Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ultima V: You Don't Know What We Can See

Fantasy will set you free.

I did the coolest and stupidest things today. While dithering around trying to think about exactly what to do next, I decided to head back to Lord British's castle and see about that magic carpet I had been told about. I figured it would be in his private chambers on the top of the castle. When I got there, the guard that had thrown me off a few days ago was gone, but I found that the door was surrounded by a magic lock. I read in the manual that the IN EX POR spell would defeat such locks, but although I had the reagents to mix some, I didn't have enough levels to cast it.

Just as I was about to leave, I took notice of a cannon on the ramparts south of me. On a whim, I tried pushing it, and I found I could move it away from the ramparts and towards the door. One shot, and...

God, I love cannons.

Entering the chambers, I was able to (g)et the magic carpet in the doorway, which provides me transportation around mainland Britain faster than any horse, a way across swamps, and coastal transportation easier than a skiff. Awesome! And all because of a chance encounter in Paws.

But that's not all. Inside Lord British's chambers, I found a harpsichord, and remembering that Kenneth (from the lighthouse) had told me that "Stones" is Lord British's favorite song, I looked to my notes for the sequence and gave it a play. This caused the screen to shake and a secret door to open in the northern part of the chamber. Inside was a "sandalwood box." I forgot exactly what it's for, but I do remember I need it for the end of the game.

The fireplace in the room held--predictably--a secret passage behind it, and I decided it wasn't "stealing" to take stuff from Lord British's chambers specifically to rescue him, so I got a scroll of AN TYM (negate time) and a black potion (don't know what it does).

Just as I was congratulating myself for a game well-played, guess what happened. I decided to (k)limb up to the rooftop using the ladder. There's a telescope there, and at nightfall I was able to see a bunch of planets and comets or something. I'm not 100% sure what this is telling me:

Heading downstairs, I found that...goddamn it. The door is magically locked again. Remember what I said yesterday about levels re-setting when you go up and down? I didn't have a cannon inside the room, and I was no more capable of casting IN EX POR than five minutes earlier. Even if I was willing to reload a saved game, I couldn't--for some reason, I had chosen to save it on the roof.

Thus, I made the worst decision for my party that I have ever made in a CRPG: I stood in the fireplace until all of my characters burned to death. Just imagine what that must have been like for them.

We awoke, shrieking and traumatized for life, in Lord British's throne room. Again. Is there any maximum for these things?

But, anyway, wheee! I have a magic carpet. (It seems a little unfair that I got to keep it.)

Something...something...calamari...something. Look, I just died in a fire, all right?

After that, I decided it was time to spend some serious effort restoring my lost experience (I think I have less than when I started the game), equipment, and food. Xyzzy suggested yesterday that I do that by visiting dungeons instead of grinding against bridge trolls, so I thought I'd give it a try. I had Words of Power for both Despise and Wrong, and I remembered from Ultima IV that Despise was in the mountains north of Britain. With a little exploration and a couple of gems, I found it and (y)elled the Word of Power to open it up.

I'll spend more time talking about the dungeons later. For now, I'll just note that the dungeon textures are much better than in the previous game--though still not up to the quality of, say, Dungeon Master. A plaque near the entrance proclaimed that I was in "THE MAZE OF LOST SOULS." Ooooh. Anyway, long story short: the dungeon had virtually nothing in it except pits that I kept falling down, bats (who give you no treasure), and gremlins (who steal your food). No rooms or treasure chests or anything.

So after stocking up on food to replace what the gremlins stole, I took my magic carpet north to the coast above Yew to find the dungeon Wrong. On the way, I popped by the Shrine of Justice and meditated. I didn't realize that this game doesn't require you to find the runes before using the shrines. After meditating, I was given a quest to go to the Codex and "learn of the weakness of the unjust."

I'm the Avatar! Why do I have to prove myself all over again?

