Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Game 454: Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds (1993)

 
      
Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
United States
Looking Glass Technologies (developer); Origin Systems (publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, 1995 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 2 April 2022

The years 1992 and 1993 were a weird time for an Ultima fan. Six separate boxes with the series title issued in those years, four of them bearing the master title Ultima VII. Two of these were "expansions," which were not exactly common in the era. Ultima VII was broken into Part 1 and Part 2 even though they were manifestly different games, and somehow Ultima Underworld II occurred between the two "parts."
    
Ultima Underworld (1992) had revolutionized first-person gaming by making it smooth-scrolling, real-time, atmospheric, and truly three-dimensional. (See my coverage for its specific contributions.) But while it achieved much as a game, it achieved essentially nothing as an Ultima game, having been originally conceived as a standalone title. Its story and characters don't fit well into Britannia, and we never hear about its events again in an Ultima game. Underworld II does better here, not only telling an Ultima tale but imparting information about the mysterious Guardian found in neither of the titles it fits between. 
       
The opening cinematic has beautiful graphics.
    
While I welcome this game's stronger claim to canon, the setup is a bit loony. It opens a year after the defeat of the Guardian in Ultima VII: The Black Gate. The Avatar, stranded in Britannia, and apparently not living at Castle Britannia, receives a letter from Lord British, inviting him to a Feast of Rebuilding at the castle. The morning after the feast and its fireworks show, a storm appears, and suddenly a dome made of blackrock rises to cover the castle, sealing it off from the outside world. You'll recall that in Ultima VII, the Guardian's followers barely assembled enough of the mysterious substance to make a single doorway.
     
A blackrock dome covers the castle.
     
There are some lovely graphics during the opening, starting with the opening wilderness shot and continuing to street and overhead scenes in and around Castle Britannia. One is a bit mysterious, showing a clearly-annoyed Lord British sitting at the feast table, Dupre to his left and some swooning maiden clutching his hand to the right.
     
Who is this woman and why does Lord British hate her so much?
     
Accompanying the title screen is a fantastic theme credited to Jon "Seamus" Blackley and Dan Schmidt. (Blackley, more famous for other aspects of game development, would later go on to work for Microsoft and design the Xbox.) The theme starts as relatively simple eight-bar march, appropriate to a medieval setting, pleasant but otherwise unremarkable. It then goes through a series of impressive transformations, with variances to the instrumentation, key, mode, and counterpoint--I lost track of how many variations total--capping in a lushly-harmonized reprise of the first eight bars. I was less enamored of the theme that plays over the introduction itself, where four repetitive percussive beats overwhelm the melody and had me reaching for the Ibuprofen. As exploration begins in the game proper, the title screen theme returns with even more variations--some of them accompanied by an insistent drumbeat. As usual, as much as I admired the composition, I didn't want it playing incessantly during the game and I thus turned it off. I'll try to remember to turn it back on occasionally as I explore new areas.
   
A manual written by Nystul updates the player on the year since the Fellowship was exposed and the Guardian driven away. Britannia has been going through the Reconstruction, "a nationwide effort to repair the social and environmental corruption spread in Britannia by the Fellowship." Buccaneer's Den has returned to villainy and piracy; Jhelom is a place of violence. Nastassia is supervising the clean-up effort at Lock Lake. The homeless shelter has closed in Paws, but there's an effort to re-open it without Fellowship influence. Patterson is somehow still in office in Britain, and Nystul says he's done an "excellent job." No one is brave enough to resettle Skara Brae. Other cities are doing better.
      
As usual, the Avatar has to start over from scratch.
   
The character creation process has you select sex, handedness, and class from the list of eight virtue-oriented professions originally introduced in Ultima IV. I decided to go with a paladin, which is always my natural urge in Ultima games. The game assigns default values for "Attack" and "Defense" skills and then asks you to pick three more, all of which get a value of 7. I picked "Mana," "Lore," and "Axe," deciding that if I was going to go with a boring default like the paladin, I'd at least mix up my preferred weapon. The portraits once again give you the choice of four white guys with unacceptable hair and one black guy with an appropriate cut.
  
The game begins as the Avatar wakes up in his room in Castle Britannia. There are some immediately-apparent graphical improvements over the original. The Avatar's room is furnished in more detail than any room in the original Underworld, including a gorgeous (for the era) fire animation in a hearth beside the bed. Everything has just a bit more complexity, from the wall textures to the character portraits.
     
The Avatar's chambers, with ankh rugs, furnishings, and a warm fire.
   
There are a few changes to Underworld's interface. The icon bar has been moved from the left side of the screen to a little cluster in the lower-right, giving more room to the view screen. As with the first Underworld, the pairing between mouse and keyboard isn't perfect, but I'm impressed by how much the creators got right so early in the history of this kind of interface. Most of the game can be played with the right hand on the mouse and the left on the WAXD keys, the only exception being "look up" and "look down," which for some reason are mapped to 1 and 3 instead of something more intuitive like "R" and "F." Since you're always picking stuff up off the floor, there's a tendency to play most of the game looking slightly down. There's a built-in mechanism for screen shots that I don't remember in the original.
   
The Avatar's chambers contain some food and water, a leather vest and boots, a chest, and a pouch. The chest has a dagger, a bowl, and the letter that invited the Avatar to the festival in the first place. The pouch has a second dagger, a torch, a spool of thread, a game map, and a note from Miranda summoning the Avatar to the throne room to discuss the late crisis. Once again, the game map is particularly well-done, automatically recording terrain and key rooms and NPCs, and allowing the player to type his own notes and annotations.
      
I love the implication that the castle was surrounded by blackrock in the middle of the night, but no one wanted to wake me up, so Miranda just sneaked in and left a note.
     
NPCs roam the hallways, but no one has anything to say before Lord British commences his meeting, so I head directly to the throne room. There, Lord British makes his speech:
     
I need not tell you, citizens of Britannia, that we are near our darkest hour. The gem that surrounds our castle is made of blackrock, a substance impervious to all physical force, which stifles magical workings within its boundaries. The Guardian has this day struck Britannia a fearsome blow, and we may be sure that he will not rest idle. Doubtless even now he is preparing an assault on the entire nation of Britannia!
   
Miranda, she of the Great Council, wonders if Lord Draxinusom of the gargoyles will be able to rally people on the outside, but Lord British suspects the human population won't follow a gargoyle. He tasks Nystul with figuring out a way to destroy the blackrock, which for some reason he calls a "gem," others with taking an inventory of the storerooms, and me with searching high and low for a means of escape. I'm about to remark that I'm impressed to see Lord British taking charge again for the first time since Ultima V, but then he ruins it by putting Miranda in charge of coordinating efforts, and he promptly retires to his chambers, where (to the best of my recollection) he spends the rest of the game hiding.
    
Britannia is always "near its darkest hour."
    
After he's done talking, the Guardian telepathically contacts everyone in the castle, promising amnesty for those who will serve him and death for those who will not.
   
When cannibalism becomes necessary, I have dibs on Patterson.
    
I start exploring the rest of the castle. Even accounting for the fact that it's encased in blackrock, it's a lot darker and more cramped in first-person than in top-down exploration. It's been reconfigured since Ultima VII, but not as much as I would have expected given the series' history. The throne room, the courtyard, and the Great Hall are all stacked down the center of the building. There's still a fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Geoffrey's room is still in the southeast, and the nursery and kitchens are still in the northeast. There are more hallways in the Underworld map, less overall connectivity between locations, and Lord British's chambers have been moved to the second floor.
      
