar into everything *is* strange. But I think this is our present-day perspective intruding. We have a very different sensibility about spin-offs, multi-product franchises, and all that jazz, because we've seen so many different approaches taken to connecting different parts of a franchise. I think at the time, at Origin, there would have been a strong conviction that Ultima is primarly about the Avatar - that its core premise is that the player is *you*. They may possibly have been so fixated on this notion that the idea of having a different story with a different hero in the Ultima universe just didn't make sense. At the same time, they did feel strongly that Ultima as a franchise made spin-off games more sellable - hence the jamming of Underworld into the Ultima franchise in the first place.

      We have to try to understand it from their 1992 perspective: not only was it a very different world in terms of information availability and marketing, but also Origin was not exactly a giant. It was a mid-sized company with all the problems of mid-sized companies have: the failure of even one major product would mean layoffs. These are reasons why Origin was trying at this point to concentrate their efforts on fewer franchises (compare to the last years of the 1980s!), so that marketing these products would be made easier.

      When you look at it this way... how else would Origin push Savage Empire or Martian Dreams at that time, without having the big Ultima sign on the covers? Remember, at this time, an additional aspect of marketing Origin would have had to deal with was shelf space. All game stores had limited shelf space and limited money to buy merchandise. A game publisher had to persuade the store not only that this game would sell, but also that it would sell better than other games the store could buy instead. The Ultima brand made sure that Savage Empire, Martian Dreams, and Underworld made it onto the shelves in the first place. Otherwise, many stores would have just said, "naw, thanks, we'll take a few more copies of Ultima VI instead. And do let us know when Ultima VII is ready! "

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    2. Having Ultima VII *in the same shelve* than this game could have been one of the reasons for UU not selling that many copies in its first years

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  24. I very well remember that game, although I could only play it at a rich friend's. It was a great game to show off your gear; it required a 386DX to run smoothly, which at the time would still easily cost you a few thousand bucks (and the game itself was very expensive as well). I guess it still made sense for Origin, as Ultima was played by a more adult audience which could afford the gear. However, even with these hefty system requirements they had to restrict the viewport to maybe 30% of the screen.

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    1. Yeah, UU did a great job with advanced 3D but it required a notoriously high-spec computer for the time, plus the "trick" of having a 1/3 of the screen viewport

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  25. I played this for the first time last year, and thought it held up remarkably well. Obviously, not in terms of graphics or intuitive controls, but there's a certain agelessness to the clever way they designed the dungeon and its puzzles. I thought the atmosphere was great too, in spite of the Looney Tunes tiptoeing noises - something about the unremitting darkness and the threat of the unknown was potent.

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  26. I want you to rescue my daughter, but I will not spare a single sword.

    I'm also playing New Vegas at the moment. I wanted to see how much of the game can be completed on a pacifist run (which unfortunately means no companions). So far I'm level 16 with a long list of finished quests. A couple quests in my log I wont be able to do (kill the fiends) and a couple are waiting on finding some more stealth boys. The game has been strikingly easy, even on very hard difficulty, as you rarely get attacked. I knew you'd be able to get a lot done, but I've been impressed by just how optional violence is. It's a stark change from every other Fallout.

    I ususally play female characters when it's an option, for balance I guess. They often end up looking like Tyra Banks in a pony tail. Blame the movie 'Higher Learning' and my 14 year-old self. Sometimes romance options prevent this - uhh, sorry Anomen I'm not feeling it.

    Soft tofu (soy jello) is gross , but firm tofu is great at soaking up flavours.

    I think I disabled enhanced pointer precision in the mouse options in control panel to get rid of that back and forth after alt-tabbing.

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    1. Both Fallout 1 and 2 can also be finished as pacifists. It's a grat moment when you sneak into a base and the game gives you a huge experience bonus for getting in unnoticed. It feels like a genuine reward.

      The Bethesda Fallout are the outliers.

