Sunday, March 19, 2023

Serpent Isle: Red and Yellow, Kill a Fellow

The party gets the whole potion thing figured out.
In a recent comment, Adamantyr alerted me to the level of correspondence between Serpent Isle and the Lands of Danger and Despair in the original Ultima. I knew that Serpent Isle was supposed to be one of the "lost" kingdoms from Ultima, and that it was Shamino's kingdom in particular. But I didn't otherwise realize how much the geography matches.
Here's the map of the Lands of Danger and Despair from the 1986 Commodore Release of Ultima (thanks to the Museum of Computer Adventure-Gaming History):
The game box had maps of each individual land.
And here's the Serpent Isle from the game box:
Not only are the shapes almost identical--you can almost chalk up the major differences to differing map projections--but the maps have the same physical features, including placements of mountains and forests. Given what happened to Britannia over the course of several games, the changes to Serpent Isle are almost mild.
Perhaps more important, many of the map features have analogues. The table below avoids spoilers (for me); I based it solely on what I've already experienced or what I could see on the map that came with the game.


Serpent Isle

Dextron (City)

Unnamed dungeon to goblin village

Hole to Hades (Dungeon)

Furnace (Dungeon)

Dead Man’s Walk (Dungeon)

Knight’s Test (Dungeon)

Turtle (City)

Gone; some remnants of buildings in the same area

Bulldozer (City)

Sleeping Bull (Inn)

Dead Cat’s Life II (Dungeon)

Something called “Claw”

City of Magic

Moonshade (City)

Free Death Hole (Dungeon)

Mountains of Freedom (Dungeon)

Morbid Adventure (Dungeon)

Isles of the Mad Mage

Gorlab Village

Gorlab Swamp

White Dragon Castle

Unknown as I haven’t been there yet, but the map shows a castle

City of the Brother

Monk Isle

Dead Cat’s Life (Dungeon)

Not sure, but the map shows a dungeon in the same area

Wheeler (City)

Map suggests it’s gone

Shamino’s Castle

Shamino’s Castle (shown on the map)

Spine Breaker (Dungeon)

Spinebreaker Mountains (may have a dungeon)

