Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Black Gate: All Too Soon

The party at the game's final battle--but not really.
            
I start this session wanting to finish my virtue-ordered tour of Britannia's cities, but feeling rather like I need, for role-playing reasons, to visit Buccaneer's Den now that I know that "Hook" lives there. Certainly, that's what Spark would want me to do. I have reservations about how the game is going to go after that, but for now I decide to continue the organic role-playing to which I committed when I refused to join the Fellowship and thus do things in the standard order.
   
The party has just exited the Dungeon Wrong and needs to get back to Britain. I use this excuse to play around a bit with Lord British's moonstone. In Ultima VI, you could put the moonstone in any of 24 positions, with the destination determined by the distance and direction from the Avatar at the center. The "outer ring" of these positions, starting two squares to the northwest of the Avatar, would take the party to each of the towns followed by their shrines, in the standard order of virtues. So two spaces northwest went to Moonglow; one space northwest and one space north went to the Shrine of Honesty; two spaces north went to Britain; one space north and one space northeast went to the Shrine of Compassion; and so on. The "inner ring"--just one space from the Avatar--went to gargoyle locations. The single space immediately east and west of the Avatar were null points, going nowhere.
    
The Black Gate offers a similar but simpler approach. Since the game is no longer tiled, distance doesn't matter, only direction. There are thus only eight destinations: the towns in standard "virtue order," starting in the northwest and moving clockwise. Northwest goes to Moonglow; north to Britain; northeast to Jhelom; east to Yew; southeast to Minoc; south to Trinsic; southwest to Skara Brae; and west to . . . well, you would think New Magincia. But it doesn't. West also takes you to Skara Brae. I'm not sure if that's a bug or something else.
              
The Avatar heads for Skara Brae.
        
After all, the moongates are being a bit wonky, and it hasn't been fixed with my restoration of the "ether." Something else is wrong. Occasionally, when you use the Orb of Moons, you just bonk yourself into the gate and fall down, and the gate disappears. This also happens with regular moongates, which despite their names no longer come and go with the phases of the moon. They're just always there. They take you in a cycle that's roughly the same as the order above, except the one in Trinsic goes to New Magincia and the one in New Magincia goes to Skara Brae. 
     
None of this helps us get to The Den, so we ride the Orb of Moons to Britain and thence to our magic carpet. It turns out, by the way, that the magic carpet is the best place to feed everyone. With all the party members spread out and organized into individual seats, it's much easier to give food to the right person.
   
Buccaneer's Den is just a short trip across the bay from Britain, and it amuses me that in Ultima IV the city was treated like a rumor that you needed special clues to find. Britannia might be technically bigger now, but it sure feels smaller. As we come in for a landing by the docks, we pass by a casino and Spark says, "Let's win some gold!" I guess he's not as dedicated to role-playing as I am.
           
On this island, people work at night and sleep during the day.
           
It's mid-evening when we arrive. We toss a few unoccupied houses, finding nothing, before coming to the first place of note: The Fallen Virgin inn and tavern. A pirate named Mole espouses the virtues of the Fellowship, but upon further questioning, he admits he misses his old mates, particularly a pirate named Blacktooth, and that the Fellowship is "more crooked than the pirates [he] used to sail with." Later, when I meet Blacktooth, I mention what Mole said, and the two pirates reconcile.

An old pirate wench named Mandy runs the place. She's heard of Hook and knows he lives on the island, but not where. She reveals that Hook is a suspect in the murder of a thief named Duncan, who stole money from the House of Games, The Baths, and the Fellowship hall. His body was found mutilated and dismembered in an old house 
            
Dupre has apparently been representing his hobby as his profession.
           
Next up: The House of Baths. The manager sits at the front door and collects the entrance fee of 300 gold pieces. I check funds with Iolo, and we have 498. Since we can't afford to leave any stone unturned, we pay. The manager makes some noise about Spark but ultimately agrees to let him in. 
             
Quick thinking, kid.
          
The Baths turns out to be a combination of a community bath in the style of Greece or Rome and a house of prostitution. There are three hosts/masseuses/prostitutes: Martine, a girl who just calls herself Wench, and a man named Roberto. They all have basically the same dialogue. They claim to love working there. They'll join you in a swim, give you a massage, just talk, or retire with you to a private room. Each one of them reveals the same rumor during conversation: that the major buildings of Buccaneer's Den, including The Baths, are connected via mountain passes. 
           
Dozens of young gay early 1990s gamers shuffle back to the closet for a few years.
            
