Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Black Gate: The C.S.I. Effect

The Fellowship has managed to infiltrate Britannia with the closest thing this world has ever had to a church.
        
For a game that gets really good, Ultima VII does not start promising. Particularly disappointing was the character creation process. This is the first Ultima since II not to allow any importing of characters. Character creation had of course reached its peak in Ultima IV, where the gypsy's questions sorted you into one of eight classes and determined your starting attributes. Ultima V and VI lowered the number of classes to functionally three (fighter, bard, and mage, with the "Avatar" class a kind of synthesis of the three) but still let you go through the gypsy exercise, the specifics of which were retconned in VI. You could choose a female Avatar for the first time, and select from about half a dozen portraits whether male or female.

Ultima VII offers the fewest options of any of the games in the series. You can only type your name and select your sex, and there's only one character portrait for each sex. And they're both horrible--although the male Avatar does fit with the canonical portrait ORIGIN has been pushing on players since VI, including the two Worlds of Ultima spin-offs.

I briefly considered playing a female character, which I never do for the Ultima series, but I didn't feel like looking at her portrait for dozens of hours, either. Why did ORIGIN reduce character customization? Was it just a matter of not wanting to spend the programming time to vary the portrait that shows up in dialogue? That's a lazy approach for a company that did such a meticulous job with everything else.
          
The female Avatar has Evil Resting Face.
            
I sighed and chose the male portrait, naming him "Gideon"--my official alter-ego for any character I'm really invested in. 

The opening moments beyond character creation are as chaotic as anything, especially for a new player. We start with a street scene in what turns out to be Trinsic. Two characters, one of them white-haired, are standing outside a stable and trading laments over some horrid event. Suddenly, the red moongate appears and spits the Avatar onto a paved (or at least cobblestoned) street with gas lamps--the first sign that Britannia isn't the same Dark Age kingdom we last saw. 
          
Where were moongates that open inside the city in the last couple of games?!
        
The white-haired, bearded man turns out to be Iolo, who immediately recognizes the Avatar despite not having seen him in--as he quickly reveals--200 years. Iolo and Dupre and Lord British are still alive because they originally came from Earth. No explanation is given for the longevity of the rest of the Avatar's companions. The time jump isn't really necessary at all, except perhaps to explain why Britannia looks more Colonial than Medieval. I don't buy the rapidity at which the Avatar returns to his friendship with people who haven't seen him in two centuries. I had some good friends when I was in my 20s, but I doubt I'd recognize them if I lived to be 220, nor would I attach a lot of significance to our friendship given all the other people I would have met, and all the other things I would have done, in that intervening time.

I soon learn that "something ghastly" has happened in the stables. The other person is introduced as a stablehand named Petre. I am encouraged to go and look in the stables for myself, which sounds fine to me. All I really want to do at this point is turn off the damned music. But I don't have time to do even that, let alone enter the stables, because there's a sudden earthquake. Iolo pipes up and suggests that Lord British might know the reason behind it. The tremor, we later find out, is caused by the events of the Forge of Virtue expansion. But, damn--did it have to happen immediately? This is like modern Elder Scrolls and Fallout games where you buy the expansions and you get 8 pop-up messages the moment the game starts telling you where to go to start the DLC missions. Could they maybe be spaced out a little?

Recovering from that, I'm about to move when suddenly the mayor of Trinsic comes hustling in from stage left. Iolo introduces him as Finnigan. Finnigan is doubtful that I'm the Avatar at first, but he ultimately relents and asks me to solve the murder that has just occurred. At this point, all my Avatar wants is a quiet room and an Advil, but he gamely accepts the quest, which immediately prompts a dialogue with Petre. When can I finally turn off the @#$&ing music!? Not only do I find it repetitive and annoying, I suspect it's responsible for the fact that the dialogue keeps freezing.
          
It's a choice, but "no" just gets you trapped in town.
          
It becomes clear that in fact two people have been murdered: someone named Christopher and a gargoyle named Inamo. After some more dialogue that I miss because the game froze and implemented all my clicks when it un-froze, I finally have control. I turn off the music and save the game, and immediately things start to improve. The first thing I notice is that, with the music gone, there are background noises. I'm a big fan of games that use sound effectively to create a sense of immersion, and ambient sounds are a big part of that. We have a couple of different types of birds chirping in the distance and waves crashing on the shore to the east (Trinsic is a coastal city).

As we discussed last time, the interface has gone almost all-mouse, something I find maddening given that Ultima pioneered the efficient use of the keyboard. You right-click and hold to walk, with walking speed increasing the further you get from the Avatar. You left-click to do almost anything else. Single-left-clicking looks; double-left-clicking talks and uses; clicking and dragging moves and picks up.
          
The Avatar's attributes.
         
There are still a couple of useful keyboard shortcuts: "I" to open inventories, "C" to enter and exit combat mode, "S" to save and load, ESC to close windows, and the venerable "Z" to bring up character statistics. It's here that I found my Avatar has 18 in strength, dexterity, and intelligence. There's a "combat" statistics for the first time, and I've started the game at Level 3 with the ability to train 3 attributes. Iolo is also Level 3 and has about the same statistics.

The inventory has been much discussed. You get an image of your character with lines pointing to slots for left and right hands, legs, armor, boots, gauntlets, rings, helm, neck, missile weapon, cape, and backpack. Ultima VII: Part Two will turn this into a proper "paper doll" screen where the character image itself changes to reflect what's equipped. For now, you click and drag things in and out of those slots. The Avatar has started with leather boots, leather leggings, leather armor, a dagger, and a backpack.
         
The Avatar's inventory and pack.
          
It's the backpack where things get crazy. You can stuff a lot of things into it (as well as bags and other containers), and the little icons freely overlap. Finding a small object like a key in a backpack full of torches, reagents, documents, and other objects is at least as hard as it would be to find a real key in a real stuffed backpack. Even though it's been almost 15 years, I remember that the last time I played, I organized items strictly by character--the Avatar has all the quest items; Iolo has all the food, and so forth--so I wouldn't go crazy.
     
So far, it's not so bad. The Avatar has started with a map, three lockpicks, a torch, 10 gold pieces, a cup, an apple, a bottle of wine, and a bread roll. I don't think the cup serves any use at all; although a lot of items can be used together in this game, pouring the wine into the cup doesn't seem to be one of the options.
    
All right. Time to explore dialogue. I double-click on Iolo and get six options: NAME, JOB, TRINSIC, STABLES, LEAVE, and BYE. These still aren't really "dialogue options"; they're just keywords. And I frankly preferred it when I had to type them myself, then watch for the response to see what other keywords I might use. Now, the keywords just spawn automatically in response to the dialogue. When Iolo tells me that his JOB is adventuring with the Avatar, I get AVATAR as an option. Clicking my way through them all, I learn that Shamino has a girlfriend who works at the Royal Theater in Britain and Dupre, who was recently knighted, is probably in Jhelom. (Have I been knighted? If not, why the hell not?!) Britain has grown to encompass Paws and the castle and dominates the east coast. Lord British will probably want to see me. 
             
Dialogue options with Iolo.
             
Petre has wandered off somewhere, so I finally enter the stable. This is accomplished via a "remove the roof" interface that I believe was pioneered by Charles Dougherty in either Questron II or Legacy of the Ancients. (I wonder if ORIGIN licensed the "look and feel" of this game element from Dougherty.) The interesting thing about Ultima VII's approach is that entering one building removes the roofs of all buildings, so you can see items and people inside adjacent structures even when there's realistically no way your characters would see into those locations.

Inside the stables is perhaps the most gruesome scene in any RPG so far in my chronology. (Well, no. I forgot about the two Elvira games.) The aforementioned Christopher is lying spread-eagle on the floor, each limb tied to an unspecified "light source," his body hacked beyond recognition. A nearby bucket is filled with his blood. The gargoyle Inamo is in a back room, pinned to the wall with a pitchfork.
            
It's cool that we've reached the point that such complex scenes can be graphically depicted.
           
Several tools are strewn around the stables, including a rake, a shovel, another pitchfork, and a pair of tongs. A key lies next to Christopher's body, and near Inamo is a sack with some bread, a torch, and a few gold pieces. Footprints are all over the dirt floor and head out the rear door. As my character investigates, I'm conscious of how much authentic role-playing I'm now doing. I mean, I already know basically where the plot is going, but I still take the time to go over everything in the stables. I move objects to makes sure nothing is underneath them. I click on things I'm not sure about to get their names. I investigate, realizing as I do so that this is one of the few RPGs up until this point to offer a level of graphical complexity and object interactivity detailed enough to make such an "investigation" possible. This is the future of role-playing in RPGs, I think. Sure, it's not bad to have dialogue and encounter "options" that let you maintain a consistent characterization or morality, but when the very interface of the game allows you to make decisions consistent with your character, you have something special. Unfortunately, Ultima VII will not only be one of the first games to support this kind of gameplay but also one of the last.

Petre the stablehand wanders in said rear door. He says he's the one who discovered the bodies. Inamo was apparently his assistant, and lived in the little back room. (Wingless gargoyles, I recall, are less intelligent than their winged brethren and used mostly for manual labor.) Christopher was a blacksmith who made shoes for the horses. Petre assumes the murderer was after Christopher (a logical guess given that his body was the one posed) and that Inamo was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
      
We follow the footsteps out back and around the corner, where we soon come to the city gate. The gate is down and a guard patrols the room with the winch. His name is Johnson, and he says when he arrived for his shift, he found the previous guard, Gilberto, unconscious on the ground. This suggests the murderer made his escape through this gate, knocking out poor Gilberto on the way. I'd like to leave the same way and scout the outskirts, but apparently I need a password to leave the city (the manual alludes to this) and I don't have it. He suggests I ask Finnigan. I do climb up to the city walls and see the docks just beyond the gate. I have to wonder if the murderer didn't flee via boat or ship.
          
