Monday, June 6, 2022

Ultima Underworld II: Tangerine Trees and Marmalade Skies

A kaleidoscope eye.
When I wrapped up last time, I had just inadvertently brought myself into the final world accessible from the teleportation gem. The game labeled it the Ethereal Void. It was a freaky place of floating platforms and shifting colors. The automap didn't work at all. I frequently found myself in completely black, empty areas only to be teleported to elevated walkways or platforms. Eyeballs and sparkles and spirals floated in the air. Gazers, imps, and mongbats floated around shooting spells at me. "Fly" helped get to them when they were out of reach. 
Some enemies in this area couldn't be hit. This was one of them.
On one walkway, I encountered a trippy version of Iolo with a glowing aura. He said he was dreaming and expressed surprise that I wasn't asleep myself. He said I'd find the blackrock gem in the Shrine of Spirituality, after first finding the pyramid.
You look so much cooler like this.
I also encountered Mokpo, the unfortunate derelict from the ice caverns. Back then, he claimed to visit a weird world frequently, which he insisted was the "real" world. He said if I could pass through the "realms of four colors," I would find "a fifth," where the Time Lord is imprisoned by the Guardian. "Seek ye a pyramid with a moongate at its summit." 

After a while, I stopped running around randomly and tried to focus on the colors. I followed a blue path through a moongate and into a blue area, where I met a guy named Prinx. He didn't understand English, but he indicated he wanted the eyeball from a floating eye. At least, that's how I interpreted it. 
More freakishness in this area.
I also met a wisp. As usual--or, at least, since Ultima VI--he wanted to trade for information. He wanted to know the fate of Bishop, and I said that he'd escaped. In return, I had options to ask him how to destroy the blackrock gem surrounding the castle, how to navigate the Ethereal Void, and what he knew about the history of the Trilkhai, the sentient cats back in Killorn Keep. Although the first was the most obvious, I felt like I had a handle on that anyway. So I asked him about the Trilkhai. He said they used to be powerful, but since their "catastrophic loss" to a group of humanoids, they'd devolved below the tool-using phase. I guess this sets Wing Commander firmly in the Ultima multiverse. Unfortunately, the wisp didn't want any more information after that. 

A gray gate (I suspect you're going to tell me it was actually something else) took me to an area of gray monoliths. Blog the troll was wandering around. A path beyond him didn't look like water but acted like water. I followed it to an area of pillars and bouncy pads that launched me across obstacles. I took a few pads to a black path that turned into a slide, dumping me into the visage of the Guardian. On the other side, I found myself in a wireframe corridor with a "stickman" for an enemy.
An homage to Akalabeth, perhaps.
I followed the corridors to a gray moongate. It took me to the top of a quarter section of a pyramid. The tops of the blocks turned gray if I stepped on them, like that old Q*bert arcade game. I didn't know if I was supposed to make a pattern out of them, or turn them all gray, or what. I left it for now and popped into a white moongate. It took me to a square area with moongates in each corner, a pentagram on the floor, and a large skull floating above the pentagram. Messages on two nearby plaques read "gil Of" and "ing."
Jumping on pyramid tiles.
Not to break the narrative, but you may recall that in the last entry, I was ready to give up the game when the Tomb of Praecor Loth became too complex. You can imagine, then, how I was feeling about this area. I mean, come on. It's time for the game to be done, and you're throwing this hallucinogenic nightmare at me?
Not to mention: another pentagram!?
But I sighed and tried to do things a bit more systematically. Four colors, four paths leading to four gates. They all started from a central nexus where I repeatedly found myself. I settled on what I assume is red: 

This is the one that led to Mokpo. I took the moongate behind him and found myself in a hellscape of lava, fireballs, fire elementals, and imps. I died in about four seconds. Reloading, I cast "Fireproof" first and tried again. That made it a lot easier.
I didn't last long here initially.
Moving across a lake of fire, I found a red structure inhabited by a demon. My Sword of Stone Strike did its job well here. It may have taken me more hits than the Black Sword of Great Accuracy, but he never had the chance to fight back because the sword kept him paralyzed. At his feet were a pile of bones and a scepter. I knew before I even picked them up that I had found the Scepter (or "sceptre," as the game has it) of Deadly Seeker that Zoranthus was looking for.
I petrify the enemy near his treasure hoard.
There were a couple more rooms full of fire, imps, and demons before I found myself atop the pyramid again. This time, acting on a hunch, I took the time to make all the tiles red. The tiles rotated among the colors you've already discovered, plus white, and you can't change any one tile twice without changing another in between. It's also hard (without keeping "Fly" going) to change upper tiles without stepping on (and changing) lower ones. But once you understand the rules, it's not so hard. When I hit the last tile, the entire pyramid turned red, even the sides. That said, I'm not sure what I accomplished, as the moongate just brought me to the same pentagram as before.