The castle is still a square.
    
The dialogue interface, which includes a "trading" mechanic, has not changed much since the first game. You get a series of dialogue options with the occasional role-playing choice. During my castle explorations, the choice mostly comes down to being optimistic about our situation or pessimistic.
   
All the dialogue is in pseudo-Early Modern English as usual (e.g., "I would fain spar with thee"), which I hate, partly because the Origin folks neither followed historical grammar or syntax nor applied any consistent rules of their own.
  
Several NPCs have a "training" option, which suggests that skill development in this game will come from that training rather than the meditation and mantras in the first Underworld.
    
  • Iolo is in the room north of mine. He delivers the fantastic news that Chuckles the Jester is not among those trapped inside the castle. On the negative side, he reports that he and Dupre checked out the sewers and found them crawling with "monstrous vermin." He says Dupre has the key. He also reports that his wife, Gwenno, is missing on a "voyage of exploration," setting up Ultima VII Part 2. He provides training in marksmanship, swimming, and appraisal.
  • Feridwyn is in a room in the southwest. In Ultima VII, he was a member of the Fellowship and the manager of a shelter. He says he's continuing to run the shelter but is low on funding. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't much like me. 
  • Patterson, that maggot, is in a chamber in the same hall as Feridwyn. How the head of the treasonous Britannian Tax Council and head of the fellowship in Britain escaped punishment, I can't imagine. Another example of Lord British falling down on the job, I suspect. Not only is he here, he's apparently the charisma trainer. He asks what he should do, and I have options to send him to Miranda in the war room or go around boosting morale. Since I like Miranda, I choose the latter. Patterson does suggest he's reformed: he thanks me for teaching him "a lesson in honesty that was long past due" in our previous encounter.
         
The Avatar has an option for some harsher dialogue with Patterson.
    
  • Nelson, head of the Lycaeum, has a key insight: In Ultima VII, all of the Guardian's large blackrock creations (cube, pyramid, sphere) had smaller versions of themselves inside. Perhaps there is a mini version of this dome to discover somewhere. 
  • Julia, my old tinker companion, is here. She's distrustful of Feridwyn and Syria. She teaches "Disarm Traps," "Pick Locks," and "Repair."
  • Lady Tory is also here. You may remember her from Ultima VII; we rescued her baby, which had been kidnapped by harpies. She teaches "Charisma," too, suggesting that each skill has at least a couple of trainers.

All of these people have stuff in their quarters, by the way, but I figure it's stealing to take any of it. I don't know what the rules are for this one.
         
I'm tempted to take some potions but I don't.
    
  • I find Dupre in a room near my own. He reiterates what Iolo says about the sewers and gives me the key. On further questioning, he relates that he's spent the last year drinking at taverns. He can teach "Axe" and "Mace" skills.
  • Miranda is in the Great Hall setting up the war room. She says that both Nystul and Nelson want to see me.
  
Food is scattered across the floor in the Great Hall, I assume for anyone to take. Something I don't understand about the interface: it clearly supports items-on-furniture, as they can be seen in some places, and yet for most of the game, items are found on the floor despite the presence of nearby furniture that theoretically could have supported them. The Great Hall is a perfect example. There are half a dozen tables clustered in the middle of the room, but the food is all found on the floor by the walls.
     
The game can support at least a couple of items on tables.
    
  • Nystul is in a room on the castle's east side. He thinks he could reverse the spell if I could find the spell book. He says the spell is "crude," and he wouldn't be surprised if there were "aftershocks" in other realities. He also suspects there's a smaller version of the blackrock dome somewhere. He teaches "Mana" and "Casting."
   
Nystul has a closet in his room, and entering it teleports me to a laboratory full of potions and runes. I leave them for now, but I'm having a hard time not taking anything.
   
  • Syria, the cruel fighter from the Library of Scars in Jhelom, is here for some reason. She was appointed headmaster after I killed Master de Snel, the Fellowship's retired assassin. She teaches "Unarmed" and "Sword."
   
There is a jail beyond Syria's chambers. It has three cells but no occupants.

  • Geoffrey, the fighter, as usual does a good job stuffing a shirt. He teaches "Defense."
  • Nanna, head of the Royal Nursery, continues to advocate for worker's rights. The nursery is currently empty, the children having been taken by Boots on a "field trip to Paws." Because why wouldn't you take a bunch of toddlers to the poorest city in the kingdom to have a look at beggars missing limbs? 
  • Nell, the chambermaid that Lord British was bedding in Ultima VII, is in the kitchens. She was pregnant last time I saw her; the father of her baby was either Lord British or her fiancé, Caroccio. In the meantime, it appears she's married Caroccio, who took "his" son outside the castle before the blackrock descended. She reports that she heard someone chanting in the throne room just before the dome appeared.
      
I'll bet Lord British was thrilled.
    
In the northeast corner, a stairway leads down to the storeroom, full off food and drink. A door opens into a long hallway that ends at a metal door. A sign nearby says "Armory." I'm surprised to find that it does not open with Dupre's key, as I haven't found any other doors. I guess I have to run around and check again. 
     
In a time of crisis, you'd think the Avatar would have a key to the armory.
      
I'll wrap up here because I have a busy week and I don't know when I'll be able to get back to the game. We'll have to save my first combat for next time. My initial reactions are that the interface is still revolutionary, but I liked it more in a dungeon than in Lord British's castle. I'm curious how it's going to develop from here (I'm sure I played it years ago, but I don't remember any more than I've already experienced). What I would like to have happen is for the Avatar to explore an underworld as sprawling as the one in Ultima VI and find his way to other cities connected to it, but I think I'd remember that. I think instead that the subtitle plus Nystul's talk of "alternate realities" means I'm going to do some dimension-hopping. We'll see. No spoilers please.

Note: I bought the GOG version of this title. For this game, GOG does something that I've never noticed before. It keeps all of the game files (along with those for the first Underworld) in a zipped archive called "game.gog" which Windows cannot open but 7zip can. I don't quite understand how DOSBox sees "into" this. 

Time so far: 1 hour

155 comments:

  1. Glad to see this one arrive, even if it'll be a moment before you can really dig in.

    The post-Fellowship state of Britannia sounds like at least as interesting a setup as the Fellowship state in Black Gate; a shame we never get to see it firsthand.

    Perhaps Patterson received amnesty as part of some complicated peace-brokering deal to help restore a functioning society or avoid civil war or something. Most of Brittannia's institutions were hollowed out by Fellowship infiltration, and a great many people (including seemingly most of the petit bourgeois) were devoted to the Fellowship ideology. De-Batlinification would have been a complicated and messy process even if Britannia had an energetic and focused leader determined to clean house. With Lord British on the throne, it's a wonder Patterson hasn't been named as his heir apparent and head of a new official religion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While the Fellowship was outlawed, there wasn't really any mention of prosecuting the former member.

      Also worth noting that both Feridwyn and Patterson weren't part of the inner circle of the Fellowship which knew about their murders or the Guardian. In fact, I think Feridwyn was the only human branch leader not in on it.

