Monday, April 27, 2020

The Black Gate: Wee Britain

More than once, in idle moments, I've gone through a sentence like this, seeing how it changes meaning depending on where you put the emphasis.
After speaking to Lord British, I had three items on my "to do" list for Britain--five if you include a quick trip back to Paws:
  • Find out if the Crown Jewel docked in Britain after leaving Trinsic.
  • Talk to the mayor about the murder from a few years ago.
  • Investigate, perhaps infiltrate, the fellowship.
  • Make sure Weston made it back to Alina in Paws after his release.
  • Buy some Mutton in Paws for Boots, the castle chef.
But before I did any of that, I wanted to experience some combat. It's rare that I'm five entries into a game without being able to talk about combat. From watching a recent humor video, I had picked up the accidental knowledge that there were some bandits just west of Britain, on the way to Skara Brae. I thus walked past the city's row houses and pumpkin patches (noting with satisfaction that one of the street names is "Avatar Avenue") and made my way towards the bandit ambush.
...and then we'll take it higher.
I arrived just in time to see some random knight finishing them off. Where did he come from? Britannia just has roaming police knights now? He wouldn't speak to me, so I couldn't even thank him. All I could do was loot the corpses of the bandits he'd killed, because he didn't seem interested in doing that.
This guy came along and swordthwarted me!
I thus headed back to Britain to begin exploring the streets systematically. The first NPC I met was a woman named Millie who made it impossible not to conjure the phrase "silly bint." She stands on the street all day recruiting for the Fellowship. She spouted the usual drivel about their philosophies. It's from her that I first hear about the organization's Meditation Retreat, where it's supposedly possible through concentration to hear "the Voice," which the members interpret as an "inner voice," but which I suspect is actually the Guardian.
Moving on, we come to a farmer's market run by spouses Kelly and Fred. Fred resells meat from Paws. I check his prices, and the best deal seems to be dried meat at 2 gold pieces per 10 portions. I buy 20 of them.
I then take about two and a half hours to organize my inventory. Like most things in Ultima VII, the inventory system is at once amazing and annoying. I believe it is the first game to offer a completely slotless inventory. Your items don't exist in defined spaces; they exist in a jumble, like a real backpack. They overlap each other and often get mixed around in between times you open the same container (I honestly don't know if this is a bug or a feature). You can nest containers in containers. Some behind-the-scenes statistics enforce logical limits (based on volume, weight, or both) that you can store in a single container, as you occasionally get messages stating "Won't Fit!" when you try to drag something in.
If it had three half-finished packages of gum, it would be indistinguishable from Irene's purse.
It all makes for impressive programming, but when you've got to find something--especially something small, like a key--you start to remember fondly the days when inventories were just textual lists of items, and even better, when the party just shared one common inventory pool. Particularly annoying is how precise you have to be when you click on things; otherwise, you'll click on the wrong thing or the container itself.

But given the way things are, you need to spend some time coming up with an organization scheme. One character carries the quest items, another the wealth of the party, another food, another exploration gear like torches. As you add more party members, you can better subdivide these responsibilities. It also makes sense to use nested containers, so that (for instance) all the food is in one bag and all the gold in another.

All your organization goes out the window when you buy 20 pieces of meat. They just get dumped into the backpack of the first character, spilling over to the second if you run out of room. Then you have to spend time dragging each piece of meat to its appropriate container. Based on my experience so far, I suspect that about 25% of the game is going to consist of dragging inventory items around, either trying to find something or trying to organize things.
The inventory system works well with the overall engine. It's nice that NPCs can hide keys under potted plants or that the Avatar can stack crates to create a staircase. You take the good with the bad.
Gordon sells fish and chips at the northeast end of the farmer's market. He's the one that tells me about Buccaneer's Den, which has become a kind-of themed amusement park. Apparently, the pirates learned that they could make more money selling a pirate-themed bacchanalia than actually pirating, which is one of the funnier developments of the last 200 years.
Moving up the road, Diane runs the stables and offers to sell me a carriage pulled by a pair of horses. It's a nice idea, and I buy one just to see what driving is like before reloading, but it's really impractical. The contraption really needs to stick to roads, and the party can't always do that. You're better off just walking.
Avatar and company race along the street in their new carriage. There's no horse leg animation, so movement looks very awkward.
The shipwright (Clint) is across the street from the market and here we struck out on the Crown Jewel lead; he said that the ship hadn't been in the port in months. I couldn't find anything to contradict him. Clint builds and sells ships, and he had one going in dry-dock, but I still have Lord British's flagship to pick up in Vesper.