Eastern Sign Post

Maybe Sunrise Isle, but if so, it’s moved a bit west

Grave of Lost Souls

Isle of Crypts

Keep in mind that a number of things are supposed to have happened between these two maps: the cataclysms that accompanied the destruction of Mondain, the rise and fall of Ophidian culture, and the emigration from Sosaria by those fleeing the "Beast British." There are no analogues to Monitor and Fawn on the old map since they were established by those immigrants. All told, it's a great set of correspondences, with believable changes over time while keeping similar themes. Ultima's world-building has always been pretty good, but its world-building between games has rarely been this good.
This was a good time to study the rest of the map since I've just been given a way to teleport from place to place. The game still gates your progress by requiring you to find serpents' teeth to use the teleporters, but I still like the inherent possibilities. As this session begins, I have four teeth, which collectively get me to the Isle of the Mad Mage, Moonshade, and two dungeons, either of which could be Furnace.
I still have stuff to do in Moonshade, but I decide to start exploring one of the dungeons first. It takes me to a large chamber with north and south exits. The north exit leads to a locked door; the south one takes us to a stairway upward. It's clear we're in some kind of crypt. A metal door opens into some kind of storeroom, looking anything but abandoned. There's a pristine loom, shelves of crockery, and an ale keg. Stairs lead up. 
This is promising.
We emerge in the larder of a large building with multiple bedrooms, a dining room, and some kind of chapel with an ankh altar. I've seen this before. We're on Monk Isle! And in the flesh--not briefly between resurrections. Thank the Serpent, as the locals would say. I can find that mandrake and finally get my spellbook.
But of course we have to talk with the locals first. One of the annoying things about that is that some of the monks are generic and have taken vows of silence. They're indistinguishable from the named monks who have dialogue options. Highlights:
  • On a table in front of the altar is the full text of Xenka's prophecy. In brief, it says the Hero from Another World will arrive with three companions, will "unite the serpents," will require powerful magic "and the implements three of the Hierophant." My friends will be my enemies; I will need to triumph "even in Dreams," and the dead shall aid me. I will need "a thief and a braggart" as my ally, and I shall ally with those who were once my enemies. The color red and a woman is involved.
  • Karnax is here, but he has nothing new to say. However, talking to him I realize something I missed before (see below).
Is there any reason I couldn't have explored a bit after one of my resurrections?
  • Thoxa clarifies the "vow of silence" bit. She was the one who met me right after I arrived. The daily lives of the monks--prayer, work, study, sleep--are governed by bells, although no one rings them. "It is said that when all the bells toll, it will signal Xenka's return." She doesn't specify that the bells ring at consistent times each day, and I love the idea that the monks have no idea how long they're going to be spending on each activity when the day begins. Gwenno is no longer there: she left to seek the "ice people" of the north. Miggim knows more.
  • Miggim from the Sleeping Bull is here. He invites me to check out the library. He also says I can eat any of the food I find on the island, which the monks grow themselves.
  • Miggim's library has a few bits of interest. A monk writes about having encountered undead in a dungeon and hiding the key in a nearby hollow tree. I don't think it's the same dungeon as the one we came from. Some other verses of Xenka's prophecy suggest that I'll doom the world if I attack the "men who are not men covered in fur"; I suspect this refers to the Gwani.
  • More interesting is the memoirs of Brother Markus, who recounts how someone hammered at the monastery's door one dark and stormy night. He opened the door and admitted a weary traveler who introduced himself as . . . Blackthorn. According to Markus, Blackthorn studied with the monks for a while and developed some perspective. I wonder what happened to him and if I'll run into him again.
Lord British's moonstone managed to exile the usurper all the way to the next continent. Great job.
  • There is one book and one scroll of nothing but Ophidian script. "No way am I translating this," I write, just before I realize that there's a Lens of Translating in the middle of the room. Double-clicking on it allows me to read the script. The book, Temples of Order, describes a pilgrimage route to the Temples of Ethicality, Discipline, and Logic, all near the northern mountains.
  • Yet another prophecy from Xenka--they clearly weren't all collected in that book--describes us finding Gweno in a wall of ice and shattering the wall with a horn obtained from the Gwani.
  • There's a love poem written by Minax about Mondain. I wonder where this came from.
You have it from Minax's own hand: "Mondain" rhymes with "fountain."
  • Draxta fawns over me a bit. She mentions that Xenka got her visions at the Place of Visions to the northwest. She offers to meet us there and show us a vision.
  • A monk who does not believe in names tells me that fresh mandrake can only be picked when "the tides are right" or some other nonsense that makes me think I'm not going to get my damned spellbook after all.
Yes, the corn in the field has a name. It's called "corn."
In talking with Karnax about the Amulet of Balance again, I realize that I've been under a misapprehension. I remembered from my previous experience with the game (roughly 20 years ago) that you can teleport at the serpent gates and that the jawbone is needed to determine your destination. When I arrived and Karnax gave me the Amulet of Balance and immediately started talking about serpent gates, I just assumed it was part of the same mechanism. I never actually tried it because I thought I needed both the amulet and jawbone to teleport. Now I realize that the amulet is something else entirely, and in fact it's what takes you to the "Silver Seed" expansion. So at least now I know how to get there when I'm ready. 
People love hiding stuff in tree hollows in the Serpent Isle.
I find and explore the small dungeon mentioned in the scroll--it connects back to the monastery basement--but I don't get any good screenshots because I'm out of torches again and I refuse to fiddle around with them any more. I want my "Light" spell. 
I meet Draxta in the Place of Visions, which is a small theater with a large "screen" of white brick. I guess Xenka's "visions" weren't just in her mind; the monks literally see things projected on the screen. I asked Draxta for a vision and she showed me what appears to be Petra, the automaton from the tavern in Moonshade, walking through smoke. It's very brief.
What is that to the left of her? Is that supposed to be me?
I talk with does-not-believe-in-names one more time before departing, and--miracle of miracles--he tells me the tides are right to pick mandrake roots. I follow his advice, hustle up to the swamps, and fight against the red-on-red graphics until I find five mandrake pieces.
Can you pick that out?
Hoping some scripted idiocy doesn't hijack me, I book it back to the serpent gate and take the path to Moonshade. I rush into the Seminarium and hand Fedabilbio the mandrake. "Still I'm hesitant," he hedges. I prepare to lodge my axe in his head, but it turns out he just wants to ask me some more copy protection questions. When he's done, I finally have a damned book. I start working to transcribe the scrolls I've been carrying.
Some of my new spells.
The book comes with "Awaken," "Heal," "Translation," and "Transcribe." I have about a dozen scrolls with different spells that I can "Transcribe," but I need reagents for that spell. Certain mages--Columna, Mortegro, Torrissio, Melino--sell the spells I don't have. What follows is about two hours of me changing money, buying spells, buying reagents, and casting "Transcribe." The process is made annoying by a couple of issues. The NPCs who sell spells don't have a "buy" option automatically; you have to tease it out with the right conversation options. Then a useless "haggling" mechanic slows down the process with extra clicks.
Once I have "Great Light," "Unlock Magic," and "Telekinesis," I don't really have any priorities. I focus on buying out individual NPCs' inventories so I don't have to keep track of who's sold me what. I end up being able to afford everyone's entire list (minus the ones I already had) except Mortegro's.
I'll talk more about spells and their utility in a later entry. "Great Light" does what it's supposed to do, but the duration seems extremely variable. I'm going to have to stock up on ash. Some other things come up during this process:
  • Columna talks to me for the first time. She takes her stockings back, unnecessarily promising to "wear them for [me] in a night of passion that [I] shall remember all of [my] days." Then she destroys them and laughs at me for a fool. She also insists that Mosh is lying about being her sister.
I don't find you remotely attractive.
