Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Black Gate: The Road Not Taken

Happy?
         
So here's what's supposed to happen, picking up from the party's victory at Skara Brae: I get the answer to the question of Life and Death (or, at least, enough of one) from the Tortured One and return to Alagner. Alagner lets me borrow his book. I have to solve a bunch of annoying navigation puzzles in his lab to get it, and while I'm doing so, Alagner is murdered by Hook and Forkris, an event I'm able to witness in the crystal ball on his table, since it records what happened in the previous 24 hours.
 
Alagner's notebook satisfies the wisp, who tells me that the Time Lord wants to speak to me, but he's trapped in the Shrine of Spirituality. I can reach him by using my Orb of Moons directly to the northwest, even though this has never worked before. The wisp goes on to explain that Britannia is under attack from the Guardian, who is vain, greedy, egocentric, and malevolent. He has conquered numerous worlds, and his followers--the leaders of the Fellowship--are building a black moongate to allow him to enter and conquer Britannia. The wisp warns us to prevent this, as in Britannia, the Guardian will be unstoppable. Most of this is stuff we already know.

In his prison in the Shrine of Spirituality, the Time Lord confirms that it was he who sent the red moongate to bring me to Britannia. He is being held in his prison by the spherical generator in the dungeon Despise, which he bids the Avatar to destroy. The Avatar has to journey all the way there, get blocked by the red moongate, and return to the Time Lord to hear the Time Lord's solution to the barrier: get Nicodemus's hourglass.
       
The Time Lord ruins the fan theory that he was Hawkwind in Ultima IV.
        
Nicdoemus tells you that he sold the hourglass to an antique store in Paws. You can buy it or steal it there, but Nicodemus needs to enchant it for it to be useful. If the ether is still messed up, he can't do that, so the Avatar has to return to the Time Lord and get the clue to visit Penumbra as a first step to destroying the tetrahedron generator. Afterwards (or if the Avatar has already done this), Nicodemus can cast the necessary spell.

The enchanted hourglass somehow provides protection from the barrier, allowing the Avatar to enter and destroy the generator as I did by accident. More important, by double-clicking on the hourglass, the Avatar can contact the Time Lord later on.

To destroy the cube generator legitimately, you must use the hourglass to contact the Time Lord, who suggests that its defense can be countered with a special metal called Caddellite. I had already picked up Caddellite ore on a premature visit to Ambrosia, but if I hadn't, the Time Lord would tell me to ask Brion at the Moonglow observatory. Brion tells you that Caddellite only comes from meteors, and the last one to strike Britannia landed in the "northeast sea." It is also Brion who recommends that you take the ore to Zorn in Minoc to have helmets fashioned from it. Zorn's helmets protect from the cube generator's attacks, allowing the party to access it and get the cube prism.
        
Zorn forges faster than the player character in Skyrim.
      
By bumbling prematurely into the sphere generator, I destroyed some of this questline, but less than I thought. As we've seen, I could still contact the wisps and get the hints to visit Alagner, and from Alagner the quest to visit the Tortured One, and I could have continued through Alagner's murder.

Unfortunately, I couldn't visit the Time Lord in his original prison, since I'd already freed him and then broke the Orb of Moons. This meant that I never asked him about a way to get through the red moongate, which means he never gave me the HOURGLASS keyword to feed to Nicodemus. However, I discovered that if I obtained the hourglass from Paws, Nicodemus still had the ENCHANT keyword that would allow me to pick up from there.
          
That was the past, Time Lord.
        
When I used it, the Time Lord addressed me as if speaking to me for the first time, using dialogue that I would have received if I'd visited him in his prison, but I also had keywords from later in the questline, so it was a weird conversation, mixing dialogue that suggested he was still entrapped with dialogue that I was meant to get after freeing him. Either way, he directed me to Brion and the Caddellite helms the way he was supposed to, allowing me to pick up from there.

Truth be told, I had already obtained the cube prism by dismissing my party, sucking up the damage that the generator dealt with my enhanced hit points, solving the puzzle, and re-enlisting my party members. But I still went to Brion, got the hint, went to Minoc, and got Zorn to make me eight Caddellite helmets.
         
Spark puts one on.
         
I declined to finish the Alagner questline because it would have gotten him needlessly killed, and I no longer needed the wisps' hints about reaching the Time Lord. Thus, we pick up this narrative as my Avatar arrives at the Meditation Retreat for the second time. Whether it's the Caddellite helm that protects the Avatar or the extra hit points he gained from Forge of Virtue, he ends up in the generator (as he does with all the generators) alone.
        
Thank the gods. Trying to move my party through this area would be a nightmare.
          
If the phrase "fiendish without being particularly clever" makes any sense, it applies to the little cube generator maze. The cube is in the center of a series of concentric squares. The Avatar can walk around the squares, but there are invisible walls blocking him at various points. Stepping on some points sets off traps, while stepping on others creates little bridges between the outer and inner squares. You basically have to walk around the whole thing multiple times, doing your best to avoid fireballs and gouts of flame, reloading if you suddenly wake up at the Fellowship shelter in Paws.
         
Maneuvering my way around the area.
          
The voice of the Guardian taunts you throughout this process, sometimes laughing, sometimes saying, "Yes, that is the proper direction to travel, Avatar." Either way, you ignore him until you finally reach the center and take the cube. As usual, this destroys the generator.

Afterwards, the Time Lord speaks unbidden:
         
Avatar! The Astronomical Alignment is almost at hand! Time is running out! The Guardian must be prevented from coming through the Black Gate! The cube will help thee find the location of the Black Gate. With it in thy possession, those under the influence of the Guardian will be more receptive to speaking the truth to thee. Go to Buccaneer's Den. Search for the one called "Hook." Talk to the so-called Fellowship. Thou shouldst have no trouble ascertaining his whereabouts there. I am sure that thou wilt eventually find the location of the Black Gate. Good luck!
         
Gorn has no new dialogue on the way out; his "god" is somehow still able to speak to him, so he and the Avatar still part with animosity. 
   
Having already visited Buccaneer's Den (and, of course, having already gotten to it twice), I already know that the Black Gate will be found on the Isle of the Avatar, but the prospect of using a lie detector on Fellowship members is too good to pass up. I spend a while flying everywhere with a Fellowship hall, re-engaging various members in dialogue. They often begin with their "old" dialogue, but then the cube vibrates and they have additional dialogue in which they're forced to speak the truth. Here are some highlights:
         
  • Klog in Trinsic not only knew about the Fellowship's role in Christopher's murder; he instigated it. When Christopher refused to help with the Black Gate project despite having been paid, Klog confronted him and Christopher shoved him out of his smithy. Klog called for the assassins, and Hook and Forskis arrived in The Crown Jewel to take care of the deed. Inamo was in the wrong place at the wrong time after all.
  • Batlin casts a spell and disappears the moment he sees that you have the cube.
  • Patterson has no new dialogue. He's not being influenced by the Guardian; he's just a jackass.
           
The Avatar looks at the cube in confusion, shakes it, checks the battery compartment.
           
