Sunday, July 30, 2023

Serpent Isle: Easy Virtue

All this because I answered some dogmatic questions and performed well in a test when I knew I was being tested.
All right, so the Banes of Chaos have been released and are inhabiting the bodies of my three former companions, who are holed up at the Castle of the White Dragon. Meanwhile, the people that the banes used to inhabit--Gwenno, Cantra, and ????? (unless it's confirmed somewhere in the game, my headcanon is that it was the guy dressed like a jester in the woods)--have been resurrected, but their minds are still messed up. The reason for their current psychological state is a result of a virtue imbalance caused by their former possession. To restore the balance, I'll have to imbue them with the virtue they lack. When I closed the last session, I thought I knew that Gwenno was expressing insanity and Cantra wantonness, and thus needed Logic and Discipline respectively. But talking to them at the beginning of this session, I'm not so sure. They both say very similar things. I may have to save and try multiple buckets.
Is this a sign of insanity, wantonness, or anarchy?
To instill those virtues, I have to go get some water from the associated temples. (I wish it were this easy in real life.) My first quest as this session begins, then, is to find buckets. Buckets are one of those things you see everywhere but don't really register. I'm trying to remember where I know for sure that they exist. Fortunately, poking around Monk Isle, I find two. In the basement are four more. That should do it.
Back at the serpent gate hub, I dump some excess items from my backpack and try to figure out where to go first. My destination map has annotations like "weird temple" and "temple with stone maze." Only one of them, the Temple of Ethicality, is labeled with a specific virtue, and it's the one I don't need. I try the one labeled "Lodestone Temple." This takes me to the one outside the City of Order where I helped the girl's spirit stuck in the wall. I go to the edge of the water in the temple, put a bucket on the ground, double-click on it, and click on the water. The bucket is full. It is labeled "Bucket of Water." Great. I look back through my previous entries, and apparently the girl in the wall told me that I was in the Temple of Emotion and I would have to put the lodestones on the appropriate pedestals to create the "Water of Emotion." I go through the ritual, and this time when I fill the bucket, it says "Water of Emotion."
Clearing some space.
The problem is, I didn't need emotion. Emotion isn't even an Order virtue--it's a Chaos virtue. So anyone suffering from an imbalance of it would have to have been possessed by a Bane of Order. Unless I'm misunderstanding this whole thing, which I probably am. On the other hand, the temple clearly exists for a reason, so I assume I'll need this water eventually. That probably means I'll need all the others, too. Good thing I found six buckets.
My next stop, via the hub, is a new destination opened by the tooth the Gwani gave me. It takes me to a large stone building with large wooden doors on the north and south sides. Before each door is a set of three pedestals, blue to the north, red to the south. These clearly represent Order and Chaos. A book in a little room beneath the serpent gate tells me that I'm in the Temple of Balance. It says that "only a true serpent of fire and serpent of ice will bring thee to balance." I'm not sure what to do here, but I suspect I'm too early anyway.
I'm sure I'll be back.
My next attempt is "Weird Temple Near City of Order." This one has a blue serpent statue in the center, surrounded by water. There are a bunch of doors and a table with two "y-shaped depressions." Plaques read: "MIND BODY ENVIRONMENT" and "MIND TRANSFERENCE CHAMBER." A barrier comes up when I try to enter an eastern room that says "ENTRY FORBIDDEN." It's full of automatons and has a broken "bane jar." I guess this is where Batlin freed one of the banes. I find some documents in a desk that indicate I'm in the Temple of Discipline. There's an insane automaton in the same room; he babbles something about an automaton fetching water.
Most of the doors around the edges are locked. The "Mind Transference Chamber" is open, with two pads and a button. I suspect that I can transfer my mind to an automaton by having it stand on one pad and standing on the other, then hitting the button with "Telekinesis," but I don't have any particular reason to do that. Another chamber has three plaques, reading: "DISCIPLINE OF BODY," "DISCIPLINE OF MIND," and "DISCIPLINE OF ENVIRONMENT." It looks like there were three platforms in this room, but two have been destroyed by collapsing rubble.
The "bane jail"doesn't look much like a "jail."
Buttons in the two southern rooms open the rest of the locked doors, leading to stairways up and down. In a basement, I find a bunch of urns of ashes on pedestals. A nearby scroll says that they're the ashes of the people who volunteered to transfer their minds to automatons. A northern chamber has a bunch of coffins; I don't know who those people are.
Upstairs, I find a bunch of chambers, most of them walled off from me, and a bunch of books. It's a measure of how tired I am with this game that I groan at the sight of the books. I usually love books. The War of Order and Chaos is an interesting one, as it tells of a titular war "300 years ago," in which Order won and "imprisoned the Chaos Forces," then decided that they missed them. This sounds a bit like the Ophidian War we've been hearing about all along, except that a) Order destroyed Chaos; they didn't imprison them; and b) the book would have had to have been written recently, which seems impossible given the remoteness of the temple and the fact it's written in Ophidian. That suggests there was an even earlier war between Order and Chaos. I probably already knew that. As I think I said last time, this game has been going on so long that I'm actively forgetting it while I'm playing.
I spent an hour solving a puzzle to get a bridge across some water I could easily jump across.
A book called The Symbol of Discipline indicates that I'll need to place a quartz symbol in the left slot and an obsidian symbol in the right slot. A book called My Journey by someone named Shartmannah indicates the way to the fountain (where I presumably will find the Water of Discipline) is coated with acid. Body Transference confirms my thoughts about how the transference chamber works and indicates that the body of the living person is not destroyed automatically; instead, the newly-ensouled automatons were expected to slay their own former bodies as the ultimate test of Discipline.
Another stairway takes me to a different basement where several coffins are completely walled off. I see an invisible chest in one of the "rooms," so I start clicking around for secret doors and soon find one. The chest has a key which opens a door in one of the upper-level rooms. I find the quartz y-shape in a chest. A secret door opens another upper room, where I find a desk with the obsidian y-shape and another key. There's also a shelf with four more damned books. Our Great Leaders may have some clues about the Temple of Balance. It basically says that when ceremonies were conducted there, they required the Hierophants (Order, Chaos, and Balance) and six Masters (three Order, three Chaos). The Importance of Meditation gives me the mantra of Discipline: ISSIT. Our Blessed Serpent Isle and The Book of Discipline seem like just flavor. 
I forgot to check whether "Columna's Intuition" would have identified this.
I take the y-shapes back to the altar and place them in the slots as the book instructed. Nothing happens except that I get occasionally zapped by a lightning bolt from somewhere. I try reversing them and a bridge appears to the island in the center of the chamber. Seriously, are any of the hints in this game accurate?
Downstairs, I find two locked doors, one to the north, one to the south. The key I found upstairs opens the south door. Inside sits a golden chest on a table. It has a key that opens the north door. There's a perfect microcosm for this game's absurd padding right there. Why not just have the key from upstairs open the north door? What possible value does the extra door, key, and chest have?
Oh, right. I killed a rat on the way in here. That must be the added value.
My irritation at the game explains my next choice. The north door leads to a little winding path where a pool of acid spawns every few steps and does 5-10 hit points of damage to me. I walk into it too quickly the first time, die (which is a pretty gruesome death, when you think about it), and have to reload. Clearly, the game wants me to go switch bodies with an automaton and then walk through the acid, although I don't know why it wouldn't damage a metal automaton as badly as me. I decide to stubbornly push forward and see what happens if I just cast "Great Heal" every few steps. I make it through the acid with no problem.
Suck it up, Avatar.
"Thou hast proven, through thy Discipline, to be worthy," a scroll says on the other side. I agree. I think it takes far more discipline to walk through acid, feel the pain, and heal yourself rather than change places with an automaton. That's not disciplined; that's just clever. I fill a bucket with the water, wait a bit for my spell points to recharge, then make the return trip and head back to the hub.
Next stop: The Temple of Ethicality. The serpent statue and water are up the stairs and outside at this one, but just using the bucket on the water doesn't do anything, probably because the basin at the north end is dry. 
I head back down into the basement to see what I can do. There are a bunch of skeletons lying on woven mats. Each has a scroll on its body, blathering about Ethicality, which is how I knew what the temple was in the first place. "Never, NEVER surrender to thine enemies," one advises. "Fight to the death, but do not abandon thine Ethics." What if I could save the lives of millions by surrendering? Clearly, the Order folks believed in deontological ethics. Other scrolls have similar questionable adages. A particularly long scroll argues that wealth is antithetical to ethics because it invariably corrupts. 
This sounds like it was written by someone who has plenty of money.
A note written by whoever among the forces of Chaos sacked the temple says that the Chaos soldiers tortured and killed the Order people here but never got any answers. "These sheep all went to their deaths with smiles on their accursed faces!" He questions whether their calm has something to do with their meditation. "Those who desire to meditate need only kneel before the serpent." The problem is, the game doesn't really give you any ability to kneel. I went outside and stood in front of the serpent, and double-clicked the ground, but that didn't accomplish anything.
I'm not sure how standing on the serpent and double-clicking equals "kneeling before the serpent."
