Sunday, March 19, 2017

Martian Dreams: Summary and Rating

Martian Dreams
United States
Origin Systems (developer and publisher)
Released in 1991 for DOS
Date Started: 18 October 2015
Date Ended: 2 March 2017
Total Hours: 35
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 39
Ranking at Time of Posting: 81%

I realized why no one was getting my objections to the plot of Martian Dreams during an exchange with commenter Jakub Majewski. I was trying to explain why the game had destroyed the "avatar" concept. "I don't know a guy named Spector in real life," I said. Mr. Majewski responded that, "there is no difference between him and Iolo or Lord British."

Not to pick on you in particular, Jakub--I really have enjoyed your contributions to my entries--but yes there is. There is a huge difference. The difference is that Iolo and Lord British are on the other side of the moongate. If you don't get that distinction, you can't possibly understand my problems with the game.
Dr. Spector isn't just an NPC. He's in my house!
The moongate between the "real" world and Britannia served a vital narrative purpose from its first appearance in Ultima IV (prior moongates were not between the real world and Britannia). It is the transition point at which the player enters the game; a metaphor for the computer screen and the act of booting up the executable. The player is on one side of the moongate. His avatar--in a quite literal sense--is acting on the other side. 
The concept of the avatar is the most important part of Ultima IV. The icon that you move about the screen is literally your avatar in Britannia. But you are also trying to become the Avatar of Virtue--the physical embodiment of what it means to act rightly in a chaotic world. When you have achieved the quest, the game challenges you to return to your own world and adhere to the same principles--to maintain the role of Avatar of Virtue in a place where you are no longer an avatar. This is an important and meaningful thematic message, and one that I took closely to my heart when I first was exposed to Ultima IV at the impressionable age of 12.

Getting players to internalize this theme means not screwing up the thematic illusion. The illusion works brilliantly in Ultima IV because what happens on the player's side of the moongate is limited and abstracted. The game presupposes only that you've gone for a walk in the countryside--certainly, such an activity is not beyond the realm of possibility for most players. It doesn't even say that the countryside is nearby. I suppose if you're in prison, the game requires a certain suspension of disbelief from the outset, but barring that, anyone--young, old, male, female, black, white, gay, straight, poor, rich--can put himself or herself into the role of the avatar and carry that role through the moongate and into Britannia. 
Nothing implausible so far...
Again, I emphasize that the first game works so well--it allows the player to feel so personally-invested in the character and quest--because very little happens, and none of it implausible, on the "real" side of the moongate.
That doesn't look like me or my bedroom, but I guess I can just go with it.
Alas, this does not remain true for subsequent games. Ultima V's opening starts you in a single-family house of a particular configuration with a wilderness area right outdoors. It's not so much that you can't suspend disbelief, but it's a step down the wrong path. In Ultima VI, you now see what "your" living room looks like--complete with the painting of a pole-dancing centaur woman--and "you" are clearly a young white male with brown hair. Again, you can suck it up and take this introduction as an abstraction, go through the moongate, and still enjoy the game and keep pretending that the Avatar is your avatar, but it's getting harder.
Wait. Whose house is this supposed to be?
The Savage Empire and Martian Dreams make this suspension of disbelief impossible. Too much happens on the "real" side of the moongate. In The Savage Empire, you live in a city, you have a friend named Dr. Rafkin, you write stories for a magazine, and you can only play as a white male (though this time with blonde hair). You ultimately go through a moongate to the game proper, but by then so much has happened on this side that you can't possibly pretend that this is you.

And, finally, we reach Martian Dreams, where the entire game takes place on "this" side of the moongate. Yes, technically you go through a "time gate," but you're clearly meant to still be in the "real" world. After all, before you enter the gate, you've met a Martian and seen a photograph of yourself and "your" friend Dr. Spector posing with the most famous dignitaries of the age.