  • Elynor in Minoc knows full well that Hook and Forskis committed the murders of Frederico and Tania. She attributes the Fellowship candelabra left at the scene to their carelessness.
  • Danag, the branch leader in Buccaneer's Den, has the most to offer. He spills the beans on Hook, who is the Fellowship's chief executioner, having been trained to the role by his predecessor, de Snel. Danag doesn't like the Fellowship leaders. He calls Elizabeth a "royal she-bitch" who "will murder thee at a moment's notice," and he says that Abraham cheats at cards. He also says explicitly that the Black Gate is being built on the Isle of the Avatar, in case it wasn't clear from the materials in Hook's chambers, and that Hook has a key. He confirms that Buccaneer's Den and its pirates are completely controlled by the Fellowship, and that most of the organization's profits come from there.
            
The cube basically vibrates continually as Danag talks.
          
  • Gordy, the game master, confirms Fellowship owner of the casino and says that the guard Sintag has the key to the back areas.
  • Sintag willingly hands over the key if asked. This is how players were supposed to get in without the "Telekinesis" spell.
  • None of the NPCs in the Baths have any new dialogue. I guess maybe they really are volunteers.
  • The game specifically notes that the cube had no effect on some Fellowship members, meaning they were honestly suckered. This is true of Feridwyn in Paws and Quan in Terfin.
  • Mistress Mandy, the tavernkeeper in Buccaneer's Den, causes the cube to vibrate "a little," but tells me nothing she didn't when I didn't have the cube. The game notes that "somehow you know that Mandy would have told you the truth without it."
Lord British has no new dialogue, neither from the cube nor any of the things we've discovered the whole game.
                  
Apropos of nothing, in the sea between Buccaneer's Den and Serpent's Hold is a ship floating by itself with no crew. I didn't check it out (it would require my own ship), but I wonder what's in the hold.
        
The Crown Jewel at last!
          
Thus we made our way once again to the old dungeon Hythloth, built into the mountains west of the old Shrine of the Codex, and we use the key from Hook's chambers--conveniently forgotten by the loyal Fellowship assassin--to open the front door.
 
Immediately inside the door, we're startled to see a giant stone throne, clearly built for the Guardian. It's not so much the presence of the throne that startles us, but its specific location. Did the Guardian really want to sit so immediately in front of the main door, in a dungeon with a dirt floor, looking out on the Shrine of the Codex through iron bars?
           
This is more where you'd put the receptionist's desk than the throne of your leader and conqueror.
          
There are living and dining quarters for Fellowship staff--all of whom we kill--immediately south of the throne room. The dungeon continues to the north, opened by a switch found behind a hidden door.

The area beyond has a jail with three doors. A switch puzzle opens the doors; one must enter the third one, where the body of a well-dressed woman lies dead on the floor. She has a necessary key.

The next area has a variety of switches and walls opened by those switches. We got through by figuring out the pattern. The next chamber we explore has dozens of bodies and skeletons, almost all of them wearing Fellowship medallions. As we move west, we see that the chamber is occupied by a dragon, which we kill without much trouble. There's an enormous pile of treasure, including gems and multiple stacks of gold pieces, at the southern end. We pick up a few final enchanted armor pieces, but it would take a moron to bother to pick up all that treasure.
        
The dragon's useless treasure hoard. Shamino gets a magic choker, at least.
           
The rest of the dungeon is weird. If the other Fellowship members have to travel through it to get to where they're constructing the Black Gate, they must constantly put their lives in their hands. There are numerous hidden passages (and I hate how this game does hidden passages) and one succession of areas in which you get teleported every time you sit on a throne, only to an identical chamber so you don't realize you've been teleported. There are some false teleporters that dump you back to the beginning. There aren't a lot of enemies, but a lich nonsensically blocks the way to the final area.
        

The lich killed Dupre, so I have to resurrect him.
         
The penultimate area is a large Fellowship hall, where we defeat about half a dozen members of various classes. A hidden hallway behind the altar leads to a final teleporter, which in turn leads, at last, to the chamber of the Black Gate. Knowing what's coming, we arrive with "Mass Might" and "Protect All" having been cast.
        
This place would make more sense for the throne.
        
The chamber is a long north-south room with the Black Gate on a triangular platform at the north end. Each corner of the platform has a pedestal with a receptacle for each of the three prisms. The room is occupied by five people: Batlin, Elizabeth, Abraham, Hook, and Forskis. As we enter, the Guardian's voice booms: "Stop the Avatar! I will come through the Black Gate now!"
  
Each of the Fellowship members has some dialogue. Batlin demands that we stop and questions our sanity. He says the Guardian will crush us "like an insect." He says if we bow down to the Guardian, "perhaps he shall give thee a place at his side."
     
How is it "mad" to stop a tyrannical, otherworldly being from coming through a portal?
    
Hook isn't interested in bribing us with power. Neither is his henchman, Forskis.
      
To be fair, Hook and I are in agreement.
Forskis is like a parody of gargoyles.
   
Abraham and Elizabeth both join in the calls to kill us:
          
These two names have loomed so large throughout the entire game, and yet these lines are the entirety of the Avatar's interactions with these characters.
    
Outvoted, Batlin changes his tune:
 
Batlin, you're the craftiest guy I know. But you're the only one in this room who doesn't realize that I decided to kill you five minutes ago.
       
I saved a lot of resources for this battle, including several Potions of Sleep. Immediately after the battle begins, I administer them to each of the Fellowship members.
           
Batlin flights with spells while his companions sleep.
         
Only Batlin is immune, and it doesn't take the rest of the party long to defeat him. He has a little speech:
           
Dost thou imagine thyself an immortal? The Guardian is far more. Return to your precious Earth and rest. Sleep, that he may visit your dreams with countless visions of death in the belly of the Great Sea Serpent. As for me, I shall begone! Thou shalt never find me! Farewell, Avatar!
             
And with that, Batlin teleports away, leaving me to wonder what he meant about the "Great Sea Serpent." We spend a grim few minutes executing coups-de-grĂ¢ce on the rest of the Fellowship. After the sordid business is over, I remember that we've been carrying around about a dozen glass swords that I had intended to use in this final battle. Ah, well. An Ultima glass sword wouldn't be an Ultima glass sword if it was actually used.
 
One by one, I place the cube, tetrahedron, and sphere prisms in their receptacle. The last one lowers the protective barrier around the Black Gate. As I insert the objects, a few questions occur to me, such as how a gateway can be constructed of solid material, and why the Fellowship members built a fail-safe into their protective barrier that involved the three generator prisms.
          
I'm also a little confused about the blue light on the wall behind the gate.
           
Regardless of the answers, as the barrier collapses, the Guardian once more invades my thoughts:
     
So, Avatar! The moment of truth has come. You can destroy the Black Gate, but you will never return to your beloved Earth. Or you can come through now and go home! It is your choice!
 
If I didn't already know that it works, I'd be thinking now that the Guardian is trying to trick me. How can this portal go both to the Guardian's realm and to Earth? I'm grateful Lord British isn't here, as he'd probably shove me bodily into the portal before the Guardian finished speaking.
  
Instead, I point Rudyom's wand at the Black Gate and the endgame cinematic commences. It shows the Guardian struggling to come through just as the portal explodes.

It's not my fault that your followers made it so small. How were you planning to get your legs through?
I don't think it's going to stretch.
I feel like this should have killed him.
            
