Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Black Gate: Be the Change You Want to See

Generally speaking, you probably shouldn't do what menacing faces tell you to do.
           
I begin this session on top of a flying carpet outside Castle Britannia, with the ability to go literally anywhere. But as I look over my growing "to do" list, I realize I am just addressing the symptoms of the many problems facing Britannia, not the sources. Centuries earlier, I stopped factional strife and spiritual ennui by undertaking the Quest of the Avatar, but as I reflect on what had happened since then, I realize that Britannia's apex was not after the conclusion of the quest. In fact, I realize neither Lord British nor anyone else has ever provided me with an example of a problem that they solved with the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. Finding the Codex, meanwhile, set in motion the rise of the Shadowlords and the destruction of the gargoyles.

Instead, the moral "golden age" of Britannia happened during the quest, when the thoughts of even average Britannians were alive with the power of virtue. When anyone who demonstrated that virtue could take a rune to the shrine and meditate on it. When the altars still thrummed with power at the bottoms of their dungeons. If you walked into Yew, the City of Justice, the citizens were thinking and talking about justice. The very first person I encountered in Trinsic, a random guard, had something to say about honor. But on this trip, the shrines are overgrown. No one can meditate at them because their talismans are kept in a museum. I don't think a single person in Britain even mentioned the word "compassion," nor did anybody in Trinsic talk about honor, except for the mayor, who said that Trinsic was "once the city of honor." The cities have forgotten their virtues. The people are so wrapped up in what the Avatar accomplished in every other game that they've forgotten what made him the Avatar in the first place.
          
It's time to return these to where they belong.
           
I decide that it's time to correct this problem, city by city, starting with returning the runes to the cities. I will find the person in each city who best embodies the city's virtue and give him or her the associated rune. Then, my party will visit each shrine, meditate, and clean it up. Finally, we'll clear out any dungeon infestations that had been allowed to creep up. (And, incidentally, make some money. Half of my "to do" items require money.) It's time to show Britain what the virtues offer that the Fellowship doesn't.
   
In times past, simply visiting the cities in the order of the virtues never failed me before, and such an order lines up well with my desire to see Mariah and Dupre earlier rather than later. Thus, after looting the museum for the eight runes, my party hops back onto the carpet, heading east for Moonglow.

On the way, however, we stop back at Cove. First, I want to give the Rune of Compassion to Nastassia. Second, I want to buy a few reagents from Rudyom. Third, I want to do something material for the kingdom by cleaning up Lock Lake.
            
Waste of time? Or authentic role-playing?
           
After accomplishing the first two tasks, the party grabs an empty barrel from the tavern and takes it to the lakeshore. In a few minutes, we've filled it with trash, broken bottles, and dead animals. Unfortunately, there's no way to physically pick up what looks like puddles of vomit around the lake, so the effect isn't as striking as I hoped. Still, it's a start. We have to leave half the lake until later, when we all have swamp boots.

During the process of moving around the lake, I discover that there's a cave entrance north of Cove, guarded by a cyclops. You'd think someone in cove would have mentioned this. The cyclops outside of the cave is non-hostile, but I'm curious, so I have Spark light a torch, and we all enter the caves. We find a rather expansive network of them, wrapping through the mountains to the east and then south of Cove. They are filled with cyclopes, and unlike the one outside, they aren't happy to see us.
           
Combat begins.
           
Thus we engaged in our first successful combats of Ultima VII. Here's how combat works. When you want to fight someone, you hit "C" and change to "combat mode." At this point, each character has a certain percent chance of doing one of the following things:
       
  • Shouting something like "Die, Knave!!!" and attacking the nearest enemy.
  • Shouting something like "Die, Knave!!!" and attacking another party member.
  • Shouting "AIEEEE!" and running away into some far corner, sometimes dropping items on the way.
  • Shouting something like "I shall have thy blood!" and attacking some far off-screen enemy.
  • Standing still and doing nothing for no reason.
  • Standing still and doing nothing because the game inexplicably takes us out of combat mode even though I haven't hit "C" again.
          
Now, that's with the default set of actions. Theoretically, you can use a little button in the lower-left corner of the inventory to direct each character to attack the closest enemy, the strongest enemy, the weakest enemy, or a random enemy, to stand still and defend, to flank, to flee, to protect any other member that you engage with the "halo" icon, or to go "berserk" and never flee, although I don't know how enemy selection works in that case. You can set the Avatar and only the Avatar for manual control, meaning he'll attack whoever you double-click on.
         
Iolo is set here to fire his crossbow at the strongest enemy when combat begins.
        
