Friday, July 31, 2020

The Black Gate: Won!

It's not your place to decide what "won!" means for me.
          
Throughout the backstory and in the gameplay so far, there have been several hints about the calamity that befell Skara Brae shortly after the events of Ultima VI. In The Book of Fellowship, Batlin mentions the "terrible fires which ravaged that island." He goes on to say: "Later I made a pilgrimage to the desolate ruins of Skara Brae and there I had a spiritual experience so profound that I have vowed never to relate it to anyone." When I first read the manual, I regarded this as more Batlin balderdash--the kind of thing that a shallow "spiritual leader" would say when unable to describe an actual spiritual experience. It turned out, to my surprise, that Batlin wasn't lying--but more on that later.
   
Ultima VII's Skara Brae is no longer a city of rangers but rather a haunted ruin. The island is surrounded by stones placed at intervals close enough that no ship can approach, and although some commenters have said that there are a few patches clear enough to land a magic carpet, I never saw any. The casual player must approach by ferry from the mainland. The ferry is manned by an undead ferryman who demands 2 gold pieces to cross. No explanation is ever given for how he got his job or why he's condemned to do it for eternity.
        
The inexplicable ferryman accepts his fare.
         
We pay the fare and cross the channel, arriving about mid-afternoon. (My tendency to keep the "Great Light" spell going permanently has essentially erased my ability to assess the time, as if the game is taking place in Alaska in July. Fortunately, I have the watch.) We immediately start encountering ghosts. I have to cast the "Seance" spell to talk with them; one casting seems to last forever. I wish it worked in other places during the game.
     
The first person we talk to happens to be Quenton. Now, you may remember this story from Ultima VI. In that game, we encountered an emotional wreck of a woman named Marney. Her mother had been kidnapped and killed by "Mondain's henchmen," looking for someone named "Relthor" or "Renthar." As the events of Ultima VI were unfolding, her father, Quenton, had just been murdered. Although some witnesses claimed gargoyles had killed him, we found evidence that pointed to a man named Michael, living nearby on the mainland, who said cryptically, "A debt needed to be settled." It was never clear who "Relthor" or "Renthar" was, although the mayor, Trenton, seemed to be hiding something. It was never clear how "Mondain's henchmen" could still be around in living memory. And there was no official way to solve the murder, although my party killed Michael.
         
Why weren't you this talkative when I used "Seance" in the last game. Back then, you just pointed at stuff.
      
Quenton's story in this game "solves" the mystery but only by retconnning it a bit. Quenton's wife, Gwen, wasn't kidnapped by "Mondain's henchmen," but rather just "evil men." Quenton blames his own murder on having borrowed more than he had the ability to repay, and Michael is confirmed as the killer. We hear that Marney eventually succumbed to her grief shortly after we left last time, a sad end to a sad story, although on the positive side, both Gwen's and Quenton's killers were eventually brought to justice in Yew, my killing of Michael being apparently non-canonical.
    
Anyway, Quenton's story is of course less important than the story of what happened to Skara Brae to make it a burned, ghost-infested ruin. The full story becomes clear only after talking to multiple NPCs, but it begins with the mage Horance, once a goofy man, given to speaking in rhyme, who lived on an island off the coast in Ultima VI. I guess his rhyme-speak, which we found amusing at the time, was a sign of growing mental illness. Horance eventually decided to seek eternal life by making himself a lich (which the game insists on spelling as "liche"). Ultima in general doesn't go into a lot of detail about lich lore, but the ritual apparently involves inviting a demon to inhabit your body, which then represses the original personality, thus somewhat ruining the benefits of eternal life. In any case, the ritual worked for Horance, and he began terrorizing the town. One of his crimes was to kidnap Rowena, wife of the local blacksmith, Trent.
      
Trent is unhappy about this turn of events.
       
The town healer, Mistress Mordra, came up with a plan to free the town of the lich. She enlisted the help of the mayor, Forsythe, Trent, and the local alchemist, Caine. Trent was to build an iron cage to contain the lich. Caine was to brew a special potion to pour over the cage once Horance was contained. Somehow, Forsythe ended up with the list of ingredients needed for the spell, which he read to Caine while the latter was brewing the concoction. Unfortunately, Forsythe misplaced a decimal or something, and he accidentally told Caine to use 10 times the amount of "mandrake essence" as he was actually supposed to use. The resulting explosion destroyed the entire island and killed everyone.
      
Horance somehow prevented any of their spirits from moving on, and instead ensorcelled them so that all the residents of Skara Brae have to march to Horance's castle every night at midnight and participate in a "black mass." None of them actually remember this later. Meanwhile, Rowena sits at Horance's side, unable to remember herself. Trent, not realizing he's dead, continues to hammer at the cage. Miscellaneous skeletons and ghosts wander the ruins and attack. The souls of Skara Brae's past dead are trapped in the Well of Souls in Horance's tower. And poor Caine, unable to forgive himself for what he did to the town, imagines that he's constantly surrounded by fire. The other ghosts call him "The Tortured One." It's from him that Alagner the sage wants me to obtain the secrets of life and death.
         
The Tortured One explains how he got his name.
         
The quest frankly isn't hard enough to solve that it should have been left undone for 200 years. I see it as yet another black mark against Lord British. Mistress Mordra gives me most of the instructions, which boil down to completing the ritual that they had attempted in the first place. She provides all the ingredients for the potion, which we take to Caine's laboratory and create using his apparatus. Here, I'll pause to note that the "essence of mandrake" potion has some beautiful graphics. It's a marbled red and yellow, I think, but constantly shifting rather than a solid color. It strikes me as a lot of work, graphically, to put into such a small item.
         
Mordra walks me through everything.
Brewing the mixture. There's only one essence of mandrake, so you can't really screw it up.
        
We then had to snap Trent out of his haze by bringing him Rowena's ring. This, in turn, meant briefly waking up Rowena to who she really was by bringing a music box from her old house, putting it on the floor, and playing it. We met Horance during this visit, but he didn't seem surprised or alarmed by the party's presence. He says he intends to rule all Britannia, but come on, Horance--you haven't made any move off this island in two centuries.
        
Rowena comes to her senses.
Horance interprets both answers the same way.
          
Trent needs an iron bar from the cemetery to finish the cage. Once again, I read and translate every gravestone while I'm there. Unlike the ones in Yew, they don't seem to be in-jokes (although some sound like real names), but a lot of them are just weird. A whole batch of them involve food puns that aren't very good. Here you go:
             
  • REY. INSTALLED HERE.
  • JACKIE D. AS IN D FOR DINNER.
  • BRIAN S. FOOD WAS HIM.
  • MICHELLE G. BRINGER OF DINNER.
  • JOHN T. GONE AND WENT.
  • HERE LIES DONNA. SHE IS A GONNA. (This one is replicated in Yew.)
  • WAYNE S. THE FOOD WAS GREAT.
  • W. HAGY. FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
  • M. STEVENS. ARRIVED WITH GIFTS.
  • ELGELETH. QUEEN FOR A DAY. WORM FOOD FOREVER.
  • JEFF F. FED BUT NEVER ATE.
  • CRAIG C. WAS DELIVERED.
  • BETH AND MICHAEL. WORM FOOD.
  • RHOODE. A MORE DESERVING MAN NEVER DIED.
  • SARNAN. WAS NOT MISSED BUT IS NOW.
  • WAMPOL. HERE HE LIED, NOW HERE HE LAYS.
  • GREGHIM. OLD AGE NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD.
  • DESTRA. WOUNDED BY A LOVERS SPURNING.
  • JRRT. A GREAT MAN, A GREAT WRITER. (This in a gold plaque affixed to a statue, obviously referring to J. R. R. Tolkien.)
  • FOR THE LOVE OF MARNEY. (A gold plaque in a tomb with a secret door. An NPC mentions that Yorl, Marney's guardian after her father's death, erected this special tomb.)
           
Studying Marney's tomb.
      
  • KEVIN B. DIED AWAY FROM THE CHILTONS. 
  • GALLER. CAME, SAW, WAS CONQUERED.
  • DARREN MCDONALD. WHO IS FALTRAN.
  • HERE'S TONY MORSE. HE'S DEAD OF COURSE.
  • HERE'S LARRY SALAMOT. GROSS.
  • ERLEMAR. GREATEST ENCHANTER OF HIS DAY.
         
We have to dip the cage into the Well of Souls, then lock it onto Horance while he slumbers on a slab during the midnight ritual. Waiting for midnight took longer than anything else during this session, and I actually left the island for a while to clean up some errands on the continent, including selling gold bars and nuggets, buying more reagents, and spending my final skill-development points. I also took a ship up to Ambrosia and checked out that fortress building in the middle of the bay, only to find nothing important.
        
Dipping the cage in the Well of Souls.
         
When I return at midnight, everything goes fine. We snap the cage onto Horance and douse it with the potion. The "lich" part of Horance flees howling into the ether, and what's left is a kindly old ghost who apologizes for his actions. He asks me to bring Rowena home to her husband while he figures out how to destroy the Well of Souls. Rowena and Trent are joyously reunited.
         
Using the cage on the lich as the rest of the townsfolk sleep nearby.
       
(Since you kill the Lich during the ritual, all of the ghosts from the town are in the fortress at the time. If you speak with them, they have dialogues that include banter with each other--banter that would normally be impossible because during the day, they're in separate buildings. You'd only ever get the dialogue by speaking to these NPCs immediately after destroying the lich. It's funny that the developers put so much detail into this one area and overlooked so many other things.)
        
NPCs have dialogue that only makes sense for a few minutes in this one place.
        
Horance tells me that to destroy the Well of Souls, some soul will have to jump into it, sacrificing himself for the others. It has to be a dead soul, severed from the body, so my party is out of consideration. Horance doesn't volunteer himself for unknown reasons. He suggests I ask Forsythe, for as mayor, "it is his right to be considered before the others."
          
Maybe you could do it since you, you know, tortured everyone for centuries?
         
Forsythe would happily forgo that honor, and frankly I think what happens to him next is a bit unfair. He insists that I first speak to everyone else in town, including the ferryman, plus Trent and Rowena, who were just reunited. Now, Forsythe isn't being the bravest soul here, but it's still not exactly fair that he's automatically the default. And a lot of the other NPCs get out of it for awfully spurious reasons. In fact, only Mistress Mordra seems to have a good reason; she's tied herself to other entities spiritually, so that if she jumps in the well, it will have devastating consequences for the land.
    