"Avatar!" calls the Guardian. "You think you have won? Think again! You are unable to leave Britannia, whereas I am free to enter other worlds! Hmmm . . . perhaps your puny Earth shall be my NEXT target!" I want to remind him that I've just beaten him in about two weeks in a world of 100 people with medieval technology, and he's talking about trying to conquer a planet of 5.4 billion people with fighter jets and nuclear weapons. And it's not like Earth is likely to be flim-flammed by a secretive, seemingly-benevolent organization led by an oily figurehead. But the game gives me no chance to respond. Instead, we get the endgame text:
    
In the months following the climactic battle at The Black Gate, Britannia is set upon the long road to recovery from its various plights. Upon your return to Britain, Lord British decreed that the Fellowship be outlawed, and all of its branches were soon destroyed. The frustration you feel at having been stranded in Britannia is somewhat alleviated by the satisfaction that you solved the gruesome murders committed by the Fellowship and even avenged the death of Spark's father. And although you are, at the moment, helpless to do anything about the Guardian's final threat, another thought nags at you . . . what became of Batlin, the fiend who got away? That is another story . . . one that will take you to a place called The Serpent Isle . . . 
           
And then the "congratulations" screen at the top of this entry. Several things occur to me as the credits roll:
     
  • This is the first game I can remember in which "credits roll" at the end. They last a while, too.
  • Any player who didn't take Spark into his party way back in Trinsic would probably be confused at the mention of avenging the death of "Spark's father."
  • Rather than outlawing and destroying the Fellowship, a better solution would have been to have the Avatar take it over, using its infrastructure to promote a return to the eight virtues and a rebuilding of each city around them.
  • There were times where the Guardian's communications with the Avatar seemed to be helping him. Was that just to sow confusion, or was the original intent to make the Guardian a more ambiguous figure?
  • The Astronomical Alignment was a silly and needless addition. The game has no time limit whatsoever, and the planets (as viewed with the orrery viewer, in any event) are never in anything but random positions, even when the alignment is supposed to be "imminent."
       
Oh, give me a break.
     
  • The series has now completed the severing of the Avatar from the player. The brilliance of the Avatar concept as introduced in Ultima IV has been disassembled. The Avatar is no longer the player's literal "avatar" within the realm of Britannia but just a character of that name that the player controls.
      
For the final reason above, it's not surprising to me that many fans consider The Black Gate to be the "end" of the Ultima series, the next three games notwithstanding. To many players, remaining in Britannia would hardly be a punishment. You are a powerful fight and mage, famous, the right arm of the king, adored by most of the population. It's a worthy reward for between four and ten world-saving quests. But the severance does bring it all to an end. When we pick up again, whether it's with Ultima Underworld II or The Serpent Isle, the game no longer will begin with the player being pulled from the "real" world and inhabiting his avatar in Britannia. If you don't get why that matters, you and I have never played the same Ultimas.
  
Actual final time: 74 hours

  

148 comments:

  1. My interpretation of the Guardian being helpful to the Avatar is that there was some role in the incursion that the Avatar was supposed to play - perhaps he was to be a sacrifice of some sort, or else some action necessary to destroy the Gate was also necessary for it to function. Since the Avatar triumphed, we don't know what that was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought it was that the timelord sent the moongate for the Avatar, but wasn't able to communicate with him (her?). So, the Gaurdian interposed himself to make it seem like he sent the moongate so the Avatar wouldn't be immediately hostile to the fellowship. His sporadic, ineffectual help is in support of that goal.

      Of course, as has been noted several times, the Gaurdian is so cartoonishly evil that the notion that he's really looking out for Britannia is not really possible to entertain.

      Delete
    2. It does beg the question why the Guardian needs a black gate in the first place - why not just use a regular one? We know that the gargoyles are capable of making one (back in U6), as well as Iolo and Shamino (back in U5), so it can't have been all that hard...

      Delete
    3. "Ultima 7 - Any Random Gate" would have told a different story, though. More of a strategy game probably, where you have to rush from gate to gate.

      Delete
    4. CRPGAddict already answered this question:

      "I don't think it's going to stretch..."

      Delete
  2. Regarding the Guardian's Throne, I thought the Spoony Ultima Retrospective on Ultima 7 said it best. (They are up on YouTube) They are worth watching for the games you've already played in the series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everything I wanted to know about Ultima I have learned from Spoony:-P I've tried those given for free on GOG and basically given up, the only thing I am interested in is the remake in the Dungeon Siege...

      Delete
    2. Karma is a bitch, it seems. Moments after the posting, my three year old threw a blanket on me, jumped on my head and broke my glasses... What was it about the virtues?

      Delete
    3. I was just watching that review on your recommendation and saw that this "Spoony" stole my virtue Venn diagram at 6:00. I was incensed until I realized how many images I've stolen from other sites during the lifetime of my blog.

      Delete
    4. I'm also not in love with the fact that he's providing a retrospective of Ultima VII but isn't actually playing the original version in the videos.

      Delete
    5. "The most aweseom part of this game is an expansion pack called The Forge of Virtue." And I'm done.

      Delete
    6. You think that's bad, his Ultima Underworld 2 review pretty much only covers the first 15 or so minutes of the game, because he kept going into a room and getting slaughtered and he never realized he could just walk by it. His Ultima reviews tend to be decently funny, but they also aren't great as actual reviews. At least in my case, they ended up giving me an impression on the series that most of the games couldn't live up to, especially for Ultima 5

      Delete
    7. Spoony appears to be Kenny Bania, but with added hilarious swearing.

      Delete
    8. Are you all aware of JPM's anti-walkthroughs? His aim is to abuse every bug and break every game, and he has a lot to say about Ultima 7:

      http://it-he.org/ultima7.php

      Delete
    9. Spoony isn't to everyone's taste. On reflection, I realize some of his jokes are actually self-references to prior reviews, and wouldn't make sense to someone fresh to his work. (Such as referencing his U6 retrospective, in which he dresses up as Chuckles the Clown to torment himself) Later in the U7 review after you stopped he jokes about the planetary alignment being "just orbital wobble", which was a line from Highlander: The Source, one of the most terrible movies ever made. (The Guardian he shows and says "Not THAT one!" was also from that movie.)

      To be fair, using the Exult engine is VERY popular with even the most hardcore U7 enthusiasts, just because it's a heck of a lot easier to work with. Both DOSBox and Exult at least give us the means to play the game in modern Windows; there was a period where you had to keep a DOS system going just to play U7.

      Delete
    10. Spoonys visit to lord British mansion has some interesting bits

      Delete
    11. Spoony's interview with Richard Garriott is definitely worth a watch. I enjoy his "Corporate Commander" shtick as well as the follow-up short film he did with Richard.

      It's clear though that Spoony was given some "no go" areas like Ultima IX. After his hate-filled rant-fest on the game it was suspicious he didn't really dive into it. (Probably because Richard isn't going to throw people he worked with under the bus, and he may even be under some NDA's from EA not to overly criticize.)