Heading north from the shipwriight, I spoke to some shop-keepers. Sean, an arrogant Fellowship member, runs the jewelry store. It would be ripe for burglary if I did that sort of thing. He'll buy gems for 30 gold pieces per gem. Grayson runs the arms and armor store and is also a Fellowship member.  I'm sorry to see that he doesn't buy used arms and armor because I've been carrying some. I guess I'm thinking of other RPGs.

North of the armory, Iolo introduces me to his apprentice, Coop, who runs Iolo's Bows in Iolo's absence. Somehow, having Iolo in the party doesn't entitle me to a free bow. Coop notes that Iolo recently opened a second location in Serpent's Hold. If Iolo lives to be 800 years old, he might have a pretty good franchise going by then.

I like how NPCs interact with each other.
The clothier, Gaye, is another Fellowship member. She sells swamp boots, which I note for when I can afford them. Wilhelm is the baker, absolutely in love with his craft, partly because "the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach." Right now, he's juggling two women, Jeanette and Gaye. He thinks he's too good for Jeanette, "a tavern wench," and he's not sure about Gaye because she's a Fellowship member. So he's a bit of a jerk but also he has good judgement. Wilhelm offers to hire me to bake bread and also says he'll buy sacks of flour from me if I get them wholesale in Paws.
Learning breadmaking in Wilhelm's kitchen.
The process of baking bread is a testament to this game engine's flexibility but also a commentary on the limited utility of that flexibility. To make a loaf of bread, you must:
  • Double-click a sack of flour to open it.
  • Double-click the sack again and click a table to spread it out. 
  • Double-click a pail of water and use it on the flour to make dough.
  • Click and drag the dough to the oven to bake it.
  • Wait for the icon to change to bread.
Do this five times and Wilhelm will give you one gold piece for the bread. The problem is that water and flour run out fast, so you have to go buy more or dip the bucket in the well. If you were paid in the real world with real gold, I'm still not sure it would be a good hourly rate. Nevertheless, the Internet is full of people who swear that back in the day, they spent countless hours baking bread in Ultima VII--disgusting, unleavened bread, I might add, consisting of nothing but flour and water.
It's getting dark as I leave the bakery, so I head to the Blue Boar for the night. The tavern is run by Lucy and staffed by a waitress named Jeanette. Their house band is called "The Avatars" and includes a moonlighting Coop. For the third or fourth time, I have the choice to introduce myself as "Gideon" or "Avatar." I figure the latter signifies a lack of humility. Anyway, it turns out the Blue Boar is just a tavern, not an inn and tavern, so I head back to the castle to sleep.
The next morning, I pick up where I left off. I open the door to a random house and find Shamino in bed with a female "entertainer." They both start yelling at me for entering the house uninvited. Shamino doesn't seem at all surprised to see me. He reiterates that magic isn't working and mages are going crazy, including Nickademus in the Great Forest. He gives me a pocketwatch that I apparently left the last time I was in Britannia. (It's actually very helpful to know what time it is at any given moment.) The woman he was in bed with is an actress named Amber. Once he finds out about the murder in Trinsic, he agrees to join the party. He comes with a sword and shield, no armor, and a slice of ham. I give him some of the armor items I'd been expecting to sell.
You guys need to work on your terms of endearment.
West of Lord British's castle is a playground where the kids from the nursery go when they're not in the nursery. The park features a sword-in-a-stone, but I can't seem to pull it out despite doing well on the park's "strength test." Southwest of that, I meet my first trainer--a young man named Zella who specializes in hand-to-hand combat. I actually have gained a level since the game began, and I have 6 training points, but we'll cover training and leveling later.
This faux Early Modern English is getting out of hand.
South of him is another trainer, Sentri, who offers to join the party. Sentri has been around since Ultima II, which took place on Earth, so I guess that explains his long life, although I must point out that he's fallen from baron of Serpent's Hold (Ultima IV) to a sword trainer in Britain. I let him back in the party, though it's getting pretty big now. Sentri comes with both a one-handed and two-handed sword, a bow with one arrow, and a side of ribs. I was about to complain about him having no armor, but it turns out he has a full set of plate armor behind a locked door, the key found in his dresser. I distributed the pieces.
It's about time someone brought something to this party besides a grumbling stomach.
Kessler the Apothecary has been working for Lord British, studying increasing addiction to silver snake venom. He'll pay me 50 gold pieces for every vial I can bring him. (I know where I could get eight if I was willing to steal.) Csil the healer has independently developed germ theory and is working on a microscope to see the germs he hypothesizes; he's not a fan of the Fellowship and their disbelief in actual medicine. Greg runs the adventuring equipment shop and happens to mention that he recently sold equipment to the Avatar--probably the same guy who signed his name at the Salty Dog.
Ultima VII becomes the third RPG to feature venereal diseases.
I find the Wayfarer's Inn, which I had been looking for last night, just a block from the tavern. The innkeeper, James, hates his job but feels he has to keep doing it for the sake of his wife, Cynthia. He worries that because she works at the mint, she'll begin to covet money and expect him to make more and more, then leave him when he can't. I wonder if this is a phenomenon that befouls the marriages of bank tellers. I've never known one. I later meet Cynthia at the Mint, and she tells me to relate to James that she still loves him. (I do, and he becomes happier.) I can bring her gold bars or nuggets to convert to gold coins. There's also a famous way to kill her, steal her key, loot the mint, and get Lord British to resurrect her, but I won't be doing that.
At Town Hall--which has no other employees despite several offices--I meet Patterson the Mayor. He's also President of the Britannian Tax Council. (I guess I was wrong in my last entry about never meeting them.) He brags that he won an overwhelming victory over his last opponent, Brownie--naturally because he had the support of the Fellowship. He denies that Britain has a class system but keeps betraying it with his own words. He says his marriage to Judith, a teacher at the Music Hall, is wonderful.
Just keep digging, buddy.

