Monday, August 15, 2011

Game 63: Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (1988)

I'm not entirely sure why my character is wearing a turban, but I'm cool with that.
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
United States
ORIGIN Systems (developer and publisher)
Released 1988 for Apple II, DOS, and Commodore 128; 1989 for Atari ST and Commodore 64; 1990 for Amiga, PC-88, PC-98, and Sharp X68000; 1992 for FM Towns; 1993 for NES
Remade and re-released as shareware in 1993
Date Started: 15 August 2011
Starting Ultima V was one of the most satisfying moments I've experienced in months of CRPG playing. It feels like coming home. You would think that it would be boring to play a series of four games (Ultimas IV-VII) in the same game world, but instead I find it enormously rewarding. Each game offers new hamlets, keeps, and dungeons to explore--not to mention cities that change over time--and yet you have comfortable familiarity with the the overall landscape. I don't know what I'm going to encounter in between, but I know how to get from Britain to Trinsic. Sometimes there's as much fun in exploring what's changed as there is in exploring what's new.

"When Britannia first, at Lord British's command, arose from out the azure main..."
This is particularly notable given that horrid things tend to happen to Britannia's world in between games. In Ultima I, the world was a collection of islands, but then there was a fused land mass in Ultima III (there was no Ultima II)--a land mass that looks nothing like the Britannia introduced in Ultima IV. The manuals explain these changes via tales of violent earthquakes, upheavals, and tsunamis following the deaths of Mondain and Exodus. (You wonder if it wouldn't have been better--all things considered--if the tyrants had just been allowed to rule.)

When we last left Ultima IV, 14 months ago, I had become the Avatar of Virtue, braved the Stygian Abyss, and uncovered the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom--just before Lord British unceremoniously drop-kicked me back through the moongate to my own world. I groused about that at the time, but I suppose expecting a parade or statue or whatever would show unforgivable pride. I'd have lost an eighth, and then Lord British would be back where he started, without an Avatar. This way, Britannia gets to say farewell to its idol before he has a chance to fall.

Between the game and the manual, we get a pretty cool main quest setup. On Earth, I awake in the middle of the night to a codex symbol shimmering over my bed, which resolves into an amulet. Figuring this for a sign, I leap out of bed, grab my ankh, and head for the circle of stones where the moongate first appeared prior to Ultima IV. Sure enough, another one pops up, and I jump through, arriving in Britannia looking pretty badass, if I do say so myself.

Notice how I don't even turn my head at the bolt of lightning.

I end up in a clearing. Shamino--my spiritual ranger companion from Ultima IV--comes dashing up, going on about worrying that the summoning wouldn't work, and someone named Blackthorn. Suddenly, these three guys that looke like Ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come appear. Shamino yells "Shadowlords!" just in time to get a magic bolt to the chest.

"I promise I shall keep Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year!"

I show my amulet and they fade away. I carry Shamino to a nearby hut, which turns out to be Iolo's. (This, in the 1980s, was the first time most players realized that Iolo was a man.) Iolo tells me what's going on: After the events of Ultima IV, Lord British had the dungeons sealed and the Codex raised from the Abyss, which apparently caused some kind of cataclysm below, leaving a vast cavernous area populated by horrid monsters. Some explorers came back with tales of dark creatures, so Lord British--for some reason--decided to personally lead an expedition into the underworld, and he was either captured or killed. His regent, Blackthorn, took over and became corrupted by the three mysterious Shadowlords. A tyrant, he has outlawed my companions from the previous game and introduced a perverted, draconian form of the eight virtues, with creeds such as "thou shalt not lie, or that shalt lose thy tongue" and "thou shalt humble thyself to thy superiors, or thou shalt suffer their wrath." Shamino and Iolo decided to summon me to rescue Lord British and end Blackthorn's evil reign.

This story--told in well-illustrated cut-scenes--is delightfully mirrored at the bottom of the main screen, using the actual icons and textures of the game. It's so cool in fact, that I'm going to let you watch it below.