No clues this way.
        
Finnigan has taken off, so I settle in for a systematic exploration of Trinsic's streets, starting by heading right out of the stables. I note that double-clicking on the street signs gives me street names, and I'm pleased to find that I can still read the runic writing without a guide. The stable is on Strand. Slightly to the west, we come to (in non-runic writing) the Avenue of the Fellowship and, right in front of us, the Fellowship hall. Might as well get it out of the way. I take a deep breath and enter.
       
I'm a little concerned, on a role-playing level, that the Avatar technically hasn't been exposed to the Book of the Fellowship and thus has no reason to be cautious in his exploration of their hall. This concern is lifted when I find a Book of the Fellowship on a table right in the entryway. I imagine the Avatar reading it, asking Iolo, "What the hell?", and getting a shrug. 

The only person in the hall is a woman named Ellen, who says she runs the branch with her husband, Klog. She goes through the Fellowship philosophy and suggests that I see Batlin at the Fellowship headquarters in Britain to join. She claims to know nothing of the murder, having been home with Klog all night. I resist the urge to ransack the Fellowship hall and move on.
           
Hand-feeding my characters out of the backpack.
          
The Avatar complains about being hungry as we leave, so I feed him some bread. This is one of the legendary annoyances of the game. Characters have to be hand-fed throughout the game even though it's trivially easy to find food--one of several examples of a game element created for want of a true purpose.  

Up the road is the shipwright, Gargan, who offers deeds and sextants, neither of which I can afford. The notepad comes out and the "to do" list begins. Gargan has nothing to offer on the murder.
             
I was going to object to the name of the ship, but apparently some eels have scales.
       
I note that his house is filled with chests and containers. This is going to be true of a lot of houses in the game. Ultima VI was the first game in which the Avatar had an incentive to steal liberally from such containers, but this game is the first with no karma consequences. Instead of waiting until I have 80 gold pieces to buy a sextant, I can just remove one--and a gold bar besides!--from the pack in Gargan's bedroom. You can steal things right in front of the occupants--clean out entire stores while the owners stand mute in the center of the room--with no consequences. Well--almost none. Eventually, Iolo starts making some alarmed remarks.
             
Stop complaining about how hungry you are, and I won't have to steal a roast.
         
Heck, even the damned Guardian has something to say about it:
          
Really? Burglary is where you draw the line?
          
And I think maybe Iolo and your other companions leave you if you steal enough. The neat thing is that there's a real incentive to steal. You start the game broke, and the nature of your mission doesn't leave a lot of time for extensive wealth-gathering. But I'm going to stick to my tradition of taking my role as the Avatar seriously. I'll do it the hard way. The sextant and gold bar stay in Gargan's case.
    
I think you get the idea, so we'll speed things up from here:
            
  • A young woman named Caroline is on the streets recruiting for the Fellowship. She says that they have their meetings at 21:00. It turns out that Christopher was a Fellowship member.
  • There's a two-story house on the west side of town with a parrot on the first floor. No one tells me that it's Christopher's house, but the key we found with his body opens a locked chest on the second floor. The chest has a Fellowship medallion, 100 gold pieces, and a terse note that says, "Thou hast received payment. Make the delivery tonight." I take the gold and note.
  • Markus the trainer runs a store south of Christopher's house. He offers to train in combat skill. I decline, not having enough money, and forgetting how training works in this game. I'll revisit it later.
  • A guy named Dell runs an armory in the southwest part of town. We do find a secret lever that opens a back room stuffed with weapons and armor, but again I decline to steal. I spend 50 gold pieces on a sword to replace my dagger.
  • In the far southwest part of town, we find the healer. Gilberto is lurking around his shop with a bandage on his head. He didn't see his attacker, but he did note that The Crown Jewel was at the dock at the beginning of his shift and gone when he woke up from his concussion. He believes it was sailing for Britain.
         
Everything seems to be channeling me towards Britain.
         
  • The healer has a copy of The Apothecary's Desk Reference, which reminds me of the standard Ultima potion colors. Black is invisibility, blue is sleep, orange awakens, purple conveys magic protection, white is light, yellow heals, green poisons, and red cures poison. I think I already had that memorized.
           
Visitors from the NetHack universe are suspicious.
       
  • The pub and inn is called the Honorable Hound. The owner and server, Apollonia, openly flirts with me. I buy a bunch of loaves of bread. The inn's register shows that four people have stayed there recently: Walter of Britain, Jaffe of Yew, Jaana, and Atans of Serpent's Hold. I suppose the murderers probably didn't register, but you never know. We spend a night in the inn at the end of all of this.
               
There are so few role-playing moments in which "murder" and "flirt" are equally valid dialogue options.
           
  • I find Finnigan at City Hall in the center of town. He relates that he's been mayor for three years. The Rune of Honor, which used to sit on a pedestal in the center of town, was stolen years ago by someone claiming to be the Avatar. It somehow found its way to the Royal Museum in Britain. Finnigan thinks this is symbolic somehow. The most important information from Finnigan is that he was present in Britain four years ago for a ritualistic murder with similar characteristics.
  • Finnigan's office is hidden behind a couple of secret doors. I find them but don't find anything incriminating in the office.
        
This game is a bit odd in that it doesn't hide secret areas; it just hides the means to access them.
         
At 21:00, I peek in on the Fellowship meeting. It consists of Klug shouting the elements of the Triad of Inner Strength while the members shout things like "I believe!" and "I am worthy!" In between, Klug runs around lighting candles and occasionally genuflecting to the Fellowship icon behind the lectern.
             
 
Spark is unmoved by the testimony of Fellowship members.
         
The Guardian's face appears to taunt me as I enter Christopher's workshop on the south end of town. A boy named Spark--Christopher's son, which no one bothered to mention--is clutching a sling and running around frantically. He's supposedly fourteen, but his portrait makes him look about six. Spark tell us that his mother died a long time ago, so now he's an orphan. The Fellowship had been harassing his father lately, and a week ago Christopher and Klog had gotten into an argument. Christopher had been making something for the Fellowship--something probably stored somewhere in the smithy. Either Christopher was a bit disorganized, or someone has recently tossed the smithy.
          
Dick.
            
Now that I know Christopher had a son, I feel bad about looting the gold. But Spark offers to give it to me for investigating his father's murder. He says that he woke up from a nightmare the previous night and went looking for his father, and saw a wingless gargoyle (not Inamo) and a man with a hook for a hand hanging around the stables. He begs to join the party, and I agree. He comes with leather armor and a sling. Honestly, how were the first words out of Iolo's or Petre's mouths not, "Christopher has a kid. We'd better go see if he's okay"?
            
I don't know when Iolo started calling me "milord," but I confess I don't hate it.
             
Where Christopher is dead and his son is part of the party, I don't mind taking things from the smithy. We loot about a dozen gold pieces and some clothing items. I try to make a sword by putting a sword blank on the firepit and operating the bellows, but I can't get the sequence right. I think it's possible. I don't find whatever Christopher was making for the Fellowship, unless it was pants or sword blanks.
           
Spark, you must have seen your dad do this before.
         
My time in Trinsic closes with a return visit to Finnigan, who questions me on all I've learned and pays me 100 gold for what I've uncovered so far. He puts me through a copy protection exercise before giving me the password to the gates of Trinsic: BLACKBIRD. All signs point to visiting Britain next. We head outside. I find nothing at the docks except the fact (which I'd forgotten) that the developers managed to animate waves crashing on the shore for the first time in an RPG.
           
Another first for the Ultima series.
           
Continuing a theme started in Ultima V, the developers do a good job making Trinsic feel like a real place. Each resident keeps a schedule, including going to work in the morning, eating or stopping by the Honorable Hound for an evening meal, going to the Fellowship meeting (if a member), and tucking into bed at night. Every NPC has a house with personal belongings. When it gets dark, they light candles in their houses. During the day, they open shutters with comments to themselves like "Too nice a day for these to be closed!" They have brief conversations when they encounter each other. A dog and a cat roam the streets.

This is all admirable, but the problem of course is that this simulation has come so far that we can no longer regard the NPCs and buildings we see as a representative sample of the real number of NPCs in town. They're clearly the entire population. The fabled city of Trinsic houses 10 people. By modeling daily life in such a realistic way, the developers call attention to the lack of realism inherent in population size. We notice the same problem even in modern games.
            
Finnigan won't let me leave town until I relate what I've learned.
          
I'm hard-wired to create typologies out of everything, and this is something that needs a typology. Very few games in the 2000s adopt the "old school" model of towns-as-abstractions, which is most obvious in "menu towns" but also exists in games like Ultima II, where the geography of each city is just the broadest lines with the most important places (e.g., shops but no houses). BioWare has adopted what we might call the "matte background" model where the parts of the game that you can explore are just the most important parts, but the graphics suggest unending blocks of additional houses and buildings in the background. They populate the streets with a dozen generic NPCs to every important NPC, cleverly annotating the difference with sharpness of color and other indicators.
     
Another model for which we need a name is the Assassin's Creed/Grand Theft Auto approach where there is a realistic number of buildings throughout the geography, including houses. You just can't go into most of them; it would take far too much programming time to give them all interiors. The streets are also teeming with generic NPCs with basic AI. It's far more realistic than, say, one of the cities in Skyrim, but also a little disappointing when there are so many doors you can't open.
       
The Elder Scrolls follows the Ultima VII model. The developers' philosophy is that you should not only be able to enter every building that you see but also find clothes in the closets and forks on the table. This comes with Ultima VII's drawbacks. Which model do you prefer, and can you think of a better approach (or one I didn't mention at all)?

Time so far: 3 hours

*****

Potential bad news on Planet's Edge. I'm running into a bug where if I try to beam down to Rana Prime, the game not only freezes but somehow corrupts the files so that I have to fully reinstall the game, start it, create a new save, and then load an old saved game to get my former party back. But then it corrupts again the moment I try to visit Rana Prime. No one else seems to be reporting the same issue, so I'm not sure what to make of it. Rana Prime does seem necessary to finish the game. I'll keep playing with it; ideas appreciated.