The Dungeon Wrong was completely different than Despise. Instead of a "cavern" texture, it had more of a "dungeon" texture--bricks instead of cave walls, with skeletons hanging from manacles. There were rooms in this dungeon, and they had a kind-of "jail" theme. I soon found that, unlike Ultima IV, dungeon rooms in Ultima V do not respawn--at least, not while you're still in the dungeon. Many of the rooms offered good opportunities for level grinding--especially the ones that allowed me to attack through windows with missile weapons, while the enemies just sat there helplessly. By using the feature to "set active character," I could ensure that the character who most needed the experience points got them.

Like shooting rats in a locked jail cell.

The dungeon stopped being fun when I nearly got beat up by some ghosts, so I returned to the surface to camp and see if I could increase in levels. I'm pretty sure that the apparition of Lord British takes care of that when he appears, but he didn't show up the first night I tried it.

I might spend a little more time in Wrong and then start making my rounds of the towns and following up on leads.

Today, I did part of my playing on an airplane, and the guy next to me--he seemed about 20--was utterly baffled as to why I would play a game so old. I tried to suggest that it was no different than watching old movies, or listening to old songs, but he clearly didn't do that sort of thing, either, so I had to give up.


  1. Not all of us twenty-somethings are so uncultured.

  2. Great move with the cannon - I loved using the gunpowder kegs in U6.

    My sons (9 and 13) struggle to understand why I would play Ultima games though they did see me watching an Eye of the Beholder II youtube video and thought that looked quite good. They are used to Oblivion quality visuals I guess. I'll keep working on them though.

    You're right about the LB apparition and levelling but he won't always appear when you rest - I think it's random.

  3. I'm certain I had to pull the same roasting-our-way-out-of-the-room trick when I played U5, too. Good thing that fireplace is there! I believe I had to use the cannon on the guard, too, though.

    Somewhere in the game there's an astronomer that clues you in on Britannian cosmology, but suffice to say that there are 8 planets, 8 virtues, 8 towns, and 3 shadowlords.

  4. I think that graphics advanced too far, too fast, and outstripped all other gameplay elements. That resulted in spoiling the current generation so that whatever doesn't look like GTA4 or Oblivion is too primitive to bear.

    That said, those of us who witnessed the slow progression from b/w to CGA to EGA to VGA and beyond see games like Ultima 5 in a light of both nostalgia and rediscovery, and probably even subconsciously prefer those graphics (which are surprisingly effective and appealing). I'm 31, and I would say that my artistic pinnacle was the VGA hand-drawn adventure games of the 90s, generally the LucasArts and Sierra.

    However, I think that graphics have finally plateaued somewhat, and other gameplay elements are finally being explored. I will betray a console bias when I cite games like L.A. Noire, Mass Effect 2, Limbo, Deux Ex: HR, and numerous others that are finally moving in different directions besides "WOW graphics (let's shoot stuff!)"

  5. Iolo: "Avatar! Help me Quickly! I am on fire! I am burning I am burning ARRRGH!"
    Avatar: "Hush Iolo, it will be over soon... it will all be over soon..."


  6. I never have played Ultima V all the way through... it's a tough game to beat. You're really making me want to fire it up though, what an awesomely deep and layered game it is!

    I think that playing it back in the day would have been an annoyance, especially on the Apple IIe. It came on 8 floppy disks and it had to load code segments from disk occasionally because there was insufficient RAM for the entire core engine. They also took some creative shortcuts in game code-wise that makes for some odd balance issues in combat. (I'd say more, but I don't want to give you any spoilers.)

  7. Perhaps the young man's age was immaterial. There are plenty of people my own age--some who I even consider quasi-"friends"--who would balk at watching a black and white film.

    'brain, that's pretty much how I pictured the scene, too. There literally was no other way to get out of the room. To make it worse, picture Iolo watching his WIFE burn to death right next to him.

    Adamantyr, you hit the nail on the head. As much as I like these old games, I'm not sorry that I can play them in DOSBox on a stable operating system. I remember playing some of them on my C64, and everything was always going wrong--floppy disc corruptions, disc drive crashes, plus the constant amount of disc swapping.

    I'm curious what you mean about the combat, but please remember to tell me at the end.