So, by the end of the game, the Avatar has not returned to "your" home in the real world but to some freaky alternate reality in which he, Dr. Spector, Theodore Roosevelt, Emma Goldman, Buffalo Bill Cody, Nellie Bly, Vladimir Lenin, and a host of other real-world individuals have, historically, been to Mars in a capsule shot from a cannon, found intelligent life there, and returned. It's not like the trip was covered up or something. There was a parade when you got back.
Did they erase the memories of the 3 dozen famous people who were there?
I suppose the degree to which any of this bothers you is related to when you played Ultima IV. If it hadn't occupied such a central role in my life when I was young--if I'd only first encountered it as part of this project--I suppose I wouldn't care. But I spent too long invested in the "avatar" concept to react with aplomb when its creators start treating it this way. I would also maintain that the plot is pretty stupid even divorced from the avatar, especially when we got to the point of coating the Martian mechanical bodies with realistic skin.
A few other notes and questions on the game before the GIMLET:
  • What would have happened if you'd just picked up the phlogistonite barrels from the crashed capsule at the beginning of the game? 
  • Is there any time limit at the end of the game when the ground is shaking? I rested in my tent a few times and nothing happened, but perhaps I needed to rest more.
  • If you kill the NPCs lining the corridor on the way back to the space cannon, Andrew Carnegie refuses to do business with you.
Historically, I'm not sure this is true.
  • When Jack Segal smashed the Dream Machine in Olympus, did he kill a bunch of Martians whose consciousnesses were residing there?
  • Did I collect all the possible NPCs in the game? It feels like I always had one extra slot open.
  • There's a place in the south pole where you can dig to find a pair of ruby shoes, use them, and automatically go right to the endgame credits. I found them--they're in the middle of a rock formation that just invites you to search--but I totally forgot to comment on them or even keep a screenshot from the experience.
Image courtesy of Nakar's hilarious LP.


  • I spent a long time picking berries that were hardly used at all. There are two times that you have to use telekinesis and one time that you have to talk to a machine. 
  • I missed the famous face on Mars. 
Image courtesy of Dino's Ultima Page.
  • I never returned to my capsule after leaving it the first time. Would Freud, Tesla, Blood, or Dallas have had more interesting things to say about the plot developments? 
  • It's worth noting that by Ultima canon, the Avatar has already been to Mars--in Ultima II. It's unclear where in the timeline that game falls.
I already know this is going to rate better than my posts have suggested. Sometimes my most negative-sounding reviews are reserved for games with good mechanics that (in my eyes) under-perform their potential.
1. Game World. Stupid, as I've argued, but holds together within its own universe and hits most of the points of my GIMLET. You can't say it isn't original, nor endowed with history and lore, nor notably changed by the player's actions. If it wasn't supposed to be Mars, it might score a bit higher. Score: 6.
2. Character Creation and Development. The Freudian psychoanalysis is fun and original, although it doesn't really affect very much in terms of the character. The Ultima characters continue to have only 3 attributes and continue to only really "develop" a little when leveling up. The effects are even more blunted here because there are no spells to acquire. Since the role of combat is so minimized, there is no strong sense of increasing power associated with leveling. Score: 3.

3. NPC Interaction. As always, NPC dialogues are a key part of the Ultima experience, and this is the last title, I think, to feature typed keywords. Dialogue is absolutely necessary to learn about the world and solve the game's quests, but it falls short of allowing for dialogue options and role-playing. The NPCs who join the party are less interesting than in previous games: I felt no sense of kinship with them, and the developers wasted a romance potential with Nellie Bly (or, I suppose, Dibbs). You don't even really have choices about which NPCs join the party. Score: 5.
Since there are no rioters, streets, or stores in the vicinity, I think we're okay.
4. Encounters and Foes. I can't say that the plant-based monsters aren't at least original, and the documentation describes them well, but there's no "soul" to them. They just appear as you walk around, and you feel no particular animosity towards them. You kill them because they're in your way. It feels slightly wrong to be killing Martian life in the first place--much like the dinosaurs in The Savage Empire--except in this game, that's all there is. Not one single enemy that you slay in combat has anything to do with the game's plot. None of them are willfully acting on the part of the opposition.

