Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Black Gate: The Wrong Kinds of Sacrifice

"That's not what 'Shrine of Sacrifice' means!"
As veteran players know, my approach to Ultima VII differs from that taken by probably a majority of players, certainly from what the developers intended. The key point of divergence was when I refused to join the Fellowship, even "undercover." Even that early in the game, their villainy was so clear that I wasn't going to lend them the legitimacy of having the Avatar as a member. I've been playing as if my goal is to restore the primacy of the Eight Virtues as Britannia's primary moral and philosophical system--while simultaneously investigating the Fellowship, the Guardian, and the murders.
From previous experience, I knew that the game wouldn't exactly bend to my style. But the open-world, sandbox approach means that we can almost pretend that it does. And my Avatar is still on the scene for important events, just with different knowledge, and for different reasons, than the player who follows the "intentional" order.
As for that intentional order, it converges with my approach at this point, so I should briefly sketch it out. It starts the way I did: the default player investigates the events in Trinsic, figure out the major clues, and heads to Britain as the obvious next stop--that is, The Crown Jewel was heading there, Elizabeth and Abraham were traveling there next, and there are rumors of a similar murder there. The player probably also has a desire early in the game to check in with Lord British.

The default player joins the Fellowship in Britain, however, and gets a quest to deliver a parcel to Minoc. This converges with Chuckles's clue, which is to see a fortune-teller in Minoc. Thus, everything I've written since my "Wee Britain" entry in April has been a bunch of free-form roleplaying, or "surplaying" as I've recently coined it, to get to this point, at which most players arrive in the first eight hours. Obviously, the time hasn't been totally wasted. When I have to return to the locations I've already visited, they'll go a lot faster.
A fortune-teller later gives me some advice I don't want to hear.
The default player heads to Minoc with Batlin's box. I head there with a list of Fellowship "hit" targets that includes two Minoc residents: Frederico and Tania. I hope they're alive because Alagner was, but when I get there and find what I find, it's not as much as a surprise for me as the default player.
Although I have the magic carpet, I approach Minoc from the south, on the road from Cove, the way a party on foot would. Investigating a side path, we come across a hut. I think maybe it's owned by the woodcutter who the Emps want me to see. I can't find him anywhere in the area, so I leave my carpet there with the intent to return at night, and we continue up the road.
An incriminating ledger.
The first building we find belongs to the Britannian Mining Company, a company that has been accused of drugging its gargoyle workers with silver snake venom to get more out of them, and of polluting the river (I don't know if it has a name) that rises in the mountains south of Minoc and empties into Lock Lake. I confirm the first part immediately: a chest in the damned lobby, opened with a key from a nearby desk, has about 10 vials of silver snake venom. I confiscate the supply. The company's mining log shows that in addition to iron ore and lead, they're also mining blackrock, coded as "B.R."
There's no one in the building, so I head out the back door. Near a bridge leading over a stream, several people are gathered. The first, named Karenna, tells me that two people have been murdered in the nearby sawmill. A resident named Jakher confirms that they were gypsies. Karenna gives their names: Frederico and Tania. I'm too late.
Dammit. Maybe I should have come here before New Magincia.
Almost immediately, it transpires that the victims were enemies of the Fellowship; Frederico once threw a rock through the local branch's window. 
On the other side of the footbridge, I see a friendly face: Julia, looking and speaking very different than in Ultima VI. She says that since our last adventures, she has "become the tinker of Minoc," apparently forgetting that she was a tinker all the way back in Ultima IV. I decide to let her join the party, not intending to keep her, but figuring she might have things to say as we explore Minoc. She tells me that I have enough travelers for one group. I'm puzzled because I thought I could have eight in this game, but perhaps the number of party members is set at the Avatar's current level the way it was in Ultima IV. If that's the case, I've been lucky not to hit it already.
You've been a tinker every time I've met you and you're over 200 years old. If that's not what you want to "do with your life," you'd better get started on something else fast.
A bunch of people are stewing about the entrance to the sawmill: a glassblower named Gladstone; Elynor, head of the local Fellowship branch; a sawmill employee named William; Burnside, the town mayor. From them, I learn that Minoc is a quiet town that hasn't experienced a homicide in years. William, a recent Fellowship convert, is the one that found the bodies. Most people think the murderer must be someone from outside the community. Frederico and Tania have a son named Sasha who lives with the other gypsies outside of town. 
The crime scene is similar to the one in Trinsic, but with two bodies instead of one. Both have candles around them in a pentagram. Both victims' limbs have been cut off. Both have had their blood drained into nearby buckets. Oh, and there's a goddamned Fellowship candelabra right in the middle of the scene. This is clearly Hook's work. Elynor, who claims the deaths are a tragedy but you can tell she really thinks they aren't, says she's never seen or heard of anyone with a Hook and knows nothing of The Crown Jewel. The mayor, though a Fellowship member, thinks they promote a "dubious" philosophy and that most of its members are "emotional weaklings and fools."
The murder scene--through which practically every resident in Minoc is freely traipsing.
I recover a weapon from near the bodies: a serpentine dagger that looks a lot like the one I found in the Library of Scars in Jhelom. This may just be a design common to daggers made in Serpent's Hold, but it reminds me that I need to visit the Hold and perhaps re-visit Jhelom.
Our next stop is the gypsy wagon outside of town, across the way from the Britannian Mining Company Office, where we find Sasha, a young man who is surprisingly wearing a Fellowship medallion. He doesn't have much to contribute except that he's facing a tough choice about whether to remain with the Fellowship. Jergi, Frederico's brother, is the new leader of the gypsies. He plans to move his clan out of the Minoc area, but he doesn't know where to go. If the game let me, I'd suggest he go to Terfin, where the gargoyles would presumably have no ancient prejudice towards gypsies.