Caine would be an obvious choice, for instance, but he just insists it's his lot to suffer forever in his imaginary flames. Yes, even solving the lich problem didn't free Caine. There should have been more options for me to convince Caine it wasn't his fault, and that he can both sacrifice himself and free himself from his self-imposed torture. Most other NPCs simply decline without considering it (the tavernkeeper: "Oh, goodness no. I do not think I'm the one thou wantest for that job.") or by pretending they don't even understand the question (the waitress Paulette: "Thou wantest met to jump in a well? Well, thou canst go jump in a lake!"). The ferryman would happily do it to relieve himself of his monotonous job, but he resignedly says that he cannot, because of whatever geas binds him here.

So Forsythe finally sucks it up, shows some bravery, and marches to the well. He tries to stall a bit but ultimately says, "I suppose I didn't make a very good mayor in life . . . At least in death, I'll make a name for myself and do the job right." He jumps, and the souls are freed.
        
I'm not even sure either of us is clear about what he's sacrificing. Is his own soul destroyed, or is it trapped in the well in lieu of the others?
       
Horance rewards us with a Firedoom Staff, which we immediately drop on the floor and leave there, since it's deadly to friend and foe alike. He announces his intention to stay and try to rebuild Skara Brae "into a shining example of spirituality; a shrine where people of good heart may live in peace and harmony." I have no idea how he plans to do that as a ghost, but lacking any other worthy living person to give it to, I drop the Rune of Spirituality beside him on my way out. I find myself wondering if Horance is really the right "person" to wield it and find I no longer really care.
          
Discarding the last rune.
          
My last stop is at Caine's. I've done what he wanted, and now it's his turn to give me the answers to the secrets of Life and Death. But he just smiles at me and calls me a fool. "There are no answers," he says. "Only questions." Then he demands I leave his shop.
       
If you weren't dead, I'd kill you.
   
Oh, young readers, I would like you to imagine the party riding the ferry on the way back to the mainland. Imagine that they are all smiles and happiness, reveling in their triumph over the darkness that had infested Skara Brae. Imagine that they ask a few pointed questions of the ferryman, who reveals that his enchantment is such that he may only escort the Avatar and the Avatar's companions, which explains why neither Lord British nor any other Britannian in the last 200 years attempted to free the island of its torments. Imagine, still, that upon arriving in Britain, Lord British falls on his knees before the Avatar, thanking him for ending this travesty, this centuries-old affront to the very ideals on which Britannia once stood, this wrong grave enough that its righting would be the entire plot of a lesser game. Imagine further that Lord British is convinced by the Avatar's evidence of the Fellowship's treachery, of the Guardian's threat, and vows to stir himself from his torpor and make himself worthy of the mantle of king again. Imagine that Lord British, the Avatar, and his worthy companions, working together, manage to end the threat and restore virtue to Britannia. Imagine such, and end your reading here. Close your browser. Move on to the next game, and pretend that all is right in Britannia forevermore.
          
Move forward at your peril. For I promise you: you are not going to like what happens next.
        
Imagine this.
          
My companions start demanding food as we take the ferry back across the channel. Oh, but I am so tired. So tired of them, and their inability to do anything for themselves, of their complete dereliction of duty whenever I'm not in town. So tired of this place, with its shifting stories that make no sense; with its inevitable degradation no matter how hard I struggle; with its absolutely useless ruler who doesn't even notice the decay around him; with its conniving, ungrateful population, the best of them sacrificing and the worst succeeding; with its insistence in calling me "the Avatar" but without showing any interest in me being "the Avatar." In my entire visit, I've spoken to maybe two or three people who I actually like, and a couple of them are clearly doomed, including the suicidally-depressed Nastassia. In her, I see a future Marney, no matter how hard I might try to build a life with her.
   
We land the carpet on the streets of Britain, and I lead the party into Lord British's throne room. I open a dialogue with him, hoping he has anything mitigating to say. Maybe a congratulations for freeing Skara Brae from a lich? Maybe an excuse for why he couldn't do it himself, or one of his knights couldn't have done it, for two centuries? Maybe some acknowledgement that the Fellowship is a menace and Batlin is the worst of the lot? But no, he just has the same pabulum as before. Sighing, I open my spellbook, look Lord British in the eyes, and say, "IN CORP HUR TYM."
         
This spell could easily be cast accidentally by someone choking while trying to say "Incorporation."
      
Magic bursts from me. The ground rumbles and the sky thunders. Behind me, I hear my companions fall lifeless to the floor. You will think that I do not grieve them, nor the other roughly-100 remaining citizens of Britannia who just died, just because the rest of this entry is not about that grief. But I do. I grieved them from the moment that I knew this would be the end. Their deaths were instantaneous, with no suffering, which is a far greater mercy than they would have faced under the Guardian's rule. More important, it is a far greater mercy than they would have faced under the capricious, indifferent rule of an immortal, indestructible sovereign who lets entire cities burn even as a sinister society schemes the throne out from under him using the most obvious means.
    
That sovereign, of course, is unfazed. With a look of anger, not grief, he bellows:
      
Fool! What possessed thee to cast that damned Armageddon spell? I knew it was dangerous! Thou didst know it was dangerous! Now look at us! We are all alone on the entire planet! Britannia is ruined! What kind of Avatar art thou?! Now, with no Moongates working, we are both forced to spend eternity in this blasted wasteland! Of course, it could be viewed as a clever solution to all of our problems. After all, not even this so-called Guardian would want Britannia now!
       
His words confirm the wisdom of what I have just done. The land was doomed anyway. Does that sound like the speech of a good king, grieving over the loss of his entire populace? It sounds to me more like a child, angry that I've just broken his toy. He's angry, not grief-stricken, not horrified. Just angry. He also unwittingly lets on that he knows about the Guardian--probably has known about him for a long time. And what's that line about the "clever solution"? How would such a thing even occur to a moral person, a true king, at a time like this? For the hundredth time, I have to wonder why Richard Garriott allowed his alter-ego to be portrayed this way. Lord British has literally done nothing worthy of his reputation since he converted that demon in Ultima V--and even that was rectonned so that the demon was a gargoyle and thus not really evil in the first place.
    
What Lord British doesn't know is that neither of us is going to be stuck in this world with the other, either. I remove the Black Sword from my pack. "Death," I whisper to it. What follows is a dramatic event, with the demon coming forward and speaking through my mouth and controlling my hands.
          
The sword and Lord British have unique dialogue for just this eventuality.
Including the moron calling for his dead guards.
    
The resulting graphic shows Lord British's decapitated corpse sprawled over his throne. I stare at it for a while and leave.
         
Mission accomplished.
       
I head into the lifeless streets of Britain and walk to the Fellowship Hall. Batlin is standing near the entrance, more bemused than horrified. As we gaze out upon the continual storm that "Armageddon" has unleashed, he tells me his story:
              
Many years ago, Avatar. I went to Skara Brae, the ghost city. The way the world is now reminds me of that dead place. In Skara Brae, I had a spiritual experience, so profound that I have never spoken to another soul. I would like to share that experience with thee now, Avatar. 

There at Skara Brae, I saw a man who was called The Tortured One. I asked this dead man, pray tell, what is the answer to the question of Life and Death? He gave me no reply, and I asked him again. I beseeched him to impart some small parcel of wisdom upon me. What is the answer to the question of Life and Death?! He said nothing, but in his eyes . . . In his eyes, I could see, Avatar, that he could not answer me for there was no answer to give. No answers to the question of Life and Death! It was then I understood. No meanings! No virtues! No values!!!

I commend thee, Avatar, for reaching the same liberating illumination. 
             
I turn to him, and he raises his face to meet mine. "I'm ready to join the Fellowship now," I say. He stares at me incredulously for a few seconds and then begins laughing--halting at first, but soon collapsing into an insane, never-ending bellow. It sounds a bit like a scream. His voice is still echoing down the streets of the city as I board the magic carpet.*
         
Batlin gets the punishment he deserves: eternity alone in a lifeless prison.
         
I dolefully make my way south to the Meditation Retreat, enter, and walk out with the cube prism. It makes people tell the truth, but there's no one left to use it on. I fly from there to the Isle of the Avatar and wander its halls until I find the chamber with the Black Gate. An image of the Guardian forms in my mind.

"Stop the Avatar!" it orders. But there's no one to stop me. Everyone in the room is dead, even Batlin (somehow). I thus take the three prisms out of my backpack and place them in their receptacles around the Black Gate, lowering its defenses.*
          
Removing the force field around the Black Gate. Knowing this game, there's probably some way to accidentally walk right through it.
         
"So, Avatar, the moment of truth has come," the Guardian booms in my head. "You can destroy the Black Gate, but you will never return--" He's still talking as I walk through the gate and out of Britannia forever, without even a look behind me. My only regret is that I won't see his face when he arrives to this cold and lifeless world.
       
The Guardian still doesn't get it.
        
"You wonder how you are to live with the guilt for deserting Britannia and leaving its fate in the hands of the Guardian," the game says, but it doesn't know what it's talking about. I don't wonder. Not at all.
    
Final time: 72 hours
  
 *Everything in this paragraph I made up because I thought it sounded good. Batlin has no dialogue after he tells his story.
  
**Batlin, Hook, et. al., actually have their normal endgame dialogue at this point, despite their bodies being dead on the floor, but it intrudes with my narrative, so I didn't include it. 

174 comments:

  1. You're not the Avatar that Britannia needs... but you're the Avatar it deserves.

    I just wanted to note how much I've come to appreciate this blog. It's a lot of fun to read, and is giving me a chance to learn about some of the great RPGs that were a bit before my time (you're actually just about getting to my time). Keep up the good work.

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  2. Oh wow. A bit funny that they made Armageddon dialogs for LB and Baitlin, but not for the final battle.

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  3. Well, I hat a good laugh. Expect the unexpected when reading the crpg addict ;-)

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    1. *had (screw this for its missing correction feature)

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  4. Well after the Avatar Gideon's pout about missing the celebrations in Ultima VI, I shouldn't be surprised by his actions now. :)

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  5. This is excellent writing and an even better ending than what was originally intended! It fits perfectly with the way that Chet has played the game. Kudos!

