Archive for the ‘Ultima’ Tag
Chalk another game off my backlog, I just completed Ultima Underworld and I must say it was much more than the game I was expecting. Sometimes when the nostalgia bug bites, you head back to an older game or two, and they just don’t hold up. It’s not as good as you remember it being, the graphics are just too dated to enjoy it, or times have changed so much that the flow of the game is totally opposed to today’s standards. Ultima Underworld, though, was more of a look into the future from the past.
Did I forget to mention that you could also play musical instruments in Underworld? Yup, you totally could. Not only that, but at one point it became integral to the main quest. Fishing, too. The amount of features stuffed into this one game, a game who this month is turning 23 years old, is absolutely staggering. Not only did the game hold up well over time, it held up well enough for me to play a complete runthrough of the game without even wanting to divert my attention elsewhere.
I should… call Origin to receive a personal congratulations?! I wonder if any one of the old Origin employees or anyone at EA would honor this.
The best feature of Underworld, hands down, is it really nailed that feeling of exploration. The storyline was bare at best, and revolved around saving a maiden and finding a handful of particular items, using clues given by the NPCs you met. Finding them is what drove you forward, and every item you needed was just down one more level tucked into a far corner somewhere or held by some unsuspecting NPC, and all you had to do was find it. Around any corner could be a monster that would slap you around, a friendly face, a pile of treasure, a piece of lore, a freaking game of Pac-Man, a talking door, a developer homage, lava and waterfalls, a platform puzzle, etc. In other words, Ultima Underworld rewarded handsomely the person who explored every nook and cranny.
So I’m to collect these blue orbs as I run around this maze that’s filled with different colored ghosts. Sure, that sounds perfectly reasonable.
And not a single drop of procedural generation was used. The only randomness seemed to come from periodic monster spawns. After clearing a level occasionally you would meet a random monster, and these either didn’t happen often, or happened and they mixed in so well that they weren’t that noticeable. They didn’t use random encounters as an experience crutch, though, as is commonly found in a metric ton of other games. Everything was on purpose. But even with those rails, it felt like the rails didn’t exist.
Werit, another Star Trek Online player, makes a couple great points about the topic of exploration. If “exploration” is made procedurally generated, it doesn’t “feel” like you’re really exploring. It instead feels like you’re traveling down the highway and seeing yet another rest stop. A few restaurants, maybe a quirky gift shop, bathrooms, and that’s about it. If all you have to look forward to with more exploration is yet another rest stop, it doesn’t feel that fulfilling. And yet, Star Trek Online players, like many other players, are clamoring for more exploration!
Ultima Underworld really nailed what games today are still having problems trying to emulate. The Elder Scrolls series, I think, has come the closest to that feeling of rewarding exploration, where you could pick any direction and find rewarding adventure. That’s the reason why Skyrim has sold an almost mind-boggling amount of units. Rewarding exploration is what players really want. It is also why The Elder Scrolls Online didn’t fare so hot on release, their rails were showing too much.
A spectre named Warren, a not-so-subtle nod to Warren Spector. Wonder why he’s upset, though? Maybe the whole ‘ghost’ thing has something to do with it.
Not many younger players these days can stomach a game that has such dated graphics, no matter how good it is. Ultima Underworld, though, felt like listening to good classic rock. Different from today’s music, both in structure and style, but the soul never changes.
Playing Ultima Underworld evoked feelings like listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. You know that what you’re experiencing is from a different time period, but that does nothing to diminish the genius that went into producing it.
P.S. – By the way, mark it down. On March 2nd, 2015 the Internet was won by Ocho.
P.S. – Supporting the Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter for me was a no brainer. It’s being produced by the same designer, Paul Neurath, someone who obviously knows what’s up. Their biggest hurdle, I believe, will be in topping what was an industry-changing game. No small feat.
P.P.S.- Here are links to my other two writeups on Underworld: My initial writeup, My mid-game writeup.
The whole Pink Floyd analogy was a little more apt, too. The run after the final encounter is a little… trippy.
