Friday, September 2, 2011

Ultima V: Finishing Up on the Surface

I am not a fan of sea battles.

Every once in a while, I get obsessed with the idea that I'm not playing a game "right"--that I've broken the natural order. I realize this conflicts with my preference for non-linearity, but there it is nonetheless. The last time I played Oblivion, I was about 40 hours into it before I realized I hadn't gone to Anvil yet. I don't know why this bothered me--there was no role-playing reason why I should have gone to Anvil yet--but it just seemed like in previous games, I had somehow gotten to Anvil a lot sooner. It nagged me.

There are a few others. Like in Baldur's Gate II, something feels wrong if I don't solve the Copper Coronet slave quest early. In Might & Magic VI, I just have to go to Castle Ironheart within the first few hours. In Morrowind, if you play the factions in a certain order, you can end up on a quest inside the Ghostfence way before it feels like you ought to be visiting the place. Do you have anything like this, or am I just crazy?

In any event, from the beginning, it feels like I've been playing Ultima V wrong. I tried to role-play it by following Lord British's path early, but I don't think I was "meant" to go into the Underworld until much later. Now I've compounded the error by doing pretty much everything there is to do on the surface before really exploring a single dungeon. And I did all the shrine quests at once instead of spreading them out over the gameplay. I've visited every town, but my characters have only risen a couple of levels. I've talked to every person I can find, but I've yet to cast a single spell except for AN NOX (cure poison) and MANI (heal). It's like I ordered a steak dinner, but I ate all the vegetables before eating all the mashed potatoes before eating all the steak. You're supposed to spread it out a little.

So now I've gotten myself into a situation in which pretty much the only thing to do is go exploring all of the dungeons in succession, with occasional trips to towns for equipment. I'm not complaining, but it just feels...wrong.

For those not interested in my roleplaying angst, here are the things I've accomplished since I last blogged.

  • Thanks to reader DGM for pointing out that my lost magic carpet re-appears in Lord British's private quarters. I went and got it immediately. I'll just pretend that Blackthorn gave it back to Lord British's steward, knowing that it didn't belong to him. Yeah.

My poor party trembled and wailed when they saw the fireplace and the charred remnants of their own bodies within.

  • I visited Sir Simon's keep, Bordermarch, hidden amidst some mountains west of the main continent. This was a valuable trip for several reasons. First, I learned that I need Lord British's crown, crown jewels, scepter, and amulet to rescue him from the underworld. I have the crown and amulet. I haven't even gotten a clue about the jewels, and the scepter (which dispels fields) apparently resides in the Shadowlords' fortress. Not sure where that is. The crown, incidentally, turns out to negate magic when I put it on in combat. I'm not sure whether this negation stops daemons from summoning each other or possessing my characters, but that sure would be nice.
  • While looking around for Sir Simon's, I found the "Island of Sherlock the Strange." No idea what this is about. I searched it and didn't find anything useful.

I don't want to look at spoilers, but I would really love to know what this is about.

  • In Bordermarch, I also finally found Dupre--I had been wondering where he was--and a character named Sentri joined me. The name seemed familiar, so I searched my notes and found that he's the guy who sold me the Quicksword in Ultima II and was the baron of Serpent's Hold in Ultima IV. Unfortunately, both characters are fighters--including Dupre, who as a paladin had some magic points in IV. My only major character from IV that I haven't found is the mage Mariah. I'm probably going to drop Sentri for Jaana in a bit, because I need more of a pure spellcaster.

If only Shamino were here, my party would feel complete.

  • There's a store in Bordermarch that has some awesome equipment, including magic shields, magic bows, regeneration rings, and amulets of turning. I know where I'm going after I max out on magic axes.

I wouldn't mind knowing how, precisely, he knows this.

  • The game kind-of screws you over with guards. Several times, in towns, I've been approached by guards who demand a 70-gold-piece tribute. If I capitulate, I'm a wuss. But if I say no, I get launched into a combat that I can't possibly win. I've generally done a good job of avoiding guards (especially with the carpet), but sometimes I've accidentally run into them.
  • The shrine quests were a bit repetitive. Each one required me to first meditate at the shrine, then go to the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom on the Island of the Abyss and read about the associated virtue, then return to the shrine. At this point, I got increases in strength, dexterity, or intelligence depending on the virtue. When I finished the last one, I got a message that: "Beyond Shame's egress is the center of the Underworld. There is a place of darkness. Beyond this darkness lies the gate to the core of the world. When thou art ready, thou must call forth 'Veramocor' to unlock the gate and venture past ethereal wards and stealers of souls. That which the world has lost awaits thy coming."