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  6. Well, that was a twist I didn't see coming. Excellent writing!

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    1. I'm glad you think so. I still think the Avatar's decision was a little rash and I could have spent a few more paragraphs building to it, but I didn't want the blog to cross over completely into fan fiction.

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  7. Well....That escalated quickly.

    What? Someone had to say it. 8-P

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  8. Surplaying comes to its logical conclusion!

    One minor continuity bit that unreasonably bothers me is that the incantation for Armaggeddon keeps changing between games. And yeah, Batlin surviving that spell is pretty weird, and the character of the Ferryman makes little or no sense.

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    1. More weirdness: I believe ghe ferryman also 'survives' Agmageddon, but the spirits kn SB don't.

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    2. That's what I was wondering, too. How did Batlin survive and how did he visit Skara Brae if the ferryman could only take the avatar and his companions? Unless I missed something?

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    3. stepped pyramidsJuly 31, 2020 at 6:16 PM

      Batlin is immortal in this game, presumably due to his connection to the Guardian. There's reason to believe in canon that he's on par with Lord British in power. The dead 'Batlin' at the Black Gate is a bug; because of engine limitations, it's a different NPC so that he can both be in Britain and at the Black Gate. In normal play, he teleports away and lets his henchmen fight you. Yes, if you turn around at this point you'll find him still waiting in Britain. It's likely that the intention was that a "normal" player would have tried to use the Cube Prism on him earlier on, which makes him freak out and teleport away. This makes it less surprising when he shows up at the Black Gate. (There's a lot of stuff in this game that relies on the player following an "expected" linear series of actions.)

      The thing about the Ferryman only being able to take the Avatar was a hypothetical situation Chet was presenting as an example of a way that the situation in Skara Brae could be justified in the plot, not something that's actually said in game.

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    4. You can kill Batlin by using the Deathbolt spell while he's conducting the evening fellowship service.

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  9. The Ultima VII Part 2 playthrough ought to be fun. Hopefully Armageddon didn't reach that far.

    Congrats? I guess? It was a fun read either way. Gotta love games that let you end things on a note like this.

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  10. I just realized this isn't the first time a major city in Britannia was destroyed... back in Ultima 4, Magincia had been destroyed for its pride and taken over by, er, gargoyles I presume. And against this invasion, British did nothing for a long time, either: the wiki timeline puts at least 76 years between its destruction and its cleansing.

    You will likely enjoy the fact that numerous people in Serpent Isle share your negative view on British (that's not a spoiler, it's in the manual).

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    1. THAT's where everyone calls him the "Beast British." I was searching for a screenshot of a gargoyle saying it and wondering why I couldn't find it.

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  11. Having nearly died from a misplaced decimal point myself, I feel for Skara Brae. Triple check your numbers, people.

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    1. I'm guessing your story either involves a hospital or a construction site.

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    2. Or NASA. Or an ultra-conservative Catholic school.

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    3. High-rise demolition site? Chemistry lab? Military testing ground?

      ...wait, what?! A Catholic school? Why?!!

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    4. A math contest?

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    5. Those competitive mathematicians can be vicious.

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    6. I'm pretty sure he's just referring to the Nuns.......


      Gods the rulers can haunt dreams by themselves...

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  12. This actually makes a lot of sense in-story. This is, IIRC, the last Ultima game set in Britannia until IX, which changes things up, shall we say.

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    1. There's Underworld 2 though.

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    2. stepped pyramidsJuly 31, 2020 at 6:07 PM

      And unlike UW1, UW2 is in continuity with the main games, being a direct sequel to this game and having some (minor) relevance to Serpent Isle's plot.

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  13. Congratulations in winning this one, even without doing anything that was expected from you.

    I wonder how this will be rated. It surely invoked emotions, but mostly disappointment and spite, as it reads. But enjoyable disappointment and spite, even though the game didn't fully pull off what it tried. But it tried stuff nobody tried before.

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  14. Hahaha. Much better ending than the straight one will be.

    Imagine if the game intended to end with the realisation that Brittania is largely a creation of British, and that as long as he remains there, his creation will echo his own selfish indolence. The virtues are a fiction he preaches of but never practices, and so rather than do the hard work himself, he invented you. But no matter what example you set, his essence taints the land, and every time you leave, Brittania starts reverting to its ignoble pre-Avatar self. The Guardian is actually a manifestation of the resentment he feels towards the Avatar, as you are beloved and he is merely tolerated.

    Subtle clues left throughout the game (they arguably already are!) lead a thoughtful player to cast Armageddon and get a more fulfilling ending, as well as the hope of giving Britannia a fresh start - maybe via small groups which survived in various protective locations (maybe engineered by you).

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    1. ... maybe via small groups which survived in various protective locations (maybe engineered by you).

      story checks out with profile pic!

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    2. Hah, so it does, clever observation.

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    3. I was actually thinking along these lines--that Lord British himself holds the land in a state of perpetual primitivism, that it allows him to live out his fantasies of being a benevolent feudal overlord that he developed from playing too much D&D as a child.

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    4. Cue Arcanum. I always did think that the conspicuous geographical similarity of its world and Britannia was no coincidence.

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  15. Imagine a gypsy asking you such a question: "The land you once loved has disgraced and no one there Justly deserves to live anymore. Would you A)Show the land and its people true Justice by the means of mass execution B)Show Compassion?".

    Although, its kinda beside the point, now that British's outed as a Wizard-of-Oz-style con-man, and virtues proven meaningless by the illuminating revelation the Avatar shared with Batlin... XD

    The most surprising for me, personally, is the fact that the game ACTUALLY treats it as a legitimate solution, with that "clever solution" line by British and nigilistic illumination of Batlin actually confirmed by "the one with answers" REALLY having no answers.

    Wonder if your Avatar in the next games will have the same name after THAT story. =)

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  16. Death to beast british!

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  17. I think this is quite likely the single most extraordinary entry I've read at this blog. As far as alternative takes on game endings go - it is amazing, absolutely. You wiped out Britannia, you killed Lord British... and still were able to finish the game. Extraordinary indeed.

    As for Lord British seeming so incompetent (and as for a whole bunch of other weird and silly things), I think Ultima VII is roughly the point when the world-building in the Ultima series starts breaking down. There is a conflict between developer intentions and developer constraints. The devs want to improve the world, to create more complex plots, and generally to elevate world-building to a higher level, but they are constrained by the world itself, by its rules, history and characters. Lord British is one such constraint - in many ways, it would make more sense if he was just completely gone in this game (and in U9), either dead, kidnapped, or just inexplicably missing (blame it on the Guardian). But of course, he's just one of many issues, and certainly nowhere near as problematic as the silliness inherent to having each town built around one virtue. What was exciting and innovative a few games earlier, by this point was simply running out of mileage.

    I know people don't have much respect for U8 - and rightly so, I suppose, as a game it is certainly very problematic - but I will say, I found the world-building of U8 much more interesting than Britannia in U6 and U7. As a matter of fact, even though I haven't played Serpent Isle, from its description, its world also sounds much more interesting than Britannia. It's as if, whenever the team was set free from the constraints of Britannia, they immediately get more creative with the world-building.

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    1. Yeah, I didn't play the Ultimas as a kid, only in the late 00s when I got into abandonware, and the worldbuilding seemed kinda eh to me. Very messy overall thanks to years of baggage from previous games that the devs didn't fully know what to do with. Especially when they decided that the hero of Ultima 1 and 2 was the Avatar, too. It all seemed very silly to me.

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    2. I agree with Jakub. I thought this ending was fantastic and a very enjoyable read. I think the reason I liked it so much is that I didn't see it coming at all, but yet in retrospect it was entirely appropriate for the character you were role-playing throughout the entries.

      For how long did you know you were going to end the game this way? Can't be from the very beginning. Can it?

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    3. No. I made the decision about halfway through the entry, mostly for space reasons (I.e., there was too much to cover in the “real” ending to tack it on to Skara Brae, but S.B. alone was too short).

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    4. I was thinking this. It would have been great if Ultima VIII had been the start of the Avatar exploring other worlds of adventure. Or at least the parts of the original Sosaria that disappeared between Ultima I and Ultima III, as they did with Serpent Isle.

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    5. Ultima VIII was the only Ultima i played as a kind and honestly i liked it a lot. Great worldbuilding and a great atmosphere of general dread.

      It would be a great game if not for the stupid jumping minigames.

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    6. Don't forget the (official) patch that gets rid of the stupid jumping minigames when you play, addict! I'll be very curious to see your take on 8...

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  18. I suppose it was inevitable, with your mounting disappointment in U7 as a whole. Maybe I could more easily forgive its flaws because I'm not as attached to the Ultima series.

    I'm curious how it will GIMLET, because the entries read as if the flaws greatly outweigh the positives in your experience.

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    1. Have a bit more faith... the Addict's response just above yours suggests there's more to come. :-) I'd say the entries in total suggest there's at least as much to like as there is to criticize in this game, and the very fact it allows this as a valid ending is to its credit.

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    2. Being angry at the in-game characters isn't quite the same thing as not liking the game. Obviously, the game is going to be high on the list. it just may not be at the top.

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    3. You could argue that being angry at the characters is better than feeling nothing towards them. After all, they're just some sprites with a text label and some conversation trees. To be able to invoke any emotion is something special. Did any character in Realms of Arkania, say, manage this?

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    4. I was just writing something along these lines for the final entry. If nothing else, U7 deserves credit for offering enough depth that I experienced an emotional reaction to the characters--annoyance in the case of Lord British, actual hatred in the case of the Fellowship. It's hard to think of another RPG character or faction that has inspired that level of reaction.

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  19. This is absolutely hilarious. Love that it was actually possible to finish the game this way.

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  20. The Addict should name his next character Pol Pot.

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    1. Brittania as Democratic Kampuchea, with Dead Kennedy's music playing over and over.

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  21. Does this mean, you're done with Ultima? ;)

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  22. Sorry for the english..but..there is any other games..that let you finish the game in a way like this? Maybe i'm wrong,but for me..this is what a true rpg have to let you do..build and living your story..great work "Avatar"!!!

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    1. Arcanum has a good number of endings, including one where you join the last boss in ruling over the dead world (and possibly betray him later to rule alone). It was the only game I ever played with an evil character (it was really hard for me to do so), though of course not on the first playthrough.