      Delete
  3. Yeah, I agree, every Ultima after 7 were more straightforward adventure games. There was a definite shift in tone with Serpent Isle. Ultima 8 and 9 didn't even given you any real ability to customize the Avatar. Ultima 8 let you choose his name, but Ultima 9 didn't even let you do that. And in Ultima 9 he was an idiot hero. "What's a paladin?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always played as a female Avatar so suddenly getting that character choice taken away felt jarring.

      Delete
    2. I know it is a pet peeve of mine, but could we stop calling "adventure games" CRPGs that doesn't 100% matches the most common features of CRPGs?

      All the games you mentioned have stats and character progression, combat, equipment, an economy, free world exploration, elements that are nowhere to be found in adventure games.

      Delete
    3. To be fair, this blog itself does it: its link to the advgamer blog mentions it's for "games that didn't quite make it to RPG status."

      But yeah, it's silly to use a different and pretty popular genre as an insult for "RPGs that suck".

      Delete
  4. I've always thought that the Elizabeth & Abraham part of the game was not well done, there is a sort of side quest where you can follow their movements around the world but it just sort of fizzles out into nothing. It would have been much better if you actually had to chase them down for real and it lead to, for example, an encounter with them that gave you something necessary to get in to the fellowship retreat (and obviously make it so you can't just fly in on the carpet). In some respects the same with Hook, I think it might have been better off to have the showdown with him in his lair at Buccaneer's Den, so we have these high ranking Fellowship people as gateway bosses leading to the Batlin encounter at the end.

    The other main things I would change plot wise (apart from obviously cleaning up all the bugs Chet encountered) would be for Lord British himself to give you the quest to go and find the Time Lord, it is awfully obscure that you get it off the fortune teller of all people.

    I wasn't happy you took advantage of bugs to access the cube and sphere generators, but apart from that it was an entertaining way to tackle the game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed on both counts. I wonder if Elizabeth and Abraham weren't late additions inserted into the game just to get in a dig against EA.

      Delete
    2. It was supposed to be a "bread crumb" type quest that gives you an excuse to visit every town. I think it works fine that every town you go to tells you about them and tells you they went to another town and then you never actually meet them.

      Delete
    3. I'd say the bread crumb quest works well enough; but what's really weird is that E&A are the ones that bring you back to Paws when you're dead. As it turns out, they lack the means to do that, and more importantly it goes entirely against their motive.

      Delete
    4. They don't necessarily lack the means, if they have a spellbook with mark and recall. And their motive would be to keep the Avatar's suspicion off them and make the Fellowship seem like a good organization.

      Delete
    5. They lack the means to FIND you (wherever you died), not the means to get to Paws.

      And why would they care about the Avatar's suspicion once the Avatar is dead? Why would they save you from death just to allay your suspicion? It makes no sense.

      Delete
    6. Not really. The Guardian just tells them where to pick you up. They care about his suspicion because you are more useful to them alive than dead, if they can swing you to their side as a very powerful and respected ally.

      Delete
    7. It's funny that as I'm reviewing reviews of the game for the final entry, so many of them say that you spend the game following Elizabeth and Abraham around. Even the two earlier times that I played the game "straight," I NEVER perceived that following E & A was the primary driver of the plot. Sure, I inquired about them in places they were supposed to be, but only because the game gave me the option. At the beginning, I was motivated about clues more directly associated with the murder (The Crown Jewel and then Hook himself), and later by the hints associated with the generators. Elizabeth and Abraham were always tertiary. Why would I care THAT MUCH about a couple of possible witnesses to a murder for which I already have a suspect?

      Delete
    8. Witnesses? I figured early on that they were responsible for the murder.

      In Trinsic, Klog mentions that Christopher wanted to leave the Fellowship, and he and E&A talked to him, and Chris got angry "for no reason". And then he was killed. Gee, that is not at ALL suspicious. And then the E&A trail leads to Minoc, where the next murder has taken place...

      Delete
  5. Since the world of Britannia needs your help near-constantly, kicking the Avatar out every time he solves a quest seems like a terrible decision. It's also a bit selfish on LB's part; how come all the other Earthlings get to live in Britannia full-time?

    Trying to live a life in two worlds sounds way more traumatic than just leaving one for the other, in the long run. How does the Avatar explain work absences to his boss? He can't have a long-term relationship in either world since he might vanish at a moment's notice, not to be seen for months or years. I assume he doesn't get to keep any of the treasure from his adventure when he's kicked back to Earth, so he probably doesn't have a lot of wealth in either world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be fair, the pole-dancing centaurs the Avatar is into don't seem like the settle-down-and-get-married type.

      Delete
    2. I'm not sure of how much time the Avatar cannonically spends in Britannia in all of their quests, but i think that the fact that time works differently in Earth and Britannia (10 hours at Britannia equals 1 hour at Earth) probably reduces such problems a bit.
      Suddenly a 10 days campaign in Britannia becomes a 1 day leave at Earth, and a 2 months campaign becomes a 1 week leave.

      Anyway, it must be obnoxious to constantly be called and sent back between Britannia and Earth without being able to enjoy the glory of your victories for too long.

      Delete
    3. Wonder how many earth jobs the Avatar has lost over the years, what with suddenly disappearing without notice.

      Delete
    4. Given how much gold he tends to accumulate between games, seems to me he wouldn't need a job; toss a few hundred pounds of gold through the moongate and cash it in.

      Delete
    5. The Avatar has probably lost as many jobs as there are Ultimas.

      Heck, Ultima VI even makes it explicit that you get back from Britannia to find your house no longer contains any furniture.

      As for the "cashing in the gold" thing, it takes a specific skill set to manage the disposal of significant quantities of unexplained gold bullion without attracting the attention of the taxman, the Mob, and/or the cops.

      Delete
    6. You just take a coin or two and sell them at a random pawn shop every time the rent is due. Those guys aren't going to ask any questions. Obviously you don't go try to offload a whole pallet of treasure all at once.

      Delete
    7. The rent is due? Why would the Avatar live in rent? Especially since housing was much more affordable in the 90s.

      Delete
    8. Well it was just a figure of speech, but the actual answer is probably that the Avatar is a jobless shut-in who spends all his time at home playing on his computer and looking at naughty centaur art. That's why he's always free to jump through the moongate whenever one opens and never, say, at work or on a date.

      Delete
    9. The Avatar must be doing fairly well for himself. In Ultima IX he's living in a rather luxurious home. But, all by himself. Relationships are probably more difficult to hold down than jobs when you keep having to travel inter-dimensionally on practically no notice.

      Delete
    10. I was intrigued by the poll centaur reference, and found this for the history of this specific pieece of art : https://ultimacodex.com/2015/10/remember-that-centaur-poster-in-ultima-6s-intro-i-found-the-sketch-it-was-based-on/

      Delete
    11. Great find! I love how the zebra/centaur is universally perceived as “pole-dancing,” despite a) it not doing much of anything that resembles dancing, and b) the couple of vertical lines not really resembling a stripper pole.

      Delete
    12. As for the Avatar, I've made jokes along these lines before (and so has the game, what with the burglary the Avatar comes home to after Ultima V), but when you think about it, the Avatar has only had four unexplained disappearances in 7 years. Moreover, each one was probably well less than a week on Earth. Depending on what day of the week the Moongate appeared, the Avatar might have been gone as few as 2 or 3 days. There are some jobs that would immediately fire you for such unexplained absences, but there are a lot in which you could easily talk your way out of it. The Avatar is probably a decent person on Earth, known for his honesty and dedication to duty, and I suspect his supervisors and co-workers simply take him at his word when he says, "I'm terribly sorry about the absence. Something came up that I can't talk about, but I promise that I couldn't reach you ahead of time or I would have. I'm willing to make up the time, of course."