When asked about the murder, he relates that the victim was a man named Finster, a politician who wanted more power for the Great Council and wanted to disband the Fellowship. His mutilated, beheaded body was found in an abandoned building near the castle which has since been demolished. Honestly, the Fellowship has been so obviously evil since the beginning that it might have been a better twist if they had turned out to be a bunch of well-meaning-but-clueless people.
Judith runs the Music Hall and contrary to her husband thinks her marriage is in trouble. She doesn't like the growing power of the Fellowship, and she says that Patterson sometimes stays out all night.

Next to the Music Hall is the Royal Theater, which has a lot of the town's humor. The director, Raymundo (an in-game avatar of lead writer Raymond Benson), is staging a 100-hour play called The Trials of the Avatar. An old actor named Jesse is playing the Avatar. He's struggling to remember his most important lines: "Name!," "Job!," and "Bye!" No one else is happy with his role, including the self-proclaimed greatest actor in the world, Laurence, who is playing Iolo, and Shamino's squeeze, Amber, who is playing Sherry the Mouse. Laurence is also practicing his lines, including: "This is the Dungeon Despise!," "Ready the bow to use it!," and "I hear something to the east!"
The actors practice their respective lines.
Raymundo suggests that I understudy for the Avatar, first by purchasing an "Avatar costume" at Gaye's shop. It costs 30 gold pieces, which is a lot of money just to see a joke to the end. Upon returning, I read my lines and Raymundo says that I'm unconvincing as the Avatar.
"Thou must taste like the Avatar!"
The Royal Museum houses the Runes of Virtue, the Stones of Virtue, the Avatar's old swamp boots, the Vortex Cube, the silver horn used by the gargoyles to summon silver snakes, statues of Lord British and the Avatar, the Avatar's ankh, and . . . the Britannian and gargoyle lenses! What are they doing here?! Wasn't the whole point of the last game creating these lenses so that the two respective rulers could use them to consult the Codex?
I remember when we literally had to walk through fire for these.
The curator, Candice, is no help. A Fellowship member, she almost immediately lets it slip that she's sleeping with Patterson. (When I confront Patterson later, he just sputters, and there's no option to say anything to his wife.) Iolo suggests that we steal the Stones of Virtue because they can still be used to cast "Mark" and "Recall" spells. I honestly don't remember doing that in any previous game. I mean, between the Magic Carpet and the Orb of Moons, it's not like the party is hurting for modes of transportation.