I've taken to use this category to also offer bonuses for the puzzles, but I can't say I particularly enjoyed them. They were mostly of the "do you have the right inventory item?" and "if not, go and get it" variety, not really anything to do with logic or intuition. Too much depended on fiddling with controls. Score: 4.
5. Magic and combat. As with Buck Rogers, we see that combat systems designed with magic in mind tend to fall short when the magic is removed. All that's left is the ability to target foes and set some basic action defaults for other members of the party. There are very few tactics, and too often characters don't do what they're supposed to do. The outcomes of combat are too arbitrary--a party of enemies that slaughters my characters might inflict no damage at all on a reload--and in general, combat isn't an important part of gameplay. Score: 3.
6. Equipment. The engine's approach to equipment remains strong. It was designed for a sandbox game in which all kinds of items--food, cooking utensils, tools, and treasures--populated the world, and many of them have interesting interactions with each other. The systems for assessing and equipping weapons, armor, and accessories remain strong. I found less actually-useful stuff in Martian Dreams, however; characters end the game with most of the same weapons and "armor" that they started with. Score: 4.

7. Economy. There really isn't one. Oxium serves as a currency, but early in the game you can get an unlimited supply of that. There isn't much to buy at the trading posts that you can't find on your own in the game world. Disappointing. Score: 2.
8. Quests. The series still offers virtually nothing for side-quests, and here even the main quest is far more linear and less mutable than in previous games. And, of course--not to keep beating this horse--it's just kind of dumb. Score: 2.
9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. All quite good. No ambient sound yet, but very serviceable sound effects. Music is top-notch if you like that kind of thing; I don't, and I was glad to finally be able to turn it off without turning off the rest of the sound. The graphics are fine for the era, and I didn't have the same color issue that I had with The Savage Empire where everything seemed literally camouflaged. The ability to set an "active character" is still rare and welcome, and overall the redundant mouse/keyboard interface works very well. Score: 6.
I confess I'm not sure what the graphic artists were trying to do with the avatar's face here.
10. Gameplay. Martian Dreams is a rare Ultima title that is almost completely linear and entirely non-replayable. I found it a tad too long, but just a tad. Score: 4.

That gives is a final score of 39, fairly far below the 48 I gave to The Savage Empire and the 68 I gave to Ultima VI. But I understand why. Ultima VI was a sandbox game with a nonlinear approach in which combat, magic, exploration, and economy all played vital roles. These things are less true of The Savage Empire and not true at all of Martian Dreams, and thus the same engine does not work well for all purposes.
In the September 1991 Computer Gaming World, Scorpia agreed with most of my points, particularly the tediousness of walking around and the number of objectives that require you to walk back and forth between locations. "It's really an adventure game with a thin veneer of CRPG," she says, noting in particular that "combat is mostly gratuitous," thus blunting the importance of character development. On the other hand, she liked the story and thought that watching it unfold was the best part of the game.
Someone must have received an angry phone call after the September issue was published, because the next month's issue features a wet, sloppy kiss of a review from Roger Stewart. (It was common in the era to see Scorpia's reviews duplicated by someone else, but it was usually in the same issue.) "An epic adventure of rescue and resurrection that has all the depth and complexity of the Ultima series," he glows, but I'll save my ridicule for a little background info that he gives: Richard Garriott approved Warren Spector's plot, but with the restriction that "the outcome of the game could not contradict history as we know it." I can't tell you how glad I am that Lord British constrained the developers so; the outcome might have been ridiculous otherwise.
Nothing contradicting history as we know it here!
The Worlds of Ultima / Ultima: Worlds of Adventure mini-series came to an end with Martian Dreams, which reportedly sold poorly. The Internet tells of a third planned entry, Arthurian Legends, which would have used the Ultima VII engine. Accounts differ as to whether Arthurian Legends was, in fact, ever considered as an Ultima title or whether it was always a standalone title. Whatever the case, it died as the latter. Even though I haven't really enjoyed this side-series, I would have been interested to see how Origin handled the Arthurian source material.

