Ophidian Dragon blogs his way through the entire Ultima series, from beginning to end.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ultima VI: Day 1

Today I began my quest in Ultima VI. I explored Britain for an hour and a half, essentially, plus a side trip to Cove. Among other things, I had a stimulating chat with a dog, talked to a fat man who I thought was a woman, and got Iolo killed by a wizard's pet dragon (thus cutting short my Cove vacation). Aye carumba.

I think the technological leap between Ultima V and Ultima VI was something like the leap between uUtima III and Ultima V, it's just totally staggering. Gone are the one-key-per-command interface, replaced with a handful of icons for using, moving, talking, attacking and a few others. Added are attractive portraits of everyone you meet, a huge number of new tiles and items, and just a lot more color in general.

In fact, I think it's color that really distinguishes Ultima V and VI in appearance--There's a lot more black in V. Grassland tiles are specks of green on a black background, whereas here they are all shades of green. Ultima VI's character creation was much like that of its predecessors, except this time you get to choose your face, and there are a handful of hair colors for white avatars, and a black avatar as well. I always wondered--did the term "avatar" as a general word for an online presence have its origin in the Ultima games? I thought the original word meant some kind of leader, so it's weird that would get co-opted for the Internet.

Anyway...people are very talkative, and I've already been hit on by the nice girl at the treasury. Ah, if only I were really the Avatar! Then the teller at the real-world bank would try to woo me rather than simply say "WELCOME PLEASE SLIDE CARD."

Ultima VI is open-ended, and I managed to catch a whole lot of threads of plot and non-plot to follow, just from this one town: I have to find the jester's clues, I must find a book for Lord british, I have to see Penumbra, save the shrines, and talk to a hurt dude in Cove about gargoyles, though he actually had remarkably little to say!

I think the game starts off on the wrong foot. First of all, the castle is completely deserted, save for British, a cook, Geoffrey and the mage Nystul, the last two of whom literally do not converse with you; they just give the same long-winded speech over and over again. Second, you appear in the throne room, and they just sit there why gargoyles (who follow through a moongate after the Avatar is saved from a sacrifice...long story) try to kill you!

One of the amusements in this game and Ultima V (and later games, too) is to read tombstones. For some reason they are almost all these silly insulting poems. An example:

Roger's manner was formal and stiff
Until one day he fell off a cliff
Now his body's a cordial host
To worms and maggots for now he's a ghost.

Ew. This prompted me to invent a prayer to use when I camp in the woods:

As I lay me down to sleep
Pray British my soul to keep
And if I die before I wake
Don't let Iolo give me a rhyming tombstone

Speaking of camping in the woods, it seems to be the only choice for sleep. I was given a room in the castle, but the bed does not seem usable for sleeping. Hmmm...

Speaking of sleeping...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ultima thoughts, comments, play style, etc.

First, thanks to these guys for advertising my blog. I am told they insult me in their description, but I generally assume anyone talking about me in French is insulting me :-)

Next...I'm certainly not suffering for lack of comments, and there are some I would like to address!

I'm a big fan of the Ultima remakes, but I'm not so much a big fan of playing them. For me, a big part of the thrill of playing these games is that I am not only transported into a fictional world, but I am also transported to the time and context of the games when they were made, so the primitive graphics, the technical peculiarities and so on add to that. I feel the same about most of the more "true to the original" remakes, including the 1986 remake of Ultima I and Exult, which are the same game but with bugs fixed and added helpful features. I will probably give Lazarus a try sometime--but remember, my computer is about 7 years old now! Another reason to stick to ancient games...

Sadly, it seems the old California Pacific Computer telephone number has been disconnected! I am assuming they went out of business along with lots of other game companies sometime around 1982, right? In 1982, I was a few months old.

NES Versions:
I think the NES versions of the games are a bit underrated. Ultima III is very close to the original game, with a few new items added. In fact, I'd say they are added reasonably, to prevent you from accidentally finding the mystic arms and armor early in the game! Ultima IV was also quite fun, as I recall, on the NES. My first Ultima experiences were those two games; or rather, my first Ultima experience was watching my brother play those games for hours on end. I am less familiar with the other ports, although I understand the Sega Master System version of Ultima IV is excellent.
I tried briefly to play some of the C64 ports of the games, but the music sounds IMO far worse than the Apple II music, when it's there (this might be an emulator issue) and how can you get used to the wacky key mappings and lack of arrow keys!? Aye carumba.

I agree, it wold be useful to have each game's posts in one place, but it's hard to do. Perhaps I will simply adda link to the first post for each game in the links section on the right of the screen.

Ultima V:
Paulon's comment that LB's prison was probably meant for someone else strikes me as reasonable; I had interpreted Lord British's statement to mean, "the magic the Shadowlords used was older than Mondain," rather than the room itself. It does bring to mind the mirror-bound Arcadian in the Forge of Virtue, however! I have no idea if Garriott intended me to think too hard about this, but I think it's a sign of quality art that players are able to make these associations.

Someone also mentioned not following the main quest in Ultima V, and spending time exploring and interacting with every object. I did some of this, but found that many objects were just decor. It was fun to smash mirrors and push chairs around, though. The lack of an explicit "Use" command probably limited the interactivity of the enviroment. I'm also not quite convinced concerning the benefits of multiple party members, but it seems to have worked well for others!

Ultima VI:
I won't be transferring my character to Ultima VI, because it seems more "fun" to start over from scratch like a new player, and be forced to deal with the early stages in the normal way. Ultima VI can probably be finished in an hour if you skip all the mysteries and just aim for the main plot, since a big portion of it is talking to the right people, and the game gives you freedom of movement. Which brings me to my next comment...

