Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Ultima Underworld: Om Cah Vincit Omnia

I don't know if this is the first game to show toilets, but it is the first to depict them in a 3D engine.
           
Origin, I have long accepted your retcons of geography, history, and zoology from title to title, but could you at least not screw up the mantras? The one thing that has remained consistent for the past three games? I mean, you may or may not need a rune to chant them, and you may need to chant them one time or three times, but at least we all know what they are, right?

While exploring Level 1 of the Underworld, you come upon a room shaped like an ankh. And if that isn't enough to drive it home, in the middle of the room is a standing ankh. What you do, after you've gained a level or two, is speak to the ankh and chant a mantra, and the ankh will bestow upon you an increase to one or more of your skills based on the mantra.

Now, individual skills have their own mantras. I don't know what they are yet, because I haven't found them, but they exist. But you can increase several random skills within a class (magic, stealth, or combat) by chanting the mantras associated with truth, love, and courage, which plaques in the ankh room give, respectively, as MU AHM, OM CAH, and SUMM RA.
          
Using the mantras to improve skills.
        
How is SUMM RA the mantra of courage? Those are the mantras of honor and valor smashed together. Now, I admit there is some confusion on the subject of the mantra of courage. "Courage" isn't a virtue but rather a principle of virtue, and it's never explicitly assigned a mantra in previous games. It's likely that it has one, however, because all the gargoyle principles of virtue have them (UN, OR, US). Courage is, of course, assigned a syllable: COR, part of the three-part VERAMOCOR. If anything ought to be the mantra, that probably ought to be it. If not, I would accept something from The Book of Lost Mantras. There are at least four in there that aren't a virtue mantra, a gargoyle mantra, or something stupid like BANG or MEOW. BEM, maybe. Or NID, PEY, LIS, or MHO? No matter what, if you were going to create a "mantra of courage" by cramming together the mantras of the individual virtues, you need them all. It ought to have been SUMM CAH RA OM. Truth ought to be AHM BEH SUMM OM. How did "love" end up as the only one with the mantra of spirituality (OM) and somehow not get compassion (MU), which derives only from love? This was amateur hour, Origin. Did you not have any Venn diagrams left over from Ultima IV?

Aside from that, no complaints on the first level. It was a nice mix of combat, treasure upgrades, and NPCs, and overall an easy way to introduce the player to the game's conventions.

One of those conventions, and perhaps the one least familiar to players who grew up on the previous 10 years of RPGs, is the use of 3D space. The level is full of slopes, staircases, bridges, and drop-offs, essentially creating three "stories" within the single level, so you're constantly moving up and down. A river with several branches threads through the level's base, and some locations are accessible only by swimming, which is perilous because you take regular damage (I think it depends on the "Swimming" skill) and you can't fight while in water.
         
Trying to swim after falling off a platform.
       
On the plus side, except for a couple of bridges, spaces rarely overlap. This makes the automap easy to read; I thought I had remembered that it was an unholy mess, and I'm glad I was wrong. The automap is also extremely useful to identify locations with secret doors. You can see their outlines in a well-lit room, and when you click on the wall with the eye icon, it quite frankly tells you "secret door," but you still might miss a few if you don't look for obvious blank spaces in the map.
           
The map half filled-in. I can tell I'm missing a secret area in the southwest.
         
The jumping puzzles started sooner than I expected. I had forgotten how important jumping is to the game. In the southeast section of the level are two areas that you can only reach by jumping across platforms. One has the ankh cross that lets you level up, so it's pretty vital. It takes a little while to master the jumping mechanics. Jumping after running (with the "W" key) sends you farther than jumping after walking (with the "S" key), but either way you end up sailing farther than would seem humanly possible. You also bounce off any wall you hit on the other side, which can be inconvenient when trying to land on a particular platform. I spent a lot of time in the drink before I got comfortable with the controls.
           
Aim is everything.
          
It turns out that three non-hostile factions live on the first level: gray goblins, green goblins, and human exiles. Each of their areas was marked with ankh banners. Each had at least one NPC who imparted a bit of lore, and each had at least two willing to trade. I thought that I remembered that they were barely civilized, prone to turning hostile at the slightest bump, but it turned out they were authentically friendly.

The outcast humans were led by a guy named Bragit. The impression was that they'd all been cast into the Abyss by Baron Almric for various crimes. Bragit told me that Almric's soldiers had recently invaded the Abyss (presumably chasing Arial) but were defeated by the goblins. 
            
Bragit gives me some advice.
         
Bragit himself had recently been imprisoned by the gray goblins but managed to escape by pressing the cage release button with a pole. When I later visited the goblins, I found the cage, the pole, and a note that Bragit had left behind.
           