I love the resoluteness with which I head to my chest and grab my sword and shield (00:32), and then pause to check myself in the mirror on the way out the door (00:49). The game is still tile-based, but the tiles are much more artistically composed than in IV (more on graphics later). At 01:28 we get the first hint of the sound in the game--the pattering of the waterfall--and while it's not great, I'm not going to turn it off, either. I'm not sure why Shamino looks like a pirate and Iolo looks like a Sikh, but what the heck, I value diversity.

We have to pause here to consider Lord Blackthorn. I didn't meet this fellow in Ultima IV, so it's a little odd that he's somehow risen to become the king of Britannia. I wish the creators had used an established character. Moreover...."Blackthorn?" Seriously? Lord British needs to form a support group with King "Let's-hire-an-advisor-named-Grima-Wormtongue" Theoden.

I wanted to transfer my Ultima IV character over, but since I last played that game, I somehow overwrote the file. No idea how that happened. So I created a new character from scratch. The game takes you through the same Gypsy-fortune-telling character-creation process as in the previous game, this time as a "memory" of what happened prior. The Gypsy woman asked slightly different questions, but I still came out with valor on top, which would have made me a fighter. I stared at the screen a bit and then said, "screw it, I wanna be a paladin" and re-did the questions, prioritizing honor. In case you're wondering, this is the one where I lied:

Despite the way the game words it, I refuse to see (B) as an "honorable" choice. It's more like choosing the lawful evil path.

Anyway, I finished up and got a quick recap of the previous game...

...and found myself in Iolo's hut, with a wounded Shamino. The two characters immediately join the party, so there's no opportunity to talk with them about the next steps. After healing Shamino a bit with a MANI spell (the game gives you a few starting reagents), I decided to head for the closest town to see what clues I could derive.

So far, the gameplay in Ultima V is just fantastic. I haven't played it in more than 15 years, and I had forgotten most of the features that make it so good. To recap some of the ones I've discovered so far:

  • You can interact with the environment in ways unavailable in Ultima IV, or indeed any game that I can think of up to this point. You can look at items ("thou dost see a hot stove"), take torches off the wall, search chests and barrels, shove furniture around, toss coins into wells, gaze into crystal balls, drink from fountains, and so on. When you move the character icon over beds and chests, the icon changes to represent the character sitting or lying down. If you step in front of a mirror, you see your reflection in the mirror. I love little touches like these. (I just realized that, for all its realism, Oblivion doesn't have any mirrors.)

The party moves a chair in front of the door and sits down to wait patiently.

  • The game has a day/night cycle, not just a moon cycle. At night, the game gets "dark" by not showing things beyond a certain radius around the party. NPCs have schedules tied to this cycle, going to bed at night and going to work during the day (or, sometimes, vice versa).
  • There are a lot more equipment items in this game. Ultima IV gave you a single weapon and suit of armor. Here, you've got helmets, gauntlets, boots, and the ability to wield a second (smaller) weapon like a main gauche or a spiked shield (doubles as a weapon and armor) in the off hand.
  • The combat screen is virtually identical to Ultima IV except that instead of attacking in a "direction," you actually target the enemy. You can target on the diagonal (thank god!), and you get more than one attack if you're dual-wielding. You can also identify an "active player" in combat, so you can move only one character at a time. Finally, in combat, enemies drop individual treasure rather than one group treasure at the end.

The party suffers at the hands of some skeletons.

  • The spell system is a little more complicated. You still mix reagents prior to casting spells (many of the combinations are the same as in Ultima IV), but the spells are arranged in eight "circles," increasing in power, and instead of one spell per letter, each spell is a combination of syllables. I'll cover the magic system in a later posting.

What hasn't changed is the best part of the old game: dialogue. The system by which you can talk to NPCs and type in keywords is entirely the same as in Ultima IV, except that I think they say more stuff. Also, HEALTH no longer works as a keyword.

Unfortunately, my initial gameplay was a bit inauspicious. I stupidly wandered out of Iolo's place in the middle of the night, found my way to what I assume was Loch Lake, and got blasted by a couple of cannonades from a pirate ship I couldn't even see. Retreating, I ran into a party of eight skeletons, who killed all my characters. At least, however, I find out what happens when you die:

Lord British rescues you and returns you to his old throne room in Castle Britannia, with all your hit points intact. I'm not sure if there's any disadvantage other than having to find your way back to where you were when you died.