General Play Style:
I suppose it could be argued that I rush through the games, but I don't think so. To some extent, already knowing the plots means I blast through quests that might otherwise be hard, but in general I try to let the game inspire me. I didn't get the Chaos Sword, because the plethora of magically locked doors in Blackthorn's Castle annoyed me, since they re-lock if you enter and then leave combat. However, I do have a complete set of hand-drawn underworld maps now! I also did not spend as much time as others might in dungeons, for the simple reason that the treasure was basically randomized, even though it is more interesting than just gold--In Ultima VI and Ultima VII, I feel very excited about dungeons because I can find unique and interesting items, but I didn't feel that way in Ultima V. You'll note I didn't just use spells to get through the dungeons as I did in III and IV, where there really was almost nothing to see or do.

Anyway, if you're curious what inspires me and what drives me to make the choices I do when playing the games, it's this:
1) Exploration--It's fun to find unique places and interesting people
2) Interaction--I like manipulating the enviroment and talking to characters
3) Atmosphere--Each stage of a game has a distinctive atmosphere, and I like to get a taste of all of them...even if some might be "die a whole lot."
4) Story--I like the way the story unfolds, especially with respect to details I had forgotten (eg, Captain Johne)

Here's some of the things that serve as a disincentive to playing a game:

1) Strategic combat--I find this tedious beyond belief, unless there's something really unique. The final battles in Doom were fairly fun (maybe one room too many), as were the floors in Exodus, and the famous battle-yourself instance in Ultima IV. However, most other encounters are simply tiresome.

2) Annoying technical defects--This includes limitations on saving your game, various program bugs, and other miscellaneous technical shortcomings that make doing certain things hard. Not being able to save in dungeons in Exodus made delving in them a lot less appealing, for example. Same for the magic-door-relocking issue in U5--some technical limitation makes things frustrating, and so I avoid them. Also, the fact that you only get one save game makes going back to explore less appealing (I'd have to do so using my backups).

In Ultima VI, you'll see some of #2 with respect to the "chunk" system the game uses for the game world. Certain areas are repeated ad nauseum; I am thinking specifically of this chunk with a swamp between several tiles of mountains. The repetition makes mapping and exploring a bit more annoying.

Now I should probably go to sleep...I had a late night yesterday ;-)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ultima V, Day 10

Allright, I confess. I finished the game last night. or this morning. It all depends on your perspective, I suppose. Before I posted yesterday, I had gotten everything ready--I bought some mandrake and nightshade, gathered lots of gems and torches, and saved my game just inside Doom. Amusing note--in Ultima IV, buying a sextant involved asking for an unlisted item at the guild. In Ultima V, they inform you it was a limited time offer.

About 3:45, I went to bed, and decided, "Why not go ahead and map the first few levels of Doom?" So I did so. In fact, the first five levels or so are almost all maze, and a particularly annoying maze because ladders really do not match up this time (eg, they are not in the same relative positions on one floor as on the next). There were a few instances of Annoying Invisibility-Less Combat, but I was able to escape those fairly unsathed. The maze was not that confusing since the huge numbers of ladders were connected in a fairly straightforward manner, and I had like 90 gems to work with (and, of course, th ability to reload games before I used all my gems!). This got me down to level 7.

Then things got really, really hard.

I found a room on Level 7 which had a bunch of sand traps (where did these guys come from!?) and daemons and those ever-frustrating wisps. The sand trap in the center covered a ladder. I froze time and killed it--and to my annoyance, I had to get all the pointless treasure it left behind in order to uncover the ladder, thus wasting precious momnts of frozen time! Next was a room full ofdragons and serpents--annoying due to their fiery breath. Freezing time helped here, as I was rapidly able to uncover a hidden bridge and zip on through. Finally, we have a room with reapers and mongbats. More freeze-time scrolls worked wonders here, although I made a terrible mistake and went west instead of hunting for secret doors. The net result is that I had to come back and kill all the monsters, but I made another mistake--it would have been easy to take them out normally, but I chose to freeze time to do it (to save hit points in case another room followed). This used up my last scrolls, and made the next few rooms much harder. Anyway, I found a secret door and went north.

Finally, I could save the game and rest. As a side note, the thing I hate most about Ultima V is that it is so tedious to heal your party. You can rest for 8 hours and gain only two or three hit points--or, about half the time, none at all. Consequently, the next few minutes involved the pressing of the following keys: H-8 Q-Y. Over and over again. If I happened to get attacked (which seems to happen less often with no companions, by the way), I died and reloaded the game, and H-8, Q-Y even more. Now that I think about it, regeneration rings could hav helped, oviously. I am loathe to use up magic items though! That's why I had lots of freeze-time scrolls :-)

Going forward dropped me down a pit into a room full of sharks and wisps. Trying to dash out just got me killed, and I was out of scrolls to freeze time. After lots of trial and error, my solution was to cast charm on two of the wisps, use those to kill the other wisps, and handle the sharks myself. I don't understand why you die so fast in this game. It's true, my character is only level 6, but another, what, 60 hit points wouldn't have madea dfference when every hit from a dragon or a wisp or whatnot takes out about 30-40! Monsters do as much damage as in Ultima IV, it seems, but your total number of hit points is a lot less. Anyway, I finally got through that room, saved, and hit the final room.

This one was a doozy, but another place where having one character was, in a way, beneficial. The room has a bunch of mongbats and daemons, and when you step on a certain square, the area near you fills with lava. My solution was to step on that square, and then stp back over the lava onto the ladder where I am safe. This forced my enemies to come towards me, into the lava, which kills mongbats very quickly. Sometimes mongbats leave chests, and my orginal theory was that three mongbat chests would block off the daemons from attacking me, and I could take them out with the magic axe. Unfortunately, mongbats leave chests too rarely! A much more efficient strategy was to use up my scrolls which summoned daemons, use those to kill of daemons (and keep people from hitting me). Interestingly, daemons I summon have a ranged attack even when I wear the crown, which was a huge advantage. Eventually, I killed them all, and left the room. And I forgot to take a screenshot of the battle :-(

Then I fell into a pit into a chamber with a mirror where Lord British peered at me. I was sucked inside, and he asked about his box. Hey, you nitwit, why didn't you tell me to bring it when you appeared before me when I rested!? Fortunately, I knew about it and I gave it to him, Blackthorn was banished to another realm, and I was immediately sent home. Hooray for me.