  • Melino, Columna's husband, also talks with me. He seems like a decent guy except for his utter contempt for "mundanes." He says Columna has a serpent's tooth, but this produces no new dialogue options. He also mentions that the executed necromancer Vasculio came back from the dead.
  • Speaking of serpents' teeth, I un-avatarishly ransack every house in Moonshade looking for more and come up with nothing except a note in Frigidazzi's place that she lost her tooth in the north.
  • Frigidazzi is in her house for the first time. She has no dialogue options relating to the fur cap, but the door to her bedchamber is now unlocked. I sneak in and find my missing magic helm in her dresser drawer. I replace it with the cap. Frigidazzi invites me to visit her after midnight to learn cold spells.
Cross another one off the list.
  • In the dead Rotoluncia's vacant house, I smash open her locked chest and free the imprisoned naga. The naga immediately slithers over to a candle and lights it, saying, "That's better." Make of that what you will.
The naga has her priorities straight.
  • Mosh is happy that I believe her and not Columna, but I get no more dialogue options to continue investigating this sub-quest. 
  • In order to try to get more money to pay for Mortegro's spells, I pop over to Furnace. I'm also hoping that, through Furnace, I can make my way back to Monitor for some training. Alas, I encounter nothing but locked doors.
There's a skeleton with some cool stuff, though.
Speaking of Mortegro, we visit him after midnight a couple of times to have him run more seances. The first one is staggering. The spirit of Gwenno appears to tell Iolo that she'll always love him. Gwenno is dead! Iolo, for his part, refuses to believe it. Xenka's prophecy said that I'd free her from ice. Maybe she's only "mostly dead"?
This was pretty shocking, not to mention ghoulish. There's no way Gwenno is dead, right? She's been in every Ultima since the beginning!
In the third seance, Mortegro tries to contact Kane's dead brother but can't find him in the spirit realm. Mortegro says that may mean he's not dead. Duh. He's "Ale," the parrot. Did anyone not figure this out immediately?
Also during these days in Moonshade, I spend a lot of time getting a handle on my inventory, sorting things into appropriate packs and discarding excess stuff. This is what I come up with:
  • Gideon, the Avatar, carries commonly-used items (map, watch, sextant, jawbone, lockpicks) in his belt pouch and quest items in his backpack. His backpack also has separate bags for reagents and "old" keys.
  • Dupre carries the items that replaced our missing items in a chest. He also carries tools and usable non-magic items, principally bandages.
  • Shamino carries usable potions and scrolls.
  • Iolo carries our money in his belt pouch and extra weapons, wands, and ammo in his backpack.
  • Boydon carries food.
I start to long for the "list" inventory system of Ultima V.
Shamino has about a thousand potions, so I take the time to remind myself what all the potions do. There's an in-game book called The Apothecary's Desk Reference that helps with this process, except the part where I can't tell the difference between some of the colors. It would have been really nice if the game had offered some way of discerning the color other than visually interpreting it. For instance, when you click on it once, it could have said something like "red potion" instead of just "potion."
I offered a long screed about my color blindness a couple of years ago. One of the things I talked about is how I have more trouble distinguishing absolute colors than comparative colors. Take the red, green, and yellow potions. If I have all three, there's no question in my mind which is which. But if I only have the red potion, I can't be sure whether it's red or green, and if I only have the yellow, I can't be sure whether it's green or yellow--or orange, for that matter. So I have to keep one of each potion so I can say, "Well, this one clearly isn't yellow because that one has to be the yellow one." Even with all that, green and orange are practically indistinguishable. My notes have to account for this confusion lest I accidentally drink a poison potion while trying to cure poison.
So this is what I have:
  • Black: Invisibility. No potential confusion.
  • Blue: Sleep. Potential confusion: purple.
  • Bluish-Black: Warmth. I assume this is the potion that I perceive as blue-and-white. It creates a black octagon on my character sheet.
  • Green: Poison. Potential confusion: red, orange, yellow.
  • Orange: Awakening. Potential confusion: green, yellow, red.
  • Orange Shimmering: Restore magic points. That's what the book calls it, anyway. To me, it looks like red and yellow mixed together.
  • Purple: Protection. Potential confusion: blue.
  • Red: Cure poison. Potential confusion: green, orange.
  • White: Illumination. No potential confusion but I just keep forgetting what it does. Now that I have "Great Light," I'm not sure there's any good reason to keep these.
  • Yellow: Heal. Potential confusion: green, orange.
It's a good thing that this book exists because in The Black Gate, the red-yellow potion completely destroyed Skara Brae. I would think the Avatar would have gotten rid of those as soon as possible.
If you try to use the "F" key to feed your party when you're out of food, the game notes that you do have some garlic.
The funny thing is that green and blue potions can work on enemies. There's no point to them otherwise. My question is, how? Am I throwing it at my foes or somehow, in the middle of combat, convincing them to drink? In any event, green poison potions seem to account for the vast majority of what I have.
Anyway, using color comparison, I get everything straightened out. I put useful potions and scrolls in the bag at Shamino's waist and offensive ones in his backpack. It's ironic that I choose this moment to do all this inventory shuffling, as we'll soon see.
At this point, I have no idea what to do next. I seem to hit dead ends with all the plot lines. I have no way to get back to the main continent unless I missed the serpents' teeth that would take me to Monitor or Fawn, or the keys that would open the locked doors in Furnace. After wandering around aimlessly for a while, I remember that Frigidazzi wants to see me after midnight. What's about to happen immediately clicks. Maybe I'm remembering past experiences with the game, but I also think the game did a good job foreshadowing it.
If I find someone to sleep with in Fawn, do I get some kind of achievement?
Frigidazzi isn't interested in selling me spells. After getting me to dismiss the rest of the party on the pretense that magic must remain between mages, she goes through an elaborate seduction ritual. The player can either resist or play along. I played along--no wedding ring on Gideon's finger. Frigidazzi showers the Avatar with compliments and asks him or her to kiss her (I verified online later that the episode is the same for female avatars). She casts the "Est Nudi" spell, which conjures a sort of vortex to remove her clothes, then dances the Dance of Passion, accompanied by spells like "Vox Erotis," "Ort Erotis," and, curiously, "Vas Flam." 
Good god, Avatar--put the sword away, at least.
Finally, she and the Avatar tumble into bed, Frigidazzi saying that she's falling in love with him. Predictably, Filbercio chooses this moment to apparate in and catch the lovers in flagrante.
I'm upset that we never got to hear her explanation.
No matter what you say, the enraged Filbercio convenes the Council over Frigidazzi's protests. Throughout the rest of this episode, Frigidazzi begs for the Avatar's life. I assumed at first she was faking her interest for Batlin or some other ulterior motive, but I guess not.
Frigidazzi melts my heart.
The following sham trial confirms that the whole place needs to be burned to the ground. Bucia is the first to testify against me, claiming that I've been asking all kinds of "strange and personal questions" about the townsfolk and that I've been showing her weird objects. Then Flindo reports that I'm "a liar, a fraud, and [a] known consort with people of the lowest type." He claims I only came to Moonshade because I was fleeing a charge of bribing the tower guards to release a prisoner.
I hate these people.
After hearing the "evidence," Filbercio demands judgment. Gustacio announces that the council finds me guilty. "And the sentence?" Filbercio asks. It's Mortegro who pronounces it: "The criminal must be sent to the hellhole known as Dungeon Freedom." That hurt. I thought Mortegro and I were friends. Now, Bucia objects that I'll "never be seen alive again!" Regardless, I'm compelled to march into the teleporter in the next chamber. Gustacio calls after me that if I find my way out, I'll be a free man again.
The audience reacts to the sentence.
An automaton greets me as I arrive. He takes my name and crime, warns me that some of the other prisoners are violent, and reiterates that if I can escape, I'll be free. Most of my inventory is gone. I (oddly) have my spellbook and reagents, the magic hourglass, and a suit of scale armor. Somehow, I've acquired a staff. Everything else is gone. I am about to say that those items better be waiting for me when I get out, or else I'm killing everyone in Moonshade, but frankly I'm planning to do that anyway.
Time so far: 28 hours