That seems like such a lame way to begin, though, that I'm going to start over with a new character (I hadn't made much progress anyway). From what I've seen so far, this game looks like it's going to be great.



    But I'm a slow player and I haven't played U5 before, so I wouldn't be surprised if you complete it before me.

  2. Of course it's going to be great, it's Ultima V, possibly the greatest CRPG ever! It's also the first one I ever played and the one that I've compared every CRPG since to, with very few measuring up.

    1. Ha! On one of the Ultima IV posts, I posited that it is always the first Ultima game you play that will forever be top bar (for me, believe it or not, it was Ultima ][)

  3. Yay, Ultima! Have you given up completely on Star Command and Sentinel Worlds, then?

    Great write-up, but to be fair the Avatar looked like a sikh, too, untill he put on his armor. :)

    I'm looking forward to the next chapter, as I haven't actually played Ultima V myself.

  4. Ultima V is definitely one of the high points of 1980's CRPGs -- perhaps the highest point. Savor it. It's one of those rare gems that, within the limits of the technology of the day, does essentially everything right. Even better, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I'm not sure it's my absolute favorite CRPG of all time, but it's definitely on my Top-5 list even after almost 25 years of competition.

  5. Ultima V and VI seem to be available (along with all the manuals/info) from one of the most reputable abandonware sites. I will have to give this one a try. It will be interesting to play.
    Do you suggest playing IV first? This definitely seems to be an planned sequel.

  6. Good call on leaving the sci-fi games behind for now. We got a sense of them for the purposes of the mission of the blog, and if you feel like doing more on them, you can always return to them later. UV is certain to revitalize you :)

  7. Yay Ultima V!

    While I personally would also have chosen A for the gypsy's question, I think the reason that B is the more honorable choice is this: By choosing A, you are presuming your own judgement to be superior. It would be more honorable to choose B and accept the judgement of the king (or whoever it was who deemed this person to be a criminal). In this case, honor is not doing what you think is right, but what society or some other greater power thinks is right.

  8. Happy to see you finally play another "real" key game after a stretch of CRPG rubble cleaning. As others have said elsewhere, it's great to sense the passion in your writing when there is one.

    Also, apart from the Ultima Underworlds, I have somehow skipped over Ultima in my CRPG history, so looking forward to learn more about it.

  9. No Ultima 2??

    Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress

  10. Published by Sierra Online in 1982 (the only official Ultima not published by Origin) in fact it was Garriot's problems with Sierra that prompted him to create Origin.

  11. My favorite CRPG of all-time, and having played hundreds, that says a lot. Have fun!

  12. This is a game that I didn't play the first time around. Loved Ultima IV, but I was 12 or so when this came out, and wasn't able to purchase it. Came back to it in the mid 90's and liked it. But for other reasons was not able to get too far into it. But looking at the screenshots, makes me want to play it again. If I can get a copy, does it run well through dosbox without much fuss?

  13. A friend of mine had this game, and he liked to fib quite a bit. At one point he tried to make me believe that the major plot twist was that Blackthorn was really Lord British lol.

    I liked U5, but I preferred U4. My major beef with U5 was that the Commodore 64 version did not have any music whereas the previous had a beautiful soundtrack, probably the best ever for an RPG.

    Ultima II is a bit of an odd one in the saga. It actually takes place on Earth. So it was always a bit amusing to see Minax mentioned in passing in those "History of Britannia" texts from the Ultima manuals.

    So for all practical purposes, Ultima really begins with U4. From Akalebeth through Ultima III was basically about Richard Garriott learning how to program a CRPG (as he stated in a few interviews).

  14. The Addict knows there was a game called Ultima 2, but along with mitochlorians and Jar Jar Binks, the world is a better place if you pretend there wasn't.

  15. Yes! Ultima V was the first CRPG I ever played, and when I was 11 I thought the cloth map that came in the box with the disks was the coolest thing ever. The game also came with a little silver-colored plastic coin, I remember. I still love how slowly the story unfolds. I recently replayed the game, though I succumbed to the temptation of consulting a walkthrough, which I now regret. I will enjoy reading your posts on this one. And without giving anything away, I will say that dying and returning to Lord British's castle does have an impact on your stats--although the effect is subtle and well-done, as with everything else in the game. Enjoy!