201 comments:

  1. Pretty sure there are no portrait options because previously that meant they needed sprite changes due to hair and race differences. And in u7 the Avatar sprite has a lot more animations, so it would have been significantly more costly. Obviously they COULD have offered a bunch of blond, white portraits, but then they'd get different complaints?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Since the combat is so inconsequential in this game, I can't say I'm particularly sad about not picking my class. Combat in this game is so hectic and stupid that even if you were able, choosing a class wouldn't make much difference anyway.

    I thought the idea behind the "200 years" bit is that a Britannian year is shorter than an Earth year. Since none of your friends have returned to Earth ever (except maybe the Worlds games) they probably forgot what an Earth year feels like.

    I think some games in the early 2000s that you haven't played are going to pleasantly surprise you on the "investigation" bit; Planescape: Torment for fact-finding via dialogue, and Deus Ex/System Shock 1 and 2 for hunting around in the environment.

    Are you playing this on GOG? If so, I have the exact same version and while music makes it stutter a bit, it's not as bad as you describe. Definitely not so bad that clicking through the intro for a minute or so was rage-inducing. Just the NPCs in Britain's castle cause more lag than the music does.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the explanation that Britannian years are shorter than Earth years... according to the wiki timeline, eighty years pass between U4 and U5; twenty years between U5 and U6; and 110 years between U6 and underworld. U9 takes place two hundred years after U7. So that fits.

      Delete
    2. I just always assumed that time passed at different rates, not that the Britannian year was actually shorter. If the ratio is 1:10, that means someone who's 25 on Britannia is still a toddler by Earth standards.

      Delete
    3. Sounds like The Avatar and Britannia was inspired by Thomas Covenant and The Land, when it comes to how time works.

      Delete
  3. I really like the way you are approaching Ultima VII, as a gamne that was born out of several influences and that also influenced future games in several ways.

    I really don't know what to answer in the "what do you prefer" question. I would say the GTA approach is better for a game so heavy on the plot side but then the shiniest parts of U7 are due to its design as well.

    Spoilers: you will end up using Exult.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I like the Skyrim approach, or the approach that this game uses. I'd rather have a handful of purposeful characters, realism be damned, than a bunch of non-interactive "crowd filler" NPCs that do nothing besides fill out the space.

      Delete
    2. Agreed. Lots of detail & meaningful NPCs is best, the fact that the population size is unrealistic is no big deal. Witcher 3 sort of tried to have it both ways, resulting in a bunch of intriguing villages with lots of detail and no interaction, which was disappointing.

      I second that you will end up using Exult.

      Delete
    3. Witcher 3 is probably the state of the art for the "GTA/Assassin's Creed" model, applied to CRPGs.

      Chet, as you will play it in 2050, if you are curious, this video shows what cities look like in that game, and spoils nothing.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1KWviiDPSQ

      Delete
    4. I prefer the U7/Skyrim/etc. style by far, for reasons as mentioned by others above.

      Although I would be more than happy if they stuck with smaller towns and villages, rather than trying to suggest that the big capital of the empire consists of a couple of dozen houses and shops and less than 50 people. (Oblivion felt the worst for this, Skyrim at least is a single province and they manage to make the towns feel larger also possibly thanks to having more computing power to show it).

      Delete
    5. Outcast handled this pretty well. (It's not an RPG, but there's no reason why an RPG couldn't use the same approach). You had a number of important NPCs and fairly large crowds of generic NPCs (the number of which was actually a performance option). Genric NPCs could still answer basic questions about their area and job, certain plot points etc. or direct you towards important places and NPCs, so they didn't feel like pure filler. They were actually quite useful, as the game didn't have quest markers (it did have a good automap though). The game also had lots of buildings that could all be entered, but interactions with the environment were quite limited. But I don't see why a modern RPG couldn't have a large number of buildings you can enter. The furniture and items could be semi-randomized - a lot of content in larger RPGs is randomized already. They wouldn't be too interesting to explore, but the fact that they exist and can be explored would add a lot to the immersion. And as long as it is obvious which buildings are unique/omportant and which ones are generic, they wouldn't be distracting either.

      Delete
    6. I'm on the opposite side -- I always loved in Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect that everything I encountered was intentionally crafted and detailed and meaningful: characters, dialogue, buildings, etc. It never bothered me that it limited what I could interact with relative to the scope of the world.

      Delete
  4. Many of the Companions of the Avatar (and a few other characters, such as Iolo's wife Gwenno and LB's jester, Chuckles) are indicated, in spin-off material at the very least, to be from Earth.

    (Shamino is a confirmed exception; it is not explained why he has Earther longevity. On the other hand, Shamino is Richard Garriott's D&D character and SCA persona, so...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The weirdest thing is that Fureel vf fgvyy nyvir, pbafvqrevat yvsrfcna sbe zvpr vf gjb gb guerr lrnef. V qba'g erpnyy nal bs ure qvnybthr zragvbavat fur'f sebz Rnegu.

      Delete
    2. stepped pyramidssMarch 29, 2020 at 8:46 PM

      It also seems to be the case that mages are long-lived. There are a number of non-Companion mages from VI who are still alive in VII, although most of them are noticeably older.

      Delete
  5. I don't mind the small city issue so much, because everything in CRPGs is an abstraction. Yes, Trinsic appears to only have 10 people, but it also only takes 5 to walk straight to Britain without stopping, and crossing the entire world would probably take only 20-30 minutes. The only CRPG I can think of that even tried to show real distances was TES: Arena (and probably Daggerfall), which made fast travel necessary.

    The early Ultimas that represented cities as symbols that expanded once you entered were a good compromise, but they rarely had time pass faster with each step outside the city than they did inside the city, so the world was still technically pretty small.

    So in the end, I do just assume there's a ton of other people and buildings and accept the abstraction of the ones that remain.

    I feel like Serpent Isle did a little better here, as there were only three "real" cities and each one was pretty sprawling, especially Fawn (the city of beautiful people over the water). There were more background NPCs there that made the population seem larger, in my memory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arena only pretended to model realistic distances. It was actually impossible to walk to another city due to how it generated wilderness, so fast travel was the only way to get to fixed places. With Daggerfall, you could actually walk to places instead of using fast travel, but you'd be crazy to do so with the distances involved.

      Delete
  6. As I recall, your companions eventually turn hostile if you continue to act in an "evil" manner, but I may be misremembering. It's been a long time since I played this.

    Regarding the crashing waves, Phantasy Star had those in 1987 but that may not count as it's a console rpg.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They will eventually leave your party, and once they've left your party they might also decide you need a good stabbing for your crimes. I've found this to be a little glitchy -- I remember one time I was in a cave and I moved a skeleton, and Dupre freaked out, said "I am leaving!", and when spoken to declared "I do not travel with murderers!"

      Delete
  7. Uuh, a discussion about settlement typology - I love those! :)

    Hm, regarding name the AC/GTA approach..."Potemkin village" settlements maybe?

    Dunno how to call the U7/Elder Scrolls type. "Theme park" villages would be more suited to extreme forms like Ultima 9.

    My favorite approach to settlements, but understandibly not very widespread, would be to actually go the whole way and make fully realized ones on a realistic scale.

    Very few games pull this off, and usually they do it by purposefully limiting the size of the world itself.

    Gothic 1 and 2 (but especially the first one, with Part 3 being a great example for when you try to scale this up and fail) are still the prime example for doing this right, and it works so well because the game world is so wonderfully consistent in density, scale *and* size/limits.

    Kingdom Come would be the only other example that readily comes to mind - but I'd love to hear additional suggestions!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liberation: Captive II is one example, and I go into more detail about that just below.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for the suggestion!
      Yes, procedural generation is of course a way to try going for more realistic settlements, but to be honest every implementation I saw tended more towards "AC/GTA type with extra dressing" - as you say yourself, it usually feels superficial.

      I guess it's just the nature of the thing in story-based CRPGs. In theory, it could immensely enrich narrative RPGs, *if done well*. But in practice it's going to be are really complex system if you want it to feel realistic.

      Something like the Dwarf Fortress engine as basis maybe? :) But I guess it would be hard to keep everything from going of the rails while the player wants to progress the story ;)

      Delete
    3. I hadn't thought of Kingdom Come, but I suppose that's one game that does things pretty well. The cities are still a LITTLE unrealistically small, but they have more NPCs than most RPG cities.

      Man, that game was so impressive in some ways and so infuriating in others.

      Delete
    4. If you've ever played Enderal, the Skyrim total conversion mod, the capital city of Ark is an example of what a good capital city looks and feels like.

      It's populated enough that as you explore it, it feels like what a city should be like. Unlike the cities in Skyrim.

      Delete
    5. What was so infuriating about Kingdom Come? For me, it was one of the best RPGs in recent history. Granted, I played it a few months later, when most bugs were already ironed out.

      Delete
    6. The story, mostly. You can't possibly be happy with how it ended--or didn't, as the case may be. I also didn't appreciate the ability to role-play on the micro-level but in none of the story elements. I was really angry when I took the time to kill every soldier in one enemy camp, went back to HQ, and got no acknowledgement for my deed. The story progressed as if I'd left a camp full of soldiers.

      Delete
    7. Never heard of Enderal, but it looks pretty good. Downloading now. Though I got an RPG 'Fell Seal' with Humble Choice this month that I'm liking, so that will be first.

      Delete
    8. Not exactly happy, no, but as Part One of a larger story, I thought it was passable, if not very memorable. I remember characters like Radzig, István Tóth, the engineer guy played by Brian Blessed, Hans Capon and their stories, but I've forgotten most of the main plot.

      Now, if the sequel(s) don't materialize, that would indeed infuriate me. Or worse, if the suits in charge ever get the "brilliant" idea of turning it into a MMO, like Knights of the Old Republic.