Strange. I don't remember you guys back then.
Margareta, Jergi's wife, is the fortune-teller that Chuckles suggested we seek. At first, she doesn't say anything that we want to hear. After a quick vision of Nastassia, she says that to learn more about the nature of the Fellowship, we will have to join them. A new evil threatens Britannia, and it has something to do with the substance affecting the ether (blackrock). The evil will gain great power in the near future during the planetary alignment, and I should seek out a man in Moonglow to learn more. Of course, I already have.
Then she drops a bomb: I need to seek out an audience with the Time Lord, who is in trouble. I haven't heard about the Time Lord since the events of Exodus: Ultima III, when he told us in what order to insert the cards (discs) into the machine. I guess there's a fan theory that Hawkwind the Seer in Ultima IV and V was the Time Lord in disguise, but I'm not sure what evidence it's based on. Anyway, to find him I'll apparently have to consult the wisps in the Forest of Yew (I must have missed them), and the monks in Empath Abbey know how to contact the wisps. 
Perhaps the most surprising part of this is that I actually got a useful clue from Chuckles.
My discussions with Minoc's residents have revealed another major issue in town: the Fellowship wants to build a huge statue to Minoc's local shipwright, Owen, and the non-Fellowship members in the community are outraged. Not only is Owen apparently not that good of a shipwright (a lot of his ships have foundered--including the one I recently discovered at New Magincia), but the local artisans are concerned about the effects on the economy. If orders for Owen's ships increase, then so will the price of the raw materials the other artisans use. They're already taxed mercilessly by the Britannian Tax Council and are operating on slim margins. It's becoming clearer that the Britannian Tax Council, which seems to be just Fellowship-aligned Patterson, is in the pocket of the Fellowship. Not for the first time, I wonder what the hell Lord British has been doing for the past few years.
The rest of Minoc is dominated by the Artists' Guild in the center of town. Most other buildings are arranged in a ring around it. East is Julia's workshop, where I learn nothing. Northeast is the training school where Karenna and Jakher work, but my party hasn't earned many training slots since the last bout of training in Yew. North is the town hall, where Burnside offers nothing new. Northwest is private residences.
West is the Fellowship hall. I'm not being gentle with these bastards anymore; I ransack the place. In a drawer is a crystal ball fixed on Lord British's bedroom. The game won't let me destroy or take it.
Is that why he's so unresponsive about the Fellowship? Are they blackmailing him about Nell?!
The tavern is run by a one-armed, one-eyed man named Rutherford. Not only does he confirm that the Crown Jewel was in port during the murders, but it was apparently Hook who cost Rutherford his arm and eye some years ago. He says Hook lives in Buccaneer's Den, and he confirms that the ritual aspects are part of Hook's modus operandi. I don't remember getting such a clear lead in Minoc.
The Artists' Guild is a large building where people live, work, and sell their wares. A woman named Xanthia makes candelabras and says that the Fellowship recently commissioned one from her. When I describe the one at the murder site, she confirms that was it. Confronted, Elynor says that the candelabra must have been put there to implicate the Fellowship. She thinks the gypsies were probably murdered by "their own people." I don't honestly know if she's one of the top-tier evil leaders of the Fellowship or one of the bottom-tier idiot ones. 
She's definitely one of the racist ones.
Somebody in the Artists' Guild has a barrel full of trash in his bedroom. Inside that barrel is a sack. Inside the sack is a dead animal (maybe a rabbit?), two lockets, 100 gold coins, and a gold bar. I make a note to return at night and see who occupies this disturbing room. The same person also stores chunks of iron ore and pick-axes.
What is going on in this place?
Owen's house is full of his own book, This Olde Ship. I find him hanging outside his workshop, where he introduces himself as "the greatest shipwright who has ever lived." He confesses that he didn't always think so--that in fact he had been about to give up his trade--when a voice started speaking to him in his head. Through the Fellowship, he learned that the voice was his own conscience (although it was almost certainly the Guardian) telling him to do better. After that, he improved his craft and became worthy of the monument the town plans to build. 
You're about to get major recognition for something you don't deserve. Sounds par for the course for the Fellowship.
Owen is also useful in a couple ways: he confirms The Crown Jewel was in town during the murders, that it left for Paws, and that he saw a man with a Hook lurking around the previous night.
While we wait for night to fall, I decide to check out the Dungeon Covetous, which is harder than it sounds. There is a bunch of small mountain clusters surrounding Minoc and at least 10 different entrances to at least 7 different "dungeons." The largest is north of the city, with a sign outside declaring that it belongs to the Britannian Mining Company. Despite the sign, the mine is clearly long since abandoned, though still full of useful things like torches, powder barrels, food, and gold nuggets. Giant spiders have taken over one corner, trolls another, cyclopes a third, and headless a fourth.
This guy apparently died under a table.
Behind a magically-locked door, I find the body of a gargoyle near an abandoned mining machine and a sack of silver snake venom. It seems like the company has covered up the overdose of one of its employees. In another room, I find a bonfire going with a dead cat on a mat next to a meat cleaver. I'm not sure what to make of that.
Somebody disturbed lives here.
I find a second dungeon entrance southeast of town, near the gypsy wagon, but it just cuts through the mountains and emerges near the moongate. There's a third entrance north of this, accessible only from the east side (not the town side) that goes into a small cave full of . . . I guess rotworms? You can barely see them as they tunnel through the ground near you, but then they suddenly emerge and start swatting the party. If I don't delete this, it means I forgot to check the bestiary before publication.
