Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Black Gate: Making Britannia Great Again

This is taken out of context, but it amuses me to pretend it happened right after I said. "Hello, Lord British! It's good to see you again!"
          
I thought I remembered that The Black Gate's plot leads you around Britannia on a leash, and for the purposes of my second session, I was willing to follow. For role-playing reasons alone, I wanted to see Lord British as soon as possible and get his take on recent events. All the clues from the murder in Trinsic also pointed in that direction, including the fact that there was a similar murder there a few years ago and that the Trinsic murderers--a gargoyle and a man with a hook for a hand--had likely escaped on The Crown Jewel, bound for Britain.
             
It's a little unnerving that the Guardian approves of my choice of route.
            
A few years ago, I tried to calculate the "real world" size of Ultima IV. I came up with figures ranging from 4 square miles (if you go with 10 feet per square, which made sense in relation to houses and furniture) to around 75 square miles (if you go by in-game travel time) to 144 square miles (if you go by the practical average size of landscape features). Even at its most generous, Britannia is the size of a large town or a small county. That is (somewhat disappointingly) felt more keenly in this game, where the developers significantly expanded the ground size of the cities but not the size of the world. The Serpent Mountains are now basically the rear wall of Lord British's castle, with no open plain between the two. Paws is a twist in the road up from Trinsic, and Britain continues immediately from Paws. All of this is to say is that "a ship bound from Trinsic to Britain" is more than a little silly since the entirety of the ocean is about the size of a municipal reservoir, and the distance from the dock of Trinsic to the dock at Britain is maybe a dozen boat lengths. You could walk it before the ship's crew had a chance to finish hoisting the sails.
         
As I said, the village of Paws is a twist in the road north of Trinsic, and there's something at that twist in the road: a theater where three characters named Paul, Meryl, and Dustin perform a "passion play" about the Fellowship. We paid to see it. It was a bunch of melodramatic nonsense about how a man loses his wife but rises out of his despair through the inner strength he finds through the Fellowship. He pledges half his wealth to the Fellowship and somehow receives a bundle of gold in return, at which point he declares:

The voice came to me in a dream
'Twas mine 'inner' voice so fair
I now have a companion and provider
And a master about whom I care.
         
Are you fourteen or four?
        
If you'd been paying attention, you'd note that the terms "companion," "provider," and "master" are what the Guardian calls himself during the game's introduction, but in case you weren't paying attention, the game calls attention to it for you:
            
Why not just provide a flashback while you're at it?
         
So only a few hours into the game, not only is it clear that the Fellowship is rotten, but that there's some connection between them and the Guardian whose face keeps taunting you. Maybe that's okay, but I'm not sure that for storytelling reasons it was a good idea to show that many cards that quickly.
          
It's called "intelligence-gathering," Iolo. Look it up.
         
If the Fellowship's basic corruption isn't already obvious to the player, it becomes more so in Paws, where the organization runs a homeless shelter but only lets you stay there if you join. A couple of proud beggars panhandle in the north of town and refuse to join the Fellowship, speaking contemptuously of a fellow beggar who did the opposite and now recruits for them. One of the beggars is on crutches and the other has no legs below the knees.
               
I guess magical healing doesn't restore limbs.
         
(The beggar on crutches is either a peeping tom or the programmers didn't bother to restrict the opening-the-shutters-on-a-sunny-day animation to NPCs who actually own the structure in question.)
            
Pervert.
         
The shelter is run by a married couple, Feridwyn and Brita. They're skeptical that I'm the Avatar. Other than Merrick, the beggar, there's a widow named Alina staying there with her baby. Her husband, Weston, has recently been jailed in Britain for "stealing fruit from the Royal Orchards"--based on the testimony of a Fellowship member. She's hung up on the irony of being forced to join the organization that ratted on her husband, but I'm wondering how stealing fruit from the Royal Orchards could possibly be a crime, let alone one that carries a prison sentence. One more thing to talk to Lord British about.
       
Back in Trinsic, I had found some scroll from the "Britannian Purity League" demanding that someone "Keep Britannia clean -- send the gargoyles back!" I had suspected that there might be a connection with the Fellowship. Feridwyn and Brita had the same scroll prominently on a table in the shelter, right next to the Book of the Fellowship. I guess that removes all doubt. It's just weird to see an organization striving for legitimacy so open about their racism.
           
Send them back where? Isn't the other side of the world gone?
        
Feridwyn and Brita have a son named Garritt. They insist he's a master of the pan pipes and will one day study at the conservatory in Britain. The only other child in town is a boy named Tobias whose mother, Camile, runs a farm. The two don't like each other but are forced to hang out sometimes because of their age. Tobias hates the Fellowship. Feridwyn and Brita judge Camile for being a single mother. They hope that the behavior of their perfect son rubs off on Tobias.
           
The social commentary in this game is 30 years old but, depressingly, not out-of-date.
                       
Camile was delighted when she saw me in the inn. She somehow recognized me immediately.
        
How?!
         
The source of her delight soon became apparent:
         
If George Washington ever steps out of a portal in my yard, I'm going to ask if he wouldn't mind cutting down some trees before he moves on.
            
In 200 years, the legend of the Man from Another World who shows up to Do Menial Errands and Solve Small Problems has clearly grown strong.
            
Meanwhile, the butcher, Morfin, is reporting that someone has recently stolen a quantity of serpent venom from him--serpent venom being an extract from silver serpents, a creature that has only appeared in one previous Ultima game, Exodus, where it was unique. [Edit: I guess I"m wrong. They were in Ultima VI; I just never met them.] According to Morfin, serpent venom causes increases in strength, endurance, and euphoria, skin necrosis after repetitive use, and fatality at high doses. The government is close to regulating sales of it. Morfin coyly reports that he "keeps a small stock" of it and occasionally sells it to "the apothecary in Britannia." (I assume he means "Britain.") The owner of the abattoir, Andrew, tells me that Morfin hides a key in his shop. I spend some time moving things around before I find it under a plant. It opens not the locked door in his shop but a chest in his home, where I find some gold but refuse to take it.
       