Looking around inside, I find a carpet with an image of a snake. It looks like a serpent gate, except in fabric rather than stone. I double-click on that and am teleported to a small stone room with an automaton. "I am the Educator," he says. "It is my task to determine how far thine Ethicality hath already progressed before the test may begin." I say go ahead, and he asks me these questions:
  • "Question One: If thou didst come upon one who was sure to die, would it be Ethical to risk death trying to save the doomed person." I feel like one of the scrolls addressed this specific situation, but I don't remember what it said. However, knowing that Order's sense of Ethicality is heavily weighted towards the ethics of duty, I say yes. He says I got it right. "Ethicality demands that thou must seek to preserve the life of others, as thou wouldst thine own."
  • "Question Two: If thou didst come upon a room of untold wealth within a structure where thou didst not know if the owner lived, would it be Ethical to take the money if thou wert in sore need? Or wouldst thou leave the money to possibly be used for evil ends?" Ha. CRPG protagonists face this situation every day, and it's rarely a dilemma to them. But knowing this is a Test of Ethicality, I say no, you've got to leave the money. I am again correct.
  • "Question Three: If thou wert faced with the certainty of thy death at the hands of an unethical man, wouldst thou yield to him to save thy life? Or would Ethicality demand that thou shouldst continue the struggle unto death?" Ooh, I know this one. I quoted it above. "Continue." The automaton congratulates me for being right. "Ethicality demands that thou shouldst maintain thy virtue and oppose evil, even at the cost of thy life."
These Order Ophidians are really something. They've tied up their concept of "ethicality" with pure "duty," which admittedly is one interpretation of ethics, but only the most facile one. Even then, I don't think you can make a deontological argument that everyone should always fight to the death. Even Kant would probably say it depends what the stakes are.
The automaton is as pleased as punch, though, and sends me off to the actual test. I'm suddenly naked in a cave with a pile of gold in one hand, a gem in the other, and a gold bar in my backpack. Is that one of the Level 8 spells I'm missing?
I come to a door. "CHOOSE," a plaque says, and the door swings open. I walk in and find a man standing in the middle of a ring of fire. He's screaming in pain. "The button!" he yells. "Press the button!" He's referring to a pillar, also surrounded by flames, on which there is a button. I blithely walk past him and am teleported back to the automaton. He says I failed the test and that I should meditate and try again. I just wanted to see what would happen.
Ah, yes, the classical ethical dilemma: A man is on fire and screaming, and you can put the fire out by pushing a button. Do you push it? Discuss.
I try again and--duh--press the button. I take damage but the flame dies out and the man praises my ethicality. I'm teleported back to the automaton, who echoes this praise and sends me to a new location--a corridor. "A WISE MAN KNOWS THAT BLOOD IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEALTH," a plaque reads. There are a couple of chests in the corridor with golden serpents and a pedestal. It takes me a couple of tries to figure out what the test wants, which is for me to sacrifice my riches on the pedestal--as if I have anything else to do with them--and not take the serpents.
No, I'm just not a monster.
For the third test, the automaton sends me into a room with Batlin. "Fool!" he says. "Thou dist think me dead . . . But now it is time for thee to die!" Before I can do anything, he blasts me with a fireball and knocks me over. "Yield to me, and perhaps I shall spare thy life!" he offers. Good lord. This again? Of course I say no. I'm teleported back to the automaton, who congratulates me and sends me back to the temple. Of course, all my stuff is screwed up. I have to spend a few minutes putting things back where they're supposed to be. Oh, and I have the riches from the test. I'm not sure whether this is another test. I leave them all on the floor just in case.
Outside, the water is flowing. I fill up a bucket and head back to the serpent gate hub.
A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road . . .
Next up: "Stone Maze Temple," which I suspect is going to be the Temple of Logic. I screw up and go to the place I found Mortegro, which I realize now is a Chaos temple. I know it's not Emotion, and the guy in the basement mentioned he'd been at the Temple of Enthusiasm when it was destroyed, so I guess this must be Tolerance. I try dipping the bucket into its waters to no avail. There doesn't seem to be any other puzzles here, so I leave and go to the temple I was trying to get to originally.
What I assume is the Temple of Logic has me find my way through a three-level maze (which is why I thought it was Logic), cross a checkerboard floor with fire and lightning shooting at me, and enter a library full of books. They're clearly written from a Chaos perspective, and when I head outside to the well and fill up a bucket, it says "Water of Enthusiasm." Damn. At least I didn't have to solve a puzzle. There are some other things in the temple that I don't understand, including what looks to be a little museum, with plaques that say "CRYSTAL SKULL OF THE MYSTICS" and "GLASS VIPER OF SESSENRA." There's a Sceptre of Enlightenment and a Hammer of Dedication, both on pedestals, and some kind of magic rod in a stone receptacle south of the temple. I grab them all to take back to the serpent gate hub in case I need them. 
This isn't as hard as it looks from the screenshot.
So where the hell is the Temple of Logic? I look at my destination map. Origin loves predictability and symmetry in these types of things. In this case, look at the map and see what you think:
My current map of teleporter destinations.
It's got to be where I've written "Ice Dragon/Silverpate Caves," right? I warp there. Some ice trolls attack as I explore, accounting for most of my spell notes this session.
I come to a passage I don't remember from previous explorations. It has three ice blocks and two dead bodies next to them. In the room beyond are four teleporter pads. One of the bodies has a journal identifying the owner as Dolfo. The journal indicates that the teleporters are a kind of puzzle: "Red directly precedes White: Blue follows yellow: Yellow directly follows Red: Yellow and White do not immediately follow one another."
I've solved this kind of puzzle a bunch of times, but I don't understand this one at first, since two of the statements seem to contradict--unless Red is used twice. Which it turns out it is. Even then, there are two potential orders: RED, WHITE, RED, YELLOW, BLUE and RED, YELLOW, BLUE, RED, WHITE.
The southwest teleporter doesn't look like it has any color at all to me.
It doesn't matter anyway because I can't tell what the colors on the screen are, so I just solve the puzzle through trial and error.
I get teleported to a room with four runes on pedestals and a locked double door. The runes have Ophidian runes on them but Dolfo's journal uses regular letters: "I tried W.O.B. and C., none of the runes were in the correct position. I then tried C.B.W. and O.--again, none of the runes were in the correct position. I then tried the O rune in the first position, which is not where it belonged, and knew I could discern the puzzle."
You could brute-force this in 24 combinations.
This is relatively easy. If W, C, and O are all wrong in the first position, it must be B. If C and O are wrong in the fourth position, and B is in the first, it can only be W. If O is wrong in the second position, that leaves C. So the order is BCOW. I just have to cross-reference the runes with the manual, and line them up in front of the door (as the journal says). That could have been harder, but I'm admittedly losing patience with the game.
The temple is a mirror of the Temple of Discipline, with the "bane jail" in the same place (I just realized I didn't see that in the Temple of Ethicality). I'm hoping I can just grab the water, but no, there are more puzzles. @$#% my life.
Screw your puzzles.
The automatons are on about something. The key to the fountain is missing. Number 7 is missing last seen with Number 2, but Number 3 thinks Number 5 is lying, blah blah blah. I kill all the automatons and loot the key from the body of one of them. (I call this the "Gordion Knot" approach to logic puzzles.) Of course, it doesn't open the way to the fountain; it opens the way to a room with another puzzle. Slide these stones around so that yada yada yada, a scroll reads. I bypass the puzzle with a "Dispel Field" and grab the key. A few steps later, I have the Water of Logic.
This one, too.
Back to the serpent gate hub, back to Monk Isle. Gwenno is in the library. I make a save, because I still don't know what water she needs. I try Logic: "Come, allow me to feed upon thee!" Ethicality: "Blood, blood everywhere!" Discipline: "What a relief to see thee again, Gideon." I reload and do it again.
Gwenno is back to her old self. She says I'll have to work quickly to undo the damage that Batlin has caused. She warns that the peril to the Serpent Isle--which she calls "New Sosaria"--also imperils Britannia and Earth. She reiterates a bunch of stuff about the Ophidians that I figured out ages ago.
She says I'll have to cage the Banes again if I want to "rid this land of the threat entirely." She suggests I ask around Moonshade. She also mentions that it would be useful to talk to Xenka's specter. There's a "JOIN" option, but she says she'll be more use if she stays on Monk Isle and conducts research. I think "Summon Specter" would allow me to talk to Xenka, but I don't know where to cast it. The monks aren't even sure she's died.
Side note: Gwenno doesn't even ask about Iolo.
A commenter already warned me that you can't heal Cantra, but I reload and try anyway. She just continues to rant and rave even after getting doses from all three buckets.
Some commenters have mentioned that Serpent Isle seems to have become a pure adventure game in these latter stages. This entry illustrates pretty well what they mean. I don't completely agree: I don't think an RPG changes its genre just because it stops using its RPG mechanics. It just becomes a bad RPG. That said, there were a few combats during this session--a skeleton in one of the temples, a giant rat, a couple of wolves, a handful of ice trolls. But those types of battles have become worse than "inconsequential." The Avatar really just brushes past them, occasionally swinging his axe if I feel like pausing long enough to do it. I'm not sure how I feel about that. As we approach 100 hours, I don't want anything that delays the endgame longer than necessary. On the other hand, a lack of balance and enjoyable mechanics is what makes 100 hours "too long" in the first place.
Time so far: 94 hours
Comments on Level 4/5 Spells