  16. I really need to get back to this because I had done most of the game and then got distracted with something and haven't gotten back in a few months. I was probably about 70 percent of the way through, too.

    It really hits you with some cold water at the start, though, because as wondrous as all the new features are, it's probably the first Ultima that's actually hard at the beginning.

  17. CRPG Addict:
    Would it be possible to change the comments form for your blog from inline mode to either full-screen or popup mode? I've had a lot of difficulties with the inline comment forms on Blogger/Blogspot.

    I never played the Ultima games "back in the day". My cousin gave me an old DOS "Ultima I-VI Series" CD-ROM around 10 years ago. I finally sat down and played through Ultima I a year or two ago, and found it interesting to see which of the RPG concepts it pioneered were staples versus horribly outdated.

    I then launched into Ultima II and couldn't get into it at all. I might go back and try starting over with Ultima IV based on the comments here; I normally wouldn't be able to skip games in a series (I'm a bit OCD about that), but it sounds like Ultima IV and onwards may be on a whole different level (like Wizardry 6-8 versus 1-5).

    I also have a couple of the NES Ultima ports (III and IV I think?). It looks like maybe Ultima III on NES might be worth playing over the DOS version, but IV might be better on PC.

  18. HunterZ: Ultima IV is best on Sega Master System (8-bit console). The game is exactly same as computer versions, but NPC conversations are menu based and targeting enemies in battle is a lot better. Oh, and dungeons are not 3D, but they have the same battle rooms.

  19. Ultima V has always been a favourite of mine. Possibly one of the greatest games ever made, and the other Ultima that bettered it in my eyes was The Black Gate.

    I really ought to try Lazarus some day (if I can get a copy of Dungeon Siege).

    For those that have already played through the series, I would also recommend a very good LP by Nakar:

    And for those that don't get the no-ultima-2 thing, there's this:

  20. There is an upgrade pack for the DOS version of Ultima 5 which adds all the Commodore 128 music in midi format. You can download it from:

    I originally got Ultima 5 for free for the Amiga when I bought Wing Commander. Oddly it only had one very short piece of music for the entire game. Like Realms of Quest mentioned music in the Ultimas is an important part of the Ultima package for me as my first Ultima was U4 on the C64 which had different music for different sections.

    I've never really got very far with U5 but feel it's a lot tougher than U4. I only finished U4 last year for the first time though so it's maybe just me!

  21. Ahh.. Ultima 5. One of the greatest electronic RPGs EVER MADE.

    Nothing Bioware has done can even come close.

    And I actually LIKED the no music in the C64 version. It seemed to give the game an eerier, more lonely feel which really fits this game.

  22. This was my first-ever Ultima, and still one of my favorite games of all time; it took me 2 years to finish the first time in large part because I was having fun exploring. Finally, a game I can actually help with!

    Oddly, on the original (Apple II) version, the "Apparition" appears as a ghostly outline rather than Lord British... Since the game doesn't say outright that's who it is, I had no idea who it was until I played it on DOS many years late (I might have figured it was the Time Lord from Ultima II, not sure anymore).

  23. Great write-up of what I consider my favorite computer game of all time!

    If you want to play Ultima V on your iPad, check out!

  24. Hmm, wondering if I should have started with Ultima V first instead of IV when I last tried playing these.

    What I played of IV wasn't bad, but when used to much more linear gameplay was a bit too vague and hard to figure out.

    Plus these graphics and interface are closer to the Spiderweb Software Exile games I remember fondly. The manual even stated they were inspired by Ultima, but most of my exposure was discussions/walkthroughs of either the first Ultima or the last few(especially the 3D one, which had a website dedicated to fun ways to break sequence and build bridges out of scrolls, bottles, and sticks).

  25. I don't know about "greatest CRPG ever"--and I particularly disagree with Rufus about Bioware--but I suspect it will top my current list unless it gets really bad at some point. I particularly appreciate the environmental interaction. You don't get that even in most modern games.

