Sunday, May 15, 2022

Ultima Underworld II: Sex and Murder

Alas, "Blood Spatter Analysis" is not one of the game's skills.
     
As  I mentioned last time, I didn't think I was quite done with the ice caverns, and I wasn't. After more fiddling with the controls on the pillar, I manage to open a passage I haven't taken. It leads to a massive door that opens with the key I found last time. The room behind has a single ring to pull, an etched message above it reading "Main Floodgate Control." I pull it.
       
I love how this advanced civilization just chisels their messages into rocks.
    
I return to the previous level to find the water level raised in what had been the lower part of the level. By using "Water Walk," I'm able to cross the higher river and reach a new corridor that brings me to a brand new area in the northern part of the level. Ice blends with the remains of stone buildings and doors. Bones and debris are strewn across the frozen floor.
      
A new area of ruins encased in ice.
     
The first room I explore gives me MANI, QUAS, and IN rune stones (all of which I already had) and a scroll with four spells listed: "Resist Blows," "Lesser Heal," "Speed," and "Locate." I already knew about the first three, and the fourth didn't seem to have any effect. Another scroll said: "3 roots Mandrake, 4 clumps blood moss, 3 bunches dream-spice, 10 cloves garlic." There's a magical tower shield to replace my badly worn one. I notice that my health is mysteriously low at some point, but I don't think much of it. 
    
 A door opens to an "Unlock Door" spell.
    
I find a secret door at the back of this room. It's locked, but it yields to 13 sword blows. The other side has a tidy workshop with three more runes on a table: UUS, REL, and GRAV. The latter is one that I need. As I add them to my rune bag, I notice that my health goes down for every rune I add. Then I lose a bunch more when I pick up a scepter. The only thing I can imagine that's caused this is my new shield, and sure enough, once I drop it, I stop taking damage from inventory changes. 
   
A chest in the same room has 30 gold, but more important, there's a crystal ball that seems to replay my own past adventures. The first time I look into it, I see myself battling Mondain and Minax in "the lands of ancient Sosaria." The second time, I'm climbing the peak of Olympus Mons on Mars. Other scenes I don't remember: "You see yourself winding a great war horn in the throne room of Castle British"; "You see yourself sailing through majestic pillars cropping up out of the sea, on a voyage of discovery"; "You see the obscure form of an old and dear friend, as he sacrifices his life for the good of all." After that, nothing.
     
Odd, given that Ultima II didn't take place in Sosaria.
    
The next locked door, I remember that I have "Open Lock" (EX YLEM) before I spend time bashing. The room beyond has 15 gold, a ruby, and an emerald. Other rooms have nothing but debris. When I sleep to restore my mana, I have a dream in which the Guardian claims to have killed the gargoyle leader, Lord Draxunisom.
   
And people complained there were no gargoyles in this game.
    
I'm beginning to wonder what this area is for when a breeze kicks up and suddenly a ghost appears and speaks with me. She introduces herself as Beatrice, the former ruler of the city that once stood here. She says her people allied with the Guardian and he helped them win wars. But then he started to demand too much from them--supplies, weapons, slaves--and when they finally said no, he caused their entire continent to freeze over. Even now, long after the people are gone, he is drawing power from the place. She asks me to sever his connection to the place, but I can't figure out how to do that. I figure maybe Nystul or Altara can help, so I return to Britannia. When I step out of the blackrock teleporter, all of the walls in the area have ice textures. I'm not sure if this is a glitch or a sign of one world leaking into another.
     
The former ruler of what is now the ice caverns.
     
Before returning to the castle, I decide to test out an idea. The blackrock dome prevents me from casting spells above Level 4 in Britannia, but what if I cast EX YLEM ("Open Lock") in another world, and then don't target it until I reach Britannia? 

The moment I arrive in Britannia, Miranda starts complaining about Feridwyn, Dupre, and Patterson. Then a guard runs up with the news that Lady Tory has been murdered--stabbed with a dagger in her room, her body later found by Julia. Miranda suggests I check out the crime scene.
   
But my "Open Lock" cursor is still active, so instead I run up to Lord British's chambers and use it on his chest. It spills out an emerald, a sapphire, and three "fresh eyeballs." What freaky stuff is Lord British up to?
    
I think I found the killer.
    