      As for equipment, he clearly takes it with him. Neither the Avatar nor anyone else has ever been depicted as coming through the moongates naked. In Ultima V, we even see him grab a sword and armor from a chest in his Earth house before going through the moongate. So there's no reason to think gold wouldn't survive the trip. The question is whether he ever took it. Ultima VI is the first game in which the characters had individual gold instead of party gold. My guess is that the Avatar isn't looking to get rich off of his Britannian adventures, but he might take enough gold to ease the pain of whatever the trip might have cost him.

      Delete
    13. It's only just occurred to me now, but nobody's really explained the logistics of HOW a centaur would pole-dance. It would take some serious upper body strength to lift most of a horse. This is even ignoring that horse legs aren't really useful for any kind of dancing, pole or no pole.

      Delete
  6. Some of the Fellowship members who attack in the final dungeon are brainwashed kids. I remember this being pretty controversial when the game came out — there was one guy on Usenet who claimed that Richard Garriott was inserting child-killing scenes into each of his games, with the object of converting gamers to devil worship or some such. In fact, you don't have to kill them, but they can do enough damage to be a nuisance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe the original child-killing scene is a dungeon room in Ultima V and after the outcry, Garriott doubled down.

      Delete
    2. I respect him for that. Doubling down is always better than bending to the outrage mob.

      Delete
    3. Either reaction as a kneejerk is equally stupid. There are times when "I will INCREASE doing the thing" is the best answer and there are times when "Oops, sorry" is.

      Delete
    4. Damn. If I noticed those kids at all, I think I must have confused them for gremlins. I almost wish I didn't know.

      Delete
    5. There are a couple of child killing situations in U8 and U9 as well.

      There comes a point where it's just bad taste, and claiming to defend creative freedom sounds a bit hollow.

      Delete
    6. From my recollection, it started in Ultima 4 and continued in nearly every other game. Strangely enough, killing them does absolutely nothing to your virtue in that game

      Delete
    7. It started in Ultima V, there's a room in Hythloth that contains children in cages. The dungeon engine treats them as monsters so if you open the cages they come out and attack you.

      Richard did it mainly out of boredom while designing rooms and thought it presented a fun little moral dilemma for players. As he pointed out to many people, you don't HAVE to kill them. You can just not let them out, cast sleep or fear spells, or just move out of the room away from them.

      Delete
    8. This article claims that such a scene did appear in Ultima IV, and includes an anecdote about Richard and his brother Robert arguing over the scene.

      Delete
    9. The article is wrong. I think Richard Garriott forgot which Ultima it was in, he may have made the same mistake in his interview with Spoony.

      Shay Addams Book of Ultima, which dates from the late 80's/early 90's, specifically mentions the room as being in Ultima V, and the drama it created within the company and Richard's family.

      Delete
  7. I think all Ultima fans already know it but I just realised that the three Generators resemble the logo of a certain software company they used in the 90's

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *tinfoil*

      Is the Guardian a stand in for this company destroyong and corrupting Richard Garriots work?

      The lousy lord British in this game a reference for selling the company to EA

      Is the only purpose of the game a giant middle finger to them?

      Delete
    2. No to the first two, but somewhat yes to the third. EA didn’t even enter talks to buy Origin until after VII had shipped. However, Origin’s issue was possibly more with Trip Hawkins’ unscrupulous actions in the mid-80s rather than EA per se, and he had already been pushed out to 3DO at that point. V and VI also include digs at EA but they’re more subtle.

      This now 15 year old Escapist article has some good direct quotes from Garriott and Warren Spector although it’s more about the long term overall:
      uggcf://i1.rfpncvfgzntnmvar.pbz/negvpyrf/ivrj/ivqrb-tnzrf/vffhrf/vffhr_14/87-Gur-Pbadhrfg-bs-Bevtva

      This Digital Antiquarian article has good info on bad blood between them and goes more into the immediate ramifications:
      uggcf://jjj.svyser.arg/2019/09/bevtva-fryyf-bhg/

      Had to ROT13 the URLs to get them through the comment filter.

      Delete
    3. Yes to the first one, too (and likely the second). Origin's motto was "We create worlds". The Guardian is clearly called the destroyer of worlds, and it had absolutely EVERYTHING to do with EA taking over Origin. Garriott knew that was EA's intent even if they hadn't been taken over yet, as they had already lost a ton of money to EA in a frivolous lawsuit.

      Delete
    4. Ultima VI has a major quest that's basically a sustained series of middle fingers to EA. The pirate map leads to the treasure of Captain Hawkins, who "died a hard death and deserved it". The CEO of EA at the time was Trip Hawkins, and a number of his pirates are named after major EA figures like Joe Ybarra and Bing Gordon.

      Delete
  8. Personally, I never saw the Avatar as anything other than a specific character. It never even occured to me that he was supposed to represent the player until I read the entries on the older games. Thing is, I had absolutely no exposure to the Ultima games until a few years ago, and none of the games I played growing up had a similar "the protagonist represents the player" bend to them. I'm not sure I could have ever played the same Ultimas as you, even if from nothing other than not having been able to play them at the time

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. I've been playing CRPGs since the 80s when I was a kid, and it never occurred to me to think that the characters of any of the games were literally myself. I always treated them the way I treated books; you are sitting down to spiritually/virtually accompany these people on their adventure, but you're not actually them.

      Delete
  9. Ultima 7 was my first Pc game (after Amstrad and Amiga) and I totally loved it. It was the first Ultima published in spain also.
    I was unable to do the Skara Brae part, for may years I thought it was a bug, but after playing the game recently I think I just messed with the potion making. I keep playing exploring and killing monsters enjoying it a lot until I found a dungeon with a teleport trap. Used the Time stop spell to cross it and found the Time Lord reengaging the main quest to the end. Very amusing

    ReplyDelete
  10. As I recall, the plot twist with Alagner is that the entity you're trading the information to (via the wisps) IS actually the Guardian. So giving this information to the wisps allows him to send his assassins after Alagner. I've found that rather clever; at first glance it's the same sidequest as in U6, but this one has actual consequences.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But Alagner is murdered before you give the wisps his journal...

      Delete
    2. No, Alagner was murdered after you gave his book to the wisp.

      Delete
    3. Wow, I never connected those dots before. Neat!

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I might have screwed up the order of that part of the quest in my summary, as I didn't experience it this time. Online walkthroughs seem to support anonymous's contribution.

      Delete
  11. It's a bit disappointing that the Hook and Forskis plot, plus the Elizabeth and Abraham plot, resolve themselves at the same time as nothing more than four henchmooks in the final battle.

    Hmm, Does Baldur's Gate do the same thing? I remember Sarevok being flanked by some relevant villains in the final fight.