The scene as Bragit described it.
         
Most of the other outcasts had no names, but they offered some information about the Abyss and its inhabitants. They confirmed that a troll had recently been seen carrying a young woman through the level.

The gray and green goblins hate each other--the feud apparently predates their colonization of the Abyss--but I never saw them in combat with each other. The gray goblins' chief, Ketchaval, warned me of a giant spider named "Navrey Night-eyes," who I think I defeated. I didn't get an option to tell him that, though. He also said that Cabirus (the guy who founded the settlement) was a "fool" who killed himself when he realized his dream had failed.

Another gray goblin named Jaacar warned me not to wade around in the privies because one of them had a long drop, presumably to a lower level. Finally, the area had a locked door that said "Keep Out!" I did so in the interests of role-playing, but part of me worries there was something important behind there.
          
I wasn't planning to go splashing around a goblin's outhouse anyway, but it's nice to know there's a shortcut if I need it.
       
The green goblin chief was named Vernix. His bodyguard, Lanugo, warned me that I should bow and scrape when I spoke to him. Lanugo also gave me his personal recipe for rotworm stew.
         
And yet it still sounds better than Manhattan Clam Chowder.
         
Vernix had the most dialogue of all the NPCs once I stopped asking him things directly and started saying complimentary stuff about his clothes and decorations. He mentioned good relations with the mountain-folk and seers below (which makes sense as the way down is through his territory), and he warned me that while the lizardmen understand "the common tongue," they can't speak it. "Sseth" and "click" mean "yes" and "no," but he doesn't know which is which. He was also kinder in his remembrances of Cabirus, calling him "a born leader" who "had all of us working together so well." But while he'd heard of the eight talismans, he didn't know anything about them. 
         
As much as I want to know the information in options 2-4, I need to ask #1 to get him to keep talking.
        
Both goblin tribes had a few members willing to trade. Trading in the game is fairly straightforward: you highlight the items you want in the other character's inventory, highlight the ones you're willing to trade in your inventory, then make the offer. I mostly used it to get gold for some on of my surplus.
             
Offering gold for a shield.
          
Enemies on the level included rogue versions of the gray and green goblins, slimes, rotworms, bats, giant spiders, a skeleton, and a beast in the water called a "lurker" that I was unable to kill because it's hard to fight someone in the water.
            
Soon.
        
A couple of the bats got away because they can fly, and I lost track of one goblin when I knocked him off a bridge into the river. Overall, the combats were simple enough.
        
In other news that I don't want to talk about just yet, I downloaded Kingdom Come: Deliverance over the weekend and was amused at how similar the combat is to this 26-year-old game.
       
Special encounters and puzzles included:

  • A silver sapling growing out of the ground. A sign nearby encouraged me to plant its seed, and indeed when I messed with the sapling, it turned into a silver seed (anticipating the subtitle to the add-on to Ultima VII Part 2). I haven't figured out where to plant it yet.
  • The aforementioned ankh room. 
  • A room with four levers. I haven't solved this puzzle yet.
            
I didn't see any hints to help me with this puzzle, and I didn't feel like fiddling with it randomly.
         
  • A healing fountain behind a secret door.
           
A well-placed fountain of healing.
       
  • The first time I slept, I got a vision of the same guy who came to my dreams shouting "treachery and doom!" This time, he spoke of the importance of visiting the civilized races.
           
Mysteriously, all the important words are elided.
        
  • At the top of a long jumping puzzle, the gravestone of a man named Korianous, "the Master Builder," who labored to re-design the Abyss under Cabirus's direction.
        
Wouldn't this game had been better if instead of "Cabirus" and "Korianous," they'd drawn from NPCs actually in previous Ultimas?
       
  • An orb that showed me a vision of "bizarre creatures [floating] in space" and "a green path, flanked by a black void on either side." The vision concludes: "Somehow you know the path leads to Britannia."
  • Several jumping puzzles where I had to trust my automap and leap into the darkness, assuming there was something to land on on the other side.
             
I rose to Level 5 during the level and used my "meditation slots" to improve abilities of all three principles, particularly concentrating on mana. I had failed to note during the first entry, because I had nothing to cast yet, that I started with only 2 mana points. This wasn't enough to cast anything. Only once I had meditated for more mana could I start to cast spells, including "Light" (In Lor), which was vital because I ran out of torches and spent about an hour exploring with no light source. I have this vague recollection that there's a way to make more torches with sticks, and I've been carrying around two sticks for that purpose, but I don't remember how. Funny how this plagues me two games in a row. Anyway, I'm not sure I'll use any more torches because the "Light" spell does a much better job. 
           
The detritus after a battle with a skeleton.
          