Level 4
Blink. Fizzles every time I try to cast it. I'm not sure why I would want to cast it anyway. It supposedly teleports you "to a new location about twenty paces from the original location" but doesn't let you go through locked doors or other inaccessible locations. What good is it, then? To confuse you momentarily?
Deter. "Often discourages hostile, non-sentient animals from attacking its subject." I try it on a pack of wolves, and it works on three of them, sending them wandering off while a fourth continues to attack. It's not a bad spell from a role-playing perspective. I didn't like killing snow leopards. I should have used it then.
I try to avoid killing wolves.
Flash. Creates a flash, "blinding all creatures within the affected area, save the caster." So it blinds the rest of the party, too? That's not very helpful. I try it on some wolves, but it doesn't seem to change their behavior. If it makes them less effective in combat, I can't really tell. (They're wolves.) Seeking tougher foes, I go up north to a bear cave and try it there. If it makes them any less effective, I can't discern it. 
Mass Curse. Supposedly works like the third level spell "Curse" ("severely hampers the subject's abilities in combat") but on everyone in the area. Let's try this one scientifically. I take off my magic armor and leggings and head into the bear cave. I stand there while he swings away at me. It takes him 34 seconds to kill me. I reload, head back to the cave, and this time cast "Mass Curse." The bear takes 31 seconds to kill me. I'd say the spell is useless, but it wore off after about 5 seconds, so it simply didn't have any impact on the battle at all. I don't bother to test whether it makes the enemy easier for me to kill. The bottom line is that I'll use this type of spell sometimes in a turn-based, tactical game where I can see the effects. In a game like this, I need more tangible evidence before I waste the spell points and reagents.
Reveal. Negates invisibility. In the Temple of Discipline, I confirm that it works on invisible chests. The problem is that you're probably not going to go around casting the spell in every room, just in case. And if you already perceive an invisible chest (which frankly isn't that hard to see), then you don't need the spell. It's the same problem with "Columna's Intuition," which also makes invisible chests sparkle. Are there any invisible enemies in the game other than the one in the Knight's Test? I can't remember.
The chest in the middle was invisible a second ago. Trust me.
Transcribe. Extremely essential. Turns spell scrolls into permanent spells in the book. I'm pretty sure you can't win the game without this, as there are key puzzle spells that only show up once in scroll form, and you need to cast them multiple times.