Truth be told, combat works a little better than those who lampoon the game like to admit. I jokingly suggested above that the characters might do any of a number of things once combat begins, but usually, they do what they're supposed to do: attack according to their settings and flee if they're damaged too much. Flanking admittedly produces some weird results, and characters often have odd interpretations of "strongest," "weakest," and "nearest." Combat is over so fast that some of the fine-tune options like "protect" and "defend" are hard for the AI to follow. But in general it works about as well as Legend or Darklands or any game that has featured real-time-with-pause so far. With the default "strategies," it's not a million miles removed from the later Infinity Engine and its various combat scripts.
     
Part of the reason that combat seems so chaotic is that with eight characters, and their icons quite large, and their insistence on keeping a tight formation, it's really hard to pick out one character from the mass. You have no visual feedback as to a character's health, nor is there any summary screen that shows all the characters and their hit points. So if I want to know how Shamino, my fifth character, is doing, I have to hit the "Z" key five times, pulling up everyone else's stats screens in order, until I finally find Shamino's. 

In fact, the visual chaos is such that it's hard to tell when a character falls unconscious or dies. To check for a dead character, you literally have to open every "stats" window or every inventory screen, counting them, and noting if you seem to be one short. At that point, you can reload or haul the character to someone who can resurrect him, like Lord British. With Jaana in the party, I get resurrection and other healing services for free, which makes things awful easy--and yet I still typically reload when a character dies. It's like I feel that a resurrected character is somehow tainted.
          
A couple of gold nuggets makes all the slaughter worth it.
          
The worst part about combat in Ultima VII is the room respawn rate. The game essentially resets each room the moment it's off-screen. My party could have literally killed cyclopes forever. While I like some limited respawning in games in case I have to grind, I also like to think I'm making some progress and that's pretty hard when you kill a bunch of monsters, walk one screen away, walk back, and there they are alive again.

Our little war against the cyclopes gets us some experience and enough gold nuggets to trade back at the mint for a few hundred gold pieces, so it was worth it. Deep in the caves, we find some magical leggings and a lightning wand. I give the lightning wand to the character with the least experience--in this case, Jaana--and assign her to attack the strongest enemy. In a few hours, I'll reassess.
          
Our reward for all that combat.
          
Late in our explorations of the cyclops caves, we find a little fenced-in area with a chicken. There are a couple of pieces of furniture and stew pots. This makes us feel bad. The cyclopes are clearly semi-civilized creatures who I guess weren't harming anyone until we wandered in. They did attack us first. You could argue that was because we'd burgled their home, but using that logic, I could never play a dungeon-crawling RPG again.
          
Nothing that keeps livestock ought to be slaughtered indiscriminately.
          
We finally made our way out of the caves and back to the carpet. We left Cove. I note that if we had left Cove on foot and wanted to avoid the poisonous swamps, we would have had to walk through the cyclops caves anyway, to their eastern exit.

It isn't long in the air before we cross the mountains east of Cove and come to the city of Vesper. Here, the dock with The Golden Ankh awaits us. Now that we have the magic carpet, the ship is superfluous unless we need to visit an island that doesn't have enough bare land for the carpet to land. Compared to previous Ultimas, ships here are so large that they're almost comically awkward and yet still too small to really be considered "ships." You have to lower the gangplank to board, then double-click on the mast to unfurl the sails and set it into motion. At this point, the characters take their seats.

The Isle of Fire, which I'm supposed to investigate at some point, is literally six moves from the docks. If I had one more ship, I could put them end-to-end like a bridge the way we used to do in Ultima II and IV. Anyway, I don't have much use for the ship now, but we plunder its hold greedily for food.
         
We'll deal with the Forge of Virtue eventually, but not today.
           
The point of crisscrossing the continent, instead of going in a systematic order, is to investigate new things as we stumble upon them. I suppose we should investigate Vesper. The first building we encounter, just north of the docks, is the home of the trainer, Zaksam. It's hard to tell if he's a racist or just a realist. He tells stories of gargoyles robbing and burglarizing human residents and displaying a lot of aggression, and he's worried that the gargoyles are eventually going to revolt. These fears might be founded, however, if rumors about gargoyles being given silver serpent venom is true. He decries more explicit racists like Blorn, so I don't know.

More important, Zaksam is a trainer. Training is a tough thing to nail down in Ultima VII without resorting to spoilers. When characters increase in level, they get a certain number of training slots. There are a couple dozen trainers in the game who will increase strength, dexterity, intelligence, magic, or combat ability, or some combination of two or more of these attributes, in exchange for money. Each trainer requires a different number of training slots, between 1 and 3. Complicating things is the fact that combat ability increases on its own when strength and dexterity increase, so if you're trying to keep a log of who increases what, it's tough to separate direct gains from incidental gains--but maybe it doesn't really matter.
         