I decline their more intimate services for several reasons, the most pressing being that I'm with six companions. Equally important is that their scripted speeches leave me unconvinced that they're willing servants, and I might have something going on with Nastassia, and I'm just not that attracted to the idea of prostitution in the first place. Plus, we have a quest to solve, and the prostitutes have given us a major clue. 
              
Fun fact: This NPC's portrait was based on a woman who won an ORIGIN "immortality" contest. I hope she didn't mind that her character was named "Wench."
          
At the back wall of the facility, I find a secret door. It's triggered from the other side, but that's no problem with:
           
Telekinesis (ORT POR YLEM, "Magical Movement of Matter"), Level 2. Trips remote switches and levers. Very useful in situations like this, although probably never necessary--there's almost always a way around to the other side with more conventional means.
     
The back room has a lot of gold and a full set of armor. There's another secret door leading to the mountain cave, but it also won't open from this side, and I can't see a lever on the other side to reach. We're intrigued by this secret network of passages, though, and we're not likely to let it go.
            
It's tempting, but I don't loot anything.
         
In the far west of the village, we find the Fellowship hall, run by a man named Danag. He claims to be in charge in Abraham's absence. He says the Fellowship is to credit for turning Buccaneer's Den from a pirate hideout to a respectable, tax-paying business place. He says he does not know anyone named Hook.
        
Ah, yes, prostitution and gambling. Surely, the Fellowship makes the world a better place.
       
The back of the Fellowship hall also leads to the mountain caves, and this time I can see the lever. Soon we are exploring a network of earthen caves that create a long "C" shape around the entirety of the island. North and east we travel to a locked door. Spark picks it. We soon find ourselves in a large chamber full of torture devices--racks, cages, iron maidens, guillotines, chains, thumbscrews.
           
The stocks don't make a lot of sense. Those are instruments of public humiliation, not "torture" as such.
         
A troll named Grod stands guard outside two prison cells and talks about how much he delights in torturing the prisoners. The first prisoner is none other than Sullivan the Trickster, who has been scamming inns and taverns for years by calling himself the Avatar. It was his shenanigans that led to the trouble in Jhelom. He is quite open about his past. Apparently, he's in jail now for stealing from the Fellowship. Despite the theft, he's clearly a member of the inner circle, as he confides to us--for the first time in the game--an explicit relationship between the Fellowship and the Guardian. He believes the Fellowship leaders are in error, and the Guardian will simply kill all of them when he gets to Britannia. 
             
I don't think Sullivan is a true believer.
         
Anton is in jail for spying. A sage named Alagner (New Magincia) sent him to learn about the Fellowship, and he was apparently caught. The situation leaves us in a conundrum. Grod hasn't shown violence to us, so we'd have to murder him outright to justify getting rid of him and freeing Sullivan and Anton. I'm not sure Sullivan deserves to be freed anyway, and we haven't found Hook yet, so perhaps it's not a good idea to so thoroughly tip off the Fellowship to our discoveries. I decide to think on it while exploring the rest of the island.
              
This business where NPCs react negatively to "JOB" is getting tiresome. Don't make it my only dialogue option and then make me feel stupid for asking it.
          
Trying to take the corridor east from this room sees us teleported to a small room with a dragon. We kill it. There's a magic helm in its treasure chest, and a Firedoom Staff that we don't take. We ride a similar teleporter out. Further east in the caves are some encounters with giant spiders, headless, and a lich who seems to have his own potion lab. We get some reagents, potions, a little gold, nothing major.

South east of where we entered the caves, on the lower part of the "C," we find a large, multi-roomed lair that seems to belong to the mysterious "Hook." One of the rooms seems to be his bedroom; an adjacent bedroom has gargoyle jewelry and trappings and would seem to belong to his companion Forskis. A chest in Hook's room has a key and several notes, one of which suggests that he's sailed away on the Crown Jewel for the Isle of the Avatar. Another has a "hit list" for enemies of the Fellowship, including Finster (the Britain victim), Christopher (Spark's father), and Duncan, the thief I just recently learned about. Ominously, three more names are checked off: Frederico of Minoc, Tania of Minoc, and Alagner of New Magincia (Anton's master). There are also two unchecked names on the list: Lord British and me.
         
Hook's office and bedroom on the north and Forskis's room to the south. There's an inaccessible room that has a dead alligator in it for some reason.
         
A cave leading north from Hook's lair goes to a steel door leading to the House of Games, but it's locked and no amount of picking seems to solve that. We loop back around to the Fellowship entrance, reluctantly kill Grod (there's no "Pickpocket" spell and you can't loot enemies while they're asleep, so I can't think of a non-lethal option) and use his keys to free Sullivan and Anton. Sullivan immediately announces he will return to his former ways, but I guess that's his choice.