  1. The mandrake, unfortunately, is extremely visible for people with standard color vision. This is a pretty clear case of the developers not even considering color blindness.

    1. Was there supposed to be something by the cursor in that image? I don't see anything there, but I'm assuming the mandrake is the quite visible red flower by the right-hand edge of the image. Normal vision gives a very good contrast between the red and the green, but I could see where colorblindness could make that combination a problem.

    2. I think the mandrake is actually the brown root in the bottom center of the image, on that little brown peninsula jutting down into the swamp. It’s visible to me but fairly low contrast even as someone without color blindness.

      (By the way, are you the same Reiko as on the IntFiction boards? This is Mike Russo - small world!)

    3. Oh, now I see it. I don't think color blindness is an issue here, it's brown on brown with a thin black outline. It's hard to spot in any case.

    4. It looks very clear to me - it is a slightly different shade of brown, but when I ran the image through one of those online filter things it completely disappeared.

    5. Thanks for weighing in, everyone. I don't know why it always surprises me when this happens, but it does.

  2. I would totally ask mine minions to depart. And frankly, I also think Columna is CAF. I better just wait for that moongate to open, I guess...

  3. I played this game as a female Avatar, and to this day I wonder if that sequence with Frigidazzi is some kind of first for a computer game. Pixellated on-screen lesbianism was not something I expected when college me bought the game.

    1. The first what? If you just mean a lesbian encounter in a CRPG, that happened already in Ultima VI with the gypsies Andreas and Wanda. There are dialogue options for sleeping with either of them, which work regardless of whether you're playing a male or a female character. (In fact, you can even talk to them in solo mode as Sherry the Mouse, in which case Ultima VI might have the distinction of the first CRPG featuring bestiality.)

    2. "On-screen" would seem to be the operative term here. False Prophet and Black Gate both have encounters of the "you go off to another room and come back a little later" variety. It's also interesting in that it's plot-relevant and initiated by the NPC.

    3. I think we'll give the prize for "first on-screen lesbianism" to a game in which a character is explicitly gay and not just doing the same script regardless of the sex of the PC.

      Also, we probably have to add "western" to any such superlatives as there's a near 100% probability that, with anything that has to do with sex, some Japanese eroge did it first.

    4. Words like "lesbianism" aside, Frigidazzi has different dialogue for men and women, and we already have Lucilla and Brendann as examples of NPCs who are only interested in the opposite sex. I think it's clear there was a conscious decision to write Frigidazzi as bisexual. The court case goes exactly the same even if you don't accept her advances, so they could have done an "innocent misunderstanding" routine without too much effort -- similar to how Nastassia in Black Gate has the same quest for male and female Avatars, rewarding the men with kisses and the women by declaring them "like sisters".

    5. Fair enough. I didn't realize the dialogue differed. So the game does deserve some kind of award, though I think what I said about Japanese games of the 1980s still holds.

    6. With CRPG Addict here, though I must say I always agreed on his views on how videogames treat sexual content...

  4. I choose to believe that in Britannia they just pronounce fountain weird.

    1. That's not unlikely given the modern English pronunciation of the French surname Fontaine, which is derived from la Fontaine - for people who lived near natural springs.

    2. Well now it’s canon!

    3. I mean...eye-rhymes are pretty common in English poetry. People are always rhyming things like "mind" and "wind", etc.

      I don't think this necessarily indicates that "Mondain" is supposed to be pronounced like "Mont-Ən".

    4. In lines 3 and 4, Minax also rhymes "Mondain" with "vain," and I can't come up with a way to pronounce "vain" as rhyming with "fountain." So I think Delvin is probably right, Minax was just rubbish at poetry.