Having Sentri provide free training right in front of Zaksam was probably rude.
        
Sentri, who is in my party and will thus train us for free, requires one slot to increase dexterity by 1 and combat by 1. Since he only requires one slot, I suspect the combat increase is incidental to the dexterity increase. Zaksam requires three slots to increase strength by 1 and combat by 2. A player looking to min-max would, I guess, note all the trainers in the kingdom and then work out the most optimal plan. No one but the Avatar really needs intelligence or magic (and the events of Forge of Virtue override any training he gets from the main game anyway). But combat in the game isn't that hard anyway. I think when I encounter a trainer, I'm just going to assess my party members, see who would benefit from his particular training, and go for it. For now, though, I don't have quite enough money so the discussion is all moot. As for Sentri and his free training, I may take advantage of it eventually, but right now every single member of my party has higher dexterity than strength already.
    
Vesper is a town roiling in conflict between the humans and the gargoyles, who live on opposite sides of an oasis. Copies of the "send the gargoyles back!" flyer from the Britannian Purity League are in practically every human house, and several NPCs openly hand them to me when we talk. A couple of NPCs, such as Yongi the bartender and a local malcontent named Blorn, are openly racist. But even the best of them assume that the gargoyles will eventually revolt and slaughter them in their sleep. The spineless mayor, Auston, is rumored to be planning for such an eventuality.
            
This is one of the more reasonable NPCs in town
The bartender's take.
           
On the gargoyle side, one of them named For-Lem has written a book called Thy Message Received that talks about the hatred and prejudice his people experience. A winged gargoyle named Wis-Sur used to be a wise sage but has retreated into himself in anger and paranoia. He screams at us, but with the right words, we can get him to sell spells and reagents.
           
That's no way to run a store.
       
The Avatar can't do much about the troubles in town, and I arguably make things worse. As I approach the tavern on the gargoyle side of town, the Guardian's voice tells me to go in and tell them that I am the Avatar. For some idiotic reason, I do as he says. This enrages the two wingless gargoyles drinking there, Anmanivas and Foranamo. They blame me for all of their problems and attack. The six of us have no trouble killing the two of them. None of the other gargoyles treat us any differently after the attack, but I still feel a bit bad because I'm mostly on the gargoyles' side. 
                
It would be nice if everyone stopped blaming me for what happened to the gargoyles.
             
The Britannian Mining Company runs a mineral mine on the north end of town. The overseer is Cador, a Fellowship member married to Yvella. They have a little girl named Catherine. The mine seems to employ only two other workers, a human named Mara and a gargoyle named Lap-Lem. I spend some time exploring the mines and kill some headless pretty deep within. There are two magically-locked doors that I cannot get past, one of which seems to have a chunk of blackrock behind it.
         
The party charges some headless.
         
Eldroth runs Eldroth's Provisions. He has a way of mangling or rendering obvious old proverbs ("Early to bed, early to rise, makes Jack a dully boy"; "The best defense is a good defense"; "The early bird wakes up first."). He also believes the gargoyles are going to revolt and says the mayor, Auston, is preparing for the inevitability. I don't buy anything yet, but I note that he sells powder kegs, which have a lot of utility.

The only spark of hope of peace between the races comes in the form of the young girl Catherine. (She recognizes me as the Avatar immediately from pictures in her storybook.) Her mother is concerned about where she goes every day at noon. I follow her and find her in the house of the gargoyle For-Lem. It turns out he is teaching her gargoyle history and legends. He begs me not to tell her parents, and I agree. 
           
To Catch a Gargoyle.
        
There's no sign of our old friend Sin'Vraal, who must have died in the past couple of centuries. I leave the town a bit depressed, headed for Moonglow.
        
Miscellaneous notes:

  • Every time I start the game, I have to go through the title screens. Something has always seemed "off" to me about the "Lord British presents . . . " screen. The background isn't consistent with the style of the rest of the game, but that normally wouldn't bother me. There's something else about the color or pattern that makes me uncomfortable. Does anyone else feel it?

  • Why does Jaana have a hawk?
  • As with all games where this is true, it annoys me that you can't see weapon damage values or armor protective values. Armor is somewhat easy to figure out, at least in terms of relative protective value, but the same isn't true of weapons.
  • The "Books of Britannia" entry has been updated with To the Death!, The Way of the Swallow, Gargoyle Like Me, Codavar, To Be or not to Be Thy Message Received, and That Beer Needs a Head on It.
        
Part of For-Lem's Thy Message Received.
           