Bica, yeshor’click! Remember in my previous post how I mentioned that Ultima Underworld really holds up, despite the fact the game is over 20+ years old? I really wasn’t kidding, it holds up really well. I’ve been playing for about a week now, and I’m pretty hooked. The more I play, the more I think this game was truly ahead of it’s time.
Since I’ve been playing for a while, I have a greater grasp on the whole experience. Previously I mentioned features such as: lighting, food and hunger mechanics, platform jumping, swimming, melee and ranged combat, magic, hiding, faction-based NPCs, thieving, trading and reputation, armor and weapon degradation, sandbox style gameplay, and an in-game map with the ability to add player-created notes. All of this definitely exists. But then throw into it even more features like Minecraft style crafting (use an ear of corn over a fire, and you get popcorn; use a rock hammer on rocks to create sling stones; etc.), simple but interesting quests, and multiple large and diverse levels to explore, and I can easily see why this game took the industry by storm. 1992!
I’m not being that greatly challenged, though. I remember when I was younger Ultima Underworld being downright daunting, but once I followed the User’s Guide and found stuff like a resurrection mechanic, and learned the magic and advancement system a little better (the Light and Create Food spell are downright necessities), the real challenge of the game comes down to simple inventory management, as the amount you can carry around with you is very small. But then I found that items don’t disappear. If I find a random corner of a level and drop a few pieces of armor I’ve been lugging around, I can come back days later and it will still be there. So even then, inventory management isn’t the end of the world.
Die ghost! Wait… how does that work? Die… again?
Let me give you an example of one of the interesting quests, though. Now remember, this is Ultima, so there is no such thing as a quest log. All quests are dialogue driven, and nothing will point you where you need to go. On the 3rd level, I came across a race of lizardmen. Communicating with them, though, was a little… tricky. The lizardmen have their own separate language, you see. So, when talking to them, I mostly just apologized to them that I had no idea what they were saying. If this were any newer game, I would either believe I wasn’t supposed to know what they were saying, or that I would learn some ability and magically be able to understand them. ‘Click, not here.
I came across a human prisoner behind a set of bars in the lizardmen holdings and thought “Awesome. Here is where I learn the ability to talk to these guys.” The prisoner was mute. So on one side we have a prisoner who can’t speak, and the other a language we don’t understand. However, through descriptive charades, the prisoner let us know that, indeed, he knew the lizardmen language and would teach it to me if I agreed to help release him. I had to bring the words to him, though. The process was to talk to a lizardman, and write down a whole bunch of words, then take them back to the prisoner to play charades with him and continue like that until I had a firm grasp of the language. Once I did so, I was then able to communicate with all the other lizardmen! It came out that the prisoner had stolen food and attacked one of the lizardmen, and was sentenced to be executed. He would be pardoned, though, if I gave the lizardmen a whole bunch of food. It’s left up to the character, really. I decided to free him, but I still don’t feel great about that decision. I did keep my end of the bargain, though.
I can fully understand this now. Think I can add Thepa to my CV?
Overall, the main quest revolves around finding the kidnapped daughter of the local Baron. However, once entering the Abyss, it’s found to be more complex than that (thankfully). Through dream communication, you learn that she was kidnapped for a more malicious purpose, and the whole of Britannia is in peril. Of course it is. From what exactly, I’m not sure yet. Sseth, you need to find the Baron’s daughter, but you also need to collect eight different artifacts strewn throughout the Abyss. Again, the why isn’t quite clear yet, but as per the Ultima ethos, these artifacts are representations of the eight Britannian virtues and they can be anywhere and be anything. It’s even quite possible I’ve stumbled on a few already and I’m hoping I didn’t discard any of them in a random corner somewhere.
I have so far collected three artifacts, though, and have completed my exploration of the 4th level. I also feel pretty powerful at this point, and not a lot can stand under the onslaught of my mace. Come at me, Abyss!
P.S. – It looks like Ultima Ascendant has made their Kickstarter goal! Sweet. Can’t wait to give that a shot, too. But I have to say, to top the original 20+ year old game might take a little more effort than one would think.