    5. Try pronouncing "fountain" to rhyme with "vain" instead.

    6. Minax's meter is also terrible. Barely any two lines have the same flow. So it's not just the way she rhymes "Mondain" with "fountain", she simply outright sucks at poetry!

    7. Mind doesn't rhyme with wind. They are two totally different pronunciations. But why does it need to? It's a poem.

      Poetry doesn't rhyme. Poets stopped doing that over a century ago. Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound put the dagger in the heart of that idea and it's been dead as a doornail ever since. What people really want is poetry that rhymes, and poets are absolutely steadfast about refusing to give it to them.

    8. I asked GPT-4 to write a sonnet about Mondain, using his name for at least one rhyme. Here is what he came up with :

      Upon the land of Britannia, dark and plain,
      A force, a terror, whispered—Mondain.
      His grasp of evil magic, a foul lure,
      Within the Ultima's world, a legend pure.

      The Moonstone's power, black and vile, contained,
      A bond unholy, darkness unrestrained,
      For Mondain, Avatar's bane, did conspire,
      To forge the world in shadow, blackened fire.

      With gargoyle wings and daemon's fearful breath,
      He built an army, courting brutal death,
      The Eight Virtues, trampled in his wake,
      To bend the world, its very core to break.

      In tales of Ultima, Mondain shall stand,
      A symbol of the darkness in our land,
      Glorified in legend, his story will remain,
      As heroes rise to challenge, but in vain.

      So our future overlord has spoken : "Mondain" rhymes with "plain"

    9. @Harland Isn't it one of the reasons, why Bob Dylan received Nobel prize in literature?

    10. Wind a toy, not blowing wind... tricky!

    11. I fed in the same prompt:


      Verse 1:
      In Sosaria, a sorcerer came
      Mondain was his name, he sought fame
      With the Gem of Immortality, he aimed to reign
      And so began his dark and deadly game

      Mondain, oh Mondain
      His evil power was hard to contain
      Mondain, oh Mondain
      A villain that will forever remain

      Verse 2:
      His heart was black, his magic strong
      His thirst for power drove him along
      He created monsters, wrought pain and wrong
      And for years, the land was in his throng

      Mondain, oh Mondain
      His evil power was hard to contain
      Mondain, oh Mondain
      A villain that will forever remain

      Verse 3:
      But a hero, a stranger from afar
      Came to challenge Mondain's dark star
      With sword and spell, he fought hard
      Till Mondain's reign was forever scarred

      Mondain, oh Mondain
      His evil power was hard to contain
      Mondain, oh Mondain
      A villain that will forever remain

      Verse 4:
      And though Mondain is long gone
      His legacy lives on and on
      A reminder of evil, of what can go wrong
      And the courage needed to be strong

      Mondain, oh Mondain
      His evil power was hard to contain
      Mondain, oh Mondain
      A villain that will forever remain


      I can't say much for the meter, but I'm sure that will improve in the next version.

  5. I suspect Great Light follows in the Ultima tradition of effects not having a fixed duration, but instead having (e.g.) a 5% chance of expiring every minute.

    You could give the stockings to Melino instead; if you do, he'll never talk to you again.

    And yes, you'll find someone to sleep with in Fawn (xlyvfgn gur uvtu cevrfgrff, nygubhtu gur fpevcgvat vf abg svavfurq).

    1. Given the name of the place, I guessed there would be a good chance someone takes a liking to you there, too (though possibly with an ulterior motive). Maybe Draxta initially came from Fawn?

  6. Ultima 6 also allowed lesbian sex btw

    1. You could send in Sherry the mouse, too.

  7. Poor Iolo. Frigidazzi definitely seems to be one of the more honest people on Moonshade, though it's pretty clear from the dialogue that a lot of people just feel they have to go along with Filbercio, since he seems to have all the power well in his hand. Interestingly, Erstam complains in the manual about the mages moving from a pure council government to instating a Mage Lord, it's one of the reason he gives for leaving. It'd be interesting to get more gleams of his pre-insanity personality.

    On Blackthorn: for a long time a large part of the Ultima fandom was convinced that the nameless monk talking about the corn was supposed to be Blackthorn. I don't think there was much of a reason, except him having no name (though he is called Braccus in engine internals) & that book you found.

    Minor spoiler on buying spells:
    Yrnivat Zbegrteb sbe ynfg vf n onq pubvpr, gubhtu gurer vf ab jnl gb xabj va nqinapr. Ur'yy or ab ybatre ninvynoyr nf n iraqbe bapr lbh trg bhg bs cevfba. Naljnl, lbh fubhyq nvz gb ohl nyy fcryyf orsber gelvat gb trg gb gur abegu nernf bs gur tnzr naq gung zntr va gur Fyrrcvat Ohyy jvyy nyfb fryy fcryyf gb lbh.

    1. Sorry, somehow that got published as anonymous, despite being logged in.

    2. Yeah, I interpret Mortegro and Gustacio as reciting the law as established under duress. I think it would help if we actually saw an example of Filbercio being so powerful as to justify that level of compliant fear. Obviously the existence of Freedom is supposed to be his primary tool to control Moonshade, but that wouldn't be a viable threat to fellow Adepts.

      (My fan theory is that there's just no viable replacement for Filbercio, and all of the Adepts ultimately would prefer tyranny to chaos.)

    3. If that nameless monk were Blackthorn, then surely the avatar would recognize him? You don't technically *have* to encounter him in U5, but its extro sequence shows him clearly in your dream.