The House of Games is run by Mister Gordy. He says it was started several years ago with funding from an "anonymous party"--clearly the Fellowship. Buccaneer's Den is outside the jurisdiction of the Britannian Tax Council, which makes the casino extremely profitable. Gordy employs a croupier named Smithy and a guard named Sintag.
           
Your backers are the Fellowship. You literally have a secret back passage that links to their hall.
        
There are three games in the casino: Virtue Roulette, Rat Race, and Triples. What's cool about all of them is that you actually put your gold on your selections instead of playing through a menu. Even today, it's rare to find a game with such a finely-configured interface. Virtual Roulette is just eight colors. If you select the right one, you get paid 7:1, meaning you make back 0.875 for every gold piece you bet. Rat Race has three rats running different lanes, and you bet on one or more lanes. It pays 3:1 for a 25% chance, making the return a miserable 0.75 for every gold piece bet.
          
The Avatar bets on honesty.
         
But I found a bug in Triples that I've never seen discussed before. To play the game, you roll three wheels, each with numbers 1-3 on them. Different combinations pay out at different rates if you bet on them. For instance, any sum of 4 or any sum of 8, both of which have a probability of 11.11%, pay 8:1. Your expected return on this choice is 0.889 for every gold piece spent. Combinations of 5 and 7 have the same odds but for some reason pay differently, so that your expected return on 5 is 0.889 for 1 but for 7 is 0.667 for 1.
    
The rarest combinations are 1-1-1, 2-2-2, and 3-3-3. You can also bet on "any 6." Here's where it gets interesting. The combinations 1-1-1 and 2-2-2 both pay back 27:1. Since each has a 1/27 chance, those are even odds. But the combination 3-3-3 only pays back 7:1, making your expected long-term payout a measly 0.26 to 1. Why? Because some programmer accidentally switched the odds of 3-3-3 with the odds for "any 6." "Any 6" (which includes 1-1-1, 2-2-2, and 3-3-3 but not 3-1-2 or any combination thereof) pays 27:1 but with 3/27 odds. That's a return of 3:1 over the long haul. Crazy. I exploited it to earn about 1,000 gold pieces but decided not to completely ruin the game. Also, we have places to be. (FYI, I'm aware that the odds of some of these games improve if you're wearing a Fellowship medallion, but that means wearing a Fellowship medallion.)
          
The Avatar has 5 gold pieces on every possible outcome so he can tell what different results pay.
           
I could chase Hook to the Isle of the Avatar, but for all I know that note is years old. More alarming to me is the list of victims, two in Minoc, one in New Magincia. Yes, technically they're already checked off, but who knows what a pirate assassin's hit list annotations mean? If there's any chance I can warn them, I should take it.
          
Hook's "hit list."
        
Minoc has more victims, but New Magincia is just across a strait from Buccaneer's Den. After some hesitation, I head there first. The water quickly gives way to pasture and sheep. We land in a big block of grass and soon find our way to the road, and then the tavern, called the Modest Damsel. It is midnight when we wander in, and there's only one patron: a shipwright named Russell. He says we're the first visitors to New Magincia in years, save a group of shipwrecked sailors. Russell says that their ship, made by someone in Minoc named Owen, was not well-constructed. Lacking any money, the three sailors remained marooned on New Magincia.
      
Like most towns, the island has only a few permanent residents. Boris runs the Modest Damsel; he's married to Magenta, the mayor, who insists that the town basically runs itself. Sam sells flowers at the south end of town. He used to be a nobleman, but he retreated from the world to run his greenhouse and study botany, and he's very content with life. Henry is a peddler. Katrina, my old companion, is still a shepherd; she volunteers to join the party but I politely decline. Her ward is a gormless girl named Constance whose job is to carry water to people from the well.
           
I'm not sure if we knew before now that Katrina is from Earth as well.
           
Alagner lives on the north end of the island and has a large, locked workshop there. I'm happy to find him alive. The game doesn't give me any dialogue related to Anton, but Alagner--who believes it is his destiny to know everything in the universe--does confess that he believes the Fellowship is "cunning and two-faced," and that he has a plan to obtain proof of their duplicity. I'm unable to get into his workshop and the game gives me no option to warn him about his impending assassination, so I reluctantly leave.
           
Something tells me that notebook is going to turn out to have been a bad idea.
         