I’ve been following Syp’s playthrough of Ultima VII very closely, as it is by far one of my favorite games of all time, and remembered that Richard Garriott placed TONS of easter eggs in the game. Every party member of the Avatar’s group is some reference to someone Garriott knows, for example. Iolo is a reference to bowyer and composer David R. Watson, Iolo’s wife Gwenno is a reference to Watson’s wife Kathleen, Chuckles the Jester is a reference to one of the founders of Origin, Chuck Bueche, and Shamino and Lord British are references to Garriott himself. In fact, Sherry the Mouse is based off of one of his former girlfriends and the actress portraying Sherry at the Royal Theatre in Britain is dating Garriott’s alter-ego Shamino!
And all of these references are just the icing on the cake for us Ultima fans. They give nods to previous Ultimas played, to the developers themselves, and really added to the enjoyment of the game. However, it never occurred to me until recently to dig a little deeper. The deeper you go, though, the more you start to see something disturbing. Namely, Garriott did not like EA from the start, and he made that clear in Ultima VII.
Warning: I know this game came out in 1992, but SPOILERS AHEAD. Ye have been warned.
– The Guardian Represents Electronic Arts –
The big bad menace of Ultima VII is called “The Guardian”. He is a huge red dude who wants nothing more than to enter the world of U7, Britannia, and destroy it. He accomplishes this by getting into the minds of the people, and pushing them to help the Guardian enter the world. Many worlds have already fallen to his evil. He is referred to by the wisps as “vain, greedy, egocentric, and malevolent”.
So how is the Guardian the representation of EA? The Guardian is called “The Destroyer of Worlds”. Origin’s motto: “We Create Worlds”. Also, Origin saw EA’s way of doing business as immoral. According to Origin, EA’s method was not only to make games, but also to interfere in others ability to do so. EA suing Origin probably didn’t help.
– The Murderers Elizabeth and Abraham… E & A –
Elizabeth and Abraham are two figures that figure prominently in the storyline of Ultima VII. Elizabeth and Abraham are two of the founding members of the Fellowship, the pseudo religion the Guardian has a hand in, similar to Scientology, and travel from city to city collecting funds and convincing the important people to build Fellowship branches.
E & A seem well intentioned on the outside. Big surprise, though, the Fellowship turns out to not be on the level, and E & A help out in assassinations of those who speak out against them. E & A? Killers.
– “Create Love” is Slaughtered by E & A –
One of the very first scenes of the game, the Avatar is tasked with finding the killer of a murder that has just occurred. The blacksmith Christopher has been ritually murdered. At the time, this was ridiculously graphic. He had been tied down, had his extremities severed, decapitated, and his blood filled in buckets. His assistant, the Gargoyle Inamo, was also run-through with a pitchfork.
What does Inamo’s name mean in his own language? “Create Love“. Who killed him? E & A. Yup.
– The Destroyer’s Power Over the People Comes From The Cube, The Sphere, and The Tetrahedron… EA’s Logo –
Might as well save the best for last. In the Avatar’s travels across Britannia he finds out that he needs to destroy three structures, “generators”, which give the Guardian his power. The Cube helps broadcast the Destroyer’s voice to his followers, the Sphere helps disrupt the moongates and trap the Time Lord in his prison, and the Tetrahedron helps to disrupt magic through the land.
The Cube, The Sphere, and the Tetrahedron are symbols of the Guardian’s evil. Remind you of anything?
P.S. In case you were wondering, here’s a history between Origin and EA:
– The History of EA and Origin –
Origin Systems was created in 1983 as a way for Richard Garriott to capitalize on his game-making talents. Up until then, Akalabeth, Ultima I, and Ultima II had all been published by other publishers who took advantage of Garriott’s work. The California Pacific Computer Company bought the rights for Akalabeth and Ultima I, and Sierra On-Line bought up Ultima II. It was issues with Sierra that caused Garriott to finally form his own company. Origin’s first game was the next in the series, Ultima III, which helped them to get through the great video game crash of 1983. From there, Origin produced further Ultimas IV, V, and VI, Wing Commander 1 and 2 and many other games. By 1988, Origin had about 50 employees under it’s umbrella.