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    2. As the title suggests, in Liberation: Captive 2 you are supposed to go around freeing political prisoners, but you can kill them instead. The game recognises this as completing the mission, but you don't get the completion cut scene and instead you get a message saying "There are better ways to finish."

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    3. There's quite a few RPGs where once you've hit a certain point in the plot you can basically just murder everyone and still win the game. I don't know of many that actually recognize that action and add dialogue accordingly though.

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  23. I started Ultima 7 last February. I was sure I was going to finish it before the Addict. I can't believe Chester won it before me. I am just at the entrance of Hythloth.

    Well, congratulations! I will read this entry in a few days, though :)

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  24. "It's funny that the developers put so much detail into this one area and overlooked so many other things."

    Big games are made by lots of people. Typically this results in the world being broken up into geographic regions for production. Whoever was in charge of Skara Brae had a contained little sandbox in which to add all sorts of nice details. Whoever was working on Lord British's castle might not have known what was going on elsewhere.

    It takes a very strong authorial hand to wrangle a game this size, and there weren't a lot of examples in the industry to work from at the time!

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    1. Speaking as one who is doing art director duties on a game at this moment, AMEN!

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  25. Top ten twist endings of all time

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  26. Ah, the tragic story of the Avatar who is initially so invested he starts off cleaning up rubbish around a lake but descends so far he commits genocide. A tale for the ages.

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  27. Replies
    1. This needs to become a meme.

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    2. I just had an idea: a subreddit called /r/thouhastlostaneighth. People post news articles and videos that show other people acting in ways contrary to one of the Ultima virtues. The only titles allowed are the names of the virtues that have been violated.

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  28. Regarding the final score, while Chet is obviously completely over the plot and worldbuilding in the game, I think it at least deserves some points for making a completely non-canon ending technically possible and "winnable"

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    1. I wouldn’t say that. I still think the game has an excellent plot. I just think it’s flawed in such a way that this conclusion is plausible.

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    2. It raises a question: is it better to have a game which offers you lots of possible ways to play it, even if some combinations create logical weirdness like this, or a game which has far fewer options, but then every path through it makes sense?

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  29. Haha, great end -- I know that at least one time I beat this game I first killed Batlin and British, then cast Armageddon, then went and finished the game. Although I destroyed the gate rather than just walking through.

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  30. Also was that a Dark Tower reference in the post or just a coincidence?

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    1. Good eye. It was deliberate. In fact, I was going to copy it directly (changing a few words), but I could t find my hard copy, couldn’t find the quote I needed online, and didn’t want to pay $12.99 for a paragraph of text.

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  31. PetrusOctavianusJuly 31, 2020 at 9:13 PM

    And thus the idealistic boy who used to live by the virtues of Ultima IV has become death, destroyer of worlds.

    Great stuff!

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  32. I'm not totally clear on how much of this the game supports, and how much is story in the blog. If you were actually able to cast Armageddon and unleash the Black Sword to slay Lord British, that's actually amazing that the game gives you the freedom to do that.

    We included a Thermonuclear Blast spell in the Quest for Glory series. It's teased from early in the series, but can only be used in the last game. If you do cast it in the final battle, the Hero dies, but he also saves the land by destroying the ultimate evil, a sort of heroic sacrifice. Not the recommended ending, but certainly one everyone should try once after saving the game. :-)

    We had some trouble with it crashing the game on Macintosh, so I'm not sure if it (and the graphical effects) made it into the final build. But we strongly believe that players should have choices, even to achieve a "wrong" ending.

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    1. Well, the description for Thermonuclear Blast DOES say it kills everything within a five mile radius, so I'll just pretend it crashing the Mac version of QFG5 is an intended effect of the spell. XD

      Also hello, and thank you for five wonderful games! ^_^

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    2. Everything I wrote in the entry is taken directly from the game except the one bit that I footnoted.

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    3. Although I suppose I should add: while things like casting the "Armageddon" spell, killing Lord British, and taking the "bad" ending at the Black Gate are all INDIVIDUALLY possible and have individual results, the game has no sense of what's happened CUMULATIVELY. That is, upon arriving at the Black Gate, the game doesn't know (or care) that you've cast "Armageddon" and killed Lord British. You can still do the "proper" thing, destroy the gate, and get the regular ending. The continual narrative in which I pieced these things together is my own invention.

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    4. Are you sure you can still destroy the gate after using Armageddon? I've always heard it's impossible to beat the game if you've used it, but you were still able to get the bad ending despite it.

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    5. Yes. I just did it again to make sure.

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    6. Huh. Sounds like one of those long standing rumors that no one actually tried testing out then... that, or maybe I'm thinking of Ultima 6 doing that

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    7. Yes: in U6, after casting Armaggeddon activating the Vortex Cube simply doesn't work.

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  33. https://lparchive.org/Ultima-VII-The-Black-Gate/

    That's a screenshot Let's Play of the entire game. It goes off the rails at the very start of the game rather than Chet's slow build, but it's an entertaining read.

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    1. I never thought I would see an Avatar worse than Steve, but here we are.

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    2. It goes off the rails about three-and-a-half GAMES earlier than this :)

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    3. Steve is the best Avatar. And her ending to Serpent Isle is nearly as good as this.

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  34. There was something I thought of after reading this entry: the plot would have probably been better had the game taken place a lot less than 200 years after 6. SB still being a ruin wouldn't be quite as big of a sore thumb, the Guardian would seem more powerful because now he's made things go to crap much quicker, and Lord British wouldn't seem as incompetant because things wouldn't have been bad for as long.

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    1. I agree. If it was going to be 200, they should have done more with it, making the Avatar a true mythological figure and having none of the residents believe that the current character could possibly be the Avatar.

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    2. That would have been neat. As is, it feels like they tried to have things both ways, where they wanted a "It's been a long time and a lot has changed" feeling while also wanting to have a bunch of returning things, and it doesn't really mesh well together.

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    3. There must be something about the number 200 that makes game developers ruin their worldbuilding with it. Bethesda set their version of Fallout 200 years after the war which just raises a bunch of similar questions to this game, i.e. 'why has nobody done anything in all this time?'.

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    4. When I first saw Ultima VII being played by a friend of mine, seeing Iolo so old really made me believe 200 years had passed!

      Unfortunately, that particular narrative falls apart rather fast after seeing NONE of your other companions, even ones like Sentri, haven't aged at all.

      I agree that it would have been better if the Avatar was truly mythical in nature at this point. Such that NO one believes it's him except his closest companions. It would be like if George Washington was walking around. Lord British may advise you to be more anonymous. AND it would make Batlin immediately addressing you as the Avatar even more suspicious.

      This play-through of U7 is reminding me of when I re-watched Cowboy Bebop (an anime) two years ago at their 20th anniversary mark. A good anime with great music (not your typical J-pop) but as I watched further and further I realized how juvenile and simple the plots and characters were. Re-reading old Marvel comics from the 80's also made that impression on me.

      Video games, I think, usually don't aim much higher than this, so it's not out of line. It just disappoints because there's so much that could have been done to make it better. And games CAN do better. Even though it's a rather violent FPS, Bioshock Infinite uses some pretty heavy thematic elements that I still find myself considering, especially in the recent months.

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    5. Something I thought of after my initial comment is that it would have also been interesting to have a decent chunk of the old companions dead, considering most of them didn't seem to be from Earth. You could have had their decendants around, with stuff to show that the companions lived a full life. As is, it kinda feels like they've been doing pretty much the same thing for the past 200 years and not much else

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    6. I agree! Visiting the graves of old companions, meeting their decendants, that would have been so much more tragic and deep and interesting.

      Ultima borrows the "different time flow" from Chronicles of Narnia, where characters are shocked to see decades or even centuries have passed since they were last there. But it doesn't make good use of it, sadly.

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    7. Yeah, if you want to have a massive time skip, you should make sure to use it. As is, it feels like you can chop the last digit off of anything time related and it'd change nothing. Might improve things, even.

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    8. In the U5 manual they state anyone from Earth ages only at 1/10 the normal rate in Brittania. Their effort to explain how various companions are still alive. Of course this doesn't explain Shamino's longevity, as he is a native. Or the fact everyone else acts like only 20 years has passed, not just your companions and LB.

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    9. I generally dislike too large periods of time passing between games. On the one hand, you wonder what happened during that time in the world. If you look at our world, 200 years would encompass the American Revolution, the Civil War, industrialization, WW1, WW2, the rise and fall of fascism and communism, and the Cold War. That's a lot of stuff happening. If we go back into the middle ages or antiquity and let 200 years pass, we also get massive changes. 1300-1500 for example will see the fall of Byzantium, discovery of America, Reconquista in Spain, the 100 Years War in France, the issuing of the Golden Bull in the HRE, etc etc. 200 years is a long, long time and a lot of stuff is going to happen.

      Then we look at games where 200 years pass between entries and usually you just get one or two major events and that's it. Skyrim is set 200 years after Morrowind and Oblivion but all that happened was the destruction of Morrowind and the rise of the Thalmor. Those events could have happened in 50 years rather than 200. Meanwhile you don't see any of the technological progress you would expect after 200 years. Same with Fallout 3. Why isn't everything rebuilt? Compare that to Fallout 2 vs Fallout 1 which have only 80 years of difference, but massive changes like Shady Sands becoming the NCR.

      The "200 years pass but everything is essentially the same" is also called fantasy stasis, because a lot of fantasy worlds do this. The authors just love keeping the status quo, or at least not changing it too much,especially regarding technology.

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    10. I think the last 200 years is probably not the best yard stick to use compared to world history. Industrialisation has massively changed the world in a pace that has never really happened before. The rise of automated production has allowed the vast majority of people to own things which humanity was never able to, causing a huge rise in demand of goods spurring economies across the world.

      Sure, 1300-1500 has some large changes as well globally, but a lot of these were relatively localised whilst in other areas things stayed static.

      Take Japan, after the Sengoku Jidai period, which ended in 1615, Japan pretty much stayed the same until 1853 when Perry reopened it.

