Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 20, 2015

Email: I just beat Ultima VI

Can you believe this guy? He is beating all the Ultimas! By doing so, he is getting a history of PC gaming from the late 1970s until late 1990s. Talk about patience!

Since we are talking about Ultima VI, some music please…

And let us see the glorious box (and the Ultima game boxes ARE glorious!)

Ultima VI: The False Prophet

Another shot of that map please…

And now the email…

Another Ultima game beaten, so here we go again. Actually I beat it March last year and have already started Ultima VII, but that’s beside the point. This time I completely skipped the DOS version and using fan-made patches; instead I used the modern Nuvie port: http://nuvie.sourceforge.net

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It’s a port similar to Exult for Ultima VII, except it’s for Ultima VI and it enables some *really* useful interface improvements without which I would have gone crazy. Sometimes it’s really the little things that matter, like drag & drop or being able to double-click things. More on that later.
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The differences between Ultima V and VI are striking and perhaps the biggest jump the series has made so far. The world is no longer divided into an overworld and towns, instead it’s one large continuous map. Dungeons are now in top-down perspective as well. Companions are actual people who walk around with you and who you can talk to. But most importantly, the game world is actually interactive now. In Ultima V you were able to search containers and push crates, which was nice, but here if you can see something you can actually use it.
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This creates an interesting scenario: everywhere around you you see all sorts of cool stuff you could use. Maybe it’s a potion, maybe a magic weapon or a key. You can grab that stuff if you want to. You’re not supposed to and the game will punish you, but you still can. Compare this to a game like Baldur’s Gate where you can just go around looting people’s private homes with no consequence; in fact most NPCs won’t even call the guards if you do it right in front of the owner’s nose. Oh yes, I’m totally a lawful-good paladin, but it’s OK to grab everything in sight as long as no one sees me doing it. In Ultima VI even if no one sees it your Karma suffers. I’m not quite sure what exactly the Karma does, but I think you need at least a certain amount in order to beat the game. That makes sense, the one who would end the conflict between humans and gargoyles should be someone pure of heart, not a thieving lying bastard.
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== Story ==
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Let’s start with the story of this game. It starts out as a simple “destroy all the evil monsters” story, but turns into a very interesting role reversal. The gargoyles look like demons to us, so it’s easy to just go ahead and slaughter them for experience points. After all, it was the gargoyles who crept out of the underworld and besieged all the shrines, right? However, from the gargoyles’ point of view it’s the exact opposite, it was the Avatar who crept out of the underworld, slaughtered their people, burst into their most sacred chamber and stole their most sacred artifact and defiled it. It was a human that was prophesied to bring about the end of the world. From the gargoyle perspective humans are the otherworldly evil menace. When you think about it, from the gargoyle perspective it is humans who are the demons of legend!
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With that in mind having the gargoyles go to war without hesitation makes perfect sense, to them humans are the ultimate evil. But at the same time I can’t really say that I feel sympathy for the gargoyle race and culture; they practice slavery, keep the wingless ones intentionally down, they dismiss the physically disabled (Sin Vrael is a winged one but unable to fly, so he was treated like a wingless one) and perform gargoyle sacrifices. Maybe this is coming off like supremacy talk, but I don’t think such a culture is really worth preserving. And yes, I know there were human cultures that were similar, such as the Inka, but I stand by my opinion.
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The virtues are another thing that really bugged me. In Ultima IV and V the virtues were just some philosophical principles that everyone agreed on (well, almost everyone, but those people were banished from the planet). Here however the virtues have god-like status, they were written down in a book from outer space and a great priest pulled it out of the void using magic lenses. Did no one ever wonder who wrote the codex? How come moving the codex causes the entire gargoyle world to disintegrate? Whose voice am I hearing when reading the Codex? In the ending sequence Lord British yells “for Virtues’s sake”, with a capital V. Come on, if you want to make a game with a god or gods, then just do it.
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I think this is one problem that comes from Ultima IV: while the story is really unique and inspiring, the whole Virtue and Avatar thing was just not that well thought out. It was more than enough for one game, especially in those days when games really were not that heavy on story, let alone a deeper meaning. The problems come when you try to build something on such a shaky basis. Once you start asking questions the holes become very apparent. Where did the Virtues come from? Who initiated the Quest of the Avatar? Can there be more than one Avatar once the first Avatar completes his quest? Lord Blackthorn wanted to be and Avatar as well. If so, why are there no other avatars? What exactly does it mean to be an Avatar? What is the voice that speaks to the player at the shrines? Even the virtues have problems: why is Humility the absence of virtues? How do Truth and Courage form Honour? How did being proud attract demons to Magincia?