  8. Call me crazy, but I find the Ulitma V graphics very appealing. They are very colorful and functional. And perhaps most importantly, you can pretty much tell what everything is. Try playing some of the early semi 3d games. Examples the come to mind include Betrayal at Krondor, and some of the Tex Murphy Adventure games. I replayed both of these recently, and had a lot of trouble telling what certain things in the world were supposed to be. It took me awhile to be able to spot chests in Betrayal, and there were all kinds of items in Tex that I might spot, but couldn't tell what they were until I moused over them. Some of this may be playing these games on low resolutions on a much bigger screen than intended. But still for this reason I look and Ultima V and find it beautiful.

  9. SER, it's a good point and I agree. Ultima V is probably the pinnacle of the isometric tile-based games in both the variety of the terrain and objects and the ways in which you can interact with them.

  10. If I saw somebody playing Ultima on an airplane I would shake their hand. But I always just get crying babies and smelly people.

  11. I'm thinking about starting a travel blog just to write about things like this. TSA ought to ask, "did you take a shower this morning?" as a mandatory question and refuse to board people who clearly did not.

    I wish people would consider their fellow travelers' comfort when they decide how to dress for the flight. Tip #1: If you're not an attractive female, absolutely no one wants to see any of your exposed skin except heads and hands.

    1. I was enjoying your blog, esp the U5 and Wasteland entries, and then happened upon this comment. Casual sexism, or what?

    2. Yeah! I'd like to think certain men and women wouldn't mind seeing me outside a full body covering.

    3. We have a fairer sex and a not-so-fair sex. Deal with it. To be fair (in another sense), demanding no exposed skin for the non-fairest members of the fairest sex is probably taking it too far... but still... iI prefer that that comment be seen as aspirational rather than outrageoud..

  12. I remember first playing Ultima V and was completely blown away how much improved it was over U4. I was shocked when Blackthorn killed Shamino. If I remember right, he basically kills whomever is in the second slot.

  13. That makes sense. That person is clearly your "number two"--probably your best fighter.

  14. Digeus Registry Fixer I use it when there are problems with windows. I also recommend to use Windows Tune Up Suite. It restores system to a healthy state.

  15. My view of things is understandably skewed by what I grew up with (I was 13 when Baldur's Gate came out, and very impressionable), but to me there was a definite technological "sweet spot" in RPGs when it comes to graphics... An era when they were still simplistic enough to churn out a lot of and allow for huge amounts of content, but attractive enough that they don't look ugly or overtly primitive today.

    For me that era roughly fell between Fallout and Arcanum...

  16. I have not played this game, nor any other Ultimas, but I just want to ask: Why didn't you use your magic carpet to fly out from the rooftop? Or isn't that possible?

    1. Not possible, unfortunately. I guess the magic carpet just skims the ground, because you can't fly over even simple barriers like rocks. In this case, the castle ramparts form a "wall" around the rooftop.

  17. Here is the thing: I absolutely could not figure out how to get the sandalwood box. I spent days of real world time spinning all over the place, even disintegrating everything I could, to break in there.

    I always knew the harp was there, but I never figured out that you could actually play them. Sitting down and pressing the number keys plays the notes. I just couldn't grok that. A few months later, "Family (And Home Office) Computing" published hints for Ultima V and said "play 678 987 8767653 on the harpsichord in Lord British's Chamber." Holy cow, I had it! Enough trial and error and I figured out I could play it! (I still remember those notes. Go look up "Stones" on YouTube for some awesome renditions.)

    The other cool thing about the chamber was that the carpet was lying right there and the first few times I visited it, I totally disregarded it.

    Covetous and Wrong have some excellent Dungeon Rooms to farm. You can usually keep one enemy alive. And with Invisibility Rings . . . well, you can just crush dragons in one hit.

    1. It's a non-obvious dynamic. At no other place in the game do you suddenly start pressing otherwise-unused keys just because of where you happen to be sitting.

    2. But an NPC in the game WILL tell the player to do just that. And you obviously CAN play it on any harpsichord. Only the one in British's room will net you anything though.

    3. Sure, Kenneth tells you to play on the harp. But the normal ways of interacting with objects don't work on the harp. You can look at it, try to push it, search it. None of the instruction manuals indicate that the number keys can be used there.