The fourth "dungeon" has an east-facing entrance far to the southeast of town. It's inhabited by cyclopes and slimes. The slimes do their dividing trick, as they've done all the way back to Ultima IV, but they're a little easier here to kill permanently. Cyclopes are nothing to me at this point, but worth killing for their experience and gold nuggets. A fifth cave south of the Britannian Mining Company office is just a small loop with giant rats. Number Six is south of Number Five, and is a small cave network with skeletons and slugs.
What kind of cyclops screams "Aieeeeee!"?
The seventh and last dungeon is the active BMC mine, just south of the sawmill. The foreman, Mikos, claims that this one was the former dungeon Covetous, but I'm not sure about the geography. The BMC isn't even trying to hide their narcotics trafficking; half the crates in the place have silver serpent venom. Mikos says that the mine is mostly closed right now for machinery repair, and that a couple remaining employees are involved in a "special project" and shouldn't be disturbed. 
A single gargoyle employee named Fodus is working, and showing the effects of serpent venom addiction. He hallucinates that I'm Mikos and begs not to be given any more venom. He also lets on that the BMC is really after blackrock. I try giving him some healing, but it doesn't do any good. Confronted, Mikos claims that he has no idea what the "silver fluid" is--despite there being crates of it literally at his feet--and he blames Fodus for being lazy, which is "typical for a gargoyle." Before he can say anything else, Dupre--yeah, Dupre--kills him. Of course, he has a Fellowship medallion.
The Avatar's blood starts to boil.
Behind a magically-locked door--this company sure does have an m.o.--is evidence of a cave-in that killed a bunch of miners. It annoys me that I can't actually do anything about all this, so I have to content myself with stealing all their venom and detonating all their powder barrels. 
Deep in the mines, I find Owings and Malloy, the two "special project" employees, who for some reason are both carrying dirty spoons. (Their portraits are deliberately made to look like Laurel and Hardy.) Through long and tedious conversation with the two idiots, it transpires that they were tricked by Sullivan into thinking that there was treasure hidden in the mines, so they got jobs with the BMC so they could surreptitiously dig for it. Mikos, assessing their true worth, assigned them to dig a tunnel to New Magincia with spoons. I left them to their jobs. We use the company's own crates to barricade the entrance on the way out. There's a back entrance that Fodus, Owings, and Malloy can take if they don't mind a little swim.
This should stop them mining blackrock for 15 seconds.
It's night as we leave. The mysterious bedroom in the guild seems to be occupied by absolutely no one, but we have better luck at the hut south of town, which turns out to be owned by a man named Karl. (We had parked the carpet in Karl's yard.)  He has nothing to do with the Emps. Instead, he is the brother of a man who died on one of Owen's ships; it sank during a relatively mild storm on its maiden voyage. And it wasn't the only one; three ships and a dozen lives were lost based on the same ship design. Karl ended up stealing Owen's plans for the ship so that no more of that design would be built.
I hate to break it to you, but you kind of live in the lowlands south of the mountains.
Karl gives me the plans, and at his suggestion, I take them to Julia. She confirms that the designs are "unsound" and suggests I show them to the mayor.
(At this point, I realize my party is looking a bit light. I do a quick roll-call, and somehow I'm missing Dupre. I run back through the mines to no avail. I finally find his body in Dungeon #6, where he must have died fighting giant rats. Jaana says she needs to rest more before she heals anyone again despite my not having asked her for anything in about 24 real hours and two game weeks. I carry him in my off-hand until we can return to Lord British.)
Nobody noticed?!
We rouse Burnside from bed and he is aghast at the plans. First, he wants to cover things up because he doesn't want Minoc to be known as a place where "death ships" are made. Then, he realizes that if the statue is built and Owen gets more business the death toll will be worse. In the end, he cancels the statue.
What about the rest of it?!
We beat around Owen's bedroom until he wakes up, at which point we give him the bad news. He rails at the town and the mayor and dismisses talk of "design flaws." I should probably leave it there, but I remind him that "there were deaths." He grows mournful, then perks up saying that his "work will be [his] monument." While we try to figure out what he means by that, "with a dramatic flourish," he "produces a dagger" and "plunges it into his chest." The game says, "Owen, the greatest shipwright who ever lived, is dead." I can't tell if it's being sarcastic or what.
This is legitimately sad.
Just for fun, I try casting "Seance," but nothing. Well, we were headed for Lord British anyway. The Avatar puts Magebane into his pack and hoists Owen in his main hand. We stop by the Fellowship hall as we pass back through town, but Elynor has already put Owen's suicide behind her and says she "does not concern [herself] with ones such as him these days." She is just the worst. Dupre's hand twitches, but we continue on.
As usual, the word "sacrifice"--the town's old virtue--hasn't come up in a single conversation. But on the way out of town, we drop off the Rune of Sacrifice with the one who has sacrificed the most: Jergi the gypsy. He sacrificed his love of Tania so that his brother could marry her, then lost his brother and Tania. Now, he is sacrificing his own freedom to lead the gypsies and raise his nephew. I slip the Rune into a chest in his wagon as he and his people sleep quietly on the ground.
Another rune to the most worthy.
The Shrine of Sacrifice is like half a continent away, but I swing by on the way back to Britain. I expect to find it in decent shape like the others, so imagine my surprise when I find it occupied by a lich and seems to have been the site of an actual sacrifice of a woman. (The screen shot is at the top of this entry.) I put the carpet down just slightly to the west, put Owen down, equip Magebane, and charge in . . . only to find nothing there. The Shrine is falling apart and overgrown, but otherwise empty. That's what this game's approach to respawning occasionally gets you.
Did we just hallucinate it?
Mop-up items:
  • Lord British resurrects both Dupre and Owen. Dupre re-joins the party. Owen doesn't comment on his resurrection, but I suspect if I follow the same path of keywords, he'll kill himself again. I leave him alive in the throne room. Lord British still has no dialogue relating to anything I've discovered about the Britannian Mining Company, the Britannian Tax Council, the Fellowship, Hook, or the Guardian. What a useless git. It's time for someone else to be king.