  • In previous games, where you had to type your keywords, NAME and JOB were useful just to get the conversation started. It was silly for ORIGIN to stick so stubbornly to them in this game, where you just click on keywords. We already made fun of the inanity of JOB when it comes to talking with children, but repeatedly in this game, someone will introduce themselves and then act all puzzled and wounded when you subsequently click on NAME. In a game where so much valuable information is delivered by dialogue, I'm going to click on everything. It would be nice if ORIGIN didn't deliberately supply keywords that make you feel like a jackass for clicking on them.
  • One question I never had answered in Vesper: Who owns the Britannian Mining Company?
  • The watch the Avatar carries incorrectly displays the period between noon and 13:00 as "a.m."
  • If there was ever any real truth to the idea that wingless gargoyles are unintelligent, clearly that has changed in 200 years. There really seems to be no difference. 
         
The wingless For-Lem is a scholar of gargoyle history.
          
Although I didn't get very far along my master plan this session, I'm happy with what I accomplished. A little conversation, a little exploration, a little combat, and a little wealth acquisition is a better balance than the all-talk entries so far.

Before the next entry, let's try to come up with a term to describe what I'm doing with the runes and shrines and with cleaning up Cove--silly things that the engine allows but that the game will never recognize.
    
Time so far: 15 hours

105 comments:

  1. Jaana's hawk is a weapon. I don't remember how it stacks up against other options in terms of damage, but it is ranged with infinite "ammo". This doesn't really answer the why question.

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    1. Jaana's a druid. Druids in D&D have an animal companion. Ultima is clearly not D&D, but perhaps one of the designers was playing it a lot?

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    2. Maybe she just really likes animals. Imagine her like a female Steve Irwin. Also, pronounce all of her text with an Australian accent.

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    3. Anonymous, Ultima is not D&D, true, but if you trace its origins (ha!) far back enough you will find D&D. So I imagine you are spot on with your druidic companion suggestion.

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  2. The hawk Jaana carries is apparently a weapon; I don't know how effective it is but when she uses it it flies at enemies and comes back to her.

    Jaana does have healer abilities but their renewal period is very random. I generally use her only for resurrection in the field, and sometimes game days pass before she can do it again.

    She is also VERY prone to 1) moving her backpack to her off-hand and 2) dropping it while running. She did that to me once and lost several quest critical items.

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    1. I only ever got Jaana to heal once, then never again. For the entire rest of the game, over several in-game weeks, she insisted that she needed more rest before healing again. She ended up spending most of the game as the torch-bearer, Spark having died somewhere in the wilderness without me noticing.

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    2. Poor Spark... Clearly Awareness is not one of the 8 virtues!

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    3. It's okay, I found him much, much later and revived him. Though I told him to find his own way back to Trinsic, from a random swamp area somewhere far northeast of Britain. I think he must have chased a crocodile or something on to some poison tiles and died too far off-screen for me to notice.

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    4. >> "I only ever got Jaana to heal once, then never again. For the entire rest of the game, over several in-game weeks, she insisted that she needed more rest before healing again."

      Were you actually RESTING, though? As in, having your characters sleep?

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    5. I went to sleep in a bedroll wherever I happened to be when night came. In retrospect, it wouldn't surprise me at all if every individual character needed a bed to get the benefits of resting.

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    6. It's not clear that any other characters actually ever sleep. I picture them all just huddled around the Avatar waiting until its time to wake her up. They draw straws to see who gets the honor.

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  3. Anmanivas and Foranamo... meaning "hurt you bad" and "strong hatred", respectively. So what DID their mothers expect when they named their children so?

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  4. A good place to confiscate a significant amount of serpent venom!

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    1. Jusging by your profile picture, I assume your next bit of advice will be to claim these righteous spoils of battle and have the Avatar drink them?

      Okay, something I'd actually be interested in knowing is if Lord British does anything special if you offer him an illegal drug. Though knowing his chicanery he'd probably just toast a goblet of it with you.

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    2. I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone actually using it, but there was someone Chet met back in Paws that was looking for samples...

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    3. What is a good place to confiscate serpent venom?

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    4. There's a lot in the Vesper mines, IIRC

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    5. They must be behind those magically-locked doors. I don't have the spell yet.

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    6. Get Spark hooked on it. You know you want to.

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  5. If you need to go somewhere without bringing your party members (like if you only have one pair of swamp boots) you can tell any of your party members to "leave" and "wait here." Iolo will get all mopey, but there's really no effect.

    You can tell if a character is dead or merely unconscious because their sprite will be covered in gore if they've died. It can be kind of hard to tell with the visual style, though. Unconscious party members also can't be dragged, lifted or put into an inventory. You will want to get some beefy friends ASAP, because dead party members (and their equipment) can easily weigh 50 stone or more.

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  6. "[L]et's try to come up with a term to describe what I'm doing with the runes and shrines and with cleaning up Cove"

    I'd just call it role-playing.

