Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Black Gate: La Forge

I have a feeling we're going to regret this.
So far in our chronology, expansions have been rare enough that we haven't devoted any significant time to them. Although not common, they are nearly as old as CRPGs themselves. The first that I can identify for sure are two 1981 games in the Dunjonquest series: the Upper Reaches of Apshai expansion to Temple of Apshai (1979) and the Keys of Acheron expansion to Hellfire Warrior (1980). Only shortly after those came the second and third Wizardry scenarios (1982 and 1983). They are now known colloquially as Wizardry II and Wizardry III, and later titles would continue from that numbering, but the original releases required the original Wizardry to create characters.
Lots of other games have lacked expansions as such but have been modular from the start, such as Eamon (1980) and its various clones. And of course outside of the CRPG genre, expansions go arguably back to 1976, when Advanced Electronics released Pong Extras for the pong console.
We have also seen in this era some confusion between the term "expansion" and wholly original games. For instance, the Bloodwych Data Disks (1990) are often given as an expansion of the original game, but my reading of the description is that the disks contain standalone executable files that read saved games from Bloodwych and offer more levels. I only consider a game an "expansion" if it requires the original game installation to run.
Thus, Forge of Virtue doesn't earn any extra points for being the first expansion. But aside from the modular titles in which you could move characters in and out of different adventures at will, Forge of Virtue might be the first "interlocutory expansion"--that is, taking place entirely within the context of the original adventure. (We can come up with a better term.) The opposite would be "coda expansions," which take place after the main quest and generally can only be played after solving it (e.g., most of Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal). There are of course still others that allow the player to choose either way (The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone), and others beyond that that stand completely separate from the main title (Assassin's Creed IV: Freedom Cry). There are weird combinations such as Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening, which can be a coda expansion or a standalone expansion depending on how the main plot went, or the "Watcher's Keep" part of Throne of Bhaal, which is an interlocutory expansion to a coda expansion that can also be an interlocutory expansion to the original game.

Interlocutory expansions are tricky because developers can't gauge exactly where the player will be when he begins the expansion. What they can gauge is how the expansion will affect the character for the rest of the main game, and the answer is almost always that it overpowers him. Such is the case with Forge of Virtue, as we'll see.
Heaven knows why ORIGIN decided that Ultima VII needed a few extra hours of content, or why they thought the Avatar needed even more power. The game isn't that hard as it is. I've heard cynical theories that the original game was so bugged that the company came up with the "expansion" idea as a way to deliver crucial patches while getting players to pay extra for them. In a contemporary interview with Warren Spector published in Game Bytes magazine, he had no explanation other than, "Someone realized we could do it, and so they did it." If anyone knows of any source that explains Forge of Virtue better, please link it.
The expansion is introduced into the main game in the clumsiest way. The Avatar has just arrived in Trinsic and is just beginning to hear about the murders and absorb that it's been 200 years, and then suddenly there's an earthquake. Way to pile it on. As you recall, once the Avatar reaches Lord British, the king has this to say:
The foundation of Britannia was shaken with the rising of an island. This event was no random disaster, it was one of sorcerous intent . . . I felt a great disturbance in the ether when this island arose from the sea. The island is none other than the Isle of Fire where thou defeated the Hellspawn Exodus . . . Avatar, thou shouldst know that when I created the shrines of the Virtues, I also set upon this island three great shrines, dedicated to the Principles of Truth, Love, and Courage. They reside within the walls of the Castle of Fire. I never revealed this to thee before as I thought them forever lost when the Isle of Fire mysteriously sank beneath the waves. The shrines are meant for the use of an Avatar only, and therefore a talisman will be necessary to use one. The talismans are guarded by tests that thou shouldst have no problem passing if thou wishest to seek their counsel.
There's a boatload of retconning in that paragraph. Originally, the shrines of virtue were created after the events of Exodus: Ultima III, and thus after the Isle of Fire originally sank after Exodus's defeat. The entire world has been reconfigured since the events of Ultima III, so it's hard to believe, geologically, that this is the same island even if it could somehow be determined by geography. Third, there was no Avatar before the events of Ultima IV, so the shrines would have been useless (none of the other shrines require you to already be an avatar to visit). Fourth, it wouldn't make any sense to lump three shrines to the principles of virtue in one place; it would have made more sense to co-locate them with the Lycaeum, Empath Abbey, and Serpent's Hold, just as the shrines of virtue were co-located with the towns that exemplified them.
If you can ignore all that, it's not a bad opener for a plot. The true nature of Exodus has always been a bit of a mystery. Was he man, machine, or a combination? Was the computer in which I fed the data disks Exodus himself, or was it just controlling him? Either way, his defeat definitely felt less complete than that of Mondain or Minax. I could see their heads fly off their bodies (I imagine), but Exodus just . . . sank. The endgame text even takes care to specify that he was "defeated"--not killed. His return is the least implausible thing about this backstory.
Lord British unnecessarily gives you his ship, docked in Vesper, to travel the five paces between the mainland and the Isle of Fire. Even if you didn't finish the expansion, this already makes the game a lot easier because it saves you from buying a ship (admittedly, if you grab the magic carpet early, it hardly matters), not to mention all the stuff that its holds are stocked with. The king also gave me a "focused magic crystal" that's supposed to do something on the island.
The healing potions are nice, but why did Lord British have so much hooch stashed on his ship?
I was originally going to save my visit to the Isle of Fire for late in the game, but an organic reason to visit came up earlier: I can't defeat the demon guardian of the blackrock generator. Mages, friends, people I love, are suffering migraines so bad that they're going insane, and I need to stop it as soon as possible. If I can't defeat the guardian with my current skill set, that means powering up as soon as possible. And although the Avatar doesn't know exactly what he'll find on the Isle of Fire, his experience in the past has been that most shrines confer some benefits, as do the former lairs of evil overlords. 
Just so I can say I sailed a ship briefly, I land the magic carpet in Vesper and take the Golden Ankh to the Isle of Fire. You sail a ship in this game by boarding it, double-clicking the gangplank to raise it, double-clicking the mast to prompt everyone to sit down, and double-clicking the sail to unfurl it. Then you can go in any direction with the regular movement keys; you don't have to worry about wind direction or speed as in some of the earlier Ultimas. I guess the Avatar finally learned how to tack. You reverse this process when you arrive. You have to pull the ship up to some place that has accessible land on the other side of one of the gangplanks and then drop one of them. 
The Isle of Fire has no dock, so I pull up to a marshy area and let everyone off there. The arrival area is a small inner bay with a half circle of land around it. At its apex is a ruined fortress covered with ash and ruined iron, although somehow torches are burning. There's a moongate nearby, and entering deposits me outside the entrance to the Lycaeum. I reload and continue into the keep.
Looks a bit different from when we last visited.
The entry hall leads back to a room with three statues: a maiden, a knight with a sword, and an old man in a robe. I temporarily leave them to scout the rest of the structure, which has a number of portals and dragon statues.
In a western bedroom, we find an old blind man named Erethian. He knows who I am immediately, recounting my victories against the triad of evil in the first three games. He claims to be a researcher, recently arrived, which starts to explain why his food, furnishings, and books aren't hopelessly waterlogged, but then he goes on to claim he's found many interesting books in the keep. He gets tetchy when I question how books are useful to a blind man.
Almost immediately, he confirms that "the machine that [I] destroyed was Exodus's means of communication with and control of the world," not Exodus himself. The computer was a bridge between Exodus's psyche and an evil database called the "Dark Core," which blended mundane information with knowledge of taking over the world. He confirms that the gargoyles imprisoned Exodus's psyche in the Statue of Diligence. A book in his room called The Dark Core of Exodus elaborates on these theories. (The Books of Britannia entry has been updated with two books by Erethian: Converting Moongates to Thine Own Use, The Dark Core of Exodus, and one by "R. Allen G.": Ethical Hedonism.)

Erethian suggests several times that he knows me better than makes sense; that he saw me defeat the triad close-up; that he knew them personally. He makes asides about Iolo's bardic abilities and the Avatar's tendency to steal artifacts for his own use. At the same time, he seems unaware that the gargoyle world is gone, and he suggests that it was never daemons with which gargoyles were confused but balrons. I believe the creatures last appeared in Ultima IV.
Canon in the making.
Erethian is the putative author of the expansion's manual, A Guide to the Isle of Fire. I'd have mentioned this book at the beginning, but it's unclear exactly when the Avatar is supposed to have acquired it, so I'm assuming we found it in Erethian's room. The book deals with a few of my "retcon" objections. It claims that Lord British built the shrines to the three principles of virtue on the Isle of Fire at the same time he created the eight shrines of virtue. (Previous sources have suggested the Great Council created the shrines, but the statements aren't irreconcilable. I assume it was a collaborative effort; that Lord British directed the project and the Council did the work.) While the shrines of virtue were meant to help produce the Avatar, the three shrines to the principles were to help serve the Avatar, and thus were protected by beasts and traps that only the Avatar could solve. As for the Isle of Fire sinking, I guess I was relying on a faulty memory. Nothing at the end of Ultima III says that it sank, and neither does anything in the backstory of Ultima IV. Thus, it could have sunk days before the Avatar arrived for the fourth game. Erethian thinks it sank because of the gargoyles' removal of Exodus's psyche, although he doesn't specify the mechanism by which this would happen.
Yeah, when I need them to save the world.
Erethian claims in the manual to have started studying the Isle of Fire using an enchantment that allows him to breathe underwater. After he found Exodus's Dark Core, he used the lenses to view the Codex and see how to raise the island from the depths. Thus, Erethian takes responsibility for the events of the expansion.