      Delete
  2. If I'm not mistaken, the *.gog file is just a standard ISO image, which DOSBox can handle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. . . . and ISO images are just archives that programs like 7Zip have always been able to extract.

      . . .

      Yep. I think I'm going to go kill myself now.

      Delete
    2. Think if ISOs more of an archive dialect that 7zip also understands :D

      Delete
  3. The thing that drove me crazy the most about this game (right after the aforementioned silly "blackrock dome around the castle" thing), was how the inhabitants of the castle will attack you for taking stuff.

    "Hi Iolo, I'm your friend the Avatar, let me take this apple from your cupboard because it will help me save the world..."

    Iolo: *Draws sword*

    Now there's a way around this that I think everyone knows about (ROT13: cvyyntr gur ragver pnfgyr orsber gnyxvat gb Ybeq Oevgvfu, nf rirel pnfgyr vaunovgnag vf va gur guebar ebbz naq abg gurve ebbzf), which isn't cheating and, in fairness, is quite fair an approach - you are the Avatar after all! :)

    What is cheating is "debris of healing": not sure it works in every patch, but you can throw a potion on the wall repeatedly and it breaks becoming debris, but you can still use it to heal... and now it isn't spent when used, so you can use it infinitely AND no need to carry multiple.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Given how ravenous Iolo was in U7, I'm not surprised he would attack you for taking an apple. His best magic bow? sure take it, a chicken leg and he will cut you.

      Delete
    2. Ah, so it IS a problem to steal things. I was going to test that next time.

      Delete
    3. I seem to recall taking quite a lot of stuff... if you "look" at an item it will tell you if someone owns it.

      Delete
    4. This also annoyed me, Iolo finishes telling me the basement if filled with beasts then he gets upset because I grabbed a weapon from his room, I wish there was a dialogue option that said "Well you aren't using it!"

      Fortunately, as Andy says, everything owned has it in the description, and the rest you should grab. All the stuff in Nystul's lab, for example, seems designed for you to take.

      Delete
    5. There is of course a point in the game where you have great eq and there really isn't a reason for getting "something more", but in the early start, raiding those rooms gives you a nice edge when decent eq and consumables is scarce

      Delete
    6. They react to stealing, but they won't attack you right away. I think it lowers their disposition a level, so they might become 'upset', but they are still friendly and talkable at upset.

      Delete
    7. Which in itself is a strange implementation as I haven't seen the disposition budge a bit except when stealing from them :D

      Delete
  4. Alternate realities? Well, the game IS subtitled "labyrinth of worldS", plural :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Subtitles that never had anything to do with the game:

      "Gates of Dawn"
      "Conquest of Infinity"
      "Mandate of Heaven"
      "Armageddon"
      "Island of Darkness"
      "Crusaders of the Dark Savant"
      "The Zhodani Conspiracy"
      "Morton's Fork"

      Delete
    2. The most likely scenario for an imported party has you working for the Dark Savant, and the Helazoid see you as the crusaders of their prophecy, so the subtitle of Wizardry VII has at least some merit - although I don't think you do much "crusading" or work for the Dark Savant.

      Delete
    3. All right, fair enough. Then the pressing question becomes, does this game actually contain any labyrinths?

      Delete
    4. Based on some of the level designs? Sure.

      Delete
    5. Crusaders of the Dark Savant works, because in every end the Dark Savant gets his prize delivered by the party.

      Mandate of Heaven is briefly touched in on the manual, but it is really a stretch.

      Delete
  5. A plothole, though, is that you end The Black Gate with Rudyom's wand, which explicitly causes blackrock to detonate. You should be able to easily use that to dig your way out. The wand isn't destroyed or lost, because you'll start Serpent Isle with it in your possession.

    Naq V'z ernfbanoyl fher gur jnaq qbrf nofbyhgryl abguvat va gur arkg tnzr.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess it's off the table because the resulting detonation would both flatten the castle and send blackrock shards raining down all over Britain.

      Delete
    2. That would have been a funny unconventional Game Over, and possibly it is.

      Delete
    3. Personally, I like the idea the Avatar left all the great stuff they had at home, because they clearly don't live at the castle if they're getting invited there, and why would they bring all the good stuff to a party?

      Delete
    4. Clearly the Avatar lives at U7's version of Buccaneer's Den, oh excuse me the Fellowship Spa!

      Delete
    5. I wonder if the plans for Rudyom's wand in Serpent Isle were... different than what ended up happening

      After all, gurer jnf n jubyr qhatrba ebzc gb trg vg onpx, xvyyvat n yvpu vvep, naq gura svaqvat bhg gur jnaq jnf cerggl hfryrff

      But we know Serpent Isle was reasonably rushed which is a shame. I find it to be a better game than Ultima 7 despite its linearity and insufferable final 20% of the game

      Delete
    6. they kicked him out of the castle after he tried putting up the poledancing centaur poster

      Delete
    7. I always imagined the Avatar became a depressed drunk for a year due to being stranded on Britannia.

      Delete
  6. If you look closely, you'll see that the swooning maiden from the intro is resting her head on both of her hands clutched together, while Lord British is holding the tankard with his right hand.

    No new insights on their relationship status, though ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. perhaps she looks past LB and more towards Dupre..? that might make him annoyed!

      Delete
    2. That's fitting, Lord British's mistress cheating on him with Dupre... Heh!

      Delete
    3. Recall from earlier Ultimas that Dupre is consistently called a womanizer, and has been seen with a woman precisely NEVER. So that would be funny, yeah :)

      Delete
  7. I think I've always preferred UW2 to the first game, if only because of that closer connection to the actual Ultima series. Although I think I only ever finished it once, so my clearest memories are of the first two-thirds of the game.

    I never thought of the blackrock as being a problem, as you write later there's a whole point about the sphere, cube and tetrahedron! this is just a larger version of those.

    It's also a clever way of both having the castle, but not allowing you to leave the castle into Britannia. It plays very well into the various side stories and stuff that the game has throughout. But I'll say no more right now, I don't know how much you've played it or how much you remember.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The whole castle thing always gave me a bitter taste as it seemed like a lazy excuse to make the game "Underworld"

      I wonder if the whole engine could have been used for a non-Underworld game, where the sky is basically just a painted ceiling of blue with clouds and at night it's just black-ish? I mean, it worked decently for Legends of Valour, and Elder Scrolls Arena would have a great implementation of this just 1 year after.

      Delete
    2. The best part of Arena is the dungeons and stuff though, it's overworld is really quite limited and repetitive (slightly better by Daggerfall, but still limited). Trying to recreate the world of Britannia but first person would have been quite a different scope, especially as it's such a well known space at this point, with known geography that can't just be procedurally generated.

      Delete
    3. I feel like performance is a big reason everything's in an enclosed area. The Underworld games already required beefy systems for the era, and I can easily see a more open area tanking performance to unplayable levels.

      Delete
    4. Good point, UW2 in open world would have to be divided by areas with transitions I guess. Didn't U9 actually do this?

      Delete
  8. I like this one more than the first one. Some of the other worlds are very interesting sci-fi/fantasy settings. It gets pretty imaginative. I really liked the weird Star Trek like plant dystopia world... but I'm probably in the minority with that one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. stepped pyramidsApril 5, 2022 at 8:47 PM

      To quote the post, "No spoilers please."