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    1. On the Codex we call that "LARPing" :p

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    2. Null-playing

      Goal-playing

      Extra-ludic play

      Naught-onomy

      Bi-nary play

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  7. They really put a good amount of effort into giving the different companions unique value with the healers & trainers, etc. Too bad the poorly-implemented & unbalanced combat makes it all generally unnecessary...

    Btw, there's a book that gives the relative values of various weapons - I'm surprised you haven't seen it already.

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    1. I seem to remember the first Vetron's Guide to Weapons and Armor can be picked up in Trinsic. Quite a nice way if going about identification with an in-game item. There's a similar book for magic weapons.

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    2. I forgot or didn't know there was a book, thanks. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to books yet when I was in Trinsic. I'm sure it will pop up elsewhere.

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    3. Just started playing and there's a book with that info in the house just next door to Christopher's house. Though I doubt you'll have much need to revisit Trinsic at this point. (Although you could take a trip there to leave the rune on the little pedestal in the middle of town)

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    4. actually I am mistaken, it is next door to the blacksmiths, rather than christopher's house.

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  8. Well, I just did this, so I can tell you that you don't need swamp boots to clean the whole lake. You can walk through the swamp on the path, and then you can hug the edge of the lake. The only problem is when alligators and slimes come to attack you and draw your hapless team into the swamp.

    I didn't go so far as to use a barrel, that would have been better. I just made some tidy piles, sorted by color.

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    1. "he only problem is when alligators and slimes come to attack you and draw your hapless team into the swamp." Hence, I need swamp boots to clean the whole lake.

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    2. It was mainly a problem for me on the swamp path, not right by the lake, FWIW.

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  9. "Unfortunately, there's no way to physically pick up what looks like puddles of vomit around the lake"

    I wonder if carryable drinks can be used to wash it away, or if there's any bucket of water item?

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    1. There is a bucket of water item, you can refill a bucket from a well. No idea if it will work, but I can certainly try whenever I make it there.

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  10. Chet, do your issues with the title screen stem from the rainbow coloured text? The care bear style colour scheme never sat right with me... I think my biggest takeaway from the intro screen was the Avatar had a better mouse than I!

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    1. I meant to actually include a screenshot, so I just fixed that. I guess that's a stone wall behind the text, but the pattern seems--I don't know how to say it--kind of "circusy?" Does that make sense?

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    2. It's kind of similar to a giraffe print, so I can see where you're coming from, but honestly it reminds me more of the melamine counter tops in my grandmother's 70s kitchen.

      Not sure why they chose to write 'Lord British' in cooked spaghetti, either, speaking of kitchens.

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    3. Yes, it's tonally inconsistent - It looks like whatever Lord British is presenting is going to contain showtunes.

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    4. Yes! Thank you. I just can't figure out exactly WHY it looks like that. Something about the colors and font and I guess the "spotlight" appearance.

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    5. “Springtime for Batlin and Britannia!”

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    6. It looks like a title screen for a game about 1920s gangsters. Tonally inconsistent, as Tristan put it, is exactly the right description.

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    7. That "Lord British presents" always made me think of Leisure Suit Larry.

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    8. The "Billboard" style font for "Presents" is the most out of place, but the giraffe colors don't really work either. LB's signature is too big as well, but I think that showtime font is the main problem. Sets an entirely wrong mood for the upcoming game.

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    9. Leisure Armor Avatar?

      Well, the Avatar and Larry have something in common. They're both virgins :p

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    10. to me it looks like the credits screen for the looney tunes cartoons from the 70s and 80s...

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  11. "a term to describe what I'm doing with the runes and shrines and with cleaning up Cove"

    I feel its a subset of emergent gameplay - emergent or organic questing, perhaps?

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  12. The ultima series is like a bottled wine that sampled sweet at first, later tasted better, but then finally matured into a vinegar.

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  13. rot13, spoilers naturally

    Ybpx Ynxr unf n srj yvggyr frpergf uvqqra nzbatfg gur errqf. Gur xrl gb n cnegvphyneyl qrinfgngvat snez vzcyrzrag pna or sbhaq va n cvfpvar pbagnvare.

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  14. "I will find the person in each city who best embodies the city's virtue and give him or her the associated rune."

    How do you give an item to an NPC when the game doesn't ask you to? Just drag and drop the item on the NPC? I assume that there is no reaction, and you can't access the inventory of the NPC later on as there is no way to pickpocket in this game, right? So you can only do this with items where you know (from previous playthroughs) that they're not quest items.

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    1. I don't think you can give NPCs things unless it's part of a scripted dialog/quest event. But for role playing purposes you could find an appropriate place in their home to put it. (And yeah, if it was on their person, you'd have to kill them or cheat to get it back.)