Well, Doom was a pain in the butt, and when I checked the clock again it was 6:31 AM. Wow. I was getting really angry towards the end, though, yelling at the screen every time I died (I probably went through that shark room about 40 times). In retrospect, I should have done the following:

-Conserved negate time scrolls. It's better to get hit a few times and heal afterwards in some of the early rooms.

-Brought more reagents. I stupidly came with only 5 mandrake and nightshade, meaning my ability to ast charm was limited. Charm is among the most helpful spells in this dungeon, at least when you are limited to the sizth circle! I also tried out other strategies, like Tremor spells, but that one stinks and hurts no one (after three of them, no enemies died in rooms I tried it in!!).

-Raised my strength at the shrines. It would have been useful because the faster I kill monsters, the more use I can make of my time-freezing scrolls.

Note one thing that is not listed among my ideas for survival--bringing in more party members. Once again, their cost in food and healing and the plain annoyance of haing to control them is not worth what they add in combat, especially since they die so easily.

The last thing I did was out of curiosity--I transferred my Ultima IV character into Ultima V, which turned into a dude with 25 strength, 25 dexterity, 23 intelligence. Good grief, I should have done that in the beginning.

Now, time for my final thoughts. Ultima V has a far more compelling plot than Ultima IV, and I would say it takes everything Ultima IV did and made it either better, or at least more complicated. The dungeon rooms are more interesting and more coherent, and I actually enjoyed exploring them to some extent. After four gmes, Garriott FINALLY got the hint that, gosh, maybe harder monsters should leave better treasure? The outer world is where the game really shines, as NPCs now have schedules, there are lots more interesting places to visit, and the conversations are more interactive and reference one another more often.

On the negative side, a big problem with nonlinearity in games is that their plots are less compelling as a result. Someone tells me to fetch the crown, and I do so, but he doesn't acknowledge it. I destroy the Shadowlords and besides not showing up and "attacking" the towns, no one cares, not even Blackthorn. I'm supposd to be an outlaw, but no one reports me or assaults me, besides the ocassional guard--and I think they would assault me even if I were not an outlaw. The fact that Ultima V is so interactive and quest-driven makes this break in suspension of disbelief all the more glaring, The same is true for Ultima VI, and in some ways Ultima VII. Serpent Isle fixed this to a great extent, so when you become a knight, people greet you differently, even outside of the knight's town, etc.

Ultima V also didn't have much in the way of side quests--but that's OK, because a lot of things were inessential (black badge, spyglass, etc). I am glad i was able to answer most of my questions about those items--the only thing I don't know about is the silver sword, which you sometimes get as dungeon treasure. I only found I once. I also found the glass sword, but didn't see much use for it. Finally, a FAQ mentions a chaos sword, which I ever found--apparently it is in Blackthorn's castle and is "bad news." Oh well. The final question, of course, is this--Why did the Shadowlords give British such a cozy prison? Wacky.

I guess this took about 26 hours to complete, though I haven't added it all up. I look forward to Ultima VI, the first one in the series that I played!

Ultima V, Day 9

Today I wandered around Britannia, trying to solve miscellaneous quests. I began with the black badge issue--turns out I needed to say yes to one of those "Blackthorn is a real nice guy isn't he?" questions, then i got booted to judge Dryden in yew, who sent me to annoying tower guy in Skara brae, who sent me to that castle full of rats and grumpy people southeast of the Isle of the Avatar. I had to give up the name of one of the great council members, which was unfortunate for her (I chose Fiona of Minoc), however with the Shadowlords all dead and me preparing to go rescue Lord British, I didn't feel bad and I doubted they'd get much done. I can say this wih some certainty, considering there is a sign saying I am wanted dead in the middle of Yew and no one seems to care! Nonetheless, I got the black badge, so I can wander around Blackthorn's castle without any trouble.

Incidentally, most evil people do not usually consider themselves evil. With that in mind, why is Blackthorn's group called "the Oppression?" I mean, why not the "Upholders of Virtue" or something? The framing is key. While there are a handful of normal people who follow Blackthorn, and awful number of the Bad Guys in this game are obvious thugs, jerks, pirates, evil wizards and sadistic baby-eating freaks. So the gray area in the moral compass of this game is a bit limited, I think.

Anyway, I also tackled the dungeon Shame, got through it fairly easily, and then hit the underworld underneath it. My theory was that Shame is the only duneon I had not been in, therefore I should go into it! This was an effective strategy, except it opened onto a volcano with a crazy dark area in the middle. I remembered being told that I needed the amulet of British in just such a situation, so I used it and found my way to...a locked cavern. Crud. So the next hour or so was spent wandering around Britannia, wondering where I get the word needed to open it.
When I quit to eat dinner, I decided I would do two things--first visit that tower on a forested island somewhere around Serpent's Hold, because my notes from there included nothing. Next, I would find that last word of power. Finally, I'd visit the shrines and make sure I finished them all. Humorously, Paulon's advice reflected this in his comment to my last entry! Here are the results:

1) The forested island was a boon. I ended up getting the spyglass there, though a fat lot of good it does me with all the Shadowlords dead.

2) I also happened to drop by th lighthouse near Trinsic, and found the sextant! I was clued in because the guy's name was David, and I had forgotten about it.

3) In Britain, I got the word of power for dungeon Despise. I had forgotten about the wizard on the roof. Obviously I should read over my notes more carefully. I also chatted with the housemaid, who told me to seek mystics from some guy in Jhelom. Thanks, hon, already been there and done that.

4) I decided to visit the shrines. All of them had been completed...except, somehow, Honesty. Oops. I think I must have saved and reloaded before it happened, because I remember finishing that one. Anyway, when I finished the quest, the Codex's page turned and I got explicit instructions (in runic, which I have become an expert at after 14 years of Ultima gaming) on beating the game and entering dungeon Doom, the place I was at some time before.