Any criticisms I have about the direction Origin has gone with Ultima in these "worlds" titles is about to be obviated by what they do next: 1992 brings both Ultima Underworld and Ultima VII: The Black Gate, easily two of the best CRPGs ever created. We just have to get out of 1991 first.


  1. I think the drop in quality from the mainline Ultima games to the Worlds of Ultima was because the Origin A team that created the regular Ultimas was just much better than the B team (or teams) that created the spinoffs.

  2. Recently finished UW and U7 for the first time... Excited for those reviews!

  3. I would love to hear some advice from a player of more diverse experience like one of you guys as to how to get used to the controls of UW1 and 2. My RPG experience odd and convoluted, but I pretty much missed them when they came out, and now I just find the controls so cumbersome I just stall before I even get into them.

    1. I just started playing Daggerfall and was incredibly relieved to see that it was part of the era to start allowing your own control configuration... Alas, not the case for UW. That being said, reading the manual (or maybe the reference card?) helped a lot- it has some simple alternate control options that make things much more manageable. If I remember correctly, most things can be done by clicking the right mouse button and dragging, like talking or opening a door, freeing you up from having to go all over the place clicking on the action icons. And you can use the arrow keys to move, so you don't have to click around on the view screen. Still takes some getting used to, but way better than a mouse only interface, which they consider default. Hard to believe anyone could play that way...

    2. It was the very early days of navigating a fully 3D environment, so I fully understand your problem.

      Joet88's advice is great, unfortunately my only advice is to stick with it and try and get used to it, which isn't much help at all.

      For what it's worth, I played it (more than once) mostly using the mouse and could complete it, so while it's not the most optimal of user interfaces it does work.

      I think the clunky UI is probably the reason why more people aren't familiar with it in the same way that people love U7 (for which a mouse-based interface was very well done). Which is a shame, because UW1 is just as important a game as U7.

    3. Yeah U7's interface is shockingly well done and still holds up today, you could reasonably clone it for a new game and it would feel fine.

      On the other hand I wish someone would go mod the UW games to make them playable...

    4. I've started Ultima Underworld three times, hoping for an Ultima-meets-Eye Of the Beholder experience, and thrown my hands up in digust at the interface every time.

    5. I think I've played Ultima Underworld 4 or 5 times, but I can't remember much at all about the interface, so it can't be that bad once you get used to it.

    6. Ultima Underworld controls are not so bad. I use SADX (+W) control theme which is near enough of normal WASD that you can get used to it (and Z & C for strafe).

      I just suggest that you learn to use keyboard shortcuts, and only use mouse for targeting.

    7. I would say that I wouldn't go into Ultima Underworld wanting an Eye of the Beholder experience. Combat isn't that important, it has much more of an adventure focus. It's a lot slower paced and requires a lot of back tracking. However, it is an amazing game when you get into it. It took me about ten takes to get past the first couple of levels - once I did, I was hooked. Haven't completed it yet; hopefully on this try though...

    8. Goingdown is right about the sadx controls, which I also used. Forgot about that.

    9. If you are playing in DOSBOX it has a built in keyremapper, so you can really use any control scheme you want if you have a lot of trouble with the original one.

  4. Excellent review of a tedious game. You hit all the right points in a gentle manner. CRPGs work better not anchored in our world. Abstraction is an important point and is why historic figures come off so bad.

  5. I continue to hit the site every day in the hopes you've posted- thank you so much for continuing to do so. Here is hoping you do get an actual book out of this- you've become a VALUABLE damned resource, my good sir!