And I interpreted it without consulting the guide once. I feel like those people who learn to speak Klingon.

  • I'm not sure the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom really lives up to its name. All that it offers are mediocre platitudes about living a virtuous life, like some alternate-dimension edition of The Eight Habits of Highly Virtuous People.

Yoda said it better.

  • An urn containing Shamino's ashes apparently has found its way to the Codex, though. It appears there and at every shrine--a constant reminder of my failure. Thanks, Codex.

I almost want to find out what happens if I keep going back to Blackthorn's and getting characters executed. Do I get a whole line of urns?

  • I'm getting very, very sick of sea battles. I don't have much in the way of missile weapons, so I have to pelt the monsters with slings or wait until they deign to come within striking distance of one of the ship's openings. Unlike land battles, there's no way to escape. I've lost a few characters that way, and resurrection is expensive. On the other hand, sharks are an experience gimme. They have no missile attack, so I can hand a sling to my least experienced character and take them out one by one with no danger to myself.

Sharks are an experience freebee.

  • On some island keep, a Lord Segallion, an ex-pirate, gave me a spyglass so I could track the planets and comets at any time.
  • Like the lighthouse with the two strange keepers, a few of the other keeps have baffled me a bit. One was called Windmere, and seemed to be populated with a bunch of people loyal to Blackthorn, but I couldn't get anything useful out of them. There was a sign outside the keep warning of "rodents of unusual size." I looked it up, and The Princess Bride predates Ultima V by a year. That surprised me. Ultima V feels older.

When I go to healers, they should tell me that my characters are only "mostly dead."

  • I have information about where to find the Shard of Cowardice and the Shard of Falsehood. I'm just not 100% sure what to do with them when I find them, nor where to find the Shard of Hatred.

So I'm still stuck on the scepter and the crown jewels and the shard, but rather than go around asking everyone about them randomly, I'm going to explore the dungeons, gain some levels, cast some spells, and earn enough money for some magic axes. I have three postings half-written about dungeons, combat, and magic, and I want some more experience with all of them before I put them out. After that, I suppose it will be time for a second overland voyage, picking up any clues I've missed and visiting any towns and keeps I haven't already found (I'm sure there are some, but I need more gems to fully explore).

Despite my misgivings about the order in which I've done things, the game really is a joy. As I said in a comment a few days ago, I think it's the pinnacle of the isometric, tile-based genre, in both the variety of terrain (indoors and outdoors), objects, and the ways you can interact with them. [Later edit: my use of "isometric" was incorrect here. See comments.] The NPCs are also fairly amazing for the era. In most games of the time, you have barely any interaction with NPCs, and when you do, they're always found in the same place. Here we have NPCs that keep daily schedules and who are crucial to your understanding of the game world and the main quest. Both Richard Garriott and Origin had some clunkers, but they never stopped innovating.


  1. If you're role-playing the game and/or doing whatever sounds appealing, then you *are* playing as intended by Richard Garriott, at least. He's said as much in quite a few interviews -- speaking of which, I discovered that an online copy of "The Official Book of Ultima" can be found with a Google search.

    Anyway, IMHO the sense that you're doing it "wrong" is because you're used to the linear games where players can only explore the kingdom a chunk at a time with certain battles/dungeons/quests in between. Similar goes for your difficulty figuring certain things out: in most games, the player is given clear objectives ("visit the 8th floor of dungeon Wrong") and NPC dialogue exists primarily to give them hints. There's a difference between preferring non-linear games & being used to playing them. :)

    I think that knowing Runic (or Gargish, or Ophidian) isn't quite analogous to Klingon... We would've learned it as kids/teens just through having to translate things while playing the games, and only learn what letters are equivalent to the runes -- that seems different from an adult consciously studying a full language. I admit I'm biased, though.

    As for the shards & such... My approach to learning things like that was to walk around asking everyone about Blackthorn, Shadowlords, shards, Underworld, Lord British, Virtues, the 3 Principles (separately), and anything else vaguely connected I could think of.

    Finally: in case you haven't tried it, you can avoid many sea battles by (f)iring your cannons at the creature -- or by (y)elling to raise the sails, especially if you use the HMS Cape plans to enhance speed. Oh, and don't forget to yell FLIP FLOP at some point (not sure if it will work on a ship)...

  2. The island of Sherlock is where you got the Silver Horn in Ultima IV.

  3. "Crown jewels" is the collective term for the crown, amulet and scepter. They are not a separate fourth item. And again, you don't really need the crown. I'm mostly certain you do need the amulet, and you ABSOLUTELY need the scepter.