Ultima VII: The Black Gate was released in April of 1992 and is greatly considered the pinnacle of the Ultima series. At the time, Electronic Arts was a big competitor of Origin. At one point, the bigger EA took Origin to court, which ended in a costly out-of-court settlement for Origin. Origin believed the games they made were works of love, and saw EA as trying to get ahead any way they can. In September of 1992, though, Origin was acquired by Electronic Arts.
Under EA’s banner, Origin went on to release a lot of great games like the rest of the Wing Commander series. However, the quality of the Ultima series started to drastically suffer. The last game, Ultima IX was, well, it was stunningly terrible. The storyline had been scrapped multiple times due to EA’s interference, the systems had been pared down to almost nothing, the majority of the team was pulled away to work on Ultima Online, and Electronic Arts would not waver on the release date. Ultima IX was not received well by the community, to say the least. Not long after, all games being worked on by Origin, like Ultima Online 2 and Ultima X, were canceled and Origin was shuttered by EA.
EA still owns the name of the Ultima franchise, as shown in their Free-to-Play, Pay-to-Win, iOS title Ultima Forever, which is a reimagining of Ultima IV. In my opinion, reimagining one of the greatest RPG’s of all time as an iOS P2W App is a huge slap in the face to the original and the series.
However, Richard Garriott has a new offering in Shroud of the Avatar, the “spiritual successor” to the Ultima series which features just enough similarity to not trigger any copyright issues. As far as can be concerned it currently looks like a successful endeavor having raised over $3.3 Million in funds, is extremely open about it’s production (as it should be), and has been having periodic Alpha weekends for it’s supporters. I have personally played in the first Alpha, and I must say they look to be on the right track. More than graphics and features, the Ultima games had a specific “feel” to them.
In one of the best compliments I can give to the game, Shroud of the Avatar has that feel.
P.P.S. – According to Mr. Garriott, the plans to include all the “EA is the root of all evil” plots had already been so ingrained within Ultima VII that EA gave them their blessings to continue with them in place. I couldn’t imagine if U7 had turned out any other way, really, so I’m certainly glad they let them proceed.
The Ultima cup runneth over.
As of this writing, Shroud of the Avatar, is currently in a fully backed KickStarter phase with 16 days to go. Launched by Portalarium and fronted by the inimitable Richard Garriott, Shroud of the Avatar is shaping up to be an unofficial successor to the Ultima games of old. But… what the heck is it?
At this point, it sounds a lot like an infomercial. It’s an MMO! It’s an offline DRM-free single-player game! New York Times best-selling author, Tracy Hickman! A dynamic world! It makes julienne fries! Okay, maybe not that last one… but it almost seems like it could at this point.
Despite my mentioning Britannia and LB giving his Twitter seal of approval, SOTA will not be taking place in Britannia. Copyrights and trademarks and whatnot.
To say the least, I’m excited. The first RPG I played way back on my parents old IBM back in 1990 was Ultima VI and I was hooked. I loved it. Having played all my gaming on an Atari 7800 up until that point, Ultima VI was a totally mind-blowing experience. Instead of sending planes through barns, inadvertently squishing captives with a helicopter, and jumping over an alligator’s head for the umpteenth time, here was a full fantasy world to explore! A fleshed out world, too. Stores were only open during certain times of the day, the inhabitants of the world all had daily schedules to keep. Can’t find that one guy you needed to talk to? If it’s around dinner time, check the tavern or try to head to his house. Ultima VII came out and playing it was a no-brainer. However, it strained my parents old system to it’s limits. Aside from the stuttering vocalizations of the Guardian from those damn Soundblaster settings, I remember it taking about 10 minutes to save a game to the hard drive, which was already filled to the brim with the game! 20 Megabytes! Compared to today, that’s like a game taking up about 450 GB. But my parents, being the saints they are, let me enjoy it.