    1. So you don't waste your time, I've settled into a pretty regular routine of posting every 2.5 days, first at midnight, then at noon. I plan to keep that up for as long as I can.

    2. I come back regularly to read comments, anyhow.


  7. Don't dangle Ultimas VII and Underworld in front of us like that! Sooo looking forward to your take on them.

  8. The Worlds of Ultima games work a little better if you assume they're not things that literally happened, but rather stories the Avatar is telling to some gullible Britannian children. That fits the pulp nature of them, and some of the more questionable liberties. ("And then I met... ah... Rasputin! Sure, why not?")

    1. Thank you for this headcanon. Now I just need to find a way to explain the blonde mullet dudemanbro in Savage Empire.

    2. How about this. Ultima 6 mentions paintings made of the avatar after the defeat of the Shadowlords; but Ultima 5 states the avatar was sent home straight from Lord British's prison. So either a fake avatar modeled for these paintings, or the painter just made something up; either way some of them ended up looking like the blonde mullet dudemanbro.

      And as some bard is retelling these stories told by the avatar, his audience sees the painting and he thinks sure, why not.

  9. I would argue that Ultima VII is one of the greatest games of all time, but not one of the greatest CRPGs, as it fails in two very important categories, character development and combat.

    Ultima Underworld on the other hand is what I think you will give 1992 game of the year, in what will be an excellent field (unlike 1991!!). I think it will be the first game to break into the 70s on the Gimlet scale, and will sit atop the "Highest rated" list probably until either Fallout or Baldur's Gate knocks it off.

    As for this game, I'm glad you have completed it and gave it good coverage. I remember looking at the box in my local games store and thinking that it sounded really stupid, so it's nice to know that I was mostly right.

    1. I do wonder if Ultima Underworld II might knock it off - it has most of Underworld's strengths with a better interface and stronger storytelling.

    2. I think UW2 will score very similarly but may lose a point or 2 in "Game World" (IMO the multiple worlds aspect is not as compelling as the experimental colony in UW1) and possibly "Quests" (More sidequests - I may be remembering wrongly though). I don't think the interface issues will affect the Gimlet, as they are a small part of that category and not really a dealbreaker.

    3. I know I'm in the minority here, but Ultima VII always seemed so overrated, particularly when placed next to the superlative Serpent Isles. Most of UVII's plot boils down to "Sorry Avatar, but the bad guy is in another castle" but don't worry too much about chasing him down, some kid claims he saw an ewok once and someone else saw glowing lights and those things sure sound important.

    4. That's a fair criticism of the main storyline (though the Fellowship concept was a neat take on religion), but I always saw that as just providing a structure for visiting all of the towns and dungeons. The real good stuff was in the stories and sidequests of each location.

    5. Apparently someone is or was trying to mod turn-based combat into Ultima 7 via Exult.

      I wonder what became of it.

    6. Aw, one can't criticize U7 combat and character development and then praise UW, which is about as "not strong" on both accounts.

      UW1 and UW2 were very very contrived in their storylines and plots. "The Avatar gets arrested by mistake" or "LBs Castle is covered in Blackrock" would break any fan's immerson.

    7. @Wonko. The thing is, there is more to a game than story. People like U7 for its great sandbox world, filled with content, interactivity and rich NPCs. Incidentally, that's also why Serpent Isle is seen as inferior to Black Gate. It was all about the story, at the expense of everything else -- the campaign was excessively linear, and there was less content, freedom and exploration. You could no longer freely explore the world, and series staples like means of transport (ships, horses, etc.) were missing.

  10. I like what you had to say about the too-specific environment making it less relatable, but I don't think the inclusion of Dr. Spector as a friend is too bad. Remember that Dr. Spector was rescued in Savage Empire and came back to Earth with you. So if you played the Worlds of Ultima in sequential order it makes sense.

  11. This is a bit nitpicky but we know exactly where in the timeline Ultima II is. It says right in The History of Britania book of Ultima IV that all the happenings of the Ultima games happened in release order.