As I end the level, I can't spare the weight for another inventory item. This is partly because I'd been carrying around a lot of junk hoping to sell it, but the individuals who would trade didn't have that much money, or indeed any items I wanted to trade for. I'm wearing a full suit of leather armor: cap, gloves, vest, boots, and leggings. I'm wielding an axe, which has become my weapon specialty and will likely remain so unless I find a magic something-else first. I have 29 gold pieces and a wooden shield. Among six containers, I have 2 loaves of bread, an apple, 3 day-old pieces of meat, 2 edible plants, 2 sticks, 2 ears of corn, a bottle of water, 2 badly worn shortswords, a hand axe, a cudgel, 7 sling stones (I sold the slings), a serviceable leather vest, a leather helmet, a buckler, badly worn leggings, 2 bottles of oil, a bone, a skull, 3 spools of strong thread (recovered from a giant spider's lair), 2 keys, a lock pick, 3 spikes (for keeping doors closed?), 5 candles, 2 rubies, a couple pieces of paper, a "resilient sphere," a bottle of ale, a bedroll, 2 clusters of leeches, a pole, and an "unblemished scepter." And I still left plenty on the dungeon floor.

I think this is the first time I've encountered spikes or a 10-foot pole in a CRPG, as much as they're staples of tabletop RPGs.

I'm headed down to Level 2, but I'm a bit concerned about the lever puzzle I'm leaving behind and also the fact that I didn't find any of the eight talismans. Fortunately, I can always return.
          
The next level beckons.
         
One persistent problem I'm having is the mysterious loss of hit points for no reason. I'll drink at the fountain and get restored to 50/50, then walk for about two minutes, and suddenly I only have 46/50. I don't know if I'm losing small numbers by walking into walls or something.
      
Other than that and the mantras, it's been a great game so far--much faster-paced than I remember, with much smoother and easier movement. It probably doesn't help that my primary memories are playing on a Mac with SoftPC running, having to do all "right-clicking" with a keyboard workaround because the Mac only had one mouse button.

I still don't love combat, but I can hardly complain since I've won all of my battles and the only deaths I've suffered have been from jumping, falling, and drowning. I assume that will change by the time I encounter golems and gazers.

Time so far: 5 hours

102 comments:

  1. My quick contribution to RPG toilet history... Wasteland had toilets in the Quartz bar. A full four years before Ultima Underworld! Though not in 3D.

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    1. Not an RPG, but Jet Set Willy (Spectrum, 1985) featured a toilet prominently. Indeed, it was part of the win animation...

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    2. And of course on the adventure game side, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards had significant puzzles centered around a disgusting clogged toilet.

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    4. Space Quest II had a rancid bathroom that would blow up if you used the lighter.

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    5. The Colony (Mac game from 1988) had a 3D toilet. You could even flush it! https://i.imgur.com/ueb5RrN.png

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    6. Duke Nukem 3D had the first toilet you can smash and drink from.

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    7. Undoubtedly, this is the single longest and most in-depth discussion of video game toilets I have ever witnessed. Keep it up! :)

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    8. I was also forgetting Elvira II.

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    9. There's a

      https://videogametoiletmuseum.tumblr.com/

      but it looks rather incomplete. It does feature the time travelling toilet from Maniac Mansion II though.

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    10. Plus who could forget the groundbreaking Spectrum game, Diarrhea Dan.

      http://www.nordinho.net/vbull/attachments/other-cool-games/23944d1169510780-diarrhea-dan-dan.jpg

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    11. Castle Master (1990) also had toilets in 3D, it actually had separate toilets for men and women - in a medieval castle.

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    12. Hang on, someone completed Jet Set Willy? I cannot believe such a thing!

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    13. Ultima: Quest of the Avatar for the NES, a port developed by Japanese company FCI, prominently featured western toilets on the second floor of every inn for inexplicable reasons.

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    14. (Hopefully it's fine to hotlink this)

      http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-7Z5gnUgLMJg/U7I-1mg3JII/AAAAAAAA03M/-ZgDfczNj8I/s1600/Ultima+-+Quest+of+the+Avatar_024.jpg

      It even has toilet paper|

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  2. You do indeed lose HP for hitting walls fast enough, usually while jumping, though.

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  3. 2 bits of advise: gold has weight, so don't get too greedy, and whereever you plant the seed becomes your respawn point. I think the manual says that in the tutorial part. You can take the seed back and move it around though, so don't try to find the perfect respawn point.

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    1. IIRC though respawning drains your XP, and since the amount of XP is generally fixed I normally just reload my game whenever I die.

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    2. You can plant the seed anywhere with bare earth. And you can pick the seed up later (the newly grown silver tree will disintegrate when touched just like the old one), to reset your "respawn point".