    Also, I'm curious: What percentage of humans in Britannia turn out to be Fellowship members in the end? I mean it sounds like you killed a substantial fraction of the population of citizens.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the first Baldur's Gate Sarevok is supported by two of his lieutenants, but I don't remember them being anything other than "named" NPCs. They don't figure into the plot much if I'm remembering correctly.

      Delete
    2. I thought one was Tavok? Maybe I'm misremembering.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, if I recall correctly, Sarevok's party members are mostly minor supporting characters, but each has their backstory fleshed out to some extent.

      Delete
    4. Sarevok's companions in the final battle are Angelo (the Flaming Fist captain), Tazok (leader of the bandit camp), and Semaj (I see we're still doing this in 1997). You meet both Angelo and Tazok well ahead of the final battled and have enough interaction that I would call them "relevant." I'm a bit depressed because I would have hoped that I didn't remember that any more. I want to have forgotten as much about BG as possible by the time I replay it.

      As to Tristan's original question, I think about 20% of the NPCs in the game are Fellowship members. It runs about 30% in cities that have Fellowship presence, but not all cities do.

      Delete
    5. Alagner's journal describes the Fellowship as having a three-circle structure, with only Batlin's tiny inner circle being in communication with the Guardian. The next circle out is the branch leadership, some of whom seem to be aware of illicit activities, if not the existence of the Guardian. But the majority of Fellowship members are totally innocent of any involvement. So there was unlikely to be any kind of mass bloodshed in dissolving the Fellowship. Later games make that clear, too.

      Delete
    6. The majority of Fellowship members are uninvolved with The Guardian, yes. However, most of them are still corrupt, nepotistic, and willing to slander, steal from, and murder anyone who's not a Member.

      Like the branch in Britain, which has a non-member imprisoned for years over stealing an apple. Or the one in Moonglow, which outright kills people trying to leave the cult. Or Tseramed's love, a member who was sick and refused a healer, so she died. Or the whole group covering up (and making a statue) for Owen, whose poorly-designed ships have killed people. And the business with enslaving drugged people to work in their mines.

      ...so many of them are corrupt that the game has to explicitly point out the few that are not (e.g. the gargoyle). "Later games" don't make that clear at all, except that Serpent Isle has a Member that happens not to be evil.

      Moral ambiguity, this ain't.

      Delete
  12. "It's not like Earth is likely to be flim-flammed by a secretive, seemingly-benevolent organization led by an oily figurehead."

    Oh, the irony...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If Escapism was on the GIMLET, Ultima 7 would score a 0. This game is full of middle-fingers.

      Delete
    2. Better get going finding that black gate... I think I know which country it might be in!

      Delete
    3. Laughed out loud at this comment! Hahaha... wait... actually... now I want to weep and wail and gnash my teeth... sigh...

      Delete
    4. The best part is that you don't know which organization he might be referring to.

      Toss-up between Amazon and Apple in my head-canon.

      Delete
    5. If you want to venture into conspiracy theory territory how's about this: "The Guardian" is the name of a left-leaning British newspaper that was somewhat Soviet-sympathizing during the Cold War. Fellowship's "triad of inner strength" is quite communism-compatible and very similar to Soviet ideology. Given that - canonically - the Avatar helps Lord British, the whole game is a parable about the virtues of monarchy and horrors of communism/socialism.

      Delete
    6. The Fellowship is somewhat inspired by Scientology, and there are plenty of high profile people who joined that cult (actors etc) despite of how ridiculous it all is. A religion founded by a sci-fi author, and it even includes sci-fi elements in its core beliefs? Yeah sure. Totally legit.

      Delete
    7. I didn't even have a specific organization in mind, which only enhances the pain of the joke. On the other hand, very few of the candidate organizations are so successful that they've ensnared as great a percentage of Earth's population as the Fellowship.

      Delete
    8. It's been interesting to me seeing how people perceive the Fellowship from different perspectives. I was surprised at one time to see several different European fans describe them as "communistic" or "collectivist", but I can see where they're coming from. For example, Nanna talks about the Fellowship teaching her of "the evils of the class system".

      As an American, I see some echoes of evangelicalism (the "witnessing" at meetings, especially), and the family running the shelter in Paws uses some very familiar "poverty is a sign of poor character" language. Alagner calls them "fascists" in his notebook. Obviously the Scientology connection is the strongest.

      Ultimately it seems clear that the Fellowship has no coherent external ideology, since it's all a cover for a deeper plot.

      Delete
    9. "Ultimately it seems clear that the Fellowship has no coherent external ideology, since it's all a cover for a deeper plot."

      Did you mean to write "UK government" there instead of "Fellowship?"

      Delete
    10. A world-spanning organization founded by an oily figurehead? Well, "Christ" actually means "The Anointed One". Sounds oily enough...

      JK! ;-)

      Delete
  13. Now the Penumbra question makes even less sense, given that Nicodemus and Time Lord are part of the same questline.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even worse, I just reviewed a transcript file of the game, and Nicodemus has no dialogue suggesting you wake up Penumbra. So I don't know if the game was trying to trick you or what.

      Delete
    2. When Nicodemus proves unable to fix the hourglass, the intent is that you ask the Time Lord about the aether, and he sends you to Penumbra.

      Penny's question is basically meant to remind players of the quest line, so they don't get lost. It stands out because the game, as a whole, doesn't really do that.

      Delete
  14. Sleep potions? That's quite a roundabout way to deal with the final battle.

    I just cast Mass Death (not to be confused with Armageddon ☺ ).

    Which caused some slightly odd interactions, because Batlin's in-game entity died, but he didn't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I casted Time Stop and slaughtered them. Batlin died, but when the spell expired he revived to flee

      Delete
    2. It seems like that pesky duplicate Batlin gave the developers all sorts of trouble, as we've seen he can die to Armageddon as well. I wonder why they didn't just give him the same nigh-invulnerability as his "real" counterpart in the Fellowship hall.

      Delete
    3. The party is so over-powered that there are a million options by that point.

      Delete
    4. My guess is that they needed the Black Gate Batlin to be able to lose HP in order to trigger his departure script. The Ultima VII engine is not particularly powerful (sophisticated for its time, of course, but limited and kind of janky). Armageddon actually disables all scripts on characters, which is why BG Batlin can be "killed" by it.

      Delete
  15. I have to confess I'm storing up a large quantity of schadenfreude for whenever Ultima IX comes up. I recently bought it for $4 on eBay and installed it on an old Win2000 computer.

    It's certainly a product of that late 90's push to make everything 3D, at a time when the technology to push the fidelity that art direction required wasn't yet available. Everything is blocky, the textures are blurry, and the controls are miserable.

    See King's Quest VIII for another example of this in action. Quest for Glory V doesn't come off quite as bad though, probably due to the environments being mostly still-renders.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The controls being miserable isn't really a fault of the 3D because Quake had been a thing for a few years already. Plenty of really good 3D games in the era.

      Delete
    2. Very true! My point is a lot of games transitioned from 2D to 3D in the late nineties and their design wasn't fleshed out as much as it should have been. Quake comes across as a more polished and competent product than Ultima IX despite the latter having three years of technological progress over the former.

      Delete
    3. For example, try to imagine what a late 90's Commander Keen would have looked like. Maybe like Montezuma's Return, another 2D->3D series title.