    1. Isn't the question about whether the PC from Ultimas I-III is the same character as the Avatar from IV onwards a little muddy?

      I do tend to find it hard to integrate the events of I-III into the overall storyline, they're so different from when things settled down - but then, references to Mondain *do* crop up in the later games, it all gets a bit iffy. Speaking personally, I think I'm most comfortable with the notion that the same events broadly took place, but the specifics of *how* they occurred from I-III... I'm happy for those to just be regarded as a bit of early weirdness!

    2. The issue with Ultima II is that it involves loads of time travel. So while it's clear when it happens to the Stranger/Avatar (who I'm 99% sure is the same person, even though he might have been a Dwarf or a Bobbit in Ultima III) it's murkier figuring out whether Martian Dreams happens before/after the Mars trip in Ultima II in a relative sense. If memory serves, the space travel bits in Ultima II happen in the far future, so it would be after Martian Dreams.

    3. Yeah, in 1982, the player would have visited 2112 AD Mars by travelling into the future, then in 1991 travelled to 1893 AD Mars again years later, by travelling to the past. Fun with time travel! (What's even funner is the "present day" of Ultima 2 is 1990....)

    4. The idea that the stranger from Ultimas 1, 2 and 3 (or strangers, I guess in the case of U3) is the same person who became the Avatar in U4 is a retcon that happened in U6 (when the statues of Mondain, Minax and Exodus from the gargoyle shrines recognized the Avatar as the person who defeated them).

      At the beginning of U4 it pretty clearly states that you have never been to Britannia or any kind of fantasy adventures before and I thought that it was even implied that it could've been 3 different strangers in U1, 2 and 3.

    5. I just checked the manual for U4 and it doesn't even call the person "the stranger."

      For U1, Mondain was defeated by an "itinerant adventurer."
      For U2, "there arose a hero out of legend" who defeated her.
      For U3, Lord British "called forth through time and space for Heroes of the People to assemble. Four diverse adventurers answered this clarion call."

      In the U5 manual it explicitly states that LB summoned "a stranger" to appear to defeat Mondain in U1. In U2, he called out for a hero and then "a stranger" appeared to defeat Minax. For U3, "four strangers" appeared.

      So the "stranger" phrasing wasn't used until U5 and then in the next game it was made canon that all those strangers were the same person.

      Kind of like how Chet is really focused on the fact that the concept of the "Avatar" got watered down as the games went on, I'm kind of focused on that the U6 retcon of the stranger's identity was a dumb idea.

    6. Don't you meet the spirits of Mondain, Minax and Exodus in U6? Again, memories are hazy but I thought it was there that the connection is made explicit.

    7. Oh wait, you said that above. That's what I get for scrolling up from the bottom like an idiot.

    8. Going back to the original point, where a) Ultima II takes place on Earth; b) and in different time periods); c) making the Avatar the hero of U2 was a huge retcon; and d) in so making the retcon, the developers seem to have forgotten that the game took place on Earth, I'd say it's still a pretty open question whether the Avatar visited Mars and, if so, when.

      Thanks for doing the legwork on the manuals, Steve. I thought the retcon might have happened in U5. It was idiotic to make the Avatar the hero of the previous games, particularly when you could be a non-human race and U3 had 4 characters.

  12. Personally, i like Dreams more than Empire.

  13. I'm definitely going to have to play Ultima Underworld in preparation for your eventual coverage if it's seeing this much praise in the comments. Fortunately, GOG gave it and its sequel away for free at some point.

    Don't get me wrong, though, I'm still looking forward to your impressions on a significant number of your remaining 1991 games. 1992 looks to be a banner year for sure, but I suspect 1991 still has some pleasant surprises left in store.