We return to the statue room and speak to the old man in front of us, assuming he represents truth. He introduces himself as the Keeper of Truth and asks if we seek the "wisdom and boon" of Truth. We say yes and are teleported to a small room with a moongate and two plaques. The plaques read: "Truth is truth" and "Only appearances are deceptive." The south wall of the room turns out to be illusory.  It leads to a series of invisible corridors through which we have to travel before we come to a door operated by a switch. On the other side is the Talisman of Truth. Picking up the artifact, we are teleported back to the statues, where the Keeper of Truth says that we have "mastered the path of truth." He raises the Avatar's intelligence and magic to 30 (the maximum), warns us that "the psyche returns to the core," and falls silent.
Guys, did that seem a little too easy to anyone else?
The statue of the woman tells us to enter the portal to the south for the Test of Love. We find ourselves in a valley with a small hut. A logbook written by the hut's former owner, Astelleron (mentioned in Erethian's history), tells of how he lived on the island and created two golems to protect the shrine. The golems were originally unthinking machines, but Astelleron managed to use some artifact called the Stone of Castambre to imbue then with intelligence and reason. Astelleron has apparently died; a gravestone behind the hut reads HERE LIES BELOVED FATHER AND MASTER.
I don't know. Was he a confederate general?
We find the golems, one of them dead and broken in a circle of stones, the other standing mournfully over him. The intact golem, introducing himself as Bollux, pleas for help. He explains that a wall fell on his brother, Adjhar, destroying him. He hands us one of Astelleron's books, which explains how the Stone of Castambre can be used to animate golems and other inanimate objects. It outlines a process:

1. Find the Stone of Castambre, which should be located in the center of a group of five boulders, with a tree growing out of it.

2. Place something (it was smudged) within the chest of the creature

3. Use a pick-axe to strike the tree and fill a bucket with the tree's blood.

4. Set down five rocks in a pentagram shape around the creature. Anoint each with blood from the bucket.

5. Cast VAS FLAM UUS on each puddle of blood while chanting some sacred words. Fortunately, VAS FLAM UUS is contained within the book.

We grab a bucket at Astelleron's old well. A mountain pass leads into an old mine, where we find a pick-axe. At the end of the pass, a teleporter brings us to a separate valley, where we find the Stone of Castambre and the tree growing out of it. Then next step takes a while because I'm first convinced I have to get up to the level of the tree, so I waste a lot of time trying to stack powder barrels to make stairs (this works with regular barrels but not powder barrels). I then equip the pick-axe and try attacking the tree in combat instead of double-clicking on it to use it. Finally, I figure it out and get my bucket of blood.
The deer was tempting, as I was low on food, but I figure you don't kill helpless forest creatures during the Test of Love.
I still don't know exactly what to place in the golem's chest, so I start the ritual without it, pouring blood on each of the five stones that someone (Bollux?) has prophetically placed around the body. I then cast VAAS FLAM UUS. As I do so, Iolo remarks that we'll need a heart, and Bollux immediately volunteers his own, digging it out of his chest and collapsing to the ground.
Technically, this qualifies more as "sacrifice."
We place the heart in the body and finish the incantation, which causes Adjhar to awaken. Adjhar, created second, is the more articulate of the two golems. Seeing Bollux's body, he demands to know what has happened. When we tell him, he asks for our assistance in restoring Bollux to life. At first, I'm worried I'm going to be stuck swapping hearts and collecting blood for eternity (Iolo even makes a joke about this), but it turns out we can fashion a new one with a chunk from the tree.
Too soon, Iolo.
Back we go to carve the heart and collect the blood. (The tree is looking a bit sickly by this point.) We repeat the ritual, and soon both golem brothers are standing before us. Adjhar happily gives us the Talisman of Love, as we have demonstrated an understanding of the principle. That raises a question: Was Adjhar really injured in a fall? Or was all of this just a test? If the former, what did the original test look like?

The Keeper of Love bestows 30 dexterity and combat on me and warns me about an evil stirring in Britannia.
Yes, I'm sure two golem brothers encompass "all that is love."
Third comes the Keeper of Courage, who again asks me to enter a teleporter. On the way, I happen to pass a mirror full of swirling colors. I double-click on it. A demonic face appears and calls me "master" before realizing that I'm not, in fact, his master. Recovering from his faux pas, he introduces himself as Arcadion. He says that he's served Erethian for 200 years, and he clearly hates the mage. Erethian, meanwhile, is clearly up to something he hasn't let on.
Give it a few minutes.
We return to Erethian, expecting to somehow "expose" him, but he agrees freely to possessing the creature, saying that he is "sometimes useful." Apparently, Arcadion is keen to possess the Ether Gem, which he thinks will free him, but Erethian insists that it will just confine him to a "more mobile prison." In any event, a dragon apparently burst into the castle and stole the Ether Gem some time ago before disappearing into the Test of Courage. This accounts for the damage and debris in the rooms leading to the teleporter.
Yes, it's too bad you don't have a better relationship with your demon.
We take the teleporter to the Test of Courage, which turns out to be the hardest of the tests--hard enough that I probably would have done less reloading if I'd just stayed at the Tetrahedron Generator and kept trying to defeat the guardian. The hardest part is near the beginning--a large room full of the remains of previous adventurers, in which skeletons and headless spring to life, a mage casts spells from the center, and a lich casts spells from an area to the north. Even worse, the lich is protected by some kind of ring of candles, so he can't be engaged.
The mage has in his possession the key to the next door, so his body must be identified and looted before progressing to the next section of the dungeon. Meanwhile, flames are burning everywhere for no reason and there are two red moongates in the lower corners of the room.
Trying to get through this room with my entire party alive reminds me why people hate combat in this game. In previous entries, I suggested it wasn't so bad, but I recant those statements. The primary problem is that you cannot keep your party in any kind of sensible formation. The moment combat begins, they go storming off in every direction. Party members with missile weapons become convinced they need more room and go tearing off in search of a better vantage. Anyone with combat settings for "hardest foe" or "easiest foe" or "random foe" will go charging after distant enemies--sometimes ones on another screen entirely. The only way you can keep people remotely together is to have everyone target the "closest" enemy, but even then, some party members have an odd idea of "closest." Then they decide to flee when they take too much damage--sometimes--but they have no discernment while fleeing and often flee right into the path of other enemies or into patches of fire, where they enter a never-ending cycle of falling unconscious from the fire damage, slowly regenerating health (characters don't take damage while unconscious, even if they're sleeping in fire), waking up, taking damage, and immediately falling unconscious again.
This room has a lot happening.
Enemies in this room seem to spawn more or less continually, so I'm trying to herd everyone through the room while still killing the mage and anyone else who's a direct threat. The only way I can do this is to periodically exit combat, which causes everyone to rush back into formation, and then enter it again.

The issue isn't that it's hard to win; it's that it's hard to win while keeping everyone alive. The more characters you have, the stronger your party is collectively, but the greater chance that someone doesn't survive a tough combat. Not for the first time, I wonder why ORIGIN allowed you to select individual party members in Ultima VI but not VII. With that option, I could hustle some characters across the room while others fight. I could leave most of them around the corner and send one character forth to lure enemies one-by-one. Instead, I'm reduced to a lot of reloading. I can't tell you how sick I am of hearing the Guardian say, "Poor Avatar. Poor, poor Avatar" before waking up in Paws.
At least there's some good equipment in the room.
All of this complaining should be tempered, of course, by the knowledge that I'm in Forge of Virtue a bit earlier than the game probably intended, so the particular difficulty of this dungeon is by design. Eventually, I do get everyone through the room, picking up a lot of valuable magic armor from the corpses on the way. We unlock the door and continue down the corridors.
The rest of the dungeon has a few switch puzzles, giant spiders, giant scorpions, and other creatures before we reach the end. There are a couple of puzzles in which you have to sacrifice magic gear (although you find the gear in the same dungeon, so it's really a draw).