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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these questions need to be answered, to the contrary, it is good to leave things to the player’s imagination. However, once you try to build on it the questions start piling up. When Richard Garriot came up with Ultima IV a lot of the mythology of the game was based on incomplete or false knowledge. For example, he completely got the concept the the “Avatar” wrong. None of this did really bother me in Ultima IV though, neither in Ultima V, but it seems the more a game progresses in some areas, the more I also expect it to also progress in other areas. Ultima IV and V were disjointed screens (world map, towns, dungeons and combat) that felt like moving pieces in a board game whereas Ultima VI felt like a real seamless world. It’s like how it doesn’t bother me when a 2D RPG uses the same four sprites for NPCs, but in a 3D RPG it’s really uncanny to see clones walking around everywhere.
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Another big problem, and arguably the bigger issue is the nature of story-telling in an interactive medium. The game expects you to do certain things in a more or less fixed order: defeat all the gargoyles to free the shrines, deliver the stone tablet, do the pirate quest, retrieve the missing tablet piece, talk to Sin’Vraal, descend into the dungeon, learn the Gargish language, meet up with Beh Lem and then talk to the Gargoyle king.
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Of course my first instinct was to go straight for the source; I remembered the “deamon” Sin’Vraal from Ultima V, so my fist instinct was to travel to his hut and ask him WTF his people were doing tearing up Britannia. But of course I couldn’t ask him any of that because the game designers didn’t want me to. Instead I had to go on a wild goose chase only for the trail to lead back to him so I could ask him what I had wanted to ask in the first place from the start of the game. Urgh.
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== The gameplay ==
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Now let’s get to the game itself. It’s easily the best Ultima I have played so far. Remember all the problems I with Ultima V? Apparently I’m not the only one who thought so.https://seanmalstrom.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/email-i-just-beat-ultima-v/
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For starters there is much less to keep track of. Your quest is simple enough: kill all the gargoyles and free the shrines. There are no real clues to keep track of, unlike V where every little detail could be important. It made sense form a story standpoint, you were an outlaw after all, and it was pretty cool, but it was still annoying. The only time I kept notes in VI was for the pirate quest and the destinations of the Orb of the Moons.
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Speaking of which, travel was much more simplified, you had the Orb from the start and could travel almost anywhere. You didn’t have to wait for nightfall or wait for the proper moon phase, you just use the Orb and there is an instant moon gate.
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Casting also got an overhaul. In my Ultima V mail I complained that there were just too many steps involved for what should be just an item in a menu. So guess what, now spells are just items in a menu. The magic words are not mandatory anymore and just fluff. You still need reagents, but they are mixed on the spot when you cast the spell. No more need to keep a list of all spells at hand.
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Most of the problems I had with the combat system have been fixed as well now: companions can be set on autopilot if I want to. And for the most part the AI does a good job, it was only during some shrine battles that I took over myself. No more dragging everyone around just to kill a rat. No longer does opening a chest turn into an exercise in patience. It makes combat flow naturally as part of the game’s world, as it was a long time back in I and II.
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Leveling up is much more streamlined as well now. Once you reach enough experience you can meditate at a shrine and depending on the shrine different stats increase. Personally I would prefer to simply push a button and allocate points manually, but this is OK. At least I have some control over the stats and don’t end up leveling Dupre’s INT when he can’t cast any spells.
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The only problem with combat are the generic companion sprites; if two companions look the same it’s impossible to distinguish them and if you are in combat with humans it becomes impossible to distinguish your own people from the enemies. That’s just BS and makes you hurt your friends and heal your enemies. Luckily that problem has been solved in Nuvie: a user has drawn all new custom sprites for everyone. It’s so much better this way, you should check it out.
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== The good: An open continuous experience ==