    1. Underworld is in my top ten all-time list, it's definitely worth a look. The sequel is excellent as well.

    2. For the rest of 1991, I'm looking forward to Eye of the Beholder 2 and Might & Magic III. Most of the rest I don't know anything about, which is good. I prefer that to knowing exactly what I'm in for, which is the case with MegaTraveller II and a couple of the games I've already spent a little time on, like Enchantasy and Shadow Keep. It's not so much that these games are "bad" as they are "blah." I'm sick of blah games. At least back in the 1980s, blah games took 5 minutes to learn and were over in 2 hours.

    3. Enchantasy has to start off with a strike against it for the title. It's just such an awkward, cumbersome portmanteau of a word.

    4. I'm having the same trouble with blah titles. There's no motivation to see how bad they get, it's just bland.

    5. "For the rest of 1991, I'm looking forward to Eye of the Beholder 2 and Might & Magic III. "

      I'm looking forward to your M&M 3 run as well.

      Ended up finally playing through 3-5 in the last year, after reading Thuryl's LPs of them.

    6. I unwrapped M&M 3 a month ago, thinking that one I ought to at least play in advance. Ended up running through it three times. Now I'm debating whether to start on 4&5, or do something productive with April and May.

  14. Chet, reading your comment on sound: Are you going with the defaults on every game you play? Now that you are entering the 90s, you might want to do some work on what sound cards games supported, as it can get...eclectic. (Same with video modes, but DOSBOX gets those right most of the time). Just something you might want to look into, as it usually involves changing one line in the DOSBOX config file to get them working.

    1. I'm curious which of my comments made you think I hadn't configured the sound correctly. Is there supposed to be ambient sound in this game?

      I approach each new game on a case-by-case basis, but I do spend some time investigating it. I'm not using the PC Speaker on these games.

    2. Nothing specifically. I've just been watching a series call Ancient DOS games to help me sleep, and one thing he does each game is show which video modes and sound devices the game supports. In the era you are in it is almost always Adlib or PC Speaker, and at the end of the 90s, Soundblaster rules supreme (Unless the game has MT-32 support). But in the middle? You get games that only support Gravis Ultrasound, or General MIDI, or Windows Sound System.....

    3. Most every game of this era supports MIDI (MT-32) which has vastly better music than the rinky-dinky toots of the soundblaster music. I would suggest making MIDI music a standard selection in setup screens from now on, as DOSbox supports it very well.

    4. Are you sure Harland? That seems to be the assumption since Sierra and a few other big publishers did that, but ADG shows Adlib and Soundblaster to both be much more common then either General MIDI or MT-32 among smaller publishers, and even when it is supported it isn't always the best sound, for example if OPL3 sound effects are used.

    5. While a lot of games had MT-32 listed as an option, most of the time it was just the same music an Adlib or Sound Blaster card would produce. Proper MT-32 support, using the full capability, was fairly rare.

    6. '91 was the tipping point, MIDI became more and more common. If it's available it's almost always the best sounding choice.

      There is also Gravis Ultrasound which is awesome, but as it requires messing with DOSbox to get to work correctly, I doubt our host will do it.

      Same music? Well, the same score, perhaps. It's not like they wrote different music for the different sound cards. The MT-32 had a MUCH better bank of sounds to choose from. The Soundblaster just toots and squeaks in the way we all know so well. MIDI sounds like an orchestra in comparison.

    7. Well, Soundblaster has the OPL3 sound effects, and MIDI quality was heavily dependent on the hardware used to play it, wasn't it?

      But examples with games that support various systems: Heretic: AdLib, SCC (Not quite sure what that is), Soundblaster, Gravis ultrasound, Proaudio Spectrum, MIDI

      MegaRace 2: RAP (?), Soundblaster, Gravis Ultrasound, Proaudio Spectrum, ESQ (?), Windows Sound System, Other (?!)

      Sam & Max Hit the Road: AdLib, MT32, Soundblaster, Proaudio Spectrum, ESQ, MIDI.

      Dungeon Keeper:
      RAP, Soundblaster, Gravis Ultrasound, Proaudio Spectrum, ESQ, Windows Sound System, Other (!?)