      Delete
    2. Something I’ve learned is that some people dont really know what a spoiler is and/or cant differentiate between spoiling and non spoiling information. People like my Mum. Thanks Mum (she’s no longer allowed to say anything about shows I haven’t seen yet).

      Delete
    3. What's the spoiler? That there are other worlds? Isn't it common knowledge... and obvious from the title itself? Labyrinth of the Worlds.

      Delete
    4. Yes, that's a spoiler.

      Doesn't matter if it seems like "common knowledge" to you; many of us have never played this game *at all* (hell, though I'm not among them, I imagine a good chunk of the readership of the site wasn't even *born* when it came out), nor been in the "Ultima fandom" where such things would be discussed openly.

      And no, it is *not* obvious from the subtitle that there will be other worlds. *So* many games from this era have titles or subtitles that have precisely zero relation to what actually goes on in the game.

      And even if one concedes that the *existence* of other worlds might not be a spoiler, mentioning specifics of them—even as much as "interesting sci-fi/fantasy settings"—is absolutely, 100%, unquestionably a massive spoiler. "Visiting other worlds" could very easily just be alternate versions of Brittania—still the classic medieval European setting, just with differences in how events played out.

      Delete
    5. But is it a spoiler if it’s something that’s mentioned in the games box? It’s literally there at the back of the box that you’ll be travelling to different works, even giving a very very quick description of some of them.

      Delete
    6. Even though the back of the box art mentions there there are "alien worlds", the content of those worlds are a mystery. Plus in some people's minds it might be better to have that section have mystique to it. I know I feel the same way about one really amazing adventure game called Sanitarium, which has a really big twist in it that a lot of descriptions and reviews spoil, ruining the experience a bit.

      Delete
    7. As usual, while I thank commenters for looking out for me, I encourage you to just let ME get upset about spoilers. And yes, there were what I consider spoilers here. ROT-13 if you're not sure.

      Delete
  9. I never went far in this one, and I can't remember why because I loved the settings.

    "Food is scattered across the floor in the Great Hall, I assume for anyone to take. Something I don't understand about the interface: it clearly supports items-on-furniture, as they can be seen in some places, and yet for most of the game, items are found on the floor despite the presence of nearby furniture that theoretically could have supported them"

    Two hypothesis :
    - The engine supports it, but it is hard to do properly in whatever tool the level design was done with (eg : maybe you need to indicate the exact Z coordinate or it falls to the ground) so after some time the GD just stopped doing it.
    - The castle was done last (it is complex it terms of scripting / level-design and needs to be done very nicely to give a great first impression) and the designers ran out of time or just wanted to finish at that point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If a level needs to give a great first impression, it's not very smart to build it LAST.

      Third hypothesis: items-on-furniture was a late addition to the engine, and the castle had already been done (or mostly done) by the time items could be placed on furniture.

      Delete
    2. Actually you should never do your first level first because it's guaranteed to be the worst. As you develop a game you get better at implementation, better ideas about what's fun, etc. Content developed later is almost always better... as long as you don't run out of time.

      Delete
    3. I didn't say you have to do it FIRST, but the point is that you don't do the first level LAST. Because, as you say, you can run out of time. You don't want the player's first impression to be a rushed hackjob of a level.

      (indeed, in several games I could mention, the last level is a rushed hackjob...)

      Delete
    4. I suspect Narwhal's first hypothesis is the answer.

      Delete
    5. stepped pyramidsApril 6, 2022 at 4:50 PM

      It's been years since I played UW2, but does the food respawn? It wouldn't surprise me if the engine had a limitation where respawning or dynamically spawned items could only appear on the floor.

      Delete
    6. If items can be placed on tables, there is no reason at all why they can't respawn on tables, too.

      Delete
  10. About LB retreating to the chambers:
    "where (to the best of my recollection) he spends the rest of the game hiding."

    What a prophetic game! ;)

    On a more serious note the one feature I definitely liked above its predecessor is the absence of texture warping and the bigger 3D view.

    ReplyDelete
  11. UU2's a little less coherent with its worldbuilding but makes up for it with its variety. I played it for the first time a few years ago and was really charmed by its imagination. Hope it grabs you also.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is one of those games where I remember it being good, but the main things I remember aren't from the game, it's stuff like a police department being inspired by the Guardian's rules, and an internet reviewer where their review boiled down to "I can't get more than 20 minutes in because I keep getting killed by an enemy and can't think of anything else to do but keep throwing myself at it"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. stepped pyramidsApril 5, 2022 at 8:55 PM

      I think you're talking about the Spoony video. It's weird, I felt like he gave literally every other game in the series its due (allowing for some typical YouTuber exaggerations), but the UW2 part really felt like he got to that point in his reviews and realized "crap, I never actually played that game, better check it out", had a bad first impression, assumed the game otherwise unfolded pretty similarly to UW1, and moved on.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I was talking about Spoony's review. Personally, I feel like the reviews are entertaining, but for me it ended up giving me impressions of the games that they didn't live up to, like making me think Ultima 5 was about you and your companions against most of Britannia, when it... isn't.

      Delete
    3. There's definitely some heavy nostalgia goggles at work there, which I think is pretty common for people regarding Ultima IV through VII. (Even I have trouble not occasionally overstating Serpent Isle's virtues.) My favorite example is how people make a big deal about the extremely limited crafting in VII.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I always heard "you can make bread from wheat" brought up for 7, which led to disappointment when I realized that not only was that the most extensive crafting the game has, there's no good reason to do it in the first place beyond novelty

      Delete
    5. You can also make bandages from cloth with shears, which is at least theoretically useful... but you can't get shears in VII without stealing them. It really feels more like an easter egg than an actual mechanic.

      Delete
    6. What you have to remember though is that crafting really wasn’t a thing in RPGs when U7 came out. It is limited and of very little use most of the time, but it did predict where games would go.

      Delete
    7. I'm aware it was new and impressive at the time. Issue is, that was 30 years ago and what was cutting edge then doesn't come across as anything special now. Sure, having crafting at all would have made the game stand out at the time, but to my modern perspective it just came across as a half baked mechanic that just feels like it's there to be there rather than because there's an actual reason for it existing.

      Delete
    8. It is indeed telling that the breadmaking is not AN example of crafting in U7, but pretty much the ONLY example of crafting. That does mean the interactivity of its world is overstated: Savage Empire has more "craft" interactions than U7 does.

      Delete
    9. Whatever, as a person who played it back then it sure did feel revolutionary. A big point I'd make (and which I know by past comments many of you disagree) that if you want to give a game credit you have to compare it to other contemporary games. The same is true for media like movies etc. I can never understand people who think it makes much sense to rate a something like that against modern stuff. Sure I too think you get some insight out of it but will you come out with a fair and objective rating for the old game? In my opinion the answer is never. That's why I still think 2001 is a revolutionary and great movie. And I still stand with my opinion that U7 really is a great game. This is of course subject of taste, but I think there are enough things objectively very good about it, it just so happens none of these are what our addict and others are looking for (today) in a CRPG.

      Delete
    10. Oh and another thing. I really believe that what I think about U7 is a point already proven. You just have to look at contemporary reviews. Even if you are one of these people who believe that many magazine votes were/are rigged bought etc. With all due respect I rather believe what a huge majority of people said of a game back then than what some commenters on an internet blog are saying today sorry.