    Nikolaj, I dumped SC and SW down to the end of my 1988 list and I hope to get back to them. I just don't have the time right now.

    Duskfire, absolutely play U4 first. It's hard to appreciate U5 without knowing some of the characters and the full story behind the Avatar. Plus, the changes in the gameplay are that much more noticeable and rewarding. It doesn't take that long.

    Keir, you make a good point. It does say that "thou dost BELIEVE him" to be innocent, rather than knowing it for certain. I could trust that the justice system will acquit him if he truly is innocent, but I've acted well in my own part. I still wouldn't make that choice, though, which is why I guess I'd be a lousy paladin.

    Yes, in case it wasn't apparent, I simply prefer to forget Ultima II.

  26. The Ultima moral code defines Honor mainly as keeping your word. The part of the question that makes choice B more "honorable" is the word "sworn": if it was just a matter of a bounty hunter turning in an innocent man to enrich himself, it wouldn't be "honorable" in the Ultima sense.

    A true Paladin would keep his promise to turn the suspect in, but wouldn't leave it at that. He'd try to make sure that there's a fair trial, and then testify on the suspect's behalf. This is probably what's in the suspect's best interests in the long run anyway. The man has a bounty on his head. Simply letting him go wouldn't protect him from other bounty hunters. Clearing his name in a court of law would.

  27. Well, prepare for playing Ultima VI! Which, in my opinion, is the best Ultima game ever, then it comes Ultima IV and then Ultima V.

    Oh, and the gypsy questions are for finding the virtue that you exceeds the most. So there is actually no wrong answer.
    Imagine this one: You promised that you would stay in your house to keep something very valuable for the family, and wouldn't leave while they're gone. But hours later, you see that the neighbor's house in front of you is burning, and you're the only one closest to him to aid their children and pets.
    Will you: A) Keep your promise and stay at home; or B) Sacrifice yourself for saving the people that could be in the house?

  28. I realize there's no "wrong" answer, but the answers determine what class you are. I wanted to be a paladin, so I manipulated my answers to elevate valor to the top of the list.

    (B) in your example, obviously, but I'm not sure it exemplifies sacrifice as much as valor.

  29. Interesting blog so far. Nice to see you go in depth with each game instead of just regular LP. I'll be following your progress with great interest.

    Do you plan to play the fan remakes (Ultima V: Lazarus and The Ultima 6 Project) at some point?

  30. I might. As I get into the 1ate 1990s, I'm going to have to make a decision about Indie CRPGs and fan remakes and such (for which I'll need the advice of readers). Lazarus certainly sounds interesting enough to check out.

    "Interesting blog so far?" After 18 months, if I haven't hit a stride, I probably never will.

  31. 1) How do you exit the battle screen after a battle esp. in sea battles??

    2)my horse always disappears even if i leave it next to a post is there a trick to it?

  32. 'Nym, looks like you have to hit ESC to exit after sea battles. On land, you can either do that or walk them off the screen.

    I didn't have any luck holding on to the horse either. Fortunately, the magic carpet makes horses superfluous.

  33. I have a nice little backlog of UV posts to read. This one was enjoyable as usual, looking forward to the rest!


  34. The Dread Pirate RodgersDecember 7, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    Ah, Ultima V, my first CRPG ever. I guess you could say it started MY addiction. I'd put this as my 2nd favorite Ultima, right after 7, and fourth all time, right after Ultima 7, Fallout 2, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands.

    The biggest trouble with this game is a general lack of HP at higher levels.

  35. The funny thing about your character creation process... no matter what you options you chose, your class will still be the Avatar!

    1. Does it affect the balance of attributes and magic, though?

    2. Yes, your answers do determine stats. Answer too many Honesty questions and your character while an "Avatar" will have stats similar to a mage and thus not be a great choice to be in slot #1.

      I just ran a test to be sure and created a new character focusing on Valour and his strongest attribute is Strength and is different in DEX and INT from the character I previously had.

    3. Thanks for clearing that up after two years. I shouldn't have left the question hanging.

    4. As I recall in this game (and U6), your attributes get a +1 each time you choose the related principle. So Compassion is DEX, while Justice is DEX and INT. Naturally, this makes Spirituality the min-maxer's choice with Humility the dump-virtue.