I identify a key under a plant.
          
But I do find a key in his house that opens the door in his shop. It opens a door to a small room with an unlocked chest. Here, I find several vials of silver serpent venom, five gold bars (indicating he's been making a lot from his side-business), and a ledger showing dozens of sales over the last year--clearly not just a "small supply" going to some apothecary. When I confront him with the ledger, he confesses that he sells the venom to the Britannian Mining Company, which uses it to make gargoyles work longer hours.
        
Pro-tip: Any time you argue that what you're doing isn't "technically" against the law, you've already lost the argument.
         
Anyway, you've probably already solved the mystery from what I've told you. Feridwyn and Brita are quick to blame Tobias--a blame that grows stronger when a vial of venom is found among Tobias's things. But Tobias says that Garritt was hanging around his place, supposedly "looking for a ball," and indeed I soon find a vial of venom among Garritt's belongings. Moreover, Garritt soon displays symptoms of using the venom. This revelation causes Feridwyn and Brita to realize their own arrogance and selfishness and to re-dedicate their lives to . . . Sorry, I can't even finish.
           
          
Paws has a few other things going on. The register at the only inn in town, the Salty Dog, shows that someone calling himself "The Avatar" has been there recently, as has Dupre. I buy some bread there for my party members' bottomless maws. The innkeeper, Polly, is the object of affection of the miller, Thurston, and I get the two crazy kids together after a couple of dialogue back-and-forths. Both refuse to join the Fellowship for their own reasons, which is as close to anything as a virtue test in this game.
       
The miller confesses his unrequited love to a complete stranger.
          
There's an antique dealer in town who sells a sextant for 20 gold pieces, a lot less than the guy in Trinsic wanted. When you use the sextant, it tells you your coordinates. But when you use the map while in possession of a sextant, it shows your position in the game world.
          
If only this could be called up with a single keypress.
             
I realized with a start that I'd lingered in Paws too long. An obviously-evil organization with a connection to an extra-dimensional demon is gaining power; the gargoyles, whose home we accidentally destroyed, are being exploited and denigrated; there's a booming drug trade; a serial murderer is at work; we just had an ominous earthquake; people are being jailed for stealing fruit; maimed farmers are begging in the streets; and someone said she's not even sure that the shrines are around anymore. Surely, Lord British must have something to say about all of this. It was time to head to the castle and get an explanation.
       
Face-palm.
       
Okay, I'm guilty of a little selective screenshotting here. In truth, Lord British seems to realize--
     
You're not helping.
           
No, seriously. When pressed a little bit, Lord British admits that--
        
I think I'd advise you to take the Fifth from now on.
      
I really am somewhat kidding but, as we'll soon see, not entirely. The way Lord British is written in both VI and VII is curious. The character has never had a lot of depth, but for many games that was largely due to a sparseness of dialogue inherent in the limitations of the game engines. Here, as in Ultima VI, he has a lot of dialogue, just hardly any that conveys any of the things that we are repeatedly told about Lord British in the game materials. He shows little wisdom, little nobility. He seems bored, unengaged, uninterested. And of course he's just wrong about many things, including the Fellowship and its founder:
        
Really?!
          
It's not like Batlin has been particularly crafty, either. Lord British just isn't paying attention. Now I'm all for having complex NPCs with flaws, and perhaps it is time to introduce some complexity into the tired trope that TVTropes calls "The Good King." It just still seems a bit weird that the owner of the company allowed his avatar to be treated this particular way. I'm trying to imagine the meeting at which this dialogue played out:
         
Developers: "We think Lord British needs some flaws to balance out his wisdom and nobility."
     
Garriott (thinks for a moment): "Make him well-meaning but wrong about everything."
     
Developers (nodding): "That's good."
     
Garriott (catching a glimpse of one of the custodians bending over to empty the trash): "Also, maybe he's boning the domestic help?"
     
Developers: "Ooh, even better."
     
Garriott: "Also, make sure you really put the screws to Electronic Arts again. It's not like we're about to sell them the company."
      
Everyone: [roars laughter]
        
I'll cover my full dialogue with Lord British (as well as his nighttime proclivities) next time. For now, a few notes about the small things that the developers programmed into the game:
       
  • Double-clicking on a sundial gives you the current time. 
             
Not very precise, but still . . .
        
  • Clouds pass overhead and temporarily darken what you can see on the ground. 
  • You have to be careful walking through or near swamps. The very second your character strays into the swampy terrain, he gets poisoned and glows green. I assume swamp boots prevent this condition.
        
A cloud passes overhead, rain falls, the swamp burbles.
         
  • If you double-click on a chair, the Avatar sits there while the entire party tries to find seating nearby. Sometimes it produces comical arrangements.
       
Wow, they are really mad that I made them watch that play.
            
  • Double-clicking on a cow causes all the party members to yell, "Moo!" at it. This reminds me of how every time we drive by a field of cows, I'm compelled to roll down the window and yell "Moo!"
          
Irene, meanwhile, is compelled to say, "Chet, can we please not this one ti---"
           
  • According to the ledger in Morfin's shop, the current Britannian year is 360. I can't remember if specific numbered years have ever come up before. I assume the numbering is from the re-creation of Sosaria into Britannia between Ultima III and IV.
  • The members of the Fellowship all use the exact same words to describe the organization and its philosophy. At first, I thought this was lazy re-use of dialogue, but now I'm thinking that it's deliberately meant to suggest that they're just parroting what they've been told.
     