There's a room with a couple of dragons before the final room with the dragon. I think I'm being clever by using a Potion of Sleeping and a vial of sleeping powder on the dragons, knocking them out long enough for my party to administer a couple of coups de grâce and then looting their corpses for gems. Then I encounter a locked door that requires the same key used on the first door, which I left behind. By the time I return, the dragons have respawned and I have to defeat them "for real" this time.
I thought I was so clever.
In the final room, we meet the dragon Dracothraxus, who indicates that he's the final test of courage. We're plainly meant to defeat him with a glass sword found on a charred body within the chamber, but I don't find it until after we've won with regular weapons. This only takes one try, which surprises me given how hard the first room was.
The true Test of Courage.
For our victory, Dracothraxus gives us the Ether Gem and says that we won't have passed the Test of Courage until we defeat him for good, which will require an artifact that doesn't exist. This doesn't make a lot of sense given that Dracothraxus forced his way into the test, but whatever. We have to walk back through the dungeon--fighting the dragons a third time--to return to the castle.
Back in the fortress, Erethian tells us that the artifact of power we're looking for is probably a giant blackrock sword, which he once attempted to make but lacked the strength to properly forge it. He waves his hands and magically summons a blacksmith's workshop in the entry hall of the castle, including a well and bucket, a trough, a hearth full of coal, a hammer, an anvil; a bellows, and the sword blank he'd previously attempted. It's not that I don't appreciate the help, but this part seems far too easy. I think I might have preferred if I'd had to take the sword back to the mainland, find a forge, and figure it out for myself.
Erethian, acting as the deus ex caminus.
There's a lot of trial and error in the ensuing process. The winning sequence goes: Fill the bucket a few times at the well and dump it into the trough; put the sword blank across the hearth; pump the bellows until the sword is glowing bright; put the sword on the anvil; beat it with the hammer; repeat the process until the game tells you you've done as much as you can; heat up the sword one last time; douse the sword in the trough. For a game that allows you to do so much with the environment it is unnecessarily finicky with the controls during this process. You can't manually pick up the sword and move it to the anvil; you have to double-click on it and then click on the anvil. You can't equip the hammer and then attack the sword as in combat; you have to double-click the hammer and then click on the sword. And the first few times you heat it up and pound at it on the anvil, there's no encouragement that you're doing the right thing.
The Avatar hammers the blackrock sword.
When it's all done, the game tells us that the sword is too heavy to wield, so back we go to Erethian for advice. He suggests binding Arcadion to the Ether Gem and then binding that to the sword. This is supposed to be as easy as holding the gem in my hand and smashing the mirror, but here I run into significant problems. It turns out the Ether Gem is about the size of a marble, nearly impossible to find in my backpack, and at the same time I never really looked at the gem that Lord British gave us. I confuse that gem for the Ether Gem and keep trying to use it, which keeps causing it to shatter. It takes loads of time and a YouTube video to figure out what I'm doing wrong. Afterwards, I do it right--but what the heck is the purpose of the gem Lord British gave us?
Denial to acceptance in a few words.
Arcadion is at first delighted to be freed from the mirror. He then swiftly goes through the five stages of grief as he realizes he's trapped in a gem. In the resulting conversation, I order him to bind with the sword, which then becomes usable as a weapon. I can talk to Arcadion at any time by double-clicking on the sword in my inventory. It allows me to call up on special abilities titled "magic," "death," "fire," and "return," all of which I need to experiment with more.
We return to the Trial of Courage, fight our way through the monsters a second time, and confront Dracothraxus again. He and Arcadion have some dialogue indicating that they're old enemies as the battle commences. I defeat the dragon without much trouble and he departs, giving us access to a northern room with the Talisman of Courage.
A little smack talk before the rumble.
We are teleported back to the room with the three statues, where the Avatar's strength is raised to 30. The Keeper of Courage then demands that the Avatar seek the Talisman of Infinity.
Erethian again fills us in: If we focus the convex and concave lenses on the combined Talismans of Truth, Love, and Courage, it will call the Talisman of Infinity from the void. "Once here," he says, "it would seem that its sole purpose is to coerce a powerful force into the void." He suddenly realizes what that "powerful force" might be and shuts down, but Arcadion pipes up and fills us in on how to perform the rest of the ritual.
The persistence of NAME and JOB when talking to a sword belie the Avatar's newly-increased intelligence.
We have to take the Golden Ankh to Britain to grab the two lenses from the museum, then head back to the Isle of Fire.
These don't really belong in a museum anyway.
Back in the fortress, we arrange the Talismans as instructed on top of the Dark Core. (Until this point, I didn't even realize it was the Dark Core. I thought it was just a pedestal.) The Talisman of Infinity appears long enough to snatch the Core into the abyss. Erethian teleports in, enraged, and tries to cast VAS ORT REL TYM, which means something like "through great magic, change time," but his spell backfires and reduces him to some bones scattered across the floor.
The Talisman does its job while the bones of Erethian litter the floor above it.
We sail back to Vesper, board the carpet, travel to Britain, wake up Lord British, and tell him the news. As a reward, he doubles my strength to 60. And thus the Forge of Virtue ends.
What if Exodus had returned and the Guardian invaded at the same time? That would have been interesting.
I have to say, as much as I've enjoyed Ultima VII so far, there wasn't much that I liked about the expansion. The backstory started out promising, but then the game started playing me instead of vice versa. There was too much exposition from Erethian, his instructions were too explicit, and the resolution of his story was unsatisfying. I had hoped that it would turn out that he was Exodus--or at least his psyche--trying to figure out how to reunite with his "Dark Core." Something needed to explain the mage's familiarity with Mondain and Minax and other mysteries in his backstory.
If Lord British is going to keep to one side of his king-sized bed, I don't see why I shouldn't crawl in next to him.
Finally, while it's nice to leave an expansion with some improved stats and gear, this one goes way too far. The Avatar's dexterity, intelligence, magic, and combat all doubled, and his strength quadrupled. There's no point in any further training or development for the Avatar, except for leveling so he can cast higher-level spells. And honestly, if you have a weapon this powerful, is it really necessary to make it capable of a "Death" spell, too?
My character at the end of the session.
But of course I knew most of these things going in, so I can't complain too much. The trip serves its purpose. After our visit to Britain--where we return the two lenses, as well as cash in our accumulated gems and gold nuggets--we return to the Dungeon Deceit and the Tetrahedron Generator. The Avatar goes in and its guardian dies in a couple of hits from the sword. The Generator is destroyed.
You'll have to take my word for it. I would trade every spell that sword is capable of casting for a permanent "Light" spell.
We cap this expedition with a return to Moonglow. Mariah is her old self, no longer confused or insane, although her character graphic still suggests she hasn't slept, bathed, changed, or combed her hair in a while. She thanks me for restoring magic, as does Penumbra.
The way you know is that no one else ever solves any problems in Britannia.
I think it's finally time to move on to Jhelom and Dupre, and to test out our new sword in the Dungeon Destard.

Time so far: 40 hours



  1. I'm glad you covered the expansion, because by the time it occurred to me to visit the Isle of Fire I had already beaten the game and never wanted to look at Ultima VII again.

    I flew over the Test of Love while going somewhere on the magic carpet, landed and partially solved it, but didn't finish it. Suddenly teleporting back to the Isle of Fire would have been rather confusing, and would have also resulted in me losing the magic carpet; I don't think there's any way there besides flying or being teleported.

  2. I think I would have to save the game before attempting it, complete it, and then restore my previous game. Expansion loot always feels like cheating to me.

    1. I think this is why interlocutory expansions aren't all that popular.

  3. It's worth noting that the initial earthquake occurs when you install the expansion. That is, what's supposed to happen is that you play for some time, THEN buy the expansion, and THEN get the earthquake. Of course, these days U7 comes with the expansion pre-installed, which has the weird effect of throwing the earthquake immediately as you first enter Britannia.

    Anyway, the whole expansion feels rushed to me. Particularly the "test of truth" which takes all of thirty seconds. And in terms of lore it does give more contradictions and retcons than I'm comfortable with.

    Note that even if we accept that gargoyles are balrons, Ultima 1 states that balrons are a kind of demon anyway. This retcon seems to exist only to allow Arcadion to be "demon but not a gargoyle". Not that he behaves like any demon encountered in earlier games, either...

    1. That makes sense. I just would have recommended that the developers put in a delay if the expansion is being used with a new character. It couldn't have been that hard to test for.

      I think my point was that daemons exist in U6, so the "daemons were really gargoyles all along!" idea never made any sense. By saying BALRONS were really gargoyles all along, ORIGIN has achieved mutual exclusivity, and in a plausible way because it would be easy for the average Britannian to confuse a balron with a daemon. I don't know. I'm clearly more excited about it than anyone else is.

    2. No one else seemed to think that Infocom's canonical grues=orcs thing was all that interesting, either.

    3. I must be dumb, because the Test of Truth took me hours and hours. There's a whole dungeon complex full of illusory stuff if you happen to miss the path that leads to the end.

    4. It is kind of funny that developers are still making the same mistake. Pick up any of the modern Fallout games in the "Game Of The Year" edition, and you're going to be spammed heavily by the DLC announcements.

    5. It makes sense actually. Imagine you've finished the base game sometime ago, don't have your old saves anymore, and only want to play the expansion? If there were a delay before the DLC starts, that'd force you to go through the base game again, which you haven't forgotten well enough for a replay yet. Seems to me like a much worse situation than having the expansion start at the beginning.