      Delete
  8. Oh, and regarding the real city question, I recall that you weren't fond of Captive, but the sequel is set in a city in which every building can be explored, and most have occupants. The streets too have wandering NPCs, including roaming taxi cabs.

    I believe these are almost all procedurally generated, with the only exceptions being the locations and NPCs vital to the current mission. My memory of the game is that the amount of content is impressive but it does feel a bit superficial.

    I think my preference would be for something of that sort of scale and complexity, but with more unique content in there to make things more interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like a very different game than the original. I look forward to it.

      Delete
  9. Since the review on Ultima VI starts with mentioning retcons (or continuity errors), I'd like to point out that the intro to the previous game already calls Dupre a knight; and that several characters mention that wingless gargoyles cannot talk (Beh Lem is winged but not fully grown).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As far as wingless gargoyles, I think the idea was that in the 200 years since Ultima VI the racial divide between winged and wingless has been eroding, and that new wingless gargoyles are capable of speech, as the slave culture that Gargoyles initially lived in was demolished.

      That's just my "make it better" theory though. In all fairness, Gargish culture is largely ignored or misconstrued from its origin in Ultima VI in the later games. Which is a pity, there was a lot of space for interesting drama there. Also, annoyed the manual mentions Blackthorn's castle being on Terfin and yet it is NOT there.

      Delete
    2. Of course, taking that view of Ultima VII's wingless gargoyles means that pretty much everything you learned in Ultima VI about their society was a lie in defense of an oppressive slave state. And VII generally treats the erosion of traditional Gargish society as a bad thing.

      Delete
    3. Two of the Gargish virtues are Diligence and Control... it's not hard to imagine that as a feudal society, where the wingless work diligently and the winged ones control them.

      Delete
    4. That's what I mean by lost opportunities... they could have had a huge story thread about how Gargish culture was changing because the wingless were no longer mute and stupid, and that their traditional culture had to change. They have some of this with the Fellowship causing issues, but not nearly enough. By Ultima 9 they had just abandoned the idea of integration entirely.

      Delete
  10. "Characters have to be hand-fed throughout the game even though it's trivially easy to find food--one of several examples of a game element created for want of a true purpose."

    It had a purpose. Verisimilitude. Ever played a game where your characters go on and on for days and months at a time without ever having to eat? And you called it stupid and unrealistic? This game gave you what you asked for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a cool guy. And such valuable contributions to the dialog!

      Delete
    2. Ultima (unlike many of its contemporaries) has had food consumption since U1. (This was particularly brutal in U1/U2, where the consequence of reaching zero food was instant death. That seriously sucked in U2, where there was no reincarnation.)

      It's just that all the way through to U6, Origin had the decency to automate the process of consuming it, then they decided in U7 "no, actually, the Avatar should have to hand-feed the Companions" because their pursuit of verisimilitude stopped short of "party members having the independence of thought and will required to eat when they're hungry".

      Delete
    3. Lords of Xulima does it better. You have to buy food while you're in town, and pick berries of the bushes while you're wandering, because food is important and not cheap. But your party eats it as it needs it, and a little clock shows how many days supply are left.

      Delete
    4. I will never understand the reason that led Origin to implement such detailed simulation elements in Ultima VII as feeding the group by hand, but, at the same time, it took a step back from simulation in such a fundamental element of gameplay as it is combat, making it almost automatic.

      Delete
    5. "Ever played a game where your characters go on and on for days and months at a time without ever having to eat?"

      Yes.

      "And you called it stupid and unrealistic?"

      No.

      Delete
    6. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I've never complained about games that don't require you to feed your party. I don't mind it as an element when it's done well and poses a bit of a challenge, but I don't miss it when it's not there.

      Harland, I don't know what's been going on with you lately, but I'd really like it if you worked on your issues and went back to being the jerk we all know and love instead of the extra special jerk we've been getting lately.

      Delete
    7. Ultima VI already had a superior system in place, with people automatically eating on going to sleep.

      Delete
    8. Exult takes the edge off this annoyance slightly by adding F as a keyboard shortcut. You hunt F, click on the hungry character, and there's no need to root around in the inventory.

      Delete
    9. I mean for real verisimilitude shouldn't your characters need to find a bathroom every so often as well? Not sure I've seen (or want to see) a RPG that requires this, but anyone who's traveled to a big city knows how hard it can be sometimes.

      Delete
    10. It was the collective "you" and not the CRPG Addict "you".

      Yeah well lots of people rage and complain that characters don't have to eat, why is that otyugh living next door to a troop of kobolds, and this entire dungeon doesn't have a water source so how do the denizens even live?

      Companies give you a game that implements these realistic requirements and suddenly it's too annoying to deal with them. Be careful what you ask for.

      Delete
    11. But you're vitriolically responding to an "issue" that literally no one in this thread has complained about.

      Delete
    12. Harland, here, a virtual hug.

      Hold on in there, I'm still hugging you

      A bit more

      A bit more

      Now.

      Delete
    13. My rant at the time playing this game was that if I was now to be forced to feed adult party members who would otherwise starve to death despite carrying packs full of food, what was next for Ultima VIII? Being forced to wipe their asses after the natural results of that eating?

      This relates to my least favorite thing about the development of CRPG crafting systems: it turns games from accomplishing heroic tasks to doing minor chores. Having a system that allows me to do chores if I want to is fine, but don’t force me. Nobody would have a problem with an RPG that required you to change into a disguise from time to time, and most people would be fine if you had to carry a change of clothes, but forcing players to spend twenty real-time minutes going through the steps of doing laundry every in-game week would be going too far.

      Delete
    14. I've made my own fun out of the food system. Early in the game when I was strapped for cash, I bought a bunch of cheese that I thought would last us a while. Iolo ate almost all of it before I'd even fed Spark or the Avatar. Since then I've thought of my entire party--but Iolo in particular--as a bunch of bottomless pits single-handedly causing food shortages across the land.

      Delete
    15. That was my biggest beef with the food system - not only did you have to manually feed them as well as supplying the food, but they ate so very much - they made hobbits' six meals a day seem downright depriving.

      Delete
    16. I think this post and replies to it made me realize even more why I love this community. It really feels like a big RPG addicted family where uncle pete is going on an big angry rant about grandpa and everyone is like "uncle pete, be quiet!" but with love. And even hugs.

      Delete
  11. The music is turned off already, but I wanted to mention the Fellowship theme in this game. It has that soothing, heroic first movement, and then suddenly kicks into this sinister second movement. I thought it was a good example of composition mirroring the mechanics of the plot.

    Also, like 17 years ago I got sick and played through this again for like the third time and decided to make an FAQ as I went along. Dan Simpson, of course, already had a great guide, but I had fun filling in some gaps and approaching it differently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm pretty sure the DOSBox version that GOG supplies is providing the worst version of the music; old Sound Blaster "bink boink clang" style. So I don't blame Chet for shutting that one down straight away.

      IF he moves to the Exult engine, then I hope he at least gives the much better MIDI sounding music a brief shot. But he's already expressed a keen distaste for music in ANY game so I don't expect it.

      Honestly, my favorite in U7 is when lbh svaq gur Xvyenguv fcnprpensg va gur snez svryq. Pyvpxvat ba vg cynlf zhfvp sebz Jvat Pbzznaqre 2.

      Delete
    2. I feel like I'm in the minority of people but I actually like the music! Perhaps it's nostalgia? who knows.

      Delete
    3. That was a nice touch Adamantyr! Hope your TI game is ready soon!

      Delete
    4. I was never one to dislike the music either Andy, so I too am curious as to how I'd receive it today

      Delete
    5. Personally, I felt like the music was one of the better parts of the game

      Delete
  12. Personally, I think irrespective of the level of simulation there's still the silent agreement between the game and the player that it's an abstraction of a bigger place. That said, the actual size still matters. For example, I didn't have a problem with suspension of disbelief in U7, Arcanum or Morrowind, even though cities in these games came anywhere near realistic size, but I did so in Skyrim or Gothic 2, where they felt too small even at the game's scale. Speaking of Elder Scrolls, the series only adopted U7 approach from Morrowind on, both Arena and Daggerfall have huge cities mostly filled with generic NPCs.

    I think your typology misses two other approaches. One is setting the whole game in a single city, the way Shadows over Riva or Venetica operate. Then you can have both a relatively realistic scale and level of detail. The other approach is the worst of both worlds - where narrative scale, simulation scale and depicted scale all don't match one another. And example of that is Cyceal in Divinity: Original Sin. It has something like 50 unique NPCs - not quite realistic, but really big by RPG standads. But then there are only 8 buildings, and only one of them is actually designated as someone's home, the rest are various services.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with the two additions. Thanks! I thought I had heard that Arena and Daggerfall were procedurally-generated, though.

      I thought Morrowind's cities approached "realistic." Vivec takes forever to explore.

      Delete
    2. It's a common misconception about Daggerfall. Some parts of it are procedurally (but not randomly - they don't change from game to game) generated: the main landmass, optional dungeons and secondary cities. But then all the main quest dungeons and capital cities are manually designed.

      Vivec was quite big, I agree. But for me the way all its NPCs were neatly tucked into cantons made it feel less city-like than e.g. Balmora, even though it was much smaller. But if you look at e.g. the map of Wayrest City from Daggerfall here https://images.uesp.net/3/34/DF-map-Wayrest_%28city%29.jpg (not a spoiler as there no annotations on the map), you can see how it dwarfs Vivec in pure size.

      Delete
    3. For me, Morrowind was OK because it is specifically referred to as a smaller part of a larger province (a large island, but not a particularly populous one). Oblivion then wanted to show the Imperial province, and that felt wrong to me because it felt so small for something that was supposedly the seat of empire.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, Morrowind works because its a small chunk of a larger province, and a particularly dangerous and unsettled one - it makes sense that not a ton of people live around Ald'Ruhn given the ash storms and the Ghostfence nearby. But Oblivion's Imperial City just feels tiny all around - it might have benefited from some GTA-style "there's a bunch more here but you can't quite get to it for some reason".