  8. "Boydon carries food."
    I can't help but shake the feeling that that is somewhat unsanitary!

    "The following sham trial confirms that the whole place needs to be burned to the ground."
    V thrff lbh'er va yhpx!

  9. Columna talks to me for the first time. She takes her stockings back, unnecessarily promising to "wear them for [me] in a night of passion that [I] shall remember all of [my] days." Then she destroys them and laughs at me for a fool.

    I can't say why, but this lady's portrait reminds me _exactly_ of the kind of people who were in SCA in Austin.

    Melino, Columna's husband, also talks with me. He seems like a decent guy except for his utter contempt for "mundanes."

    Ding ding ding. Mundanes is SCA jargon for normal people.

  10. Also if you look at the 4 continents from Ultima 1 you’ll see that they’re all exactly the same shape but each is rotated 90 degrees. I guess it’s the geographical equivalent of doing a palette swap on a monster sprite to create more of them.

    1. Aside from the fact that the four maps all have bays with islands in them and the bays extend inward from roughly the middle of the map in one of the four cardinal directions, I don't really see it.

    2. Oh wow, they're not the same. They are very similar with lots of reused geographic elements. My mistake.

    3. As journalists say, that would have been "big if true."

    4. I mean, the cloth maps may have been made to look more varied, but placing the actual in-game maps next to each other, it's hard not to notice the repeating elements:

    5. I think Garriott tried to create realistic geography using a limited set of tiles, so there are mountains, bays, islands, and plains with cities near bodies of water. Given that he was trying to fill in four square fields of the same size with the same set of four features, repetition was unavoidable.

    6. The rotated/flipped woodland/mountain sections are too large for this to be a mere coincidence. Maybe to save memory/disk space?

    7. Now that I look at it some more, I have to say you're absolutely right. Some of the mountain ranges and islands are very clearly copy/rotate/pasted.

    8. I should have checked it out myself rather than dismissing Tim's original claim. Yeah. The NW continent is rotated counter-clockwise for the SW. The SE is a mirror image of the NW. And the NE is a counter-clockwise rotation of the SE. If not every square matches, it's damned close. How has this never come up before?!

    9. Towns, castles, and dungeons also appear in the same locations relative to the repeated map structures.

      If it was a gimmick to save disk space, that doesn't appear to have survived to the DOS version. I took a quick look at the source code for the ScummVM reimplementation of Ultima I (which is based on the DOS re-release of Ultimas I through III) and I'm not seeing any kind of compression or rotation tricks in the world map loader.

      The dungeons are all basically the same (the algorithm for generating them doesn't have a lot of variety) and every continent has the same 8 town and 2 castle layouts. I guess there's a reason Garriott got rid of three of the continents in Ultima III.

    10. I used to dabble in programming in the mid-late 80s. You pretty much had to make every byte count, so you made use of whatever tricks possible to pad out your game within the limited space available.

    11. Considering the DOS version was a port of a complete rewrite of the game made 5 years after the original came out, I would not be surprised in the slightest if some space saving tricks ended up being unnecessary by then

    12. While reusing a rotated/mirrored map could save disk space, I don't see how reusing a *slightly altered* map could plausibly save anything (bearing in mind that a more complex loading routine ALSO costs disk space).

      Rather, I think this is a case of developer laziness, as in U1's overhead view players are highly unlikely to notice this (and the cloth maps in the box make the lands look more different).

    13. The original Ultima was written to fit in 48K (Atari 800, Apple II+, whereas the rewrite had 64K available on the C64 and Apple, so this could definitely be true.

    14. One could rotate the original and then patch in some minor differences. Assuming the patches were small, would still save a fair amount of space.

  11. Reading that book about Blackthorn was one of my favorite moments from this game. It wasn't amazing character development or anything, but I always thought he was something of a tragic character in U5, so the minor redemption here was at least consistent with his character arc.

    1. It's a great reward for players who actually read the books, too, as there's otherwise no dialogue about the encounter unless it shows up later in the game.

    2. I didn’t know about this lore bit before, and I suspect the people behind Ultima IX’s story didn’t either…

    3. The less said about U9, the better.

    4. I'm sure the Addict will love what they did to Ultima lore in U9. Inspirational!

    5. Ultima IX was a pretty bitter end to what had been a distinguished RPG series.

    6. It's amazing though to think that even with everything IX did, there's probably STILL more continuity between it and the rest of the series than the overwhelming majority of other franchises.

      Admittedly, this is a franchise dating to an era where "advanced lore" in most games as "You are a gluttonous circle being chased by ghosts"

    7. I tried so hard not to hate U9 that I eventually hated it more than it probably deserved. I'm not sure it's quite as bad as I remember. That said, the overwhelming impression I got from it was that it was made by people who had never played an Ultima and had probably never played an CRPG. It will be interesting to see Chet's analysis of the game. It might be a while, but I'll wait patiently.

    8. My wife actually liked U9 when it came out. Thing is, she hadn't played any Ultima game before. When we eventually met, dated and pooled out game libraries (I happened to own 1-8, she only had 9), she was very surprised to hear that there was a lot of disappointment, disdain, even outright hate for Ultima 9 out there, which she couldn't really understand - it was by no means a great game for her, but she felt it was pretty good.