    6. I imagine that if you start a new game and head straight for the expansion quest, the Isle of Fire would eat you for breakfast. So I think a delay, perhaps an experience-based one, would have still made sense even without the hindsight of knowing that a pre-installed expansion would become the de facto experience some day.

      I didn't realize that the free ship from LB was a Forge of Virtue freebie - even though he gives it to you when you ask about the earthquake, somehow I never connected the dots. That does put a new light on the game; I never saw the point in buying an expensive ship since you get one for free early on, but now I understand that with the original gameplay experience you had to, and that aspect would be lost on new players. There's the magic carpet, of course, but I don't think you're "supposed" to find it until fairly late in the game when gur Gvzr Ybeq gryyf lbh ubj gb ernpu qrfcvfr. I didn't in my recent playthrough, anyway.

    7. The so-obvious-there-must-be-an-issue solution would have been to code in a trigger for when a certain milestone was met (character level X, plot point Y) that 'activates' the expansion. That kind of thing is literally the first set of mods I install when I replay Elder Scrolls games these days - there is no reason for the Dark Brotherhood to come after you immediately on arriving in Morrowind.

      VK, that feels like a niche case but even that could be addressed by adding an Options menu item or something that toggles the trigger on/off.

    8. I think the simplest solution would be to code it so that it won't happen until/unless you've escaped from Trinsic.

    9. The tests of love and truth, at least, will not eat you for breakfast. So you can at least max out your dex, int, magic, and mana for free.

  4. There's a reason I say Forge of Virtue is effectively some of the first pay to win DLC. It basically gives you two fully maxed out stats for very little effort, and while it does take more effort for the rest of it, it gives the even better rewards of the best weapon in the game, and the stat it uses being twice the cap. I'm somewhat curious as to how much it originally cost, because it just feels like a half baked attempt at squeezing more money out of people by offering them a way of making their characters increadably more powerful.

    1. I paid $9.99 for it in 1993. I know because I got a $10 gift certificate for Christmas. The expansion had already been out for a while by then however, so the price might have been reduced. I know Serpent Isle was already out when I bought Forge of Virtue.

    2. Electronics Boutique was selling Forge of Virtue for $20.99 in Christmas of 1992. The main Ultima VII games(part 1 and part 2) were $59.99 each. Source-

      Probably not worth it but then again, that sword is pretty cool. What other game could you talk to your sword and have it instantly kill anyone?

    3. $60 are $110 in 2020 money.

      Young whippersnappers today do not know how good they have it, with their Steam sales and free monthly games.

      Get off my lawn!

    4. Effectively being a pay to win DLC and being designed like that on purpose, as you suggest near the end of your comment, are two different things. If the second is true, then we should expect the advertising for the game to reflect that by promising great power for buyers. Anyone remember if that was the case?

    5. Yeah without additional proof I would not call this "pay to win" -- to me, pay to win has to mean that the original game was intentionally designed to encourage people to pay additional money so that they could complete the game. I don't think FoV qualifies here because Ultima VII is perfectly winnable without FoV.

      @ududy: You can see the boxes here:

      The back of FoV does indeed advertise that you will max your stats and get the most powerful weapon by completing the add-on, and they emphasize that it can be done any time. I remember my friends and I used to do it as soon as we possibly could, although I don't remember how we made it through the tough combats Chet describes.

      So you could consider that pay to win, but I don't think it's as blatant as the products that are usually described that way.

    6. I ended up looking up an old product catalog, and turns out the original price for the expansion was 25 dollars, while the base game was 80. In today's money, that'd be about 45 dollars for the expansion, and 145 dollars for the base game

    7. I don't know if I'm surprised more that games were so expensive at the time or that they're so relatively inexpensive now. $145 would have been near-prohibitive to me as a teenager, and I can't see how the cost didn't hurt sales and encourage pirating. On the other hand, $145 is what I would spend today on a steak dinner or a bar tab (it's certainly not the average in either case, but it's not hugely above the average, either). In comparison to those things, a game that provides hundreds of hours of gameplay should cost close to $1,000.

    8. I don't think the whole "in today's money" is a great comparison when it comes to games, which have stayed relatively stable in their prices over time. And while inflation has happened since the 90s, it's not dramatic enough to greatly influence people's perception of prices.

      Here in Germany, games would often cost around 100 DM in the early 90s at release. A few years later that would be reduced to as little as 20 DM. In the late 90s and early 00s up until the switch to Euros, when I would occasionally use my pocket money to order games from a catalogue, newly released ones would cost between 70 and 90 DM.

      When the currency switched to Euros, prices were roughly split in half as the DM to Euro conversion rate is roughly 2:1. So new titles were 40-50 bucks now.

      AAA titles these days cost 50-70 bucks on release, so it's not that big a change. Except back then you'd actually get a box, manual, physical goodies, and a full game with no day 1 DLC or pre-order bonuses.

      Indie games are of course much cheaper than AAA titles on release, but that was already the case in the 90s. Remember bargain bins or shareware? Some knockoffs, like those countless Ultima clones, were considered cheaper alternatives to the real thing.

      Overall, back in the day there was a greater price dropoff over time for individual games, while today a game's price stays more stable over time but there are regular discounts. That is, of course, due to the distribution model.

      Game boxes with floppies (or later CDs and DVDs), manuals, and other physical goodies (usually maps) are expensive to produce. That alone justified a higher price (although as I said, game prices didn't really change much over time). The game would be sold in a local store or by ordering by catalogue. The distributor takes a percentage of the sale price, and it was usually more than Steam's generous 30% cut. The devs who complain that Steam takes too high a cut should have tried to get a game published in the 90s, lol.

      Today, games are most often sold digitally, and storefronts lioe Steam and allow anyone to self-publish. Of course you can offer your game for a lower price than you could back in 1992. The bottom of the barrel tier indies sometimes offer games for less than 3 bucks. Regular sales events drive prices down even further.

      All that considered, AAA games are often way overpriced today compared to the 90s and 00s. Back then you got a box. All you get today are downloads. It took me a long time to accept the idea of paying money for downloads, as I was a pirate in my teens and downloads were free ;) When I paid money for a game, I wanted a box. Something physical. But buying a newly released AAA game on a digital platform costs as much as buying a boxed copy back in the day, even though the production cost for that individual copy is zero, and there's less of a cut taken by retailers - especially when the publisher offers the game on its own storefront (Uplay, Origin). The "value for money" ratio has certainly gone down since the 90s and 00s.

      Also keep in mind methods of getting more money after release. Back in the day expansion packs usually tended to be somewhat substantial, although Forge of Virtue is an exception. In the late 90s and early 00s, an expansion would offer at least half as much content as the base game. Today, there's half a dozen DLCs, some of which only offer a handful of items or a single companion. Getting the complete edition of a game is often way more expensive than games used to be in the past, especially if the developer engages in DLC milking. Paradox Interactive's strategy games are a great example of DLC milking, even on sales some of their games cost more than 100 bucks if you want all the DLC, and the only way to get it for a reasonable price is to hope they appear on Humble Bundle one day.

    9. "All that considered, AAA games are often way overpriced today compared to the 90s and 00s."

      On the other hand, prices of AAA games have stayed the same even though team sizes and production costs have skyrocketed from the 90s and early 00s, so one could also argue that they are way underpriced. The team sizes of bigger indie projects of today are close (or even bigger in some cases) to AAA game teams of 90s. And even though the market has grown, the competition has gotten ridiculous.

    10. Yeah, that's the big thing. The price is the same, but not only have development costs gone up, inflation means that 60 dollars isn't going as far as it was in the 90s. Hell, this is a big reason why DLC milking and microtransactions took off, because development costs are getting to the point where the games can't make their money back at the standard price. Even ignoring that, the idea that games are overpriced now because they're either a download or don't come with a bunch of feelies doesn't make sense to me. You're buying a game, everything else is just a bonus, and considering games these days tend to be bigger than games from the 90s, it seems like a decent tradeoff to me. I'd rather the money go to making the game than making what comes with it.

    11. Anybody who calls what Paradox does "DLC milking" has never actually looked into what those DLC actually do. The DLC tend to massively expand the game (often based on a few years of feedback about what features work and what features need expanding), and a huge percentage of the change is a free patch. Most developers would just release "Stellaris II" for full retail price instead of a much-cheaper DLC. Instead, PDX only releases a new title when they simply can't wring any more out of the base mechanics.

      To bring it more on topic, the final version of Crusader Kings 2 is a good example of "fits every RPG criteria here, but nobody would argue with rejecting it".

      That's the big rub - too many people declare "THAT'S OVERPRICED, GIVE ME EVERYTHING FOR FREE" without actually looking at the value you're actually getting. This leads to treating major game expansions as if they were the "you have to pay to get the patch" tactics some devs use.

    12. Honestly, I find most Paradox DLC to be insanely overpriced for what little they do (especially compared to free mods that do way more). I bought the DLC for Crusader Kings 2 because I love the game, but at 19.99€ at release, those DLCs cost way too much. 3 new features and that's it?