    4. Kenneth tells you exactly how to play it though down to the buttons to press.
      Tim the bard from Empath Abbey will tell you that playing the Stones on an instrument fit for a king has been rumored to produce magical results.
      I don't know why I'm necro commenting on this but here I am.

    5. Kenneth tells you which keys to press to play the notes, yes. He doesn't tell you that you can start playing them the moment the party icon changes to show the character sitting down in front of the instrument, with no other interface action, like "use," necessary in between.

      I'm not a fan of the term "necro commenting." None of my entries are ever "dead." We have lively discussions on some of them for years. Why you chose to do it to perpetuate someone feeling bad about an understandable mistake in a 30-year-old interface is, I agree, a bit of a mystery.

  18. NES version differences continued:

    There's no interaction with objects, no way to push anything. The doors to the magic carpet merely require the lockpicks, although the sandalwood box requires stones music sheet to be used on the harpsichord. (Just equip and use.) Recognizing the harpsichord for what it is was the most difficult part of getting the box. The telescopes do nothing. :(

    1. You mentioned earlier that the Shadowlords are never in towns, so that telescope is thus unnecessary.

  19. Hey Addict, I have to ask: do you consider browser-based PHP games to be CRPGs? I never played the Ultima games proper, but the more I go through these entries, the more I'm reminded of Neoquest (2001) and Neoquest II (2004).

    If you can stomach the shame of making a Neopets account in the year 2018, they might be worth your time -- I can guarantee that they're better than at least some of the games you've played so far.

    1. It's not so much that I don't consider them RPGs as it seems unlikely that they'll still be around by the time I get to them.

    2. Neoquest and Neoquest 2 are awesome! Definitely enjoyed beating them as a kid (with guides of course)

  20. I wondered whether you would climb that ladder and get locked in LB's chamber - that happened to me when I got in the first time. Did you think to grab a second magic carpet while you were there? I found it handy to have a backup in case I inadvertently got off the carpet while hovering over a trapdoor...

    I don't remember combat in the Apple version being any different from the DOS version. There is a version somewhere that allows the same type of weapon to be equipped in each hand - having 12 magic axes in play would probably affect balance a bit, but I've never figured out which system that was on.

    Apart from having fewer colours and the option for music, the only functional difference I remember is that the Apple version didn't allow you to view the karma meter. Oh, and I was never able to retrieve characters who'd been left at the inn. I also had a corrupted dungeon disk - I could open them with the words of power, but the game would hang if I tried to enter.

  21. Hythloth is a Word?March 10, 2022 at 7:34 PM

    Re: graphics.
    I was so turned off by Ultima VI's graphics (on the C64) that I quit the game. Too colorful. Seeing all of your party -- too clunky.

    What I love about U5's graphics is they are clean enough for you to recognize what you were seeing; but not so explicit as to deprive you of your imagination. Imagination is especially important with an atmospheric game like U5. You need to feel the threats, be it the threat of the expansive landscape and its monsters, or more importantly, the oppressive threat of the regime. Life in Britannia is heavy and dark. The darkness is your imagination's breeding ground; it's a place to grow beyond what Garriott et al put on the screen.

    Re: Lord Kenneth.
    If I recall correctly, his is the only conversation that you can't quit. You have to learn the notes. You can't say goodbye and leave. If you don't learn the notes you sit at the harpsichord until you do or until you turn off the computer. I know because, well, my young mind couldn't readily follow what he was trying to teach. I wanted to get up, explore some more, and then return later. Good thing I eventually learned. Otherwise...pull up a chair, it might be awhile.

  22. Even if we've been able to loosen a lot of technological constraints that limited things like old movies and video games, I think the human artistry of, well, art, is timeless, and that it's better to view art as something cumulative rather than... I don't know a specific word for it, but the type of system where old things are discarded and replaced with new things.

    This is, incidentally, also why I'm rather leery of the concept of a linear progression in things like games over time. I think looking at it as exploring more and more of a figurative space makes more sense, if we're likening the evolution of games as a medium to travel.

    Sincerely, someone who's probably actually younger than that person was (turning 28 just about half a month from this posting).


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