  36. Hi all, I'd like to post a question - hopefully this isn't heresy. I have never played the game and want to now -- even holding off reading the Addict's posts until after. I am trying to decide whether to play the original in Apple II emulation or the lazarus remake. I lean toward the former. opinions please?

    1. I'll let people who've played the Lazarus remake (I haven't) give you opinions on that, but from what I read about it, it's fundamentally a different game. I guess it boils down to why you want to play. Two considerations:

      1. If you want to experience a true old-school CRPG in its native interface (which is still a LOT of fun), play the original.

      2. If you're going to continue playing the series after U5, I'd recommend playing the original because going to U6 after the modern Lazarus interface might be a bit jarring.

      Again, those who have played it can list the advantages of playing the modern version.

    2. Heh, personally I found that going to U6 after the original U5 to be jarring, mostly due to the small, claustrophobic view area.
      U5 is fine in it's original form (but why choose the Apple version instead of the DOS version?), but for U6 I'm waiting for one of the remakes to be finished.
      I haven't played the Lazarus version of U5 yet, but from what I've heard it adds lots more dialogue, but the combat is weaker.

    3. I don't remember U6 that well, but I think I found it "intimate" rather than "claustrophobic."

  37. Thanks so much for the response, gentlemen. I just like the applewin emulator and am used to it, no particular reason to prefer it to dosbox I guess. I have decided to play the original version for the full old school effect.


  38. It would be idiotic to hire as your counselor a guy called Wormtongue, but - to be fair to poor ol' Theoden - this wasn't the guy's actual name. He was simply Grima, son of Galmod. Wormtongue is just a moniker he has acquired because of his behaviour and dubious loyalty. Gandalf even tells him something along the lines of 'Grima son of Galmod, a witless worm you have become'.

    This isn't exactly relevant to the article, but ever since I've read Tolkien's novel in the original Klingon (lol) - which is quite a chore if you're a not-native English speaker - I've developed an urge to talk about Lord of the Rings. Sorry :)

    1. I did always wonder about this. In general, though I like the films, I'm disappointed at how much they require the viewer to know the books to truly understand them.

    2. There's nothing to "understand" about the movies. They have no depth; they are visually impressive action movies made to get wild cheers from 13 year old boys in the movie theater.
      I'd say not knowing the books will make you appreciate the movies more. Then you can just enjoy them as mindless entertainment.

  39. I'm surpised no one has commented on that even after a long time. I'm still cathcing up with the whole blog after recently finding it...

    Valor makes you a fighter. Honour is Paladin.

    Greates blog ever!


    1. Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking. I got it write in the main text but wrong in the comments.

  40. Hope you don't mind me resurrecting an old thread.

    I'm replaying U5 myself now, and it's fun, but you mentioned gauntlets and boots in the equipment list. I don't remember those at all.

    1. Either do I. I have no idea why I wrote that.

  41. Time for the console perspective on this title! Let me begin by saying it's by far the worst Ultima game due entirely to the controls. The graphics are drab, and the one track of music is grating. Other than that, the core story is the same. I'll go post by post and comment on the differences.

    None of the environmental interactions made it. I futilely attempted to search barrels and crates for the first couple of towns. If items are available, they're clearly visible on the floor or tables. The day/night cycle and NPC schedules were kept. Equipment is limited to armor, weapon, and shield. Additional items like talismans, the boat, and the carpet take up a hand to use, which forces me to not carry my weapon while flying or boating.

    Combat is in psuedo-real-time action on some internal game tick that's very noticeable. Dual-weilding is possible, but unhelpful due to this. Readying an action (selecting an item from the hand to use) pauses the game. Dying has the same effect, an image of Lord British brings you back to his castle with half the Avatar's experience taken as payment.

    Dialogue is in the from of a menu of choices. Some choices are hidden until you've spoken to other characters or talk about the right topic.

    One of the most notable changes with this port is the developer wasn't Pony Canyon. All credits are attributed to Origin staff, and as far as I can tell, it was only released in the US. I'm not sure why the shift was made, but some inexperience with the console explains the deep cuts to the game and lack of quality. It feels terribly rushed.