It's not many games that allow you to get 2,500 words out of a couple of hours of walking and dialogue. I'm three entries into The Black Gate, and I've still yet to fight a single combat, level up, or do anything that you would expect from an RPG. And yet, the developers have managed to create an intense urgency upon the part of the player to get out there and fix this place. This desire is particularly acute to a repeat visitor--someone who is making the trip to Britannia for the fourth time. I imagine that players who came to the world for the first time in Ultima VII didn't feel that same angst. They might have enjoyed the game for its plot and mechanics, but lacked the sense that a place they loved was in serious danger.
    
Well, one thing at a time. Today, the Mystery of the Stolen Venom. Tomorrow, the world.
     
 Time so far: 5 hours

126 comments:

  1. One correction, silver serpents were in Ultima VI. If you blew the silver horn in the Gargish homeland it would summon several. They're tough to kill.

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    1. In Ultima 6 there were also many silver serpents in the Tomb of the Gargish Kings, an optional dungeon in the Gargoyle realm.

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    2. Yes! And tough buggers they were... remember fighting these guys.

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    3. Huh. I guess I just never encountered them. I remember the ORDER of the Silver Serpent, of course.

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  2. And also, the Ultima VII manual has them listed as a monster but they are not actually in the game. Which makes it puzzling where the venom is coming from...

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  3. stepped pyramidsApril 5, 2020 at 5:06 PM

    Silver Serpents were in Ultima VI. The manual even mentions that the gargoyles use the serpents' venom as a combat drug.

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  4. Man, that scene of the rain over the swamp looks so good. If nothing else, the atmosphere of Ultima 7 is timeless.

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  5. Man, this was a great update.

    Ultima VII was my first Ultima (and I like to say I learned Old French with Ultima VII [which had been translated into a fake Old French] and English with Serpent Isle [which had NOT been translated]. I did not feel the urgency that much, but well I also found for instance the play about the Fellowship boring and missed all the heavy-handed clues given in it.

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  6. I think coming into U7 fresh vs. having played previous games is a double-edged sword. I only played U6 before U7 (I hadn't yet come to appreciate top-down graphics at the time), and the fact that it took place on the same map took a lot of fun out of exploration for me. I don't even think I went too far before dropping it. I can't imagine what I'd have felt if it was my fourth time in Britannia.

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    1. I agree... the map changed a bit between 4 and 5, but by 6 it was a bit stale. Then in 7 it was so small!

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    2. Yeah, as much as I love Morrowind and even replay it every couple of years, I'm glad Bethesda picks a different province for each Elder Scrolls game. Getting the same landmass except with better graphics and different gameplay each time would get stale.

      But I guess back in the day the technical improvements between each game were major enough that witnessing them gave you a "whoa" moment.

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    3. That's odd; one of my favorite things about the Ultima series as a kid was that you got to see the same places in each game. Part of the fun was revisiting the old locations and seeing what had changed.

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    4. Yeah, the destruction of Skara Brae and restoration of New Magincia only really meant something in these games due to your personal history with them.

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    5. It's personality differences. People who are high in trait Openness love new things. Ooh shiny! They are quickly bored and are always moving on to the next new thing.

      People low in trait Openness love the familiar. Think of the hobbits in LotR. It doesn't take a lot to make them content and they prefer spending time with old friends to going to all the effort of exploring new places that probably aren't as nice as where they're from anyway.

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    6. I really like the idea of revisiting old places from the previous game, and seeing how they've evolved. "An intense urgency upon the part of the player to get out there and fix this place", yes, I very much agree with that. It would have been even better if there were more recurring NPCs from Ultima 6 (i.e. if the time lapse between the games were less).

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    7. I guess that also depends on how fond you are of this particular setting. Me, I don't like Britannia all that much, it's too simplistic for me in a bad way. On the other hand, for example, in Exile/Avernum games I didn't have too big a problem with revisiting the world. But then again, that series doesn't reuse its worldmap to the sam extent - in each game, you visit some familiar places, but there are also major new areas to explore.

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    8. I actually loved the exploration in U7. There's a lot of wilderness, and much of it is crammed with bandit camps, pirate caves/fortresses, hidden treasure, hermit mages attacking you for no reason, little islands with not much on them... sure, it's a bit small if you play it after Skyrim or some other modern open-world CRPG. At its time, it was breathtaking. After all, walking from Britain to Trinsic in U6 required just a minute too, once you'd got quick with the keyboard. In U7, you could see the expansion of towns, esp. the "metropolis" Britain, which was crowed about in the manual and by some NPCs, for yourself.

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    9. The opening stages of an Ultima game, exploring Britannia and finding out how things have changed, are among my favourite things in gaming. Is there any other gaming series that does it quite like this? There are plenty that set games in new area of the same world, while Hyrule is different in every Zelda game. I don't know of any other series that presents the same world, game after game.

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    10. "I don't know of any other series that presents the same world, game after game." - the Avernum series that I mentioned above does something similar. Avernum 1, 4 and 6 are all set on the same world map in different periods, just like Ultima, and Avernum 2 largely on it with some additional parts.

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    11. Gothic II kind of did this but it did not work very well for me.

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  7. As someone whose forays into Britannia are limited to the (mostly incidental) Underworld duo, it's always fascinating to learn more about the core canon. I suspect I'll gain a lot of necessary background lore for UU2 in particular from these blogs, so don't feel you have to make each entry action-packed from here on out if you're having a good time luxuriating in the setting.

    As for the exploring familiar territory and appreciating the changes (even if they're usually negative), I feel the same way about the Kamurocho district in the Yakuza series. Something about revisiting old haunts in games, with perhaps a graphical face-lift between generations, has a comforting nostalgia to it (though it's also part of the reason I can't play more than one Yakuza game per year - I'd go crazy from the repetitiveness).

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    1. I can't imagine playing Ultima Underworld 2 without having played Ultima 7! Although I suppose there must have been many that did. I'm sure Chet's blogging will fill in some of the blanks with the various characters that reside in the Castle in that game. (also a game I'm really looking forward to being covered on this blog!)