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All these extra touches are really nice to have and pretty standard today, but they are not what make Ultima VI special. What makes it special is the completely open and seamless world. And when I say open I don’t mean being able to go to any town, I mean open as in you can do whatever you want. If you see it, you can use it. You can move it, open it, blow it up or put it in your backpack.
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Lord British allows you to use anything in the castle, so that’s exactly what I did: I got a bunch or chests, crates and barrels and arranged them in my room to build a sort of base of operations where I would store my treasure, weapons, gold or other things I figured might come in handy later. You know how people will build their houses in Minecraft to be like the Batcave with stuff everywhere? Thats what I did in this game. Here is a screenshot of my Avatar cave:
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I have a chest with quest items and a crate with food open. Another thing I once did was get one of the cannons from Trinsic and carry it all the way to the nearby dungeon and shoot the dragons with it, because I could. And why shouldn’t I, it’s a cannon, it does cannon things. When was the last time you could do that in a game? That said though, dragging around a cannon is too impractical and it’s just a gimmick, but it’s still a nice little touch.
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I also love how connected everything is now. There is a sewer-dungeon beneath Castle British that connects to Buccaneer’s Den. There is even a thief hiding down there. Places like Paw are not just drawn as little towns, they are little towns. You can go around and find rafts on river banks, pick them up and use at other places.
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== The bad: no challenge ==
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All of the above is quite impressive, however, after a while the “wow” effects starts to drop off and you are left with the core game itself. And it really isn’t that good. When the game starts out you are scraping whatever resources you can find and liberating a shrine can be a real challenge. After two or three levels though nothing really poses any threat and you can just set your brain on autopilot for the rest of the game.
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I know that Richard Garriot was trying to emphasise role-playing above stupid hack & slay combat, but there is only so much you can do on a computer. Combat on the other hand works very well on a computer, since computers are machines for numerical simulation.
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Without interesting combat Ultima IV becomes essentially just a fancy point & click adventure with tacked-on RPG mechanics. It’s not bad enough to stop me from enjoying the game, but I am enjoying it despite its lack of challenge, not because of it. There were many times where the game turned into a chore and if it wasn’t for the improvements made by Nuvie I’m not sure I would have even finished it.
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This does present an interesting conflict between role-playing and playing a video game. Let me elaborate: if I were actually in Britannia I would be glad about any way to cut corners and find an easier way around. I would be glad that freeing the shrines is so easy, I would be glad that the dungeons aren’t that hard. On the other hand, when I’m playing a video game I want it to be hard. I want the game to be challenging because otherwise it’s just boring connect-the-dots. Take the last fight at the shrine of Diligence: there is a huge amount of daemons in the room, it’s basically the game’s version of the final boss. Daemons are quite strong, but what makes them dangerous is their magic abilities. So I just put on the storm cloak to prevent anyone from casting spells and proceeded to whack them over the head. It was way too easy and I didn’t even feel particularly clever for figuring this out.
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There are many similar instances where there is usually a simpler shortcut around. For example, instead of going on a long trip through Hythloth you can just teleport to the Gargoyle side and then enter the dungeon through the exit.
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To play devil’s advocate, the original game had quite awful gameplay, so maybe that’s why combat was so watered down. Expecting every single hit point to matter is just not feasible in a game where you run danger of mixing enemies and allies up. Even with the improvements from Nuvie there is still a lot of information hidden from the player or awkward to access. How much damage am I doing? Who is poisoned? How many HP do they have? What spells can they cast? Who attacked whom?
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== The ugly: the interface ==
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I talked about this one only tangentially so far because the issue has mostly been fixed now in Nuvie. The thing with the Ultima VI interface is not so much that it’s bad, for the time it is actually really good. The problem is that you have to use it all the time.