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    2. Yeah, I meant I was putting it with their belongings and such.

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    3. They might have a hard time explaining to the authorities how an item that went missing from a museum turned up in their belongins, though.

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    4. One Avatar here accidently lost Spark somewhere without noticing, another proposed to get him hooked on serpent venom, and Chester is hiding stolen property in people's houses, in a world where you get sent to jail for stealing an apple. One has to wonder if the Guardian perhaps is the good guy after all!

      (on a brighter note, how good is a game that allows for things like cleaning Cove lake, distributing the runes to the people who most deserve it... I mean, how many games are there in which NPCs have enough character that you can decide if they're worthy of getting that rune? U7's world building is pure gold)

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  15. Honest question: for a seasoned old crpg player that never played any Ultima game before, which game should I start? III, IV?

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    1. Start with 4. It's the heart and soul of the series, if not necessarily the best one of the series. (I like 5 best, but a case could be made for any of 4-7.) After you have played a few, go back and play 1-3 as sort of a throwback trilogy. Just my recommendation.

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    2. I recently decided to do the same thing, having only ever played half an hour of VII and a couple hours of UU.

      I've started IV, and if I finish it, will play V and VI. VII just isn't my jam.

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    3. U3 is a good game for its year, but I agree that the soul of the series really begins with U4. The manual for U4 recaps U1-U3 well enough (it actually makes the enemies more interesting than they were in the games).

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    4. Start with IV, end with VII or VII Part Two.

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    5. Oh hah, I forgot - I actually played VIII in the 90s. I didn't get far, I think those beloved jumping puzzles prevented me from becoming a necromancer or something, but I enjoyed wandering around the world, interacting with people and stealing stuff.

      It seemed quite easy to 'acquire' high tier gear very early on.

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    6. I'd say start with V; I found the interface of IV problematic in a variety of ways that kept me from getting into it.

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    7. V does have a better interface, and it's a better game, but you won't get the full impact of V without playing through IV first.

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    8. IV is the classic, though the interface is of its time (though I don’t mind it at all - at least it’s simpler than Nethack’s interface). The key thing is to get the manuals and map and read them. The Ultima series has fantastic manuals and they’re really useful in setting up the scene and providing subtle hints. Play IV without reading spoilers if you can. Then V expands in that, where there’s a lot more actual plot, twisting what you know from IV. VI onwards are good, and have a more involved plot, but the engines makes the world smaller and the quest more compact. They’re much faster and easier to complete really. But VII - particularly part 2 - really caps off the story. It’s aged a lot now though but it’s features were groundbreaking and not really done until maybe Gothic or Morrowind.

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    9. If you have a Mac the best version of Ultima III is from a company called Lairware. They did a great job of updating this but it still keeps it's original "feel"

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    10. Ultima IV, either the Atari ST or the Sega Master System. In the former, you can transfer your character to the best port of Ultima V, in the latter you can shoot diagonally in combat.

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  16. Ultima IV is the earliest I recommend anyone start. III is very primitive, clunky, and repetitive.

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    1. Of the first three, I really much prefer the first one. Ultima II just feels broken and half baked, and III is clunky with its party interface. Like every time you do anything, you have to say which party member does it. Uggggh!

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  17. I think it was much more interesting in Ultima VI, where the wingless gargoyles actually were only half-intelligent and something like perpetual children. It set gargoyles and their society apart from humans. In VII and IX, it was retconned so that the winged gargoyles are just arbitrarily oppressing the wingless ones, which is much less interesting a setting.

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    1. I think it still makes sense, though. It's a kind of ableism, essentially.

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  18. Something has always seemed "off" to me about the "Lord British presents . . . " screen. The background isn't consistent with the style of the rest of the game, but that normally wouldn't bother me. There's something else about the color or pattern that makes me uncomfortable. Does anyone else feel it?

    It looks like the title screen for a VHS compilation of "golden oldies" public domain material -- or at best, an after-the-fact retrospective of someone's career. Looking Back at 50 Years of Art Linkletter!, that kind of thing.

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    1. (OK, all retrospectives are "after-the-fact", but you know what I mean -- something put out cheaply and with only a veneer of care, after the person's relevance has long faded.)

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    2. The background reads at a first glance as leopard-print (even though a closer inspection suggests maybe not) and the fonts definitely suggest either "cocktail lounge" or something from the.... I want to say 1940s?

      Definitely at odds with the very deliberate choice of Ye Olde English font used in the rest of the game.

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    3. Well, I'm glad I wasn't the only one.

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. the background looks like a slab of a nodular stone, like red limestone or Verona marble

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  19. I was going to say something similar to PK Thunder, lol. It looks like the intro to a VHS recording of some bad local stand-up comedy show.