What followed was a love of the Ultima series. To this day I’ve played Ultima IV, VI, VII, VIII, and IX to full completion. In fact, in order to make Ultima IX play I bought my first real computer upgrade, a new video card that I had to install myself. So, in effect, the Ultima series is even to blame for starting my love of modifying and building PCs!
Anyway, the Shroud of the Avatar site has a multitude of videos to watch about the future game including Garriott interviewing Greg “Dupre” Dykes and David “Iolo” Watson, which for any Ultima fan are definitely a must watch.
Ultima: Savage Empire part of the Worlds of Ultima series using the Ultima VI engine.
But what of EA and Mythic’s forthcoming Ultima Forever? When I first heard of the title, I was definitely intrigued, but the gameplay trailer stopped me in it’s first couple of seconds…
You catch that? “Coming soon to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch”… did I mention my love of modifying and building PCs and playing those previous Ultima titles on PCs? I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that if you’re an Ultima fan, you’re most likely pretty knowledgeable of your PCs… so what are they thinking? The iPhone is popular here in the US, but I wouldn’t quite call iOS the most widely used system. For that I’d use Android. I’m sure there are a few techies out there who love their iPhone and got in on the ground floor when it was brand new, but they are far from the majority of current iPhone users. At where I work the tech department are all rocking Android. Android has that versatility and customizability that techs crave, and a recent article even posits that Android has a 70% market share! So initially snubbing the Android and PC crowd? When being an Ultima fan essentially EQUALED you being a whiz with your PC? Okay. We’ll see how that goes. Shroud of the Avatar, by the way, is primarily being developed for PC first and foremost with possible stretch goals to mobile.
Now, to be fair, when I asked them and on their Facebook page, they do state that they plan on releasing the title for other platforms as well, like PC and Android, but they plan on releasing those in their own dear sweet time.
So, essentially, it doesn’t appear that EA is really targeting previous Ultima players as its demographic. Huh. Well, that’s fine. The industry today is far different than the industry of the 1990’s. It’s more action oriented, it’s more social, it’s more about skipping fluff quest text and getting to the meat of the game. But, for me, that’s not really what I want from an Ultima game.
Ultima Forever certainly looks nice (the huge hulking Warrior is an… odd choice), you do get to party in the old Britannia, and I’m sure playing from your tablet will be awesome. But when it comes down to what is the heart and soul of what the Ultima titles were, what was behind the graphics, it was about the story, about the choices you make and understanding your choices have consequence. From the racial issues in Ultima VI to the yin and yang of good and evil in Ultima IX, the Ultima series is ultimately about striving to be a better person.
Truth, Love, Courage. Garriott has already proven himself worthy in this department. EA, and some of their recent decisions… well, we’ll see.
P.S. – Good Old Games is giving away Ultima IV for free and has every single Ultima game, putting them on sale often. Graphically dated, but still classics. Especially Ultima VII.
P.P.S. – For the Ultima fans out there, just because you really shouldn’t miss this, David “Iolo” Watson playing Stones on his lute (queued up to the right time):
Do you know of Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin? If you don’t, stop reading and go and listen to it now. That, my friend, is the first piece of music specifically made for a video game to ever win a Grammy, and although I don’t agree with the Grammy committee on some of their decisions, that is easily one of the most inspiring pieces of music out there. Well done, Grammy people.
As I’m sure Syp would agree with me, a good musical score is one of the big reasons you keep coming back to a particular game. Stones, a simple song from the Ultima series, for example, I find myself whistling from time to time. It’s stuck with me after all this time even though I haven’t played an Ultima game for years. Still, I want to periodically head back, possibly just to hear it again. It holds such emotion and such feeling, I can’t help but remember it fondly. Or even the music of The Shire in Lord of the Rings Online conveys a peace and serenity that’s perfectly matched to the zone, making it, in my opinion, one of the greatest zones in any game out there. It’s no coincidence that the background music plays a big part in that. And who could forget the strains when you first exit Ascalon City into Lakeside County in Guild Wars? It holds a sweet and yet somber fall melody, as if to gently foreshadow coming events. Awesome and amazing, all of them, I highly suggest a listen or two or ten.
