Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Black Gate: The Next Generators


We don't know it, but we're about to very significantly break the game.
          
When we wrapped up last time, our leads were growing thin. The gypsy fortune teller had told us to seek out the Time Lord--or specifically, to seek out the person in Empath Abbey who knows how to contact the wisps, who know how to contact the Time Lord. I had visited all the major locations except Skara Brae and Serpent's Hold (including the Fellowship Meditation Retreat, east of Serpent's Hold). I had repaired the ether and technically solved the murders, and while I knew where to find Hook (on the Isle of the Avatar) because of the note in his quarters, I also knew that I needed some other things before heading to the endgame. Throughout this process of playing the game "my own way," I hadn't been entirely sure whether I would be able to win without joining the Fellowship, or whether I would have to finally capitulate. I think this session cleared up that question, but it also introduced some new problems.
    
We begin in Jhelom, where I've just killed de Snel, the Fellowship conspirator whose dagger was found at the murder scene in Minoc. It's time to head to Empath Abbey, but I want to make a stop along the way. Since deciding to go my own way, I've been doing a few things while in the process of visiting each city, including restoring its rune to a worthy individual, visiting its shrine, and clearing out its associated dungeon. Because I started the game in Trinsic, I never got to those things there. I decide to head up the western continent, stopping by the Shrine of Honor, Trinsic, and the Dungeon Shame on the way to Empath Abbey.
    
The plan goes awry almost immediately. As we land the magic carpet near the Shrine of Honor, we're attacked by a group of harpies. We make short work of them and head to the shrine, where to our horror, we find a baby--a living baby--on the altar. Jaana, apparently exhibiting some psychic or precognitive ability, suddenly blurts, "Praise All! The child is still alive. He must be returned to Lady Tory immediately!"
     
As religiously-neutral exclamations go, "Praise All!" is pretty lame.
         
Now, "Tory" is the name of one of my best friends, so I'd remember if I'd encountered an NPC by that name. I'm sure I haven't. That means she's either in Skara Brae, Serpent's Hold, or some random hut somewhere. Skara Brae seems unlikely, given that it's supposed to be (literally) a ghost town, and the "Lady" part makes me think she's probably not some peasant living in a stick hut on an island. I can't keep a baby in my backpack while I reach Serpent's Hold organically, so I decide to head there right now.
    
Along the way, we do find a stick hut on one of the smaller items in the island chain that holds Serpent's Hold. It turns out to be occupied by a pirate and mage, both of whom attack. The mage kills me with an unlikely casting of "Death Bolt" or some similar spell, and when I reload back in Jhelom, I consider skipping the inconvenient baby--but leaving him out there, exposed to the elements, with a bunch of harpies flying around doesn't seem like the virtuous thing to do. We repeat the events and this time manage to kill the pirate and mage. Their hut contains crates full of blackrock and various other ores, weapons, sextants, lab equipment, weapons, and food. Gods know what they were prepping for.
         
These two seem to know that some world-ending event is coming.
        
Another island has a cave entrance, so I stop to check it out. There are caltrops lining the entry, and apparently they have an ownership flag attached because my party starts complaining about unvirtuous behavior when I move them out of the way. The small cave beyond has a dead pirate, a stack of gold bars, and chests and bags with even more gold and glass swords. This game has an awful lot of weird caches like this, where you find game-breaking levels of equipment and wealth, while simultaneously not rewarding you much for major dungeons (Destard excepted).
     
A pirate's cache.
            
Serpent's Hold has the same martial focus as the previous games; it's the seat of courage, after all, although that word never comes up. It is the only one of the three original keeps that retains an independent identity, Empath Abbey and the Lycaeum having merged with Yew and Moonglow. The ruler is Lord John-Paul, which is not a homage to the Pope or the better half of the Beatles, but rather Jean-Luc Picard. (As we'll see, nearly everyone in Serpent's Hold has a name derived from Star Trek: The Next Generation.) He wants me to solve another dastardly crime--no, not a murder, but rather the defacing of a statue of Lord British.
     
Lady Tory is one of John-Paul's advisors. A druid and amateur empath (cf. her namesake, Deanna Troi), she is mildly upset over the kidnapping of her baby, Riky, by a group of harpies. When we produce the baby from Gideon's backpack, she's grateful, but she asks us to put the infant in its crib, which is in a room on the other side of the Hold, and then she doesn't accompany us to the room. In fact, she never leaves the tavern during our entire visit. I would think that most mothers, reunited with their kidnapped infant, would grab the child and not let it out of their sight. My headcanon is thus that she herself meant to sacrifice the child to the harpies for some boon, which I've probably just ruined by bringing the baby back to her.
         
Because of pixel snapping, I can't quite get him into the cradle. I have to balance him on the edge. This kid is going to be messed up when he's older.
          
The statue vandalism is relatively easy to solve. One of the guards, Sir Pendaran (one of the few non-Star Trek names), has a grudge against Lord British. British and his advisors "have gone soft," the knight complains. "Brigands populate the land, disease overruns the towns, and corruption fills the councils," he goes on. Just as I find myself sympathizing with him, he starts to claim that the Fellowship is the solution to Britannia's ills.
          
You almost had me on your side.
         
Although it's clear that Pendaran is the culprit, I have to solve it the long way by talking to pretty much everyone else. Sir Denton (Data), the stiff bartender, suggests I speak to Sir Richter, who was first on the scene. Richter (Riker), the armorer, investigated the statue and recovered some stone chips. These chips have blood on them. Lady Leigh (Beverly Crusher) is the healer; she analyzes the chips and determines the blood belongs to a gargoyle. That leaves the sole suspect as Horffe (Worf), John-Paul's bodyguard, who was abandoned on the island and raised by two humans but still speaks in infinitives. He agrees that the blood is his, but claims that the injury happened while he was fighting the true vandal, whom he cannot identify (it was dark).
      
That might be just a slight over-statement, Richter.
Dun-dun-DUNNNN. Cue commercial break for Sunny Delight and Reebok Pumps.
            