    The introductory story was paired down to simply, "the Avatar was summoned," followed by the same events of Shamino being injured, and arriving at Iolo's hut. Iolo explains Lord British's disappearance in the underworld while Blackthorn took over in his absence. Months later the shadowlords appeared, and with their influence the virtues were corrupted. The quest, to find and rescue Lord British.

  42. Ultima V was the first time a Game's AI blew my mind.  (The version I played was the C64 one, which had been overtaken in the graphics department by the PC version, but still had the superior sound and music.)

    I was already impressed by the fact that all the NPCs had schedules — sleeping at home, going to their workplace during the day, and eating lunch at the tavern.  Being a typical gamer, it was inevitable that I would decide to mess with them, sooner or later.

    Knowing that characters could not pass each other in a single tile, I rode my horse to the spot in front of the tavern entrance and dismounted, leaving the horse as an impenetrable barrier, while I stood nearby and snickered, awaiting the chaos to come.  As I expected, when the time came for the townsfolk to adjourn to the tavern for their mealtime, the NPCs started piling up in front of the door, unable to squeeze past my horse and reach the tavern entrance.  But then the unexpected happened: suddenly a town guard walked in from off-screen, purposefully made his way to my horse, and PUSHED it over by one tile, thus clearing the obstruction and restoring public order for the poor NPCs.

    I was staring, slack-jawed.  Mind. Blown.

    In retrospect I understand, of course, that pretty much the INSTANT they started play-testing the game, the previously unheard-of level of interactivity in the world would inevitably lead to players breaking absolutely everything in the world, even if they DIDN'T deliberately set out to do it, like I did.  The need for some kind of obstruction-clearing mechanism would have become painfully obvious within five minutes on day 1 of testing — but at the time I simply could not BELIEVE that the game had thought of EVERYTHING to the point of being able with my deliberate attempts to mess things up.

    That moment has stuck with me to this day, and has been joined by precious few others of a similar magnitude.

    1. That's a pretty cool recollection, Sebstian. Thanks for sharing it. It goes to show that half the fun of the latter Ultima titles is in screwing around to see how the engine handles various actions.

  43. Ultima V! I've been looking forward to this, especially having seen that it still tops your highest rated list. I played it on an Apple IIc when it first came out in 1988 and it's still possibly my favourite game. It's so atmospheric! I still play the DOS version every couple of years.

    Re Iolo being male: I'm not sure about ULtimas I-III, but in IV you can see character genders on the stats screen.

    A quick comment about importing characters: I remember importing my level 8, unenlightened ranger from Ultima IV and ending up starting Ultima V with a level 5 fighter instead of the level 3 avatar that results from starting from scratch. Probably my one complaint with the game is the scaling back of character classes to fighter, bard and mage - it's a real drag having a main PC who can't cast any magic.

    Penalties for dying: on the Apple version, at least, party death meant losing half your experience, which became a pretty big setback later in the game and made underworld exploration particularly tense.

  44. As a kid, I would have wanted to play this on an Apple. Look at the graphics. Look at the vivid colors.
    As a kid, I did play this on the C64. I'm glad I did.

    Atmosphere. The game imposes its atmosphere on you. The tone is dark. Words like "brooding" and "heavy" come to mind. You are an outlaw — not in some bright, dusty, western town. You are an outlaw in a grey, dark, unhappy, world ruled by an authoritarian tyrant as overseen by mysterious and seemingly invulnerable and invincible shadowy figures.

    You’re sneaking past guards. You’re rendezvousing at midnight in a forest. You’re whispering passwords. You’re abandoning whatever plans you had whenever an “air of…..surrounds thee.”

    Muted colors suit this world. Likewise, music is a mere wistful memory. Take comfort in the sound of waterfall. Otherwise, listen to the ticking of the clock as you go to work each day, hoping that this nightmare end the King returns.

    Perhaps it was because my family knew Soviet Communism, perhaps because it was the late 80s and the hope of better things was starting to be realized — whatever it was, I walked in the world created by Ultima V. It’s a great game, and a game that I think is better served by the limitations of the C64.


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