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    11. My areas of expertise in history are Europe and the Middle East, and in both regions there were lots of changes within any 200 year period. Sure, the Roman Empire stayed pretty stable from its foundation to the beginning of the 3rd century, but even then there were plenty of structural changes on the inside and events happening outside its borders to make for a noticeable difference. Not to mention the changes in fashion and military equipment. A Roman citizen in 2 AD is going to dress differently from a Roman citizen in 200 AD. It's not a huge difference, but it's noticeable, just how you can see a difference between 80s fashion and 90s fashion in the 20th century. In most fantasy settings, even such details stay mostly the same. And most fantasy settings are based on European history, where such a staticness is completely unfitting...

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    12. I was going to invoke headcanon that Iolo has gone senile and it has actually been two years instead of two hundred... but it turns out Geoffrey, Sherry, and Katrina also mention it - and British, the only one who calls them "Britannian" years".

      Oddly enough, the other five companions don't mention it at all, and their initial dialogue implies that just a few months or years have passed.

      And, several people who haven't actually met you before blurt out how much (or how little) has changed in 200 years, even if they have no reason to use that exact number.

      So it looks like an executive decision that it must be 200 (and exactly 200). But the story would have worked better if it had been five.

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    13. How many years typically pass between Ultima games in-universe? It seems to me like a lot of the Avatar's companions would either be dead or old if Britannians really are like mayflies to Earthlings. Mariah at the very least should be at the widows' and orphans' home by Ultima 7. I'm pretty sure that the 200 year periods of time used by game designers are an attempt to wipe the narrative slate somewhat clean so that a person could jump into, say, Ultima 7, without having to rely on prior knowledge of series lore from the first 6 games, and to try and account account for geographic changes. Meanwhile the same explanation would also be for people who faithfully bought every installment of the series up until then to explain why people in Britannia aren't all abuzz about Lord Blackthorn's reign or the human-gargoyle conflict just two or four short years later.

      In the Fallout universe, I could see the East Coast being a laggard in technology and civilization compared to the NCR by the fact that, pre-war, the East Coast is home to the political and military center of the United States, and as such, enemies wanting to cripple the country would target locations like the federal government in Washington, DC, the Pentagon and the multiple military installations in VA and MD, and NYC's financial centers. As such those areas would be far more devastated than the sparsely populated western regions. In Fallout 3, the lack of progress in rebuilding civilization in the Capitol Wasteland is attributed to the severe radioactivity of the Tidal Basin, which is a major water source in that region. For most of the post-war period, until the coming of the BoS and the research of James and Catherine, the few survivors in the area lacked the know-how or the means to do anything about it.

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    14. You really don't need a big timeskip to "wipe the slate"; since each city has only a dozen talking NPCs, you can just focus on different ones in the next game, and assume the older ones are off-screen but still living there.

      None of the earlier games involved anywhere near this big a timeskip, and also none of the earlier games rubbed the player's face so much in how much time passed, either.

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    15. Ultima 6 took place about 20 years after 5, which lines up with the 2 years between the games. I don't know if any firm years are given for Ultima 4 though, but I think it's implied to have only been a few decades at most between it and Ultima 5.

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    16. In real-world terms, Ultima VII was a soft reboot of the series. Origin wanted, and needed, to bring in bigger sales numbers than the Apple II games had sold just to compete. So U7 started a new narrative arc that moved away from the philosophizing of the Enlightenment games back towards having a big bad guy, had a more sophisticated game engine, much darker and more "adult," and more cinematic (note the Art Deco look of the title cards). So Ultima VII had to be completely enjoyable to newcomers as a standalone product, which meant that they wouldn't feel like they were in over their heads or missing something if they hadn't played the previous games. A 200 year time skip might not seem necessary to us, but Origin felt it was needed to give the series a fresh start. I don't think they were really worried about how well Ultima 7 would fit into a series timeline.

      But even if it had only been decades instead of centuries, Mariah would be an octogenarian and some of the Avatar's older companions would be dead of old age.

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    17. I agree that was probably the thinking. I just think that if they did the 200 year gap to give a "fresh start" and to cater to "new players," it's funny that in the game's opening moments, you're immediately thrust into conversation with someone who insists that he knows you.

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    18. I look at it like this. A Britannian year is 1/10 as long as an Earth year, but the people age 10 times quicker (give or take). So a typical Britannian would still live to be about 80 Britannian years, though a Britannian year is comparable to about one Earth month. Whereas the Avatar, Lord British, Sentri and a few others probably, as well as all the companions could live around 800 Britannian years (except Shamino, who obviously bathes in the blood of virgins he acquires from that unicorn - a very spiritual experience for a ranger - hey, it's not like any of us have ever seen his house).

      This also explains why 200 years seem like only 20 years, though not much has changed in the way of technology. It takes time for scientists and engineers to learn enough to be able to achieve anything, but regardless of the sum total of scientific knowledge, by that time they're too old to get much done. Plus Britannia has magic, making tech advancement much less incentivized. So 200 years on Brittania would have even less technological advance than the corresponding 20 years on Earth.

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    19. When NPCs in the series say that a Britannian year is equivalent to 10 Earth years, I don't think they mean that a Britannian year is only 36.5 days. That would be crazy. Their intellect wouldn't possibly be able to keep up with physical growth. Full-grown adults wouldn't have had time to learn to talk, let alone read. Clearly what they mean is that time passes differentially in the two respective universes, and that people from Earth who visit Britannia are still tethered to Earth's clock, not that they have biological differences that slow down aging.

      I could be wrong, but if I am, I don't want to know it. My Avatar just left the ruins of the Black Gate and went to celebrate by making out with a two-year-old.

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  35. It's impressive that this game supports this degree of going completely off the deep end. All things considered, this was a better fate for Britannia than the looming disaster that was Ultima IX. The Avatar should have hung it up after taking down the Titans.

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  36. This was both weird and a joy to read!

    I think the alternative ending is illustrative for the game. There's enough unique dialogue after casting Armageddon that it's worth doing (just to see what it does, mind you, we're not all mass murderers). Then, you can continue playing, but of course the game stumbles on the last hurdle (Batlin's body, Hook's dialogue at the black gate). And yet you can still finish the game after that.

    U7 has always been one of my favourite games, due to the open world nature of the game. It's not perfect, but I know no other game that tries to combine this much freedom with an actual plot, and I think for the most part it succeeded at what it tried to do.

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  37. I think this is one of your greatest, all time entries!!

    Pure gold!

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  38. This is a perfect ending. Nicely played, Addict!

    (It's also very close to how I remember "finishing" U7 when I played it with my friend in the previous century, although I think we did British in using the falling plaque method.)

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  39. Has anyone considered that the Lord British that was rescued in U5 wasn't actually the original Lord British? He could be a corrupted form, if not some entity in the shape of LB? For all we know, Lord British could have died along the rest of the party, and then something decided to use the rise of the Shadowlords to gain power and control.

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    1. Interesting point. Note how U6 opens with a combat in British's throne room, to which he responds by doing absolutely nothing. And the very next thing, he wants to verify that it's "really you" despite that he just sent Dupre/Shamino/Iolo to retrieve you. He doesn't seem like a mentally sound monarch...

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    2. Was Lord British a competent ruler in Ultima I-IV? He was holding a princess hostage in the first game. Back on Earth, before he came to Sosaria/Britannia, he may very well have been a slacker working as a fry cook at a McDonald's in Houston, and he somehow conned the innocent rubes in Sosaria into thinking he was a magical king by doing something like setting off a flash bulb on his cheap Instamatic camera.

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    3. See also: Oz the Great and Powerful.

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  40. I think this game (and this post) is where the conflicting possibilities of CRPGs come to a head: should CRPGs prioritize the actual game, with its mechanics, or narrative and storytelling, even if that leads to possible endings like this one and all the fissures it exposes in terms of design, or should they emphasize world-building and subordinate both gameplay and story to crafting a sense of place and an environment that can be explored over a long period?

    We’ve seen games engaging in each of the three—arguably, Fate was about exploration, while several of the more adventure-game like CRPGs were ludic—but it’s a mark of Ultima VII’s successes and failures that it credibly attempts all three, even if it simply can’t pull them off between design problems and engine limitations. Specific elements of gameplay suffer from being subordinated to world-building; the narrative can go off the rails, player action gets acknowledged inconsistently across the world, and the main storyline does too little to anticipate the exercise of the freedoms the game offers; the world-building affords the simple pleasures of baking bread in the engine while getting stuck with the broader inconsistencies and problems inherent in a world where the Avatar needs to solve all the problems while the invincible monarch sits in his castle and waits for the Avatar to ask for healing or resurrection.

    That Lord British could have trivially gone to Skara Brae, resolved the problem, and restored all the ghosts to life, but cannot because doing so would render the Avatar superfluous, shows how the demands of the game conflict with the kind of worldbuilding being done here.

    U7s flaws are perhaps unavoidable in the same way that Underworld’s flaws emerge from the limitations of being 3D, but in retrospect, the biggest problems stem from having to set the game in a world already established by past games in the series. Then again, without the resources made available by the success of the previous games, could an ambitious design like this have been possible at the time?

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    1. Some excellent points, David.

      In particular, Lord British was present as a game mechanic in the first five Ultima's. He leveled you up and healed you. (Even in 5, where he appears as an apparition in your camp fire to perform this duty.) So the fact he was indestructible was just so players didn't kill him and break the game.

      By Ultima 6, though, he is just another NPC, albeit one who heals you on request. Leveling was moved to the shrines in U6 and trainers in U7 so there was no need for him to do this. So what then is his purpose in the game?

      And there's where the world building and story telling break down. If they had removed British's "immortality" as a factor, then it would make sense why he wouldn't risk his life outside the castle. As is, he just seems cowardly and passive. Unfortunately RG insisted on British being "indestructible" in every game forward because he was pissed players figured out how to kill him in U3.

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    2. It really depends where the fun is in the game.

      The whole appeal and gimmick of Ultima VII was emergent play. They set up a world, started it ticking, and then gave you a lot of freedom to interfere with it. So this kind of "derail the train" gameplay is not only expected but applauded. It's a fairly natural consequence of emergent gameplay, though, that gamestates will arise you didn't expect, so it's inherently prone to bugs.

      Ultima VII never really had a story of any particular depth to tell, so it's fine that the player is free to find their own.