Meanwhile, Sir Jordan (Geordi), a blind knight who runs Iolo's South (but doesn't believe that Iolo is Iolo), heard a woman scream the night of the vandalism. By process of elimination, we narrow it down to Lady Jehanne (no Star Trek connection), Pendaran's wife. (Lady Jehanne is also the provisioner of Serpent's Hold and sells ships. I cannot imagine a circumstance in which someone could arrive at Serpent's Hold and yet still need a ship.) Jehanne collapses under questioning and admits that he's changed since joining the Fellowship, becoming less individualistic and more critical of Lord British. She had screamed that night when she saw the blood on Pendaran's sword.
    
Finally, Pendaran (after attempting a little misogyny) confesses to the deed and agrees to apologize to his fellow knights, and Lord John Paul says he'll see Pendaran punished. It's a hollow victory since I wouldn't mind defacing a few statues of Lord British myself these days, a sentiment that only grows when I see the state in which he's left Skara Brae for nearly 200 years.
          
Oh, Pendaran. #DONTBEAYOHO.
      
We find nothing else important in Serpent's Hold, and thus are soon on our magic carpet heading east. While we're in the area, we might as well scout out the Fellowship's so-called "Meditation Retreat," where members are taught to hear "The Voice."
              
The facility turns out to be a walled compound, generally accessible only from the sea, with a locked front door. The director, Ian, stands inside the gate and will only let in Fellowship members, which of course we bypass by landing the magic carpet on the grass next to him.
      
"...which we then exploit for money and power," he might have continued.
            
The Retreat doesn't seem to have any meditating Fellowship members today. Inside the barrier is an empty Fellowship hall and a cave entrance. As we poke our heads into the cave, the Guardian's voice booms, "Avatar, you are not welcome here."
    
Inside the caves, we soon run into Gorn, hero of Dallas Snell's The Quest (1983) and Ring Quest (1985), who wandered through a moongate during the time of Ultima V and got himself thrown into Blackthorn's dungeon. We freed him from there in that game, then found him wandering around the same place--now belonging to Sutek--in Ultima VI. Here he is now, a couple islands away, trying to find the source of the voice in his head, which he thinks is his god, Brohm. Although skeptical of some of the things Brohm says, he nonetheless becomes hostile to us when "Brohm" apparently tells him that he can't trust us. We reluctantly leave him behind. I get the impression that trying to talk to him too many more times will result in a fight.
       
Gorn shows confusion at Brohm's second directive.
          
Further along, we find a female fighter named Iriale Silvermist, an interesting name to go with an interesting portrait. I'm curious about her, but we don't get much chance to delve into her backstory before she orders us to leave on pain of death. Naturally, the seven-to-one odds quell our fear, and Iriale is soon dead on the dirt floor of the cavern.
      
The game is called Ultima, lady, not Ultimatum.
          
In the caverns beyond Iriale, we soon spy a large, round object embedded in the cavern, its doorway swirling with magic. It is clearly made of blackrock, some sort of counterpart to the tetrahedron generator we destroyed back in the Dungeon Deceit. I suspect it somehow allows the Guardian to amplify his ability to project his Voice from wherever he is. Whatever it does, we must destroy it. Steeling ourselves, we stride forward. There's a red light, a lot of pain, and when my vision recovers, my six companions are all dead at my feet.
       
And my light went out.
            
I check my stats and the Avatar has 29 hit points. I suspect I know what's happened. We're supposed to have something that will protect us from the generator's attack, which causes just enough damage to kill anyone with the maximum number of hit points, normally 30. But the developers didn't take into account the bonuses from The Forge of Virtue, which gets the Avatar up to 60 hit points. Thus, although I know that I can cheat the game by reloading, dismissing my companions, and going alone, I decide to do it the "right" way and I reload from before we left Serpent's Isle. As we'll later see, I might as well have just dealt with it while I was there.
    
At this point, we return to our original intent to stop in Trinsic. Reviewing the notes of my previous visit, I can't say that any of the residents (aside from the dead ones) are notably more honorable than the others. However, I have a better idea for the Rune of Honor: I return it to the pedestal in the town square, where it resided in Ultima VI, daring anyone to dishonorably take it, reminding everyone of the city's founding virtue. 
         
It's as if the game expected this.
          
From here, it's on to Empath Abbey, after what I assume will be a brief stop in Shame. Going to Shame is really more for the sake of completeness than anything else. My characters are all Level 7 and 8 at this point (I get them trained in strength and dexterity on the way to Yew later). The Avatar has every spell in the book, plenty of reagents, and plenty of money. Almost everyone is dressed in magic armor and wielding deadly weapons like magic swords and lightning whips. We're well stocked with potions, glass swords (one-use weapons that basically kill anyone instantly), and powder kegs. There isn't much more we need in the way of character development or equipment.
      .
Anyone want to say "to hell with this" and head to Empath Abbey?
        
Shame is a large, maze-like dungeon with numerous traps and teleporters. We fight mongbats, skeletons, giant spiders, giant rats, and headless as we start to regret entering it in the first place.
           
Suddenly, we're in a large chamber with another generator. We had no clue that we'd find anything here. (I honestly didn't remember.) This one is round, and the opening to its chamber is blocked by a moongate--or so we think. I'm curious where the moongate will take us, so after taking a save, we stride through, and nothing happens.
                     
It's important to understand that at the time, I didn't know what had just happened. I figured that maybe something I'd found previously--like the prism from the other generator, or my destruction of the first generator--had kept the red moongate from working. Much later, I do some Googling and learn that the moongate was supposed to have worked, kicking the Avatar backwards. I just happen to have walked through the gate across the one set of pixels that are bugged, allowing me access to a place that I was supposed to have done a lot more things to reach.
    
At the time, I blithely continue through the door. As with the tetrahedron generator, my Avatar finds himself alone on the other side of the door, hovering in a void, on a platform with a red moongate to the north and a blue one to the south. Several similar platforms surround us. This is a moongate maze, the right one taking me closer to the platform with the spherical prism, the wrong one dumping me into a trap back in Shame. If I had not saved on the first platform, or if I had insisted on re-entering the sphere every time one of the gates teleported me back to Shame, I certainly would have figured out that the red moongate is supposed to repel visitors. Instead, I reloaded from the first platform whenever I entered the "wrong" moongate.
          