      Delete
    4. I bought Ultima IX pretty close to launch, in its buggy unpatched state, and it promptly refused to run at anything like a playable frame rate on my not-particularly-old gaming PC, and also it looked to be a bit rubbish, so I abandoned it, and to this day have never retried it.

      Ultima VIII had already run my patience for the franchise pretty low, though.

      Delete
    5. (Origin had a habit of building its games to run on "state-of-the-art" machines that then never actually ended up becoming the industry standard, though, so getting their games to perform well became an increasing problem in the years between Wing Commander 3 and their eventual end.)

      Delete
    6. I have done an excellent job over the years of keeping myself ignorant of the plot and mechanics of Ultima IX, something I hope persists until I play it. Nonetheless, it's been impossible to remain ignorant about how the majority of players feel about it.

      Delete
    7. @Chet,

      You might actually be disappointed then. I might get pushback on this, but as a game Ultima IX is bad, but it's not even special in how bad it is. It's just run-of-the-mill bad.

      If you count the damage it does to the lore and its failure as a series finale the hate is pretty justified, but as a stand-alone game, it's just averagely bad for the era (in my opinion).

      Delete
    8. While I played with a dialogue patch, my general impression of Ultima 9 is that it's mostly bad when compared to other games in the series, and on it's own is more or less below average at it's worst, and halfway decent at it's best. This is also more or less the same I feel about Might and Magic 9, although that one tends to be more on the halfway decent side of the scale

      Delete
    9. @Raifield: That's true, plenty of formerly 2D series went 3D in the late 90s without thinking it through, just because it was the hip thing. The results were often terrible. I shudder when I remember Simon the Sorcerer 3D.

      I was a kid back then and never understood why good-looking 2D games received ugly and clunky 3D sequels. The whole 3D craze was inconceivable to me and I generally preferred 2D graphics, mostly because my main genres as a kid were adventure games and platformers like Commander Keen. I learned to appreciate 3D when I got into FPS and other made-for-3D genres, but any game series that started out in 2D but then transitioned ended up the worse for it.

      Delete
    10. Eh, I'd say Nintendo did a great job with the transition, enough so for their series to be some of the only ones that started in 2D to still keep getting games that didn't come from a Kickstarter 20 years later

      Delete
    11. Nintendo has exactly two series that is continuing in 3D after transitioning from 2D - the Mario games and the Zelda series. Even those have an entire line of 2D titles running in parallel. Insert standard declaration that the person who developed the Mario 64 controls should be dragged before the Hague here.

      Konami had that many series until they essentially killed their video game division to focus on slot machines.

      Delete
    12. There's also Metroid, and last I checked there hasn't been a 2D Zelda or Mario that wasn't a port or remake of some sort in a while. Besides, I can't think of any series they had that tried and failed to transition to 3D, which I thought was the point of the discussion

      Delete
    13. I never owned a console so I speak from a PC gamer's perspective. I guess Duke Nukem 3D is an example of a good transition from 2D to 3D on the PC. Most other series weren't so lucky though.

      Delete
    14. Also, while I never owned a Nintendo myself, isn't the popular opinion that Mario 3D has shitty controls?

      Delete
    15. Besides the lack of camera control, Mario 64's controls are absolutely fine. The majority of 3D Mario games that followed it take its lead when it comes to 3D controls. Ditto for the Zelda series and Ocarina of Time, which set the groundwork for every 3D Zelda game until Breath of the Wild.

      People just love to bash the N64 and PS1 nowadays for the sin of being outdated. A majority of the games for those systems are perfectly playable today, provided you're not a graphics snob.

      Delete
    16. Yeah, as long as you avoid the earliest examples, most of the games on those systems are fine as long as you can handle them looking like crap

      Delete
    17. I actually like PS1 visuals, early 3D has a certain charm and atmosphere to it. I still play user maps for Quake, Thief and Tomb Raider, and I don't use HD texture mods ;)

      Delete
    18. Mario64 was a revelation back then. Absolute eye-opener, and even though I preferred 2D for my favorite genres, Mario64 and Quake were the two titles that explained to me how 3D was awesome in the right circumstances.

      Delete
    19. I've also got a bit of a soft spot for early 3D. I also recognize it really doesn't look good, especially these days.

      Delete
    20. Mario64's controls felt like magic when it was released. His responsiveness and animation and move-set in a 3d environment gave player's a sense of agency that they'd never experienced before.

      The camera wasn't even that bad, it's just that it was a C+ when the rest of the grades were As.

      I think the fact that the three games where Nintendo transitioned a major 2d franchise to 3d happen to be M64, Prime, and Ocarina sure suggests they did a great job!

      Is Pokemon 3d now? I don't even know.

      Delete
    21. The early 3D era is certainly interesting. I also have nostalgia for it, but recognize that there was a lot of crap as well while developers were figuring it out. Nintendo did ok with the transition as mentioned, and there are series like Duke Nukem, Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei, and (imo) Wizardry that transitioned into it pretty well, but a lot of existing series imploded at the 3D graphics event horizon. Especially in the adventure genre.

      Delete
    22. The only other Nintendo series I can think of that transitioned to 3D and "failed" are Donkey Kong and Kid Icarus, and I think in both those cases there were other factors in play (Donkey Kong was entirely 3rd party developers and had some rights issues when the main one (Rare) got bought by Microsoft, and Kid Icarus was weirdly a shooter on a handheld that didn't really have the right control inputs for it - and also not a prominent franchise to begin with). Add to that the fact that Nintendo has been somewhat consolidating their IPs lately, means that they're unlikely to make a 3D platformer that's not a Mario game, or a 3D adventure game that's not Zelda, etc.

      Delete
    23. @Tristan Pokemon is "sorta" 3D - the models etc are 3D, but the game is largely still a fixed-camera top-down perspective other than a few set places. I wouldn't really describe it as a 3D game in the standard sense of the word.

      Delete
    24. Nintendo may be better at it than most, but there were a LOT of mediocre, forgettable, or just plain bad 3D sequels in the early 3D era. See the tvtropes page on PolygonCeiling for examples.

      Delete
    25. Yeah, Ultima IX was one of those games were it ran on certain setups and nothing else. Do you not have the video card they want? Too bad

      Delete
    26. I'd say that Fallout and Prince of Persia (starting with Sands of Time) are two series that managed to have 3D titles that were worthy of their 2D predecessors.

      Delete
    27. Don't forget that Prince of Persia had TWO forays into the 3D world, the first being "Prince of Persia 3D" which was a big flop! Sands of Time was released four years later.

      Delete
    28. Never understood the hate for Prince of Persia 3D. I found it to be a very solid Tomb Raider clone with a way better combat system, and TR itself was very much a 3D reincarnation of Prince of Persia. Most of the criticisms I've seen of PoP3D concern how Prince handles, but I found he controls similarly to Lara Croft, who seemed to get a free pass for stiff but precise controls (itself a trademark of PoP 1&2).

      Worst thing about it was the truly awful loading times. As in, go make a sandwich while you wait. But the levels are big, quickloading is instant, and nowadays the load times are just a few seconds.

      Delete
    29. It might be that the biggest problem with POP3D is that it plays nothing like POP. Kind of like how people were saying that Ultima 9 is a middling-to-decent RPG, but is nothing like the rest of the Ultima series.