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    2. I only JUST overcame my usual reticence to pay sequels and allowed myself to try The Witcher 2. I can't imagine coming into the SEVENTH game of a series without having previously tried it.

      By the way, all the people who say "you don't need to have played The Witcher to understand The Witcher 2" are full of it. The plot centers on major things that happened during the first game, and I'm still confused about a bunch of stuff even though I read the Wikipedia summary and watched a video.

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    3. True, but the first Witcher game is pretty clunky compared to the second one. I've tried to go back to the first game several times, but can't bring myself to beat the tutorial castle for the fourteenth time.

      I'll probably just jump into the second Witcher game if I ever finish my Elder Scrolls playthrough.

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    4. You can't imagine someone going into a series at entry 7 without ever having played any of the previous games?

      Well, there are people out there who genuinely believe Final Fantasy started with 7, so...

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    5. I started the series with Serpent Isle, so there.

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    6. I remember being aware of the other Ultima games, but I think I ended up playing them in this order: UU, UU2, U8, Akalabeth - U6 (collection, couldn't get U7 to work after multiple tries), U9, U7 (Exult). Haven't played them all to completion, mind, and I think I spent a lot of time on the Ultima Dragons sites when the internet was somewhat young to catch up on lore I'd missed from my jumping around.

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    7. Possibly people are saying, "Playing the first Witcher game will not help you understand Witcher 2", rather than "you don't have to".

      The first Witcher game handles its plot and NPCs (and most other things) fairly poorly and it's hard to remember much of what happened shortly after putting it down.

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    8. Not to mention The Witcher series references MAJOR characters and events that only happened in the books as if you should have experienced them before...

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    9. My first Ultima was 8. It was also my last for a long time...

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    10. Looking forward to read some of your impressions about Witcher 2, even if interspersed between normal posts or comments.

      Recently I read an old blog entry about how bleak is the world of Fallout; but boy, sometimes the world of the Witcher makes it seem like Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood, in comparison.

      Definitely, playing the first game helps in getting familiar with the universe, although 2 has a pretty self-contained story.

      Of course, all titles reference characters and events described in the books; although the same could be said of any licensed game (I had no idea who Elminster or Drizzt were, when playing Baldur's Gate the first time), I don't think the games do a particularly good job in getting players new to the universe up to speed.

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    11. @Alan Twelve, I remember preordering Ultima 9, and I was burned so badly by it that the following game I pre-ordered has been Dark Souls 3, some 20+ years later.

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    12. My first Ultima was 7, my first Final Fantasy was 7, and my first Witcher was 3. I played two of those through to completion and one I gave up on, but not because of missing backstory.

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    13. I played Witcher 3 after playing only about 5 hours of the first one and never having played 2, and it felt a lot like starting to watch a TV drama at season 3, all these characters kept turning up and it was like I was supposed to know them and a bunch of stuff they had done prior. Still a great game, but they could have handled that a bit better.

      I came into the Ultima series with #8 and liked it enough to go back and play 7 only to find that it was a completely different (and better) game, but I never really got the same effect like I did years later with Witcher 3, perhaps because the manual does a decent enough job at explaining the history.

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    14. While my experience with Ultima was playing the games in order a few years ago, I do have a friend who's only played Ultima 9 due to that having been the only one to come out while she was old enough to be playing PC games. The fact she also prefers the Might and Magic games probably didn't help much either when it came to her not playing the other games

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    15. Final Fantasy's main series stories are self contained, so there's no back story to miss by jumping in at 7. That's unlike Witcher or Ultima where events and NPCs have history with the main character.

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    16. I never used to have a problem with jumping into things in the middle, because back in the day it's what we had to do to enjoy pretty much anything. Now that the internet gives us access to so much content, though, I can't do it anymore. If I can start from the beginning, why would I do anything else?

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    17. I may be the only person in the whole universe who enjoyed Ultima 9. My last Ultima prior to 9 was 4, with about 15 minutes of UU1 in between.

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    18. I liked Ultima 9 too, despite it's flaws. There's a dialogue patch that changes the plot quite a bit, closer to the Bob White plot if I recall (you have to turn off voices). The whole Guardian Era is a different animal than the Enlightenment one, and while 5 and 6 are my favorites, I wouldn't want more of the same. Of course, I also like 3 better than 4, so maybe my tastes are just different.

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    19. My surprise was in particular playing Underworld 2 without knowledge of Ultima 7, since although not particularly referenced in Serpent Isle, they do feel very much a trilogy (more so than 7/8/9, for me, anyway).

      I started mid-way through the Ultima series as it was when I was younger, having played (but not completed) Ultima 4+5+6 before U7. For the earlier games this was much easier I feel, as there wasn't that much to know, and the characters' personalities grew only a relatively small amount in each subsequent game.

      Other series make things easier, especially more modern ones. The Elder Scrolls in particular likes to have in-game books about previous games, as well as often being in different provinces or different time periods. I think that more people have played Skyrim than the rest of the series combined.

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    20. I tried to play The Witcher 1 before the second, several times, and I find it a very boring, irritating, awfully written and designed game. And also very ugly. And I have a high tolerance for weird European video games.

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    21. I played Witcher 1 once, very briefly. If I pay for a game I will do my absolute best to get my money's worth from it, but I couldn't force myself past the tutorial area.

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    22. Mr Addict, what major plot points from Witcher 1 is center of Witcher 2? Becouse in W1 you were fighting with a grup called Salamandra and in the W2 you... don't :) Everything that happen in W1 is only a background which isn't much relevant to the new plot. Not even many characters return in the sequel (in the Witcher 3 however... ;)).
      Yeah it's good to know about what country is fighting who and which king dislike some witch, but is definetly not essencial. For that, read the books :D

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    23. Since I haven't played the first Witcher, I don't know. But The Witcher 2 opens with Geralt in a castle whose ruler the player is clearly supposed to know, in bed with a woman the player is clearly supposed to know, talking about how the Witcher lost his memories--an event that clearly took place in the last game--so there's three things right there.