Unlock Magic. Another key "puzzle" spell, although this game has far fewer magic doors than its predecessors. 
You may note that I've only listed seven spells. I don't know what the eighth is; there's a blank space in my spellbook, and the manual doesn't list any more spells in this circle.
Level 5
Conjure. Summons wild beasts to help fight for the caster. When I tried it, it summoned some deer, who stood around doing nothing. Tried it indoors against the bears and nothing happened; I guess it doesn't work indoors. Went hunting for some outdoor bears, found it, tried it again. This time it summoned  more deer and a couple of foxes, none of whom seemed the least interested in attacking the bears.
Looking for help in combat, I instead get a Disney film.
Follow-up note: You can kill the summoned deer for food. That's messed up.
Eating these will let me carry an additional 25 pounds.
Explosion. What any other game would call a "Fireball." It half-kills polar bears. The problem with this one is targeting. You don't want to catch yourself in the radius, but the game screen isn't big enough to target enemies far away. Even if you catch them at the edge of the screen, they can close most of that distance in the time it takes the spell to cast. In Ultima VI (I don't remember if this is true in The Black Gate), the spell was basically a substitute for a powder keg. It would destroy doors and other obstacles, and thus you used it more for puzzle-solving than for actual combat. Here, that doesn't seem to be true. I tried "Explosion" on the rubble that I had to attack to clear in The Silver Seed, for instance, and it did nothing.
When I started casting the spell, they were further away and closer together.
Great Heal. Fully heals one person. One of the few essential non-puzzle spells--and as we saw above, it can even be used to bypass puzzles. Just like I'm an "ask forgiveness rather than permission" sort of person, I'm also a "heal the damage later rather than preventing it ahead of time" sort of person, at least in RPGs.
Invisibility. Turns a single target invisible. Not a bad spell. I verified that enemies don't attack while it's active. Useful for just blowing through an area, although only if you're a single character or can cast it on everyone. Extremely short duration, though. One of the more interesting things is that it changes the colors on the screen, washing everything out in white. This actually makes it easier to identify certain things, like invisible chests, at least for me. When you use it on characters, you can still kind of see them, with a whitish outline. If you use it on enemies, they completely disappear. You can bring them back with "Reveal." Yes, I know--why would you?
Mass Sleep. Puts everyone in the area to sleep. This one is pretty useful, I'll admit. The sleep duration is extremely variable, but in a group of three or four, it has a decent chance of taking at least a couple out of commission until you're ready to deal with them. They don't automatically wake up when you start attacking, either. I often think how awful it would be if this spell existed in real life. Imagine you're a soldier entering combat and suddenly you fall to your knees, your eyelids drooping, and your last thought is that the enemy is going to be able to do whatever they want to your unconscious body, and you won't even know.
This is probably the only time it's safe to pet polar bears.
Summon Shade. I just got this. It will turn out to be a puzzle spell, allowing me to speak to the ghost of someone dead. Like "Seance" in Ultima VI, it ought to work in a hundred places in the game, but of course only works in the one place that the plot directs.
Erstam's Surprise. Causes clouds to radiate away from the caster, variably causing fear, poison, or sleep on the enemies they encounter. I don't know. I prefer to know what's going to happen when I cast a spell. Neither fear nor poison are as useful as sleep, so why wouldn't I just cast "Mass Sleep"? Even when reagents were a problem, "Mass Sleep" requires fewer of them.
Whatever joke you're planning to make in the comments, everyone's already thought of it.
Still have four levels left to cover. If I do two per entry, will I run out of entries before I run out of spell levels? That would be a nice problem to have.


  1. The more you write, the less guilty I feel about never finishing this game way back when.
    Thank you!

    1. Same. I am glad I bailed out of this game; in fact I only played it a bit after completing U7 which I didnt complete in my teens and I had nostalgia for it.

    2. I don't think I'd ever go back to this one... frankly... I'd have to go back and read all of the entries again to begin putting it together. Way to much "busy" work!

    3. I actually liked the second half better, because the first part seemed a little too scripted, at least for Ultima. A little broken, sure, RPGs were getting a lot bigger and more complex (and often rushed). But once the game allows you to actually explore and learn more about the lore, is really where it gets good for me at least. Less than a minute iinto the game, your stuff gets replaced by the weird lightning. So, it's going to be a "find my stuff" kind of game. But you don't get a chance, because of all the drama in Monitor, then Fawn, then Mountains of Freedom, Moonshade again, Furnace (I was SO pissed when I found my crispified spellbook). There's really not much exploration or freedom of anything until you get past Gorlab Swamp and start looking for Cantra. Just my opinion though. People play games for different reasons. I like the lore. I wasted so much time in Daggerfall just reading books that I eventually just gave up playing the game.

    4. If there is one thing that both halves of Serpent Isle have, it's the general moody vibe. Even if there's no one to talk to anymore, the vibe is still there. The ruins, the lore, the silence...

      I echo those that enjoyed the game in it's latter stages too.

      But it's also understandable why for some the suspension of disbelief breaks around this point, with so many backstage machinations being too visible for the audience.

    5. I didn't finish that game too, part because my PC had troubles running it smoothly, and also part because it feels a lot like a JRPG with all those obstacles to exploration and railroading.

      I've never understood why they introduced that in SI (and it's worse in Pagan). The Ultima series were a good mix of free exploration and quest before that.
      Were they trying to fix the (non existing) problem of players doing the main quest in non scripted order in U7? Railroading and roadblocks are much worse in my view.

    6. Personally the more JRPG feel is a plus to me, although that might be related to those being the sort of RPGs I had growing up

  2. I think there is a scroll somewhere in Monshade mentioning that the Blink spell has stopped working. But I think that might well have been added post hoc after they could not get it working probably. The way the game triggers events via “eggs” makes it plot breaking anyway, similar to how Serpent Bond already does in some places.

    I think there was just one war and the game is just confused about how long Order stuck around afterwards.

    Since you seem to be getting a bit frustrated with the game a minor hint

    Oevat rkcybfvirf (cbjqre xrtf) jura tbvat nsgre gur Onarf, pna fnir fbzr gvzr gung jnl.

    1. Blink does go through locked doors (and across small patches of water) in the beta version of the game; it was taken out in the final, probably because it can bypass script triggers (naq vg gheaf bhg lbh pna olcnff fpevcg gevttref naljnl jvgu frecrag obaq).

    2. There are several books that suggest that the Ophidians didn't all leave at once. That helps make sense of the chronology.

    3. I wonder if I paid for that spell.

    4. If I recall, Blink worked just fine for Selena...

    5. Selena had a blink ring (albeit it makes no difference once you get that ring).

      There's an explanation somewhere that the teleport storms affected the blink spell and it no longer works. Maybe a book or someone in Moonshade, I really can't remember.

  3. "The War of Order and Chaos" is definitely about the War of Imbalance, and was presumably written by one of the last Order followers before they disappeared. "Chaos Forces" isn't referring to the Ophidian followers of Chaos.

    By finding the alternate path through the acid you bypassed a little bit of NPC interaction. The intended solution is to go find Petra and ask her to join your party, and then she'll do the transference ritual with you. (I guess the generic automatons aren't sophisticated enough.) Walking around as a ladybot is kind of neat.

    The missing Fourth Circle spell will be filled in eventually.