      Let's look at their most recent DLC as an example. 20 bucks for EU IV's Emperor DLC.

      - the pope can now issue papal bulls
      - the HRE mechanics have been overhauled
      - revolutions have been overhauled
      - new heretic faith: Hussites
      - Catholics can now do counter-reformation

      It's nice I guess, but is it worth 20 bucks? No way. It's just a handful of new features, most of which are an overhaul of already existing features, and which are centered around a specific geographic area so unless you play a HRE nation you probably won't see any of the new expansion content at all.

      Your perception may differ, but to me the little content those DLCs bring in no way gives me the value of the asking price.

      I don't demand anything for free, I regularly spend over 100 bucks during Steam sales and I usually buy complete editions of games with all the DLC, but Paradox's DLCs always feel very poor in content comapred to the ridiculously high asking price.

    13. Ultima VII might compare to a AAA game today in terms of being cutting edge for its time, but in terms of the effort that went into creating it, it's probably more comparable to an indie game like Mikko A said. So that's a dramatic price drop from $145, even more so if you can wait for a sale or deal to get it at $5-$10 or less.

      If you are into collecting boxes and other physical media then it's frustrating that there's not a market for that, but that's not the same as being overpriced. I'm not into the cinematic gameplay of AAA games, but they are a great deal too if that's what you want.

    14. Jimmy Maher says that Ultima VII cost over $1 million, and most of that went into developing content. While that's small compared to a modern AAA game, I don't think many indie games come close to that even in today's dollars.

    15. Interesting. I wonder if games are cheaper/easier to make now? Would making a U7 equivalent today cost as much?

    16. I'd imagine it'd be easier, but not necessarily cheaper. These days you have things like Unity instead of having to make the engine from scratch, along with better tools in general, but you still have to do a lot of work to actually make the content. If you have the ability to do it all yourself, it might not be that expensive, but most people can't do that, and unless this is an "all done in free time" type of project, people generally expected to get paid for their work. It might not get to a million dollars, but it definately wouldn't be cheap

    17. I'm sure some amount of time, and therefore money, is saved by having better development tools. Origin's staff probably would have killed to have something like Exult back in the day for development and debugging. It's difficult to guess just how much, though. There aren't any great points of comparison as far as I can tell; open-world RPGs seem to only be made by enormous studios whose texture budgets alone exceed the entire cost of a game by Larian or inXile.

    18. It's way easier and cheaper to make a game than ever before, and thanks to a healthy interest in retro gaming you can create an indie hit with the visuals of a 1992 game.

      There are plenty of engines you can license. Most are very affordable for indies (Unity, Unreal, Game Maker Studio), some are even free (Godot). Some genres have engines made specifically for them: AGS for classic adventure games, RPG Maker for classic JRPGs. While a lot of games made in these are trash, there are companies that established themselves as respectable studios with games made in those engines. Wadjet Eye is a great example for an adventure game company working with AGS.

      There are also plenty of assets in asset stores, many of which can blend in with your own style. If you do realistic mid-level 3D graphics and want some crates and chests in your game, there are a dozen different crate and chest packs available, usually at the low price of 10-20 bucks.

      Creating assets yourself has never been easier either. 3D modeling software is powerful and iirc Blender is free to use. There are specialized pixel art painting programs like Aseprite if you wanna go for that aesthetic. And if you're not good at art yourself, don't despair - there are plenty of freelancers you can commission from, many of which offer very affordable prices.

      If you want to go for a low to mid range game with the audiovisual quality of 90s to 00s games, it has never been easier or cheaper. You can make a game with the visual quality of Quake for a fraction of Quake's budget, and since retro is trendy, you can make decent sales if the game is good.

      AAA games are more expensive than ever before, sure, but indie games like Underrail, Age of Decadence, ATOM RPG, etc. show that indie games that look on par with the classics from the late 90s and 00s are definitely possible with small teams and low budgets.

      If your goal is to make a game that looks like Fallout 1 or Morrowind, you have an easier job than ever before. And self-publishing has never been easier either. Steam allows pretty much anyone to publish anything (which leads to a flood of releases and the risk of good titles being lost in the flood) and only takes a 30% cut. 70% of the revenue goes straight to your pocket. No need to have boxes made and CDs printed, you just upload your game to the storefront and that's that. Back in the day indies had to send out floppies or CDs by mail order, or in the pre-Steam internet days host their game on their own website (and pay webhosting costs).

      If you have some budget to get the assets you want (10k should be enough for a small indie game), and a small team to work with you (though there are solo developers who manage quite fine without a team), you can make a decent RPG and reach some success with it as long as it's good.

      Of course that raises the problem of market flood because it's too easy to make games and get them published, but that's an entirely different problem to the one of making games being hard and expensive.

    19. I'm sure it's no trick to make a game that matches the visuals of a 1992 game, but content's another story. Handcrafting an open world as large as Ultima VII and as dense with meaningful content seems like a daunting task no matter what engine you use or what kinds of tools are at your disposal, and I don't know of any indie devs who even tried.

    20. Underrail was made by two Serbian lads in their basement and it is pretty large and filled with content. ATOM RPG is pretty large too and was made by a bunch of Russians at low budget. It has shitloads of writing and plenty of quests. Age of Decadence had an infamously long development time, but that's because most of that time the devs only worked part time on it. Meanwhile Jeff Vogel keeps shitting out a new game every couple of years, and they tend to be pretty dense in content, too. The Geneforges even have multiple paths through the game, and that was all designed by a single guy.

    21. I tried underrail but the writing was unbearable to me.

      But yeah Vogel is a content creation machine. It's pretty crazy how much game world that guy has built over the past 25 years.

    22. He's pretty smart reusing content and engines. And content includes graphics, these are pretty basic and I would assume he buys them.

      The engine of a 1992 game would be the easiest thing to create, but the visuals, assuming you want something original, would take an artist, some time and money.

    23. What did you find unbearable about Underrail's writing, Tristan? I found it to be pretty good, above average even.

    24. The characterisations, the phrasing, the grammar - I felt like I was reading something I wrote when I was 16.

  5. You missed one other secret on the Isle of Fire... The Stone of Castambre has a hidden lever, which is ALMOST impossible to see. My brother actually found it and shocked the heck out of me when he played the game. It opens a wall in the corridor to the north that leads to a hidden room that contains the death scythe (Kills anything instantly on one hit, except undead I think.) and some other treasures.

    I think the intention of the test of Truth was you would spend a lot of time trying to find the real talisman. I was actually annoyed to discover it was so close to the entrance. It makes me suspicious that they may have deliberately moved it from later on in the dungeon because testers complained it took too long to find. (They did something similar in Ultima IX).

    I like your idea with Erethian better than what they came up with. It would have been interesting to have Exodus's psyche have taken a human form. What if he'd actually lived as a mage all these centuries since the fall of Exodus? That would have been a marvelous twist.

    1. Not THE death scythe, A death scythe. There's also one in the main game (in a hidden area that appearst o actually be for debugging purposes, but doesn't require cheating to enter).

    2. Thanks! I didn't know about that one. It seems like practically every town, dungeon, and forest has a secret area with game-breaking loot in it. I have no idea why ORIGIN scattered the land with so much overpowered stuff. Even in cases that I know about it, I've been mostly avoiding it for role-playing reasons, but it isn't easy.

    3. Part of what makes Nakar's LP so great is the exploration and exploitation of those secret treasures, along with hilarious commentary.

  6. And I'm surprised that you haven't mentioned the moral implications of the Avatar casually wielding such an obvious artifact of evil: Arcadion is basically Stormbringer.

    1. I'm kind of confused by the whole expansion plot. Erethian wanted to use the dark core for himself? What did he get from helping the Avatar? All the motivations and actions just seem muddled to me.

      Also, any dragon with "thraxus" in the name is going to take me back to Pool of Radiance. I assume that had to be a nod, and not a coincidence.

    2. I don't know what "Stormbringer" is. But let's say it's basically Nightblade, and it probably means the same thing. You're right. I should have the Avatar struggle with this in future entries.

      My guess, Quirkz, is that Erethian was supposed to be a morally unaligned character. He only cared about his studies, which gave him an interest in the Avatar but also the Avatar's enemies. His personal credo seems to be "let's do this and see what happens," whether "this" is imbuing a sword with the soul of a demon or restoring Exodus's dark core. As long as he can write a book about it, it's good by his code.

    3. Stormbringer is the sword that Michael Moorcock's character Elric carries. It is actually a demon and drains the soul out of those it kills... and wreaks all sorts of havoc aside from that.

    4. Did you mean Nightblood from Brandon Sanderson's books? Because Stormbringer and Arcadion appear to be way more evil than Nightblood.

    5. Yes, I meant Nightblood, not Nightblade. As I said, I've never read the books the feature Stormbringer and I just got the black sword in-game, so forgive me if I'm not an expert on the relative evilness of various sentient swords. Nightblood's creator still rues his creation, and the sword is definitely best kept out of the hands of most people, so I feel the analogy still holds a bit.