Laying the bodies before the king.
  • After selling my accumulated venom, nuggets, bars, and gems, Iolo reports our cash total at 3,783. Kessler, the apothecary, takes so long to show up at his shop that I go looking for him--and find him in the tavern at 10:00 in the morning.
The party sells narcotics in a public place.
  • With my full purse, I visit Nystul, Mariah in Moonglow, Wis-Sur in Vesper, and Rudyom in Cove and purchase the remaining spells I need for a full book, along with a few reagents. Rudyom is just selling the "Armageddon" spell on the open market, incidentally. By the time I'm done, we're down to about 600 gold.
  • The dock in Paws is empty. No one has any dialogue relating to the Crown Jewel.
  • On the way from Vesper to Jhelom, I find a couple of interesting things. The first is what looks like a bootlegging operation at the end of a northeast peninsula. Some pirates have set up a fortress with a cannon. Nearby is a still and a crate full of alcohol. But the place also has crates full of cloth and women's clothing and glassware, so who knows what they're up to. Maybe it's a fencing operation, too. The other encounter is at Ambrosia, discussed below, but it happened before the rest of these items.
Something kinky is happening here.
  • In Jhelom, I'm surprised that Master de Snel has a reaction to the serpentine dagger I found in Minoc. He claims it was stolen from the Library of Scars, but then attacks me. He dies in one hit. There's a Fellowship medallion in his body, naturally. No one seems to have any reaction to his death. 
You could have at least summoned your students. That would have made it almost fair.
Quickly, on Ambrosia: northeast of the "fencing operation" described above, I find an unexpected island. It has wild horses and deer and other animals on it, and signs of human habitation in the form of a campfire with some bows and arrows nearby. There's a chest with a magic helmet and a magic sword, plus some food and gold, and I'm not really sure whether I'm stealing if I take it or not. 
The active fire would suggest someone owns this stuff.
Outside a cave entrance, I find a fairy named "Kissme Kissme" who claims to love me--and everyone else in my party. In between flying around and kissing everyone, she welcomes us to "Ambrosia," which is another callback to Ultima III. She says the island was "battered" years ago by stones called "Caddellite," which the hydra now guards. 
Dupre, get a grip.
Curious, we enter the cave behind her and find some treasures, a lich, one hostile human male, and a three-headed hydra behind a seemingly-impenetrable wall. We can't access it, but we are able to talk to it, and it introduces itself as Shandu, Shanda, and Shando. They call us "food" and say that their job is to protect the Caddellite. They attack upon further questioning.
One wonders who put the hydra in charge of guarding the Caddellite.
After some testing, I find a secret door in the north wall and open it. I feel like this is a good time for one of my glass swords. It works as intended, and the hydra is dead in one blow. 
The hydra has corpses of a troll and headless in its body.
Beyond the hydra, in a depression in the mountains, we find the strange, pulsing, blue "Caddellite." We pick up a few chunks, but I don't know what for.
I'm afraid to look up what was supposed to have happened to Ambrosia in previous canon. This might turn out to be a somewhat silly retcon.
As we leave, I note a structure in the middle of a cove that we would need a boat to access. I'm not sure if it's worth coming back or not.
Any opinions?
Sorry for the very long entry. Next time, we'll pick up the trail with the wisps and, hopefully, the Time Lord.
Time so far: 62 hours