Is there an in-game clue that gets you through this, or trial-and-error for everyone?
           
Eventually, I find myself on the final platform, where I smash the box surrounding the spherical prism. I am teleported outside the generator and re-united with the party as the generator explodes, leaving the prism behind. Suddenly, the person I assume is the Time Lord contacts me telepathically:
      
Congratulations, Avatar, on destroying the Sphere. I am free from my celestial prison. I thank thee. But I regret to inform thee that the Guardian engineered the Sphere such that its destruction has permanently disabled the Moongates, and thy Orb of Moons as well. Thou canst not return to thine home by way of a red Moongate. Thine only hope of leaving Britannia at the conclusion of thy quest is to use the Guardian's own vehicle for entering the land--the Black Gate. The Guardian's followers are building The Black Gate of blackrock and will be using magic and natural elements to activate it. The Guardian plans to enter Britannia during the upcoming Astronomical Alignment, which is imminent. That is the only time when the elements will work well enough for the Black Gate to be permeable and active. Thou wilt need a device which has the ability to vanquish blackrock. If thou hast not already encountered such a device, thou canst find something to help thee in the workshop of Rudyom the Mage, in Cove. Before thou canst locate the Black Gate, there is one more generator which must be destroyed. It is the device used to transmit the Guardian's voice to his followers and charm them into obeying his wishes. Look in the area near Serpent's Hold for a dungeon containing this generator. It is most likely shaped like a cube. It could very well be on the Fellowship island east of Serpent's Hold. When thou hast completed this task, concentrate thine efforts in Buccaneer's Den. Thou mayest find clues there as to the location of the Black Gate. Shouldst thou wish to speak with me again, simply use the hourglass. Goodbye.
           
Thanks. That will help us distinguish it from all the other blackrock generators in the area.
           
Wow. Where has the Time Lord been this entire game? He's more useful than a walkthrough--although he didn't tell me anything I didn't already know except the one thing that should have given me pause. "What hourglass?" the Avatar asks as the voice fades and disappears.
          
At this point, I kind of get that I've broken the order of things, but I've been doing that the entire game. I already woke up Penumbra before I apparently was supposed to know to do that. I looted Hook's quarters long before I was supposed to know to even go there. I saw a hit list marking Alagner dead before he had died. I found Lady Tory's baby before I got the quest from her. And except for walking through the red moongate, which was an honest bug, all of these things should and could have been completely predictable. It would have taken mere minutes of programming--in the original game or any number of patches--to set a flag so that Hook's key and "hit list" doesn't show up until after the associated murders, so that the baby doesn't appear on the Shrine of Honor until the quest is given, and to stop Penumbra from asking who sent you until someone actually sent you.
        
So I don't reload. But I do try to mitigate things somewhat by continuing to head to Empath Abbey, even though I suspect I no longer need to deliberately seek the Time Lord. In Empath Abbey, Julian tells me that he doesn't believe in the wisps, but the Emps are known to be able to speak to them. This links up with my previous experience with the Emps, in which there was an inexplicable push to get one of them to join the party. I remember the contract in my backpack, still waiting to be signed by the mysterious woodsman.
     
I don't know where he is, but I start exploring systematically from the northwest corner of the land, going as far south as the road to Skara Brae, slowly working my way east. I soon find a hut in the Great Forest that I had missed on my first pass, and it turns out to belong to a woodcutter named Ben. He's even written a book called Trees, and Then Some. He freely admits to chopping down Silverleaf trees--his own logbook shows a growing demand for the wood--but he quickly agrees to stop once he learns that the Emps depend on them. Shortly thereafter, I'm heading back to the Emps with a signed contract.
       
If only everyone were this helpful.
             
Back in the Emp village, Salamon is delighted to have the signed contract, but Trellek's wife, Saralek, reneges on her promise to let Trellek join the party. When she hears we want him to speak with wisps, she has an alternate solution: he can make us a whistle, just like the one he uses to talk with them.
    
I steel myself for a trip to Minoc to get wood for the whistle, but it turns out I'm thinking of the wrong game. Trellek just makes it in front of us. With the whistle in hand, we set off looking for wisps. On the way back to Ben's hut, where we recently saw one, we come across a small keep, overlooked before, that seems to belong to the wisps. There's no one else in it, in any event, and each chamber has an information-dense book of the kind the wisps desire, including The Book of Lost Mantras, which I recovered for them back in Ultima VI.
         
       
The wisp once again introduces himself as a representative of the Xornite dimension and offers to make an exchange with us: The Undrian Council (wherever they are) is seeking information from Alagner's notebook. If we bring it to the wisp, it will give us information about the Time Lord.
           
We fly back to Alagner in New Magincia. He agrees to let us borrow his notebook, but only if we "offer proof of [our] eagerness to learn the true knowledge of the world." For such a test, he asks us to consult the Tortured One, a spirit in Skara Brae, about the "answers to the questions of Life and Death."
       
What questions, specifically?
           
I'm certainly willing to go to Skara Brae. It's the one town I haven't visited; it's important to the lore of the setting; and I know there's a quest to solve there. Beyond that, I don't know. It occurs to me that nothing's stopping me from heading to the endgame right now. I know how to survive the last generator and get the third prism. I've already learned that the Black Gate is on the Isle of the Avatar. Most important, if I don't finish this quest line the "right" way, I can prevent Alagner's murder. I'm also a little worried that I can't finish the official quest line, as I suspect it involves using my Orb of Moons to visit the Time Lord in his prison, and the Orb is now a paperweight and the Time Lord isn't in the prison.
     
On the other hand, I have saved games going back a while, and there's probably no point in the game from which you can't get to the ending within a few hours if you've already gone through all the dialogue, so I'll continue on and see what happens. It's more exciting this way, right?
          
Time so far: 66 hours
     

113 comments:

  1. >I'll continue on and see what happens. It's more exciting this way, right?