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    2. My impression is that Fallout 1 is a lot less pacifist-friendly than New Vegas. eg your first two sidequests involve the radscorpion caves. You just can't do them in a pacifist run. Your jaunt to the bottom of vault 15 is a hassle, and you can get boxed in by rats if you're not careful - I just tried it then and was unlucky enough to have a rat occupy the square from which you are supposed to climb the rope back up a shaft.

      Definitely it'll be more practical than doing the same thing in Fallout 4 - but at least as far as non-humanoids are concerned, Fallout encourages the use of lethal force.

      Delete
  27. If the cursor is going crazy after alt-tabbing out of the program, just press tab again, that resets it.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Charisma 8 for New Vegas? Yikes! Max out you speech skill, sure, but a high or low charisma makes very little difference.

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    1. Doesn't each point buff your companions by %5 dmg and health? If you don't like reloading and you lean on your companions in combat then a high char is good.

      Delete
  29. I played this back in the day and none of the lore inconsistencies or retcons felt out of place at all. First you had the super high quality manuals and second, dwarves had appeared in Ultimas I-III, Ambrosia came back in U7, etc. etc. I never had an inkling of a clue that this was not supposed to be an Ultima until I read about the development history of the game years later. Plus, everything about the game was so amazing that you don't even bother to notice all the nit-picky stuff. As for the voice acting? Cheesy acting was typical for video games until pretty recently.

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  30. I've been waiting for this one, reloading your page every hour or so for the last few days...

    TREACHERY AND DOOOOOOOOOM! That intro sequence has achieved legendary status with my friends who have played the game. Yes, it's amateur, but I find it very charming. And if you think the voice acting is bad here, well, the mid-90s are going to provide us with plenty worse.

    I played Ultima Underworld in 1998, and even then it felt special. Not so much on a technical level: I was already well familiar with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, and a raft of other shooters that had come along. But there was a level of immersion in Underworld, an attention to detail, that was above anything else I'd played to that point. I'd still list it in my top 5 games.

    I especially love the opening stages of the game, where you're scrabbling around for gear and trying to find enough food to survive. Where finding a decent pair of boots is a cause for celebration. I spent much of the early going on the verge of starvation. Now that I'm more familiar with the game the food issue is a trivial one, but it was difficult to stay fed at first.

    The issue of plot consistency bugs me a little bit now, but at the time I had only played Ultima 4, so I only had the barest notion of how the games fit together. This game is less about story for me than environment, and exploration.

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    1. I think the ghost was actually saying "WOLFENSTEIN AND DOOOOOOOM" (but I came first!!!)

      Delete
    2. "Wolfenstein and dooooom! My competitor would unleash a great evil! Origin is in peril!"

      Delete
  31. I just remembered that a while ago in Melbourne we had a "Game Masters" exhibition, with a bunch of games set up based around certain influential designers. One of those designers was Warren Spector, among his other work there was a laptop running Ultima Underworld. I probably spent more time at the exhibition playing on that - a game I'd already finished numerous times - than exploring all of the other stuff that was there.

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    1. Warren Spector is the freakin' man, I'm not sure there's a single other game designer whose work I respect more than his. It's sad he hasn't made a return to these simulationist RPGs like this and Deus Ex.

      Delete
  32. As a long-haired, moustachioed tofu-eater, I can't help but feel a little insulted. Luckily, any insult is far outweighed by the usual enjoyment gained from your top-notch writing.

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  33. Regarding your mis-remembering the intro, are you maybe thinking of The Serpent Isle, when you find a book recounting Blackthorn's arrival at the Xenian monastery? Pretty sure that's how it's described (appears out of a red moongate, it's raining, he pounds on the monastery door).

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  34. As one of the (ahem) Old Guard who follows your blog and for those who are new to this game I remember it very well when it came out and was to video games what the Jazz Singer was to movies I suppose. Maybe more so. This was a sea change and I vividly recall my friend just quivering with delight that you could walk down a corridor and slowly descend, then you would slowly ascend. It seems like nothing today but in April 1992 this was out of this world!

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  35. You can fix your mouse issue when you alt tab by just pressing tab once you’re back in the game.