      Whereas something like Dragon Age is keen to give you a lot of choice, but control where that choice is executed. It wants to recognise and reward every possible consequence, so it carefully places the choices where the consequences are interesting but allow the plot to progress. That is to say, fewer choices, but all of them meaningful.

      And then you have JRPGs, which are (generally) not about choice at all, and the players make few or zero meaningful narrative choices - the interactivity occurs entirely in the character progression and combat.

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    3. WRPGs are pretty much the same. It's not until rather recently that your choices mattered. And even then many of those choices had basically cosmetic results.

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    4. This has been a very thoughtful thread and is probably worthy of its own entry.

      I think we can fault the developers for SOME of the narrative flaws. Assuming that the Avatar has already been to Nicodemus or the Time Lord before awakening Penumbra is one of them. So is spawning Hook's "kill list" prematurely. As for Skara Brae, obviously if Lord British was a more active ruler, there would be little for the Avatar to do, so I get that. But I still would have liked to see a bit more narrative thought. For instance, if the calamity had occured only a few years ago, instead of 200, it would be more forgivable. Or perhaps the "Seance" spell has been lost for decades so no one had any idea how to communicate with the ghosts, and the Avatar has to find it rather than buy it. Or perhaps the ferryman has to be summoned, and that's a little side quest. There are a lot of small ways the developers could have explained the situation.

      I think GregT has some interesting points on the difference between a sandbox and whatever we'd call a Bioware-style game, where they've put a lot of time into allowing the player to split the narrative, with decisions made in one game even affecting the sequels. But Greg is right: the freedom that you get in such games is still completely scripted. Bethesda gets criticized for not doing enough of that, if they tried, it might result in the loss of the sandbox that everyone appreciates. Maybe there's a halfway point worthy of trying to achieve, or maybe we simply acknowledge that both styles have their merits and that it's boring to just play one type of game.

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    5. I'm not quite following this. The narrative parts, like the reactions to the armageddon spell and the black sword killing Lord British are all scripted. The simulation aspects of the game mostly concern the interaction with the environment, but not that much the story.

      And I wouldn't fault the developers, they certainly worked long hours and probably didn't get payed very well either. This was an ambitious project and they probably ran out of time to add the last polish.

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    6. Are we really at the point where when I criticize the development process, I have to footnote it with: "Of course, we can't really know what went behind the scenes. Maybe the developers were getting paid poorly, or had unreasonable bosses, or were having trouble in their marriages, and thus did the best they could under trying circumstances." No film, restaurant, game, book, or other criticism would be remotely readable in such a case. I hope it's tacitly understood that I'm not criticizing the developers personally; just that when something goes wrong, and it was both forseeable and fixable, some blame attaches to . . SOMETHING.

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    7. There are definitely some narrative flaws from the developers here. In some respects Hook's kill list is the lesser of the two - I think if I'd been in Buc's Den and used the telekinesis spell to open the door from the other side, I'd think to myself "I know this isn't probably the right thing to be doing". On the other hand the Penumbra sequence is frankly absurd - even if you follow the Fellowship trail "correctly" from Trinsic to Minoc, then Moonglow is the next obvious town to travel to (assuming that, like myself; most of my friends at the time; and the CRPGaddict, you want to travel the cities of the world to see what's going on).

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    8. I mean, once you add a Telekinesis spell to your game that can open doors remotely, I think the logical next step would be to check if there's any plot-relevant doors that might be opened too early by this spell and then do something about it (move the switch, don't give the spell until later, block the door some other way, etc)

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    9. That only works if the content is already there in a finished state. The reality is that a lot of people are working on an engine, a lot of people are working on content, (hopefully) some people are fixing bugs and crashes (if the damn thing runs at all), and its all happening at the same time. That's why it's important to have a stable version that is tested, fixed, tested again, for a few iterations. The game really would habe needed more tests and a couple of rewrites, but with an ambitious project and budget being limited, its easy to see why this didn't happen.

      But that doesn't mean you can't critizise the game for these shortcomings.

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    10. It is a fair assumption for a map designer that the telekinesis spell requires line of sight. An incorrect assumption, for sure, but not unreasonable.

      Oversights happen. The internet is great at hindsight and nitpicks, but most players in the nineties would never notice something like this one unless they already knew were it was.

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    11. I guess my argument was less "the developers should have fixed this" and more "a player who has a Telekinesis spell in a game with such a spell should assume that any accessible door with it is fair game", contra Kus's argument above. To paraphrase the old saying, if a game gives you a hammer, it seems to weird to suggest that you should think you're breaking the game when you use it to pound in a nail.

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    12. Actually the Divinity Original Sin games do this perfectly (in my opinion). They make sure that you can have most of the environment interaction and use of spells like telekinesis is there, but they make sure you cannot crash the story with it. I mean they wanted to do a spiritual successor of Ultima 7 - without it's issues. But of course they had an example in Ultima 7 and could use this for inspiration on what to do and what not...

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  41. Thank you very much for making it clear what is and isn't your own invention. It's something I'm not very good at myself.

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  42. What an amazing and very fitting entry. Well earned Patreon dollar ;)

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    1. That's for sure and was so even before this entry :-)

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  43. If you read this as a story about someone who is Lawful Good coming to resent the people they are sworn to protect and instead sliding into Chaotic Evil or Lawful Evil and perhaps not even realizing it, this is super depressing.

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    1. That hits close to home. I've known several people who started out in socially liberal positions like social work or homeless outreach, then slowly got turned into raging conservatives by their clients.

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    2. I don't suppose that's the whole 'personal responsibility' shtick?

      Popular everywhere but especially so in the US.

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    3. I don't know what you mean by "shtick," but sure, there's an element of personal responsibility. It's tough to maintain a passion for helping poor people (for instance) when you see them repeatedly not show up for jobs and classes, get arrested for stupid crimes, turn their subsidized housing into a sty, and then vote for candidates who want to take away the very programs they rely on. I'm not saying this describes all poor people, or that there aren't good counters to all of these things, or that it even describes my own views. But I do understand why some people have a reaction.

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    4. Ahh yep, 'shtick' because I think it's a variable with no explanatory power.

      I see people say things like: "Perhaps if they were more responsible, they would show up to their appointments with their probation officer."

      Still leaves you having to ask what it is about their situation that determines whether they show up of not. 'Personal responsibility' always feels like its adding an unnecessary step between the inputs and the behavioural output.

      Perhaps just an extrapolation of the causality vs free will contention.

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    5. "Personal responsibility" comes up a lot because it's easy to imagine and easy to digest in a moral/philosophical sense. It's fun and easy to imagine that somebody just doesn't want success bad enough. You made it, what's their problem? It's a lot harder to internalize that people are born into hopeless situations every day and grow up as products of their environment.

      It's a byproduct of the American success myth. You can be just like Bill Gates, drop out of school and bootstrap yourself to being a billionaire! Never mind the fact that Gates was born into wealth most of us can't imagine and was pretty damn lucky too; the only reason not to find success is because you're lazy or don't want to, or so the story goes.

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    6. I had a couple of comments here that I deleted for being needlessly quarrelsome, for which I apologize if you received them by e-mail anyway. Alex, I'm not telling you what to say or what not to say, but you should know that a sure way to make me focus on anything except the core of your argument is to blame it on "America," especially when I think the blame is undeserved. I think you set up a straw man in your last paragraph, and that what people claim about the opportunities this country provides are not that you can be deliriously wealthy like Bill Gates.

      In any event, I believe in a social safety net and in social welfare programs, so anything else I'd say would be arguing from someone else's perspective, and there's no point in doing that.

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    7. Bill Gates was just an example, maybe a poorly-picked one but not at all the entire point of what I was trying to say. In any event, I wasn't blaming "America" but rather how our culture tends to misinterpret and distort the idea of how personal success happens. Self-starters and "independents" are mythologized, from Bill Gates to the common story of a kid selling lemonade at a roadside stand. It's happening whenever you hear somebody say "I don't know what they're complaining about, I worked (x) amount of jobs when I was (y) years old." Never mind that that apocryphal kid most likely lives in a good neighborhood with two supportive parents that aren't drug addicts, or that the dollar today buys far less than it used to.

      I'm not "blaming it on America" because I have an axe to grind, that's just my actual experience from conversations I've had with people espousing the "personal responsibility" mantra.

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    8. I don't see it as a misinterpretation or a distortion. Our culture allows for people from a variety of backgrounds to become successful in their own way as long as they're willing to work hard or smart or both. I see those stories as healthy. Unhealthy examples would be ones that aren't possible or exceedingly improbable, like winning the lottery, or finding out you're a long-lost prince.

      But, sure, we also have to appreciate a certain amount of nuance and complexity. The disappearance of both in modern American political discourse is something that I certainly recognize. I just think that those who exhibit the lack of it the most are the ones most likely to suffer for it.

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    9. A lot of smart people who work very hard wind up with no success by any measure. Unless you're trying to do something genuinely new that costs relatively little money (which hasn't been an option since the late 80s), you're going to have a very hard time breaking in without money somewhere.

      I work with plenty of intelligent, driven people. Cleaning floors and spilled drinks, because none of us had the kind of stable platform needed to bootstrap ourselves up from.

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    10. You *may* get ahead with effort and brilliance, or you may not. Effort and/or brilliance certainly help, but not as much as generational wealth - since you also need luck with the former, and with the latter, well, you already got your luck...

      The narrative that I take issue with is the one that says you *will* get ahead in our society if you work hard enough.

      This is patently false, and as the wealth distribution becomes increasingly more skewed, it becomes more false every day.

      There are (at least) two major issues with this story:

      1. You can assert that anyone struggling financially or socially isn't working hard. In our society, this is often equated with moral bankruptcy.

      2. This story can easily be used to strengthen the status quo and deny any change to our economic structure. After all, if anyone who works hard will get ahead, why should you change anything?

      We also tend to give the wealthy a lot more opportunity to "speak" and take what they say with more gravity than those of lesser means. We just don't hear from hardworking brilliant people whose lives are falling apart due to our social structure as much, and when we do hear them, we can discount them as much as we believe in "the story". Luckily this seems to be changing with common access to media, but I think we still have a long way to go...

      It is comfortable for those of us who are doing well to believe in a truly just world, but that is one of the things that makes to world unjust.

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    11. >Our culture allows for people from a variety of backgrounds to become successful in their own way as long as they're willing to work hard or smart or both.