    Right! One of the most interesting things in some role-playing games is having a unique chronicle shaped by your actions. So I vote for continuing and see what happens, specially because you know how to recover from past saved games in case it goes awry.

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  2. Ooooiiii new reading

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  3. This series on U7 is some of your best work. I've never really 'gotten' Ultima but it's making me want to give the series another shot.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad to hear that it's well-received.

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    2. Ultima VII is definitely the one to play if you don't care for previous entries. I don't care for Ultima but U7 is a new favorite of mine.

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    3. I was unable to get into Ultima VII two decades ago, and also two months ago. I’m giving IV a go currently and its got a rustic charm to it.

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    4. I second U7 as the best starting point for modern gamers. I love the prior games to death but the interfaces are very difficult to get past.

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    5. I have actually not been enjoying the U7 posts as much as I thought I would. Because Chet has approached the game in such a weird fashion half the posts have been talking about how he either has or may have broken the game, instead of focusing on all the great things about the game.

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    6. To be fair, if he had forced himself to join the Fellowship he probably would not be complimenting the game any more than he is now.

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    7. I like it. Most walk-throughs and play-throughs of Ultima VII tend to follow the plot as set out by the designers, and almost NEVER mention the myriad of bugs and problems.

      This, on the other hands, illustrates that as great as the game is in many ways, in other ways it's extremely fragile and prone to weirdness.

      One thing I definitely pick up on now, which I didn't in the past, is that Origin's writers really stopped taking the genre seriously after Ultima V, the last game with an arguably more "serious" tone. Ultima VI and VII are full of anachronisms, inside jokes, and silly things. In addition, both games really make Lord British look pretty crappy at his job.

      I actually think The Elder Scrolls (And Skyrim in general) have managed to take the crown for "Best sandbox CRPG ever" at this point.

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    8. Also calling it... Ultima VII will rate lower on the GIMLET than Ultima V.

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    9. Giving it more thought, though, there WAS a general movement in fantasy, both cinematic and in video games, towards silliness and irreverence.

      Case in point? The first Beastmaster movie (Serious, grim, very Conan-esque) compared to it's sequel... which is over the top zany. Seems to be a symptom of the late 80's/early 90's.

      It makes me shudder to think if Lord of the Rings had been attempted then... In fact, when LotR came out most of us breathed a sigh of relief. "FINALLY someone in Hollywood doesn't think fantasy is a joke."

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    10. Most genre comebacks are a similar story. Sometime in the 80's or 90's, a given genre (superhero movies, sci-fi, fantasy, etc.) is saturated with a bunch of low-budget schlock. These movies predictably flop, so Hollywood suits declare the genre dead, unpopular, not profitable. Because clearly the genre is the problem, not the films.

      Then some time later, a mad genius finally says "Wait, what if we made a GOOD movie?" and suddenly the genre is mainstream again.

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    11. I don't so much mean not joining the Fellowship, that I feel is a legitimate choice, but certainly in this post accessing the Sphere generator the way he did IMO falls into Exploiting, which Chet himself defines as "The player exploits the game when he takes advantage of a bug or game mechanic that the developer clearly didn't foresee or intend."

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    12. I actually hated the super serious tone on LOTR and loved the jokes on The Two Towers because it felt to me more natural. The adventure genre is heroes doing zany stuff and my favourite fantasy books as Dragonsbane are about heroes that don't give a single penny about the seriousness of it all. I mean, it is all badly disguised racial allegory, it is impossible to take it seriously.

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    13. As a note, I never considered the first Conan as serious. It is gloriously over the top in that John Millius, where he took plots like the ones in Red Dawn or Flight of the Intruder and shot them as if he was doing a David Lean masterpiece. God bless him.

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    14. There is just a certain kind of person who can't take anything seriously. The only impulse is to mock and to ridicule. The heartfelt sincerity of others generates a disgust reaction, like if you're walking down the sidewalk and saw a human turd lying there. The reaction is to make everything into a joke. Unfortunately these people seem to have got hold of Ultima VII.

      This is somehow combined with a lack of creativity, a mind that can only think in terms of things it already knows. Thus the endless parody instead of novelty.

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    15. PetrusOctavianusJuly 27, 2020 at 9:21 AM

      You tell 'em, Harl.

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    16. Oh good, I was starting to miss Harland's constant unhinged diatribes about how everyone but him is stupid and flawed. For a while there I was worried he had actually developed some self-awareness.

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    17. I don't know if it's quite as extreme as Harland describes, but I think there was a general "Hey, fantasy should not just be fun but FUNNY!" in the late 80's/early 90's.

      Ultima VII's engine was a marvel of it's era. It leveraged the full power of the computer it ran on, and all things considered is pretty damn impressive. (Bugs notwithstanding)

      And on the surface, the story is good too. An actual REAL bad guy who isn't just at the end of the game, but all through it. A bad guy so powerful he can't actually BE defeated, not in this game. The Avatar has been gone so long from Britannia he is now a hero of myth and legend rather than a real person. The towns have drifted away from the virtues, become dominated by a cult, and a very real world feel. The opening murders have a chilling feel, the gore is pretty surprising and horrific to encounter in a game of this era.

      This had a LOT of potential as an overarching story, if told well. But lots of small things wreck the narrative. Instead of keeping the Guardian mysterious after the fantastic cinematic opening he's just a weird stalker following you everywhere taunting you. It's unbelievably obvious the Fellowship is behind the murders and that they are a real threat to Britannia. The neglect and corruption in government is pretty damning on British, who was already coming off as a racist jerk after Ultima VI. Laurel and Hardy are in a freaking dungeon. The list goes on and on...

      I just had a horrible realization... Ultima VII through IX almost mirrors the Star Wars sequel trilogy of the same numbers. In terms of reception and acceptance.

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    18. With the exception of Laurel and Hardy, I fail to see how any of the things you mention are "not just fun but FUNNY!"

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    19. Maybe funny is the wrong word... Disjointed in tone may be a better description.

      The chief writer, Raymond Benson, was very good at this work. I'm pretty certain he was responsible for a lot of the heavier elements in the game. (Racism, political corruption, cults, murders) But the characterizations and individual plots in various towns feel off.