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  20. The self-imposed quest to clean up Britannia is a good example of the limitations of CRPG design. Unless the folks at Origin anticipated you doing this (which they should have, given the nature of the series, but that is another story), it is almost impossible for the game to take it into effect.

    This is one of the reasons I tend to find real roleplaying in empty-slate wRPGs somewhat dissatisfying.

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    1. Exactly. Although a game like Mass Effect, Dragon Age or some Infinity Engine game might not have every role-playing option implemented, or implemented to its fullest, the fact that something you did is acknowledged--even by a slight change in dialogue--will always be superior to just pretending, IMO. Sure, you can clean up Lock Lake, role-play Daggerfall as a homeless feral child or type an intricate backstory into the little text field of your Neverwinter Nights character, but nobody in the game will ever be able to notice or remark upon it.

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    2. That's why on the Codex we call it "LARPing". It's basically playing pretend. Doing something that's possible within the mechanics but isn't ever acknowledged by the game. I never do it because it's pointless and only makes me disappointed about the game's limitations.

      On the other hand, whenever a game acknowledges a thing I did, it pleasantly surprises me and increases my immersion.

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    3. PetrusOctavianusMay 11, 2020 at 5:46 AM

      It's not pointless if it makes a too easy (and thus boring) game more challenging. Example: resting only eight hours per day in Gold Box and IE games, even if the games allow rest spamming.

      Some "LARP"ing (stupid name, since it means Live Action Role Playing) is indeed pointless, though, and usually the result of taking the idea of immersion too far.

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    4. LARPing is an extremely codex way of describing it.

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    5. Do they even LIKE RPGs on the Codex? Seems like they mostly just like to complain.

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    6. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin.

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    7. Think of our relationship to RPGs as one of a disapproving father who has seen his once promising son succumb to drugs and unable to keep a job.

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  21. I know you're playing through DOSBox to get the authentic experience, but you may want to at some point try running it through Exult for some ease-of-use fixes (such as onscreen health and mana bars for party members so you don't have to keep opening the Ztats screen five times after every combat). It also fixes a lot of bugs (though it introduces a few of its own, so bugfixing is kind of a wash). And apparently they're still working on it; the latest version was released less than a month ago. exult.sourceforge.net
    Savefiles might transfer between versions, but if they don't (or you want to continue with DOSBox anyway) it might be fun to look into as a supplemental post, as a fair amount of modern players prefer using Exult over the original. What sold me on it was the ability to pick an Avatar that wasn't some buff blonde dude (or lady).

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  22. Chet would have to start from the beginning, since save games of the DOS version are NOT compatible with Exult. See FAQ:
    2.6. Do save games from the original work in Exult?
    Save games that were made with the original Ultima 7 or U7Run don't work with Exult. You have to start a new game when you begin playing with Exult. Sorry!

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  23. Wish you could convince the Britannia Purity League to be more concerned about the state of Lock Lake rather than persecuting the Gargoyles.

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  24. "I realize neither Lord British nor anyone else has ever provided me with an example of a problem that they solved with the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. Finding the Codex, meanwhile, set in motion the rise of the Shadowlords and the destruction of the gargoyles."

    Just realised that couldn't the Avatar or Lord British or basically anyone ask the Codex about the nature of Batlin and the Fellowship?

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    1. It's a shame that games after U4 basically treat the Codex like a McGuffin. Like in U5 it would have been great if the Codex would tell you where British is, or how to deal with the Shadowlords, or whatnot. It's a bit anticlimatic that you get that info from random NPCs instead of from the plot-central grand artifact of the previous game.

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    2. Spoilers for Ultima 5 so Rot13:
      Ohg gur Pbqrk qbrf gryy lbh jurer Ybeq Oevgvfu vf. Nsgre lbh svavfu nyy gur fuevar dhrfgf, gur Pbqrk gryyf lbh jurer gb tb naq ubj gb trg gurer. Guvf zvtug or gur bayl rknzcyr va gur ragver frevrf bs gur Pbqrk cebivqvat hfrshy vasbezngvba.

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    3. V abgr gung gur pbqrk artyrpgf gb zragvba gung lbh arrq nyy bs ybeq oevgvfu'f ertnyvn gb trg naljurer, nf jryy nf gung sevttva' fnaqnyjbbq obk.

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  25. When playing as a teen,I was disappointed as well by not being able to resolve Vesper's conflict, for all the effort made by the game to establish it; it is a lot of setup and tension building without resolution.

    Probably, a modern Bethesda or BioWare game would allow you to side with either faction and/or find a peaceful resolution.

    Now, I don't really mind how it plays out (or, better, how it doesn't). Even in the context of the power fantasy CRPGs provide, it's hard to imagine how such a deeply set situation of social strife could be resolved overnight, even by the all-powerful Avatar.