Well, maybe not. The previous one's two plaques had read "gil and Of," but this one's said "The Si" and "ing." So together they seem to be talking about some kind of sigil.
These giant hellhounds scared the bejesus out of me, but it turns out they're just illusions.
Back in the main area, I had three other choices: blue, gray, and either yellow or orange. I'm going to assume yellow. A fifth ramp that I suppose is probably green seemed only to serve to bring me back up to the central area if I fell into the void below. I did blue next. It took me back to the blue checkerboard area with Prinx. I hadn't found any enemies that I could hit that flew and dropped eyes. There was a floating eye in this area, but it seemed to be illusory. I couldn't hit it with spells or weapons.
The central area and its paths.
There were seven blue moongates and a pathway. I followed the pathway south to an area in which walkways formed a large square with a void in the middle. I killed a gazer and a floating brain creature, neither of which dropped eyes. Imps in the central void kept pelting me with spells. I cast "Fly" to get at them and discovered that the "void" had a platform with a moongate in the center. I took it and found myself back at the pyramid. Still not knowing if I was doing anything useful, I painstakingly changed all the tiles to blue.
I want to mention at this point, in case it wasn't clear from my earlier accounts, that in between all this stuff I was doing, I was also resting frequently, then casting "Create Food," to restore mana and keep my strength up. "Fly" is expensive. With healing and the other spells I had to cast, I spent weeks in the Ethereal Void.

The yellow path brought me to a large maze. I killed a couple of flying brain creatures, and they did drop a couple of eyestalks each. (They're the same objects as the eyes in Lord British's locked chest, which just deepens that mystery.) I cast "Fly" to get up at one of them and realized I could fly over large parts of the labyrinth this way. I flew around the edges until I found the chamber with the exit moongate (and two more giant floating eyes). Once again, I recolored the pyramid and returned to the main area. 
Solving a horizontal maze vertically.
I had already been down the gray path, but I didn't do the pyramid thing, so I retraced my steps. When I got to the new pyramid, there was a new color available. It could have been anything, so I had to call Irene to my office to confirm that it was "orange." Now I didn't know what to do. I stuck to my original plan and changed the pyramid to all gray. When I returned to the main area, there was a moongate where there hadn't been one before. It brought me back to the pyramid, which I now colored "orange" (it was lighter than "red" and darker than "yellow," which allowed me to figure it out). Doing so meant I had to cycle each tile through all the other colors first. 
A new moongate appeared on a platform above the shrine. I took it, and I appeared in what I can only describe as a yellow moat surrounding a tall black platform. Once again, "Fly" saved the day. I have no idea how half of this game is accomplished without that spell. I flew up and found myself outside what the game called the Shrine of Spirituality. There were bars around it, though, and I couldn't find a way through. I finally got there by tossing a moonstone through the bars and casting "Gate Travel" on the other one. I realized later that "Teleport" probably also would have worked. If there's a non-magic solution, I'm interested in hearing it.
There was no sign of the Time Lord, but I think Mokpo was thinking about Ultima VII.
The blackrock gem was inside the shrine. I took it and used Altara's Staff, which worked. Mission accomplished, I reversed the process to get out. Before searching for the exit, I went back up the blue path to Prinx and gave him the eyeballs, for which he rewarded me with a scroll with . . . the "Fly" spell. I guess that's one way a non-mage could have accomplished at least part of the puzzle.