      Delete
    11. I have been you many times in the past fireball, and I know the flame, I know it. Having said that, and loving U7 for many things, yeah, game magazines kind of overrated games and never talked about the many, many, maaany glitches and bugs that game had because usually they did not play the game very far before publishing the review. I also think that the importance of 2001 is overstated - and Kubrick in general, who is treated as if there was no other collaborator in his work. And third, please, for once, repeat with me: There. Are. No. Objective. Reviews.

      Delete
    12. fireball: "U7 really is a great game. This is of course subject of taste, but I think there are enough things objectively very good about it, it just so happens none of these are what our addict and others are looking for (today) in a CRPG. "

      This is actually a great point. I remember much of the criticism U7 got in this blog was about the combat system, and rightfully so - it is probably the weakest point of the game.

      However, a few years later, Planescape Torment will be touted by some as "the best RPG ever" and one of its biggest RPG flaws is precisely the terrible combat (which derives in itself from a lackluster AD&D implementation). :)

      So even "great RPG with bad combat", U7 did it first, and better :D

      Delete
    13. Planescape's combat is miles ahead of U7, though :P

      Delete
    14. I disagree. Particularly as your party gets bigger, the strange AD&D implementation makes PST battles chaotic, where you either steamroll through opposition or get smacked mercilessly. It totally lacks the BG2 approach of "summon a monster, lay a trap, have your Assassin sneak to the side and see it all unfold".

      Ultima 7 had some basic AI that could, and should, be abused. Berserk mode for anyone with a special weapon, one (and just one) character ranged with the Ranged mode, and the rest just told to run away in an orderly fashion :D

      Delete
    15. So, doing that in U7 will make your battles chaotic, where you either steamroll through opposition or get smacked mercilessly :D

      Delete
    16. Haha I think there's one single battle in U7 that is tricky (Avatar partyless vs a demon of sorts inside the cube? A glass sword sorts out the issue though), I don't remember much else in terms of problems. Particularly after learning the Dance spell.

      FoV battles... were a different issue though ;)

      Delete
    17. I feel like this whole sub-thread started with stepped pyramids' comment about "nostalgia goggles." Then everyone jumped in by saying you have to understand how good it was for the time. Isn't that exactly what "nostalgia goggles" means? It was amazing at the time, not so much now.

      Delete
    18. stepped pyramidsApril 6, 2022 at 4:47 PM

      Yes, exactly. I run into people who talk about the crafting, the day/night cycles, NPC routines, movable objects, etc. as if they're lost artifacts of the golden age of RPGs, even though they still show up in highly popular, mainstream games like Skyrim.

      I love the Ultima series. I am a big fan of its contributions to simulationism in RPGs. Ultima VII is historically important, an impressive achievement in its time, and still a worthwhile game to play. I just think fans of the series tend to overrate what the games objectively are, as opposed to what they represent.

      Delete
    19. To bring this discussion on a whole new level of pointless nitpicking, I'd say that "nostalgia goggles" means more that something was never as good as you remember it, not that the times have moved on.

      Delete
    20. I agree. It’s the idea that you thought something was good but really it’s that you were younger and didn’t really develop good taste yet. Like watch any number of canon movies that you loved as a kid and you realise they were just plain awful.

      With U7, I’d say it still holds up as a game since it is still fun to play. The achievements it’s engine did were overblown at the time, but that’s marketing, which did really push the bread making side of things. However I don’t really see people saying it’s approach to simulation hasn’t been replicated or improved, as that’s pretty obvious from Skyrim to Minecraft.

      Delete
    21. I feel like TV Tropes has the perfect thing to describe this: Seinfeld is Unfunny. It's the idea that something seen as revolutionary and amazing at the time stops being seen as such because everything else started doing it better. Ultima 7's still a good game, but a lot of the elements that made it amazing at the time have been done significantly better since, which means that rather than being wowed by things like crafting existing at all, you start noticing the flaws with the implementations instead. It's not a game that's aged particularly well, but it's at least one that wasn't built entirely around the wow factor.

      Delete
    22. And we can mention again the concept of subjectivity on all these appreciations, because I started watching Seinfeld last year for the first time and I actually found it brilliant.

      Delete
    23. The issue of Seinfeld is one I noticed people here in the UK had back at the time. The first season is very so-so, and the humour comes from knowing the characters. So you have to watch a couple of episodes to really get what each person is about, and how the episodes are connected (there’s a lot of call backs!)

      I agree, Seinfeld really does hold up, especially once it gets into its stride.

      Delete
    24. While I appreciate the perspective that Ultima is viewed with nostalgia goggles, I will say that I will jump at the opportunity to grab any similar RPG (party based 2D birds eye perspective) and I have yet to find a better one.

      The only thing that came close was Faerie Tale Adventures 2 (from 2001 or so?) but that game was so rushed it's empty (imagine cities full of NPCs without a single line of dialog) and impossible to finish without a walkthrough.

      Delete
    25. And of course there are those of us who watched Seinfeld at the time and didn't like it. If you don't like Jerry, don't find him charismatic or funny, and don't like the fact that he never really makes himself the butt of his own jokes, then no amount of good work from the supporting cast (and there was plenty) will redeem a show that perennially makes you think, "Won't someone just clock that narcissistic putz in the face for once?"

      Delete
    26. I definitely enjoyed it at the time, but almost the moment it ended, it was like the spell was broken and I realized how much the show thrived on cruelty and lionized nihilism and celebrated its characters being just awful, awful people.

      Delete
    27. "Planescape Torment ...

      "great RPG with bad combat", U7 did it first, and better :D"

      I strongly disagree, but we'll probably come to that later ;)

      Delete
  13. At the time of release, a bug prevented you from beating the game, and to avoid it the player must always be pleasant with Nanna in the dialogues, and agree with what she says.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was reasonably sure that "bug" was still there in all versions?

      Delete
    2. Really? I don't remember what I said to her. Is there any way I can check, or do I need to start over to be sure?

      Delete
    3. The Ultima Wiki says that this bug has been fixed in the CD version, so you should be alright.

      Source: https://wiki.ultimacodex.com/wiki/Bugs#Ultima_Underworld_II

      But don't open that link because you'll see spoilers in the bug reports. The Wiki lists four other bugs, and two of them can cause the endgame to not trigger, but it seems unlikely that you will stumble across these.

      However, there might be reason to reconsider choosing a paladin character. After finishing Ultima Underworld I, you said:

      "It was perhaps just a tad too easy in combat, at least for a fighter-type character"

      "Because of the multiple approaches it offers, I have an almost insurmountable desire to replay the game as a mage. Part is the reason is for penance: I didn't even test 80% of the game's spells. Some of them would have made life a lot easier; for instance, "Fly" would have cut an enormous amount of navigation time (...)"

      Delete
    4. Chet there's nothing you could have done wrong at the start of the game regardless of version. But later on, no spoilers, there's an event... be friendly and help her :)

      Delete
    5. That's a good reminder, Bitmap. Thanks.

      Delete
  14. Ultima VII wasn't split in two parts, it was Garriott who insisted on not giving Serpent Isle the title "Ultima VIII" because it used the same engine as VII, and at that time he wanted each numbered title to use a new engine. So they just called it Ultima VII Part 2.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember people in usenet back in the day just saying all they wanted from U8 was U7 with high res and maybe a z-axis

      Delete
    2. Well they should have been careful with what they wished for huh!