So to Doom it was! Doom turns out to be a pain in the rear. My invisiblity rings don't seem to work, and neither does the magic axe (or at least, not as well). Why do these morons who make mystic weapons never make nice, ranged mystic weapons? It's so contrived. Anyway, the place is buried in ladders and demons and so on, so a quick jaunt through just served to get me pretty well killed. Most enemies can be killed or avoided somehow, and it's just a mattr of my being careful. I will also need to make some detailed maps. Howeverm I think another hour or two or three tomorrow will finish off the game. That will put the total at somewhere in the ballpark of 25 hours. A little, but only a little, more than Ultima IV. I think with this game Lord British pretty much reached the limit of the Apple II, and not much more could have been stuffed into it. Had I been forced through more combat by not ditching my worthless chum...ahem, my valued Companions, it might have taken several hours longer!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Well, now I think I will respond to a handful of comments I have received. it's easier to do them all here rather than with each post! I'm glad I appear to be encouraging some of my readers to play the games again themselves.

On Ultima IV--Someone says the ship's wheel works any time, but my experience was just "No effect" when I used it (on ship, obviously) save for the final battle before the Abyss. And yes, Yelling is needed to get horses to move quickly--very silly, in my opinion. It took forever for me to realize the same was true for boats in Ultima V!

On Ultima V--Paulon gave some useful hints, and noted that my location for Bordermarch was wrong--it is west of Spiritwood, although pretty far west. It's another, less friendly castle that is south of the Isle of the Avatar. Additionally, he clued me in that I can take the torches in dungeons, which is useful knowledge. Amusingly, the game says "BORROWED!" when I do so. Voyager mentions meeting Captain Johne and feeling the need to add him to his party, but I already ditched Iolo, Shamino and Dupre, and as far as I am concerned party members cost far more than they provide--a full party requires 6x the food, 6x the cure spells, 6x the heals, 6x the invisibility rings, etc.

Finally, I had a challenge to complete Ultima VI whith only killing three things. I'm surprised you have to kill three, actually. However, I am not likely to try, at least until I get through it again once.

Thanks for the feedback!

Ultima V, Day 8

My progress in Ultima V continues, with the destruction of two more Shadowlords. Finding the shards was somewhat tedious--It turns out the dungeon of Covetous is the source for the Hatred shard (although, interestingly, Wrong connects there, too) and I did not have the Word for that dungeon. Eventually I discovered you had to ask all the townsfolk about COUNCIL in order to find who knows the word, although I *still* have not managed to get the Compassion word. Of course, who cares? Anyway, Hatred was an easy shard to acquire.

Much more difficult was Cowardice, because you have to use lots and lots of Blink spells to teleport between nearby caverns. My mapping was not as effective, and I was frustrated that gems only let you see so far. Now, I was given coordinates, but since I have not been able to find the ****ing sextnant, they were not very useful. Speaking of which, I think my next quest is to find the sextant. I did, however, find some Mystic Arms and Armor, which I didn't even realize existed in the game! I noticed an extremely suspicious blob of lava in the mountains near where Hythloth exited in the Underworld, and I climbed over to investigate. Unsurprisingly, I found a bunch of weapons in the middle of the mysterious blob of lava that otherwise served no purpose! No one I talked to had mentioned them and I didn't even know they were in the game. A lucky find!

With the Shadowlords all dead, I went and snatched British's scepter at Stonegate, killing some daemon who asked me a dumb riddle and attacked me anyway when I got it right. Bastard. The most humorous event of the day was out of curiosity stepping into a pit near the Amulet, and falling a really, really long way into a huge block of lava. Damn.

I'm not sure what to do next. I have to rescue British, obviously, but how? I may go ask Blackthorn for info. Last time I pretty much wandered past him to his bedroom without saying hello (Actually, I did talk to him, and got tossed in jail...so I reloaded), but with the Shadowlords all dead perhaps now he will be helpful.

Oh yeah, I got to the room of children and murdered them all after letting them out of their cages! One of the most infamous rooms in all Ultimas, and one which reappears in most of the later games, too! The Official Book of Ultima by Shay Adams describes the rucus surrounding this in some detail.

Incidentally, I re-read that book...man, is it ridiculous. It talks about how in Ultima V, Blackthorn is not some evil guy who never does anything to you, and he instead regularly impedes your progress. When? Unless I went out of my way to be stupid in the castle, he doesn't do diddly squat. I guess I will say more in the wrap-up after I finish the game, which is coming sooner than expected! At least in terms of days, perhaps not in terms of play-hours ;-)

Finally, a warning: never use a blue potion on yourself. I did and slept for three game days before I broke down and rebooted DOSbox.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ultima V, Day 7

Well, I have ended my first week of Ultima V gaming, and today was quite eventful! I *finally* figured out how to escape Deceit, for starters. I simply cast a Des Por or down spell on level 8! It also occurs to me that I might have needed to push the walls in that dungeon room with the exit ladder...I forgot that command even existed, actually. I did hit the two treasure rooms several more times, gaining lots and lots of gold, huge numbers of gems, and at this point 10 invisibility rings.

My character is extremely powerful, now, due to the combination of Lord British's crown (to stop magic), magic axes (to kill monsters rapidly) and invisibility rings (to keep monsters from hitting me). As a result, I decided to tackle the Underworld--although I did exit through Deceit, I will describe my whirlpool experience first. In short, I sailed my ship into the whirlpool, and made a detailed map of the underground realm. There I also encountered Captain John, who looks like a wizard for some reason, and discovered something I had not realized--John first set foot into the Underworld and the Shadowlords were created by him when he killed his three companions! Wow. Random plot detail filled in! To my dismay, there was nothing else in that area--except an exit to dungeon Despise, whose Word of Passage I don't know. I went back to Britain and asked around, but to no avail. I recall one wizard guy whotold me the mantra; probably he knows the Word.