The other major drama on the island concerns a missing locket. Katrina gave it to Henry; Henry promised it to Constance, with whom he is desperately in love. But he lost it somewhere, and Constance has repudiated him as a liar. She has cast her eyes to Robin, the leader of the shipwrecked sailors, who keeps promising to take her away from this little town and show her the world. I want to tell Henry to just let her go, that any woman who would renounce him over a piece of jewelry isn't worth his time, but it's not like he has a lot of other prospects.
           
As shallow as she is daft.
        
The three sailors are immediate suspects in the theft of the locket. Robin is a professional gambler, and his two companions, Battles and Leavett, are basically henchmen. Robin admits immediately to having stolen the locket, hoping to use it to buy passage off the island, but he in turn also lost it. After some investigation, I find that Boris found it in the tavern and put it in a secret compartment behind the bar. A carouser and womanizer, he intended to give it to Constance himself. Unfortunately, Magenta found it and assumed her husband had bought it for her. When she hears that it was stolen, she rips it off her neck and gives it to me. None of these people are getting the Rune of Humility, let me tell you.
         
Oh, honey.
         
Meanwhile, I've done a rather stupid thing and paid 600 gold pieces for a ship. Robin previously had a dialogue option where he asked whether I had a ship that could get him and his colleagues off the island. Now, I can say yes, get rid of them, and leave the town in a better place. When I return to him with the news, he boasts that he intends to take Constance with him and sell her to the House of Baths in Buccaneer's Den (suggesting that the other "workers" might be trafficked as well). He and his companions then attack the party and of course are slaughtered instantly.
         
Leaving the tavern.
Five minutes earlier.
        
I return the locket to Henry. I try to get some value out of the ship by eating the food in its hold, but my companions react with horror when I "steal" the food from my own ship. This frigging game and food ownership. The word "humility" never came up once in any NPC dialogue, but I figure it's best embodied by Sam the florist, and I leave the Rune of Humility for him in his bedside table.
          
Friends are like flowers in the garden of life.
             
The Shrine of Humility is on the Isle of the Avatar. I'm staying away from it to avoid a game-breaking bug, but I figured why not do a quick "hypothetical" visit (i.e., a visit and then a reload). The shrine is in good shape, just barren. No demons guarding it or anything.
           
The Shrine of Humility looks appropriately humble.
        
Hostile pirates have set up a little fortress and village in the middle of the island. We fly south over it, as I decide to check out the old Shrine of the Codex. As we approach, some jackass in my party says, "The Shrine of Humility!" Soon after, the voice of the Guardian cackles for about 45 seconds in my head, presumably because of something he's done to the shrine, but perhaps because of the idiot in my party who still has his shrines mixed up after four games. 
          
Instead of the Codex, a scroll at the shrine explains what happened to the Codex.
        
There's a dungeon entrance west of the shrine, with a locked door that Hook's key opens. We decide, "screw it--let's see how far we can get." The answer is: we can get all the way to the end of the game and kill the Fellowship cabal. But without certain objects, we cannot do the last task. I thought about writing it up and playing from here, having technically avenged Spark's father, but I suspect it will cause problems later in the game. It does cause an immediate inconsistency: if I use the Orb of Moons to leave the final chamber, Batlin is back in the Fellowship branch in Britain as if nothing ever happened. I'd be willing to bet that my killing Hook doesn't stop him from carrying out some other murders later in the game, either. It's too bad that this otherwise excellent game doesn't anticipate some alternate player choices and account for them.
           
It was tough to reload after this satisfying combat.
          
Anyway, the Avatar snaps out of his reverie on New Magincia. He's feeling good that Alagner isn't dead. Clearly an "X" on Hook's hit list doesn't necessarily mean the deed was done. This bodes well for the two individuals in Minoc, whom we shall visit next.
     
Time so far: 57 hours


63 comments:

  1. Dang, a braid and earring? Roberto looks like my kind of guy.

    Also, "Canst thou think of better guidance?"
    A. Name B. Job C. Bye

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  2. Might the dead alligator in Hook's room actually be a crocodile, and a Peter Pan reference?

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    1. It is. If you use the cheat menu to look inside, there's a clock on the corpse.

      By the way, in a medieval-ish world like Ultima, I'd be surprised that Spark needs to be eighteen to do anything.

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    2. Indeed, it has swallowed a clock. Hook finally got his revenge on the animal that took his hand.

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    3. This went over my head. I have a complete blank in my pop culture knowledge when it comes to Peter Pan. Never read the books as a child, never saw the Disney film. I didn't know Hook was associate with a crocodile (I assume that's how he lost his hand?) or that a clock was involved.

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    4. Indeed, Hook fears the crocodile that took his hand, and knows when it's coming because he hears the clock ticking.

      (How the clock stays wound in the crocodile's belly is not explained.)