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    24. All your relationships with characters are incredibly shallow in the first one. Any sense of familiarity in the second one is an illusion for the sake of better writing. It feels like you're missing something even if you've played the first one, so stick with it, it's really worth it. And knowing 2 actually does help with understanding 3. Also, I remember one of the designers citing U7 as an important influence on W3, if that helps motivate you :)

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    25. All true Mr. Addict but you are in the exact same spot in Witcher 1. Some guys that saved main hero knows him, but he has an amnesia and don't recognise anyone (lite spoiler rot13: naq gung nzarfvn jba'g or pherq ol gur raq bs tnzr). Every main character is introduced like that: "we know each other, but you don't remember me, let me explain". And as I said the plot of W1 is almost irrelevant to the new one, only few of main characters returns and you have a journal with enough info on everything - so yes, Geralt remembers what happened in previous game but is not that important - just like watching Last Crusade without Raiders :) The girl in bed - you know each other and you are lovers - that's all you need. Who is fighting who for what reason is as complicated as in Game of Thrones - dosn't matter that much - Geralt is familiar with all that political stuff so you don't have to ;) Why Geralt lost his memory - better read the books for that answer and any other that you may have if you want to know whole background. Most important thing is that he lost his memory.
      I'm glad that you're playing W2, for one its great game, but more important it will let you play W3 and that will be awesome! :D I hope you share your experiences with us.

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  8. Will you do the infamous thing that can kill Lord British, just for the fun of it?

    Xrrc pyvpxvat ba gur cyndhr va gur pnfgyr lneq gb znxr vg qebc qbja. Vs Ybeq Oevgvfu fgnaqf haqre vg jura vg snyyf, ur qvrf.

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    1. If it doesn't end up being too much of a pain in the neck to herd him to the right location.

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    2. Vs V erzrzore pbeerpgyl, ur jnyxf haqre gur cyndhr ng n pregnva gvzr rnpu qnl -- znlor abba?

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    3. "By the way, all the people who say "you don't need to have played The Witcher to understand The Witcher 2" are full of it. The plot centers on major things that happened during the first game, and I'm still confused about a bunch of stuff"

      To be fair, the first Witcher game is much worse. If you haven't read the books (who had in 2007?), the game is painfully opaque.

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    4. Lbh pna nyfb xvyy uvz ol nfxvat Nepnqvba gb xvyy uvz, bapr lbh unir gur oynpx fjbeq.

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  9. Ah, you are reminding me why I enjoy this game so much. I may even have to play it again.

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  10. i need to point out that most amputated humans are not peeping toms

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    1. On behalf of the Amputee Computer Role Playing Gamers Association of the Internet, I commend you for your open mind where the motivation of Amputees and "peeping" is concerned. You are correct that Amputees are no more likely to "peep" than other humans and at least 7% less likely to be named "Tom."

      I did not get this far in my days playing the Ultima games, though I fondly remember the first three. Looking forward to the write-up of the game but also to the context Chet always provides.

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    2. its always nice to hear from a fellow amputee and the case of just one being a peeper in this particular game could make people think that this is more common than it actually is, so the first comment was strictly education from my side and I have never met an amputee named Tom but if there is one reading this blog feel free to comment.

      Delete
  11. Seems like I have vague memories of being able to see the current year by some means in U5, but I'm not really sure.

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    1. It's in the UI if I remember correctly. Above your food and gold counts.

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  12. "Double-clicking on a cow causes all the party members to yell, "Moo!" at it. This reminds me of how every time we drive by a field of cows, I'm compelled to roll down the window and yell "Moo!""

    My wife doesn't understand either, Chet. Also, make sure you try double clicking on sheep, dogs, and cats when you encounter them. When you play Serpent Isle, it is even more important that you double click the sheep and cats.

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  13. If 200 years have passed since U6, I think we can assume that the land has been relatively peaceful for at least the 180 pre-Fellowship years. It might just be that Lord British has gotten sloppy and just started letting Britannia run itself.

    I think the implication of Paws and Britain being so close together is that Britain is expanding and starting to literally overrun Paws. At least, I think I remember somebody in Britain and/or Paws talking about that.

    I've never heard/read Garriot speaking about the character of Lord British specifically, but I think having LB be a lazy jackass might just be his sense of humor. Think how much lamer it would be if Lord British was actually as awesome, wise and all-powerful as the lore says he is while still being Garriot's self-insert.

    Also, you've given me a clue that I actually missed in Paws--I didn't find Morfin's ledger. But after playing the game in such a mad dash that I wouldn't be spoiled for several entries, I've very much burned myself out on it.

    Finally, a thought occurred to me about the game world and the viewing window--if you could see much further around you, you would probably be able to see the edge of one town from the edge of another.

    ReplyDelete
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    3. I think the implication of Paws and Britain being so close together is that Britain is expanding and starting to literally overrun Paws.

      I'm pretty sure this has happened by the time Ultima Online rolls around. I think the "original" Britain from the early Ultimas is the half behind the "old wall", the new half after it, and Paws is the collection of buildings across the river.

      Or my memory is just be making stuff up owing to last having played twenty years ago. Atlantic shard represent!

      The world was large in UO, at least if you walked or sailed it. But the mechanics of the game quickly made it extremely small as folks just teleported all over the place.

      Delete
    4. British may have gotten sloppy in the last years, but to be fair he was rather incompetent in earlier games as well. For instance, Ultima VI opens with you and a bunch of gargoyles teleporting into his throne room, and he just... sits there... and does nothing.

      Ultima V, in his frequent apparitions where he actually talks to you, could he at least have mentioned gur ivgny znpthssva gung lbh arrq ng gur raq?