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  36. Another reminescence: After playing this at 12 when it came out, I was so into the game that I learned its entire runes "alphabet" by heart and spent (too) much time writing entire pages in runic, binding them and pretending I was a mage with an old grimoire...

    Around the same time I realized the same runes were used in Tolkien's work: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-v5TAvNRG8ZE/UPGG74ZjuMI/AAAAAAAAOcw/PXUla3mYb1A/s1600/THE-HOBBIT-THORS-MAP.jpg, which added bonus cool points.

    And almost all letters perfectly match, so suddenly I could read Tolkien drawings. I think for years I believed UU borrowed these from Tolkien as a hommage. A google today revealed that actually both of them are loosely based on the Futhark old runic alphabet.

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    Replies
    1. Yet another indication of Tolkien's tremendous influence over fantasy and RPGs :). It's quite plausible that most people who encountered runes in Tolkien and/or in Ultima were aware of the connection between the two, but not aware of the existence of Futhark.

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  37. I never got into Ultima mainly due to the Language Barrier, when I was a wee german lad I just didn´t understand this Alien language called english which I guess is the main reason I drifted toward less text / dialogue heavy games like M&M, DM and others.
    Ok and I´m one of those weird people who don´t play RPGs for the Story but for the numbers aspect :D

    I DO remember buying a walkthrough for UU 1 and just went Unarmed, because I didn´t want my weapon to break mid fight, fist can´t break! (at least in game ...).

    Looking forward to more postings ^_^

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    1. You should have done it like me: learned English from computer games. Ultima and Leisure Suit Larry went a long way...

      Delete
    2. Oh I did learn alot of English playing Everquest :D But during Ultima I was like ... 8? ... no idea anymore.

      Delete
  38. I wish someone would translate this page in German. I DO understand most of it, but it's exhausting.
    But then, playing games in the eighties(and nineties) in English only wasn't always easy, too.
    ...
    *Sigh*
    ...forget what I just said.
    That's just me getting old.

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  39. This is one of the few games you're playing that I've managed to finish before you started blogging it, so I'm looking forward to seeing you go through it. It's already cool seeing the level of detail you're putting into it, I remember your experiences on the first level pretty well. One thing I'm not sure if you noticed, but the rat in that early room is described as "mellow," or something like that, and only becomes aggressive if you take the cheese sitting in the room. The first showcase of some primitive emergent gameplay.

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    1. Yeah, this is another first or near first. Monsters aren't automatically hostile towards you. I was just watching a lets play of Underwold 2 and was greatly amused whenthe player used a dread spider nest as a safe resting place, because the spiders were non-hostile.

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  40. >>The character starts unarmed, unarmored, carrying nothing, in the dark, with the iron door shut and locked behind him.

    The Baron doesn't really want his daughter back, does he 🙄😜

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    1. Maybe the avatar should have come with some equipment then

      Delete
    2. I was presuming that the Avatar was disarmed by the Baron's Guards after they grabbed him and before they brought him before the Baron :)

      Even if he didn't have any gear on him, it *might* have been a good idea for the Baron to equip the Avatar :)

      Delete
    3. I would presume instead, the Avatar was completely unarmed, because s/he is you: so unless you make a point of always having a sword with you around the home, neither does the Avatar :).

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    4. Even moreso you were drawn to Britannia while you were sleeping. So basically you're in your pyjamas when you appear in Britannia. So in that light having no equipment makes sense.

      And I always thought the bag you start next to was supplies given by the Baron. (Why else would it contain a *blank* map?)

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  41. Ah, Ultima Underworld. First played it last year, but I wasn't going to even buy it originally, and the only reason I did so was because I figured if I was going to play all the Ultima games, maybe I should also play the spinoffs. Don't regret it. I did end up cheating a couple of times though, first when I realized about halfway in that you can't increase your main stats after character creation, and the second time when I realized I accidently made my game unwinnable when I was about an hour from the end.

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  42. The cover and the "woodcut" manual illustrations are Denis Loubet's best work.

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  43. One of the best games of all time. Agree that you should leave the music on, as it also has one of the best soundtracks of all time!