      This version of Hook got his revenge, it seems.

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    5. I believe that what happened was Peter cut off Hook's hand during a fight and tossed it to the crocodile, who liked the taste so much she followed Hook around hoping to get the rest. But she swallowed a clock at some point, and the ticking alerted Hook.

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    6. Does the clock still tick though?

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  3. The somewhat fragile internal logic is one reason I've never completed this one "legit". It really feels like it needed another year or two in the oven to support the grand vision.

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    1. In this case, the plot is solid but hasn't counted on the Telekinesis spell. If they made this one door impossible to open with that spell (by moving the lever out of range) then the plothole would be gone. Sandboxes are tricky that way.

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    2. Less importantly, but I don't think there has been any clue provided yet that Hook's key would be for a door in the Isle of the Avatar. That comes later. So it's also either extremely lucky or requires knowledge from outside the game to connect those pieces.

      But yeah, they should have moved that lever farther away.

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  4. I'm really curious how this Avatar will RP back onto the quest line after all this.

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    1. Again, the Isle of the Avatar bit was just a thought experiment. The Avatar is going to move on to Minoc and pick up the quest thread where most players do, albeit a bit later.

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  5. As I'm sure you've worked out for yourself, the Telekinesis spell will help you with that inaccessible tower you discovered last time.

    Is there any sort of fear spell? I seem to remember that characters drop their inventories when they panic, so maybe that would have worked on Grod?

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    1. There is a fear spell; as far as I can tell, your party members will drop things when fleeing, but enemies don't.

      You may be thinking of the Vibrate spell in Serpent Isle, which does cause NPCs to drop their inventory.

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    2. I don't think the Telekinesis spell is the only way into that tower, and it may not be the intended way either, though it doesn't break anything. So you could also just see if you find the other path while following the main plot.

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    3. You are correct; there is another, "proper", way in.

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  6. PetrusOctavianusJuly 14, 2020 at 6:21 AM

    "a gormless girl named Constance"

    I guess it could have been worse. She could have been a formless girl named Constance.

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    1. Or a constant girl named Gorm.

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  7. You really have approached this game in an unconventional manner, I can't believe you haven't been to Minoc yet, and it's rather amusing how much of the main quest you've done without really starting it. It's obviously a strength that you can do it this way, but visiting Hook's room this early has rather spoiled Algernon's fate for you. I thought that you couldn't actually get into the catacombs behind Buccaneer's Den without a certain object but I guess that Telekinesis gets around that. Seeing Hook's target list and the fact that I was on it was a major "whoa" moment for me in the first ever playthrough.

    I do feel that the Magic Carpet is a problem in this game, it just makes getting around way too easy causing the world to shrink and giving less incentive to explore the wilderness. It should be a mid to late game reward that you find on an island somewhere so you actually have to save up for a ship and sail around a bit before you get it.

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  8. It's probably worth bringing up that the Fellowship leaders Elizabeth and Abraham were present in Trinsic at the time of the murders there, and their trail went to Britain and then Minoc. So this is the path that the game mostly expects you to take (pursue them for questioning).

    It's been interesting to see what can happen when not following this order, and too bad that they didn't code in a few checks to clean it up.

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    1. Could one argue that the CRPG Addict is _not_ being virtuous by following the E&A trail? :)

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  9. Probably a first for a Casino in a tax heaven, but not sure if that's a category. Quite odd, though. This game surely has weird and specific real life references and quite some cynism hidden in it. A fantasy world corrupted by a connection with our real world. The next escalation would probably be a mirror as end boss. Very philosophical.

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    1. Unir lbh cynlrq Hygvzn VK: Nfprafvba?

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    2. Arire cynlrq n fvatyr Hygvzn tnzr, whfg n enaqbz pbzzrag.

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  10. Wow, yeah, the game designers did NOT take sandbox play into account. Wait until you reach Serpent Isle though. There they make sure you can't do things out of order...

    I tested dropping the moonstone and found that it basically just cycles through each town's gates regardless of where you place it. So if you come out and it's not where you want to be, drop it again.

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    1. The designers took GREAT account of the sandbox. They just made two or three mistakes or oversights, and with twenty-eight years of hindsight, that's all people talk about.

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    2. I would agree, except that the whole discontinuity was set off by the Telekinesis spell. A glitch or strange sequence of events is one thing, but it's not like Chet cheated or did anything unexpected in this case. The whole thing could have been solved by moving the lever farther away.

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    3. I agree with Radiant. The game gives so much freedom to go wherever you want to go, and for the most part manages to do so without problem.