    I do appreciate that there's a number of puzzles in the game that can be bypassed with a "Alexandrian" solution, as you noted. I hate logic puzzles in games and would like to have the "hit it with sword until solved" option more frequently.

    1. Another clever bit about the automaton "murder" puzzle is that you can find and reanimate the victim and ASK HIM who did it.

    2. I would also argue that these bypasses/alternative solutions is precisely what qualifies the game as an RPG and not an adventure.
      (while there are adventures that do allow for multiple solutions to puzzles, those are rare and generally tend to be borderline hybrids)

    3. I had forgotten about Petra. Now I remember that there was some Xenkan vision about her. What was that about? Has it already happened?

    4. Yeah, you were supposed to recruit Petra (who's still alive) and then switch bodies with her to do the acid test.

    5. Yes, the Xenkan vision shows Petra running through acid. As prophetic visions go, that's a pretty silly one.

    6. You could check your screenshots in the posting "Serpent Isle: Red and Yellow, Kill a Fellow". Which was in March..

    7. You just screwed with the timeline! The outcome of Xenka's prophecies depended on all her visions coming true. She programmed all her visions pitch perfectly, calculating your every move so you wouldn't screw it up. You saw Petra walking in acid. Now it never happened. And multiverse will never be restored. This was that one in bazillion possible timeline, where you save the world and stop Thanos! How could you?! You were supposed to save the multiverse, not damn it!

    8. I wonder how many people in their first playthough used the intended solution or just save scummed through it.

      Even after playing three times, I still forgot about Petra in my last playthrough and just winged it.

    9. I like Doug the Eagle's take on the murdered automaton puzzle: "Now you must use your powers of logic and reasoning. You are in a room with six automata. Only one of them has the key that you need. What is the least number of automata that you need to kill to be certain of getting the key?"

  4. Many games and tabletop RPGs tend to equate "order" with "good" and "chaos" with "bad" (the original two alignments are "lawful" and "chaotic" based on the Stormbringer books, NOT good and evil), so it's interesting that Serpent Isle does the reverse. I mean, Chaos aren't goody-two-shoes either but Order is clearly the genocidal tyrant in this game's history.

    Specifically, Order destroyed Chaos by fcyvggvat gur punbf frecrag vagb guerr cnegf, gur onarf, naq vzcevfbavat gubfr. Fb thrff jung lbh'yy unir gb qb arkg?

    Note the parallel between this game and Ultima 6, where you also have to become versed in the virtues of another race. However, in U6 the race is still alive and you're trying to save them; whereas in SI it's hard to care about the long-dead Ophidians, and there are way too many virtues.

    1. It's the terminology. "Chaos" is bad. "Anarchy" is bad. "Individualism" is good.

      I'm curious how there are "Forces of Chaos," though. If the game wanted to go 100% with its themes, Order would live in cities, have armies, and follow a structured set of virtues. Chaos would live in the wilds as small tribes (at most), only getting together occasionally for orgies, and have no structured religion at all.

    2. You've read this letter so it isn't a spoiler (but it was months ago):

      "Chaos and Order each embrace three Forces. These six Forces, when combined, form the three Principles of Balance. The Forces of Chaos are Tolerance, Enthusiasm, and Emotion; the Forces of Order are Ethicality, Discipline, and Logic."

    3. "Note the parallel between this game and Ultima 6..."

      Nicely put Radiant, couldn't agree more. A lot of effort that has gone into the story here, but it's hard to care in the same way. Plus it's all a bit fiddly, as well as being as abstract as Ultima's virtues have ever been.

    4. Maybe in the original script, with each Bane terrorizing Montor, Moonshade and Fawn according to their "virtue", the Ophidian ethics would have had a bigger and more meaningful role.

    5. Good point about the apparent lack of difference between Order and Chaos in terms of way of living.

      A setting that in my opinion provides believable (still within a fantasy enviroent) Order/Chaos factions is that of the Thief series.

    6. To be fair, the chaos city is a jumbled mess of roads that don't go anywhere and buildings just sort of thrown around randomly.

    7. The Virtues and Principles introduced in Ultima 4 were all "social virtues", that is about the relationship between you and other people.

      The Gargish Virtues and Principles from Ultima 6 were, on the contrary, about self-improvement.

      The philosophical reflection in the Ultima series continues and evolves in Serpent Isle, where the Ophidian Forces include both social virtues and self-improvement virtues.

      I absolutely love how the Ultima seies encourages philosophical reflection.

    8. We also only have the ruins of Skullcrusher and a few temples as our clue as to how Chaos followers lived, because Order wiped them from the map. Skullcrusher is basically the Chaos Vatican, so it's unlikely to be typical, and the Chaos followers we hear from are priests and/or people who were living during the War of Imbalance. Maybe during the time of Balance the Chaos followers lived in little communes in the woods where they made high-quality wicker furniture they sold to the Order-following city dwellers, but all of that was destroyed.

  5. "..automatons babble... scrolls blather... blah blah blah... yada yada yada..."

    Your choice of words alone indicates that you've lost your patience with this one.

    1. The fact that I've said repeatedly, "I've lost patience with this game" should also be a clue.

    2. For comparison, Might & Magic 4 & 5 combined (World of Xeen) took Chet 79 hours to solve. Serpent Isle has already gone on longer than that; and it still isn't over!

    3. @Chet: Sure, that became sort of redundant, is what I'm saying ;)

    4. I can imagine I'd be finding this a real struggle to stick with (like Chet!) if I had started it. It puts me off the idea of playing any of the Ultima games unfortunately (I've never been a big fan of the lore), which I've never played.

      While it's still seemingly going to be nowhere near the length of Fate: Gates of Dawn, I almost wonder whether I'd personally prefer playing that instead...

  6. I laughed at the “gordian knot” solutions. As stepped pyramids says, the game deserves at least some credit to make them available.

    It should not be long now, one or two entries, tops; even if replaying this very recently, I did not think it would approach 100 hours.

    I’m curious now to see how will you feel about Ambermoon in the end, since it will likely take a comparable amount of time, but has a better balance of traditional RPG elements.

    1. I'm just not sure that the authors Intentionally made them available.

    2. But arguably that's the beauty of simulationist RPGs and immersive sims - you get the tools that work consistently across the gameworld that you are free to use in creative ways, whether the designers foresaw that or not. Makes for a much more interesting gameplay than when everything is tightly scripted, IMO.
      (The problem with this specific game, of course, is that it's not really consistent)

    3. The original Ultima 7 had the same problem. It provides a brilliant simulationist system, but the actual game is not designed with this simulationist system in mind. It's designed like an older Ultima, where you need to do A, B and then C.

      But the simulationist system provides the player to come up with creative solutions. Like for example: remember the locked Fellowship Meditation Retreat? The game wants you to become a member of the Fellowship to get access to the Retreat. But you know what? All those boxes you see in Trinsic for example? You can mark and recall between Meditation Retreat and Trinsic, carrying boxes, build a stair out of them and climb over. You never need to join the Fellowship.

      I wish that there was a game that did what Ultima 7 did, but this time with more focus to the simulationist system. That's where the true potential of the game lies. As it is now, it seems like it was just an happy accident and not a true intention.