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  4. Here is a link to the manual of Nippon for the C64. It's from an extensive website dedicated to the game. Alas, all the info is German only...
    http://www.nippon-museum.de/texte/handbuch

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  5. If the addict puts this in an Etherpad or Google Doc, I'm sure me and some other Germans around here could crowdwork an acceptable translation.

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  6. Sorry about the confusion. That last paragraph was obsolete (I wrote this entry 5 days ag)--readers already pointed me to the Nippon manual, and I did get in touch with the creator of Ranadinn--so I just deleted it.

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  7. I don't think I ever ran into anything too challenging to fight in this game. I remember hoarding as much resources like food and torches as possible, dropping anything by the exit stairs that I couldn't carry but might need later, but that was never an issue either.

    I found it refreshing that the real challenge came from the puzzle-solving, especially where the artifacts are concerned. Having an abundance of items and those useful healing fountains would've been a lot more appreciated if it took twice as long to solve those enigmas. I loved the puzzles in Dungeon Master too (and in successors like Legend of Grimrock 2), and UU scratched that itch and then some.

    There are definitely some challenging platforming/movement puzzles coming up too... hopefully you'll have a firm grasp of the running/jumping by then.

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    1. If I remember correctly, the lever puzzle connects to the jumping puzzle you already solved, that led you to the master builder's grave. The levers would set the height of the platforms you can use to reach the grave, so solving the lever puzzle makes the jumping easier.

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  8. Your point about spaces not overlapping too much... personally, I really love 3D level design that makes use of its three dimensions and has rooms above rooms, and so on. As for why Ultima Underworld doesn't have many spaces overlapping, I'd wager it's because that wasn't yet possible with their engine (or would have been very hard to do).

    I've had a discussion with some pals recently about which was the first game with full 3D architecture, as in, where the architecture had overlapping planes, rooms above rooms, etc. Even Doom and the Build Engine games (Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Shadow Warrior) didn't have the capability for designing true 3D spaces. You couldn't place a walkable space above another walkable space - you'd assign a certain height level for an area, and that would be it. As far as I know, Quake was the first game to allow for completely free-form 3D level architecture.

    This makes Ultima Underworld even more fascinating. Doom's engine didn't even allow for bridges, and yet UU has bridges below which you can pass through! It did something which wouldn't become a thing in first person games until 1996!

    For a 1992 release, Ultima Underworld is truly impressive.

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    1. I certainly don't dislike games that have overlapping rooms: i just think it makes it a lot harder to map or automap. Indoor automaps in the last three Fallout games, for instance, might as well not exist.

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    2. And then there's Daggerfall, the monkey paw of three dimensional dungeon design.

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    3. Oh god, Daggerfall's dungeons, why did you have to remind me!

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    4. To my knowledge, the first game to allow for completely free-form 3D level architecture is the 1995 action game DESCENT.

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    5. There were other 3D engines before Descent that supported "rooms over rooms", like for instance the Freescape engine (used in "Castle Master" and others), or the STEAM engine developed by Raven (used for "Cyclones"). It is true that these engines had various restrictions, but so had Descent's portal rendering algorithm. Also, "Star Wars: Dark Forces" was released at the same time as Descent, which if I remember correctly also allowed true 3D levels.

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    6. Oh, and by the way, the Doom engine can do bridges, but it involves some trickery using invisible platforms or similar. I also think Duke Nukem had bridges but using sprites. UU probably uses similar trickery, but it was "only" 2.5D, just like Wolfenstein or Doom (which doesn't make it any less impressive).

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    7. I don't think there's any trickery used in UU to model overlapping maps. Having a complete 3D world model was *one* of the reasons that rendering was way slower compared to other games of the time (Wolf3D)

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    8. Descent into Undermountain and Birthright nauseatingly had those too.

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    9. Shankao, I'm afraid this is not the case. The UU engine is tilemap based, just like pretty much every other "2.5D" engine at the time. I've just looked into the UU file format, which fortunately is very well documented (http://bootstrike.com/Ultima/Online/uwformat.php). The base is a 64x64 tilemap with a fixed ceiling height. Bridges are realized as additional 3D objects.
      "True" 3D levels like in Quake were simply not feasible with the tech of '92. UU was so slow because it supported more features than the Wolfenstein engine (like sloped/diagonal elements and better lighting/textures), and because Origin didn't have John Carmack working for them.

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    10. Duke Nukem 3D could have overlapping maps but did it via trickery. I don't know the technical aspects of it, but its version of 2.5D allowed bridges, rooms that were larger inside than they were outside, and several other types of unique trickery.

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    11. DM3D, I believe, could have max. 2 rooms overlapping, but you could not see the other room from the other. Bridges were not floors in the same sense as other floors, but sprites, I think.