      Saying Chet didn't do anything unexpectedly is a stretch : the problem is not the lever in buccaneers hold, but the visit to the Isle of the Avatar. After all, what do we learn in buccaneers hold? Hook is evil... Okay, surprise! But after the visit to New Magincia, the logical step would be to visit Minoc, since there are 2 people there on Hook's kill list. That would have put the Avatar back in the "normal" game flow.

      Instead, Chet decides to visit the Shrine, which only few players would do at that moment (I guess only those people that played U4 and that were truly inspired by the story about the virtues - no-one else would care enough to visit the shrines without a strong in-game motif).

      So yes, the game "did something wrong", but it's not as if the majority of players would have noticed. To me it remains an example of what a sandbox RPG should be: freedom to go anywhere, anytime, without high level enemies that act as gatekeepers, without one time use spells needed to advance, that are unavailable until you completed 80% of the game... It's always the player and the player alone who decides where to go, and allmost all of the time the game manages to go along.

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    4. I think the designers did what I'd call a C+ level of testing. What they didn't do was ask "Okay, what if they don't go to Minoc? What if they go to Bucaneer's Den first?"

      If I wanted to gate-keep end-game content away from casual exploration, I would use the infamous "quest door" to stop further progress until they've solved other areas.

      It's clear that some of this feedback must have made it's way into Serpent Isle, as that game strictly controls events (sometimes to a fault or bug) to prevent you from doing things out of order.

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    5. C+ by modern standards, but A+++ for sandbox rpgs in 1992.

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    6. They should have moved the lever out of telekinesis range to avoid Chet's scenario, but everything else is fine. The other scenario is Serpent's Isle, where you are railroaded into pretty much doing everything in order, and most people seem to agree that, like Adamantyr suggested, it's to the detriment of that game.

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    7. They DID ask "What if they go to Bucaneer's Den first?" and they DID gate-keep end-game content away from casual exploration.

      They overlooked using one particular spell out of a list of seventy-two, in one specific location.

      Seriously, people are being way too hard on this. Almost every big game from the nineties has one or two nitpicks that were only discovered decades later, and are often getting blown out of proportion on the internet.

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    8. Well, aside from the level, there's also the whole Penumbra debacle.

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    9. VK, the Penumbra debacle is just one question for which the game gives you a choice between 2 answers that don't make sense at that time. It's not game breaking and eventually the issue resolves itself. If Penumbra hadn't asked who sent you, the whole part could fit in at any time in the game. There are more moments like that in U7, but overall the game handles the player's freedom quite well. It's not perfect, but it is amazingly good.

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    10. I think they at least tried to gatekeep the Hook hideout, they just messed up. But you shouldn't see that kill list until those individuals are dead and you are ready for the endgame, and it also means that a major quest becomes optional content because you don't need to complete it to gain access the correct way. Though maybe you'd need to complete it anyway just to know how to finish the game.

      The conversations with Penumbra and the Emps they just overlooked. But it only adds up to some minor weirdness. I agree that the game mostly works pretty well.

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    11. Radiant, I'd ordinarily agree with you but part of the philosophy of Ultima was "Do it anyway you want anytime you want!" and being able to use telekinesis to manipulate levers is something that should have been caught. The spell was also useful in VI.

      Heck, gunpowder kegs can destroy almost ANY object in the game. In Serpent Isle V hfrq gurz gb oybj bcra gur qbbef gb gur neran va Zbavgbe, orpnhfr Vbyb tbg genccrq va gurer. Hasbeghangryl, gur arkg gvzr V gevrq gb hfr gur neran gb genva gur tngr thneq fcrjrq n ohapu bs P++ rkprcgvba unaqyvat fghss sbyybjrq jvgu "... Hu, gur neran'f pybfrq, pbzr onpx yngre!"

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    12. Didier, I think maybe you missed something in my entry. I considered my trip to the Isle of the Avatar a non-canonical lark, just for my own benefit. When I was done, I reloaded in New Magincia and DO intend to go to Minoc next.

      As for the rest of the discussion, I don't blame the game for letting me into the caves with the "Telekinesis" spell; I blame it for putting those letters in Hook's room before those elements of the plot had transpired. It shouldn't have been hard to set some flags. The same for the Penumbra dialogue option.

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    13. Yeah I think the game did a pretty good job of keeping the plot on the rails while still allowing you a lot of freedom. What happened is the complexity of the engine and the complexity of the narrative were pushing against each other.

      In Ultima IV-VI, the reason the freedom works is because the only thing you really need to do to complete the game is maneuver yourself and some items into the correct place. The narrative only exists to guide you toward those items, so skipping sections doesn't necessarily impact anything.