    I have to give you a word of warning about that last one: once you get the scepter, DO NOT enter combat with a shadowlord under any circumstances. They'll steal it from you. And while I've read that they put it back where you originally got it, I didn't find it there again when I checked. Since you need it, this turned out to be a game-breaking bug. Reload if this happens.

    And just so that advice doesn't throw you off later - yelling a shadowlord's name does not immediately put you in combat with it.

    1. You are wrong. The Crown Jewel exist. It is a large black gem which the CRPG Addict already have in his possession.

  4. FYI, "The Princess Bride" came out in 1973, so way before even Ultima 1 came out.

    1. Since others are responding to old comments, I'll point out that Princess Bride is a 1987 movie. :)

    2. I think he is referring to the book which was published in 73. Oh and BTW, I love the movie!

    3. The movie was based on a book? I had no idea! I guess you learn something every day...

    4. I'll learn you!

      Haha I guess you knew it was a book and were just pointing out the awesome movie. That or my Jack and coke clouded eyes see sarcasm where none exists.

    5. Nope, no sarcasm. I didn't know there was a book at all. If it's anywhere near as good as the movie, I'll definitely give it a read.

  5. I'm with you on the self-imposed ordering. The copper coronet should be done early; same with freeing Nalia's keep. I'm not sure if it's because of habit, unwillingness to leave loose ends, or just 'the difficulty seems scaled right'. But you're not alone there.

    I *do* have a happy memory of wandering through the ash lands as a very, very inexperienced Morrowind character, thoroughly lost and fleeing from anything that moved as I tried to track down some silly dagger for the mage's guild.

    Maybe we want freedom and excitement and choice the first time around, and comfort and familiarity the second?

  6. I haven't posted in quite a while, but just wanted to say that I'm still following, and really enjoying this one.

  7. My reference to Klingon was a bit disingenuous. The runic alphabet is mostly simple letter substitution, not an actual "language," and many of the characters look enough like their English counterparts that you only have to memorize a handful of others.

    I know about the cannons, but I made a bad habit of doing a lot of my sailing at night, when it was hard to see enemies until they were right on top of me.

    I appreciate the notes about the silver horn, but that still doesn't explain why the island is labeled as belonging to "Sherlock the Strange." Does he appear anywhere in any of the games?

    Cedric, you just taught me that The Princess Bride was a novel before it was a movie. Thanks. DGM, without you, I would have wasted hours looking for the "crown jewels." There's some poor punctuation in that dialogue.

    moonmonster, your hypothesis may be correct. Generally, your replay a game to experience different things, but if you replay it TOO differently, you feel a certain agitation.

    Glad to know you're still around, Andrew.

  8. Is Ultima V really "isometric"? I would just call it top-down, 2D tiled -- as opposed to games like Fallout or Baldur's gate, which definite *are* isometric.

    From wikipedia: "Isometric projection is a method for visually representing three-dimensional objects in two dimensions... in which the three coordinate axes appear equally foreshortened and the angles between any two of them are 120 degrees."

  9. I think you're right, Max. Based on your comment, I just read the Wikipedia article on "video game graphics" so I'd get it right in the future. The correct category is simply "top-down perspective."

    That said, I would place it in the same overall "oeuvre" as isometric games in that you see your character from some overhead-based viewpoint.

  10. Yeah, I think you're right that it's definitely representative of the same overall "oeuvre". What's partly confusing is that the tile perspectives aren't actually consistent... walls are usually top-down, but things like stairs and crenelations are often "tilted", and characters are of course shown in profile rather than top-down.

    Let's add this to the List of Things Learned Playing CRPGS: the finer points of geometric projection!

  11. I'd go with best tile-based RPG perhaps: I've not played it, but I'd have to go with Balder's Gate as the best isometric-RPG, and possibly best RPG ever.

  12. When I order a steak dinner, or any dinner, I eat all the vegetables first- one by one- then I eat the mashed potatoes, then I eat the steak. So what you say sounds like the right way to do it to me :)

  13. When we were developing SNES games (back in the day), we'd call graphics like this 'forced perspective'. That is, the graphics are drawn as if the camera is pointed down at 45 degrees, whereas true 'top-down games' are drawn from directly above (like Alien Breed on the Amiga).

    But by the looks of this Ultima, the walls are top-down and all of the sprites and objects are forced-perspective, just to confuse the issue!