Anyway, Deceit I knew was the key to getting the shard of Falsehood, so I mapped that area of the Underworld as well. The most notable future is a gigantic set of waterfalls that dumped me (and my magic carpet, for some reason) down onto an island with the shard. I found it through some directions given to me in Cove; that was not the hard part. The harder part was getting out--I had to use the grapple to climb some mountains to do that. Most areas in the Underworld have unclimbable peaks surrounding them, but I found one little lonely hole in them and that led back to the exit. Heh, my trip to the shard would have been shorter had I noticed it earlier! Using that shard, I destroyed my first Shadowlord. The instructions for beating them are quite specific--I had to literally wait until the guy was standing on top of the flame of Truth before I could use the shard, *and* I had to also be directly in front of him. Anyway, one down, two to go--and then I can also fetch British's amulet, which is in their castle and which I talked about before. I presume once they are gone I can get in much more easily!

My third trip to the Underworld was for British's amulet. I followed the nicely written instructions in the game box, and it was pretty fun, although I don't understand why British's party had so much trouble with the enemies in the Underworld. I guess they forgot their magic axes? I followed the instructions and found the amulet, but I am a completist so I reloaded my game and I mapped the whole area! Then I managed to get from the enterence (falling down a waterfall, of all things...) to the amulet in about 25 seconds. Beat that! Then I just had to sail (well, float) back a longer way over some really windy rivers and over a colossal swamp to get back to dungeon Destard's exit. Fortunately getting out of Destard was much easier because that dungeon is not quite so trap-laden. In fact, it looks like a cave and not a torture chamber, as Deceit looked...It's interesting how these dungeons change with each game!

Now I'm back on the surface, recuperating in Skara Brae. I am wondering what the use of other dungeons are--here's what I have so far:

Deceit: Shard of falsehood
Despise: Heads to whirlpool area
Destard: Amulet
Wrong: Shard of hatred
Covetous: ?
Shame: ?
Hythloth: Shard of cowardice

So that leaves two unaccounted for. Unsurprisingly, those are precisely the dungeons I don't have the Words for, lol. Once I fetch the other two Shards, I think I'll take a break and try to find those other words. But there's Shadowlords to kill first! Tonight was about four hours. I am feeling inspired by the game once more!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Ultima V, Day 6

Well, most of today was spent exploring Deceit solo. I got to level 8, but I was prevented from entering the underworld by some hard-core absurdity: A room with a big wall between me and the ladder down. What!? How am I supposed to get past that!? I attacked all the walls and torches and floor tiles to no avail :-( The only possibility I can think of is that I have to wait for a daemon to appear on the other side of the wall and attack something on that end...But that seems pretty nutty. It stinks to be this close and then have to turn back.

On the plus side, exploring solo is far easier. I used my invisibility ring to avoid monsters, and by some impressive luck I managed to dig up a magic axe behind some skull-key locked doors somewhere on level 5, I think. And good grief, is the magic axe ever a powerful weapon! Everything dies fast with that thing. And as far as the invisibility rings go, well, I found a room that doesn't reset when I clear it. Or rather, it doesn't reset because I never clear it--it features wisps and rats. The wisps do not attack be because I wear Lord British's crown and they cannot appear from being invisible. I kill the rats, get the ring and gold, and then leave. Then I return and get the ring again! In this manner I can collect practically infinite invisibility rings :-)

At the present time I am trying to get the hell out of Deceit, but it's very hard. I can get up to level 1, but nowhere else. Thinking back down to level 8, I believe the best bet is to climb up the really long pit that I fell down...I have made maps on graph paper, but the way that gems work in this game makes that process too darned tedious--ladders don't seem to match up very well between floors, etc.

The reason I wish to leave is to go to the reagent store and buy some blood moss so that I can cast Blink in that weird lower room that I can't seem to get through. I'm not totally sure it will work (Can you use blink in combat...?), but I think it's worth a try. If it doesn't, then I am truly stuck in a rut.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ultima V, Day 5

I have played a few more hours this week, but I have to confess, Ultima V does not inspire me to do lots of playing the way Ultima IV and III did, even though V is superior in many ways. I think it's because progress is *so* slow in Ultima V, in terms of levelling up and combat and so on. It's also a bit unclear what I'm supposed to be doing at this point. I have visited all the towns, and I extracted clues from pretty much everybody. However, my single, brief sojourn into dungeon Deceit was a complete failure. I went down one ladder, entered a room, and got killed by four daemons extremely quickly. Geez. My karma is very low, since I discovered too late that picking crops was immoral, and British does not seem keen on raising my levels. Even when he does, I only gain like 30 HP each time anyway. I have finished all the shrine quests, and the shrines now make me angry by demanding PAYMENT for improved stats. Come on, that is so lame. As a result I have a lot of trouble killing monsters, especially sea monsters.

Maybe the best idea for this blog is to lay out everything I know, and see if I can decide how to piece it all together.

First of all, the Shadowlords--I know their names, Fauleini, Astaroth, and Nosferatu or something like that (I am too lazy to pull up my notes, lol). I know in order to defeat them, I will need some shards--though I have no idea how to use them--and I know the shards are located in the Underworld. I've been given directions to reach them.

Second, I have been told to get the assorted crown jewels--the crown, sceptre, and amulet. The crown I have acquired already, and the sceptre I know is in the castle with the Shadowlords, but I can't seem to quite get there. I think I have to wait for them to leave or something--they attack towns at night, but they seem to be in Shadowgate as well. Frustrating. You know, it's not called Shadowgate is it? Shadowguard was Minax's castle, and Shadowgate is a Nintendo game. Well, no one mentioned the name of the place or even where it is located. I remembered the vague location from later games and used a gem to find it. Stonegate? Maybe that is it. The Amulet is with some graves in the Underworld.

Third, I've been told to fetch a few other items. One is the sextant, which is supposedly held by a pirate who runs a lighthouse, but I have not found him. I do know a particularly mean lighthouse owner near Moonglow, but he does not seem to give a crap about sextants. There are also other tiems I have vague memories of from walkthroughs I read many years ago--black badge, spyglass--but no one's even mentioned those (except how to us the telescope).