As evening falls, I make a quick run down to Paws. Alina is still in the shelter, but she has received word from Weston that he's free and working temporarily for Lord British so that he may return to her with some money in his pocket. Morfin sells me mutton for 3 gold pieces each; boots agreed to pay me 5. I buy 10 pieces to bring her.
I guess Weston didn't bother to write about my involvement.
One thing that I'm noticing is that a lot of events slow the game to a stutter. It's usually when there's too much animation on the screen. If the party is walking past a few other walking people at the same time a storm cloud passes overhead, forget it. I can deal with the problem by just hitting CTRL-F12 and increasing the number of cycles in DOSBox, but it must have been maddening on an era PC.
Interactivity notes:

  • Move any furniture that it would be reasonable for a single person to lift.
  • Open and close shutters.
  • Turn gas lamps on and off.
Wasn't Shadowlands doing this the same year and bragging? Ultima VII did dynamic lighting as an incidental part of gameplay.
  • Fill a bucket from a well.
  • Light and douse torches in wall sconces.
  • Double-click a bale of wool and use it on a spinning wheel to create yarn. Use the yarn on a loom to create fabric. Use a pair of shears on the fabric to make bandages.
The Avatar works a loom--without dropping his sword.
  • Sit down at a harp or harpsichord and double-click on it to play it. (Unfortunately, you can't really play them by pressing keys for notes the way you could in V.) Instruments don't seem to interrupt the game music (if you have it on); they just show a series of graphic notes.
  • Double-click the winches next to the castle portcullis to raise and lower them. There's one on both sides, which somewhat defeats the purpose.
I end this session standing in front of the Fellowship Hall, contemplating whether I really want to try to infiltrate the organization by joining, or whether I'd rather proclaim my animosity from the start. Granted, I don't have many leads if I don't join (it may even be necessary), but I wonder if it wouldn't make a more interesting (and less traditional) game if I stopped following the official path here and tried to piece together the mystery without the duplicity. Next time, we'll see what I decided.
Time so far: 10 hours


  1. I'm not aware of any earlier RPGs with a slotless inventory, but the MacVentures games, starting with Shadowgate in 1987, had a slotless point-and-drag inventory window very similar to Ultima VII's. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a direct inspiration. As you've noticed before, Mac games often made heavy use of the system's distinctive interface, and there wouldn't have been a lot of DOS games with full pointer-based UIs for the Origin team to refer to.

    (Many people are probably familiar with the NES versions of the MacVentures series, including Shadowgate, Deja Vu, and Uninvited. These versions don't have the visual inventory.)

  2. You will want the Stones. There's no downside to taking them, none of your party members will object, and they will save you a lot of backtracking later in the game--backtracking to places that the carpet and Orb can't help you reach. Without them, the Mark and Recall spells are useless.

    1. And as Nakar correctly points out in his Let's Play, they DO technically belong to you.

  3. I'm curious if you also reacquired the Avatar's old swamp boots? It's not stealing if its yours.

    1. They were once mine. If they've sat in a museum for 200 years, I think you could make a good argument that they're the museum's.

    2. I suppose it becomes akin to the argument between Greece and the British Museum over the Elgin Marbles at that point.

    3. Didn't Lord British kick you back to Earth with no ceremony at the end of Ultima VI? He probably sold them to the museum for profit.

    4. Cue Indiana Jones, "they belong in a MUSEUM!"

    5. Speaking of things that belong in a museum, the Vortex Cube is a sacred artifact to the gargoyles and belonged in the Shrine of Singularity, back in U6.

      And oddly enough, you actually DON'T have your pocketwatch last time you were on Britannia (either U6 or UUW), but you DO have it in Martian Dreams.

    6. Hey if you take them they would be even more valuable when you give them back to the Museum!

      Used twice by the avatar instead of merely once.

    7. Look, folks, I know we didn't all take Intro to Ethics, but this is pretty simple deontology. Unless we want to give license to everyone who has ever donated an object to a museum to waltz in whenever he wants and take it back, I can't take the boots.

    8. That argument hinges on the belief that the Avatar willingly donated them when there is no on-screen evidence of such. From arriving in Britain to going back to Earth, every second is accounted for in every game to this point, and none of it includes donating your own boots as historical artifacts.