      Delete
    3. Hehe clearly they hadn't asked for "jumping puzzles" :D

      Delete
  15. I'm going to be edgy and say that Ultima Underworld only revolutionized first-person gaming if you played exclusively RPGs. Its a good game, but not that good. Its only actual achievement is combining texture mapping with a semi-3D world. Which came at a high performance cost (something we don't really appreciate now), a limited sight range and being a very glitchy game. It wasn't the first texture mapped game, that would be at the very latest Catacomb 3D, and it wasn't close to being the first fully 3D world, that would be Cybercon III. It wasn't even the first immersion sim either, that would be Day of the Viper or Corporation depending on what you want to say.
    Now of course, outside of Catacomb and maybe Day of the Viper, those are crap, but my point is it didn't come out of a vacuum. Its not a worse game because of it, but not quite the technological marvel people attribute it to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. stepped pyramidsApril 5, 2022 at 9:02 PM

      What about Day of the Viper makes it an immersive sim?

      It's not uncommon for games that aren't literally the first to have a feature to get credit for being the first to use them well, or to combine multiple features that had not yet been previously combined. UU was considered technologically remarkable at the time and it was directly influential on the next generation of 3D games.

      Delete
    2. UU is, however, the first 3D game that allows angled walls and floors. Catacomb 3D and for that matter Wolfenstein have everything at a 90-degree angle.

      Delete
    3. Wolfenstein 3D isn't even really 3D because it has no height levels. Its advantage was the really good performance compared to more complex 3D engines, though. It played extremely smoothly while other 3D games were pretty awkward to play.

      Delete
    4. @Pyramids, fair enough on Viper, haven't played it yet, just heard it was quite a bit like SS.
      But nevertheless it does make its remarkable nature feel hollow. Most of the games influenced by UUW were just as influenced by Wolfenstein and Doom, if not moreso. The only games to have direct influence without coming out years later are Wolfenstein, Pathways into Darkness and Shadowcaster, titles RPG players completely ignore.

      @Anon, er, no, its not. My point is that Cybercon III beat it to that, as did the Freescape games, probably some flight sims and racing games too.

      Delete
    5. As I understand it, UU1 was the first actual 3D engine deployed as an RPG, and maybe as a game at all.

      In comparison, Wolfenstein 3D was completely flat, and Doom was flat with a height map. That is, everything was designed in 2D, and then different areas could have a Z offset up or down. This Z value was solely a visual effect. The game started drawing those areas sooner or later than it otherwise would have, as it built each frame from top to bottom. The rendering was the only thing that changed. That meant you could face directly forward and shoot, and your bullets would hit enemies "above" or "below" you, because they weren't *really* above or below you.

      As I understand it, UU had actual 3D, things on top of other things. It wasn't a flat map with height offsets, you could walk above an area on, say, an arch, and then later pass under that same arch, looking up to see where you'd been walking a few minutes before.

      Id didn't do real 3D until Quake, in 1996, four-ish years later. It was a heck of a lot faster, but was going over ground that UU1 had already broken.

      Delete
    6. UW is limited in terms of being under and over other passages - in some cases there are bridges which you can walk both under and over, but other than that it is not possible to have a real room or a real tunnel over another.

      Technically it is probably height offsets for the floor and ceiling, plus allowing placing bridges.

      Delete
    7. I feel like the point I was trying to make has been completely glossed over in favor of making a strawman argument that I was saying that Wolfenstein is true 3D or something. The only context that I mentioned Wolf3d in is as a game influenced by UUW, and that Catacomb 3D was probably the first released game with texture mapping. By the time iD did true 3D it was old hat.
      However, my primary point was that many people beat UUW to the cheaty 3D it uses. UUW having a bridge you can walk over is something that flight sims could do for years, and they had all the other elements one would say UUW has aswell.
      More to my original point, here's Driller, a game that uses the same kind of 3D UUW does, years before:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5wx1tHQ1vo
      And here's the other game I mentioned Cybercon III, which is true 3D:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZxyDo9opd8

      Delete
    8. Morpheus, the point that you're missing is that UU was revolutionary for "3D trick A" whereas you're pointing out that other games did "3D trick B" first. A is not B, and texture mapping was not the only "first" to be had in 3D gaming.

      Delete
    9. I guess the other point is that you don't become revolutionary for having an idea, or even doing something first, you become revolutionary for leading the revolution. Nobody bought Cybercon 3, lots of people bought UU.

      Delete
    10. Radiant, I'm not missing any point, you are. I'm not just talking about texture mapping, I'm talking about having an actually 3D world. Or as you put it, 3D trick A, which everyone is ignoring to discuss point 3D trick B.

      Tristan, except that in UUW's case, its revolutionary nature is that its supposedly the first. By popularity, UUW might as well be Cybercon III compared to Wolfenstein 3D and any random game that came out in its wake. Further, every time the game is brought up, you always hear people wishing there were more games like it. Hardly a revolution in that regard either.

      Delete
    11. stepped pyramidsApril 9, 2022 at 9:31 PM

      The fundamental problem here is that you think "its only actual achievement is combining texture mapping with a semi-3D world" is actually a counter to the popular perspective on UW1, which it is not. If you read Jimmy Maher's retrospective on the game, he describes the combination of free-perspective 3D and texture mapping as what created "[an] environment... far more realistic, attractive, and immersive than any first-person 3D environment to appear in any game before".

      https://www.filfre.net/2019/01/life-off-the-grid-part-1-making-ultima-underworld/

      Driller and Cybercon III have flat colored surfaces. Wireframe and filled-wireframe 3D is much older than UW1, that's not news.

      In any case, you've already admitted that you haven't even played all of the games you've tried to cite as weakening UW1's legacy, so I suspect we've all just been wasting our time here.

      Delete
    12. UU outsold W3D, though it might not have been pirated as much. They were both big deals in gaming.

      I think whatever UU technically did 'first' is immaterial to its place in gaming history. For most gamers, UU was a novel experience, and a good experience. It's lineage involves some of the most popular games in RPG history. Hence revolutionary.

      But like you said, you're being edgy.

      Delete
    13. Except that it is a counter to the popular perspective on the game. Perhaps you've seen the other bit more in your experience, but that's simply not true in my experience. But nevertheless, the quoted perspective you've mentioned is a very interesting one, and does satisfy my point, far more than nebulous appeals to legacy or that I had to be there.

      Delete
    14. I mean, at this point, what’s the claim that’s actually being advanced? Just that other games implemented some of the technological innovations UU is known for slightly before it did, albeit they were for the most part poorly designed and relatively obscure?

      I guess that’s true as far as it goes, but it’s true beyond peradventure that UU did combine its technologically-advanced engine with a novel set of design approaches that mean it’s able to do something very different from the other games you cite. Moreover, it was contemporaneously recognized as a significant achievement that pointed the way towards further innovations - by players, by the games media, and by other developers (it and iD’s Wolf3D/Doom one two punch were widely seen as setting two distinct models for first-person games). It directly led to System Shock, and thence to the full line of immersive sims, as well as to Thief and the stealth genre as well. Sure, it has antecedents and influences - though if you read the Digital Antiquarian piece, the developers were taking tools from flight sims and academic research and applying them to a Dungeon Master template - but to argue that UU was only a milestone to blinkered folks who only played CRPGs seems deeply at odds with the historical record.