So the bottom line is that I'm in a bit of a rut. I think my underworld strategy is going to be to ditch my party members, get down the dungeons, use the invisibility rings to survive, fetch the shards ASAP, and then use a moonstone to escape through a moongate.

It occurs to me that it was the Resistance that tasked me with finding the damned crown, and now that I have, maybe they will give me something new to do...

For the curious, the screenshots are petty random--Dungeon Deceit, bats outside Stonegate, a demon in Stonegate, and earlier, me about to buy food because I am freaking starving. Food is expensive! Also, since combat is long and boring, and fleeing doesn't hurt your karma, I am awfully tempted to ditch my part and go solo.

Finally, in 20 minutes of playng after I wrote my original blog for today, I bumped into the mage Sutek on a wacky swamp island, and he told me exactly how to use the shards to kill the Shadowlords. Woo hoo! However, the guy who tasked me with fetching the crown doesn't seem to care that i retrieved it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Old Chats

I don't think these chats with Lord British are archived anywhere else on the Internet. They are from 1984-1994, and were acquired by me some time ago from the CompuServe network, back when they existed. They are an intriguing sinsight into the development of the games.

Most interesting is the fact that some of the more absurd conversations in Ultima IV might have been, in fact, written by fans! Read the chats now and see for yourself!

More updates when I get a little gaming in tomorrow.

Ultima V, Day 4

First of all, I believe all my screesnhots now click through to a double-sized version. Let me know if there are more problems.

Today was an eventful day in Britannia. I died repeatedly, but I got a lot done! Number one on the agenda was finishing all those stupid shrine quests. This task was aided by the fact that I finally figured out how to use my boat--yelling while on board furls and unfurls my sails, and damn do I ever fly through the water fast when they are unfurled! The biggest problem is sailing at night. Sea monsters are a huge pain because there are so many of them and without ranged weapons, I cannot kill them easily. Squids are the worst because they poison you. More annoying is the fact that DOSbox does not have an easy reset as far as I can tell, and I cannot exit the game during battle. I've gotten more adept and careful with monsters, though--In the screenshot, you see the wide array of annoying creatures seeking to kill me, but through creative use of my ships cannons they were all dead before they could even approach me!

One of the rare insightful conversations happened in the city of New Magincia (which, I should add, has very cute graves for all the ghosts in Ultima IV). We had the following conversation:

Him: Who do you serve?
Me: British
Him: Do you hate the tyrant Blackthorn?
Me: Yes
Him: Does the evil and hatred within him make thee better than he?
Me: No
Him: Then how dost thou judge him? Dost thou know all there is to know about him?
Me: No
Him: Them perhaps you should reserve judgement.


Speaking of Blackthorn, you will recall I was told that I needed to fetch British's crown from the top of his castle. I decided to give it a go, and it was astoundingly easy. First of all, the traps in the floors were a simple matter to evade with the flying carpet. Second of all, the guards seem to go to bed readily. Now if they catch me, they take me underground and threaten me--but more on that later. As long as you do not approach them, they ignore you. Among the more absurd scenes is the image of me happily floating through Blackthorn's throne room--note the demons nearby. I enter his bedchamber and head up the ladder to the roof, where I found the crown. Guarding the crown were two gargoyles who seemed invincible--every hit caused a new one to appear. I gave up and reloaded my game after I had about 12 of them attacking me at once! But they don't move much, so careful navigation got me through and away from them without much fuss.

Ultima V is good because it lends itself to these interesting situations. It's bad because so many puzzles simply are a case of "keep reloading your saved game until you manage to avoid the totally annoying monster." In the castle, if you get caught by the guards, you are chained to the wall and Shamino is stuck on a carving block, ready to be sliced in half unless you tell Blackthorn the mantra of Honesty. But Shamino dies in either case. Now, the Official Book of Ultima touts this as one of the cool parts of Ultima V, where your actions can have real consequences--Shamino can't be resurrected. But because there is no POSSIBLE way to get out of it, this is one of those "reload the saved game" scenarios. In other words, finding out there is no way out of having to reload your game devalues the whole encounter. Had Shamino survived if I told Blackthorn the mantra and I were put in a cell, I probably would have simply continued playing and thought to myself, "wow, that was a hard decision." But he can't, and I didn't, I just reloaded and avoided the guard in the first place.

So the bottom line is Blackthorn is a joke. I should also add that I finally found Dupre, hiding with a certain Sir Simon at Bordermarch (I think that's the name). I had been told Simon was "on an island west of Spiritwood," which is near Skara Brae. But the dude was WAAAAAY west of anything, all the way next to the Isle of the Avatar--actually, close to where Ambrosia is in Ultima VII. Boo for bad directions!

I guess I played about 4 hours on this last night and today, bringing my total to around 9 I suppose.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ultima V, Day 2 and 3

Let it be known--this game is vastly harder than all the previous games. Right now I have visited most of the towns--save Buccaneer's Den and New Magincia, which are a pain to get to--and I have solved one of eight Boring Shrine Quests. What is a Boring Shrine Quest, exactly? Each shrine gives you a quest--it tells you to go to the Codex, read a few words, and return. Excitement! It was sheer luck that I was able to finish one. While I was twiddling my thumbs over in Skara Brae, a pirate ship came up to the shore and I captured it! Previously I had expected to need to buy one for a thousand gold at the shipwright (I already bught a skiff, but they cannot sail over the deep waters...).

I also hit the roof of the castle and picked up a magic carpet and a sandlewood box. I did the latter by visiting a lighthouse in south Britannia (ironicall, it was not the place I was looking for) and a guy taught me to play Stones, and a previous character had told me playing Stones on the king's harspichord would cause something magical to happen. For whatever reason, though, I am unable to open the box, evn though it clearly looks like a chest. Anyway, the magic carpet is extremely useful because it alows me to zip over annoying rivers and so on, and outrun most of the monsters around--and it allowed me to randomly dig up a rotting corpse! This is particularly important because fighting is the fastest way to die repeatedly--Especially snakes which spit poison, rats which bite poison, seahorses which shoot poison energy blobs, and basically every damn thing that poisons when it attacks! Gah.