      So Serpent's Hold is a giant homage to Star Trek: The Next Generation. It makes me chuckle, but it also pulls me OUT of the fantasy and makes me realize some writer somewhere was going "Nyuk nyuk!" Serpent's Hold in the past was ruled by Lord Robert (An analog to Richard's older brother) and it would have been nice possibly to see his character further developed, maybe an aged monarch who sees the corruption in the government but is powerless to go against his king.

      For the record, I'm no stranger to doing this myself. In my CRPG, I have one dungeon that has a few monsters inspired by Monty Python. Another dungeon is an homage to Dwarf Fortress, but I did weave it into the storyline of the game. And for one stern character when I was writing dialogue I clearly pictured Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation, but I used it solely to write his laconic dialogue. He's not complaining about a broken espresso machine or eating bacon.

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    20. I am enjoying this Broken Tale of Ultima. If I wanted to read about the plot as the designers intended, I would read a walkthrough. This is much more interesting!

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    21. Was the Harland dig aimed at me? Because I barely laugh at things. I love most of the movies, and I think that if one is "good" or "bad" is irrelevant. What I love is to imagine the creative process. Unironically, Harland, take care and have another big hug full of love from me.

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    22. Aside from the other unproductive things going on in this subthread:

      1. I agree with Mikrakov that what I did was using an exploit. It was a couple hours later before I realized that I probably shouldn't have done that, but even then I thought I could "fix" it by just doing the rest of the path out of order. It was a couple of hours after THAT that I realized I had basically broken that entire quest path and wouldn't be able to do the earlier steps. I still could have reloaded from a far earlier save, but I admit I thought it might be more fun to write it up this way. I could see why someone might think it was the wrong choice.

      2. I think Adamantyr has a good point about the games descending sharply into goofiness and self-satire after U5. It's one of my complaints about the series. And I think he makes excellent points about how the writers started with a good premise for U7 and then bungled it a bit.

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    23. I already commented before how cynic this game world seems to me. Most people are mostly negative, lazy or even outright evil.

      I'm torn about the possible motivation behind this. Could be outright cynism, but could also be missing courage to go for something epic. Or lack of skill to pull it off.

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    24. @Mikrakov I'd argue there's a big difference between exploiting a bug that you know about and are doing intentionally, vs hitting a bug and continuing without realizing it. Calling the second one an exploit would require players to know the ins and outs of the game (and probably the underlying code as well) in order to make sure that they didn't hit any.

      In fact, I'd really argue that's more of what's going on with this game - since Chet's played it before, he can tell that he's going about things the wrong way, whereas with a different game I think he might say "oh this is just poor writing/translation" or "oh I must have missed something that would explain everything".

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    25. I guess it depends upon if and when you figure out you've utilised a bug like this. It sounds like Mr Addict realised after an hour or two, which is still in the scope of reloading and not doing it, especially for a game like this and considering the scope of this blog.

      I probably sounded a bit harsh on Chet, I have still enjoyed his posts on U7 overall, but he seems to be hitting every bug that the game has to offer, and I have played through the game I think 4 times and have only come across the "disappearing world" bug that forced his restart (which is admittedly a big one!). Personally I think the game is amazing but with obvious flaws that will give it problems in the GIMLET (combat!!!) but it is not really "broken" like a commenter below said and some of the blog posts implied.

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    26. stepped pyramidsJuly 27, 2020 at 9:12 PM

      "An actual REAL bad guy who isn't just at the end of the game, but all through it."

      I've always thought the more compelling villain in Ultima VII is Batlin. In a better game he'd be constantly undermining you from his position as a saintly spiritual teacher, regretfully implying that you oppose the Fellowship because of jealousy and anger about being dethroned as the moral exemplar for the Britannian people, sowing seeds of discord between you and Lord British, etc. The relatively small amount of time you do spend interacting with him has some of that going on, and a later game would have had the technical and storytelling resources necessary to pull it off.

      Delete
    27. I take heart in the fact that nobody actually engaged with or refuted what I had to say. They just made personal attacks, which I know from experience mean that the other party has nothing. Insults aren't arguments.

      I stand by my assertion that there are people out there who view sincerity as an affront and enjoy engaging in mockery of it. Goofiness can be fun but not as an entire project. It wasn't aimed at Risingson Carlos but rather the developers of Ultima VII and the fantasy genre in general. They just can't get through a straight project without collapsing into laughter, and don't see why anyone else could, either.

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    28. It's not just fantasy that turned towards the silly in the 90s, it's pretty much all genres. Compare Terminator 1 to Terminator 2. I love the second movie, it's one of the best action movies ever made, but its overall tone is less serious than the first movie, there's more humor and they added a kid as its secondary protagonist. That's also a big thing in the 90s, adding kids. Like how Star Trek TNG added Wesley. Or Ultima VII added Spark...

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    29. T2 was both funnier and darker imo. Sarah is (understandably) a mess and starts out in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' territory.

      Delete
    30. T2 cost 10 times as much as T1. It was a blockbuster, not a breakout genre film like the original. Which meant it was subject to the era's developing audience analysis, attempting to give it a broader audience (what today is sometimes called a "four-quadrant film"). "Add a kid" and "add some jokes" are both long-standing blockbuster traditions, although the former is less popular these days.

      I've always been convinced that the goofy tone of a lot of '80s and '90s SF and fantasy can be traced back to Star Wars. If you can't have 2001-style visuals, at least you can have silly robots. Of course, Star Wars was sincere in its mixture of silly and serious in a way a lot of later attempts were not.

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  4. It strikes me that the philosophy behind U7's design is "fail-safe": the more items or events you hide behind plot flags, the more likely it is for the player to get permanently stuck (because things don't become available if he does things in the wrong order). By hiding as little as possible behind plot flags, you do potentially end up confusing the player, but you also guarantee that no matter what he does, he can still reach the end.

    It's a good philosophy (certainly better than the "fail-unsafe" opposite) but they do take it too far.

    Aside from that, making the sphere's red moongate too narrow strikes me as sloppy programming, just as the cube dealing 31 damage instead of 255. Testing certainly should have caught the former!