  7. I remember three things about this expansion
    - U7 was translated in French and so was the expansion, but maybe by a different translator
    (U7 SI was not translated in French and so helped me learned English). The instructions for the final part were, well, less than clear, in my memory anyway.
    - With 60 STR, instead of a normal backpack (which cannot contain enough items, the avatar went around with a barrel in the back ^^.
    - Like a previous commenter, I flew over the test of Love with the Magic Carpet, solved it, and only later came back to the island which felt, well, strange.

    1. That barrel is a great idea. Or a crate.

    2. As a result of the Atelier Iris trilogy of games, I am unable to interact with a barrel in a CRPG without yelling "Barrel!"

    3. I always used a chest. I've completed this game at least four times, and never had any idea anything other than a backpack or chest could go in that slot.

    4. Those instructions didn't look clear even in English.

      Also, for barrel nostalgia, might I mention Star Ocean 2: The Second Story :)

  8. So, amusing fact; Having strenght 60 can (will?) cause a minor secuence break glitch later.

    Jura lbh ncebnpu gur phor Trarengbe, lbh trg uvg sbe 31 uc, qvr, naq gura lbh unir gb trg pnqqryvgr uryzrgf gb cebgrpg lbhefrys naq pbzr onpx sbe vg.

    Jvgu fge 60, lbh pna whfg fheivir gur uvg naq gnxr gur phor, fxvccvat gur fvqrdhrfg.

    1. I wouldn't call that a glitch, it seems like a logical way to solve the puzzle to me. There's plenty of games with obstacles that you can just power through with good enough stats.

  9. That seemed a little too easy, I though. Then I laughed at the caption: "Guys, did that seem a little too easy to anyone else?"

    Forge of Virtue seems like a not very virtuous cash grab, and the kind of expansion I dislike which feels to different from the main game. A bit like Tribunal for Morrowind. Mot the cash grab part, since it's quite big, but definitely very different from the main game.
    It's like the main game is open ended and leaves a bit of mystery, and the expansion turns into a railroaded experience that "plays you" as Mr. Addict said.

    1. Lots of players like being overpowered. Letting them destroy anything in the game with a click, and no challenge? Outstanding!

      Understand that what some people call "challenge" others call "frustration". They play games primarily to feel a sense of control over events, and anything that lets them have this good feeling is gold. Even if they have to pay money to get it. Spending their scarce free time to feel frustrated at failing a challenge? No way Jose.

      It's all about the release of pleasing brain chemicals. Some people get it by watching their kid hit a home run in little league, some people get it by buying a Monty Haul expansion set. At the end of the day it's the same thing.

    2. Truth is truth.
      Appear is decept.
      Baba is you.

    3. It turns out, different people like different things! Who would have thought? Personally I like a mixture of both; a challenge, but absolutely massacring a group of bandits is fun too.

    4. Tribunal may be a different experience from vanilla Morrowind, but it's still a good expansion with lots of content. Forge of Virtue is just one small location with 3 quests and overpowered rewards whose quality far exceeds the effort required to attain them. There's barely anything there, if you know what you're doing it's less than an hour of gameplay. I'd feel ripped off had I bought it back in the day.

    5. Hmmm... very good point. I loved the challenges of playing Ultima, Starflight, and others back in the day. But one time I did cheat and use a character editor so I could plow my way through the Bard's Tale in a few hours. I don't think I would have ever been able to grind that much.

      Heck... I was one of the unfortunate souls that fought all the way through the Stygian Abyss only to find I didn't have the right clues and then had to go through the whole thing again. And I finished Ultima 5 with only the Avatar... who had 4 hit points left and no spells left. Zoiks! Close!

    6. Nowadays it is very spoiled, as games I know will be too hard or tedious for me I can simply look up a let's play! Which is already why I'm here in the first place...

  10. Yeah, Origin just pulled things out of its ass in the later Ultimas. Nobody bothered finding out what happened in the previous ones. Complete disrespect for the fans that made them successful. Yeah yeah, an island came out of nowhere. Go and solve my maze. And hand over the $24.95, asshole.

    Ultima IX - The Avatar: "What's a paladin?"

    1. That was mainly Ultima IX. (I can tell you can't wait for him to get to that one.)

      Ultima VII does more "revisionist" approach, which is still a little wobbly but they at least they try and explain why something is different. As Chet points out though, they messed with a lot in the timeline between Ultima's III and IV.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. As someone who's never played the Ultimas, from the outside it seems to be such a weird mix of constantly referencing the events of past games and places yet constantly changing andtand disregarding the events of what actually happened.

    4. Probably could have saved themselves a whole lot of trouble by introducing a canonical event that thumbs its nose at the idea of canon like the Elder Scrolls' "Dragon Break". So good.

    5. The impression I get is that they really wanted to keep complex continuity over the series, but were doing it from memory. Game designers probably don't have the time to do lengthy playthroughs of earlier games in the series, and in 1992, elaborate searchable documentation systems were not exactly common yet.

    6. Elder Scrolls and retcon in the same sentence makes my blood boil. Cyrodiil was supposed to be a jungle populated by diverse populations, what we ended up with was a boring generic fantasy forest where the different regions barely differed in culture. Look how they massacred my boy!

    7. I've found that worrying about canon in long running series just detracts from the game or series itself... Star Trek has evolved over 54 years... the original creative staff is mostly dead. But people argue all the time about small points of the "canon"!

      For Ultima... you are going from a very limited set of 8 bit platforms to computers that can handle a bigger story line in the game itself. I just don't see that you can really maintain that much continuity when going from a small 16k game written by young Richard Garriot to Ultima VII written by a much larger team.

      Guess I'm just too old to worry... apply some magic canon balm and keep rolling!

    8. Well said Harland. The Ultima Avatar story line properly ended with U5. The rest is 90's cheese. Someday a proper U6 story will come out. Gargoyles? F-that.

    9. As time goes on I agree more and more with Arthurdawg. People are too precious about "canon" and "lore" nowadays. It's a piece of fiction made by fallible human beings. Once something gets to the size of Star Wars or Star Trek, there's no way for every small detail to stand up to the endless scrutiny of generations of nerds. Arguing about the capabilities of fictional space ships or the finer points of vague space magic is like trying to find a primary source for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    10. Don't need every detail to be consistent, but the key plot points should be. Changing the protagonist in the first Ultima games to the avatar is a pretty ugly retcon in my book.

    11. Some retconing is fine, but the Ultima series keeps calling back to things and forcing you to have to think about how inconsistent it is. The Elder Scrolls keeps past games vague, and M&M barely ever calls to it's metaplot. They're inconsistent, but you aren't forced to think about it much with those series. Ultima IX is absolutely on another level to boot, the video Harland linked really does scratch the surface of the insanity of it.

    12. 1. I agree with Tristan on that retcon being worth complaining about.

      2. I agree with Greg about the relative integrity of Quest for Glory. I think Starflight (although it was only two games) also held it together pretty well. The second game reinterprets some of the aliens in the first game in a way that enriches rather than contradicting the first plot.

      Breaks from canon are worth complaining about when then cheapen the story or render a plot point meaningless. That's why some people are afraid of sequels to beloved works in the first place. For instance, a lot of Star Wars fans think that Palpatine suddenly being alive again in episode 9 ruined Darth Vader's redemption in episode 6. Certainly, it's hard to watch the original trilogy now knowing that the future for these characters is going to be pretty bleak.

      I don't care if in Star Trek, an alien has a bumpy forehead in one episode and doesn't in another. I do care a little when a movie comes along and says, "We've hit the reset button and everything that you've watched over the last 40 years has now never happened." The movie wasn't good enough for that.

    13. "there's no way for every small detail to stand up to the endless scrutiny of generations of nerds."

      Sure there is. The creators could actually *watch* the earlier creations to see what was going on in them. They could care.

      But they don't want to. Why should creative people be limited by having to continue someone else's work? They don't want that! They want to express themselves, and screw the earlier creations.

      As with most things, it comes down to human personalities. People who end up with jobs at tech companies creating games are high in Openness, which means they like new things and don't like continuing old things. They like to break barriers and mix everything together, and create new beginnings. They aren't so concerned with what happens afterwards - leave that to the little people to deal with the aftermath while they use the experience gained on the project to land their next job. There's also the fact that high Openness people look down on low Openness people as being lesser beings because they don't take such marvelous pleasure at constant novelty. They enjoy sensory experiences such as art and music and beautiful scenery more than people of low Openness do, and they report feeling more absorbed and more emotionally moved by these kinds of experiences. They can't understand how anyone could be different.

      The fans include all sorts of personalities, including ones that want to see the stories continued instead of ignored. They struck back against the creators, correctly pointing out that they didn't bother to familiarize themselves with the material before starting. This made the creatives feel bad about themselves, so they had to invent a comeback. Long ago someone taught them to cast a cantrip to dismiss the fans: "no matter what you make, someone won't like it."

    14. As a creative myself, I find the idea of working on someone else's series incredibly daunting. I greatly respect the worlds other authors have created and wouldn't trust myself to capture all its aspects properly.