      It gave me a new perspective on how to look at Ultima canon, and what the Addict describes here actually solidifies my point of view: up until Ultima VII, Origin had never really paid much attention to canonicity themselves! Backstories and contexts were changed on the fly (so the Avatar was made the hero of the first three games retroactively? The presence of Mondain, Minax and Exodus in the Gargoyle underworld in VI messes up quite a bit of the previous setting. Not too mention cities moving around etc...). That hadn't been too much of an issue before though, I reckon not too many gamers in 1993 had many detailed memories about what had gone on in V, for example, especially since the earlier games were much more abstract in their storytelling.

      With VII and Serpent Isle in particular, however, Origin had gone out of their way to craft an expanded lore that weaved in previous games as well while also creating tons of flavor text that, some more, some less, just existed to flesh out the world. To my knowledge that had never been done to such an extent, and for many years after there still wouldn't be many games that managed to love up to that standards (The Elder Scrolls games only started to do something similar by the time Morrowind game out in 2002 - three years after U9 even!)

      The failure of the U9 development team in terms of canonicity, in my eyes, was not to the entirety of the series, but "just" to U7 and Serpent Isle - which had basically been the pinnacle in that regard that hardly any other game even attempted. By 1999, people could now also share stories and swap notes and trivia about games over the internet (hardly anyone could do that back in 1993/94). Also by 1999, the Ultima Collection on CD had come out - never before had it been so easy for a gamer to own all the previous games all at once!

      Keeping all of that in mind, U9 had it extremely tough to live up to the high canonicity standards that, really, only U7 and Serpent Isle had set barely a few years ago. I'm not saying the developers couldn't have done a better job - but overall they didn't screw up as hard as everyone seems to imply all the time.

    9. the overwhelming impression I got from it was that it was made by people who had never played an Ultima and had probably never played an CRPG.

      Yeah, pretty much. It seemed more like a random console game. It would have been middling to poor had it been named "Fantasy Qwestio" and forgotten soon after release. I just never understood how Origin could spend so much time writing lore for their games and then completely ignore it. As an adult, now I understand that nobody cared and indeed there was contempt for anyone who took their drivel seriously. We deserved what we got.

      "What's a paladin?"

    10. Thanks for bringing "What's a paladin?" up, Harland, because these days it perfectly describes how much some fans of Ultima get worked up about something in Ultima XI that... was absolutely normal up to (and maybe including, I can't quite remember that detail) Ultima VII.

      In the keyword-based Ultimas it was absolutely normal that when someone said e.g. "I'm a paladin", you could ask the keyword "paladin" right at them and get a more detailed description of what that was. And it was considered perfectly normal; after all, every single Ultima game could be the first for a new player who had never encountered the series beforehand, so they might legitimately ask themselves "What's a Paladin" in the context of the game world. (I *think* you could pick the keyword "Paladin" to that effect when talking to someone in Ultima VII as well, though I don't quite remember.)

      Nowadays some folk point at the "What's a Paladin?" and immediately cry "betrayal", as if it was absolutely common sense that everyone ever playing Ultima IX must have already been intrinsically familiar with Britain the Virtues and the world building of all Ultimas before ever laying their hands on the game. Completely forgetting in the process that in earlier games the Avatar could just be as forgetful about what a Paladin was. And never mind the fact that the line is *completely* optional and doesn't have to be chosen at all! But I guess having it written out and then voiced and literally spoken out makes it worse somehow.

      (Mind you, I'm not saying they couldn't have handled that better, just that including the line itself isn't such a big deal and certainly not the big "lore-breaker/stupid Avatar" moment some people love to make it out to be.

    11. I agree with a lot of what you are saying on Lore, except that a lot of the Elderscrolls Lore came from Daggerfall and Morrowind. Morrowind did a great job of building onto it though.. Oblivion not so much.

      And I think the Paladin voice line (and the one in LB's castle where the Avatar can ask about the gargoyles) are as bad as they sound. First off, no line in Ultima 9 is pre-hoc optional, since you don't know which will lead to critical data and not. It's not the same as a multiple response as you have in BG 2, where you simply select 1 out of 4.

      Secondly, as you say yourself it is written in a very clumsy way. There are well established ways in writing to convey information to the reader in a way that it is clear that the character is already aware of it.. clumsily handled this is the "As you know..." trope, but even that is better than the baffled tone of the Avatar in U9 when asking for basic information.

    12. Sorry, meant to say Daggerfall and *Redguard*.

    13. I think U9 would have a legacy similar to Dark Messiah of Might & Magic if it hadn't been the long-awaited series finale: seriously undermined by performance and stability issues when it came out, but after patches and the passage of time eventually attracting an audience that can appreciate its virtues (or at least who wants to speedrun it). The writing is bad but not egregiously so for a CRPG.

      Figuring out how to allow the player to ask about topics that the PC should be familiar with is tricky to be sure, but "what's a paladin?" isn't even trying. This is one of the unquestionable virtues of keyword dialogue and part of why abstract dialogue systems have come back into fashion (like in Mass Effect, Fallout 4, etc.). But there's really no reason you couldn't use a line like "How fare the honorable paladins of Trinsic?" to the same effect.

      Previous games would often call out the fact that the Avatar was, say, asking his good friend the bard Iolo what his name and job was, usually chalking it up to the passage of time. (Serpent Isle, more specifically Silver Seed, has a pretty funny take on this kind of dialogue.)

    14. It has been remarked upon that from the general start and the outline of the plot, Ultima 9 would work much better as a sequel to the evil ending of Black Gate. It'd neatly explain the conquest of Britannia and the Avatar starting on Earth again.

      To be fair U9 takes *some* things from Serpent Isle and Pagan into account.