    I still remember reading Computer Gaming World back in 1992, where the author tried to explain first-person 3D gaming to an audience that had never seen it before, by comparing it to the view from a Hollywood steadicam. Truly revelatory. And in fact, since CGW is archived online, you can read it too!

    http://www.cgwmuseum.org/galleries/issues/cgw_96.pdf

    As for mouselook, I believe the first game to support it by default was Terminator: Future Shock, a truly excellent and forgotten classic. But not a RPG.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Do you agree that I should leave the music on if it will literally make me hate the game? Because that's what it will do.

      I don't care if it was composed by Beethoven. I don't like to listen to music while I'm playing a game. Under any circumstances. Ever.

      Delete
    2. So what you're saying is that there's a chance?

      Delete
    3. I'd say you should regularly have the music on to the point where you've at least listened to most of the music. You're quite entitled to turn it off once it's looping, but if playing the game "as intended" makes you hate the game, then at some level I feel like, yeah, you just hate the game.

      Delete
    4. I loved Pillars of Eternity but hated its limited rest system, so I got a mod to turn it off. Perfectly legit to do whatever you want to make a single-player game fit your preferences, even if it doesn't perfectly align to the original developer vision.

      That said, the UW1 music is _special_, and not intrusive-- very atmospheric. Of course play how you like, but yer missing out!

      Delete
    5. Clearly, the developers didn't necessarily intend that someone play the game with music because they offered an option to turn it off, as all modern games do, because there are people like me who prefer to play without it.

      If your preference is otherwise, that's fine, but repetedly insisting that I'm "missing out" or "missing the best part" when I've repeatedly expressed my preference is pretty obnoxious.

      Delete
    6. Obviously this is a hot-button issue for you, I assure you I didn't mean to be insulting or obnoxious, just promoting music that I personally love.

      Delete
    7. Music taste is subjective of course, but I don't think you're missing out. The Fat Man is a talented composer but i find the UW tracks are boring and repetitive, invariably I turn it off after an hour or so. As others have pointed out though, it is worth noting that this may be the first CRPG to have dynamic music. (non-CRPG Wing Commander, also by The Fat Man, had dynamic music in 1990)

      Delete
    8. Indeed, I think the music is excellent and atmospheric. But I agree that there could be more tracks. Any music starts to get a bit repetitive when you listen to it for 20 hours.

      But because it is dynamic, it does serve a gameplay purpose as a general 'danger sense'. When it seques into the combat theme you know you are, or are about to be, under attack. That has saved my bacon a few times in situations like Chet's rock throwing Goblin ambush from behind.

      Delete
    9. Faery Tale Adventure had music that changed when it was morning, evening, night, or when monsters attacked. It was actually pretty good, medieval-sounding music. I always knew when it was about to play, though, because the game would load the encounter from disk and I could hear the drive spinning.

      I'm in the "listen to the music until it gets repetitive, then turn it off" school. It's tough though when the music contains information about the game, like when danger is near. In the same class of auditory dungeon information as Dungeon Master's "monster footsteps".

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    10. I'm with Chet on turning music off. It's got to be absolutely cracking music to last more than about 10 minutes. The main problem is that once you have heard the combat music for the 5th time, let alone 50th, it starts to grate regardless of how good it is. The only games I can remember leaving the music on are Gothic 3, that was an impressive soundtrack (and now I've mentioned G3 two posts in a row somehow), and Doom, whose music really seemed to stick with me for some reason.

      Delete
    11. Early mention but I did like how music in Ultima 7 was location and cue based and relatively short pieces just to establish a mood or feeling. Far better than the constant blaring music in Ultima 6.

      Intelligent use of music definitely makes a better game, but you shouldn't need it on unless it's explicitly part of the game like puzzles in Myst.

      Delete
  44. Suit yourself but you are missing out on part of the experience of the game.

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    1. Or for any game for that matter.

      Delete
    2. I'm in favor of leaving the music on in games and generally enjoy it but I've been playing STRAFE lately and found that turning the music off makes it easier to find secrets by their quiet sound cues.
      Which is tough because STRAFE has an amazing score.