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Take the simple act of opening a chest: in Nuvie a chest panel opens showing the contents of the chest and you just drag&drop the item you want onto the character you want to receive the item. Simple enough. In Ultima VI on the other hand the contents of the chest burst into your face onto a stack and if you want to pick something from the bottom of the stack you have to move everything on top of the stack somewhere else. How do you move items? Press M, aim at stack, aim at another spot. That’s not bad for one or two items, but imagine having to sort through a stack of ten spears to get to the shield at the bottom. It quickly gets infuriating.
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The same applies to inventory management. What should be one action is several steps. Let’s move an item from character A to character B: First click onto A, then press M, click on the item and click on B. But here is the thing: you cannot place the item inside a container, so if you wanted to move some food into someone’s food bag that’s at least three more extra steps. For every single item.
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Moving items only works on adjacent tiles, so if you want to move something over a distance you better hope it fits inside your inventory, otherwise you will be dragging it one tile at a time like an idiot. Nuvie lets you move anything over the entire scree, as long as the path is not blocked and the item can be moved in the first place.
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The limited view area is really annoying, especially combined with the awful dithering for partial darkness. I’m sure it looked better on low-resolution CRT screens, but here it looks just awful. The limited view area was good enough for the earlier games with discrete maps, but it’s way too small for a continuous open-world game. Nuvie lets you see the entire screen and uses Ultima VII-style gumps (basically windows) for containers and character sheets. A really nice touch is that every container has a different gump, so a chest will look different from a barrel. The dithering darkness has been replaced with a nice gradual darkness. It still blocks your vision, but it doesn’t hurt your eyes.
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There is also a ton of other convenience improvements. You don’t have to use keys any longer explicitly, as long as you have the key you can just double-click the door and it will open. Speaking of which, you can do most things now with double- or right clicking, no need for all those hotkeys or the toolbar at the bottom. Moving things is as simple as dragging and dropping. When you ride the ballon you don’t have to use the magic fan anymore, as long as you have it in your inventory you can move the balloon freely. The Orb or the Moons has its own hotkey now.
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Inventory management is so much easier now, aside from the aforementioned Avatar cave I also have designated containers for everything. I have a reagents bag, a key bag, a food bag, several ammo bags for different characters… it’s all so
simple and tidy, moving things around, looking or comparing is so much easier.
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Nuvie also adds roofs to buildings. It may not sound like much, but it really rounds up the presentation. Along with the new interface and custom companion sprites it looks like a whole new game. It’s amazing how much some small tweaks can improve such an old game.
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There is one new thing Ultima VI brought to the table that I liked: highlighted keywords in conversations. Let’s be honest, there is no real challenge in trying out keywords, so they might as well just outright give them to you. Of course Nuvie improves here as well by giving you clickable keywords like in Ultima VII. Just as there is no challenge in trying out words, there is no challenge in typing them either, so we might as well cut down on the wasted time here as well.
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One thing I would like to see addressed in Nuvie is smoothing movement. It’s quite disorienting how the Avatar teleports from tile to tile. A gradual transition would look much better. Exult has it, and it is really nice.
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And just in case you were wondering, I am not one of the Nuvie developers, I just absolutely love what they have done. It is a shame when games age due to their technology and source ports can solve this problem. Sadly most games never have their source released, and even if former Origin employees wanted to release it now they don’t have it anymore. Everyone was looking towards the future, believing that the next game would automatically be better because it has newer technology. Richard Garriot still believes in it (see his interview with Spoony).
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== Miscellaneous ==
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Hmm, what’s left? One thing I noticed was that the tone of the game was more mixed than in the previous two. In IV is was all highty mighty let’s all be virtuous. In V is was very dark and oppressive. VI is more mixed, you have people of all types. You have good people, you have bad people. Some only want to kill gargoyles, others want to communicate and others don’t really care.
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The case of Quentin’s murder for instance has nothing to do with the Gargoyle plot, but it still exists. Not everything has to be because of the Gargoyle war, at best the war provided a cover for the murderer, but it still would have happened regardless. Speaking of which, I really hate that there is no way to resolve it, even if you know who the murderer was.