      VII adds in a narrative thread of uncovering murders and exposing the Fellowship though, so it's not just about collecting items--what characters know and what they do factor in. That adds a whole bunch of complexity that games still struggle.

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    14. I think what U7 illustrates--and what developers hadn't yet realized--is the importance of separating objects, events, NPC dialogue, and geography. In U7, they're all tied together. If you can get into Hook's room, the letters are always there, no matter how early in the game. If you can get to the Black Gate chamber on the Isle of the Avatar, the Fellowship members have always gathered. If you awaken Penumbra, it's assumed it's because you've already spoken to Nicodemus or the Time Master.

      Later open-world games will separate these considerations. In Skyrim, you can go to High Hrothgar right away, but the Greybeards aren't interested in talking with you if you haven't yet displayed your Dragonborn abilities. The Wreck of the Icerunner doesn't exist until it's generated by the appropriate stage of the quest. You can't go to Solitude and kill Vittoria Vici at her wedding before getting the quest because it's not time for the wedding yet. I realize there are a lot of bugs in Skyrim--accounting for all these dependencies creates bugs in most open-world games--but at least they understand how it's done. A lot of modern games use the same geography for multiple events and encounters.

      Most games of THIS era are like U7. The problem just isn't as keenly felt because they don't have open-world pretensions.

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    15. Games before U7 had a certain level of open world while properly employing flags or inventory items to prevent too much breaking of the game logic, but it is fair to say that the sheer size of U7 makes things so much more difficult.

      It might even be that the developers literally could not handle the extra load of sanity-checking even key events - we've already seen on this blog that the game is running to the very limits.

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    16. I feel like this is part of the reason why I don't really care for the game. It acts like an open world game, but if you try and take advantage of that it turns out it wasn't really made with that expectation in mind. It seems to expect you to follow the plot rather than go off and do your own thing.

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    17. I don't get how people can claim that U7 doesn't allow you to do your own thing, when the Addict has just spent several posts doing precisely that. If anything, he has shown that U7 deals with it much better than most games of its era.

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    18. I think the two issues Chet has experienced, (1) the weird Penumbra dialogue, and (2) getting into Hook's hideout early should be considered bugs. You can encounter them just be following the main quest. If you approach the game by following the trail of Elizabeth and Abraham and then completing side-quests in individual towns as you come to them you will encounter Penumbra before Nicodemus and you will arrive at Buccaneer's Den before going to New Magincia and get into Hook's hideout "early". I experienced both issue in my first play-through.

      The bugs would be easily fixed as others have mentioned by moving the lever out of telekinesis range and a minor tweak to the Penumbra dialogue tree. I consider the bugs to be minor as they are not game-breaking.

      U7 is a major achievement in both non-linear gameplay and non-linear storytelling and should be lauded for both despite the minor bugs.

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    19. They're not major in terms of gameplay, but I'm the sort that considers narrative just as important, and stuff like this breaks that in a fairly decent way. As is, gameplay wise it does do an open world pretty well, but story wise it very much doesn't feel like you're meant to take advantage of that. It expects you to go from point A to B to C, and if you skip over B it still acts like you did B even if that causes narrative issues.

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    20. If you consider narrative to be more important than gameplay, go read a book. There won't be any pesky game to get in the way of a perfectly consistent story for you. Or you could just stop having unrealistic expectations for a game developed in 1991. It's one dialogue option that's slightly out of place, get over it.

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    21. Well, that's definitely an anonymous-tier comment.

      Video games range from almost exclusively mechanics-driven (eg Mini Metro), to almost exclusively narrative-driven (eg What Became of Edith Finch). People are allowed to prefer games towards either end of the continuum, or are even allowed to have their preferences shaped by mood or energy levels.

      Video games aren't books. Even video games with lots of story and little player agency aren't books. Whether or not a game was 'good for its time' doesn't really change whether or not a player finds aspects of it immersion-breaking.

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    22. I think if we're comparing how well Ultima VII handled deviations from the plot to Skyrim, the point makes itself: that's twenty years later! U7 is trying to weave a story that maintains the illusion that the Fellowship is moving around, doing stuff, and reacting to your presence, while also allowing you the freedom to go anywhere and do whatever you want. And populating a world full of people who are doing their own things, and have distinctive things to say to you.

      I can't think of any other game that was quite this ambitious for a long time--even later games like Daggerfall, Baldur's Gate, and Fallout aren't reaching quite so far.