      So Lord British kicks you back to Earth (without asking, let's not forget,) waits for everybody to leave, then takes all your stuff and pawns whatever he can. This seems especially probable if you take the illegitimate heir note as canon and thus an example of LB's character.

      Finally, it may have been 200 years in Britain, but only two years on Earth--something Iolo and your other Earthling companions could probably attest to. So the theft of your boots wasn't a recent crime, but still recent enough that the Avatar could still think of them as rightfully his--especially given how useful and expensive they are.

      If Ultima 7 had been made a few years later, there would probably be a sidequest where you make this exact same argument to the museum curator--maybe even buy the boots back, or promise to return them later. However, as released, your only recourse is to simply steal them back.

    9. No, Alex. You also have the option of not stealing from the museum. What would the Avatar do..?

    10. The Avatar would do this... (scroll to about the halfway point)

    11. That's random dude on the internet, not the Avatar.

  4. Woohoo! I've been looking eagerly forward to the next installment (curing myself with your other previous Ultima play throughs on the blog). I can't recall exactly, but can't you get training from Sentri for free if he's in your party?

    1. You can. It's just that each trainer specializes in different attributes, so you don't want to use the same one repeatedly lest you end up with all strength development and no dexterity, or all combat development and no magic.

    2. Ugh. Eddy Grant? Making me feel SO old.

    3. Ugh? Eddy Grant is great. And you are old!

  5. Geez, it feels like the game's doing everything it can to make sure you don't get into combat. It's almost as if it knows you're probably going to hate how it's handled, and is trying to delay you tearing into it for as long as possible

  6. I remember doing the bread trick for quite a long time (you can "work" 20 or so bread in parallels). It involved using flour that was just sitting there. I was super young and did not quite understand the notion of "cost of opportunity" or the value of my time. Later, I discovered that mutton peddling was a significantly more profitable activity.

    My sister (we all shared the same computer with the same games) fully stopped her investigation on the murder as she reached Britain, and instead started a profitable career as a baker, which she used to fund her costly looming hobby (you can't sell, irc, the "products" of the looming activity).

    1. I used to fill up several crates on the carpet with mutton chops to deliver to Britain for... I don't know, do you actually need more money than is easily found in this game? I don't think so. But having lots of gold in my carpet crates still made me feel good.

    2. I found mutton pedaling to be a great way to make money starting out, before my characters were developed enough to be able to loot enough treasure in combat (my preferred method)

      One time I went overboard though, I bought so much mutton from the Britain farmer's market that I lost money on the resale to the cook at the castle.

      I lost money because the game ran out of memory and started vanishing items, including gold and the mutton I was buying (despite paying for it).

      I later read that the lack of memory overflow controls is a known bug.

  7. Fun fact: I used the shutters to steal some stuff at the start of the game. Got myself a sextant and a ship deed that way. Closed the shutters on the house opposite the shipbuilder's, which made him go "Those should be open!" and go outside, leaving his valuables at my mercy.

    1. Reading everyone's stories, I feel like I'm the only player who first fired up this game in the 1990s and immediately started role-playing the, you know, Avatar.

    2. Role playing in an RPG?!? The nerve!

    3. I'd say that if your first Ultima was anything after Ultima V, then it's not particularly obvious that you're supposed to be this Shining Paragon Of Virtue.

      Sure, it's in the manual; but people tend to skip those. U6, or Underworld, or Martian Dreams pay remarkably little attention to the Eight Virtues. Sure, you're saving the world, but you don't have to be NICE about it.

    4. Role-playing the Avatar is boring, especially since the Avatar in U7 is a defined game character and not literally your "avatar." With neither a strong personality to start from nor the illusion that the Avatar is supposed to be you, it's pretty easy to let role-playing fall by the wayside.

    5. CRPGs being a somewhat frivolous pursuit, there are very few things about them that spark in me actual emotion. But the idea of someone starting the Ultima series without experiencing Ultima IV makes me want to cry a bit.

    6. The adventure gamer side of me is probably the reason I want to pick up everything that isn't nailed down...

      But when I played Ultima IV and V, you had to be virtuous to at least a certain standard, by U6 there was so much stuff around, and you had the inventory space to carry it, well, who can blame me for picking up a few things here and there? (and everywhere!)