The question now was how to get back to Britannia. I couldn't find the exit, so I just went back to the fire area and killed myself in the lava.
I had a lot to do in Killorn Keep, but I'd also earned 28 skill points during the session, so I headed up to the castle to train and see if anything was new. Miranda confirmed that I'd cut the lines of power in all of the eight worlds. I had Nystul treat the gem, who also remarked that it was the "last one." I spent my skill points with Nystul, Geoffrey, and Syria. ("Attack" and "Defense" are up to 24; "Sword" to 27; "Mana" to 29; "Casting" to 28.) Lord British had nothing new to say. I tried blowing the Horn of Praecor Loth, but it said my "lungs fail me." 
It was worth a try.
Back in the sewer, I used the final blackrock gem on the teleporter, which started alternating colors on all of its facets. I pondered my next move. The solution to the blackrock encasement of Castle Britannia would seem to lie with the Horn of Praecor Loth and some of the things that Zoranthus told me. He had talked about imprisoning a djinni, which he also called an "air daemon." That sounds like the sort of being that would have the power to blow the horn. He gave me the recipe for trapping a djinni:

  • Find a container
  • Find mud rich in Filanium. This exists in or near the city of Anodunos (in the ice caverns).
  • Mix basilisk oil (which I have) into the mud.
  • Coat the container with the mud.
  • Immerse the container in lava to "fire" it.
He further added that the "container" could be anything, even a human body. He had heard of sorcerers doing that "and then releasing its power in a single tremendous burst," which sounds like what I need to blow the horn.
He then said if I ever want to release a djinni from its container, I should seek out the "Sigil of Binding" in the Ethereal Void. Things clicked. "Sigil of Binding" must be what the plaques on the wall read, although I didn't see all of them. So I have to take the djinni to the pentagram, let him out, and then trap him in my own body so I can blow the Horn of Praecor Loth. That first means returning to the Pits of Carnage to give the Sceptre of Deadly Seeker to Zoranthus.
But I had business in Killorn Keep first. I took the teleporter there and paid for some more wand recharges from Merzan. I don't think I mentioned before that Merzan will take gems, cups, and scepters instead of just gold. Since my encumbrance has been at near-maximum for a while, I've been eschewing gold but picking up gems.

I went to tell Josie the talking cat about her people's history, but she demanded water first, and I didn't have any. I went off to search for some. In the dining room, I found Ogri and gave him the keep's banner. As a reward, he told me what I had already figured out: the two brain creatures in the basement keep the flying keep in the air. Altara was impressed that I'd managed to sever the Guardian's connections with the various planes, but she had no new ideas. 
This whole side quest got me nothing.
I had to head back to Britannia for water. I don't know what happened in the meantime, but when I returned to Killorn, everyone started attacking me--even the merchants. The Sword of Stone made short work of them. I had to kill Merzan, and he egested every gem and gold piece I'd ever given him. Fortunately, the Trilkhai didn't turn on me. I brought Josie her water and then realized she's not even the one that asked me about her people's history; that was Blackie. I spoke to him and related what I'd learned from the wisp.

In turn, Blackie related that he'd been listening to Lord Thibris's thoughts, and she knew that the Guardian's champion, Mors Gotha, is on her way to Killorn Keep with some soldiers. They plan to "invade a fortress near here," which puzzled Blackie because there are no fortresses in the desert above which the keep is floating. I'm guessing they plan to invade Britannia. The blackrock teleporters go both ways. Frankly, it's a wonder that no one from the other worlds has shown up in the castle already.
I wish I could bring him back to read Lord British's thoughts.
The hostilities were limited to the main chamber; no one else attacked as I circled the rest of the keep. Still, I was in a conundrum. If Mors Gotha were planning to invade from Killorn, the sensible thing to do would be to bring it crashing to the ground. But that would also kill Altara, the Trilkhai, and a couple of other friendly NPCs. Still, I decided to take a save and try it. 

I headed down to the basement, cast "Fly," hovered up to the brain things, and killed them. The keep began to shake and shudder. It kept doing so periodically as I returned to the main level. I spoke to Altara, but she only said: "The Keep's going down! Make thy peace with the Guardian, for now we die!"
Make peace with the Guardian? What kind of traitorous talk is that?
I kept going past her to the exit and returned to Britannia. I waited a few minutes and re-entered the teleporter to Killorn. I was still able to cross, and the Keep was still there, but in ruins. Everyone was dead, their items strewn in heaps. Rubble was everywhere. Some walls were down, and one area that had been level with the rest of the floor was now recessed. A few areas were blocked off by new walls. It was glorious. Any fatigue I had about the game was wiped away by this awesome graphical depiction of the consequences of my choices.
There used to be a wall here.
But did I stop the invasion, or will Mors Gotha still be able to enter the keep, cut her way through the rubble, and invade Britannia? Which saved game should I keep? Interesting questions to debate for next time, which I hope will be the last.