      A little more recently you have your Skyrims and New Vegases which manage to close the holes better, but somewhat at the expense of flattening the characters and the story. Like, you can murder Caesar, but it doesn't really matter that much to the Mojave until the ending. Or you have your Mass Effect and Dragon Age, which give you fuller characters but at the cost of a much more restrictive game-world.

      The big mistakes in U7 I think are letting you get a carpet and a ship so easily at the beginning. Most of the stuff that can break is on the islands. And they still tried to put those out of the way a bit.

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    23. This was definately great for it's time. Problem is, said time was nearly 30 years ago. Something can be an absolute masterpiece at the time it was made, but that doesn't mean it's always going to be a masterpiece, and to judge it by the context that it was good at the time is giving it an unfair judgement. Besides, I never said narrative was more important than gameplay, I said it was just as important. To me, that doesn't mean you need a plot on par with a novel, it just has to fit the game, be consistant, and if nothing else not negatively impact the game. I'd rather have a meaningless excuse plot than a complex one that's crap, especially if it's a genre that typically doesn't need much in the way of plot.

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    24. This seems like an overreaction. This isn't a game rife with narrative errors, it just has a few issues that have been highlighted here. There's a lot of talk about "great for it's time", but this strikes me as still a pretty good success rate. Or does anything short of perfection not cut it?

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    25. I deleted a comment I just wrote because I wasn't clear what I was responding to. Overall, I find it forgivable and understandable that the developers didn't account for every player's deviations from the script. But the game clearly HAS a script and particularly invites players to deviate from it, so I think it's too bad (not excoriable, just too bad) that they didn't try harder to separate narrative progression from geographic progression.

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    26. I like that you accepted the invitation and tried to go your own way. Looks like this game could have used some more "Broken Bridges" or other ways to enforce it's narrative. A funny way would have been an alternate ending: you kill the endboss early, nobody understands why, you get thrown to jail and his successor finishes his evil plan. Now you are back to playing like it was "supposed to".

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    27. It IS a fair point though that we're talking about two or three lesser bugs, and based on that, Ethanland is portraying the game as completely ruined and utterly unplayable. That does need some perspective.

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    28. No he didn't, and the text is up there, and I agree with Ethanland. I would even repeat that as much as I admire u7 and certain plot points it is not very well written, Mr "go read a book if you don't like u7 anonymous. Please. Critical analysis is exactly what we need.

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    29. None of my statements have been trying to make judgements as to the game being objectively bad because of issues with how it handles an open world. Hell, I don't even hate the game, I just don't really like it as much as other ones in the series. As is, my actual opinion on the game is that the plot's fairly bland and the gameplay's overall worse than it's predecesors, and these posts have shown me just how much the game expects you to stick to the script while not doing much to stop you from breaking it

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    30. I really enjoyed the plot right at the beginning. As things continued to unfold, it became less compelling (with a few specific exceptions). I think they should have made it much less obvious that the Fellowship is evil.

      In terms of overall quality, I put U7 in 4th place in the series. Worse than the core trilogy (U4-U6) but better than any of the others.

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    31. Personally, I'd put it 5th below those and Serpent Isle, or if including spinoffs 8th under the Underworlds and Martian Dreams

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  11. You can even cheat on the gambling games, I seem to remember from playing when I was younger that you could move your money onto the winning space for roulette or something just before it finished spinning if you timed it right.

    Of course if there's anyone around, they attack you for cheating like this, but it's not a difficult fight and no guards will come to arrest you.

    Then I believe there's at least one of the games you can play as much as you like, with nobody to take your losses but somehow you always get a payout.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, you can definitely do that -- you just open your inventory to pause the game and put your money on. This is how I got a huge gold pile for my lair (which was the bathhouse in Buccaneer's Den, after removing the inhabitants).

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  12. I actually forgot that you needed other things to properly end the game.

    Also, I would consider U7 tile based--just that the tiles are very small and not marked. If you try to drag an item a very small amount, you can see that it snaps to discrete increments when you let go.

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  13. More fun with names! 'For' means strong, and I like to think that 'skis' means going down a snowy slope; so 'Forskis' would be 'avalance', but I'm probably wrong about that one.

    Kallibrus, from a few posts earlier, means 'summon books', or basically 'nerd'. That does fit his personality and the whole unicorn quest.

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  14. I agree that though the maps are technically larger, I really thought the series lost something when it lost the world map. It felt like an amusement park more than a living breathing world. For me, the peak of the series will always be Ultima 5. It was the best combo of the world feeling alive and getting a sense of scale. I like the experimental aspect of each post Ultima 3 entry, but it hurt and much as it helped after a point.

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  15. "The stocks don't make a lot of sense."

    Oh my sweet summer child.

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