Lady Tory's room is gruesome, with blood on the walls, the floor, and the corridor outside. Her body is already gone when I arrive. Everyone around the castle has a comment on the crime, but no one has any hard evidence. I'm not sure it's solvable yet.
   
I start to wonder, though--what would happen if I had killed Tory (or one of the other characters) myself? Is anything really stopping me? I take a save game and take a few swings at Syria. The entire castle comes to her aid, and I'm soon knocked out. I awaken in jail. Lord British is pacing outside. He demands that when I "find the pressure too much to bear," I find a way to solve it other than "brawling."
      
Lord British tries his best.
     
"Nay, I shall spend my time how I like," I reply, but he still relents and opens the cell. Naturally, I then attack Lord British, and after a few blows find myself re-awakening in the cell. The cycle repeats itself a couple of times. Finally, Lord British gets fed up and sentences me to remain in my cell until after the Guardian's attack is over. He still hangs around outside the cell, but he shows no signs of letting me out. I don't know if anything else happens from here because I reload. I still don't know if the denizens of the castle are immortal, but my particular character can't last long enough against all of them to find out. Incidentally, while we're on the subject of jail, Fissif never returned after I suggested that he leave the jail to go turn himself in.
   
I have Nystul treat my new blackrock gem, and I return to the sewers and use it on the teleporter. A new facet becomes available.
   
I appear in mid-air in the new universe and fall into a swamp, where giant three-eyed frogs regard me with suspicion. The walls are covered with vines arranged in psychedelic patterns and colors. I ready for battle, but the frogs, apparently called "vorz," are peaceful. 
    
Wow.
  
Finding nothing in the opening room, I wander down a side passage. To continue, I have to jump up to a ledge. I prepare to do it with my regular jumping ability, but as I approach the ledge, I pass over a glyph that automatically launches me upward. These "jumping runes" are scattered all over the level, it turns out.

I make my way to a northern chamber with a checkerboard pattern on the walls and floor. The squares rapidly alternate between black and red. There are "strange artifacts" and "storage crystals" all over the floor, and at the end of the chamber, an amethyst rod. This is what Altara was looking for. Hoping I'm not stealing a sacred frog artifact or something, I grab the rod.
     
Just what I was looking for.
        
No alarms go off, so I start exploring the rest of the level. It turns out to be a highly symmetrical level with two rings of interconnected corridors and a variety of chambers along the way. The specific layout of the corridors and rooms is the same no matter which cardinal direction you face the map.
   
The rooms are occupied by glowing balls called Talorids. At first, I confuse them for wisps, but although they share some similarities, they don't seem to be the same thing. They're an artificial intelligence, ruled by the Guardian, who they call an "extremely denze information pattern which iz lokal extenzion of ekztra-dimensonal conglomerazion." Some of the Talorids regret the day they agreed to serve the Guardian, particularly since he has mandated that the beings become more and more individual and specialized, thus steering them away from the growing unity towards which they had been evolving.
      
"Runekeeper's" room.
    
I meet Talorids with names like "Dialogician," "Runekeeper," "Historian," and "Futurian." I end up having to use all of them in a complex plot that, it turns out, I didn't even need to solve. The summary is that the Historian and Futurian want to throw off the Guardian's yoke. To do this, they need me to reconfigure their "birthing" chamber to produce Talorids that will not be loyal to the Guardian. To do that, I need to kill the "Ductosnore" who currently runs the chamber, then swap out some data crystals and pull some levers to reconfigure the chamber. The puzzle takes a lot of running around, talking to different Talorids, and honestly I'm writing this about 10 days after actually playing this section, having had to take an unexpected break in between, so I don't quite have the memory for a blow-by-blow.
    
Getting the blackrock gem--before I was supposed to.
      
At the end of the whole sequence, the Historian teleports me to a platform in the middle of a lake of lava, where I can find this world's blackrock gem. The kicker: I'd already walked across the lava--taking a lot of damage but not dying--and picked up the gem some time earlier. Still, it was fun to solve their puzzle for role-playing reasons.
     
A Talorid thanks me for helping his people.
     
A few other notes from this area:
   
  • A Talorid named "Runekeeper" has about a million KAL runes, but I already have that one. If there are others in the area, I missed them. I really need FLAM.
  • I get up to Level 11 during this session and invest some more points in "Mana" and "Casting."
  • The Guardian, sensing that I'm causing trouble among the Talorids, causes all the vorz to turn hostile in the middle of the level. They die in just a couple of hits, though.
     