  1. Is reviving someone who kills themselves even ethical?

    I admire the size of the game, the interesting NPCs and vignettes - but it's a bit strange that in a game that strives so hard to be immersive, you can't even tell British: "Um, so here's a ton of evidence, what are you going to do about it?"

    The game demonstrates how to do it on a smaller scale in Trinsic, each new clue prompts new dialogue with the mayor.

    Also it's strange how irreverent Ultima seems to be about its own history.

    1. Well, its own history technically includes Ultima II, so...

    2. It may be strange from a player perspective but it's not at all strange from a "why design it that way perspective". When you're designing dialog structure for a game you can either go "deep" or "wide", but doing both is literally impossible. Because the amount of dev work is the *product* of number of NPCs by how complicated their dialog structures are - the extra work is multiplicative, not additive. That's why games where NPCs have a lot of different things to say at different points in the story usually have a tight scope that limits the number of NPCs they have to write for.

    3. I was thinking someone should write a short story about suicide in a world were resurrection was possible, either through magic or technology.

    4. I thought designers told themselves "only a small number of players will follow this path and see this dialog anyway, so why bother having more than one path?" And that accounts for the linearity of the dull plots today. They say players want an interactive movie with a few quicktime events, not an actual video game with choices.

    5. I'm not sure 'deep or wide' prevents you from coding reactions from British to a few more plot revelations. Deep or wide matters when you're talking about coding interactions between each of n different characters.

    6. Yeah, James, I'm not sure I buy that it's "literally impossible." We're not talking about completely different dialogue trees for multiple characters; we're talking about simple substitutions based on whether certain event flags have triggered. I'm a database guy, and I can see how I'd do it with a dialogue database, flags, and IF statements.

      I will allow that it's probably harder in the all-voiced-dialogue era, since you can't simply swap text in and out of an NPC speech. It's one of the reasons that I think all-voiced dialogue is limiting good RPG narratives.

    7. Each individual instance is easy, as long as you keep a limited scope and wholly-independent events. To pull a recently finished game as an example, coding anything based on Final Fantasy's Four Fiends would be easy, since they are completely independent of one another, are entirely a pass/fail situation, and the only interwoven part is how many you've done.

      It is when the scope becomes less limited that you start running into difficulties. For a game like this one, you don't have those hard boundaries. Every questline can be solved partially, solved in several different ways, and can interact with any of half a dozen other ones. So fully quantifying any given task would need at least a dozen "if this flag is hit, go there" statments, and might even need "if this flag and this flag are hit, but not this one" contingencies. This exponentially raises the difficulty of creating and RUNNING the game. The former part can be conquered by an ambitious studio, but the limit of installed consumer hardware remains.

      That's what I think is U7's second fatal flaw - it is just too ambitious for the hardware it had available.

    8. Come now. Complex flag situations do not impact HARDWARE. They do impact developer time, of course; but a multiclause IF-statement is easy on any 1990s system.

    9. It's not a technical issue, it's a writing issue. Any individual case of coding an NPC to react to an event is trivial. It's the writing load of coming up with the responses of X NPCs times Y events they could care about.

    10. Given that suicide is often an impulsive act "while the balance of the mind is disturbed" and not reflective of the person's baseline desires, there is nothing inherently unethical about resurrecting someone who committed suicide.

    11. Now if you resurrect them and they commit suicide *again*? Then it's time to leave well enough alone

    12. This reminds me of a quote from Nick Hornb's A Long Way Down:

      "I'd spent the previous couple of months looking up suicide inquests on the Internet, just out of curiosity. And nearly every single time, the coroner says the same thing: 'He took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed.' And then you read the story about the poor bastard: his wife was sleeping with his best friend, he'd lost his job, his daughter had been killed in a road accident some months before.... Hello, Mr Coroner? Anyone at home? I'm sorry, but there's no disturbed mental balance here, my friend. I'd say he got it just right. Bad thing upon bad thing upon bad thing until you can't take any more, and then it's off to the nearest multi-storey car park in the family hatchback with a length of rubber tubing. Surely that's fair enough? Surely the coroner's inquest should read, 'He took his own life after sober and careful contemplation of the fucking shambles it had become'?"

    13. If suicide is classified as a crime (like here in my country, for example), reviving someone who killed themselves is not only ethical, but just. Also that poor bastard would then put before a court to determine his punished for attempted suicide. If it goes well, the verdict will be to spend some time in an asylum to get therapy. If it goes badly, the suicidal person will enter this weird recursive loop of being put into prison, killing themselves again, being revived again, getting a longer prison sentence for attempted suicide, rinse, repeat. Must be like some hellish purgatory.