      I imagine you agree with my ideas to some degree, but the way ("as long as") you phrased this suggests that you *will* become successful in our society if you work hard, rather that there is the *possibility* (which may not be as true in other places, I agree). I think that idea is what commenters might be angry about.

      Or maybe you believe that everyone here gets what they give...

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    12. Funny how this whole conversation eerily mirrors the social dialogue between Fellowship members of Paws and poor people refusing to join them there.

      The Fellowship guys are all kinda "poor people are just lazy and unwilling to work hard" - especially their poor brainwashed kid, who despite being actual criminal seems less responsible for ending up as he is, for he is even less resistant to those ideas and buys them at face value, without any nuancing that adult Fellowshipers do at least to some degree.

      They do that nuancing because they realize that spouting that "poor people CERTAINLY didn't use self-evident abundant opportunity readily available to them" will sound more dishonest or insane than some sort of "I'm not making any assumptions, but can it be proven FOR SURE that poor people REALLY do NOT forgo their - well, maybe not super abundant, but still plentiful - opportunity, forgo it because of their laziness?".

      But where adults do nuancize, the more sincere and naive kids...? They just believe the hidden real thought behind wise, humble and ultimately obfuscating formulas.

      That being said, Ultima is really a world where this "abundant opportunity" used to blame poor of refusing to partake in it, comes actually from a Satan-like figure, and no other source of this "abundant opportunity" is present to poor people to blame them for failing to partake.

      Whereas in the real world the question happens to be "but is there any opportunity at all?" just as often as "but is this opportunity ethical?" And, just like in Ultima case, sometimes "abundant opportunity" really is not ethical, and so someone, by following the way of virtue, is at the same time "loser" in the terms of social and economical status and "winner" in the terms of not betraying themselves.

      "For what use is it for someone, if they appropriate the whole world, yet lose their own soul...?", as someone once said.

      In some way, by touching on those more mature topics, Ultima VII gets to be more "about the virtue" than the earlier games - more about what's at the core of virtue, more about empathy to the suffering ones, more about powerless rage towards undefeatable injustice and the grim determination to help where you can even if the world cannot be salvaged, more about the duty to withold yourself from pouring this rage on those who are not really guilty...

      Realistic situation and people provoke realistic emotions, that cannot be so easily achieved by awarding karma points for not running from a troll or for not cheating on herb seller, - this said with all enormous (and rightly due) respect for what Ultima IV did, of course...

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    13. I found it frustrating to let enemies flee in Ultima IV, considering that trolls and headless still throw rocks at you as they're fleeing. They'd often get stuck on rocks or trees, too, forcing you to stand there and get pelted while they fumble their way to the exit.

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    14. I'm not making an argument as facile as the guy in Paws. I believe in strong social welfare systems and minimum standards of living for all citizens, and I recognize the variables that go into someone's ability to succeed, depending on how you're defining the metrics. And yes, anonymous, naturally I'm speaking in aggregates, not in inevitables. I doubt we have any serious disagreements in this thread except perhaps the specific probabilities associated with success (a term I left ill-defined in the first place) given certain inputs.

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    15. The new anonymous is not the OP, which is me. I have no idea what happened to this thread.

      There's a psychologist, James Fallon, who used himself as a control for a study on psychopaths and found out he is a psychopath. He totally is. His kids drew a picture of him and his wife, and she is a sunny goddess of joy and he is a bunch of black scribbles with red eyes. But he didn't know he was the villain until a test told him. I find that terrifying. To what extent are we all walking around, decapitating Lords British, thinking we are righteous and good, when everyone around us is terrified of or loathes us? That idea bothers me a lot.

      The best response I have heard is that it is probably like being crazy: no one questions that they're crazy. James Fallon didn't care that he was a sociopath. So if you're worried about it, you're probably not the thing you are worried about. But I don't know, the world is a dark and scary place.

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    16. My good Addict, sir, I did not mean you personally claiming as shallow a philosophy as one of those those imaginary persons in a game that had in mind to satirize this same philosophy; when something is satirized, it is always grotesque and you will have trouble finding even one person subscribing to it.

      That being said, your words seemed to be taken (partly) in the exact sense that made it seem similar to what Fellowship characters said: this is, alas, the ever-present danger of political discussion which easily degrades into "good vs evil" mode, where opposing position is degraded to a caricature consisting of its wrong and harmful parts only.

      I, for one, am totally understanding of the feeling of desire to blame the victim of societal unfairness for their misfortunes.

      In the places where I am from, there is a joke that goes like this: A ship was wrecked and some of the crew in the boat are saving the drowning passengers by dragging them into the boat by their hair.
      Suddenly they see one more drowning passenger, but this one is bald. They look at thim in shock of disbelief at first... then hit him on the head with the ladle "You ungrateful, mocking us are you?"

      I understand that those who are in the deal of "saving":

      are Sacrficing a lot of their own finite, sometimes non-replenishing resources

      because of their Compassion,

      they often have to have Courage to do it without any external help or solid hope of success,

      and must have enough Humility to simply accept that they do not even get any recognition from those who are saved (because those saved often feel that they were entitled to not become victims of horrible misfortune in the first place).

      And if they do not respect the Truth that they, too, are fallible human beings that are no mystical World-Saviors and have their own needs

      Then they may feel Honor-bound to over-exert themselves even when there is not only no return for them and no only no recognition, but even no positive result whatsoever for those being helped

      And being over-exerted by that, they cannot anymore assign blame Justly - their own emotions of rage because of under-appreciatedness of their hard work, of ungratefullness, of little result of their actions - seem to find an acceptable target in the person helped: it's THEY who are ungrateful, it's THEY who often make the results of your work go void...

      Maybe that's why humility is the foundation of any real virtue after all: Carl Jung once said that "whosoever wishes to heal people is not fit for the job of healer". One who desires to be recognized as a healer has this desire for recognition as a stumbling block; one who does not, but still desires to be successful as a healer - still has this desire for success as a stumbling block; because unfullfilled desire breeds anger, and anger is much harder to experience passively than to (unjustly) vent it on someone.

      So, no, it's hardly surprising that someone who starts out as savior ends up as a persecutor: there is even a concept in psychology for exactly this thing, some kind of "Triangle of [Some Guy]", which is all about rescuers becoming persecutors, and also victim becoming rescuers (for example, "it is too late to undo the harm in my life, but I can rescue others!") and even persecutors also becoming victims (for example, "Why do everyone punish me so for hating and persecuting those ungrateful bastards? It's unfair, they have no right to judge, they were not in my shoes!").

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  44. Are you going to cover the more standard way to win in your final entry? As much as I liked this post and your 'unique' approach to 'winning' the game, I would have liked to see your thoughts on the canonical ending.

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    1. Yes, of course. It won't be just an aside in the "summary and rating"; I'll have a whole separate entry on the proper way to win the game. I know it makes for a fun story, but I didn't really mean to leave it here.

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    2. That's a shame, it was a perfect ending and a perfect critique of all the weaknesses of this series which in the end really was nothing more than a series of tech demo's with horrible stories tossed on top.

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    3. I get what you mean, but I'm not doing this to write fan fiction. It may have worked well for this entry, but I wouldn't be true to my blog's purpose if I left one of the most seminal RPGs in history without covering its real ending.

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  45. So Batlin is just a nihilist? Almost comes across as likeable.

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    1. He was basically the Britannian counterpart of L. Ron Hubbard.

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    2. I don't know enough about Hubbard to know the extent to which he was self-deluded. Did he believe any of what he was selling, or was he just an inveterate con artist all his life? Either way, I don't think he was working for an extra-dimensional demon, so you can only take the comparison so far.

      It's too bad you can't have a longer conversation with Batlin after hearing his story. I think he's a more interesting character at that point. You particularly want to know what he was like BEFORE going to Skara Brae and what he thought he was doing.

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    3. Presumably, writing bad sci-fi novels...

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    4. He was not a bad writer.
      To The Stars was quite good, and was the first SF story AFAIK that dealt with the effects of time dilation, decades before The Forever War.
      His short novel Fear is also considered a classic.

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    5. Hubbard displayed some tendencies towards malignant narcissism. So to a certain degree he believed his own hype, and aggressively pursued anyone who dared challenge his inflated sense of self. Even now, people who want to create parodies of Scientology are very careful in how they do so in order to avoid being sued for defamation.

      Batlin's in-game portraits in U7 and SI are caricatures of Hubbard in his later years.

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  46. I absolutely love this ending. This entry sums up how I felt about the Ultima series when I went back and replayed it a few years back. It's awful, the stories are high in concept but almost childish in execution, the characters make no sense, the events are silly, Lord British might be the worst character in modern fantasy tales, there are so many holes in the overall series plots that words like "retconning" and "swiss cheese" don't seem harsh enough for how little Origin even cared about it's own product. When I finished Ultima 9 after the full series replay it went from my most beloved franchise in my youth to what I consider to be one of the worst rpg series in gaming history. You're decapitation of Lord British was an urge I felt so many times playing the series again. Brilliant ending, I didn't even know it was possible. Cheers!

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    1. For me Serpent Isle was the better Ultima 7 as it got rid of this retcon baggage by happening in another world. But I prefer story to open worlds - and I like adventure games. So SI did fit well for me. I also liked most of the story of Ultima 8. As I enjoyed more bleak and gritty worlds the older I grew. U9 was for me the final let down though. I still think that the general plot and background of the Ultimas is very good as it touches some painful subjects and allows thinking about them on a more personal level - the one big opportunity for video games. It just saddens me that the resulting games cannot fulfill the promises of the ideas and themes of the story ideas.

      I also love this entry very much - and it shows that Chet is really moved by this game. No one can suffer as much as a real fan that sees the gap between potential and delivered result.

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  47. There's a pervasive and intense discontent with Origin's lack of care with continuity and lore.

    Is it possible that Origin accidentally invented these ideas in trying to create what was an essentially different product, and what's really happening is that many players were frustrated at the missed opportunity? Like, Origin accidentally discovered ice cream while trying to make yogurt, and their continued inability to perfect ice cream while churning out passable yogurt angers a huge swathe of their customers?

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    1. Yes, but I'm not so sure whether this discontent was widespread in the nineties, or that it came mostly after the internet started cataloguing, wikifying, and (over?-)analyzing everything.