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    12. Just because the map format is simplified doesn't mean it isn't rendered in a full 3D engine. I don't know for sure whether it is or it isn't, but the map data representation doesn't prove it one way or the other...

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    13. I don't think Dark Forces allowed true room-over-room. It was basically a DOOM-level engine that also supported limited polygon rendering that could be used to make bridges. I don't think it even supported the sloped surfaces that the later Build/Duke3D engine was famous for.

      It also had some advanced particle rendering abilities, which could be seen via a rotating Death Star hologram in the first level.

      I should also point out that Bethesda beat iD's Quake to the punch on full polygonal 3D and mouselook with Terminator Future Shock.

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  9. You don't have to worry for the "lever puzzle" you left behind. You have already solved it, the levers changed the height of the platforms in the room next to them so you could reach Korianous grave easily.
    Anyway, as a general advice, don't worry too much about leaving something behind, often what you need on a level is on different levels and before the end you'll have to backtrack a lot.

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    1. I second that, expect to go up and down a LOT, puzzles on level 2 resolve on level 5, some puzzles on level 8 have a solution on level 3 and so forth.

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  10. You've touched upon two of my gripes in the game. Firstly the carry weight issue is way way to low, it feels like the whole game you are leaving good stuff behind or creating "stashes" on each level. Secondly is the jumping puzzles, which get really rather annoying in several places.

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    1. I think the low carry weight is crucial for making it feel like you're really trapped in a dark dungeon with few resources. It wouldn't do the games intended atmosphere any favors if you were able to carry 3 backup suits of armor just in case yours broke.

      The jumping puzzles I can't really disagree with though. The jumping mechanics are pretty damn wonky. Mercifully though levitation does exist.

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    2. I second this. The inventory management is a key part of the gane, but feels plausible. I can only carry so much junk, just like real life.

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    3. I play games to escape real life, and yes while it might not be realistic to carry 25 freshly caught fish while wearing plate armour it makes for annoying logistics more than anything IMO.

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    4. The automap note-taking system made this much more pleasant than in some other games. I could leave stashes almost arbitrarily around the dungeon and just write a note "Stash here!"

      Obviously I don't want to leave them just _anywhere_, but if I was forced to leave something awesome behind due to weight I could at least annotate its location.

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    5. The inventory management is definitely an intrinsic part of this game. Underworld is an attempt to simulate an environment as realistically as could be done in 1992, and that extends to everything that affects the Avatar's survival. Light, food, weariness, and yes, encumbrance. It's annoying, but it's part of the challenge.

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    6. Jumping around is fun! Also, for careful jumps, shift-J does a good job.

      Ultima Underworld 2 had the "Bounce" spell for even more fun! I seem to remember there were Boots of Bouncing somewhere in that game...

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  11. It's funny how many games with their own distinct mythologies still use crosses as grave markers.

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    1. While i get what you mean you also have to consider that crosses where used by people around the world as grave markers even before being aware of the christian iconography. For example the first christian priest in Ireland were very happy to discover that there the cross was already an holy simbol (even if inscribed in a circle and representing something different) and it helped them a lot in spreading the word of Christ.

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    2. This is true, Ronconauta - but it doesn't explain the use of crosses in a fantasy universe, particularly one which already has a very strongly established symbol that could be used in that capacity.

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    3. FWIW they have crosses in earlier Ultima. https://lparchive.org/Ultima-4-5-and-6/Update%2032/U5_12_09.png

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    4. A lot of the characters in Ultima are from Earth, so it makes more sense here than in a lot of other games.

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    5. It's also a symbol that most of your players are going to be immediately familiar with. They could have used other grave markers from other cultures but, you know, before the internet and wikipedia and Google blah blah blah.

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  12. That control scheme seems horribly convoluted by modern standards of 3-D movement, but then again I cannot think of a single 3-D RPG that pulls off the balance between complexity and intuition in an entirely satisfactory (to me) manner.

    I am not very fond of "hack-n-slash" where you are really playing an action-type "brawler" game with increasing hitpoints and damage output as you level (I also dislike the entirely unrealistic FPS-style fights this tends to produce, with lots of running backwards while swinging etc).

    On the other hand, I think the opposite approach, where everything is determined by numbers behind the scenes and what you see is just a visualization of the results of these calculations, feels terribly unimmersive in a fully 3-D game.

    However, any attempt at compromise between these extremes that I can think of has either produced some decidely odd results with respect to immersion and internal logic (think arrows harmlessly passing through enemies in Morrowind because you failed your roll) or ended up with a terrible control scheme (think Gothic).

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  13. "...automap easy to read; I thought I had remembered that it was an unholy mess..." - wait till you get to World of Aden: Thunderscape - that's where the hell is. Its' automap made me ragequit playing sessions more then couple of times.