    15. The "What's a paladin" U9 Spoony's video is clearly done with comedic intent and it should be taken with a pinch of salt; there is clearly a lot of excessive nitpicking and fake outrage in those videos although, having played U9 on release, being super-hyped about it, I must say they capture fairly well the sense of disappointment and "betrayal" that I felt as a fan of the series.

      As per that infamous line (and similar ones in that game), I can see "why" it can be considered similar to earlier Ultimas, but it cannot be denied that the execution is terrible. It is a criminally lazy form of exposition, and it's clear that they could not make the transition between "fully written" and "fully voiced" dialogue.

      The devs counted on the player's imagination to fill the blanks between the 'name', 'job' and 'bye', but once you take the road of fully voiced dialogue you cannot lazily translate those to explicit questions and call it a day.

      In a way it was still early days (with lots of "silent protagonists" as another easy cop out in other games), but U9 was an especially poor effort and quite easy to make fun of.

    16. I suppose it's similar to Chet's Cabbage Theory. When the game is reasonably abstract and lets you type in keywords, you can imagine the character asking about that topic in whatever way you want.

      But once a game supports fully written out dialogue topics with voice acting, we expect those to be literally what our main character says. And that includes the confused/ignorant tone of voice in the acting.

    17. All good points above, but I wasn't referring to lore when I said the impression U9 gave me was that the devs hadn't played an Ultima before. I was referring to the fact that most previous Ultimas (perhaps excluding 1and 2, but including to some extent Pagan) were open-world games with realistic environments, and dense layers of interactivity. Ultimas weren't beaten, so much as solved. Combat was largely avoidable or irrelevant (with notable exceptions). You played an Ultima by talking to NPCs, gathering clues and relics, and then performing some sort of ritual. U9 had some of this, but the bulk of the game was just crawling through dungeons in sequence. The towns were largely empty. Buildings had nothing in them. Everything felt shallow, small, and empty instead of deep, wide, and lush.

    18. And regarding "what's a paladin?" The content of the line doesn't bother me as much as it bothers others, but the delivery makes the Avatar sound so utterly gormless that I had to turn off sound after that conversation. I just couldn't accept that that idiot was in any way my Avatar.

    19. "What's a Paladin" is often lumped in with the continuity issues, when really I think it is more of an issue in adapting the style of the game - there's a similar issue where the world seems emptier even in places where it contains all the same individual things as previous games, because the greater abstraction of the older games leads the player to think of the three houses and half-dozen NPCs as being abstractions of what is "really" a larger town and larger cast, while the more richly drawn and eventually 3D-rendered world seems to be saying, "No, this really is a town of six people". In an earlier game, we're expressing the same ludologic intent by typing >PALADIN at a dialogue prompt, but there's the abstraction layer in there that minimizes our experience of the exchange as really being "The Avatar does not know what his job is".

  12. My brother is also red/green colorblind to a degree, and I think he also had trouble with seeing things. Although it DID allow him to see a hidden switch that I completely missed.

    I'm honestly surprised that Exult does NOT have a color-blind option for the games. As a modern platform for the games, you'd think they'd have had that on a to-do list.

  13. Some more connections to the earlier games: Rocco's Blue Boar pub and Bucia's Capessi Canton general store are named after Moon's pub and grocery in Ultima III. The general store in Monitor is named "The Tools of the Trade", after the thieves' guild store in Fawn. (Not clear why the unnamed provisioner in Fawn didn't get that name instead...)

  14. One other thing about the "trial" is that both Bucia and Flindo tell you later that there was no point in them trying to defend you as "Filbercio will have his way." As in, there is no real democracy or justice, just the tyranny of a misogynistic child.

    1. Right. As we've seen, Filbercio himself is also sleeping with at least one other (Rotoluncia) AND he will hit on the avatar if she's female, so this is Moonshade's version of the principle of "truth"...

    2. The official Serpent Isle hintbook is built around a travel narrative written by Thoxa, and when she visits Moonshade she gets hit on by both Filbercio and Frigidazzi. (She also says Mortegro seems nice.) After she turns him down, Filbercio takes her on a tour of Freedom, jokes about leaving her there, and then propositions her again. He's a real scumbag!

    3. Good point - I almost feel some of the cluebooks deserve their own entry in the blog.

      The ones from U7 (both parts parts) and the Ultima Underworlds all include story beats you won't get elsewhere, e.g. a lot of the Garamon/Tyball backstory is from the cluebook.

      For Serpent Isle one thing that is a bit weird about the cluebook is that Thoxa comes across as a bit more vulnerable to persona like Filbercio, while in the game itself the Xenkan monks seem super powerful.

    4. @stepped pyramids:
      I bet he tried to pay her 130,000 guilders to buy her silence.

  15. Everything you learned on Monk Isle and in Xenka's Prophecies will become very helpful later in the game. It's good you wrote it all down.

  16. As someone without color blindness, I can confirm that the Blue Black potion looks more like a "blue-and-white potion" to me as well (assuming the potions in the first screenshot are in the same order as the list further down). However, the Orange Shimmering potion looks like it just has a more intense orange color than the regular Orange potion - or rather, the regular Orange potion looks kind of like an "orange-and-white potion".

  17. Hello. I just wanted to chime in and say I love your blog. I stop by from time-to-time to check it out. I particularly appreciate your efforts in showing the maps and screenshots. Thank you so much for your efforts at preserving these gems of history. Love you. xo


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