      While I really love new and unique stuff, I like that stuff to be standalone, and not connected to a series it has no relation to beyond the name. If something is called Star Wars, it better feel like Star Wars (and I think Disney's decision to declare the extended universe non-canon is an incredibly respectless act towards all the authors who tried to stay in canon with their novels, comics and video games). Respect for the source material is sadly very lacking among a lot of modern authors.

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    17. Working with creative people as a producer, I disagree with the idea that just watching previous creations would be enough to stay in canon. Maybe it could work for movies of a small serie (let's say Toy Story), but for an extremely rich and dense universe (Star Trek, Marvel, Elder Scroll, My Little Pony, ...), there is an awful lot of material and it take a very high number of man-hours (hundreds if not thousands) to go through everything (multiplied by the number of writers // narrative designers in your team). And keep in mind that if you read/watch/play something for work, it is a very different thing and way more time-consuming that just watching for fun.

      Even when everything is read... not everything is remembered. Some of the canon is hidden in the tiniest details that are overlooked by the writers but that some of the thousands of fans will remember, if only because they had read/watch that part of the story just the day before.

      In addition to this, you have production constraints. Maybe you have a REALLY cool story but you need to work around one detail that will break canon, maybe you actually respect canon but the project is late, you need to make a cut and suddenly the cut makes your story non-canon ("the events were supposed to happen on two planets but to save resources we will make it happen on only one after all, even though we know that this planet is not supposed to have that specific race that exists on the second planet"), etc etc.

      Some big companies, like Disney, have canon-specialist that will review everything you put in your game/toy/whatever. Those are costly full-time positions, for a licence clearly owned by one company and that never stopped being worked on. This is costly, and in any case does not exist for licences that are on-and-off (like Star Trek).

      Finally, fans overlook two things :
      - Original authors sometimes don't care about canon, or have play irrealistic / conflicting stuff within their universe (come on... Ultima I to III) but somehow the second generation of writers need to respect the original material to a T
      - The fans usually have difficulties understanding canon, and typically would assume that everything written in say an history book within the universe is canon, when written or oral material in a game is telling a "story" that is not canon, but an interpretation of a story within the universe (if not totally made up), this EVEN on elements that seems pretty critical like dynasties or geography. If Ancient Rome was a created universe, the first story is during the late Republic and then the next story is during the era of the Kings of Rome, fans would be up in arms if the Kings of Rome were not the famous seven kings of Rome, when every single historian knows that most of this "history" as told by the Romans (or now) is legendary and patched-up from a few tidbits of, maybe, truth.

      Final note, most narrative designers I worked with LOVED to work with canon and build upon it rather than destroy it. They see this as a challenge and as their contribution to a larger world.

    18. The fans seem to have no problem keeping things straight.

      The creators are much, much higher than the lowly fans.

      And yet it's the fans who have the greater ability to think about the property. Weird contradiction there, that doesn't come off looking good for the creatives.

    19. The fan have no problem to keep things straight because they don't produce and they are thousands to correct each other. Creators are only a few, and they suddenly are under the scrutiny of thousands the moment they release.

      I spent some time explaining how it works above, but you don't seem to have even tried to understand a point of view less simplistic than Fans = "Good, understand canon" and Creators = "Bad, don't understand canon".

    20. Minor canon mistakes are alright. But what's happening to Star Trek right now with Discovery and Picard is sheer disrespect. I think some major writers even admitted they don't care about the canon and the mood of the originals. They'd rather forcibly pull the series into [current year] and have the Federation deal with problems inspired by current real world events which make no sense to be in Star Trek. Also, a lot of episodes get basic things wrong. Not minor details, but fundamental setting elements such as how replicators work or android/robot rights under Federation law. This isn't obscure stuff, these are things that appear in some of the most popular old Star Trek episodes and can be found out by 2 minutes of googling and checking wikis. Nobody can tell me that the writers don't have 2 minutes to check how replicators work or how androids are treated by Federation law before writing an episode that focuses on these things.

    21. In what way did ST: Picard get replicators or the android law wrong?

    22. There's a YouTube channel that compiles comparison videos to show the continuity errors of the new shows. Here's the one on replicators:

      And the way the worker drones are treated is inconsistent with how the Federation would treat them. They are obviously designed as humanoid synths, not mindless robots, yet they are treated like tools and not like lifeforms. That completely clashes with the morals of the Federation.

    23. I guess, as someone who has watched most of TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager within the past 5 years (I was late to the party), there's a certain base level of discontinuity I'm used to - particularly regarding tech.

      If you asked me what the major discontinuity was in ST:P my answer would be 'tone'.

    24. (It also has a completely different episode structure - it's entirely serialised, far more even than DS9)

    25. "They are obviously designed as humanoid synths, not mindless robots, yet they are treated like tools and not like lifeforms. That completely clashes with the morals of the Federation."

      Yes, that was the point of the show.

    26. I watched that video that JarlFrank linked, and it showed plenty of continuity errors in the ORIGINAL shows.

      I persist in thinking that fans have a right to be annoyed with such things. Oh, maybe not between the original series and the later shows--nobody had any idea what the hell they were doing in the 1960s. But if you're going to create a show set in the future, you ought to have a pretty good idea about how the future operates, the limits of its technology, and so forth. There's no compelling REASON for most of the contradictions about transporters and food replicators and such. Just like there's no compelling reason to have made the race on the other side of the world "gargoyles" or to make the Avatar the hero of the first three games or to even set Ultima Underworld in Britannia. The problem isn't that the Ultima series has retcons and inconsistencies; the problem is that they're all so stupid. No one complains about the magic system changing; we like that the creators came up with more complex systems as their ideas and technology improved. We do complain that Exodus is presented as a computer in U3, which was the major plot twist of the game, and as a demon in U6, completely ruining that plot twist.

    27. I also meant to add that given what I subtitled this entry, it amuses me that the discussion somehow managed to include Star Trek.

    28. I like to think that U1 to U3 are just legends (after all, it is called "the age of legends"), that any story it tells is as true as let's say the Iliad (Troy must have existed somewhere, and there was possibly a big war) and that as any person larger than life in the past a lot of things get attributed to the Avatar ex-post even though he was not around at that time (just remember how many people think that the "Caesar" of the Gospels is Julius Caesar rather than Tiberius), or more recently how most people would tell you that Churchill was the British PM during WW1 as well as WW2.

    29. Thinking about it, a better example is how Wellington is seen as Napoleon's nemesis, when he only defeated him personally in the Napoleon DLC - "The Hundred Days". During the real Napoleonic Empire, Wellington was never on the same theatre as Napoleon, and Wellington made his reputation on the relatively secondary theatre of Portugal / Spain (of course until all the allied army converged in France, but even then Wellington never battled Napoleon personally then.

      Yet ask : "Who defeated Napoleon" ? Wellington of course. Who defeated Mondain, Minax and Exodus ? Why - the Avatar.

  11. I played the Forge of Virtue when I was a lot younger and dumber. I took forever to finish the Test of Truth. If you miss the secret door at the beginning (near the "false hood") then you miss a huge dungeon with lots of fights and no talisman of truth. You can go for a long time before you realize you have to think outside the box. It was so aggravating to realize that all the work I had done could have been avoided with a 30-second walk, and it's stuck firmly in my mind as a result.

    1. In defense of the Test of Truth, I remember figuring this out when my older brother couldn't and simply feeling elated for days while he bugged me to tell him and I refused.

  12. I get that the expansion feels very Monty Haul and like a cash grab today, but I certainly didn't feel that way in 1993. By the time I got the expansion, I'd beaten U7 a few times and was just looking for more to do in Britannia. Yes, it made my avatar over-powered, but so what? I'd already finished the game.

    So I think of it like Taskmaster's semi-cheat mode that you get access to after the main quest. The game knows that it's over and it's just trying to give you something fun to do while you wait for the sequel. And it *is* fun to blow up deer with Arcadion's fire bomb power.

  13. "You'll have to take my word for it. I would trade every spell that sword is capable of casting for a permanent "Light" spell."

    I mentioned this before, but when you find a firesword it grants permanent light while it's equipped by a party member (even in the off-hand). I think there's one in Destard, or if you are desperate to get one earlier:

    Fbhgu bs Gevafvp gurer'f n purfg zbfgyl uvqqra oruvaq n gerr gung lbh pna fznfu bcra jvgu ybgf bs zntvp trne.

  14. About the need for Ultima VII to have an expansion, I guess it was just about making more money out of the existing engine.

    While it cannot claim to be the first, Origin had already released expansions for Wing Commander, they were definitely familiar with the concept.

    Given that usually I would prefer devs to be working on a new game rather than expansions, those in Witcher 3, Souls games, and some by Bethesda are terrific and actually superior to the base game in a few cases.

    What I loathe the most are "day 1" expansions, which are really too much of a blantant cash grab; what made you (game company) decide that this part of content was optional at release, compared to the base game? If is optional, why did you invest resources that could have been used to release the base game earlier, or to add additional polish to it?