Time so far: 52 hours




  1. Not sure whether this was the "gray," but the "Jumping on pyramid tiles" picture has purple and white/very light gray, and the "The central area and its paths" picture has red, yellow, green, blue, and the purple and very light gray in the upper right corner.

    1. I'm sure I was perceiving the purple as gray.

  2. Josie the pussycat, huh?

  3. I thought it was kind of neat that they brought back the Ethereal Void from the first game. I had the faint impression that it might've been a throughline for their later UU games, introducing a little more about how it worked each time (sort of like Dragon Age's enigmatic and equally dreamlike The Fade and its growing prominence in each sequel). Definitely an odd note to end on, but it's not like you could've dropped something that weird on players a few hours in.

    The Killorn Keep "alternative ending" reminded me of when you "completed" The Black Gate by casting Armageddon. I guess this was this game's equivalent? I have no idea how the Mors Gotha plotline concludes when taking that route and I'm curious to find out.

  4. I like to think that crashing Killorn Keep to save Brittania is an example of the "Sacrifice" Virtue.

    1. "Some of you may die, but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make."

    2. The virtue of sacrificing other peoples lives?

    3. As the gargoyles explain in Ultima 6, sacrificing others is the WRONG kind of sacrifice.

    4. It's also a movie reference, not a serious comment about virtue.

    5. If sacrifice is good for you, it should be good for them too. Just think of it as helping them be virtuous.

    6. Sounds like the kind of thing Lord Blackthorne would promote

    7. "You shall sacrifice other people, or else YOU shall be sacrificed". Yup, that would fit straight into Ultima 5.

    8. "Some of you are going to die. Martyrs of course to the freedom that I shall provide" - The Avatar, probably.

  5. Hello.
    I love your blog.
    I read it for several years.
    It encouraged me to play some early cRPGs.
    Thanks for your work!

  6. "...this hallucinogenic nightmare [...] I spent weeks in..."

    Wait, the description of this level sounds like most of my real life ;)

  7. The option to crash Killorn Keep and the fact that it depicts the consequences afterwards what makes that location one of the most memorable from all my years of gaming.

  8. The non-magical way to get to the shrine of spirituality is what Mokpo hints at. You have to eat some of the dream spice and then rest and you have a "dream" where you are in the shrine. You can't access your inventory but you can manipulate the environment so you can throw the gem down to the bottom to pick it up later. Altara's staff can be used outside the shrine.

    1. Interesting. I don't think I ever found any "dream spice."

    2. It's a green plant with white flowers on top, often found near bones. It's easy to overlook as something not important, but there are a couple of characters in the game who allude to it.

    3. I could be wrong (it's been years), but I think that's dream spice growing on the grave in your screenshot from the Praecor Loth entry on June 2nd. I believe it's also located at some places in the ice caves.

  9. Yes, there is a way to get the gem in the Ethereal Void without magic: Vs lbh rng bar bs gur qernz cynagf lbh svaq guebhtubhg gur tnzr (fbzrbar gryyf lbh gurl zbfg bsgra tebj arne tenirf) gura tb gb fyrrc, lbh'yy jnxr hc vafvqr gur Fuevar bs Fcvevghnyvgl. Lbh pna'g whfg chg gur trz vagb lbhe vairagbel gura jnxr hc gubhtu. Lbh unir gb guebj gur trz guebhtu gur onef vagb gur bhgre nern. Lbh pna gura ergevrir vg sebz gur znva cneg bs gur Rgurerny Ibvq lbh ragre sebz gur oynpxebpx trz.

    1. Haha I had forgotten this! Does this make the entire area trivial?

    2. I likely wouldn't have figured that out. I did wonder what would happen if I'd cast "Portal" directly from the entry area while facing the shrine. I forgot about the existence of "Portal" until the end of the session, though.

    3. No, because all it does is get the gem out of the Shrine proper and into the rest of the orange area. You still have to finish the red, yellow, blue, and purple areas before you can get to the orange and retrieve the gem. Not sure if you can Portal directly into the orange area, but that would definitely trivialize the Void. Then you would only need to finish either the red or purple areas in order to get a djinn bottle.

  10. I have a massive soft spot for the Ethereal Realm because that sort of weirdness in early 3D is something I love, even if it's not the most fun.