      Mind you, even in Ultima IV there were chests of gold in various towns that could be reached if you knew how. Although I think you'd then need to balance that out somehow.

    7. Ultima VII was my first of the series. I was born in 88 so the earlier games were simply before my time.

    8. So was the original Star Wars, but you saw it before the prequels?

      Anyway, I'm less upset about the idea of IV not being first than I am about the idea of never playing it at all.

    9. Andy, those chests of gold were there for you explicitly NOT to take them. I mean, it's not being "virtuous" of there aren't any opportunities to be otherwise.

    10. I nicked loads of those chests in U4 before I realised that the goal of the game was to be virtuous.

    11. I played U 5 first, then 3 on the Nintendo! Then, 6 on a PC with no hard drive;N I reallyhad to swap out eight 5 1/4 floppies. I cannot imagine having the patience for that now.

    12. Wow, sure wish you could edit these posts...

    13. I have tried to play Ultima IV many times. It is not the same as with Star Wars because of the interface: Star Wars precisely got away from the 70s cinema by getting the language of classic pulp adventures and scrapping everything that was more or less intellectual - it's a nerd's film for nerds, in other words - so the language is the action movie language and the universe is the classical space opera... I find way more difficult to enjoy an old interface and, say, "flow" in a crpg game, which takes several hours just to learn which stats are not useless to say an example, than to watch a 2h movie or listen to an album that usually takes less than 1h.

      I seriously hate Skyrim for this. A game should not have taken so many hours of my time.

    14. I played Ultima IV only in the late 00s when I downloaded loads of abandonware. It's a great and unique game, but since I had played VII, VI and IX before, I didn't have any "virtue baggage" when I played those, so to speak.

      I did see the original Star Wars movies before the prequels because the originals were regularly shown on TV (and still are), especially when the prequels were just being made and Star Wars became a big media franchise (I remember tons of Star Wars LEGO sets at that time).

      And as Risingson Carlos already said, getting into an old movie is easier than an old game, especially when we go back to the 80s because interfaces were much more cumbersome. I have no issue enjoying 80s games these days but in my late teens I really couldn't get into keyboard-only interfaces. Now I can deal with it but still prefer mouse-driven over keyboard only. My main issue with 80s games isn't the primitive graphics but having to memorize a dozen keyboard commands where an early 90s interface would already let me click things with my mouse.

    15. It did take me quite a long time to actually finish Ultima IV, when I played it as a youngster I was more interested in exploring than becoming virtuous, and the treasure basically felt like a reward for exploring!

      I generally preferred Ultima 5 out of that particular trilogy, and aside from breaking into the castle to get the magic carpet (which I'd argue isn't even stealing really, it's for a good cause!), I played much more like a proper avatar should.

    16. You could show any four-year-old the original Star Wars and not get any complaints. I loved it when I was four years old in 2000, and my nephew loved it when he was four years old in 2013.

      Movies aren't really a great comparison. There's no technical reason why The Godfather couldn't have been made in 1950 as opposed to 1972, besides the obvious anachronism. It's not like advances in technology suddenly allowed people to write better scripts. I watched High Noon for the first time in a film class in 2010, and it was better written than some movies I've seen this year.

      On the other hand, a stick figure in Ultima IV telling me "Pepper knows the Rune!" falls a little flat when compared to any dialogue with any character in U7.

    17. "It's not like advances in technology suddenly allowed people to write better scripts."

      Although I agree with you in principal about the difficulties in making a direct comparison, I'm not sure script-writing technology is the best example of your point. High Noon's script couldn't have possibly been realized with film-making technology in 1902, for instance. On the flipside, U9's "what's a paladin?" dialog can't compare with U7's despite seven years worth of technological advances. Games and movies both had eras where their scripts were limited by the technology available. Both of these eras are long over by now.

    18. To less upset The Addict, I should point out that I did play IV, eventually. It just wasn't obvious in the 90s that games have a continuing plot between their sequels (because let's face it, many of them just don't) nor was it obvious where to get older games before the internet existed.

    19. It's like that one book in Icewind Dale 2 says: Face It, You're Neutral Evil.

  8. Shamino and his girl call each other poo? I wonder how they would react to getting a soiled diaper in their face :p

  9. Typo: In your sentence "I later meet Judith at the Mint, and she tells me to relate to James that she still loves him." I think you mean to refer to Cynthia, rather than Judith. (Please delete/don't publish this comment as appropriate.)