      Delete
    5. For me the problem with Imperial City was the same as with Vivec - that it was split into small claustrophobic districts. If you look at the overhead map of the whole city, it's actually quite ok size-wise and has close to 200 points of interest. But you never get the sense of this scale while exploring it because there are walls everywhere. Another problem is that it's heavily underpopulated, having like 1 NPC per house and no street life. I understand the technical rationale behind both these aspects, but they do make for an unsatisfying city.
      Conversely, I felt like New Sheoth in Shivering Isles was quite a fun city, even though it's much smaller, because of slightly more open design and clever use of verticality.

      Delete
    6. Oblivion completely destroyed the lore established by Daggerfall, Battlespire and Morrowind, anyway. The Crodiil we got was not the Cyrodiil promised by the Pocket Guide to the Empire. The entire worldbuilding of Oblivion is a joke.

      Delete
    7. Personally, I never really had an issue with how Cyrodiil was portrayed. While a good part of that is probably because I first played it around 2014, which was around the same time I first properly played Morrowind and Skyrim, another big part is that I had both never actually read anything in the games themselves that explicitly contradicted the portrayal, and the fact that in Elder Scrolls games, you should never treat every book you come across as being gospel. It's very easy to write off differences between portrayals in Pocket Guide to the Empire and what was in the games as anywhere from it effectively being Imperial propaganda, to the fact that hundreds of years pass between when that would have been written and when Oblivion takes place, which to me makes it much less of an issue

      Delete
    8. I remember the first time I noticed this issue. I had just achieved some sort of great victory in Oblivion, supposedly with most of the city watching. The sound effects for the crowd consisted of cheers from the 6 or so NPCs that were actually there. Found it pretty jarring and have found the realistic-but-underscale model disturbing since

      Delete
    9. It's not just minor details though, the entire tone of the province was changed, its identity erased. It was described as a tropical rainforest, but what we got was the most generic pseudo-European medieval fantasyland imaginable. The Imperial City was supposed to be like Venice, built on multiple islands where gondolas would serve as the main mode of transportation (kinda like in Vivec). There were supposed to be several strange religious cults populating the city. Each region of Cyrodiil had its own culture, style of clothing, political attitudes etc. None of this was implemented in Oblivion. The setting was completely neutered. And it's such a huge contrast to how Morrowind portrayed its world.

      Morrowind was wild and imaginative, truly fantastical fantasy. Major characters had different political attitudes and motivations, you had the different Great Houses each with their own agendas. In Oblivion, the dukes of the major cities may as well not even be there, there are no politics whatsoever. In Morrowind, different cities and regions had their own identity, and the world was structured in a believable way: every town was surrounded by farms, egg mines, etc. You could see how people produced their food. In Oblivion, there were barely any farms and 90% of the world's population was bandits.

      The believability of the world was gone. The weird and fantastic elements of the worldbuilding were taken away and replaced with the most generic, unimaginative, bland fantasyland ever. Just compare the looks of Imperial armor and clothing in Morrowind - a mix of ancient Roman and renaissance styles - with those in Oblivion. Oblivion's imperial guard have no identity at all, they wear generic iron plate armor with no obvious cultural elements to it. In Morrowind, they wore Rome-inspired cuirasses and shields.

      Not to mention all the gameplay elements that were taken away - Morrowind's huge amount of equipment slots was reduced to a generic helmet-torso-greaves-gauntlets-boots, and you couldn't even wear clothing and armor at the same time. Teleportation spells and travel services were gone, replaced with a generic fast travel system. A lot of weapon types were taken out - no more spears, crossbows, throwing weapons.

      As a huge fan of Morrowind who loved the intricate worldbuilding and huge amount of character customization options, Oblivion was a slap to the face.

      Delete
    10. I really liked Gothic 1 approach on this. You are on the penal colony, so everyone you see is everyone there is ! And it made killing someone all the more dramatic (there are no nameless "bandits" in the game)

      Delete
    11. I'm with JarlFrank on this. Morrowind was a world, and Oblivion took a lot away. It had some virtues, and honestly it *looked* great in terms of grass detail etc. But you could never get lost there (and not just because you could always see the City).

      Delete
    12. I'm not an MMO fan, but I was tempted when I heard that they added Morrowind a while back. It's apparently pretty faithful to the game in terms of visuals and lore (ESO is set in the distant past, I believe).

      I replayed the game a while back, and although I still very much enjoy the gameplay and art direction, the game really wears its procedurally-generated nature on its sleeve in a way that Oblivion and Skyrim do not. Especially with the dialogue system -- I love how much text they were able to include without voice acting, but it's a little odd that every Dunmer in the world can barf out the same dozen paragraphs on various topics. Vivec, as cool as it is, also starts to feel a bit cookie-cutter between cantons if you spend a lot of time there (doing Morag Tong quests, for instance).

      Delete
  13. That's not Evil Resting Face on the female avatar - she just looks serious... Wait, is that blood dripping from her lips? I stand corrected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She looks to me like the male avatar broke into Chuckles' makeup drawer and decided to masquerade as a blond Carrot Top (or Pennywise).

      Delete
  14. On your PLANET'S EDGE problem:
    Unfortunatelty, Rana Prime is critical, but only because an item you need is on it.
    I have never heard of anyone having that problem. "Tornado" in this post http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2020/03/planets-edge-one-line-in-three.html?showComment=1584970831656#c8209507864294019028 mentions the only two bugs that I am aware of (You can read his Rot13 it doesn't give away anything except the bugs). This would lead me to suspect that you have a corrupted copy of the game. So two possible solutions:

    One. Can you get another copy of the game from a different source and install from that instead? Then load your saved game (hopefully, the corruption was in your copy and your saved game is ok). This is the preferable solution, since if your copy is corrupt, some other weird problem may show up later.

    However
    Two. If all else fails, there is supposed to be a cheat code for creating items (Caveat, I have not tried this myself, and am translating the technique from a German site, https://www.4cheaters.de/pc/cheats/planets-edge-2358, so cannot guarantee that it works).

    - Create an empty file called ERIC (think it needs to be in CAPS, but not sure. ERIC is the name of the game's designer) in the Planet's Edge directory.

    - Start the game

    - Enter the following, X060 (Not sure if that needs to be a small or a capital X). This will supposedly create an item called a K-Beam, which is what you need to get from Rana Prime. I would try this on a planet's surface, as I don't know where the created item is supposed to appear, whether it pops up on a space next to you or just shows up in your inventory etc.
    IF that works, the K-beam is one of the eight parts of the Centauri Device, so I would take it back to Starbase and make sure that they recognize that you brought it back. Then save the game, exit the game and remove the ERIC file (In addition to the ability to create items, it is also supposed to enable a couple of other cheat keys, that I imagine you would not want to trigger accidentally)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's also a possibility. You can enter x178 three times to get the grav buoys, which should allow you to do the rest of the sector's quests normally, and only get the K-Beam once you've finished them

      Delete
  15. Planet's Edge: Have you tried going straight to Rana on a freshly installed new game? If that works, the problem might be with your savegame.

    I'm not sure how you sourced your copy; the ones I could find online don't have the problem you describe. If you're installing from disks, those might have been corrupted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are several things I haven't tried yet. As I've experimented, I'm 99% sure the problem is with either the GIFNOC or MAP.cc files, but I'm not confident enough in what they do to replace them.

      Delete
    2. Where would Rana be? I still have a copy of this and I can check to see if my version is broken in the same way.

      Delete
    3. "Southeast" of Sol. Go "east" to Achira and then "South."

      Delete
    4. Hey, could you check if you copy also has the infinite ammo bug, where ammo isn't consumed when your gun reloads?

      Delete
    5. Delete the MAP.CC file, copy your last savegame file (MARS.SAV or whatever), and rename the copied verson "MAP.CC" (without quotes). The game will now start, but probably in the wrong location. Just reload your last savegame and it should be fine. If you really want to be sure, save it to another name, quit, and restart again. This worked for me with a bug involving a different planet. Don't know if it will solve the issue in this case, but it shouldn't hurt anything.

      Delete
    6. Thanks! That worked to recover my saved game without having to reinstall everything, but it still froze when I tried to beam down to Rana Prime. I have to check and see if it's just Rana Prime or if visiting any beam-down loca

      Delete
    7. Bollocks. It's not just Rana Prime. The game freezes when I beam down anywhere. Something about the hand-off between the SPACE and LAND programs seems to be going awry.

      Delete
    8. Okay, my copy has beaming down to there working. Which files do you want? The whole thing?

      Delete
    9. Sounds like it could be a corrupt savegame if it won't let you beam to planets you've previously beamed down to. Maybe try loading a previous save and see if that helps.

      Delete
    10. Yeah, I don't think it's the game files. I have to go back through my saved games and see if I can find the most recent that still works.

      Delete
  16. Why did you reject shadowkeep1 ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, no! I was so curious about it! The 3rd of three completely unrelated Shadowkeep games on this blog (including Shadow Keep), and the spiritual sequel to the Bandor trilogy.
      Maybe that was the point: do you have to play ("suffer through") Bandor 3 before playing Shadowkeep 1?

      Delete
    2. I didn't reject it. I could only find the demo.

      Delete
    3. Given the lack of popularity the game has, I think the only way the full game will ever be found is if the original developer still has a copy around or someone finds a copy in their attic that they didn't know about. Its a shame he isn't like the guy who did the Skunny games or the guy who did Walls of Brattock.

      Delete
    4. Ok, I hope somebody finds it.

      Delete
    5. I wonder if it ever was anything more than a demo. Mobygames seems to think it was just that. If this is the case, then the non-demo version of "Shadowkeep 1: the Search" is "The Infernal Tome".