      Being too different from your legacy result in fan backlash.

      Delete
    30. It's exactly how I had imagined POP would have played in 3D. Tomb Raider laid much of the groundwork, but POP3D feels like a very faithful translation of the original's careful and deliberate puzzle platforming gameplay into 3D. Sands of Time is way different in comparison - you have responsive, console-like controls, button mashy crowd control combat, parkour-style acrobatics, time rewinding, etc.

      Delete
  16. A proper sequel to this game would have had the Avatar going around trying to help ordinary Britannians figure out what to do about all their societal problems, now that they no longer had the Fellowship leadership giving them easy but useless guidance. Evil or not, the Fellowship was a big part of even well-intentioned people's moral and spiritual lives, and you don't just outlaw and banish that without it having some kind of repercussions on those people.

    I've always liked the way Final Fantasy X-2 handled that, by comparison. In the first Final Fantasy X, you learn that the worldwide religion everyone follows is npghnyyl rivy, naq xvyy vgf tbq. (Spoilered just in case; not that anyone here is likely to care that much about console JRPG spoilers.) And in the sequel, you do see gur lbhatre zrzoref bs fnvq eryvtvba gelvat gb svther bhg ubj gb ersbez vg naq znxr vg vagb n sbepr sbe tbbq. It's a rare but welcome acknowledgement that building a just society is rarely as simple as killing or exiling all the bad people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While the Serpent Isle was a worthy game and they needed to reuse the VII engine... that would have been far better than 8 or 9...

      Delete
    2. I mean, I'd like to imagine that these things happened canonically, maybe even had some confirmation in the form of books or dialogue, but I'm not sure I would necessarily have liked to PLAY it. It's a rare game that has you play the "clean up" from its predecessor, and I suspect for good reason. Still, I'd be open to hearing more about how such a game could be constructed that would work.

      Delete
    3. Correct me if I'm misunderstanding, but isn't Ultima IV along the lines of that premise? You're not really cleaning up after a specific cataclysm, but your ultimate goal is to give Britannian society a new direction and new ideals after a long period of strife.

      Delete
    4. True. But you have quests along the way--become the Avatar, find the Codex--that I didn't perceive in NLeseul's description. I guess I was just being unimaginative. I'm sure there's a way to construct such a story that would still provide a kind of "main quest."

      Delete
    5. Actually, let me go farther than that and reverse what I said above: any game that dared to offer such a story would be doing something so original that I'm sure I'd praise it no matter how it actually played out. NLeseul is right; that would be an interesting game.

      Delete
    6. Hmm. Well, to continue with the Final Fantasy example, the protagonist in X-2 has her own goals and follows a basically unrelated main plot, but she spends a lot of time interacting with NPCs who are dealing with the philosophical fallout from the first game, and a lot of sidequests intersect with that background.

      Come to think of it, Final Fantasy XIII-2 was kind of similar as well. There was a major social cataclysm at the end of the first Final Fantasy XIII, and XIII-2 has the protagonists time traveling and seeing the consequences play out over several hundred years. It's mostly done in text-based lore dumps in XIII-2, though, so it's not as well-done as it could have been.

      As for making providing moral guidance the actual main plot of a game... it's definitely a difficult problem. Ultima IV did it reasonably well, but I think the resulting plot is pretty bland by today's standards, and I'm not sure how easy it would be to improve upon it.

      I think one major change, though, would be to give the player more choices to make that impact the philosophical development of the world, instead of just passively receiving philosophy from the NPCs. Like, what if you could have gone to Magincia, chosen to guide people there towards either Pride or Humility, and seen the city's culture evolve over time based on that guidance? It's still hard to see how well that would work as the main plot of a game, though.

      Delete
    7. Should we mention that the protagonists of FFX-2 are three scantily clad girls whose main solution to fixing things is to have a big concert to unite people with the power of song? :)

      Delete
    8. I mean, it's a JRPG, none of that is too out of the ordinary

      Delete
    9. Some 10-15 years ago when I last played Ultima I was also reading about the French revolution. This lead me to think about why Lord British is the ruler? By what authority does he rule? He isn't even from Sosaria. Thus my Ultima 8 would have been a game about Avatar trying to both help Britannia back to the path of virtue, but also help make sure something like Fellowship would not find purchase in the future.

      Immediately issues needing the be addressed would be at least the Fellowship members, the position of Gargoyles in the society and the serpent venom trade. I imagined three main factions, one wanting to punish ex-Fellowship members, one of ex-Fellowship members who wanted to keep and even gain power, and those disappointed in Lord British. There would be lots of politics amidst traditional RPG questing (Britannia is a very dangerous land with monsters after all). I suppose Guardian could be a grey eminence, if we really had to keep that moron around.

      If the player did badly in the quests, the end result would be an eventual civil war between the factions where the Avatar would have to side with British as the least bad choice. If the player did well in the quests and politics, the result would be a more peaceful formation of a parliamentary democracy based on the virtues. In the end, Avatar would talk/force Lord British to leave Britannia because he really hasn't been a very good ruler. But doing that also means that Avatar has to leave as well.

      Or I suppose the end result could also be parliamentary monarchy with Lord British as a figurehead of state, but frankly I'm not sure the dude deserves that.

      Delete
  17. Anybody know what's up with that ship in the middle of the ocean? It's not even worth an annotation on the online u7 map and now I too really want to know what's in its hold...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I reloaded an earlier save and checked it out. There's one pirate aboard and the hold has 10 powder kegs and five wooden barrels. The barrels are full of:

      1. Ale
      2. Potted plants
      3. Flaming oil
      4. Cannon balls
      5. Kite shields

      So I fear that only deepens the mystery.

      Delete
    2. It's at 132 south, 51 east if anyone wants to check it out for themselves. I guess there are sometimes two pirates on board.

      Delete
    3. Just a random pirate encounter I guess. Case closed!

      Delete
    4. For some reason, this all just makes me think of that movie, Dead Calm.

      Delete
  18. Will you have a post on messing around in the sandbox like you did with U6?

    And speaking of messing around with the game, I STRONGLY second the earlier recommendation to check out the Ultima section at it-he (if you haven't already). This guy screws with the games in ways that put even Nakar's LPs to shame: http://www.it-he.org/ultima.php

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nah, all the URLs people are suggesting show that this has already been done to death.

      Delete
    2. While I see your point, it would still be good to have your perspective on how it compares to other games in this respect. And especially after your U6 post on the subject it's going to feel like a pretty big hole in your review if you don't at least discuss it in the wrap-up.

      Delete
    3. You already written about sandbox aspects of this game alot, so a special feels redundant.

      Ps (about alot)

      http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html?m=1

      Delete
    4. No need to do it indeed, IMO.

      Delete
  19. The Timelord-is-Hawkwind characterisation wasn't actually a fan theory - it was deliberately retconned in to the lore of Ultima IX: https://ultima.fandom.com/wiki/Hawkwind

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Technically a spoiler, dude.

      Mind you, I largely ignore it as "U9's content team trying to placate fans."

      Delete
    2. Wouldn't call it a spoiler - it's a retcon that appears in the first five minutes of U9.

      Delete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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