      Delete
    15. From his earlier posts, Morpheus appears to claim that it's irrelevant that UU is the first 3D game with slanted walls and floors, because earlier 3D games exist that do not have slanted walls and floors. This claim is, prima facie, rather silly.

      Delete
    16. My claim is that other games did *all* of the technological innovations that UUW did beforehand, and that people who only played CRPGs consider it the achiever of most of those accomplishments. Perhaps games media and players did speak of it highly, but the kind of people who played and reviewed UUW were mostly RPG and adventure game players, hardly the sort to be familiar with action games. And while magazines would speak highly of it, adding the game to their game of the year lists, those would be considered by who else, but the magazine's RPG player. You'll also note that magazines spoke highly of the games I mentioned and included them on game of the year lists.
      Further, developers were more or less ignoring UUW's approach, at best only including it among a wide variety of influences, in an attempt to appeal to the now overwhelming Wolfenstein crowd. The period after UUW is called a "dark age of RPGs" for a reason, after all.

      Delete
    17. So if that’s the claim, what’s the game? Like your argument is: there is at least one pre-UU game that had texture mapping, angled floors and walls, and could fake enough true 3D to allow for things like bridges, plus it ran faster and or had a bigger view window so it’s a more impressive technological achievement, and also it sold hundreds of thousands of copies just like UU and won multiple game and or genre of the year awards such that just about anyone who played video games in the early 90s, except for the poor saps who stick narrowly to rpgs and adventure games and I guess just skipped all the pages in the gaming magazines about other genres, would recognize it as the true innovative progenitor of first person 3D games alongside Wolf3D and Doom, making UU nothing but a historical footnote of interest only to the aforementioned RPG-only players. So if that’s the case, what’s the game that checks all the boxes? None of the ones you’ve mentioned above seems to satisfy even a majority of the conditions you’ve set out, by your own admission.

      Delete
    18. Or wait, are you just saying the there are other games that did like one of those things each, so therefore putting them all together wasn’t a big deal? That’s consistent I guess but about as logical as saying the smartphone was no big deal because cell phones, pagers, PDAs, and Game Boys all existed separately. Especially when talking about the ability of a game to convincingly portray a fictional environment - which is the thing folks who say UU is innovative primarily point to - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts because you don’t have blank walls or right-angle floor plans breaking immersion.

      Delete
    19. What about Magic Carpet? I think it was quite good really 3D game.

      Delete
    20. Magic Carpet was released two years after Ultima Underworld; so it can't be a game that UU took ideas from.

      Delete
    21. I reacted mostly on the line, that there was not real 3D game till Quake in 1996. My fault, I should have quoted it, soryy.

      Delete
    22. Right, it's very silly to call Quake the "first" for doing exactly what UU (and Magic Carpet, and Descent) did several years before quake :D

      Delete
    23. If one were there, then, it hardly mattered if it was texture mapped or voxel technology based (yeah, gaming historians, what came earlier?), every pixel in the viewport was used. Catacomb/Wolfenstein 3D omitted floors and ceilings. That UW games allowed to look up/down, or even tremor shaked the camera, it made them notable still in the era of Doom and DN3d...

      Delete
  16. To me it looks like the "annoyed Lord British" is doing that thing where you swing your mug while singing or giving a speech.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I would give these games a serious try if they were to give them the remaster treatment that's all the rage these days. Not an awful remaster like GTA got, maybe one like Nintendo would give one of the Zelda games. This game would do well with a WASD/mouse control scheme with mouse-look and an updated 3D engine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. stepped pyramidsApril 5, 2022 at 9:13 PM

      The problem there is that EA owns the rights, and they don't really seem interested in doing anything with Ultima. They licensed just enough of the rights to Paul Neurath to make Underworld Ascendant (basically, he could use anything from UU1 except the name "Ultima"), and that was very poorly received.

      Maybe Nightdive Studios could get their hands on it.

      Delete
    2. I think it had to be simply a remaster and nothing else, similar to what happened to Arx Fatalis (which was in itself already considered the "UW2 successor").

      Any attempts at creating "new Ultimas" have been disappointing: Shroud of the Avatar, Underworld Ascendant...

      Delete
    3. Yeah, that's the problem. As a backer of Underworld Ascendant I cannot tell you enough how big my disappointment was. They essentially buried the franchise again.

      Delete
    4. UnderworldExporter has not advanced much in its support for UW2 then?
      (please google. Don't want to risk a moderation issue for posting links)

      Delete
    5. Underworld Ascendant ended up being Underworld Ass instead, but there's another successor in the works: Monomyth. Check that ine out!

      Delete
    6. What happened with Underworld Ascendant? Both that and the Avatar game just seemed to vanish on release which I didn’t even know happened, but missed why they flopped?

      Delete
    7. They were both truly terrible games, particularly Underworld Ascendant. Not just because they were poorly implemented, but neither of them seemed to even try to recapture anything that people loved about the originals.

      I too want a version of the original Underworld games with mouse look, the controls are very difficult to get used to for a modern player, much moreso than older turn-based, keyboard-driven schemes.

      Delete
    8. Underworld ascendant was one of those KS projects that looked hopelessly unlikely to deliver.

      Delete
    9. SotA looked interesting, and mildly original as a MMO/single player mix with permanent housing. The beginning was good, but then, probably to compromise towards the UO fans that wanted housing and shops to sell their crafts, the whole world became big, and fairly empty/uneventful/unpolished.

      Ascendant was just a disaster, I backed it too and after the first (buggy) release I haven't touched it again as it was just bad. Reminded me of an even worse version of the already infamous Descent to Undermountain

      Delete
    10. I played through Underworld Ascendant late last year (I backed, but put off playing until I actually went through the UU games), at the point where it was as patched as it could be. And fundamentally the issue seems to be that the devs bit off far more than they could chew. They ended up majorly cutting aspects, like cutting out the three factions outside the lizardfolk and just having them show up in texts and quest board stuff. And instead of a proper main quest it was just a series of randomly generated quests with a final boss.

      Delete
    11. Thanks Jarl for bringing up Monomyth, definitely looking forward to that then.

      Delete
    12. Underworld Ascendant's problem is that it wasn't managed well at all. The devs fiddled around with their tools for at least a year without producing any content. They implemented systems that they then scrapped because they decided not to use them after all. They could easily have delivered something solid, considering their previous work - they were ex-Looking Glass people after all, who worked on the original UU, System Shock, Thief.

      But when you have no idea where you want your project to go, it is of course not going to go anywhere. It was pretty obvious in their Kickstarter updates already. IIRC most of them took a break from game dev after Looking Glass folded, and now they had fancy new tools so much more powerful than what existed 20 years ago. So they experimented with these tools like a kid who found a new toy. But it never really went anywhere.

      With the budget they had, they could easily have delivered an UU clone that satisfied the backers and found an audience. Use oldschool graphics like Dusk did - looking like an early 00s game is completely accepted in today's gaming world, especially if you're creating a game with oldschool sensibilities. Code the basic systems like physics, dialog, combat etc. Then focus on the level design. Bam, guaranteed hit.

      But that's not what they did. For the longest time, they weren't even entirely sure what kind of game they wanted to make. That's why the end result is such a mess of half-finished stuff that barely fits together.