  2. The evidence for the theory that Hawkwind's the Time Lord is that it's explicitly stated in Ultima 9. I don't remember when it's revealed in the final game, but in the original plot it was supposed to be revealed right at the beginning of the game, along with him being the creator of the Codex at some point. That part was not kept in the final.

    1. Yeah, but.... no one cares about Ultima 9.

    2. Eh, Ultima 9 was okay. It was far better than Ultima 8 and when it was all said and done, I thought it was a fine farewell to a series that never really cared about it's lore anyway. The Ultima series was almost as much about the tech advancements than it was any sense of cohesive storytelling. I thought only Ultima 4 and 5 had genuinely good stories and even those were painfully basic. It's mind blowing to me that EA just sits on this franchise and is gonna let it just die. I think the bad blood between Garriot and EA runs so deep they'd rather kill his creations than make money off of them. I'd love to hear the whole story sometime, but clearly even in this game their dislike of EA is part of the story.

    3. In my opinion, reviving Ultima as a franchise at this point would serve nothing but nostalgia. The things that made Ultima special back then are just established CRPG tropes now, and all the people behind it have moved on. Without any sort of lineage, and with the previous game being of dubious credentials itself, a hypothetical Ultima X would only be truly connected to the rest of the franchise by the name itself.

    4. The Elder Scrolls have been incrementally working their way toward being the new Ultima over their past three releases but they're still not there yet. What they're still missing is personality. What I think of as most distinctive about the Ultima games is the amount of personality all of the individual NPCs have. Other games have matched them in this department but only with significantly smaller casts to cover. While Bethesda has recreated the scope of the games their NPCs still remain stolidly functional.. they fulfill their game mechanic purpose and that's all they've got.

    5. Also everyone who reads this blog knows not to expect story continuity from an Ultima. The problem with 9 isn't the retcons and discontinuities, it's that the game just isn't good. The characters are flat and boring, you can only visit locations in a strict plot-mandated order, and the RPG and world sim elements are all drastically simplified compared to previous games (even 8, which at least had its magic systems going for it).

    6. What, you mean "AH HAHD DEIR REFOAMING DA DAHNGAAAHD" five times a day doesn't do it for you? :P

      My biggest complaint with the entire Elder Scrolls series is that, across five gigantic games with several plug-ins and DLCs, they've yet to really grab my attention with an NPC's personality. Occasionally you get a goofy meme NPC like Crassius Curio or CURVED SWORDS, but I've yet to meet an Elder Scrolls character that's really fun to talk to.

    7. Not Elder Scrolls, but I think some of the companions in Fallout: New Vegas are genuinely interesting people. But I guess you can argue that's not a Bethesda-written game to the same extent.

    8. I think it's the world that has the personality in Elder Scrolls, not the NPCs.

    9. I generally agree that TES doesn't have particularly memorable NPCs (at least, not in a good way), but then again I believe on judging games against the norm rather than the exception. Sure, it might get annoying to hear the same line about the Dawnguard, or curved swords, or arrows to knees multiple times, but how many games have NPCs that remark casually on current events at all?

    10. Just about the casual/idle voice lines, my issue is with the entire approach. If I go to any town in Skyrim, I know for a fact that I'm going to hear about all of those things, several times, both entering and exiting. It's just as obviously artificial as if they were silent all the time.

      Oblivion, bless its flawed little heart, actually did it way better in concept if not execution. Instead of every NPC making a beeline to remind you of your quest journal, they have conversations with each other just as often as with the PC. Of course these NPC-on-NPC conversations were usually ridiculous, but it felt more natural to me than every NPC talking to you and only you.

    11. Morrowind had the best writing in the series, resulting in the world that had personality as Gerry said above... and it actually had a number of very well-written NPCs (Yagram Bagarn, Divayth Fyr, Vivec).

      Unfortunately, it also had the worst dialog presentation in the world, making it extremely difficult to enjoy these well-fleshed out characters.

    12. It's not completely bad blood. I believe that that is SOP for EA. They're the only ones allowed to make money on things they own, and will only sell the things they own for more money than they're worth.

      Besides, there's also the possibility that, somewhere down the line, something could become popular again. And they'd rather not have something they sold make money when they could have been the ones doing so.

      EA has such a history of things like this that I'm surprised anyone works with them at all. Richard Garriot had already had problems with them in the past when he went to them for help with Ultima Online. And the only thing he owns from that is the character "Lord British".

    13. To each his own, but I'd rather play U8 over U9 any time.

      A few years ago (partly inspired by the blog, partly by Spoony's retrospective) I played the whole series back-to-back but I couldn't force myself to replay U9.

      It will be interesting to hear from Chet when he gets there, I suspect he might also prefer U9 to U8 as the Avatar is definitely more in character in U9.

    14. I don't remember what I didn't like about Ultima nine, just that in the brief time I played it, it just wasn't fun. Ultima eight annoyed me with the stone jumping puzzles but I still enjoyed other bits of it.

    15. U9 is boring as hell, just recently finished it for the first time. It has it's moments, but it's mostly a lame, really broad strokes portrait of Britannia, with most of the cool stuff taken out.