      Delete
  17. I believe Dragon Warrior had that remove-the-roof effect back in 1986.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also recall it in Final Fantasy 1. Down to the "every roof is removed at once".

      Delete
    2. Removing all roofs at once is much easier on the programmer. That's not really a valid excuse for U7 any more, but it certainly is for DW or FF1.

      Delete
    3. Removing all roofs at once bypasses any need to do a line-of-sight check to determine which rooms the player can see into at a given time.

      Not only does this have the potential for great complexity (and thus performance drain) if done beyond a minimal level, it runs the risk of cheating the player out of important items if they don't happen to stand in the right spot to see them.

      This means that there's valid reasons to do it that way both from a programming and end-user perspective.

      Delete
    4. I would think there'd be an easier way to hack it than computing line-of-sight. Just assign unique "tags" to each set of rooms with roofs you want removed when the player enters any one of them. It won't accurately model line-of-sight, but it can fix the problem of being able to see into locked rooms and nearby buildings, and probably convincingly enough for this era/U7.

      Delete
    5. Charles Dougherty mentioned it specifically when I interviewed him. He was proud to have come up with it, so even if some other game did it before him, he invented it independently.

      Delete
    6. A "roof on/roof off" flag is an easy enough thing to implement if you have the memory. U7's engine also had a limited view distance so they could minimize the visual oddities like the roof the next building popping off. One of the side-effects of Exult allowing a larger view screen is it causes those visual issues more readily AND you can actually see things you shouldn't be able to, like border edges beyond the Avatar's original line of sight.

      The Dragon Warrior approach actually did a scan to determine what tiles were visible after changing state; you could visibly see it in DW2 onwards, DW1 hid the work but there would be a long pause when you transitioned.

      Delete
    7. Ah. I remember how frustrated I was with(not RPG) Syndicate, which had a similar (almost) isometric view but of which the roof... were not removed when you were into a building, which means you were totally blind and meant that combat means machine gunning the supposed location of the enemy according to the mini-map.

      Delete
  18. In my install, which I believe to be an original+Forge Of Virtue version(I've had it so long I don't remember where I got it), and you can move with the arrow keys/numpad instead of the mouse.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The GOG version also allows it.

      Delete
    2. I included the disclaimer to clarify that I don't think it was something added in a later release - sometimes GOG versions have some Quality Of Life tweaks because of the version they're based on.

      Delete
    3. You can move with the keys, but this is one of the few situations in which I find the mouse easier to use as a controller for movement.

      Delete
  19. Someone (the healer?) told me to talk to Spark, which I’d already done, early, but I feel there was some sort of trigger to open up some of Spark’s dialogue. Does this happen in the game or am I mistaken?

    It was annoying because In order to progress the plot I needed info from Spark, whose conversation options I thought I’d already exhausted!

    Good Nethack joke.

    I’m trying to play Ultima IV at the moment, which I’ve taken to more easily than VII for some reason - and you can play as a woman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you have to root around in Christopher's possessions (in his house at the top-left, not his shop) to get those keywords. Either way, I don't think Sparks tells you much that you couldn't already guess for yourself or hear from somebody else; you'd only be losing him as a party member, which isn't much of a loss at all.

      Delete
    2. I think Spark tells you the guy has a hook?

      Delete
    3. If I remember correctly, you need to use the key find on the body to open the chest in Spark's father home. This triggers new keywords with Spark.

      Delete
  20. Minor technical correction: filling out every house with interiors in GTA wouldn't take any programming time whatsoever. This is the job of level designers, not programmers ;)

    But they have to make sure the city layout is good, have to design missions/quests, etc etc, so filling out every generic interior would be too much work. Although it would be possible to have a handful of generic apartment interiors and assign them to different buildings with an automatic tool. That would lead to a lot of repetition in interiors, but you van break it up with some randomization. Let's say you have 5 different beds, so when you place a bed in your room template, you tell it to randomly choose one of the five models. You also place 2 bed positions in the room and tell the tool to only place a bed in one of them. That way you can easily create a dozen slightly different bedrooms. It's a good compromise between full random creation and full hand-made rooms. I think a lot of minor details in modern games are already placed like this. Forests are a good example, nobody wants to spend 10 hours placing individual trees, so you just designate an area on the map as woodland and tell your fancy tool to populate it with trees.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ^ this. Same with alternate Avatars. It would require barely any additional programming at all, really just a few more if-else checks, which are trivial to write (though could take a while to debug / QA test). The extra time and cost is in designers/artists and QA testers.

      Delete
    2. I only played U7 on Exult and it had different avatars there iirc. Probably a Serpent Isle addition backported to U7 by Exult.

      Delete
  21. Regarding whether the Avatar has been knighted, you do get knighted by Lord British at the end of Akalabeth. Whether that's actually the same character who becomes the Avatar is open for debate.

    Also, what's the deal with the Guardian face that pops up with his messages? I never saw that when I played through, I just got the voiceover. Was this another thing that got changed in Exult?

    Regarding cities, realistic populations and layouts are all well and good, but I could do without havibg loads of generic NPCs distracting me. I prefer games that pare it down to a manageable level. U7's Britain was pushing at the boundaries of what I'll tolerate.

    I also have this thing when I replay Ultimas about when I read the manual. For U4 I read it when the game intro insists on it. For U7, I wouldn't read it now until I found the book in-game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I assume the face is because Chet's turned voices off, either for the benefit of screenshots or because he finds the voice annoying. With voices off I assume they put the face up so you know who's talking to you.

      Delete
    2. The Guardian's smarmy voiceovers are so good though!

      Delete
    3. I like the performance, especially when he pipes up unexpectedly as you enter a new area. It can get a bit annoying however. He has a little speech every so often when you go to sleep, and every time a party member dies he says "Poor Avatar! Poor, poor Avatar!"

      It's very jarring since the rest of the game features no voice acting whatsoever--which I think is exactly what was intended by including speech in the game. Despite Chet's dislike of the "canon" Avatar, I think its a metaphor for the Guardian speaking directly to you as opposed to the Avatar, your character in the game world.

      Delete
    4. It was pretty special the way they handled the speech. It wasn't too unexpected in the intro, but still very cool. And while it could be annoying at times, I literally jumped out of my seat entering Christopher's workshop for the first time and hearing the Guardian laugh maniacally (and LOUDLY!) - that was one of my favorite moments of the game.

      Delete
    5. I didn't turn voices off deliberately. I can't figure out which setting in the control panel is on or off. It doesn't seem to be consistent, or it keeps resetting on me or something. Sound effects keep randomly disappearing, too.

      Delete
    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    7. I remember the face appearing when I played the original on my friend's PC. That definitely had sound.

      Delete
    8. You might want to tweak your DOSbox settings to disable all non-blaster sound cards, then run Install.exe to reconfigure. You may have a device conflict.

      Delete
    9. Are you using Soundblaster for both music and sound effects? The voice works fine in my installation. I setup Roland for music, Soundblaster Pro for sound - my u7.cfg looks like "r" (next line) "220 7 1", and my dosbox.conf has SBPro2 selected, IRQ 7, DMA 1, HDMA 5. There's a general midi patch you can use to map the MT-32 instruments to if you don't have the MT-32/CM-32L ROMS - even if you switch the music off in game, it makes the intro sound nice. Check out Pix's Ultima Patcher - it's got a lot of other patches too, for the entire series.

      Delete
  22. One cool visual effect is the transparency on the Guardian, even if Chet's color deficiencies won't make it as impressive. Have we ever seen a game on this blog with actual computed transparency like that?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice catch, I don't think any games on the blog before now have had partially-transparent sprites like that.

      Delete
    2. All games up to now, including this one, run on a 256-color palette; this makes doing partial transparency a pretty difficult trick, both in terms of programming and performance-wise. Nice catch!

      Delete
    3. While plenty of games did use 256 colors, that was only a thing on PCs after 1987. Before then, you had 16 colors, and before those you only had 4.

      Delete
  23. "Ultima VII offers the fewest options of any of the games in the series."

    Ultima VIII: "Hold my beer."

    Ultima IX: "What is a beer?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL! :)
      / Lord British pulls the Avatar aside, and explains would beer could have done for him with some of the options from U7.
      // In Buccaneer's Den
      /// Giggity

      Delete
  24. What was retconned about the gypsy from U6? The one in U4 determined your class, which restricted the equipment and magic you could use. In U5 and U6, as an "Avatar" you had no restrictions on those, and it only determined your starting stats.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, but the first time I played U6 about 20 years ago, it seemed like a retcon to me too - if you made a new character in U6, it implies (or outright states) that the character creation process was used to determine the path (or whatever) of the Stranger cum Avatar in U4. Though I guess it was just a way to catch you up to the present, it seemed like a retcon to me to say that the character I just created had been around since U4. Not a biggie for me, just made me slightly wish I had played the DOS version instead of the NES version of U4 first so I could have transferred character (and played U5 in between) - nothing would have really changed, except that the reference would have made more sense and not been a retcon (in my eyes anyway).

      Delete
    2. I'd have to play it again to remember, but it wasn't so much the outcome that was retconned but the methods. The gypsy in IV uses tarot cards but the one in VI uses potion bottles? Something like that?

      Delete
    3. Looking back at your first post on the game the gypsy does have potions. You also mentioned that the questions asked were different than the ones from U4 and U5.

      Delete
    4. The gypsy is also higher resolution now, and wearing more colors. Little things like that don't bother me. It's like rereading a book. The picture in my head probably will be different the second time around, but the story didn't actually change. Especially in a case like this where it's a flashback to Ultima IV, I assume this is the Avatar remembering the event, and memories of events tend to change.

      Delete
  25. Regarding cities:

    For any given amount of resources with which to create one, you're going to have a tradeoff between breadth and depth.

    When depth is the tradeoff, you end up with a 'cardboard cut-out city', such as FO3's Capital Wasteland, some of which will have procedurally generated filler.