  14. I wouldn't, strictly speaking even call it top-down, as we don't have a bird's eye view of characters or objects. I'd call it iconographic - one graphic represents chairs, a separate one, from a completely different perspective, represents doors, etc.


  15. Perfect term, JS. I'll try to remember to use that in the future.

    1. Problem is that "forced perspective" already has a different meaning: It's the effect you get when you "force" things that aren't on the same plane/distance to appear as if they are. Stuff like those photographs where it looks like the person in the picture is holding the moon in their hand, or keeping the leaning tower of Pisa from falling over, and other such effects.

      Oh hay, necrobump! =)

    2. Yes, iconographic is a really good term. Most of the objects in the early Ultima games are profiled like we see on a side-scrolling game but yet they interact with the landscape in a cardinal-direction fashion.

  16. Referring to the play "not feeling right" in my experience when I play a game and win, during the replay there is a tendency to play the way you won it before, if it's more non-linear like UV seems to be, I've never played it. So if you go to town X before dungeon Y, if during a replay I reverse it, it doesn't "feel" right. Most often I find that with dungeon play, I enter dungeon Y and "always" turn left, but when I turn right it feels "strange"

  17. I'm usually more worried that if I do one quest or some exploration that I will inadvertently trigger something that makes other quests impossible to finish.

  18. Let's see just how bleak the NES version is in comparison:

    There are no sea battles, monsters are quarantined to land and dungeons.

    There aren't any crown jewels. Only the sceptre and amulet are necessary to rescue Lord British.

    No island of Sherlock.

    I was never instructed to return to the shrines, and didn't think to try, so I can't confirm if there are similar increases.

    There's no spyglass, or need for it.

    Oh, I haven't really mentioned it, but the NES port doesn't use a tile based engine. Instead it uses an isometric view similar to the sixth game. Although with the NES limitations it's more like a tile-based isometric view. It doesn't work very well.

  19. Yeah, the crown jewels CONSIST OF the crown, amulet and sceptre.

    Funny, in the Apple and DOS versions I played, "the island of the silver horn" is signposted as exactly that - there's no mention of Sherlock the Strange.

    Could that be a fan hack in the abandonware copy you played? I've got the GOG version installed but unplayed - I'll have to fire it up and see which version that is.

    1. The GOG version has Sherlock the Strange.

    2. Does anyone know why? Seems very strange that it would be different in the GOG version of all places.

    3. For what it's worth, the Ultima Codex walkthrough for the Lazarus version of U5 includes/mentions the Island of Sherlock the Strange, as does this World Map by Retro Rescue (with spoilers) based on the same.

  20. Hythloth is a Word?March 15, 2022 at 12:10 AM

    That feeling of playing out of order -- when I replayed the game I couldn't resist acquiring the carpet, axe, and Crown before I ever had a rightful clue as to their existence. Finally, if you put a Moonstone in your pocket you have this combination of easy travel and easy combat that makes the game seem a bit broken.

    I remember Shame being the first Dungeon I visited and visited early. I think it might have been because its bouldered entrance was so near the path to Trinsic and so different than the tiles next to it as to be conspicuous. I don't remember it being especially challenging in terms of monsters or layout. This makes me think that it was meant to be a seen, to pique your interest early, and to be a kind of starter dungeon for low level characters.

    By contrast, there are some places that are either inconspicuous or inaccessible. Those factors suggest you're not supposed to get there unless you stumble unto them or are rich enough to afford a Frigate, or are hearty enough to go down one dungeon, survive the Underworld, and then come up via another dungeon. Places like Buccaneer's Den, New Magincia, a certain island with a mage, and certain mage Captain are all locales that you just can't reach until you have a certain status. So, the story isn't supposed to be fully unveiled until you reach that status.

    I imagine there is an order (but mostly a soft order) to play the game. Someone with time on their hands could probably glean that order by noting which conversations require you to go someplace else to get/talk something/someone then return the initial conversant for a payoff. Thus suggesting a preferred order of gameplay.

    But mostly it's up to you. That's part of what makes it great. When I played alone, I picked up Mariah and Jaana because I needed more An Nox, Mani, Grav Por, Des Por. When I played with my friend he had only one mage - he preferred strength because he got most of the magic he needed from the Crown, some scrolls, potions, and rings. To each his own.

    1. Ultima IV-VI are all pretty excellent in this regard--truly open-world games, ungated by difficulty, in which you can assemble the clues and hit the plot points in any order you choose. I think you could justify going right for the carpet by saying that one of the first things you'd want to do is search Lord British's chambers for clues as to his plans. A thorough enough search would certainly expose the magical nature of the carpet.


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