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    1. There is one quest that I didn't explore because I refused to go down the dialogue hole far enough to get it. It has to do with a recent altercation between Blorn and Lap-Lem. Blorn wants you to kill Lap-Lem, but if you talk to Lap-Lem first, he tells you that Blorn was the aggressor and stole Lap-Lem's amulet. Then you can switch sides and get the amulet back. The problem is, to even get the quest you have to agree with Blorn's racist views for a couple of dialogue options. I couldn't see any real-life reason I would respond that way, so I didn't last long enough in the dialogue to get the quest.

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  26. Whole-playing, maybe? I see goal-playing was already suggested. I like "troll-playing" but in this case there's a laudable earnestness to it. Soul-playing?

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  27. What I found super annoying with the magic carpet is that you can literally fly over mountains but not over 2 storey buildings! where is the logic in that????

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  28. Something that it occurs to me Chet probably missed out on: Whenever you arrive in the vicinity of Lock Lake or the Shrine of Compassion, a sad rendition of "Stones" plays. It was a pretty powerful moment the first time it happened.

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  29. "The moral "golden age" of Britannia happened during the quest, when the thoughts of even average Britannians were alive with the power of virtue..."

    That's a very thoughtful analysis of Ultima IV's story. It changes one's perspective of the series. These little gems really make this a fantastic blog to read.

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    1. It's rather like the Quest for the Holy Grail in Arthurian literature. When everyone was ON the quest, amazing things happened and knights were debating theology and learning lessons and improving themselves. Once the question was "solved," everything fell apart.

      Perhaps the Quest of the Avatar should have been ongoing. To declare it finished and designate one person "THE Avatar" must have been demoralizing to the rest of Britannians who were equally interested in following virtuous paths but were just taking longer.

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  30. Hi !
    One of my dreams is to remake the Ultimas and make them more coherent. Wouldn't it be great to have the possibility to play through the whole Ultima plot from 1-9, fixing the logic holes, having plots that span over multiple games (I always imagine having one game engine and releasing the plot as DLCs), people recognize you - and your exact deeds from 2 games before. Integrating a Virtue mechanic in all the games ... And making sure that combat stays interesting, meaningful and with a connection to the Virtues... I am of firm believe, that Ultima has a core that is still meaningful today. That is greater that Richard Garriot and that could be presented in a more shining, accessable and impactful way that with the current way it is presented in the Ultimas.

    Well a man gotta dream...

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    1. I would say: take inspiration from the Ultima series but don't remake it. Build an open world with an epic, multi-stage quest, track virtue, etc., but do a better job with retcons (e.g., don't introduce them at all) and perhaps offer a little more complexity. The original games are good the way they are.

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    2. Practically everything they represented has been done better since, by individual examples if not the CRPG sphere as a whole. Remaking the series from scratch over 20 years after the U9 put it in the grave would only serve nostalgia to the name itself.

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    3. Ultima I-III aren't worth remaking. Their prime value in their era was their novelty, and that's long irrelevant today. The only value they really have today is historical their influence on the development of the electronic role-playing game genre. While there's certainly people who still enjoy them, those people are generally perfectly happy with the existing versions - the relative crudity is part of the appeal.

      VII, I'd argue, is also largely irrelevant. Mechanically, any Elder Scrolls engine could handle the entire game with only slight extension, and the bits that it does better than any of them are a result of expert level and character crafting - and thus could be included in any engine of any kind.

      IV-VI, however, remain so different in core concept from anything else on the market that a remake or "spiritual successor" probably would find purchase.

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    4. PetrusOctavianusMay 18, 2020 at 2:55 AM

      V and VI have already been remade with Dungeon Siege. Haven't played the V version (Lazarus), but I really enjoyed the Ultima 6 Project.

      Delete
    5. Hi ! Well I am not thinking about a straight remake, but to streamline the lore as well - to ensure things make sense. Minax, Mondaine and Exodus have to appear as they formed the basis of the Gargoyles believe system. As far as I remember. So for the "base game" I was thinking about adding 1-4 together. The quest for the Avatar while the 3 hinder him. Exploring Sosaria once before it breaks down. Having a look at Shaminos castle before it disappears (and re-appears much later). The goal for my "Ultima re-imagined" is to show players consequences for their actions. Have a Virtue system in place that stays relevant. One that allows morally difficult questions. Even the Avatar cannot be following all of them all the time, but it can be emotionally rewarding to at least try. And inhabitants remember your deeds to their families over generations.

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    6. I played Lazarus and I liked it very much. But both projects are only aiming for one game at a time - not focussing on fixing the lore inconsistencies and also not integrating a Virtue system to the game.

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