    Dishonorable mention for the "optional characters" in Bioware games.

    1. Did Wing Commander really do it first? The back of the Forge of Virtue box specifically says "Computer gaming's first add-in disk".

    2. Wing Commander: Secret Missions is 1990. It also isn't the first expansion either, as Lucasarts did that in 1989 with Their Finest Hour.

    3. I can think of numerous "add-in disks" older than Forge of Virtue, such as Bitmap Brothers's Cadaver, Psygnosis's Lemmings, or almost the entire lineup of Apogee.

    4. I mean, Chet explicitly mentioned some earlier expansion packs for RPGs in this entry, so... :P

    5. Re: Day 1 expansions, while today these often are genuine cash grabs (or about providing a disincentive for resale of the physical disc), sometimes it's about the fact that there's a substantial period between the gold master of the physical disc and its actual release into stores. At that point it's too late to put new content on the disc, but you want to keep the remnants of the dev team around to do patching and (possibly) substantive expansions, so they may as well work on some small additional content that can be downloaded on day 1.

    6. I think that "add-in" here means that the expansion content is seamlessly accessible in the main game and rewards from it carry to the main scenario. The Wing Commander expansions, Oh! No more Lemmings and Apogee non-shareware episodes all utilize the original game's assets, but feature scenarios and levels that are completely separate from the main game – thus more like add-*to* and not add-*in*.

  15. Deus ex camino, not caminus. Ex (or just 'e') takes the ablative.

  16. As to why Origin released FoV, perhaps the cynical "patch theory" is not so cynical. The original release of FoV did contain a patched executable. And since there was no Internet, at least not widespread, it's not unreasonable to package the patch with extra content and sell it. I don't know enough of logistics to know how else Origin could have distributed the patch. Mail order or game stores? In those cases the customer would have to pay for the patch (shipment costs, packaging, the discs), or it would be quite expensive for Origin. I think "FoV - the patch" was a fair deal in the pre-internet days.

    1. I'd still say that's cynical. BBSes were a thing by the early 90s, and while not everyone had access to those, it'd still be a better distribution method than hiding it in an expansion

    2. How many people had modems in 1992. They were extras - often expensive extras. Never mind that a 19k modem was top end, so even a small patch would take hours.

    3. I wouldn't know that. Regardless though, to me requiring the purchase of an expansion you might not want as the only way of getting a patch strikes me as extremely greedy considering there were other ways to distribute it

    4. I remember game magazines came with disks, later CDs, containing also patches

      well, they were mostly for demos but before I had potent internet connection I stored those disks because of the patches and drivers

    5. I well remember that when we ran into a fatal bug in the Apple II version of Might & Magic II, we had to send the faulty disks to NWC by mail, along with a check for $5.95 or something for shipping and handling, to get replacements.

    6. Greedy? Games companies? No way those two concepts belong in the same sentence!

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  18. Mildly interesting sidenote on Exodus... for some reason I decided to watch videos of the Famicom port of U3 to see how it differed from the NES translation. At the end, you have to "pray" to make the altars appear, and there's a message that says something like "What you see before you is the taidou of Exodus." It's all in kana, so I can't be sure, but I'm guessing that "taidou" is meant to be 胎動, which apparently refers to the externally-visible movement of a fetus during pregnancy. So I think the Famicom developers were going with the interpretation that the altars were a device that was sustaining and giving birth to Exodus, not Exodus itself.

    ...It didn't occur to me until I was writing this, but they probably weren't even called "altars" in the original game, were they? And I think the Famicom doesn't really directly suggest the idea that they're machines; instead of inserting cards into slots, you're placing sekiban (tablets? lithographs?) on altars.

    (The NES translation further confuses things by changing the cards back into cards, but leaving the altars as as altars. And that thing about Exodus moving in a womb or whatever just gets shortened to "Signs of Exodus!" Not helpful.)

    Yeah, now that I think about it, I think I was a bit confused when hintbooks for the PC Ultima games described Exodus as a giant computer, because the NES ending really didn't retain that interpretation at all.

    1. Very interesting. They are not called "altars" in the original, no. In NPC dialogue, they're called "panels." Graphically, it's clearly a machine.

      It's becoming clear that if you were an American NES player of this era, you always got a bastardized version of whatever the creator really intended. If it was originally a PC game, it was twisted in conversion. If it was originally a Japanese game, it got twisted in translation. Only if you had a western-developed RPG made natively for the NES did you get something authentic, and there were like three of those.

    2. That's pretty unfair, although I'll grant it was mostly true in the case of RPGs.

      The vast majority of NES games just don't have that much text or story detail to change; most well-known NES games were action or sports games, both genres that you've indicated not liking a whole lot in the past.

      In most cases, the changes from Famicom to NES release were (usually very minor) censorship for NOA, a different title screen, or changes to the difficulty.

    3. ...and then there's Super Mario Bros 2, where they found the Japanese game too difficult for a US release. So they took a game from a completely different franchise, and sold THAT as SMB2...

    4. I'd hardly call that a loss. Super Mario Bros. 2 is an excellent game, while The Lost Levels is essentially a bad romhack.

    5. I agree with that, I just want to point out that Nintendo US had some pretty weird policies and alterations at the time!

    6. I'd agree with Chet about NES players getting short end of the stick on Western RPGs. Several years ago I played Pool of Radiance on NES and hated it; having played most of the PC version, I have a much better sense of why it's so well-regarded. Ultima III is pretty rough on NES, and I've heard that the ports of Ultima V on lose a ton of material in translation. NES Ultima IV was pretty decent taken on its own terms, although the combat was balanced to be way too easy (accuracy levels are really high) and the removal of the conversation system (which wouldn't have been possible in the same way on a system without a keyboard) was a disappointment.

      For Japanese-to-English conversions, though, it really depended. Dragon Warrior actually added several minor visual and quality-of-life improvements over the original Dragon Quest, and the faux-Elizabethan English, while not authentic to the spirit of the original game, shows more care than a lot of translations of the time.

    7. Hmm. My recollection is that the NES ports of Might & Magic and The Bard's Tale, off the top of my head, retained the spirit of the original reasonably well, but I haven't really compared in detail recently.

      Ultima III is really kind of an unusual case. The developers were clearly passionate about the game and put a lot of effort into it, but took it in a dramatically different direction. In a lot of ways, it's a richer experience, with more detailed graphics and (as far as I can tell) a lot more in-game text, plus lots of supplemental anime and manga to add detail to the world, but most of that enriched experience is completely the invention of the Japanese developers.

      On Super Mario Bros. 2, I've seen some pushback recently from the Mario speedrunning community on the idea that it was held back from a US release because of being "too hard." There's some disagreement on whether SMB2j is actually a harder game than Doki Doki Panic (which became SMB2us). I don't think it's so much that SMB2j was too hard; more that it was just too similar to the original game, and Nintendo believed that quality and originality were important to keep American consumers confident in the value of console games as a product. Plus SMB2us at least has a smooth difficulty ramp and is easy enough for new gamers at the beginning, whereas the first levels of SMB2j would probably confuse anyone who hadn't played and finished the original game.

    8. "I don't think it's so much that SMB2j was too hard; more that it was just too similar to the original game, and Nintendo believed that quality and originality were important to keep American consumers confident in the value of console games as a product."

      I think that's probably an accurate assessment. Look at Zelda 2 and Castlevania 2 - both of which were significantly different from their well-regarded predecesors.

  19. Origin might have learned their lesson as Silver Seed is, imho, a much better designed add-on. It has some fancy puzzles, it does give a few nice and useful (but not OP) equipment, and adds the most important item of them all: a key ring!

    1. The ring of reagents is pretty OP...

    2. I'd say the ring of reagents is more a convenience thing like the key ring than actually OP. In fairness, money is never an issue in U7SI (particularly since, unlike U7BG, you can actually sell some stuff to shopkeepers) so ingredients are never scarce.

  20. Indeed, when replaying SI the first think I did was beeline to U7SS and get the keyring :)

    1. Can you actually return immediately to SI and only do SS later? Some of the SS characters give the impression that you're on a timer as soon as you arrive at SS

    2. As I recall, once you warp to the Silver Seed, the method to warp you back takes so long to recharge that you might as well finish the Seed in the meantime.

    3. Good call! Even though I remember at least one opponent in there that might not be too easy to beat with a low level party

  21. I had a similar problem with DLC timing when I finally caved in and bought Oblivion during a steam Sale.
    As soon as the game started, while you're a prisoner in a dungeon, BAM, I got at least 5 sidequests popping with the text telling me that someone rushed to me to give me a deed to a house, an info about a powerful sword, etc etc...
    Er, guys, if you can come and go as you please, can you maybe spring me from this joint as well?

    I agree that DLCs should not start as soon as the game, but a flag somwhere should need to be set so people can at least grasp the game and start the core story.

    1. At least New Vegas waits until you leave Doc Johnson's before hitting you with all the DLC alerts.

  22. The stone golems' portraits made me think of the Creature from the Black Lagoon (see e.g.


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