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    2. I remember being super disappointed with Ultima 8 when it came out back in the day.

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    3. I kind-of agree with the second anonymous in that players and developers simply hadn't developed a shared expectation that franchises would try to achieve some level of fidelity to their game worlds. The new idea always trumped adherence to canon.

      I don't see it as a negative thing that this changed, however. If we expect some fidelity to canon in TV shows, films, and books, I don't see why we shouldn't also expect it in video games.

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    4. I wonder what the response might have been if they had gone more in the Final Fantasy direction, having some recurring elements (Lord British, the Avatar, enemy types, maybe the Runes/Shrines/etc), but otherwise allowing each game to have its own map/story/etc separated from a larger canon? It seems like that might have been a better approach to allow them continue to make these separated stories without having to try to continually find new reasons for the Avatar to return and new plot holes of why British hasn't done anything himself.

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  48. In defense of Ultima 7:

    1) When you check the design docs of Ultima 7, it becomes quite clear what the main objective of the designers was - to create a simulation of a real world.

    And how they thought to achieve it? By creating people with diverse pesonalities, opinions and stories.

    Thus the player will meet types of people that also exist in real life: the religious girl who has no day job, the slutty girl who only thinks her boyfriend is the father, the fat ugly chick resentful of the hot chick, the failed creator so wrecked by guilt that he denies it behind self-help narcissism, the poor gargoyle workers no body cares a shit about...

    Ultima 7 approach is wide rather than deep, true. You will not have dramatic powerful dialog scenes like the Bloody Baron from Witcher 3. But you have a world that is filled with believable types of people. The existence of these stories together creates a wide impression of the world.

    And I argue that is the chief strength of Ultima 7.

    Side observation: Skyrim approaches the town design in a similar way. Each town has a major story, filled with characters that have their opinions about the town's main story, and maybe have their own unrelated smalles stories.

    Skyrim also creates a believable "wide" simulation of a world. You don't go to deep dramatic depths with the characters, but you get a sense of their type, their position in the society, how they fit into the world.

    I argue that Ultima 7 does it better, but Skyrim also does a decent job. This wide approach has it's own perks.

    It creates a reflection of a real world that can offer insight and recognition of some real truths, regadless if the writers had a vision or not to preach those truths.


    The writing fof Ultima 7 is definitely not silly. It is however light-hearted in tone. It's not cynical nor nihilistic. But it portrays adult situations quite maturely.


    That being said: I do prefer Serpent Isle. It cuts the number of towns down to 3, it has less characters to talk to, the plot is more restricted: and immediately as a story experience it becomes better and more enthralling.

    Serpent Isle has it's own big giant problem, but I say that up to going North, you are playing a very cleverly designed game.

    2) I don't think Origin quite understood what they had created with the gameplay of Ultima 7. And considering what happened with Ultima 8 and 9, they never understood it.

    There's a hidden potential in Ultima 7 that U7 itself did not yet unlock. Part of it could have been hardware and engine limitations. Hook's kill list, Tory's baby for example: the engine doesn't create items when they are required by the plot, they are always there from the beginning.

    The dungeons are not that interesting, and while the game gives you a lot of interactivity, you don't really need that interactivity.

    There are not a lot of puzzles that can be solved by player thinking outside of the box. And yet, the potential of Ultima 7 suggests that thinking outside of the box.

    Imagine this: the player needs to go to the second floor, but there are no stairs. You need to find the secret door, pull a lever, find a key to get to the secret passage that gets you to the room where you can go to the second floor.

    Yet the second floor is right there, before the player. What does the player do? He notices some wooden blocks. He starts piling them together. He builds a stair. He can now go to the second floor, using his own ingenuity to overcome a problem.

    (I am describing a real situation from Serpent Isle. I was stuck in a castle and had no idea what to do. So I built a stair on my own. Only later did I discover what the designers wanted me to do)

    That is the hidden potential of Ultima 7. That is why people sometimes overhype this game. Because this hidden potential is still unlocked.

    Ultima 7 deserves a tribute game: something that would improve it's strengths and avoid it's mistakes. A game that finally knows what it actually is.

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    1. Ultima 8 (and Serpent Isle, to a lesser degree, was somewhat undone by the deadlines imposed by Origin’s new owners, EA. Their corporate philosophy didn’t allow for the kind of freewheeling design of Ultima 7, but I think Richard Garriott also saw that U7 was not sustainable from a business perspective.

      Garriott did accept a lot of the blame for the failings of U8. Garriott’s reasoning was this. EA and Origin were both founded at around the same time, yet EA was far bigger and much more influential than his family business in Texas. Garriott reasoned at the time that EA knew better than he did about what consumers wanted, so he went along with them. They were the ones who pushed for the infamous platform jumping in U8. They also told him it was more important to have the game ready by Christmas than it was for the game to have all the bells and whistles.

      He seems to have never really given up on his dream of trying to create a simulation of the real world in a fantasy setting. He claims Ultima 7 along with Ultima 4 as his favorites. His current project, Shroud of the Avatar, is a continuation of what he tried to do with U7.

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    2. As a gamer mostly interested in single player RPGs, I'm disappointed that Garriott has chosen MMORPGs as his platform for continuing his ideas.

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    3. JarlFrank, I get that, I'm not too into games tethered to online play, but I can see why it would appeal to Garriott. He was proud of his work on Ultima Online, and to him, having a bunch of human players sharing one world and performing different roles in keeping that online world running is his idea of what role-playing is all about.

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    4. Sure, I understand the idea behind it. And I did enjoy some Ultima Online over a decade ago. But most MMOs turn into a grindfest where you have to play regularly if you want to keep up with your friends, and that's just tedious. And MMOs are by their very nature temporary games. You can return to a single player game 30 years later and experience all the content you experienced all those years ago, with nothing missing. An MMO of that age is unlikely to have many players or even official servers anymore, so the best you can hope for is private servers with small active communities a tenth of the size of the original population, or in the worst case exploring a game designed for multiplayer on your lonesome. The original intended experience of 100 players interacting at the same time is gone forever and won't come back.

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    5. You’ll get no argument from me on that one. Other than a handful of big games like GTA Online, WoW, FFXIV, or the latest Call of Duty, most online games are ghost towns within a month or two after release. I also really dislike the whole games as a service model that companies have been pushing for the past 19-15 years.

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  49. The Lord British sitting on his ass is a known problem with the series, especially Ultima 6, 7 and to a lesser degree Ultima Underworld 2.

    Let's look at the games:

    Ultima 4: LB has kicked off the entire virtue thing and is encouraging his people do seek enlightenment. While he is not going for the Codex himself there is no imminent threat to Britannia. So this is reasonable.

    Ultima 5: if you read the manual, this is the best incarnation of LB in the series. Between U4 and U5 he started to transform his government to a basic parliamentary monarchy and when the Underworld is discovered, he leads an expedition himself & kicks serious ass until captured by the Shadowlords.

    Ultima 6: here the troubles start. Britannia is at war and he seems to be doing very little. Nor does he react to the information gathered by the Avatar.

    Ultima 7: this is the worst case, where he is oblivious how corrupt the government is becoming due to Fellowship infiltration. Plus him ignoring the whole Guardian threat.

    UW2: it seems Miranda is doing the work in the castle & the Avatar is doing the adventuring. Though to be fair a lot of the the NPCs in the castle are completely useless. The ones who seem to be doing something are Miranda, the servants, Nystul and Nelson. I think Dupre mentions going in the sewers for water once. LB mostly sits on his ass, but it is partially explained by having his magical powers neutered. At least he starts a social reform.


    The other parts lead the Avatar away from Britannia, so this solves the problem a bit. Ultima 9 (which is horribly flawed) actually addressed it a bit with LB giving a talk of how they relied on the Avatar too much and taking care of BT himself.



    On a different note: I think the 200 years with companions aging at about 1:10 rate is reasonable. If you look at U6 Iolo was already the oldest companion. The game explicitly mentions that Shamino seems to have finally entered middle age. Dupre's portrait looks more weathered, etc. Jaana is maybe an example where it does not seem like she aged.

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    1. I agree with your analysis of Lord British's decline.

      The problem with the aging isn't so much the relative ratios as the fact that some of the Avatar's companions are supposed to be natives to Britannia, Shamino quite explicitly so.

      Delete
    2. Good point about Shamino being native. If you really wanted to, you could argue that he belongs to the 2nd group of slow-aging people in Britannia: magic users.

      But it's not really convincing since the ones who do not age quickly are full mages not other classes with a sprinkle of magic. And full mage seems to be neatly defined by becoming insane in Ultima 7 due to the ether waves.

      Which of the companions are able to use magic or not is inconsistent between the games as well. Amusingly the Ultima 5 Book of Lore has Shamino cast a healing spell while in the game he can't use magic at all.

      Delete
    3. Really, assuming that U7 takes place 200 years after U6 leads to more in-game contradictions than assuming that it doesn't.

      Delete
  50. So, I've long held a view that Ultima 9 is actually a sequel to the "bad" end of Ultima 7. It solves almost all of the problems created by Ultima 9's plot.

    The Serpent Isle artifacts and references are because of Gwenno returning with them. The Pagan references are from invading forces. The Tapestry of Ages was created by Lord British as propaganda to convince people the Avatar hadn't abandoned them, but no one really cares.

    And it explains why you're essentially having to become the Avatar all over again.

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  51. So...

    I've been moderately sick and feverish for the past couple of weeks and have found myself doing some soul searching in my downtime. In my mind, it's a big deal - but outside of there it's all just dust in the wind, so I won't bore the room with further details...

    But!

    This post was a truly weird, quasi-religious shock for me. Maybe it's the science fiction talking, but the lines between the realities of a guy recounting his game play, while the commentators swirl around, tangentially hyperlinking ideas, criticisms and asides about the nature of the work (We agree it's flawed, but how flawed, and why?), came home to roost in an explosion of minor epiphany for me with this entry.

    Long story short, I feel like I just came out the other side of a work of art I didn't know I was experiencing as I experienced it.

    Maybe that's part of the "Answer."

    Regardless, it was a very well done thing and I appreciate you doing it Chet. You said you weren't sure of your approach in some comments early; you should have never doubted it.

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I appreciate the feedback. I'm glad this one is still holds up after its initial shock.

      Delete

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