… Then there’s the other side of the spectrum.
Some people don’t want and/or even like game soundtracks. They find them a waste of time, and the repetition bothers them to no end. I feel you there, too. Not all game soundtracks are winners. The music from the Barrens zone in vanilla World of Warcraft was terrible. Why did they have to include grunts when the music started? It was just an audio cue that reminded you “Oh yeah, you’ve been here long enough, it’s starting over again.” And with the size of the Barrens… you ended up hearing it a LOT.
That’s when you bring in your own music to play. Getting into PvP, for example, is always made a little more exciting when you blast some hard rock to go along with it.
To that end, I wanted to let all of you music lovers out there know of an event a good friend of mine is doing soon: This Thursday, September 13th from 7 to 10 pm, my good buddy Jersey Jim is hosting an online radio show “Jersey Jim Makes a Scene”. Sticking with mostly the harder stuff, in his own words, you’ll find “Lots of good music and good times to come.” Great music to game to, definitely. Something to get the blood pumping. Here’s a link to his FB page, detailing the event, and here’s the site, GasHouseRadio.com, he’ll be broadcasting live from.
Seriously, do me a solid. Give him a listen and Like his page. If you like what you hear, let him know!
So which do you prefer? Your own or the games soundtrack? Got any of your own favorites? Let me know down in the comments!
For those about to rock, I /salute you.
P.S. – I also saw recently it was detailed where you can alter the music in Guild Wars 2 to your own playlists. Awesome, but why one would want to change the fantastic score for GW2 is beyond me.
P.P.S. – I also just discovered Gangham Style. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner?!! Too much. I’m dying over here…
I’m a sucker for a good game sale. A total sucker. Once I found out about Steam, Impulse, and GOG, my compulsions take over and I get hit with a huge burst of nostalgia. Well, right now over at GOG.com there is a sale that was giving off a siren song that was way too hard to pass up.
Two iconic game series from the 1980’s and 1990’s, Wing Commander and Ultima, are at a steep 50% discount until Monday June 4th at midnight (EDT). $3 per game pack is essentially my pricepoint, so… I picked up the whole lot. For the record, thats Ultima Underworld 1&2, Ultima 1+2+3, Ultima 4+5+6, Ultima 7 Complete*, Ultima 8 Gold, Wing Commander 1+2, Wing Commander 3, Wing Commander 4*, and Wing Commander Privateer. That’s $27 for more great nostalgic hours of gaming than you could shake a proverbial stick at. (* necessary)
Ultima 7 Complete tops the list as being my favorite game. Period. It has also been quoted by the esteemed Richard Garriott as being the pinnacle of the Ultima series, so he agrees, too:
“Ultima VII represented the pinnacle of virtual world simulation where I really felt I had done the best job of interactive storytelling and of world detailing to create a play space and a play environment and reasons to be there. I felt that was the most masterfully executed of the Ultima series, so to speak.” – Richard Garriott in an interview with Gamespot.com
I was ridiculously excited when the movie Avatar came out, until I realized it was just Pocahontas with blue aliens and nothing to do with Ultima…
I 100% agree. Every Ultima game on sale right now is a great game, but especially Ultima 7. I hate to say, but the only Ultima game that doesn’t make the cut as far as quality (and the sale) was Ultima 9. Maybe it was EA’s interference but Ultima 9, storywise, was just not that good of a game.
Wing Commander 4 also stands apart as being the best of the Wing Commander series. Not necessarily for it’s gameplay, but for it’s ridiculously stellar cast list (Notice that I just linked to it’s IMDB page). If there is any game that could claim to be an interactive movie, this one is it!
Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, and Tom Wilson make this more than just a game, and $3 is a steal (although Wing Commander 3 also stars the inimitable Tim Curry, I still prefer Wing Commander 4).
Make popcorn and bring a date. If they had made the Wing Commander movie with THIS cast, it would’ve been a MUCH better movie.
Game well, my friends. Game well.