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    1. Ahh, Thunderscape. That game totally hooked me between the box art, opening cinematic, awesome music, and detailed character creation.

      And then at some point it's like the development team just completely gave up and it turns into a slog.

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    2. Yeah, the opening area was quite decent but then the game quickly boils down to travesing HUGE mazes of claustrophobic brown corridors and beating armies of similar enemies, which are also brown. To think of it, almost everything in this game is some shade of brown or greenish-brown. On later stages it has some graphical variety, and the dungeon layout becomes readable with their crippled automap but who would torture himself with that game long enough to see it? Well, me, of course.

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    3. But, seriously, I haven't seen such broken an useless map in any game before or after.

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    4. Thuderscape is so interesting and new for the first few hours but then it reaches a point where you can't memorize the maps any more and everything looks the same and the automap doesn't help ... that's when I stopped.
      But I'm looking forward to relive it here in the blog.

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  14. You do have the items required to make a torch. You should also try making popcorn! A rot13 hint that may save some annoyance later: xrrc abgr bs jurer lbh yrnir gubfr fgebat guernq vs lbh qebc gurz, lbh jvyy arrq gurz yngre.

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  15. Lovely beginning to this one, Chet. You made me laugh.

    I've never played UU and know it only by reputation. I'm not sure I'd be able to persist with the wonky controls, but it does seem like a game I'd have very much wanted to play had I known about it at the time. I didn't really get into CRPGs until the late 90s though - Fallout 2, Baldur's Gate - and the first Ultima I played was 8. The less said about that the better, quite frankly.

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    1. I'm sure everyone took the opening as a joke, but the more I think about it, the more it authentically pisses me off.

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    2. I was really hoping the post just ended after your rant about the mantras. Wonderful absurdist humour.

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    3. The beginning of the article had me chanting the mantra LOL for humor but why they chose those particular combos are confusing, to which I would use the mantra: WTF

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    4. Odd, I didn't take it as a joke. But hey, there's nothing quite like four years of academic research on an RPG series to remind you how seriously people take game canon. In fact, one of the things that really struck me in my research is that the more I looked into TES lore (with all its flaws and weaknesses), the more I became aware of the weakness, poverty, and haphazardness of Ultima lore.

      Ultima was a really powerful example of early world-building efforts in games. Apart from Martian Dreams, my first encounter with the series was Ultima 6, and I certainly remember being awestruck by the world's depth - a history, a geography, creatures and monsters naturally integrated with the world, books with text in them, NPC cycles, NPC dialogues, the list goes on and on. But if you look back now on the series, it's striking how even the last games in the series have that generic and haphazard feel of an AD&D session. Things like the mantras and spellcasting changing over the course of the series are just small examples of a much bigger issue. You can see that Origin, in spite of their motto, was still to a significant degree treating Ultima as a series or franchise, rather than as a *world*.

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    5. It is actually one of my dreams-when-i'm-rich. Develop a complete Ultima remake with consistent logic and plot. Where you can take the same character from game to game and feel that you have an impact on the world as people remember you (sometimes wrongly) and things you learned in one game still apply to the next.
      Where the Gargoyle religion from U6 is already prepared early on, where the Wisps scheme in the background. Where the history from the Serpent Isle make sense when it was still Sosaria ...
      When it actually mattered that the Avatar follows the Virtues throughout all the games.
      And all that with a consistent Magic system and a turn based combat system that doesn't bore you with trashmobs ...
      Yeah, well ... dreams ...

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    6. You are going from a gawky teen developer in Garriot in 1979 with Akalabeth to a corporate team by 1990 with Ultima 6, to a situation where the final games were compromised by having a corporate disaster ongoing with too many simultaneous projects going on at once. No wonder that it wasn't consistent. In a way, both the Worlds of Ultima games and UU suffer from trying to shoehorn too much of the Avatar mythology in, but not really adding enough for that consistency to be there.

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    7. I also wonder what the level of Origin's involvement was here, given that a different studio developed Underworld. You'd think they'd be in charge of all the story elements, but they might not have been paying much attention to the finer details.

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    8. You are correct, arthurdawg. Ultima's particular position in history as a game developed first in a garage, then in a small company, and then in an increasingly hostile corporation, made attempts to world-build and maintain consistency extremely difficult. It all just had to end in tears.

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    9. Even with all that, it's still far, far ahead of any of its contemporaries.

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  16. I found that while moving around is easiest with the keyboard, jumping was a little more precise with the mouse. Sometimes pressing w or s would send me on an angle that was not quite straight forward and I would frequently miss jumps as a result. The mouse button also seemed more responsive than the space bar.