      Delete
  45. I know you generally dislike music in games and play without it, but I think it's worth noting that this is one of the first games I can think of where the music adapts in real time to what's going on. It really does feel very natural the way it shifts during combat and exploration; Wing Commander also impressed me in this regard.

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    Replies
    1. Not implying you need to play with it on, but it's interesting trivia.

      Delete
  46. I have decided to replay this again. I played as a mage (I generally prefer mages) back in the day, pre-internet and finished. Though it took me forever to figure out how to get into the level one shrine.


    I replayed about 15 years ago as a fighter but about halfway through a memory overflow kicked in and started deleting my items. Be warned about this. Avoid putting containers inside containers, leaving too much junk on one lever, or activating infinite monsters as their remnants—even just blood streaks—exceed the memory limits per level and corrupt the game. I gave up as the game was unwinnable and somehow the pre-corrupted saves were bad too. Probably I didn’t detect the corruption until all my saves were ruined.

    Anyway, this time I started as a Druid. Am about 2/3 done with dungeon level one. Combat is much harder than I remember, my Druid died a few times. But just reached character level 3. It is holding up okay. I like the sense of exploration and uncertainty on what to do next.


    Thanks Chet for bringing this up!

    Thanks Chet

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    1. I restarted because my character strength was too low and inventory was getting annoying. And now the combat seems really easy. Probably just learning curve.

      The is one aspect where I cheat--if I get really crappy skills at a shrine I reload. Not looking for perfection, just not-awfulness. For example, i got four upgrades of swimming, more than I wanted, but I kept it. But getting an inconsisant mix of weapons skills: no thanks.

      Delete
  47. I personally like the Avatar as a recurring character in the series, and given he's generally shown in artwork and cutscenes as a clean shaven white guy with yellow hair (sometimes short, sometimes long) that's what I tend to go with, if I have a choice of customizing the Avatar.

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    Replies
    1. The avatar is supposed to be the player, it's all a bit tongue in cheek but that's why they called it "the avatar" back in U4.

      Delete
    2. that's why they called it "the avatar" back in U4.

      No, it's not... the word "avatar" didn't become generally used to refer to the representation of a player in a computer game until after Ultima IV came out. (The first recorded usage of that word in that sense listed in the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1986, but I don't think it was really common before the 90s.) So either the Ultima series inspired the general term or, more likely, both uses came independently from the same source: the original meaning of "Avatar" was a manifestation in mortal form of a (Hindu) god.

      Delete
    3. U4 inspired the term, yes, and Garriot had that in mind when he made it. He has said so in multiple interviews.

      Delete
    4. OK, maybe I just misunderstood what you were saying. When you said "that's why they called it 'the avatar'" I thought you meant that Garriott called it the Avatar because of the general use of the word to refer to an in-game representation of a player, which is certainly not the case, since U4 predates that usage. But if you meant he called it "the Avatar" after the Hindu term for the incarnation of a god, then yes; I just didn't realize that's what you were referring to.

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    5. Yes, it is the Hindu term Garriott was inspired by. And to be clear, U4 doesn't exactly predate the usage of the term for computer games: rather, it *established* this usage. U4 is the source of the term for games.

      Delete
    6. Eh... I'm not sure about that. I think Neal Stephenson probably had a lot to do with the popularization of the term. Granted, Stephenson didn't use it till after Ultima, and it's possible he got the term from Ultima, but I don't know if he's much of a gamer, and it's at least as possible he came up with the application of the term on his own. He was certainly well-read enough to know of the Hindu meaning, and it's not such a big leap to apply it to the "incarnation" of a player in a gameworld that two people couldn't have come up with it independently.

      Hm... just did a little Googling, and this page, at least, attributes the term primarily to Stephenson: "Although the term 'avatar' was used in an earlier computer game, Neal Stephenson was the first person to spend a fair amount of time in the metaverse describing them. Certainly, the novel Snow Crash popularized and fixed the term in the computer science lexicon." Wikipedia agrees, but also cites an earlier use for the word in computing that I hadn't known about, Norman Spinrad's 1980 novel Song from the Stars. There was also the 1979 RPG Avatar which didn't explicitly use the term to refer to the player's representation in the game world, but at least shows that the word was known and used in computing from way back. Stephenson, by the way, says that the word avatar in the sense of the representation of a player in the game world was his own invention, and that only after Snow Crash was published did he find out that it had been used that way previously in games (even then, the game he cites isn't Ultima, but a 1986 LucasArts game called Habitat).