In terms of plot, Ultima V is a lot like Ultima IV: talking people allows you to gather together a lengthy list of assorted items needed to finish the game. Then you just have to go find the items! One such item is the crown of Lord British, which I was instructed to fetch by members of the resistance hiding out under Yew. Except, of course, it sits atop Blackthorn's volcano-surrounded castle. Aye carumba. How am I supposed to survive that exactly!?

For the time being, the key thing to accomplish is arming myself more effectively. I need ranged weapons in particular. In this game, you get hurt by all kinds of random things, such as accidentally bumping into a cactus tile in the desert, or looking through a telescope during the daytime. Sometimes crystal balls give you a "death vision," and then there's the ocassional fireplace you need to crawl into. Getting poisoned is a particular pain, since it occurs frequently--lots of monsters do it, swamps do it, fountains can do it, and searching the bloody splatter after you kill an enemy can do it.

The bottom line is that playing Ultima V is a fairly tedious process, particularly since the game doesn't bother to tell you when you are being unvirtuous. For example, taking crops out of the fields seems to have kicked my virtue down a notch. What a pain, because food is eaten very rapidly and is very expensive.

At present I'm not sure what to do next other than buy the weapons I mentioned. I guess I should solve all the various shrine quests as a starting point, as there are a handful of characters who do not trust me, and I think they will allow me to open the dungeons.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ultima V, Day 1

I've been a little slower beginning this game, due to jobhunting, and I expect the pace to slow a bit in general--I warned you it would take a year or more! The backstory is simple--Lord British goes, for some reason, to investigate the Underworld and is captured by some mysterious Shadowlords, who then corrupt Blackthorn, who rules in the absent British's stead, to their will. I'm less clear on how this game is one than the previous games, but I do recall that it takes a lot of quest fufillment and so on.

First, some notes on my progress: There's not much of it. I hit britain and the three Brittany towns around the castle, and I also visited Paws and Trinsic. About all I did was collect clues, though I did also dig up some nice items (see below). The NPCs in this game are much more conversent than Ultima 5. They ask your name and demand to know things often enough that they don't seem as artificial as the people in Ultima IV. Gone too are the jokey characters like the "spicy woman" named pepper or the "jester twins." The only disappointment about the game thus far is the towns have lost a lot of thir uniqueness. Specifically, it seems like every town is a crazy wallked city with multiple levels! The villages are smaller, though, and full of crops (which, incidentally, can be picked). My progress has mostly consisted of item collection and notes--I have learned that i must solve the shrine quests, and that I need to talk to people about the Resistance. On a hunch, I asked a vague warrior about Shadowlords, and she told me to ask her companions, but curiously they gave no response. Hmm.

The game has a wider variety of items and armor that can be acquired when you kill onsters, and the interface seems even more stremelined than that of Ultima IV. Observe the sreenshot, where I find some weapons, armor, food, torches, etc. off of a dead troll. Generally, however, the combat in this game is quite a bit harder than before. I was killed by some freaking skeletons. SKELETONS! Gadzukes. The game world is much more attractive as well, with lots of new tiles for terrain and for objects in the game world like tables and chairs, even if the perspective for some of these items is a bit bizarre (The tables are viewed isometrically, but the walls are just blocks of bricks).

I also found out about a flying carpet, but to get to it I think i will have to kill a bunch of guards. I think the guard may even be magical or something--growl. On the plus side, I also foun an invisibility ring inside a tree stump, along with some gems. Note to self: always search tree stumps. My only complaint thus far is the day-night cycle. It goes by WAY too fast! It's cool that people go to bed and dinner and so on, but it is annoying that they seem to sleep for so long, and that searching for clues in one town seems to take 24 hours even when there's only like 2 or 3 shops. Good grief. In this screenshot I am waiting for a very late sleeper to arise and talk to me. Also, the first screenshot shows me in a skiff (cheaper than a real boat!) after getting my first shrine quest...which was to go to the Codex and ask about the unkind soul. How boring.

Also, larger screenshots were requested. My screenshots are the original size, it's just screens are not as lo res anymore :-P I may try resizing them, particularly if I can get DOSbox to do it by itself and not have to do it by hand.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ultima IV, Day 10

My Ultima IV quest continued on Sunday when I decided to delve into the abyss. Most of the levels were not as challenging as I had expected, but by the same token some were much harder than I expected. The pirates and swamps I had to cross to get to the abyss were annoying, but not so bad. Level 1 began rough, with an excessive amount of lava and huge numbers of balrons. Balrons and gazers are among the hardest enemies in the game due to their sleep spells, so clearing out rooms full of them is a tedious chore. However, I found that m magc wands and bows all worked in the Abyss, which means everyone but Geoffrey and Katrina had a ranged weapon to use.

The next several levels were not so bad, with Level 4 including tricky sequences of rooms that interconnected and for which viewing a gem was not useful. The screenshot shows an odd little room with a pathway over nothingness that is full of ghosts. This was taken to an extreme on level 6, where a big block of rooms had zig-zagging connections, and were full of very annoying monsters. In some cases, it was not so much hard as tedious--balrons behind energy fields had to be killed to keep them from causing everyone to fall asleep, even though they could not actually attack me. Towards the end was a long series of poison fields with reapers at the end, and the room preceding it featured a balrons and wizards, and a platform in the center which I almost guarantee would close up the moment I stepped on it, so as yousee I went the long way around, through a balron cell!

The eighth level was most interesting, since one of the rooms therein featured a party of adventurers just like my own! Well, they looked just like my own. it would be moreaccurate to say they were a bunch of wimpy schmucks who died in one hit from the magic wand. Hilariously, the ranger even flees before the battle begins! Obviosuly he knows what he is in for. After that room is another with multiple hiden triggers that must be pressed before the exit to the codex chamber opens. This required more wandering around lava fields, which isn't very fun. Finally, I was asked a series of questions, made easier in that all the answers about the virtues were in the exact same order as they allways are: Honesty, compassion, valor, justice, etc. I was confused by the compassion question, which asked what virtue "compels you to share in the journeys of others?" Wha? Journeys?