    When breadth is the tradeoff, you end up with the 'six-house metropolis' like the aforementioned Cyceal from D:OS.

    When locations aren't set within contiguous game worlds (ie they have are transitions) you can get 'highlight cities' which avoid some of the dissonance by explicitly acknowledging you're only being shown the areas of interest. Mass Effect's Citadel Station springs to mind.

    If I were to pick a city that hit the sweet spot for me, it's probably be something like Beregost. Large enough to be a fairly convincing 'big town', dense enough to be interesting, and enough of the doors opened that you felt like you had the run of the place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. (I shouldn't assume we've all played it - Beregost is a location in Baldur's Gate)

      Delete
    2. I had posted a longer comment to this, and screwed it up in the sending, but: I like that they're all different. I don't want games to all be the same. I loved FO3's D.C. and U7's Britain both, and for different reasons. If games were made so that they were all perfect (assuming everyone could define what it meant), they would all be the same. And it would be cruel to bore Chet like that.

      Delete
    3. Playing Baldur's Gate at the moment and walking through Beregost is very annoying. In general, walking through almost empty screens is among the worst parts of the game (others being the pre made characters, the extremely slow levelling up and the feeling that everything is down to luck)

      Delete
    4. Baldur's Gate has a lot of empty wilderness areas to traverse that have barely anything in them other than 3 generic mob encounters. I much prefer BG2 for that reason, every map there has something interesting in it.

      Delete
    5. @Judd, yes I think there's a place for each style of town.

      @Risingson, BG does feel a bit quaint in certain ways. 1st and 2nd level characters in AD&D aren't really that fun, and a lot of the screens are sparsely populated to the point they seem almost extraneous. It takes a while for the game to really get going. Post Nashkel basically, when your party is capable of greater things that 'kobolds with bows'.

      Beregost can feel a bit exhausting because a lot of the content amounts to low-level fetch quests without a ton of payoff. It does feel like a town though.

      I think the location design in BG2 and Torment are a big step up from the first Infinity Engine title.

      Delete
    6. Personally, I've recently came to appreciate the empty. It gives other things scale and some breathing space to let your guard down. I'm not a big fan of Baldur's Gate, but the sense of travelling, adventuring and exploring in its early game was undeniable. Granted, for it to work that way, there should be some actual content paced between the empty, and all the already mentioned fetch quests undid the illusion quite quickly.

      Delete
    7. I think emptiness is important for the believeability of a game, but not really necessary for the game world to be enjoyable. I know Skyrim's a theme park, but it's a fun one. I do occasionally miss games where the actual act of navigation was part of the journey, a la Morrowind; following road signs, looking for landmarks, noting shortcuts and so on.

      Delete
    8. I'm quite happy for games to have some vast distances to explore, so long as some kind of fast travelling gets unlocked eventually. I don't want to have to be hoofing it from one side of the map to the other when I'm 20-30 hours into a game, but in the early stages? Bring it on.

      Delete
    9. Skyrim has plenty of empty if you don't use fast travel all the time - all those forests, mountain ranges etc. I was thinking something like the aforementioned BG2, where the empty got abstracted, or Divinty: Original Sin, where sometimes it seemed like the devs were on principle trying to pack as much content in as little space as possible.

      Delete
    10. Maybe I'm alone with this but I was always sad that BG2 offed the wilderness exploration of the first one

      Delete
    11. I found their removal jarring at the beginning, but it made sense and I think it was the right call.

      I think emptiness adds to the feeling of vastness - as it does in various points of the fallout remakes, or in early WoW. But when you're area transitioning to an empty space that isn't between anywhere, it doesn't really achieve that.

      Delete
    12. I played BG2 first and when I played the first title many years later, I was pretty disappointed by the uninspired quests compared to BG2, the empty wilderness with boring kobold encounters (not that you can do anything more interesting with low level D&D...), the terribly narrow dungeons (there are only few optional dungeons in the game and their hallways are so narrow your party barely has room to traverse them, which really screws with their pathfinding) and the bland setting. BG2 had creative quests, great dungeons with challenging encounters, used a lot of the weirder stuff from the Forgotten Realms (planes!), etc etc. After the exotic vistas of BG2, BG1's generic pseudo-medieval fantasy bored me to tears.

      Delete
    13. Whenever I get to a city in an RPG I let out a big long-suffering sigh, because I know I'm going to have to *talk* to everyone and take all their stupid quests.

      I mean, I *like* conversation in RPGs, and I like quests, but cities often fall pray to the trap of giving you a bunch of one sort of content (talking, exploration and economics) without sufficient natural breaks for the other sorts (combat, looting, levelling-up).

      I want to get a quest, have an interaction, then go punch something. But I usually feel obligated to explore the whole city in one go, to make sure I understand the factions, the consequences of completing quests, and to complete quests efficiently by finishing all the ones near each other at the same time.

      Delete
    14. That's usually how I end up feeling with cities too. Add that to me feeling like I have to explore every part of the map, even if it's just to clear fog of war on an automap, and both cities and mostly empty wilderness areas become the bane of my existance

      Delete
    15. I think that just means badly designed cities - which, of course, are 90% of RPG cities. Something like Arcanum's Tarant, Deadfire's Neketaka or Durwich in Dark Disciples 2 had more than enough combat encounters and even a few side dungeons within their walls.
      I think the real reason cities tend to become speed bumps is that, first, the movement speed have slowed down significantly compared to DOS games; and second, at some point RPG devs decided that giving every NPC verbose dialog was a good idea. If you look at U7 cities, they're reasonably big, but even without combat they do not slow you down much because you can run through them quite quickly and dialogs are concise and to the point.

      Delete
    16. I found Arcanum an incredibly frustrating experience. I felt the combat and interface obscured an interesting story and fascinating world.

      My memories of Tarant are block after block of the dullest city features ever, difficult to move around because the pathing would crap out if you attempted to move more than a couple screens worth of distance, and my idiot ogres would pick up and equip every iron spike they walked over, when I wanted them to use their fists.

      Delete
    17. I don't disagree about combat in Arcanum being far from good, though at least with the right party (that is, a necromancer and virgil) it's over very quickly. And I don't disagree that Tarant might not be the most exciting location visually (although being an industrial era city, it makes sense narratively). But content-wise it's still one of the best RPG cities ever, both in terms of fluff, and in terms of gameplay opportunities for various builds.
      (and you could use both the metro, and the waypoint system on the automap to help with getting around).

      Delete
    18. My solution to combat was playing in RTS mode, my character was a gnome in a suit with all my stats in charisma and diplomacy or whatever, so I had 5 NPCs, and the two ogres made short work of pretty much everything while my gnome ran away.

      Delete
    19. Arcanum is my favorite RPG ever made and while I acknowledge that the comabt is not very good, I don't get most of the complaints about it. It may not be great but at least it's not offensively bad and doesn't waste your time. As long as you got a decent party you can cleave through enemies in a matter of seconds. Some of the dungeons and enemy types can be a pain in the ass, but a small filler encounter of 5 rats is over in 5 seconds when you use the real time combat.

      Contrast that with some other games that have tons of filler combat and a very slow RTwP system. Specifically NWN comes to mind for me, which has probably the dullest combat in the history of RPGs, and fighting through a trash mob of 6 bandits can take a whole minute.

      Arcanum's lightning fast real time mode is a blessing.

      Delete
  26. The large game making houses have in a way ruined good production, especially for rpg quality. They pressure the staff to get the product out and that means time can´t be dedicated to good ideas like "make every building fully interactive." Making money is a dirty business, especially at the big end of town. Lots of games have endings cut or game elements simplified and so on for these reasons. The wikimedia model of donations could be an interesting way instead of the for profit game houses.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This isn't new though. This has been a reality of publishing since what, the late 80s?

      Delete
    2. And plenty of indie games are semi-finished at release. The programmers ran out of money, energy, had personal crises, didn't budget for enough playtesting etc.

      Delete
    3. Serpent's Isle was going to be ever so much better in the second half until Origin sold to EA... and apparently a good bit of design work got dropped with the rush to ship.

      It's unfortunate that the final trilogy of Ultima was so compromised in many ways. Ultima VIII has legions of detractors, and the tortured development of IX is just painful to read about.

      I do think that playing the complete VII with Exult just about gets you there.

      Delete
    4. Actually, Jimmy over at the Digital Antiquarian blog just recently covered the whole story of Origin selling to EA and how it affected everything if anyone is interested!

      He runs a very nice companion to the Addict.

      Delete
    5. A modern counterpart to the "professional game companies have ruined production" is Star Citizen. Had someone been able to shoot the engineer, we'd probably have had a decent game from the project years ago. Instead it just lurches forward indefinitely.

      Delete
    6. Addict's humorously titled "Quest of the Cave Train" highlighted another example of developer exhaustion syndrome.

      Delete
    7. I actually like Ultima VIII from the moment I had the patch to make the jumping mini-games trivial. The story had breadth, the main city, while it lacked the fluff of the cities in Ultima VII or of Morrowmind, had "something" that no other city in a video game ever game - maybe this sense of despair when living in a medievalish tyrannical regime. It definitely did not feel like an Ultima, though.

      Delete
    8. I really enjoyed the magical systems in Ultima VIII too! I think for sheer fun they were some of the best, not really balanced in any sort of way, but just fun to use.

      Delete
  27. On the controls: technically you can do everything with keyboard. It is not a good idea and if you try Iolo will break the 4th wall and tell you to get a mouse.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hi Addict. Any special reason or story behind your preference for 'Gideon'?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gideon was the name of his characters when he finally beat Nethack:

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2013/06/nethack-30-ascended.html

      "I'd absolutely had it at that point. I was resolved never to play NetHack again, and I got a "final rating" posting half-typed. But a couple days later, I was waiting for a routine to process on my computer, and I thought, "what the hell." I fired it up again and selected the next name in my biblical list: Gideon.