      In all, it seems that the transfer of the use of the word for the incarnation of a god to use for the incarnation of a player in a game was a natural enough metaphor that several people came up with it independently, but the biggest factor behind its general adoption wasn't Ultima, but Neal Stephenson. (Which is borne out by the chronology... again, the term didn't really enter common use till the 1990s, after the publication of Snow Crash.)

      Delete
    7. I think it's fair to say it's a natural metaphor, and both Stephenson and Garriot came up with it independently, sure. There's no way to tell which one was _more_ responsible for it entering the general lexicon.

      I did read and enjoy Snow Crash back when it first released but for me personally, Ultima 4 had already established the word's meaning.

      Delete
    8. Well, I'm certainly not going to insist that it must be all thanks to Garriott - who knows how these things go, right?

      However, I will say that in all my years of studying video games (and I have just finished writing a PhD thesis on The Elder Scrolls), I have never encountered any mention of Neal Stephenson's usage popularising the term. It certainly has seemed like the term has radiated outward from RPGs, and especially from the Ultima series.

      That said, it's more than plausible that Garriott, LucasArts, *and* Stephenson all came up with this term independently. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's a natural metaphor, because most people haven't got the slighest idea of Hindu theological terminology - but yeah, it could have happened.

      Of course, it is also possible that this term came from an earlier, entirely different source, which is forgotten precisely because everyone associates it so strongly with the latter usage. It would probably take a lot of digging to figure out if there was conclusively no usage of the term avatar in pre-1986 MUDs, for instance.

      Delete
    9. I don't think there's any use in speculating about an earlier source. If Garriott and Stephenson both claim to have independently adopted the term directly from the Hindu meaning -- and so do the developers of the LucasArts game, it turns out -- I see no reason not to take them at their word. That "most people don't have the slightest idea of Hindu theological terminology" isn't particularly relevant; the word "avatar" had already been adopted into English as early as the nineteenth century in the general meaning of an incarnation or manifestation, and most literate people would have had some awareness of the origins of the word, even if they knew nothing else about Hindu mythology... and of course people like Garriott and Stephenson who had an interest in other cultures and mythologies would be especially likely to be familiar with it. I think it really is a natural metaphor that it's not at all surprising several people came up with independently.

      I find it odd that you say you've never encountered any mention of Stephenson's having popularized the term, because there are pages all over the web (as well as books) claiming just that; that Stephenson popularized the term seems to be the general consensus. That doesn't mean it's impossible that the consensus is wrong, of course, but I'm inclined to believe that Stephenson really was the main influence behind the spread of the word, for several reasons. (I disagree that it seems "like the term has radiated outward from RPGs"; the term was applied first specifically to virtual reality representations, and only later spread to more general usage for non-VR games.)

      I'm a big Ultima fan; my username comes from the name of my Ultima Online character. (And I'm not a big Stephenson fan; in fact, I don't think I've read of Stephenson's books aside from Snow Crash -- and that I read, as it happens, as an assignment in a video game design class in college.) But this is one thing I don't think Ultima can reasonably be credited with.

      I've already spent way more time arguing about this than the matter merits, though, so... I should probably shut up now. Sorry.

      Delete
    10. It certainly is a rather esoterical topic, I'll grant you that :). But it's always interesting to explore the roots of such things, and especially so for a term like "avatar", which has been so central to digital RPGs for such a long time now.

      I don't have anything to specifically disagree with in what you said, but I do want to add a few commments of scepticism, which I hope you won't interpret as me just trying to have the last word ;).