      I never understood the complaint that U8 goes against the character. He does his best under the circumstances... Is he supposed to accept his fate and let the Guardian win?

  3. This is the 16th blog entry on "Ultima 7". Two more, and it will be the second longest series you wrote, just after "Fate: Gates of Dawn".

  4. This is where I had to stop the game. I played it for seven hours straight, without playing any other ultima first, besides 4 (which is the one I've played the most and got the closest to winning at this point). I picked up the box in Britain pretty much at the start of the game, then I went and did a million other things. By the time I made my way to Minoc, I'd lost the box and couldn't find any way to continue the game.

    Looks like I didn't look very hard.

    I'm making my way through the series now, starting with 1. Your posts are very motivating.

  5. Wait, if Dupre dies in dungeon #6, how could he kill Mikos in dungeon #7?

  6. I couldn't figure out how to get into that tower by Ambrosia, if it's even possible. The boat will get you onto the island, but casting Unlock Magic failed every time.

    1. You have to cast Weather before you get to the island. The rain will cancel the anti-magic dust, which allows Unlock Magic to work. Inside is just some side lore though, it's not a big deal.

    2. Weapons and armor wouldn't be a big deal. "Lore" is a huge deal. Also, it's good to know that "Weather" is actually useful somewhere.

    3. Evil Midnight LurkerApril 27, 2021 at 6:15 AM


      All I ever had to do was cast Weather.

      MOTHERFU --

  7. Are you sure there is no clue about the Crown Jewel when you go back to Paws after Minoc? I really thought you get directed to Moonglow at this point in the game. I think one of the Fellowship members tells you. Maybe the dialogue is different if you have already been to Moonglow. Does anyone else remember?

    1. I don't remember following Hook's trail much further, but there should be a trail for Elizabeth and Abraham that goes through Fellowship headquarters in multiple towns.

      This would have been a third reason to head to Minoc after Britain, but I think Chet failed to trigger it in his conversation with Batlin? Then in Minoc you would be sent to Paws and so on.

      Missing it isn't a big deal, it's mostly a thread to tour you through the major cities, but it might provide a clue to head to the Isle of the Avatar at the end. I can't recall.

    2. Right. You have to join the Fellowship to pick up the E/A trail, which parallels the Crown Jewel, but there aren't always dialogue options for the CJ, whereas I think there are for E/A.

    3. I think every town that has a port has a lead about the Crown Jewel--IIRC, each major port has a ledger like the inns. If you keep following the Crown Jewel and/or Elizabeth and Abraham, eventually you end up doing a circle and finding yourself back in Trinsic.

    4. Got it. I think I was conflating clues about Elizabeth and Abraham with clues about the Crown Jewel in my memory.

      By the way, I really enjoy the way you are playing this game, i.e. not following the "typical" path. It has made for an especially enjoyable series of entries.

    5. As far as I have been able to gather from the transcripts of the game (I was curious but too lazy to install the game and play it to that point):

      The Crown Jewel trail does not gets you to Minoc by itself.

      Gargan the shipwright and Johnson the guard in Trinsic tell you that it has sailed to Britain, but the shipwright in Britain, Clint, tells you he hasn't seen it in weeks, effectively making the trail cold.

      The player must get to Minoc indipendently and resume it from there.

      But the Elizabeth and Abrahams trail should lead you to Minoc regardless of whether you join the fellowship.

      Klog in Trinsic opens the trail by saying that the murdered blacksmith verbally assaulted him and his "companions" because his disagreement with the Fellowship. His companions were EA, they were there to collect funds and then left for Britain.

      This should open the dialogue option "Elizabeth and Abraham" with Batlin, which should tell you they have left for Minoc.

      Although I'm not sure, you should have this option regardless of whether you decide to join the Fellowship.

    6. I had not read Chet's reply with due attention.

      It seems that the EA option doesn't open until you join the Fellowship, then.

    7. If you don't join the fellowship, there's still Chuckles's clue. You'll run into him when visiting British, and he sends you to the fortune teller in Minoc. So that should connect you to the rest of the plot, without random wandering.

    8. Vince, I’m probably wrong about that. The bigger issue is that speaking to two secondary witnesses to an argument that preceded the murder, Who aren’t suspects in the murder itself, who would probably lie anyway, isn’t enough of a reason to prioritize chasing them around. A player who joins the Fellowship has a more direct reason to visit Minoc because of Batlin’s errand.

    9. Despite always joining the fellowship and travelling to Minoc fairly early each time I've played U7, I have never followed the Elizabeth & Abraham trail, it just doesn't seem like a particularly pressing thing to do, especially after you get the Time Lord breadcrumbs.

  8. The game really should alert you somehow when a character dies. Retracing my steps to find the body of the character who died unnoticed was a very common experience for me.

    1. Exult helps here: you have the option to have little character portraits with health bars.

  9. I fear I need a diagram already, this game has more persons than a daily soap. But that would probably be a project of the same size as the Fate-map.

  10. The maximum party size is eight, but some NPCs will not join you if already have five (I think). To get around this you can dismiss some of the less picky NPCs, recruit the picky ones first, and then re-recruit who you dismissed. But it's probably not worth it.