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    5. I've always thought that it speaks well of Garriott that he allowed Lord British to be portrayed as something of a buffoon. The opposite would be insufferable, but letting it happen shows that he has some humility and the ability to poke fun at himself.

      As for Lord British's effectiveness as a king, I wonder if he's just one of those leaders who's great during a conflict but sucks during peacetime. Or perhaps he's just been at the job for too long, and gotten complacent. At the very least you'd think he'd be more concerned about what's going on over in Skara Brae.

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    6. re: the ledger... I think most of my playthroughs I spent so much time ransacking every house I found that I often got quest items before I needed them.

      Of course this desire to get all the gold in the game would help me well during a certain quest in Serpent Isle... but more on that much later on. :)

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    7. Fun thing: Richard Garriott actually has two self-inserts.

      Shamino Salle Dacil is his AD&D character and Society for Creative Anachronism persona.

      Delete
  14. Cows will finally get their revenge in Diablo for all the times they have been mocked.

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  15. There is something that can very easily and very quickly softlock you in the game, without you realizing it until hours and hours later--it almost happened to me. It might be coming very soon or much later, depending on the order you explore in, but I figure I'd better share sooner rather than later.

    Avpbqrzhf fgrnyf lbhe fghss. Lbh unir gb gnyx gb uvz gb svavfu gur tnzr, fb V erpbzzraq qbvat vg sebz nf sne njnl nf cbffvoyr--juvpu vf qvssvphyg nf ur jvyy sbyybj lbh sne bhgfvqr uvf uhg. Ur'yy fgrny frkgnagf, zbarl, sbbq, tbyq naq trzf, ohg zbfg vzcbegnagyl ur yvxrf gb fgrny gur Beo bs Zbbaf naq bgure cybg-pevgvpny vgrzf.

    V qba'g xabj vs gurer'f n jnl gb trg lbhe fghss onpx sebz uvz.

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    1. Ernyyl? V unir cynlrq guebhtu guvf tnzr nobhg svir gvzrf naq arire ena vagb gung.

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    2. I think this behavior is disabled by default in Exult. It might also be dependent on other factors, but it's happened almost every time I've visited him, resulting in much swearing and reloads.

      He can even hop a ride on the magic carpet if you park too close to his house. If any NPC is standing on it when you take off, they'll come along with you.

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    3. huh, I don't think this ever happened to me, unless ur gbbx fghss V qvqa'g abgvpr. Ubjrire, V fhccbfr lbh pbhyq nyjnlf whfg xvyy uvz, ybbg gur obql, gura gnxr uvz bire gb Ybeq Oevgvfu gb erfheerpg uvz ntnva. (qbrf gung jbex sbe aba-cnegl zrzore ACPf?)

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  16. I do love mulling over these little tidbits you pick out of games.

    Taking your rough estimate of 144 square miles I found that Britannia is just a tiny bit smaller than the Jovian moon of Praxidike.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxidike_(moon)

    So let's be charitable and assume Britannia is in the Goldilocks Zone and gets enough sunshine. Given Praxidike's size and gravity of 0.003 m/s² it sure as hell shouldn't be able to keep an atmosphere. The people of the Britannia wouldn't even be able to walk on it without flying away.

    But, hey MAGIC! It's a simulation! Your theory that it's all like Dark City seems kinda plausible. Or it's a cross between flat earth and the Truman Show.

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    1. Well, as we learn in U7 part 2, Britannia isn't the whole planet.

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    2. Do we? The impression I got from that game was that Serpent Isle was in a completely different world from Britannia

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    3. Maybe Britannia is actually on the inside of a hollow sphere, and the Gargoyles live(d) on the outside.

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    4. @VK

      I'm of the belief that if the map wraps around when you walk off one edge then it's the entire planet.

      Unless MAGIC!

      But with the way wrapping around works for a flat quadrilateral the planet would actually be a torus so lets not get too deep into that.

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    5. @Anonymous

      The game world in Warriors Of The Eternal Sun did take place on the inside of a sphere, so it's not impossible as far as fantasy precedents go.

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    6. Hollow world stuff has been going on at least as far back as Edgar Rice Burroughs. But wouldn't it be more likely that the Gargoyles are the one's living on the inside bit?

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    7. ...the hollow world has its own sun inside? That still traverses the sky and goes "down" (somewhere) at night?

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    8. CRPG Rule #1701: Someone will always suggest that it's a torus.

      CRPG Rule #1702: It's not a torus.

      CRPG Rule #1703: IT'S NEVER A TORUS.

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    9. @Mr. Pavone, my theory is that it's the same planet, but for some reasons delineated into self-contained sectors by magical warp zones. At least that would explain everything - the Serpent Isle, the gargoyle world, the wrapping map and how the whole thing has an atmosphere.

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    10. Yes! I endorse VK's interpretation.

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    11. As far as Burroughs' Hollow World/Pellucidar stuff is concerned, the sun just hangs up there in the "sky" all the time, meaning that it's basically always noon.

      As for VK's theory, I guess you could tie that into the whole shard's of Mondain's orb thing from Ultima Online.

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    12. @VK, Sure, why not? There's all sort so of stuff happening and what's important is the story.

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    13. Well, you DO get to the gargoyle world by going down and down and down from Britannia. Except that the gargoyle world is much smaller somehow and has holes in the middle...

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    14. It was mentioned that it had been crumbling for quite a while, and used to be a lot bigger

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    15. In Planescape Torment it IS a torus

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    16. No, in the books of Planescape it is a torus. In the game Planescape Torment it is simply a bounded rectangle.

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  17. I miss the sense of vastness of Britannia from Ultima IV and Ultima V, when the overland map and the cities were on different scales...

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    1. Seriously. This was my biggest complaint about 6. I hated the integrated world/city maps.