    4. My feeling is that there's an iron triangle at play here. Open world, simulationism, coherent narrative: you can choose up to two. There's a reason why the renowned immersive sims have mission-based structures. It would be cool to see more RPGs in the Ultima IV mold that are not narrative-driven, though.

    5. @stepped pyramids - Excellent point about mission-based games. GTA: San Andreas is a great example of a game that is open world, simulation, but still has that narrative, but only when you want it to. The rest of the time, you can run or drive around (with some exceptions related to the overall plot) between three different cities, countryside, desert, or swim in a river, drive off a mountain, murder some drug dealers, all completely unrelated to plot. Just how to spend a Saturday or whatever.Or you can go clothes shopping, get some fast food, go to the gym, gain/lose muscle/weight, go to the range to work on your weapon skills, go on dates, go dancing. Best sandbox game I've ever played, with a lot of RPG elements, but also has missions in order to structure the story. It seems to be the best approach for these long, complex games.

    6. I think you can have an open world with bottlenecks (for narrative purposes) that still feels like an open world. We've seen plenty of examples on this blog. Areas of the world that are inaccessible without the right key/transportation. IIRC the problem with U7P1 was that it didnt bottleneck some of the narrative content, which let players arrive at it in an order which didnt make much sense.

    7. I think some roguelike like ADoM or Caves of Qud do a reasonable job of balancing the three. Granted, their narratives are quite barebones, but they do give you some sense of plot direction and lore.

    8. Divinity: Original Sin did this somewhat, and was often compared to Ultima 7 (mostly favorably).

    9. The D:OS series is a good contender for an Ultima successor. You can see a lot of Ultima 7 in Larian games going back to Divine Divinity.

    10. *sigh* that was me.

    11. Unlike Ultima games, the D:OS games are actually HARD. I spent a lot of time with D:OS2, but it seems like a closed system of XP, which means no grinding, which makes Iffy a sad Bonzoolie.

    12. If you list the situations in the Ultima 7 games where multiple puzzle solutions are possible, and extrapolate this to a "simulationist adventure", you might get a great new game (or even genre?).

      Things like stacking loaves of bread to build a staircase, while fun a couple of times, should probably not be the solution too often. Instead, puzzles might have complex, multi-step solutions where each step is a simple, logical interaction that the world offers "anyway".

      For example, a spell to turn the player into an animal (like that "Serpent Bond" spell from the last post) might require a live specimen nearby, so the player needs to devise a method to catch a live snake. Maybe with a cage, some bait, and a sleeping potion applied to the bait. Ideally, the challenges of the game are not single-purpose ("turn into a snake here").

      Optionally, a complex spell system that allows the player to chain multiple effects, such as the one in Legend (1992), would enable more solutions.

    13. I agree. I've always felt as if Ultima 7 is supposed to be a proto-example of some new subgenre that hasn't quite fully manifested itself yet.

    14. So basically, sandbox games?

    15. No, not sandbox games. The sandbox games of today are not the same experience as Ultima 7.

      There's more to it than that.

      It should have some adventure game and some immersive sim elements. It should also have a similar dedication to the characters you meet in the game (they should feel like people), because that is also part of the Ultima 7 experience.

      Fix the economy, give it a better combat system, better survivalist mechanics, give player more optional secrets to discover... emphasize all the strengths of Ultima 7, while improving on all the flaws.

      And maybe it being isometric/top-down is also part of the experience.

    16. "NPCs feel like people" and complex simulationist elements are, if not actively incompatible goals, at the very least in strong tension with each other. The more things you allow the player to do the more opportunities they have to break the suspension of disbelief. Call it the "shopkeeper pot rule" -- if your game mechanics are powerful enough to allow the player to put a cauldron on top of a shopkeeper's head, you're not going to be able to script in the NPC reactions necessary to make that shopkeeper seem like a real person.

    17. I think we're talking about slightly different things. My context was what a hypothetical Ultima 7 clone should be, so I meant that NPCs should be written as if they're real people.

      Like how in U7 the shopkeeper has his private life, friends, after work activities - he's not just a random nameless shopkeeper, he is a specific person living his life there. And it's mostly done how they're written, dialogue and backstory, this also gives depth to the simulationist parts - i.e the daily schedules.

      Simulation compliments the writing. The player sneaks into some house for thievery and notices someone they know, and that guy is definitely not sleeping in his wife's bed.

      Of course it's important to have those simulationist NPC reactions to player's actions as believable as possible, but a big difference between a game in Ultima 7 spirit and a regular modern sandbox is how they write the NPC's and the towns.

    18. All of this reminds me of the gas mask in the Jek Jek Tar in Knights of the Old Republic 2.

      To avoid spoilers I'll put the rest of this in ROT-13.

      Va XbgBE 2, ba Ane Funqnn, lbh arrq gb tb vagb gur Wrx Wrx Gne, n abauhznaf-bayl one svyyrq jvgu n tnf juvpu vf qrnqyl gb uhznaf.

      Lbh chg ba n pbzcyrgr fcnprfhvg gb qb vg. Gura, va n cybg rirag, lbhe fcnprfhvg vf fgbyra naq lbhe gevc gb gur Wrx Wrx Gne vf znqr fvtavsvpnagyl zber hetrag. Lbh ner rkcrpgrq gb eha vagb gur Wrx Wrx Gne jvgubhg vg, fgneg gnxvat qnzntr, tb, "jnvg, guvf jnf n zvfgnxr, tnnu..." naq gura or gryrcnguvpnyyl gnhtug n Sbepr grpuavdhr gung cebgrpgf lbh sebz cbvfba juvyr qrcyrgvat lbhe Sbepr cbvagf nf ybat nf vg'f xrcg npgvir.

      Gur vgrzf ninvynoyr va XbgBE 2 vapyhqr n tnf znfx. Urnq fybg vgrz. Juvyr rdhvccrq, lbh ner vzzhar gb cbvfba. V gubhtug gurer jnf n fyvtug punapr gur tnzr jbhyq unaqjnir "gur tnf vf pbagnpg cbvfba, vg qbrfa'g znggre gung lbh'er abg oernguvat vg" naq n terngre punapr gung gur tnzr jbhyq fvzcyl tb "vg'f cybg-onfrq cbvfba, V pner abg sbe lbhe vairagbel." Va snpg...gur tnf znfx jbexf cresrpgyl. Vs lbh'er vzzhar gb cbvfba lbh pna fgebyy guebhtu gur Wrx Wrx Gne naq abg gnxr qnzntr.

      Ohg rirel ACP lbh zrrg gurer, vapyhqvat gur ivyynva jub jnf pbhagvat ba lbh qlvat sebz gur tnf, obttyrf ng lbh yvxr lbh ner vzzhar sbe ab ivfvoyr ernfba. V unq ab qvnybthr bcgvba gb fnl, "Vg'f orpnhfr V'z jrnevat n TVNAG SERNXVAT TNF ZNFX, vqvbg."