I will summarize Ultima IV by saying it was a fun game, but not as much of a leap, technologically, over Ultima III as Ultima III was over II. Thematically and plot-design-wise, it is a superior game, with a much more compelling world model where your actions in multiple contexts have an impact on the progression of the game. In Ultima III, the means by which you acquired enough power to beat Exodus was irrelevent to whether you could beat him, whereas in this game, the means are everything and the ends are simply a final action to finish.

The only problem I have with Ultima IV is that there are no dilemmas to the game's cut-and-dried morality, and that most of the specific actions you take within the game are the same as you would take in any other game of the time--fighting monsters, collecting objects, etc. This is no doubt a result of the limited technology of the game, and a situation that is rectified in Ultima V. The limited tileset, while providing nice animation, does not help immersion since the objects in the gam--tables, beds, bookshelves--are all just purple squares. Also, the lack of any items of interest in dungeons made treasure-hunting boring, as did the fact that there is no relationship between enemy toughness and the treasure that they leave behind.

I have played a little Ultima V now, and it seems basically like a proto-Ultima VI. I look forward to blogging about it since my memory of the game is so dim that it will seem like a new experience!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ultima IV, Day 9

Well, I finished Ultima IV yesterday, but I won't talk about that here. I played an excessive number of hours--probably like 4 or 5--to get to the end of the game. That's the thing about video games; when you feel close to the conclusion it's hard to quit 9especially on a Sunday...) But for this blog I will talk only about the first half, which was very boring. The first thing I needed to do was recruit Geoffrey and raise his stats, which was accomplished in fairly short order. To my annoyance, Geoffrey can't use any magic weapons so he was stuck with a crossbow. This, despite the fact that he is a fighter, makes Geoffrey among the worst party members, because the magic weapons are so good.

I also discovered to my joy that if all my mystic robes are readied, then I could find another 8 sets of them in Empath Abbey! Moreover, I can go to the shop and sell them all for 4500 gold apiece! With this newfound source of infinite cash, in Buccaneer's Den I outfitted my party with the best ranged weapons they can have: Magic wands for my wizard, bard and druid, magic bows for the ranger, paladin, and tinker, and a crossbow for the fighter. The shepherd was stuck with her stupid sling. Once everyone was fifth level and well outfitted, I made a treck to Paws and bought enough reagents to mix up 99 of the most important spells: cure, heal, dispel, light. As it turned out, camping (which I had forgotten that I could do) obviated the need for Heal, whereas buying 99 torches eliminated the need for Light spells. I also discovered that the abyss had no strange winds, which meant there was no worry for the torch supply. Anyway, mixing up the spells was boring and gave my fingers some repetitive motion fatigue--mixing up 99 Cures, for example, requires 99 repititions of the sequence C-B-C-Return.

After all that, I decided my party could use some better stats, so I headed to Covetous to raise strength and dexterity using orbs hidden in the dungeons. What did I discover? Two things:

1) The orbs in Covetous are a real pain to get to because the Z-Down spell does not work a lot of times, and there are three screens of monsters before you reach it.
2) The orb vanishes after each use so you have to find it multiple times.

I also tried Destard for strength orb-ing, but again I met with failure due simply to the nuisance of getting there and the fact that they can only be used once.

Anyway, at this point my party had such good weapons that most enemies were destroyed simply by standing there and hitting A and up, raining a barrage of magic arrows, crossbow bolts, and wand blasts on the heads of my foes, most of whom died before even reaching me. In Moonglow I took final stock, made sure I had everything I needed, and set sail for the abyss! I also backed up the game files in case things went badly. As it turned out I didn't need to worry.

I will write the second part sometime tonight. I will also create my Ultima V character and try to get to the nearest town, but I am considering yesterday's many hours of play to count for today's.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ultima IV, Day 8

Today was unusual, in that I played about 3.5 hours, and I was not exactly motivated by the fun of it. Essentially, I spent the day wandering around killing monsters, slowly raising my party members up to 5th level. At this point, the only remaining party member that I do not yet have is Geoffrey, the fighter in Jhelom. Everyone else is nearly prepared for the abyss! The hardest character to raise in level seemed to be the tinker, Julia, for some reason. The ranger, Shamino, was the easiest. At present, everyone is equipped with the best weapons I had on hand for them--magic bows for most of us, except I gave myself a crossbow (which ultimately I will give to Geoffrey as he cannot use magic weapons), and Katrina is stuck with her stupid sling because she is an incompetent loser who can't use any better ranged weapons. Mariah the mage has a magic wand, which to my surprise is an extremely effective weapon. Raising her to level 5 was easy as a result.

In the realm of absurdities, I realized that I had spoken to no one about the word of power needed at the end of the abyss, and I am glad I didn't hit the abyss already. Annoyingly, I had to go back to Cove to do that, which meant I had to navigate with the balloon for awhile.

I also dragged them all to the Abyss for a brief adventure there, and died on the third level (after not bothering to heal or cure after battles). I wanted to get a taste of what I was into.
I noted two things--my good weapons still worked most of the time, and I was not stuck with the damned mystics. I hate non-ranged weapons. I also noted that I got in with only seven characters in my party, but it may be that at the end I will not be able to win without all eight.

What remains? Well, after I raise my fighter to 8th level I will still need to visit some of the dungeons to touch painful orbs and raise stats. Specifically, I think I will spend a lot of time in Wrong, because there I can find dexterity/strength orbs, which are the key needs in the Abyss. Other prep for the final dungeon will include maxing out my heal, cure, and maybe some attack spells, as well as buying lots of torches and gems.

The screenshots are a bit boring today, but I had never seen a ghost with wisps before. It's weird that I played for longer today than usual, considering the tediousness of what I was doing. I guess i went on autopilot in an effort to get it done with.