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    2. Yep. There have been plenty of attempts to port Ultima games to more modern engines, but what I'd really love is for someone to recreate Ultimas 6 through 9 in something similar to the U5 engine. Among other things, it would bring back that proper sense of scale.

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  18. Really enjoying these write-ups. Does anyone else have trouble 'embiggening' the screenshots, though? These are detailed environments i'd tlike to peruse, and clicking actually brings up a smaller image in new window, regardless of browser. This only seems to be the case when Addict is playing games using dosbox, for me.

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    1. Yes. The original images have a resolution of 320x200, they are scaled up in the blog post.

      Delete
  19. "I'm wondering how stealing fruit from the Royal Orchards could possibly be a crime"

    Perhaps put yourself in a medieval mind frame.

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    1. I guess, but Lord British is the type to say "the Royal Orchards are there for everyone!" In fact, I swear that was specifically said in a manual somewhere.

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    2. Not so much "the Royal Treasuries are there for everyone", though.

      "You may have been sent by prophecy to save the world, but touch my gold and my guards will murder your face off."

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    3. A well known glitch in Ultima VI is that you can take everything from his castle, but Lord British goes berserk if you take his fork, of all things.

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  20. I don't think I'd like to hear Iolo's suggestion for how we should "entertain ourselves".

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  21. This is exactly what I love about Black Gate, this is why I love the series so much.
    All the common RPG mechanics exist, but for a huge part of the game, you do not really come across them.
    I remember, back in the day, that I was getting anxious about fighting sometimes, but then got totally immersed in the game world and all the little stories.
    And it is full of little stories.
    Granted, many are a bit ... shall we say standard fare?
    But this is in hindsight, I do not believe that back in the day there was any game which had this depth in story and backstory and most importantly side stories.

    Incidentally, you should check your EXP from time to time, the quests in Paws gave you some, as does every side quest.

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  22. I'm not really interested in the Ultima games, but I thought this was a particularly entertaining read. I love it when you mock a games quirks in a good natured way.

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  23. Look at screenshots of Ultimas V and VI. The full dates, including year, are there. It's easy to miss since the dates are never referenced once in the game and have nothing to do with the gameplay. Ultima V takes place in the year 139 and Ultima VI is in 161. So I guess Ultima VII being 200 years later would be 360.

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  24. To play devil's advocate for Lord British: we can imagine his relationship with the outside world is pretty much similar to that of a modern head of state; his movements outside of its castle very controlled and his visits to some specific establishment an event in which the place would be "beautified" for the occasion.

    British would have to rely on third party reports and, on the surface, Britannia DOES appear as prosperous and peaceful, at least on the surface, but not for everyone.

    Most people would consider the poor shelter in Paws as an overall positive, without considering the root cause of its existence or the hypocrisy of those running it. Racial tensions with the gargoyles could be seen as inevitable side effects of a difficult integration process between two different cultures.

    In the spirit of your title, Lord British would rebuke "Britannia is already great!".

    And remember, you are the only person around to have a clue about the existence and intentions of the Guardian.

    Even people that don't like the Fellowship have little reason of suspecting foul play; before the Avatar shows up, the most recent and worrisome event is probably the ritual murder in Britain happened years ago, which people barely remember.

    Most people you meet would be either converts speaking enthusiastically of how the Fellowship helped them, or more grounded people considering them as innocuous airheads. People with an actual grudge towards the Fellowship and realizing how dangerous they are, would hardly speak their minds freely.

    A common criticism of the plot is how the Guardian is introduced immediately and the Fellowship quickly liked to him: but I like the idea of playing the hero that knows there is a huge conspiracy going on, but everybody else consider him a nutjob or acting for his own self interests. A pity that this aspect was not really explored in more detail.

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    1. New headcanon: British was traumatized by the Shadowlords in U5 and has never since set foot outside his castle!

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    2. I agree with Vince, but think the Guardian/Fellowship connection could have been held off a least a little longer, to make you wonder. But it makes sense that a brainwashed populace wouldn't suspect the Fellowship. Also, 200 years have passed, so even Lord British probably wouldn't be as bothered with gradual changes that the Avatar would notice all at once and be alarmed by. And there's no way LB would have foreseen the outcome of U6 either. Not that some criticism isn't due, but he's not as big a doofus as people make him out to be. Besides, Haqrejbeyq gjb qrnyf jvgu guvf vffhr qverpgyl.

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    3. This is why the professional managerial class in Washington DC has so little sympathy with us out in the hinterlands. Their lives are going great: good salaries, no layoffs, the best schools in the nation. That there would exist those of us who aren't like them seems alien and threatening. They don't know us, so they imagine we're far more dependent than we actually are, we're far less educated than we actually are, and doing anything to remedy our problems seems like utter idiocy to them. We should be grateful to have such masters.

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    4. I thought there was some earlier Ultima in which the manual described how Lord British likes to disguise himself and go out among the common folk. Maybe I'm misremembering.

      Anyway, like I said in the post, it's not quite as bad as I portrayed it here. He realizes something is making his people discontent, and clearly there's something wrong with magic.

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    5. In Ultima VI, there is a beggar outside of Castle Britannia who claims to be Lord British in disguise. I don't think Richard Garriott really cared that much about the portrayal of his character.

      It seems that as Origin got bigger and bigger, he became less and less involved in the minutia of his games. In interview after interview, he always talks about the themes and big picture ideas from his games but you get remarkably little about the details, the systems, individual characters and situations, etc.

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  25. It's been a long time since I played U7 and my memories are probably jumbled, but I think we killed Lord British early on, ol qebccvat n fvta ba uvf urnq, and went on to complete the game without his assistance or input.

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  26. I'd imagine that any group that calls itself a "Purity League" wouldn't see the fact that the Gargoyle's homeland was completely destroyed as a barrier to sending them back. Hell, the fact that'd probably result in the death of them all would probably be seen as a plus

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    1. Cf. most "arguments" put forward by every right-wing party currently on the up-and-up in Europe...