A three-eyed frog turns hostile. You can tell by the tongue.
     
After finishing up in this world, I return to Altara in Killorn Keep and give her the rod, spider egg, and black pearl that she asked for. She does some hocus-pocus and turns it into the Rod of Altara. "On each world," she says, "you must find [the Guardian's] place of power . . . and touch the staff to the earth." This will prevent him from drawing energy from that plane.
   
Before leaving to return to Britannia, I cast EX YLEM, which I keep active all the way back to Nystul's chambers. I want to know what's in that locked "massive chest." I cast it on the container, and it works. The chest contains one single book: Sex by Madonna. This book was big news back in 1992, but heaven help me if I can remember why. Here, it's just more evidence that Lord British has an ongoing trade relationship with Earth, but for some reason the Avatar can't get home.
       
That was anticlimactic.
    
No one is talking about anything new at the castle, so I head back down to the teleporter. I have to decide whether to hunt around for the Guardian's "places of power" in places I've already visited or move on to other worlds.

Time so far: 23 hours

39 comments:

  1. What a strange effect on that shield. Wonder if it is an unusually clever curse, or if there's more to it than that.

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    1. I think maybe it was continually draining my health, but the screen didn't update unless I shifted items around in my inventory.

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    2. There are some cursed items in the game, I remember a piece of leg armor in another world doing similar things. They usually cause damage whenever you put them on, and perhaps continually. Didn't know that it is triggered by any inventory action.

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    3. I am guessing Chet's Avatar here still has low Lore? I think Lore should be able to identify these sort of items?

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    4. Her "Lore" is 8. I feel like that's at least modest.

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    5. Is there no spell to identify what is what, though? If there is not, it seems like a mistake not to add it.

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    6. There's a guy in Killorn Keep who will identify items for gold. Good money sink, as you'll come across a lot of magical stuff during the game - some of it unassuming but very useful.

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    7. Ort Wis Ylem. Not one of the hidden spells, but from the reference.

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  2. Spoiler question about the ice world: Jnfa'g gurer n zntvp npnqrzl be fbzrguvat ba gung jbeyq? V erzrzore univat gb znxr zl jnl guebhtu frireny yriryf juvpu shapgvbarq nf gur npnqrzl'f ragenapr rknz.

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  3. That's always the problem with "parallel dimensions" sort of setup - the writers just can't resist the urge to dump you into some "alien"/sci-fi landscape, tonal dissonances be damned. Though, to be fair, this being an Ultima game it's more surprising how solidly written the first few worlds are.

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    1. I rather like that, actually. If there's multiple worlds, why should all of them be stock medieval fantasy? UU is probably the best-written instance of this "twist" before Planescape Torment.

      Vg'f shaal orpnhfr gur bgure batbvat tnzr, ynaqf bs yber, vf nobhg gb unir gur fnzr nyvra gjvfg; naq gurer vg srryf pbzcyrgryl abafrafvpny.

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    2. In a way, it makes somewhat more sense here than usual given that Ultima games have always featured traveling between vastly differnet worlds. But it's hard to pull off from a ludonarrative perspective - why does magic work here for example, when it doesn't in the avatar's origin world? Why do the Talorids even recognize the Avatar as a sentient being, given how alien they are presented to be? Plus the vorz design is way too wacky and the whole backstory undercooked, especially compared to the previous worlds.

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    3. Fair enough, the usage of words like "ductosnore" suggests that the developers didn't take this particular world seriously.

      ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOFROG!!!

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    4. "it's more surprising how solidly written the first few worlds are. "

      As I commented on a previous UW2 post, I do think the later worlds are poorly designed compared to the first few ones. It's like they ran out of steam or ideas...

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    5. Alien/sci-fi was always a part of Ultima under the surface though. Take the tie fighter sequence in U1, or that Exodus ended up being a computer. Not as overt as Might and Magic or the latter Wizardries, but it’s there

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    6. The phrase "bliy skup ductosnore" is still one of the things I remember from this game though, so "serious" or not, it was memorable to me. (Don't ask me what it meant, I don't remember _that_ much)

      I also loved the world's (multiverse's) slowest disposal system.

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    7. While I agree that some worlds are better designed than others, I really liked the alien one, although I can understand why some might dislike it.