      1. I would be very careful taking stories from Garriott or Stephenson at face value, just as I would be for the LucasArts developers. People aren't just subject to forgetting stuff, they're also subject to auto-suggestion overwriting their memories. It is far from unusual for a developer to tell a different story about a past project at multiple points in their life, and in each case to be convinced he's telling the truth. That's the case even for big things, it's even more so the case for small things. In this case, the question is "when did X first hear the term 'avatar'"?", and the problem is that X may have heard it five times before, and then on the sixth time it made a different kind of impression: but when he talks about this later on, he'll only remember that sixth time. So, these guys could all be saying the truth, but they might also have forgotten something.

      2. My non-encountering of Stephenson's novel may be related to the fact that I've been studying games specifically, and have done very little on broader virtual reality issues. But the thing is, this is also an inherently unreliable claim. All we have is a bunch of different encyclopaedia-like listings that say the term was popularised by Stephenson: how do we know this is the case? It's something that might have easily been a post-hoc interpretation: the term "avatar" would have naturally become more prominent in the mid-1990s, and Stephenson's book was 1992, so therefore it must have driven this. But that's a big assumption, and so far, I've seen no conclusive evidence to this, all I see is untested assumptions.

      So, that's my two cents of scepticism :). Doesn't mean your argument is wrong, and I certainly have no "it actually happened like this" counter-argument, but I would still be careful in treating this as a closed matter. There is too much we don't know - which is another reason we should probably shut up now ;).

      Delete
    11. Hello, long time lurker here. I think it is worth noting here that in 1990 D&D published a core rules supplement book called 'Legend and Lore' which defined their version of an Avatar (as it related to the in game gods defined within the book). This was my first encouner of the word, and to my mind would have made great strides towards making the term more mainstream to the D&D fanboys.

      Delete
    12. AD&D's Deities and Demigods (1980) gave rules for Indian gods that incorporated the concept of avatars. But despite owning that book, I hadn't read it cover to cover, thus my first understanding of the term came from one of the most well-known works among the Forgotten Realms novels - The Avatar Trilogy, published in 1989, which deals with the time of troubles (when gods walked Faurun and which provides the backdrop for the Baldur's Gate series of games).

      Delete
    13. Sure, but neither of those sources pertain to avatars being the embodiment of a _player_ in a game or shared virtual experience. Snow Crash and U4 did. And while Snow Crash did mention the term, it's in U4's actual _name_.

      Delete
    14. But the U4 player character isn't "the Avatar" when the game starts, even though they are the player's "avatar". They gain "Avatarhood" and become the Avatar of the Virtues. Garriott seems to have understood the term as meaning something like "paragon" or "bodhisattva":

      > The other was in seeing a television show that “talked about the concept of an Avatar in many Eastern Religions” which “set the game design wheels in motion”. He would clarify this in Addams’ book by saying that it was a documentary on the Dead Sea Scrolls and that it explored the view of Hindus viewing Christ as an avatar figure — someone who had purified themselves to the ultimate level. (Source)

      Unfortunately I can't find the original source (Shay Addams' The Official Book of Ultima), but Wikipedia has a similar paraphrase of that interview.

      Delete
    15. The discourse on this blog is so wholesome. We just wanna have esoteric arguments about crpg terminology, d&d minutiae and video game gambling strategies.

      Delete
    16. I'd like to be the NSA guy who's assigned to reportn on this blog. :-D

      Delete
  48. One question/suggestion about the games you won't cover but used to be in your list: will you add them to the list of games you looked at, for example in this case add the game Bob's Dragon Hunt into the list and link to this post, so people who'd like to find out something about that game can do so (why you don't think it's an RPG and a short description).

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  49. I've tried to play Ultima Underworld at least three times over the years, the earliest still being relatively recent (2000s) and I've never been able to get past the interface to enjoy it. At least two of those three attempts have ended with me just replaying one of the Eye of the Beholder games instead...

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    1. That's like leaving a gourmet restaurant because you didn't know which fork to use, and eat at McDonald's instead.

      Delete
    2. I agree the original UI is extremely rough. Unfortunately unlike System Shock there is no mouselook mod available.