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    1. Testing had no problem with the damage because the increase in the Avatar's HP was due to an expansion pack to the original game. The problem didn't exist until after the expansion came out.

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    2. Did they patch Ultima after Serpent Isle came out? Honestly they should have fixed the problem in Serpent Isle itself. But they didn't. The paid workers didn't figure it out while the unpaid workers (i.e. customers) did.

      Even so, an auto-death effect should deal damage of 255 or 9999 or maxint or something. "One more than the max HP" strikes me as someone coming down with a case of the clevers.

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    3. Yes, Drawde, that's why I explicitly said that testing should have caught the FORMER.

      Delete
    4. I don't know that I'd exactly excuse the second problem just because they developed Forge of Virtue later. Part of the process of designing a good expansion pack should be assessing its impact on the core game and making adjustments accordingly. "Is there any place in which doubling the Avatar's hit points will create a problem?" was an obvious question.

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    5. Is the game really broken if stuff doesn't show up until you've triggered its respective quest though? It makes it more linear and perhaps a bit more boring, but I don't see how it makes it where you could become permanently stuck - if anything, given Chet's comments at the end of this post, it seems like the opposite may be true.

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    6. If you take it too far in that direction, then you get things like crucial NPCs not showing up until you've spoken about them with a random other NPC. And that can get a player stuck without knowing why, and with no recourse other than going back to all NPCs and asking them about all topics.

      Other games do this, and my point is that good games find a balance. But also that erring on the side of openness is less frustrating for players than erring on the side of closedness.

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    7. Generally I find games where quests absolutely have to be performed in the correct order and nothing even shows up before you talk to the questgiver pretty artificial. Yeah, Ultima VII could have made some items appear at later stages, like the kill list. But things like finding the baby before being told by its mother that it's missing is a good thing. I appreciate games that let you find a fetch quest's object before you get the quest.

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    8. You don't need to find every quest at its starting point, but the ideal is: From any point at which you can come across a quest, it needs to remain coherent with the world so-far experienced by the player.

      And it's the sort of thing that take a lot of QA I suspect.

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    9. I played two games that blow my mind in case of dealing with unusual player behaviors. There were Deus Ex and Witcher 3. They both feels like thier creators thought of every possible opportunity of breaking gameplay and prevent it. You found a quest item or kill/talk to someone before taking quest? Don’t worry, it will be addresed (Witcher 3). Hostiles are breaking to your brother apartment? Do not escape, hide in safe and the outcome will be totally different (Deus Ex). That felt amazing!

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  5. For the Ultima fans, a tour of Lord British's playground:
    https://youtu.be/j19cKY_L4wM?t=851

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  6. It's sort of a bummer you managed to skip Skara Brae on your main playthrough as it's uniquely structured compared to the rest of the game and makes for a cool palette cleanser among the more sandbox-y content.

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    Replies
    1. I didn't skip it. I'll cover it next time.

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    2. When is this next time, it's been two days since this entry was posted.

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    3. Posts occur roughly every 60 hours, and alternate between games. Each Ultima post is about 5 days apart.

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    4. I need a time Machines...

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  7. I'm really enjoying those posts, I think it's funny they have become something like "how to break a game in 100 ways without even trying" ;-).

    Only thing I disagree with is the baby quest. I like it when things happen in a game that make you feel the world doesn't revolve around you. That the baby has been kidnapped before you meet his (her?) mother seems OK for me. It's better than when all is fine until the very moment when YOU decide to talk to the mother. Of course, the effect is ruined because the mother doesn't care for her baby, but the start of the quest is fine for me.

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    1. To my knowledge, this is the only game which treats babies as an ITEM. That's pretty weird, if you think about it :D

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    2. Yeah the baby quest is very much in the vein of Elder Scrolls - you can pick it up at any point along the line. The only thing that's weird is your party member knowing what to do with it. If this quest were designed by Bethesda there would have been a note at the scene describing where the baby came from and your journal would detail the next step.

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    3. Anonymous: Zelda 2 has a point where Link picks up a kidnapped child and holds it above his head with a big grin as the typical item acquisition fanfare plays.

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    4. I suppose finding the baby before getting the quest is fine. It's more the bit where my party members knew exactly whose baby it was that I minded.

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    5. I think it would be weirder to have the baby as some kind of paper doll PC. That would mean it had hit points, and we all know where that would lead.

      Having it as an object is fine...because let's face it, babies don't have a lot of personality. We even refer to them as "it" which would be a huge no-no otherwise.

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    6. The only game that treats a baby like an item? Baldur's Gate II: Throne of the Bhaal comes to mind... (basically it's an unmovable item in the mother's inventory). Then again, there are several other bodies (both breathing ones and corpses) that one can / is forced by quests to carry around across the series that it shouldn't be so surprising...

      BTW having just a cursory knowledge of the Ultima series, never actually played any of them, the recent blog posts are a very captivating read...

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    7. Oh, God, that Throne of Bhaal plot development is just so, so bad I try not to think about it. Minsc's comments make it almost worth it, but not quite. The idea that you're facing enemies as deadly as they are while your wife carries a BABY in her backpack is just too ridiculous for words.

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    8. I mean if someone didn't happily know whom the baby belonged to, lots of people would probably bury it in their backpack under some beef jerky until they got to Serpent Isle.

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    9. Well, the baby would have plenty of food, then... no teeth to eat it with, though. Teeth should be an inventory item, too.

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    10. Harland, you refer to babies as "it"?

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    11. Wait, BG2 spawns a baby in your romance interest's inventory? LMAO. I wasn't aware of that as I never played through the game with a male character.

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    12. Hell, in Dwarf Fortress dwarves have been known to use their babies as shields.

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    13. It's just one of three romance possibilities, Jarl, and even then you have to do some specific things. It's also only in expansion.

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  8. Can you go back and put that baby in the Britannian nursery or something? Give him to a childless couple, maybe? The poor kid would be better off as a ward of the state than with a mother like that.

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    Replies
    1. That's a cute idea. I should have thought of that.

      Delete
  9. If you "use" a gavel on any parrot in the game it will blurt out the coordinates to that treasure you stumbled across.