      Delete
    13. Yes, Dusk. I wasn't too impressed with that game for the first couple levels but when it started getting better, it got REALLY good. UU remade with the Dusk engine could be a beautiful thing.

      Delete
    14. JarlFrank that almost sounds like they had the right tech people from UU, but not the project managers :D

      Delete
  18. This will be fun to follow! I remember playing it when I was younger, but I can't really remember anything about it beyond the basics.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I have fond memories of the game. Though not as much as a revelation that the first one was, at this point I was really glad for more of the same. Though I somehow was overwhelmed by... things Chet still has to encounter for himself so contrary to the first I did not finish it.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Yay! happy that you are covering this one. Always happy when you cover an ambitious maybe not perfect but unique crpg.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Been looking forward to this one. I will be very interested to see how you compare and contrast this to the first game.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Does anyone know why they did not make more ultima underworld games?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure. Midway through production of Serpent Isle, Origin got taken over by Electronic Rats. I mean Arts.

      Delete
    2. To be fair, sales at the time probably never matched expectations and critical acclaim (which can probably be said for Looking Glass games in general).

      "Critically, the game was an unparalleled success, one magazine going so far as to award the game six marks out of five. But was UU a commercial success?

      "Sales were merely good out of the gate," says Paul Neurath, "and so Origin did not consider Underworld a hit. This dampened the enthusiasm a bit, and muted Origin's interest in the sequel. As a consequence, the Underworlds never got the level of marketing support that some of the other top Origin games received. Nevertheless, word of mouth carried Underworld sales for many years, and they managed to rack up half a million sales between the two titles, making them hits over the long haul."

      https://web.archive.org/web/20071212192612/http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=28003

      Delete
    3. That was a perennial problem for Origin. Even when they hit the right button for mass appeal, their habit of pushing as far as the tech would allow hurt their customer base dramatically starting with Ultima VI.

      Even if you're drooling over the magazine reviews, if your PC can't play the game (and, when the Underworlds were new, this was the case for a huge percentage of people) you probably won't buy it.

      That's one of the reasons the games had such a long "tail" - eventually the base install level caught up, and there wasn't quite enough software available to dump the old hotness into the dustbin.

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I remember spending a loooot of time wrestling with autoexec.bat and himem.sys to get UU to run, and I had a pretty good machine -- having enough money and expertise to play these games was challenging.

      On sales though UU was apparently a pretty strong success. From the Digital Antiquarian:

      "In the beginning, sales went about as expected. A snapshot from Origin’s in-house newsletter dated July 31, 1992, shows 71,000 copies of Ultima VII shipped, just 41,000 copies of Ultima Underworld. But, thanks to ecstatic reviews and strong word of mouth — Origin may have struggled to see how groundbreaking the game really was, but gamers got it immediately — Ultima Underworld kept on selling, getting stronger every month. “It was the first game that ever gave me a sense of actually being in a real place,” wrote one buyer in a letter to Origin, clear evidence that Blue Sky had absolutely nailed their original design goal. Soon industry scuttlebutt had it outselling Ultima VII by two to one. Paul Neurath claims that Ultima Underworld eventually sold more than half a million copies worldwide, an extraordinary figure for the time, and considerably more than Ultima VII or, indeed, any previous Ultima had managed."

      https://www.filfre.net/2019/01/life-off-the-grid-part-1-making-ultima-underworld/

      This is in tension with the previous-quoted article saying the series as a whole hit half a million sales. As to number 2, though:

      "The sequel was created from start to finish in less than nine months, nearly killing the team responsible for it. Origin and Looking Glass’s desire to get a second game out the door is understandable on the face of it; they had a hit on their hands, and wanted to strike while the iron was hot. This they certainly did, but the sequel reportedly sold less than half as many copies as its predecessor — although it should also be noted that even those numbers were enough to qualify it as a major hit by contemporary standards."

      https://www.filfre.net/2019/02/life-off-the-grid-part-2-playing-ultima-underworld/

      In the comments, he estimates that this translates to over 200k copies sold, which would put UU1 at over 400k, meaning both it and the series as a whole sold around half a million copies.

      Delete
  23. I think it's strange that there are so few games like Ultima Underworld.

    UU 1 and 2, Arx Fatalis, maybe the upcoming Monomyth, and that's it? Immersive Sims like System Shock 2 and Prey are closely related, but not quite the same.

    Hopefully we'll see more games that explore this direction. This is an underserved niche where indie developers can be successful. Depending on the artists on the team, an economical art style with pixel or low-poly graphics would fit well, for example, like Delver, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin or Graven.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't played it, but supposedly the Trapped series from the late '90s are an Amiga take on the genre.

      Delete
    2. I remember seeing Delver at Seattle Indies Expo some years ago and thinking that it was at least partially inspired by Ultima Underworld.

      Delete
    3. Aren't these "a utopian society has collapsed and you play an outsider who visits it" games a common trope at this point? Bioshock was the same thing.

      Delete
    4. One big difference between the "Shock" line of games (System Shock, BioShock) and Underworld are NPCs.

      IIRC, the developers of System Shock (also the UU developers) weren't always thrilled with how well they could simulate NPCs so they went with the expedient of having them all dead, or only able to send you emails.

      Prey fits in this vein mostly (you have a _little_ interaction with one or two NPCs - IIRC there's one with a broken leg you can talk to up close) but there are no dialog trees etc.

      Arx Fatalis was more the UU type, as Bitmap mentioned.

      Delete
    5. Arena's debut I think shifted the overall direction of the industry. You get the same first person RPG interaction, but Arena shifted the focus to large worlds that still had lots to do.

      Delete
    6. I agree with Mr. Popo. When the technology allowed it, the genre just evolved merging elements from the more open-world top-down RPGs and the first person elements of Underworld.

      The real question would be why there have been not so many games of THAT kind, besided Elder Scroll games.

      Delete
    7. @Harwin, Arx Fatalis had no dialog options either though, despite a larger amount of NPCs. What it had was NPCs reacting to different items "used" on them, PnC Adventure-style.

      Delete
  24. I am so thrilled you finally arrived here. I have never really played this - did not like 3d engines much in the day - but I have heard all kinds of good things about it!
    I have posted to some Ultima Dragon channels that you have started playing, will be interesting

    ReplyDelete
  25. I wonder how many games use that Guardian graphic? Ultima VII Part 1, Part 2, and now this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  26. Ahh Ultima Underworld. The Elder scrolls stood directly on the shoulders of these games.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Careful. MorpheusKitami might be around here somewhere.

      Delete
  27. Ah, Ultima Underworld II. This was perhaps my own first real CRPG Addiction. My own computer couldn't run it at the time, and I vividly remember sneaking away from a pretty awesome party at my friends house to play it on his computer and hack away at headless in virtual Brittanian sewers instead. Love it to bits, warts and all.

    ReplyDelete
  28. For anyone who has missed it: There is in fact a mouselook/WASD patch for UW and UW2 at:

    https://github.com/JohnGlassmyer/UltimaHacks

    You need to go to the mentioned website and upload your exe, at which point you can download a patched version of the game and run it in DOSBOX. Mouselook is toggled with backtick (`) and the experience radically changes combat in the Underworld games. There are more notes on the github site.

    ReplyDelete

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. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

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."

Also, 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.