    I love how the game not only lets you destroy the Guardian's forces with no problems, it gives you ways to do it that are either impressive or actively undo his damage.

  11. Hi Chester, I was wondering if you’ve ever considered playing with Enchroma glasses on. It sounds like you have red-green colour blindness, which I believe is one of the conditions Enchroma glasses is supposed to help with.

    1. It seems like that for red-green colorblindness that they could just make monitors with different primaries. Like traffic lights are kinda orange red and blue green for that exact reason.

    2. People have been telling me about Enchroma for years. I keep saying I'll check them out but I never have. I see the world the way I see the world. It's inconvenient sometimes, but I don't know that it's something I'm interested in trying to "fix."

    3. You could try looking at it an experience. I imagine seeing the world in a new way would be thrilling.

    4. I'm a strong deutan, and I was very excited to try Echroma. Ended up not really doing much for me. But maybe you'll be different!

  12. I'd like to see you continue both saves to see what the difference is! You are moments from the end so it won't be much of an extra lift (I'm surprised this post wasn't a "WON!" post TBH).

  13. Everyone attacking you at Killorn could be a glitch, I don't think the merchants are supposed to attack you, and I thought some prior events are supposed to happen before you have to fight the soldiers.

    The endgame sequence has a few nasty bugs, so I would hold on to an earlier save if you still have it, just in case.

  14. Looking at the Ethereal Void I wonder if it is really an elaborated level, or just some kind of tech demo. As if the designers just wanted to see if what is possible with the engine and still playable. Or, to be honest, the level looks like as if they were just screwing around...

    1. I kind of got the same impression. It's like they thought, "Well, we didn't find much need for teleportation squares, bouncy circles, and floating images that aren't actually monsters in the main game. Let's put them all here."

  15. The Ethereal Void level is probably my least favorite world in UW 2. It's just so devoid of plot.

    I seem to recall an exploit/clever use of game mechanics to skip much of it (especially having to color all the pyramids):

    Lbh pna tb gb fyrrc jvgu n zbbafgbar va unaq. Pbzovarq jvgu qernz fcvpr guvf nyybjf lbh gb qebc gur zbbafgbar ng gur Fuevar juvyr qernzvat. Fb lbh pna qverpgyl Tngr gb gur fuevar rneyvre.

    Not sure I remember the details or how much of the World you effectively skip that way. I am also not sure if you might be able to sequence break the game that way given that I think you can do that before normally getting access to the world?

    1. The walkthrough on GameFAQs very emphatically says not to do this because "It really hoses up the plotline, which can cause you problems, missing conversations, etc." I doubt it matters if it's done when it's normally accessible, but doing it as a sequence break is something the game can't handle.

  16. Your exploration of the Ethereal Void and solution to Killorn Keep were both evocative in ways that really stood out compared to worlds explored thus far. "Level design" is maybe not a virtue often associated with RPGs, but it feels as though it's coming into its own as a craft.

    1. It's no wonder that Looking Glass went on to become the founders of the immersive sim genre, a genre that thrives off its level design. They really knew what they were doing.

  17. The hallucinogenic void level reminds me of the last level in Looking Glass's Thief (which also had pagans, btw).

  18. I bet you now wish you'd named your Avatar "Lucy"

  19. A 'trippy version' of Iolo...heh..Iolo has always been a bit 'trippy', according to a certain famous playthrough...

  20. Sorry for a possible off-topic message. This is not relevant to UUII In any way but it is relevant for Ultima fans. Ars Technica has just published an insightful text on the really weird world of forgeries of early cRPGs, including Ultima games.

    1. Really interesting article! Thanks!

  21. I vividly remember causing Killorn Keep to crash out of curiousity when I was very young and playing this for the first time, and being so abjectly horrified of what I'd done when I looked out on the ruins I immediately loaded. Honestly, I think this is probably what spurred me to always avoid / abhor evil based playthroughs in any game, I was very affected even though these were 'virtual people', I was young and the game was blowing my mind with the graphics and conversations.

    This might sound like I'm saying bad things about the game or about the scenario, but on the contrary this spoke to me about how powerful video games could be and how amazing this was.

  22. I want summer Posts... but hope everything is excellent and that you are enjoying yourself.

  23. You may not be aware of this but the multicoloured cubic pyramid is meant to be evocative of Q*Bert, similar to how UU1 had its homage to Pac-Man.


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