      It is the one with more emphasis on dialogue and puzzle solving, and it is also the most "alien" to a fantasy setting.

      Personally I enjoyed discovering the history of the race and the subtle and clever way the Guardian managed to enslave it.

      There is some lightheartedness in the names and the dialogue, but it's not like it's unheard of in the series (I'm also sure that plenty of legit foreign words sound funny if transliterated directly to English).

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  4. Regarding the crystal ball: sailing through majestic pillars is the intro to Serpent Isle.

    Gur sevraq fnpevsvpvat nyfb unccraf va gung tnzr. Orngevpr nyfb nccrnef va frecrag vfyr, nf gur tubfg bs n dhrra jub jnf zneevrq gb funzvab; ohg ure pbaarpgvba gb gur thneqvna vf abg zragvbarq va gung tnzr. V'z thrffvat, gura, gung gur jneubea vf ubj lbh erzbir gur oynpxebpx qbzr va gur pheerag tnzr.

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    1. On the crystal ball spoiler:

      Gur orgebgurq (abg jvsr) bs Funzvab nccrnevat va Frecrag Vfyr vf na ragveryl qvssrerag punenpgre naq unf abguvat gb qb jvgu gur Orngevpr sebz HJ2. Fur vf nyfb fcryyrq Orngevk, naq vf n cevaprff vafgrnq bs n Dhrra.

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    2. Oh, that's too bad. That would have been a great tie-in between the two games, and the icy theme also fits.

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  5. Nystul sounds like an IKEA-name joke

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    1. Nystul’s magic aura and Nystul’s undetectable aura are oldschool D&D spells. I believe his player played in Gary Gygax's original campaign.

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    2. Mike Nystul worked for Origin and for D&D, and Lord British's court mage is named after him. There's a mage in the D&D Greyhawk setting who wrote those magic aura spells, but according to Wikipedia he's named after somebody else: Brad Nystul.

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    3. This discussion suggests that Brad and Mike were related (Brad was probably Mike's father). The next comment down suggests that Mike is indeed the one who suggested the D&D spells, in a campaign run by Len Lakofka. Brad Nystul and Len Lakofka appear to have co-written an article on "Bureaucrats and Politicians" in Dragon #74 (1983) so Brad was certainly involved in Lakofka.

      I suppose all these stories can be reconciled if Mike invented the spell and then Brad told Gygax about it.

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    4. Reading down the thread I guess there is considerable dispute about these stories! I don't know anything more about it than what I'm reading there, so caveat lector.

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  6. Interesting, we just had the 'drain the lower levels' puzzle in Land of Lore's Urbish Mines, and now there's a 'release the floodgates' puzzle in one of UU2's worlds. I think that's clever level design, really emphasizing the three-dimensionality of a dungeon.

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  7. You didn't miss an important rune, though a funny fact is that among all the KAL runes there is a single CORP rune. Given that they look almost the same I think it's supposed to be production error by the Runekeeper.

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  8. the Guardian, who they call an "extremely denze information pattern which iz lokal extenzion of ekztra-dimensonal conglomerazion."

    I am Orz. I am one with many *fingers*.

    My *fingers* reach through into *heavy space* and you *see* *Orz bubbles* but it is really *fingers*.

    Maybe you do not even *smell*? That is sad.

    *Smelling* *pretty colors* is the best *game*.

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    1. So what did you say happened to Androsynth? ;)

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    2. Nnnnnggggaaaahhhhh!!!!!! It is *dancing*!!!!

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  9. I am really impressed you found the trick with casting the spell in the other dimension. There's another interesting one with the Open Spell:

    Gurer ner n ahzore bs ybpxf lbh ner abg fhccbfrq gb or noyr gb haybpx jvgu gur Bcra Fcryy - fbzr, ohg abg nyy bs gur 'znffvir' qbbef. Ohg vs lbh pnfg Qvfcry Ehar ba gur qbbe orsber pnfgvat Bcra vg jvyy jbex naljnl.

    Gubhtu ybbxvat ng gur vagrearg V nz abg ernyyl frrvat guvf gevpx zragvbarq? Fb znlor V zvferzrzore, arrq gb grfg bar bs gurfr qnlf :)

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  10. I love the Talorid world. It gives me strong Star Trek vibes. I'm prepared to die on this hill.

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  11. In order to comment on this post, I needed to cast "Resist Making Jokes About Resist Blows"

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