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    2. Africa is not destroyed, unless you mean that having cities and transport is worse than living in huts.

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  27. I love the way you describe this game. Highlighting all these little details that led to so much... is "delight" the right word?

    I don't think there was a game I anticipated more than this one. One of the contemporary magazines (CGW?) had a full page glossy ad split between Ultima VII and Ultima Underworld. Oh, my friends and I drooled over both of them.

    Origin games at the time cost like $75 — $20 more than other new releases at the time. They came in ridiculously huge boxes. Not just Ultima, but they had Wing Commander start around the same time.

    I can't quite remember what kind of machine I had when, maybe a 386SX? It SuX, that's for damn sure... it wasn't enough. My friend's dad had a 486, and it ran pretty smooth on that thing. It was amazing how long I was willing to put up with a slide show.

    I was sure that Ultima VIII was going to be Ultima Overworld — but I was one episode too early. And the franchise was already in decline by IX. Alas, it was too late!

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  28. I think ultima 6 had a better engine. I´m vindicated by the side quests they made with it.

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  29. "Make Britain great again" Also known as "Yes, Britain can" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4QniWO4_Yw

    In retrospective, U7 might be the earliest example of perfectly fine fantasy game that turns into a big political rambling, even at some points retrofiting events: religious cults, illegal inmigration, environmental issues ... one day you are having a blast learning spells and clearing dungeons and the next day you have to feel shame for wasting money on better equipment when there are pool people in the town. Somehow Britannia having a monarchy was overlooked.

    I guess this was a positive change if you were never into fantasy games (remarking the word fantasy here). I think that videogames as a medium have space for politics, see Deus Ex or the previously reviewed game by the addict. Whether or not it results in something of merit beyond tribe exaltation remains to be seen.

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    1. Don't you wish fantasy had just stayed true to its roots in the Lord of the Rings, or for that matter even Arthurian legend, which were absolutely not political allegories, had nothing whatsoever to say about the evils of clearing ancient forests, and didn't have the slightest opinion about the duties and responsibilities of government or the relatively imbalance of power between the little people and their lords?

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    2. Also Chet, this influx of alt-right sock-puppets on your blog is possibly just one jerk who you need to ban wherever he turns up, but is also consistent with the alt-right playbook on polarising neutral spaces.

      You should treat it as an attack, and be active in shutting down *at the very least* commenters of this kind who aren't already established identified readers of your blog.

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    3. I don't know. If I'm going to make political comments myself, even as jokes, or highlight the political bent of the games I play, it would be dishonest not to allow at least some rebuttal. ConcernedUserName's comment was perfectly fine. He doesn't want politics creeping into his entertainment. I would counter that creatively using art and entertainment to make us think about politics is a perfectly valid thing to do, but also agree that when it calls attention to itself, or is done ham-handedly, then it takes you out of the game. Having a discussion about whether U7 does that is a perfectly valid thing to do on an entry about U7.

      But I won't allow my blog to be a host for swiftboating nonsense easily disproven by a visit to Snopes.com. I have deleted some comments along those lines and will continue to do so. And I'm going to feel perfectly fine deleting threads that don't contribute to any legitimate, constructive debate.

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    4. I like this approach.

      I’d go further than the addict though, and say that as soon as you have art, you have politics. As soon as people start creating representations of things, it gives us a window into what matters to them, and what ideas about that thing they may have - even something as seemingly neutral as landscape art is fodder for anthropologists and art historians.

      (Obviously I’m referring to politics more broadly than in a left/right sense)

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    5. Chet - to be clear, I'm saying that political debate is one thing, but there's a particular alt-right community attack that looks like it's playing out here which has absolutely nothing to do with a serious intent to exchange and ideas, and everything to do with sabotaging a community and recruiting members.

      The details of it are best set out in this video. Even if it's not happening here, it's best to be aware that it's a thing that does happen, and that sometimes waves of comments (particularly from anons) have nothing to do with actually exchanging ideas, and are instead aimed at exploiting your platform.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P55t6eryY3g

      I could say a lot more about this, including about brigading, about how allowing a debate on some topics creates a false equivalency between the debaters and creates an unsafe community for some readers, and about the inevitability that allowing some voices to speak has the result of silencing others (for example, if you invite voices that stand alongside groups that routinely harass women until they leave the internet, you're going to have even less women commenting than you already do).

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    6. I'm assuming you are actually referring to the rants about anti-Trump "bias" and "Cuck", not the comment to which these replies are attached. This comment by ConcernedUserName represents an opinion with some thought behind it. It is not reasonable to compare this comment which may disagree with themes presented in Ultima VII to alt-right commentary on Star Wars or whatever. The stuff prior consisting of one-line slams and insults by anonymous commenters should be fairly obvious to clear out and is more consistent with your "waves of comments" warning.

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    7. Possibly, but I find it telling that C.U. is talking dismissively about "tribe exaltation" while at the same time exalting his own tribe.

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

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  31. I mean, I'm assuming no one else clicked on ConcernedUsername's name and saw that it redirects to some weird image on Wikimedia Commons, or actually loaded the link included in their post and saw that it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything in their comment?

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    1. So, the link is a news conference by Obama about child immigration crisis. I think the message is that Obama and Trump are different sides of the same coin. More a message about how all politicians are bad, not really apologizing for Trump. In response to the title of the post, it's relevant.

      The picture of the desert river, I don't know... Something to do with the Tigris and Euphrates? Iraq War something something? I got nothing.

      I always tend to prefer open forums, even in these contentious times. This is not being presented as any kind of equal argument to anything, and it's a valid viewpoint, if not mine. I try to look for Reason in views I don't agree with. I fail to find it it many cases, so I'm happy when I do.

      I would go even further than Tristan and say that a work form is just a Craft without meaning, not Art.

      Delete

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