  10. The degree to which the Fellowship is Obviously Evil is something of a black mark against the game. Both the gameplay and the RW reference would have worked better if the player could have mistaken them for benign, or even beneficial.

    1. Even better would be to have the leadership and some of the members be malicious, while others are well-meaning and doing genuine good. Then make it hard to tell the difference in a few cases.

    2. I don't see why the narrative intent has to be that the Fellowship's evil is ambiguous? Given the Guardian shows up like 5 seconds in the game and pretty blatantly connects himself to the Fellowship, this is more like Columbo than Poirot. (If you haven't seen any Columbo, the first part of each episode follows the murderer through the crime, and the challenge to the detective after is nailing the murderer with proof.)

    3. I agree that you could Columbo it just fine, but the idea that all the goings on are so completely lost on Lord British, is hard to reason away.

    4. Funnily, the fellowship va Frecrag Vfyr (nf jryy nf Tnetblyrgbja, urer va guvf tnzr) qb ghea bhg gb or n ohapu bs jryy-zrnavat-ohg-pyhryrff crbcyr.

  11. Now that the blog is about Ultima, I am playing this old video game where the King was abducted and power was seized by a man called Black-something-pointy, and in order to complete the quest I have to find the King's crown, sceptre and amulet.

    Does it ring a bell? It really sounds like "Ultima 5"! Actually, this one is called "Phalsberg" and it was released two years earlier, in 1986, in France and USA.


      Quick google what I have found.

      Game is so obscure, its not listed on MobyGames or Gamefaqs!

      Created by Michel Valentin and published by Ère Informatique in 1986 (C64) and 1987 (PC).

    2. > MS DOS version screenshot

      and zero gameplay video on YouTube!

      Only found and

    3. And last of links that I have found about game:

    4. The iconic coronation regalia of European monarchs are the crown, scepter, and orb. Replacing the (not exactly combat-friendly) orb with an amulet seems like a natural choice.

    5. What do you mean not entirely combat friendly?! When you pull off the cross at the top and count to three, you can throw it at thine enemies and it will explode!

    6. Actually, many European monarchs were dual-wielding sceptre and staff. E.g. the French king had the main de justice to go with his sceptre - basically another sceptre, with a golden or ivory hand on top.

      Those things do tons of extra damage to chaotic-aligned. No room for a shield, but boy does your DPS go royally through the roof with that combo! Very good for monarchic glass cannon builds.

  12. "Nevertheless, the Internet is full of people who swear that back in the day, they spent countless hours baking bread in Ultima VII"

    I spent countless hours baking bread in Ultima Online simply because I wanted to be a Chef. If you achieved Master or Grandmaster (90+ or 100 skill points) in a skill, your character's 'paperdoll' received a public title. 100 in Cooking got me "Raifield, Grandmaster Chef"

    I later made a small career out of hosting banquets for player-run villages and guilds who were tickled to role-play the hiring of a genuine Grandmaster Chef.

    1. My sister never went much further Britain. Once she reached it she spent most of her gaming sessions baking bread that she would then resell, or trading meat between Britain and Paws (the latter I did as well, but for profit not for fun as she did). I drove me crazy because look there is only one computer and in my view as a kid this was not "playing", just blocking the computer when I wanted to play.

      I reckon there was no "crafting" game back then (at least we had none at home), and I think that's what she craved for. Later, she spent a good 50% of her gaming time on crafting games, so maybe U7 inadvertantly addressed an audience in want of a game.

    2. I love stories like this. A few months ago, Irene downloaded the adventure game Stray and drove me nuts by showing no interest in progressing with the plot. She just wanted to have her cat PC jump up and down on things, run around the environment, and take naps. I was about to start Googling divorce attorneys until it occurred to me that if the cat had attributes for "jumping" and "napping" that increased when you successfully did those things, you wouldn't be able to distinguish my playing style from hers.

    3. Don't let her find out about Little Kitty, Big City then.

  13. It's nice that the game focused on the strengths like interactivity and exploration and largely ignored its weaknesses like combat. The combat in every Ultima game gets repetitive and grindy very quickly.