  7. The first anonymous comment was from me, sorry, not my standard device and was not logged in.

    Sorry to see you seem to struggle, because I like the game a lot. But I wonder if it might be the rare game which gets more fun on a subsequent playthrough when you have a general idea on what to do, especially when looking on your playtime. It definitely is shorter the second time.

    The end tends to drag a bit regardless.

    1. I really enjoyed the game back in the 90's, and finished it.
      I played it again last year and it seemed me a bit long, but not too much.
      Sadly my game ended with a game breaking bug at a point you will arrive soon. I hope that you wont suffer it.

    2. I've played this game through like 5-6 times but I still end up needing a walkthrough for some of these parts. The first half of the game is a breeze though.

    3. The problem with games this long is that they require some degree of focus over a sustained period, at least for me. A week is about as long as I can go between game sessions and still feel like I can pick up the game and not be lost. The odds that life is going to allow you to maintain focus for over 100 hours is pretty low--some combination of work, family obligations, vacation, or other factors is going to intercede.

      This is true to some degree of books, movies, and TV shows, too, but those things all have recaps and "previously on..." and other methods to re-orient you when you get back to them. Later in the 1990s, I suppose we'll start seeing examples of games that at least take notes while you play and allow you to look up quest summaries and such, but even into the modern era, I don't find games that do them well. I played Assassin's Creed: Valhalla a couple of years ago, and it took so long that by the last third of the game, I didn't remember any of the reasons I was doing the things I was doing. I was just following quest markers and fighting people I didn't understand.

    4. This always happens to me with all of the Assassin Creed games. I always forgot what the story was about and what was the characters motivation. To be honest, I actually don't think they're well-written. They have good production values, but there's probably a reason why I forget what the story was about midway into the game.

    5. Part of good game writing is addressing that challenge (the "how am I supposed to remember what was going on in a 100-hour game after going on vacation for two weeks?" issue). It's why some games feel like they're beating you over the head with reminders of plot points and character traits--it's not that the writers don't realize it's unsubtle and awkward, but they're speaking to the folk who are coming back for a break, not playing 20 hours in a weekend. Other games try to mitigate the issue with design fixes ("Previously On..." loading screens, detailed quest journals, etc.). Still others construct their stories so that, instead of delivering sweeping epics, they're oriented around bite-sized, standalone quests that can be played in whatever order.

      It's a challenge closely related to the issue of most players never actually finishing their games. How do you provide a satisfying narrative when 60% of the player base will just stop playing halfway through and never get back to the game?

    6. I think Valhalla was one of the better written Assassin's Creeds. The main issue for me is the incredible amount of filler and repetitiveness in the quests that blends everything together.

      The first time you storm a castle with your raiding party is a memorable experience, the 50th time you do it, it feels like busywork.

      In general, I hate the trend in modern AAA games to make them longer and longer.

    7. For me, the divide between gameplay and story in Assassin's Creed games is just too big. It's hard to focus on the story, if the gameplay doesn't compliment the story at all.

      It's as if the story and gameplay part are made by two different teams... which it probably actually is. The best thing about AC games is the level design - i.e Paris was actually very faithful to historical Paris. But the game doesn't really give you much interaction with the historical environment, you just run around from mission to mission, which all follow the same basic templates.

      Which is the same with all of AC games. Rome, The Caribbean, New York, London - the wonderfully recreated historical environments are just very expensive backgrounds to very basic games and to very basic stories.

    8. I thought the same thing as I explored the last few AC games. "This is all beautifully created; couldn't they USE this terrain more effectively?" But when I thought about it, I don't know what I would have wanted them to do. They seeded each area with a billion chests and collectibles and miscellaneous encounters. The last few games had side quests where you had to find a particular building from a description or from a photograph. And the mechanics let you climb up every surface and look at everything from every possible angle. I'm not sure what else I could have asked for.

    9. But if this terrain was in an RPG, you would actually feel as if you are in that city. What is it that RPG's do that creates that feeling?

      Ultima's and Bethesda games give NPC's daily schedules, so they're always moving around and doing their stuff. In Rivet City from FO3, they even go to church on Sunday (which I found very Ultimaish, btw). This definitely adds to immersion. But it's not just that. Because even RPG's with static towns, still manage to create that feeling like you are there.

      In AC, while I can climb and enter any building, I still feel like I'm not actually there in that historical environment.

      I think one reason might be that the missions in AC games are too generic to actually feel like it's part of the lore of this historical place.

      While even a three quest town, like Junktown from Fallout 1, has you interacting with the minimal amount of lore the town has and you already feel more immersed than the ultra-textured AC cities. You are engaging with the fictional world as it is, and not just running and jumping on top of it.

    10. What AC (and all Ubisoft games) lack is the capacity to surprise, particularly with gameplay. Which makes sense, since they're designed to deliver exactly the content you expect when you go to a particular icon. The easiest way to see an alternate path is with Elden Ring and Breath of the Wild/Tears of the Kingdom which are VERY similar to Assassin's Creed on the surface, even down to equivalents to the towers, but feel extremely different over the course of the experience because you often DON'T know what to expect and the games are still introducing new mechanics many hours in.

      Of course, one of the reasons Ubisoft games can't do this is because they're built top-down, assembly line style. When the top brass decides it's time for a game to ship, a "closer" comes in and cuts everything that's not up to quality or close to being done, and they have to knit the story together around what's left. This type of production doesn't lend itself to creativity on the part of the mission/level designers or any sort of team cohesion that could create the sense of immersive that Joshua describes.

    11. That is a wild assumption, and not all representative of the reality of Triple A developement. ACR's sidequests in particular, and even a number of main quests, are testament to the liberty and creativity that can be offered even in such a major release.

    12. I haven't played an AC game since the original because I found it utterly tedious. I could never quite put my finger on why, but this thread really explains it!

    13. I'm sorry, but I don't get that sense at all from AC games. They have their flaws, in particular often lasting too long, but I've found them lovingly crafted and very often surprising.

    14. AC2 is one of the best games I've ever played; anything after that's been a bit more disappointing unfortunately. They're just too much, I get lost in side quests and never finish the games.

    15. "But if this terrain was in an RPG, you would actually feel as if you are in that city. What is it that RPG's do that creates that feeling?"

      Subjectively, I think one aspect that helps with making a game world feel immersive (versus a game where the world merely seems like theatre backdrops) is if you traverse it slowly because it's "dense", and if you stay motivated to keep looking at details because the locations are not too large. If you enter one house, have a short conversation with an NPC with a unique face, find some hidden potion, find a secret wall with a hidden room with a little note that contains a hint or some lore, which is connected to some quest or lore that you already know about, then that's dense. The game balance should be such that these hidden items keep making a significant difference so the player stays motivated to look for them.

      If you run from one place to another in seconds, if there are too many NPCs to give each an individual face, if you only interact with some "points of interest" here and there but otherwise skip lots of locations (because entering every house would be ridiculously tedious), and if you skip looking for hidden items because you don't need them, that might make the world feel more empty.

      For this reason I prefer a city like Ultima VII's Trinsic, which has unrealistically few houses, to a city like Morrowind's Balmora, which is a bit more realistic but has lots of houses that you don't need to enter. Assassin's Creed is more in the direction of fast traversal and few points of interest.