    Other than the fire bats, I think the bats are all mellow until you attack one. Others can correct me if I'm wrong but I think attacking one mellow creature in a room makes even other kinds of mellow creatures in the same room turn on you. I don't know if this is decided by room geography or distance or line-of-sight or what.

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    Replies
    1. I don't remember if enemies you jump into also take damage (like you do from jumping into walls). But I do remember that small area leading to the Ankh on level one to contain several bats, which I would jump into, then be attacked by....

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  17. About jumps, you may want to try the "Standing Long Jump" option first (use shift-J), although it has somewhat a shorter reach.
    It makes the platforming easier and more precise to simply approach to the edge, stop, then jump from there.
    For other convenient keyboard shortcuts, check the quick reference card that came with the game.

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  18. You learn all sorts of cool lore as the game progresses, like the history of the Abyss colony and what happened to Sir Cabirus.

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  19. ORIGIN

    We create worlds

    And then destroy them

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    Replies
    1. I think they just pee on it.
      It only went to the gutters after being bought over.

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    2. When Origin finally ended and EA shut them down, they made a huge bonfire out of the remaining Ultima documentation and wore t-shirts that reportedly changed it to "Origin - we created worlds."

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    3. As a last FU, EA named their horrible and irksome digital platform after them so that they can glaze the name 'Origin' with an extra coating of nutty shit.

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  20. Have you tried... throwing the resilient sphere?

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    Replies
    1. Well, this one is whfg n ehoore onyy...

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    2. Warren Spector (producer of UU) liked to include objects meeting this characteristics in games he was associated with (I'm not 100% certain whether he or Looking Glass/Blue Sky was the originator of this trope).

      See also:
      Ultima Underworld 2
      Thief: The Dark Project
      System Shock 2 (I haven't played System Shock 1 so I can't confirm)
      Deus Ex
      Deus Ex: Invisible War (the later prequels also had them)
      Epic Mickey (I don't recall if one is present in Epic Mickey 2)

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  21. When I played the first level a couple weeks ago it took me quite a number of attempts to reach the point where I could jump towards the door leading towards the shrine. Lined it up, jumped forwards and bounced like a damn tennis ball off the door, into the lake. I swore at the devs for that.

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  22. Bragit isn't the leader of the outcasts, maybe you haven't found their enclave yet?

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  23. A while back a fan did an Unreal engine remake of Myst. It'd be nice to see someone update this game to that engine.

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    1. There is unity engine version of UW. It works fine and can be completed.

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  24. I personally like that Cabirus and the other important people are brand new names. Ultima series always had the problem that the "world" of Britannia feels like its total population is less than 100 people and everything important is always done by the same ten of them.

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  25. I've been enjoying the coverage of all the games I missed the first time around, particularly the historical context. You've mentioned there being a lot of Ultima 4 clones; were there UU clones? If so can you name a few of them?

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    Replies
    1. Legends of Valour and The Elder Scrolls: Arena are often singled out, but I think both are different enough from UU that it's an unfair comparison.

      Delete
    2. stepped pyramidsMarch 2, 2018 at 4:48 PM

      Much later, there was Arx Fatalis, which was developed as a spiritual successor to UW. Actually, it was originally intended to be UW3, but they couldn't get a license deal with EA under acceptable terms. The studio that made it went on to make the Dishonored games.

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    3. I'm not sure clone is the right term for these, but I often hear King's Field compared to UU. The King's Field games are sort of predecessors to Demon's Souls / Dark Souls / Bloodborne.

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    4. The King's Field comparison is a common one but IMO way off the mark. The only thing they really have in common with UU is that they're first person dungeon crawlers.

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  26. BTW, the book "Game Design" has an interview with Doug Church who worked for Looking Glass, also covering the development of Ultima Underworld. You can read parts of it at Google Books:

    https://books.google.de/books?id=tGePP1Nu_P8C&pg=PA501

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  27. Ultima Underworld is a game I intended for the last couple of years to try again.

    Back in the 90s I watched my brother play UW1 on an 486, but I didn't play it myself. Around 2002, after playing Ultima 7: Black Gate, I proceeded to the Underworld games, and chose UW2 because UW1's small view window, janky texture rendering and lack of sample-based sound effects bothered me. I played about half of UW2 until I lost interest or lacked the time to play further.

    Interestingly, over the years I've read several statements from people who preferred UW1 to UW2 because the latter has completely separate levels in different dimensions, whereas UW1 has one continuous dungeon with a better sense of place.

    So that I don't have to avoid reading the Addict's articles on UW1, I stopped pushing it into the future and started playing it yesterday. The small view window doesn't bother me anymore because I've got a much bigger monitor than in 2002, and for the sound effects and music I've installed the Munt MIDI emulator with the Roland CM-32L ROMs.