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  10. "As religiously-neutral exclamations go, "Praise All!" is pretty lame"
    I have indeed heard "Blast it all!" from religious folks before. One has to at least appreciate a more positive spin on it.

    I was going to gripe about the Guardian being able to talk to the avatar without any of this mentioned "Voice training", but with a little more thinking it makes sense that he would instruct the Fellowship to try and train people to accept his guidance and morality before he talks to that member.

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    Replies
    1. And "Damn it all!" Somehow, blasting or damning EVERYTHING seems more natural and less awkward than praising everything, but I can't articulate why.

      Delete
    2. stepped pyramidsJuly 27, 2020 at 8:57 PM

      As Chet's encounter with Gorn demonstrates, there's no need for training to hear the Voice (although that might be because he's so close to the Cube). Of course, both the Avatar and Gorn are foreign to Britannia, so their minds might be more open to the communication of an interdimensional being.

      ROT13 for minor plot spoilers: Vg'f npghnyyl xvaq bs hapyrne jurgure gur Thneqvna ernyyl gnyxf gb gur Sryybjfuvc enax naq svyr, irefhf gur Phor orvat xvaq bs n cflpuvp vaqbpgevangvba qrivpr. Gur qrfgehpgvba bs gur Phor qbrfa'g cerirag gur Thneqvna sebz gnyxvat gb lbh, sbe vafgnapr. Naq gur fcrpvny cbjre tvira ol gur Phor Cevfz onpxf hc gur vqrn gung vg unf fbzr xvaq bs zvaq pbageby cebcregvrf.

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  11. "There are caltrops lining the entry, and apparently they have an ownership flag attached because my party starts complaining about unvirtuous behavior when I move them out of the way."

    That and the complaints about food on your ship are the kind of things that ruin a game for me more than major bugs do.


    Also, Ben looks like he's wearing a DEVO radiation dome.

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  12. You should keep the baby. It is the strongest weapon in Ultima VII, capable of making your enemies flee in an instant, and you can grab the ammo easily in LBC.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diapers are nice, but I liked force-feeding my enemies blue potions better.

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  13. I very respect your perseverance playing this terrible game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Terrible ? That's rough. Though today plenty of nostalgia probably set in, I remember that back then it was the best RPG I had ever played. It did plenty of things that no RPG before it did, exploration was really great, and if you played the game as expected by the writers (joining the fellowship, etc) you would not meet (most of) the issues pointed out by Chet.
      Yeah combats were terrible, but I did not care. Combat in plenty of RPG back then had terrible combat and/or grinding.

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    2. As much as I'm enjoying U7 coverage, it's posts like this one (taking it as an example), which makes me wonder if it is really fair to the game, as it makes it look like a broken mess, especially to those that might have not played it.

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    3. It IS a broken mess. Ultima 7 IS a broken mess.

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    4. It's not a terrible game at all, but I fear my ultimate conclusion will be that it's not as good as I remembered.

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    5. Although you might say, similar to your remarks on the Dark Savant, that a plot and setting needs to be highly detailed and developed before people can criticize it so much :)

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    6. @Vince I'd argue that any game that lets players get into this state where they're able to do this much out of order and in such a confusing way is a broken mess. It might still be a fun broken mess, though.

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    7. I really loved the first half of the game. The pacing was great, and the sense of discovery was engaging. The second half was much less fun. I think there are two main reasons for this.

      1.The setup and uncovering of the fellowship plot are much more compelling than the resolution

      2. The dungeon exploration is really frustrating because of the combat limitations and the terrible enemy respawn algorithm. Is there any reason enemies need to respawn at all in this game?

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    8. I agree with both items, particularly #2. If they'd respawned when you left and re-entered the dungeon, that might have been okay. But it's ridiculous that you can walk one screen away, return, and find the area restocked with foes. It's especially annoying when you kill a very hard enemy, like a lich or a dragon, but have to re-encounter him repeatedly because his room is at a crossroads.

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    9. Yeah, I always hated the respawn mechanics in the game. I'm wondering WHY they are that way. The Exult forums mention "eggs" for both monsters and resources like magic reagents, which auto spawn when you enter their area, my guess is they don't track them much further than a screen width.

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    10. I hate respawn mechanics in general. They're illogical and break the immersion of a setting. Where do all those fresh monsters come from? I cleared the entire dungeon just a day before, checking every nook and cranny. How come it's fully populated again when I just completely genocided its population?

      In case of a bandit cave, it might make sense for new bandits to arrive and take over the empty hideout, but the amount of corpses everywhere should give them second thoughts. And if they respawn more than once... yeah, at some point it becomes ridiculous. Not to mention undead (whose animated corpses are they when I cleansed the entire crypt and made sure none are left?) and unique enemies like liches and dragons.

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    11. In terms of mechanics, I think you don't want to have your economies be closed-system. It can create a walking dead situation, which is just about the worst sin of game design. If you have an open system (respawning) then the worst case is the player has to grind. In a closed system, if you get to the boss, and you can't beat them with all the RNG scumming tricks, you have to start over and make different spending decisions. Note that this includes both money, XP, and any other economies you might have in your game.

      With a closed system, even if you are very thorough about calculating how many resources the player would need, some player will make monumentally bad decisions that you didn't expect.

      So, respawning is the lesser evil to me...

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    12. Respawning is one of those things that causes an issue at different abstraction levels. In something as abstract as Wizardry, you can shrug it off a lot easier than an Elder Scrolls game that presents itself very much as "what you see is what you get".

      Delete
    13. The Elder Scrolls worlds are large enough that when areas inevitably respawn, it seems relatively natural. I agree with Iffy's comments about the dangers of a closed system.

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    14. I tend to prefer closed systems in theory, but in actuality I tend to feel like the system should fit the setting. A closed area should have a closed system, and vice versa. Something like that is why I bounced off of System Shock hard when I tried playing it a while back, although the fact I was expecting "Ultima Underworld on a space station" in general was the bigger reason

      Delete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. I've been enjoying these U7 posts, but now that we're entering the uncharted territory of "have we broken the game" it's suddenly gone from nostalgia to excitement!