    1. Ultima 5 got it right.
      Improved combat system from U4, now with diagonal movement and attacking, and random encounters only at night made it much more bearable.
      Too bad it was this one that was duoed out for a Dungeon Siege remake (along with U6) instead of U4 or U7.

    2. Say what you may about U7's combat, at least it's over quickly! Until the enemies you just beat respawn just off screen and you end up fighting them again...

    3. Yeah, I really don't mind bad combat when it's over quickly. Lots of people complain about Arcanum's combat, for example, but with a decent melee character and real time mode most encounters can be over within 6 seconds... which is the amount of time a single round takes in Neverwinter Nights.

    4. I think the key to U7 combat is that all the interesting stuff happens beforehand. You plan out everyone's equipment setup, assign them a combat profile, use some buffs, and maybe have a spell ready to go.

      Then when it starts it's a quick bit of chaos and some friendly fire and hopefully you come out victorious. I imagine it's sort of realistic in that can just make a few decisions in the brief mayhem before it's all over.

      It doesn't provide as much fun as more tactical combats from other RPGs, but I don't think it's painfully bad either. And with the wide variety of weapons, potions, and spells there's some fun to be had planning BEFORE the combat starts.

  14. I made an attempt to decipher Ultima VII's capacity system about a month ago. It definitely has one, separate from weight. These were the most important things I found:
    * The smallest items all use 1 or 2 units of capacity.
    * The bedroll is the biggest item I've measured and takes 20 units.
    * A stack has fixed capacity regardless of size. One gold piece takes up 2 units, a stack of 100 gold pieces also takes up 2 units.
    * Backpacks hold 149 units.
    * Bags hold 69 units, but take up 70.
    * Reagent stacks, bolt stacks, lockpick stacks, and rings take 1 unit.
    * Arrow stacks, gold stacks, and mutton take 2 units.

    1. See, it's better when the two of us are doing our respective things.

    2. I'm surprised to learn that a bedroll is the "largest" item in the game. You'd think a set of plate mail would take more space than a sleeping bag.

    3. I hadn't measured armor capacity because there's no situation where I would put armor in my backpack. Either somebody wears it, or I leave it around.

      But I tried it just now for the sake of curiosity, using Avatar gear. Magic armor is 25, magic leggings are 15, magic helm is 4, and magic gorget, gauntlets, and swamp boots are 2 each. I tested chain armor too, and it's 25, same as magic armor, so I'm willing to bet these apply to all pieces of armor in the same category.

  15. I have a vague memory that your party members can panic and run around dropping all their items, which adds to the inventory fun as you have to go around picking everything up and then re-organising it. Am I misremembering?

    I still think that "Name, Job, Bye!" bit is funny.

    1. Yeah, if things go badly in combat they can run and drop their stuff, and if it's in the middle of a dense forest it can be tough to find. It's a good idea to have the Avatar carry quest items since he'll never do this. And/or save frequently.

    2. As much as a like Ultima VII overall, man, this character-drops-items "feature" was the most tedious in the game for me.

      Once my party got large I basically had to flip through the inventory screen after combat for every character to see if they dropped their
      triple crossbow, firesword, etc. because otherwise I really couldn't tell and I'd find out long after when I left the area and lost
      track of which saved game was before the event.

      And, I found I had to do a stats screen check on character to be sure of whether
      anybody died so I didn't shove off any leave anyone's dead body behind. Often it was obvious, I'd see the dead body of one of my characters
      after the battle was over, but in areas like the forest or a big battle with lots of bodies it was just too hard to tell.

      At first I did a head count to see if anyone died, but once the party got large the icons smushed together enough that it was just too hard to be sure.

      I've needed to vent about this the entire time I was playing Ultima VII and am glad this blog exists, among other reasons, so I can do so:-)

  16. One way in which Arx Fatalis improved on the Ultima formula is that there you can bake pies (and it's even useful in a quest).

  17. Not gonna lie, that NPC killstealing from the Avatar made me smile.

  18. The crafting system reminds me a lot of Divinity: Original Sin, I bet this is a very direct ancestor of it. Likewise, the ability to pick up and move barrels and such, and things being hidden under them.

  19. Also, I missed my chance to make a Finster/F1nn5ter joke as she has come out about not being a guy since this post was made. Damn. (For those that are wondering)


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