      So yes, soundblaster support is almost universal, and when MT32 is available it is probably the best. But I've heard recordings made on actual MT32 hardware vs emulation and frankly, the emulation doesn't sound significantly better then a Soundblaster. But I'd be intrested in what the games sound like in Windows Sound System, Gravis Ultrasound, and so on. That said, Ancient DOS Games doesn't do many CRPGS.

      Ultima I:
      Graphics: CGA/Tandy/EGA (Optimal according to ADG: EGA 320x200 16 colours)
      Sound: PC Speaker.

      Betrayal at Krondor:
      Graphics: VGA
      Sound: "Multiple" Even has an impressive number of CD Audio Tracks, that you can enable and disable independently of your soundcard selection.
      Note; has both floppy and CD releases that are not identical.

      Cavers of Xaskazien: PC Speaker only.

      The Elder Scrolls I Arena: Multiple, but many sound cards are buggy. ADG recommends Gravis Ultrasound for your soundcard, but Soundblaster for your music card, though a good MIDI card or Roland MT32 probably would sound better on music if you have one.

      Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall: Supports a "Huge array of sound and music cards" (He didn't list them in early episodes)

      Gladiator: Soundblaster only.

      The Kroz series: All text only and PC Speaker only

      Moraff's World:
      Graphics: Hercules B&W 720x348/ CGA/ EGA (2 modes), VGA (multiple modes)/ SVGA (Multiple). Would be interesting seeing your reaction to Hercules graphics since you can't see all the colours anyway.
      Sound: PC Speaker.

      X-COM: "Multiple sound and music cards"

      I think that is all the ones Chet will be playing, or has played.

    8. Note on another game you'll play: Ultima Underworld has support for 2 OPL2 chips, one of only two games to do so. So you need to emulate a Sound Blaster Pro, not a Sound Blaster 16 (Which uses one OPL3). However, that soundblaster has a problem with the left and right channels being reversed, and some games compensate for this and some don't....

  15. I calculated about 20 games left in 1991; is that correct Chester?

    1. Chin up mate. You might be able to play them all in the same amount of time it took you to beat Fate.

    2. Well... based on the record to date, probably not all of them. But eight or nine of them, very possibly.

      I admit, I'm as eager to see 1992 as anyone, but I'm at least curious about every game on the Upcoming list right now. Should be a good run.

    3. I think of the 20 left Magic Candle 2 and Might and Magic 3 are likely to be the only games that are quite long, and they will also be good. Two, possibly 3 will be rejected and a couple more 1-shot posts. There will still be a bunch of those 20 hour "Meh" games like Megatraveller though, which are the ones Chet always seems to struggle with (I have a feeling he quite enjoys the single post games).

    4. On the plus side 1986 has been "re"-finished, and 1987 will help dilute any dull 1991 games. It's better to watch total game count instead of year, anyhow.

    5. If it helps, I'm looking forward to Megatraveller as I've read the original Traveller RPG in dead tree.

  16. Ok, so I see that this game contradicts implied metaphors from other parts of the Ultima series (as opposed to the much more dramatic contradictions between other Ultima games) - but what I mainly learn from reading these posts is that this a game where you get to hang out with Warren Spector, which sounds pretty cool.

  17. "The game presupposes only that you've gone for a walk in the countryside--certainly, such an activity is not beyond the realm of possibility for most players."

    I think you are giving RPG nerds WAAAAAY too much credit. :)

  18. I seem to recall that you can still type in keywords in U7. I think.

  19. Evil Midnight LurkerApril 24, 2021 at 9:45 PM

    IIRC a text dump of the game's dialogue suggested that the Wisps could be found somewhere on Mars, but I never encountered them.

  20. I know this is not exactly an accurate abbreviation from Chet's perspective given where he sees the main problem(s) based on his introduction... but I still think "Mars cannon mars canon" could be a fun tagline for a MD review.


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