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    Replies
    1. I think this is a good thing.

      And just to be clear, I DO love this game. I replay it every couple of years just for fun. Any commentary I make is more of a "Hmm I've not really closely analyzed this before, I want to go deeper." It in no way makes me enjoy the game less.

      Ultima VII has a very high ranking among CRPG enthusiasts. And when the CRPG started this one, I started to get the feeling it may actually have some of it's glamour removed. Which may not be a bad thing, because before you can say "This is what every CRPG should aspire to be" you should ask "Well what exactly about it MAKES it good?"

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    2. I perhaps wouldn't think it's a good idea to document the game this way except that there are a million other sources that document a "straight" play of U7. Plus, I'll recap the standard sequence for the final entry.

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    3. I like that approach a lot and hope to see it again in other open world games. There are a lot of ways and tropes to guide a player along the story (broken bridges, fragmented keys, trigger quests, ...) and it's interesting to see different ways to use them and different strictness in enforcing. There always has to be a border somewhere - but otoh, there surely exists at least one game where you can walk straight to the endboss and kill him from a safe spot or in a freak accident.

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    4. Theoretically Fallout allows you to march straight to the end boss but you're unlikely to survive the encounter.

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    5. In case it wasn't clear, I like that the posts are following the "broken" path. It was praise, not criticism.

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    6. I think Fallout is broken in many of the ways UVII is. Fallout 2 even more so.

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    7. Not so much. You can sort-step the main quest in both games, but both of those are a "we need this object, go find it", so there's not much of a disconnect if you find it early and skip the intermediate clues.

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    8. Well, the first time I won fallout, I didn’t even find said object. So that’s a bit of an issue,

      Delete
  16. For the Moongate puzzle, I think those flashing lights in the background will indicate some sort of color pattern to follow?

    If that lever to Hook's hideout was intended to be accessible by Telekensis then I don't think you really even need to bother with the final generator at the Fellowship Retreat. (Of course you should for some good story moments.)

    This is what makes me think they actually didn't mean for players to use that lever to get in (only to get out). That would force players to deal with that generator first in order to get into Hook's hideout to get the key. And that would guarantee that you wouldn't see the hitlist early either.

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    Replies
    1. You need the prisms from all three generators at the end of the game.

      Delete
  17. I wonder if the man at the entrance of the Fellowship Retreat lets you in if you're wearing one of the ubiquitous Fellowship Amulets, even if you haven't actually joined?

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    Replies
    1. From the U7 transcripts on Notable Ultima:

      He refuses you entrance.

      "Ah, but thou art not a true Fellowship member! Thou art wearing a medallion falsely. I cannot let thee inside. Goodbye."

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  18. Since nobody else mentioned it, the Star Trek reference in this article title is hilarious given the events in Serpent's Hold.

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  19. Can't remember if I've already posted this sentiment, if so, apologies.

    All of the sequence related problems you've encountered just remind me of why I've never completed this game. Every time I tried, I'd stumble into something out of sequence, or overflow some invisible memory buffer, and my game would, essentially, break.

    This created a real catch 22 situation. Do I read a guide, in order to figure out Origin's "correct" approach to the game? Thereby spoiling any real challenge?

    Or does it make more sense to just play something else.

    I'd generally just choose the latter.

    Which is unfortunate. Many claim this game is a gem. But to me its always just been a buggy mess that I couldn't organically complete.

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    Replies
    1. This was my experience with Fallout: New Vegas, that even years after release seemed to be built out of nothing but bugs leaning against each other precariously and elaborately enough that from a distance it looked like a game. I bailed after about eight hours.

      Whereas Ultima VII is a game I completed organically and without hints or walkthroughs, which is unusual for me with RPGs generally. Not saying that everyone complaining about the bugs is wrong, just saying that I was lucky enough to get the "intended experience", and loved it.

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    2. Probably also worth remembering that an open world with this much interactivity in it was so novel at the time that people were more than willing to forgive the bugs as a natural consequence of trying something ambitious. See also: Ultima Online.

      Actually, on a different tack, see also: the entire works of Peter Molyneux and his various game studios.

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    3. "an open world with this much interactivity in it was so novel at the time"

      I think that was the real issue.

      Due to system requirements/hardware issues I didn't end up playing this until maybe 4-5 years after release. I had seen it upon release, and was completely blown away by it, but my PC just couldn't run the game.

      Which, honestly, I think is probably why the Addict has mentioned that the game isn't quite living up to his memories of it.

      All of that interactivity is awesome, until you realize that memory leaks and poor coding can lead to it breaking your game. Well, that, and the fact that most of said interactivity is ultimately just background noise.

      It's not really compelling gameplay by today's standards, or even by PC gaming standards a few years after it's release.

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  20. In my mind the way Chet is playing it is the right way. This was by far my favorite PC RPG as a kid, and I never played it the right way or actually finished it. I always completely ignored the plot. I was so amazed at how detailed the game world was, how the NPCs all seemed to have their own schedules and all the items could be used. I saw that and it made me just want to play around with the game, and just explore the world, without worrying about the quest, or make up my own quest like Chet is doing with the rune stones. I had never played anything like it before. I never really cared about the silliness of some of the plotlines or how bad the combat was or how broken the world was because I wasnt playing it like a normal video game. I was playing with it like it was a toy using my own imagination. I never finished it until I came back to it as an adult like 15 years later and was disappointed by the actual quest, so nostalgia does play a big part in how this game is remembered. If this was the first open game you ever played than it would feel very revolutionary in spite of how good it was as an actual game.

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  21. The Pendari are a race from Star Trek Voyager, although this game may pre-date Voyager. The Rock played a Pendaran.

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  22. Bit of trivia regarding your comment that the game is called Ultima not Ultimatum. The original title of the first game was Ultimatum but there was another game called that so LB shortened it to Ultima.

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    1. Do you have a source for that? As far as I remember, Ultima was named after the phrase "Ultima Thule", which is also a signpost in the first game.

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    2. https://www.filfre.net/2012/02/ultima-part-1/

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