    And man, this game is still both revolutionary and a lot of fun. Here are some things I noticed in addition to the two articles we've had until now:

    - The first level is pretty ingenuously designed in my opinion. The first couple of rooms teach the game mechanics, but very soon multiple paths open up. It's likely that you will fall into one of the arms of the underground river at some point, and you'll have to get out of the water somewhere else, which means that for a while there is no familiar path back to where you came from. In my case I just used the opportunity to explore these other areas wherever I ended up, and later on the explored areas connected to a whole.

    - The level is big enough to feature lots of different discernible areas: the settlements of the humans, green goblins and gray goblins, another place where a couple of rogue green goblins live, a spiders' lair and a crypt. Despite the level layout limitations (tiles and 90° and 45° angled walls), the designer managed to give the areas their distinctive looks; for example the floor in the spiders's lair slopes up and down and the walls are very irregular.

    - It's a lot of fun to annotate the automap!

    - The low view distance makes the level appear bigger than it is, and the player moves into unknown areas more cautiously because he can't see far.

    - The points above lead to a sense of exploration that I haven't felt in a long time. Even the very first level pulls no punches and expects a lot from the player. Without the automap the place would be very confusing.

    - The first couple of rooms, monsters and NPCs serve as an excellent introduction. In contrast, many Ultima titles dump you right into the world, and then you'd receive a lot of lore dumps from the NPCs. UW2 does that too to an extent, IIRC. Generally I think a good beginning is very important and often not done right. For example, Dungeon Master 1 has a good beginning, but Chaos Strikes Back has a horrible beginning (you're dropped right into the middle of the dungeon without rhyme or reason), and Dungeon Master 2 has a mediocre beginning.

    - I found two staircases down, and an additional way down via the gray goblin's loo. Don't know yet if one of these leads to an isolated section on the second level.

    Here's a pertinent quote from Paul Neurath, the game's lead designer, about the game's level design:

    "Often people on the team chipped in for a variety of roles. For instance, we split up responsibility for design for the dungeon levels. As the "veteran" game design hand on the team, I did the first two levels, but the other levels were done by a variety of programmers, artists, and designers on the team - and for most this was their first game design experience. In hindsight, it was somewhat miraculous how well it all fit together in the end."
    (From http://www.ttlg.com/articles/uw2.asp)

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    1. Further notes:

      - The dynamic music does more than one thinks at first. Not only does it change to battle music when a combat starts, it also smoothly changes to become more triumphant when the enemy is very low on hit points, and it becomes dark and foreboding when the player's hit points come close to zero. Which other games do *this*?

      - It's baffling how many little simulation aspects are unobtrusively integrated into the game. For example, in the screenshot above subtitled "The scene as Bragit described it", you can close and open the portcullis from inside the cell by using the pole (left-clicking on it when it's in the inventory) on the button (right-click) because the pole extends your reach and still works through the portcullis.

      - There seem to be more spells than those in the manual and quick reference card; at least, I found a note with the spell "Uus Por" for a "Large Jump" which I don't see in the list in the manual. I can't cast it yet though because I lack the runes.

      - At the end of the level my character already is much more powerful - with a sword skill level of 3, and plenty of mana for the "Magic Arrow" spell - which I find regrettable, because the desperate low-level scrounging at the beginning was really atmospheric.

      - The game already feels a lot like the much later Thief and System Shock 2.

      Delete
    2. Shadow of the Colossus changes the combat music based on the context of the battle; if you're doing well, it becomes more triumphant in tone. Of course, that's much later than UU.

      It's not quite the same thing but 1993's The Chaos Engine changes the music to be more frantic and uplifting when the player gets close to the level's exit.

      Delete
    3. Oh...space invaders makes the music more frantic when you're close to win too :)

      Delete
  28. I think it's an important fair warning to give early: make sure you raise that Lore skill. Otherwise, you'll never know which items are magical and which aren't! There is a high-level identify spell in the game, but if you don't even know what's magical, there is just too much junk lying around to cast that spell on. For instance, an innocuous pair of leather boots or a leather cap can have an enchantment on them that make them much better than the chain or plate you'd usually be wearing by the time you found them.

    Don't worry overmuch yet, but do something about it at some point. I don't think there's too much magical stuff on level 1 (rkprcg sbe gur irel tbbq fprcger lbh nyernql sbhaq).

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  29. This could be the first depiction of toilets in a CRPG, but Space Quest II had toilets predating UU. It was isometric though, not truly 3D. You do have to visit the toilets, too!

    Then again, Hollywood has conditioned me that if I want to identify a hero (or villain), I should just figure out who never uses a bathroom!

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