      However, there's a project to port Underworld to Unity which is very far along and they say it's fully playable start to finish. This supports mouselook and somewhat improved graphics.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DZj3eWP9cw

      https://github.com/hankmorgan/UnderworldExporter/releases

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    3. I played with that Unity wrapper the other day. It does a wonderful job of changing the UI and controls from 'intolerable' to 'bloody hindering awkward'.

      Delete
    4. I’d like to point out that the McDonalds people have gotten very very rich by providing consistent, moderate food experiences. The most highly recommended restaurant in the city might have an off night, or may serve food that doesn’t appeal to you. But a Quarter Pounder is always a Quarter Pounder. (Unless it’s a Royale with Cheese.)

      Delete
  50. Chet, if you want better sound, use MUNT with Dosbox(MT-32 emulator) and make sure you install the CM-32L Roms. Once you do this, the game has sound effects that were built into the CM-32L such a footsteps, water splashing and doors opening, plus the music sounds wonderful.

    Or you can hook up a real CM-32L but... they're very expensive--about three times as much as a MT-32 on ebay, if you can find one.

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  51. I noticed something about the interface that I wanted to ask about. There's a red potion and a blue potion to represents your remaining health and magic. Games like Diablo and Torchlight take a very similar approach. Is Ultima Underworld the first game to introduce this mechanic?

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    1. I believe Moria was the very first game to say mana potions were colored blue, but it was text-based. Legend of Zelda had little blue mana potions, but they weren't a meter. I do believe UW1 was the first game to have red and blue flasks that emptied as you took damage and cast spells.

      Delete
    2. Potions specifically, yes. Plenty of other games have used abstractions, usually in the form of bars or columns, to depict health and spell points. Might and Magic III had colored gems beneath the character portrait. Dungeons of Daggorath did it by the speed of the heartrate. I could swear there was one game that did it with a candle, but I can't figure it out.

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    3. Didn't Times of Lore use a candle as its health bar?

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  52. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  53. I played and loved this recently. I did want to warn you about a bug I came across. At one point I couldn't find a quest item I'd picked up, and realised that one of my sacks had had its contents replaced by the contents of another sack. There were a bunch of related issues that got worse as I tried to fix the problem, including items getting duplicated into different slots (so I was "wearing" a sword), random inventory items appearing (one had an icon of the letters "SPEL" which caused an earthquake when used) and eventually an unavoidable crash when trying to save or go through level transitions. I eventually tracked it back to a very specific spot - carrying a particular sceptre through a particular stairway. Luckily I had a single save game before that point and discarding the sceptre solved the problem.
    Reading CGW it sounds like this happened quite often in earlier versions of the game and I assume it's been mostly patched away, but since I still came across it, it may be worth keeping a few "hard saves" in another directory and keeping a weather eye on your inventory.

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    1. I mentioned this bug. It is caused by exceeding the allowed number of items on one dungeon level. It has not been fixed in UU1.

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    2. Ah, sorry about that. I searched for "bug" but hadn't read through all the comments yet. The symptoms make sense for a "too many items" overflow but it seems like I triggered it in a strange way. I only had one "clean" save and retraced my steps from there to find the stairway where the bug was occurring. After trying a few things I found I could drop everything and use the stairway with no ill effects. Then I picked up combinations of items until I narrowed down one that appeared to be causing the issue.

      It could be that picking up items in that area caused the issue on the level I was traveling to, as it was a "dead-end" spot with a single staircase out. However I don't remember dropping lots of items or using containers in containers - and dropping other items beside the sceptre still resulted in the same issue. If it's the same bug it seems like it's not easy to avoid.

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    3. The bug can be triggered by killing the few re-spawning monsters. The leave bloodstains which are treated like objects. It is hard to avoid. But this can be done. Leave all unneeded items on a previous level, don’t be a pack rat. And don’t grind where monsters respawn.

      The worst part is that the bug can be triggered before it manifests problems and thus corrupt all the saves before it is known.

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  54. You know voice acting is bad when someone hears it and says "you know, mimes aren't so bad."

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    1. I wonder what Lord Vetinari would have done to the voice actors then...

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