      Gideon turned out to be my first character to defeat the Wizard of Yendor, my first character to place his hands on the Amulet of Yendor, and my first character to ascend--all at once."

      Delete
    2. That's correct. And it worked well because I've always liked the name. I was a big fan of the John Jakes centennial series when I was a kid (The Bastard, The Rebels, etc.), and one of the main characters was Gideon Kent.

      Delete
    3. I read those books too! Very visceral writing, but well done.

      Delete
    4. Phew. For a while I was worried that Chester was a fan of the truly terrible X-Men villain, and his enormous green ponytail.

      Delete
    5. You should allow commenters (or Patreon) to propose names you will play with.
      I do that with my AAR/Let's Play (without Patreon) :)

      Delete
  29. The NPCs in Oblivion and Skyrim(past Riverwood) felt manufactured for the purposes of dispensing and advancing their related side-quests. Dialogue needed to be limited to support voice-acting. It felt like in Ultima 7 you could converse with someone and get a better feel for their relationship with others, and their place in the world.

    The NPCs and their dialogues and schedules are what amazed me playing this game as a kid. Origin really lived up to their tagline "We Create Worlds". Just not particularly big worlds.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I counted the game ranking sheet won status and theres 45 games not won and 34 games not winnable N/A in the ranking sheet but your main page figures suggest 44 not won and 35 not winnable...

    ReplyDelete
  31. I'd normally agree with you that more character customisation options are desirable, especially for a game (as this one) where the personality and background of the protagonist doesn't greatly influence or define the plot, and there's little in the way of spoken dialogue to worry about having to adjust to accommodate player choices.

    But something about Ultima 7 making you just play "the Avatar" made it feel epic and important to me in the Ultima franchise in a way that the others didn't - made everything the Guardian was doing feel *personal*, like he'd screwed over all of Britannia just to get at *me*, rather than having an unrelated plan that I've turned up to stop.

    That opening where he talks to you directly with voiced dialogue probably does more to generate that effect though. And while I'm not blond or burly, I do wonder whether I'd have felt it was so personal if I was someone who wasn't white-skinned.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To me, it seems like they made the Avatar more generic, possibly for the fact that his/her virtues are already well established. And I like that about it, but still would have preferred more choices in avatar. I like that though the virtues still play a role, they aren't as much of a focus, and you can generally get away with things that would have made you "lose and eighth" in U4 (or merely lose karma in 5 and 6). I also think the end of the Enlightment Ages was foreshadowed nicely at the end of Underworld 1 - when at the end, vafgrnq bs urycvat npuvrir Pnovehf' qernz bs n hgbcvna Nolff jvgu gur qvssrerag enprf yvivat va crnpr, lbh yvgrenyyl unir gb guebj nyy gur gnyvfznaf bs iveghr vagb gur zntzn punzore ng gur obggbz bs n tbqqnza ibypnab. It... was a different time.

      Delete
  32. Also FWIW Phantasy Star 1 (1987, Sega Master System) animates the waves on the beach when you fight near a seaside, but it's entirely possible that U7 is the first to animate it in the *overworld* (albeit that it's one of the few with a sufficiently zoomed-in overworld to do this).

    ReplyDelete
  33. This hasn't come up in any replies, but since Chester's playing this game in DOS I want to leave this warning now: if you have the flying carpet DO NOT fly over the Isle of the Avatar. If you fly over the wrong place it'll close a door in the final dungeon that you can't open. It's a game ending bug, but you won't know it until you're almost done. Hopefully you're not getting this too late.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have mixed feelings about the game, though I really like it all in all:

    Pros are the interesting world with a lot of sights and side activities and the great villain that is the Guardian. I love the ominous message from the Guardian's staticy void. You should turn the sound back on so you can get the full effect of the Guardian.

    Cons are the awful inventory, the bugs and the overlong and tedious main quests. I could deal with the inventory if not for a serious bug: Important items randomly disappear while you sleep, which can make the game unbeatable. I remember the interminable quest to get the time cube, which involves numerous trips to a five square foot area in the middle of a forest the size of the Amazon rainforest. Getting to that area is a horrible slog even if you use the magic carpet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is a very Stephen King subtext in the game that I like: Britannia did not need The Guardian to be classist as f and hell on earth except for a few people.

      Delete
    2. A friend of mine and I worked up a treatment for a fan remake of Ultima VII called "Lord British Must Die", based on our observation that he is an absolutely awful king. He has an excuse for needing the Avatar to defeat the Guardian, sure, but does he have an excuse for not knowing who's in his castle dungeons? He doesn't even have to walk outside his castle to find problems. Has he even bothered to crack open the main publication of the massive religio-political movement that's been sweeping his kingdom?

      And that's saying nothing of Cove or Paws, both of which are less than a day's travel from his castle. Does he have any idea what's going on in those places? His privy council seems to know, but they don't seem particularly motivated to do anything about it.

      Long story short, the people of Serpent Isle may be a bunch of self-centered jerks, but they were right about Beast British.

      Delete
  35. I´ve worked out your secret real identity Chet!
    Stay tuned folks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. was it the buttler in the library, and he would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for you damned kids.

      Delete
  36. I don't know if previous comments have asked this, but Chet - How are you and Irene holding up during this coronavirus lockdown? I hope you and your family are doing well during this tough time.

    ReplyDelete
  37. The lockdown is stupid. Just let the virus rip. We can´t stop it. Postponing the inevitable is pointless.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Phew. With several at-risk family and loved ones, as well as being compromised myself, I thought I might have to do something to avoid catching and spreading it. Since it's inevitable that we all die anyway, I guess I might as well forget about it and start coffin shopping. I'll have to call my doctor and cancel my appointments. Glad Boardgamst was here to clear that up for me! /s

      Delete
    2. The point of the lock down isn't to stop it, it's to slow it down long enough for our crappy healthcare system to gather enough resources to treat both victims of the virus and other health concerns. And also give them time to develop treatments and a vaccine.

      The 1918 epidemic is the model here. St. Louis locked down, Philadelphia didn't, they even had a parade. Guess which one had thousands dead and hospitals crammed to capacity?

      Delete
    3. Yeah, you go boardgamst! Off to the nearest subway to lick all the handrails!!

      Delete
    4. Think about this: even if you're probably right, it's still worth a shot. We can let it rip after if we have to.

      Delete
    5. Don't you dare take my lockdown away! It's been the most mentally and emotionally freeing experience I've had in over a decade. We should have one every year.

      Delete
  38. It's funny how the small locations didn't bother me in this series when they bother me so much more in modern games. I think the solution in just time and a combination of different approaches. For instance you could have a population like in a GTA game and interact with the characters on a basic level (trade, directions, offer employment, rob them, whatever) while still having complex characters intermingled with them. As for every interior being explorable, I think it's just a matter of some clever procedural generation. It's certainly possible and we see it even now in games being developed like Project Zomboid. Advances in AI should also be able to help with more realistic feeling procedural generation over the next decade. Gabe Newell from Valve just gave an interview somewhere on that very topic, but I can't remember where I saw it. I went back and played Ultima 7 a few years back and didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I remembered and even with the GOG version I eventually gave up because I encountered a game breaking bug in Minoc, so be aware of that. I can't remember the specifics, but I believe someone wouldn't talk to me making it impossible to advance in the story.

    ReplyDelete
  39. The approach I see mostly in Japanese RPGs is that towns are usually shown to be a mere representation of their actual size because you can clearly see the city continues beyond what you can explore. Those games usually stars characters instead of avatars (pun intended) so it's easy for me to interpret this as the characters choosing not to go too far off from the important places (marketplace) in every town due to time constraints.

    Sometimes I do sigh at not being able to approach a place that looks neat or not having a bigger area to explore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a relatively new approach, not getting used much until the late 90s for the very good reason that it takes a lot of system resources to do it well. Most older jRPG towns are of the "7 houses, 4 shops, a temple and and inn" variety.

      That ties into the notion of layers of abstraction that the Addict discusses in the post. THe more immersive the game, the more microtowns stand out.

      When you're popping out to a world map, it doesn't seem so bad to go three tiles from the town to the dungeon, because that's an abstract distance. When the smallest hamlet takes up the same one tile space on the world map that the largest metropolis does, or even when the larger cities take up two or three tiles, you can abstract away the notion that you only see a few buildings because those are the important ones that have relevance to your quest.

      When you're set to one scale, and encounter monster-filled dungeons five minutes away from the Imperial Capital, that's a lot harder to rationalize away, even if you mentally note the accelerated day/night cycle and translate the 5 minutes to "really" being 50 minutes.

      When every mundane aspect of daily life is modeled in a way that has nothing to do with the player, and city size is modeled by one actually being physically larger (but not anywhere close to large enough), it becomes harder to pretend that you're only seeing the people relevant to your quest.

      Delete
  40. I can understand your preference of ambient sound effects over any kind of music. I just wonder when you play modern RPGs (like Skyrim etc.) on your couch with your console, do you still turn off the music there as well?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. I find it interferes with the background and ambient sounds, which I enjoy so much more.

      Delete
  41. I am glad you are playing this game, as I've never managed or had the patience. While I enjoy the trappings of the more modern graphics/sound/music that Ultima VII presents, every time I attempt a playthrough I find myself playing Ultima V instead.

    ReplyDelete
  42. One of my favourite RPGs and the pinnacle of the Ultima series. The combat is kinda hot garbarge but otherwise i love the more mature storyline, every NPC being unique (expect guards... they are bred from the same clone) and no more transitional screens. Everyhing is represented in the world and you can enter caves, cities... anywhere without loading into a new location. Sadly it's all downhill for Ultima from here.

    Each of the male portraits actually represent the Avatar portrayed on the boxes of Ultima 4, 5 and 6 :)

    At anyrate, i was excited when i saw U7 coming up on your list!

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

As of January 2019, I will be deleting any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.