      Regarding the disagreement about AC's capacity for surprise, note that Brent specifically talked about surprising gameplay and introducing new mechanics later in the game. It's not clear whether those of you who like the game might refer to narrative surprises instead.

      Ubisoft does have "Project Closers" (they have public job postings with that title), but AFAIK a dev team can avoid them if they're on track to meet their deadline. Of course that can be hard, and if you know that things might be cut ruthlessly, it's easier to make brilliant individual quests than to make a brilliant and cohesive story from start to end.

    16. I wasn’t even making a value judgment, just describing the reality of working at Ubisoft on one of these things. They can be fun games but this is why the game world doesn’t feel effectively used, just “seeded” as Chet puts it.

    17. Perhaps this will make my point clearer: at Bethesda individual designers are assigned areas of the game (or potentially questlines) and given a high degree of autonomy over those areas. They are empowered by tools to author every building, dungeon, NPC, dialog, etc. As a result these areas feel lived in and cohesive and the project takes maximum advantage of the whole team’s creativity.

      Meanwhile at Ubisoft a designer must primarily follow top-down directives and relies heavily on other people (artists, writers) to implement the gameworld and its contents. The director’s vision shines through and the missions/narrative of interest to them get adequate development time while the rest of the content has a sink or swim mentality.

      Of course, Ubisoft games take far less time to produce so this is a decent business decision. That said, they require thousands of developers - an order of magnitude more than work on a Bethesda project.

    18. Great insightful comments Brent and Bitmap! I have very little to add, but I just wanted to acknowledge what you said.

      When it comes to RPG cities, I think Britain from Ultima 7 is nearly perfect. It's just the right amount of big with individual characters.

      But many other types of RPG towns can also feel very immersive. Amn from BG2 is a top RPG city, but it's design philosophy is completely different (hubs, unique scenarios in each hub, etc.) from U7 Britain.

      But Novigrad from Witcher 3 feels more like an Assassin's Creed city to me, more like a background, whereas Skyrim cities (small and ridiculous as they are) make me feel more immersed.

      I do like it that Novigrad actually looks like a real European medieval city, like Danzig (which probably was the main inspiration). You walk around in Poland and that's exactly the same architecture you see in Witcher 3.

  8. Re Explosion: Even though it didn't work on the rubble in The Silver Seed, according to the Ultima Codex, in principle the spell should also be usable in this game to blast through doors and other obstacles.

    But given other bugs and inconsistencies, I guess it's possible it doesn't (everywhere).

  9. BTW, if any game breaking bugs should happen, there's always a solution. We'll figure it out.

    Va jbefg cbffvoyr fpranevb, lbh zvtug pbafvqre tbvat gb gur bssvpvny purng ebbz (yvxr gur bar va bevtvany Hygvzn 7) naq whfg tb shyy zrgn. Yvxr Zbagl Clguba naq gur Ubyl Tenvy. Gur onynapr jnf fb qvfgheorq gung rira gur 4gu jnyy jnf oebxra naq gur Ningne jnf ybfg oruvaq gur fgntr qrpbengvbaf...

  10. The sheer ham-handedness of having the automaton give you a quiz before facing a trial, and then having the trial be *the exact situations it just asked you about* is stunning. I know I played through Silver Seed back in the day, but I don't think I appreciated the clunkiness of the design at the time. It's like they didn't trust the player enough to think they could pass the test otherwise, which means you *redesign the puzzle*, not just make the player run through it once as practice.

    1. Yet they trusted the player to move every moveable object on the screen in case a key was under it.

    2. It's not Silver Seed anymore, it's just Serpent Isle content now.

      I think the clunkiness comes from when they decided to cut the plot and realized that there are no subtle hints for the player, so they went back and gave some characters very clunky puzzle solution related lines.

      Even the first conversation in the game tells you to find 3 items, but it's so unrelated to the early game content that you just go "huh?" and forget about it.

  11. It's remarkable how long it took to reach the same level of detail in a game again (Baldur's Gate 3 comes in mind).

  12. Have seen a lot of comments comparing Ultima and BG 3 lately, but I do not really get it. BG 3 does not even have day/night cycles let alone NPC schedules. It has a lot of reactivity but is pretty much missing the living world aspect. Something like Skyrim is closer to me.

    1. "BG 3 does not even have day/night cycles"


      I knew I liked very little I'd heard about it but I had no idea it was that bad.

    2. Not saving it is a bad game, it definitely has a lot of good in it, including reactivity to choice, background and different ways to solve problems. I just feel it is not really Ultima like.

    3. Yeah, not really concerned with Ultima like, but I am concerned with "doesn't have day/night cycles."

    4. I think Erik only brought up comparisons with Ultima because Larian Studios games are often compared with Ultima. And Swen Vincke is the only other currently active developer, beside Todd Howard, that still talks about Ultima. But I have to agree with Erik: whatever Swen Vincke is getting from Ultima 7 as inspiration doesn't translate to his games the way I'd recognize Ultima influence to be.

    5. 100FloorsOfFrightsAugust 6, 2023 at 4:10 PM

      I'd probably be enjoying BG3 a lot more if it would crash less frequently.

    6. I suspect(ed) the somewhat more muted activity on the blog these days (including Chet himself) is related to the Windows release of BG 3 ;-).

  13. The name 'Shartmannah' almost made spit out my coffee.

  14. Since you never had her in the party, I will talk about Petra. She's designed to be a temporary one-puzzle party member, somewhat similar to Sherry in U6.

    It's possible to get her in the party before dealing with Batlin. If the player is already exploring the temples and learns about the acid floor, the keyword for joining will already be there for Petra.

    She's obviously written to join after everyone dies, because she briefly mentions her grief and what a welcoming diversion it would be.

    You go to the room, you tell her to switch bodies, a somewhat amusing cutscene triggers, you walk through the acid and get the water and then you're meant to tell her to leave.

    My Avatar is female, but when I talked to Petra in her human form, she had the male Avatar face (the black dude, since I'm playing the black female). No, you can't stay in Petra's body. I tried. It has a time limit. After some time you'll be hit by lighting and the bodies switch back.

    When you try to train her in the List Field she will be hacked to pieces and the game will be stuck at battle screen. The "you lost, now learn" dialogue doesn't trigger with her.

    The Automaton party members in general freeze once they hit 0 hit points, maybe that's why. It's still possible to train her, but you need to cast "Mass Might" on her, so her chances of winning will be higher.

    She starts with STR 20, DEX 15, INT 20, COMBAT 7. Combat seems to be that one stat that actually matters in the game. 7 does just nothing, awkwardly walks around, occasionally throws her hammer. I've trained her to DEX 21 and CMBT 20 now.

    I am about the enter Spinebreaker Mountains with Petra in my party. I'll let you know if anything weird happens.

    1. You're making me realize that as we get into more complicated games during which I take only one of many potential paths, I should pair my entries with complementary entries from guest commenters who try other options. For now, I guess the comments will have to do, but thanks for adding so much flavor to these entries.


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. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

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?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

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.