    This game does nudge you heavily towards joining the Fellowship, but this is an aspect that is optional and handled pretty well. There are multiple reasons to go to Minoc, none of Batlin's quests are mandatory, and lbh pna hfr gur zntvp pnecrg gb npprff gur Sryybjfuvc Ergerng vafgrnq bs ragrevat nf n zrzore.

    Also, some characters will react negatively to you and even attack you if you wear a Fellowship medalion around, so it's not all good.

  11. How are you able to remember what happened in Ultima 3? You played it years ago and many games in between.

    1. I suspect the Addict has played U3 multiple times, but from my own experience I can say that blogging through a game really helps it to stick in the memory.

    2. Nathan is correct on both accounts.

  12. It has been mentioned a few times that the normal way to play the game is to join the fellowship. I wonder if that's really what most players do. I mean, it's clear from the start that the fellowship is evil (or at least a bit dodgy), so it would be quite normal for a player to hold off joining them until he knows it's necessary (usually because the game's progress is stopped until you do what the developer wants you to do). In U7, it never becomes necessary to join them, so I would think a lot of players turn down Batlin's offer and eventually go on to finish the game before even reconsidering joining the fellowship.

    1. This has been touched upon in one of the other comments I think. You can join the Fellowship early but your companions think it is a bad idea.

      The standard start for the main quest is the Gypsy in Minoc, but you do not need the Fellowship delivery quest. The murder investigation leads you to Minoc quite early via the Elizabeth and Abhraham trail. Or Chuckles.

    2. I think playing undercover cop is a reasonable in-character choice. It's not like you're joining them because you seriously want to further their cause.

      It's just a shame that joining the Fellowship doesn't give you anything really useful besides a few leads you could have gotten elsewhere. You can open and steal the packages they have you deliver, but that's small potatoes once you start finding gold and gems in dungeons.

    3. Just like how joining the Oppression in U5 doesn't really get you anything. Hmmm, I wonder if that's intentional!

    4. Erik, there are some good comments on joining or not and what happens if you don't, but I specifically wonder if joining is indeed the way the majority played it.

      Alex, going undercover is a good in-character choice, but maybe not such an obvious player choice. This could be just me, but in a game I usually wait as long as I can before making what seems like a irreversible decision.

    5. Didier, I think your question is a good one. My perception is that most players went along and joined the Fellowship, but that's not based on any hard data.

    6. I suspect most people took the test questions from Batlin and agreed to bring the package to Minoc.

      By the way, there was a free XP/gold exploit with the quest that was well published in gaming magazines back then (this being before the Internet took off).

      But you are not yet a member just because you agree to deliver the box - that comes only later in the game.

      V rkcrpg znal crbcyr qvq abg cebcreyl wbva rneyl fvapr gur Qrfgneq dhrfg pna or gbhtu & vs lbh tb guebhtu gur npghny prerzbal nyy lbhe pbzcnavbaf gryy lbh gung wbvavat gur Sryybjfuvc vf n onq vqrn naq gel gb pbaivapr lbh gb punatr lbhe zvaq.

      Ng gur fnzr gvzr, vg vf cerggl pyrne gung lbh ner fhccbfrq gb wbva gur Sryybjfuvc ng fbzr cbvag va gur tnzr gb tnva npprff gb gur Zrqvgngvba Ergerng. Gur pnecrg ynaqvat fcbg srryf zber yvxr n qrfvta birefvtug gb zr.

      On the same topic of the Fellowship and joining:

      One interesting point that is a bit ignored in discussions of the game is that while the Fellowship & Guardian are obviously up to no good there are two oddities: 1) the Guardian warning you when you enter Destard - that warning sounds genuine unlike the other taunts 2) the weird thing with Elizabeth and Abraham saving you when you are "killed".

      Maybe the intention was that the Guardian is genuinely trying to recruit the Avatar with Batlin being afraid of losing his position in the hierarchy and trying to get rid of the Avatar.

    7. I definitely joined on my first play through when U7 was first released. My recollection is I was aware they were bad, but it was like following bread crumbs and piecing together clues (admittedly obvious ones, but younger me felt like a super sleuth)!

    8. I wanted to join Blackthorn's group in Ultima V and actually do things. But that storyline petered out fast, unfortunately.

  13. "Yeah, it was definitely Dupre that killed that foreman."

    2 minutes later: "Oh, Dupre's been dead this whole time?"

    SO much potential for mockery here. Which do you prefer we open with: "Thou hast lost an eighth" or "Let the hate flow through you?" :P

  14. The mines were one of the most disappointing thing in Ultima VII for me. Game famous for its interactivity, where you can bake bread and forge sword does not let you dig in mines!!! What?!? It was a thing in previous game. Shame.

    1. You can't dig in them, but you can use their mining machines to give you unlimited ore.

    2. Yup. But this ore is basically worthless. In Ultima VI you could dig for gold!

    3. Can't you transmute lead to gold? I vaguely remember Nakar mentioning this exploit

    4. My recollection is that the price of the reagents that you spend casting "Create Gold" is greater than the value of the gold you create.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.