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The runic script form V is back again, and this time there is no patch to replace it with latin characters. At least there wasn’t much of it, but it’s still annoying.
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I like the many cute and curious details. There are birds, dogs and other critters walking around, bards play the lute and even Iolo plays a song when the party is resting. Some items in the world are hazards, like fumaroles and lava. You can even walk into a circular saw at the carpenter’s workshop, it’s a stupid thing to do, but you can do it. There is a mad wizard living in Blackthorn’s abandoned castle who is creating two-headed animals, WTF is up with that?
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The character portraits for NPCs are a pretty cool feature, but some of the portraits are really weird. Were they drawn by different artists or why do some have such a derpy expression? Especially the main Avatar from the box looks pretty dumb. Most of the companions look how I would have imagined them, except for Jaana, I didn’t imagine her being old. And what’s wrong with Julia’s facial expression?
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This game is also the first instance where the Avatar has a fixed appearance rather than being just you. He is a teenager or young man with blonde hair in the intro. This is a consequence of having graphics good enough to actually depict a person, and the developers could have either made him invisible or choose a design. At least you can choose your ingame Avatar, but in Ultima VII you only get two choices and in VII and VIII no choice at all.
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Speaking of the intro, WTF is that zebra centaur punk thing and why would I have a poster of that in my house!? Having the clock on the record player display the current real time is a pretty neat detail.
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One last thing, it’s really easy to miss something and screw yourself over. Remember the Spoony video of Serpent Isle where he lost the Serpent Ring? I had a similar moment: to beat the game you have to place the moonstones into the vortex cube, but up until then I had no idea I would need those stones, so I had to go around and pick them up. Some of them were in my base, others were still at the shrines. Except one. Britannia was f’d, the gargoyles would sacrifice my ass and all just because of one tiny pebble that could be lying anywhere in the world. The game was unbeatable. Only through sheer luck did I think about turning on the cheat to let me move anything, and guess what: the stone had glitched underneath its shrine.
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Modern games will perma-glue quest items to you, and while it is immersion-breaking I still prefer that over making the game unwinnable because you dropped some little rock somewhere.
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== Conclusion ==
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All in all Ultima VI is a masterpiece marred by two flaws. The interface flaw was purely technical and is now fixed in Nuvie. The other flaw is the lack of challenge, and it is a design decision. Once the initial wow effect wears off and you gain two or three levels it becomes a walk in the park, not an invasion of bloodthirsty otherworldly horrors. If it wasn’t for that Ultima VI would be a timeless masterpiece I would recommend without hesitation. As it stands now, I would still recommend it, but honestly there isn’t much replay value once the open world gimmick has worn off. It’s still worth the one replay though.
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If you have not played it in Nuvie you really should, it’s like a whole new experience in a good way. Give it a try, almost everything works and the team is now working on Martian Dreams.
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And just for reference, here are my previous emails:

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To put Ultima 6 in context, we must realize the game was released in 1990.

What was Video Game Land like in 1990?

These games just came out in 1990:

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Super Mario Bros. 3 coverart.png

FF1 USA boxart.jpg

North American cover art

The NES was in its zenith. These are US release dates of course. There was no global economy like it is today.

“But what was coming out on PC, Malstrom?”

Reader, that is the question!

Goodbye Galaxy title screen

Star Control cover.jpg

Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon.jpg

Remember, this is the FIRST Railroad Tycoon.

Ultima 6 was in the 8-bit Generation of game consoles. This massive open world of Ultima 6 was unmatched by anything in gaming and was many, many years ahead of its time.

Only one game really blew everyone’s minds back then. I say this game altered gaming more than anything by turning gaming into production based instead of design based. It is the reason why people who played it then, who are wealthy now, has made it the largest crowd funded product ever.

Wing Commander box

When we play old games, we have to compare them not just to the context of their series (from their predecessors and successors) but to the time itself. Ultima 6 had no competition whatsoever. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, during this time that even came close to it. And just think that within two years we would get the incredible Ultima 7. Within those two years, Origin could make such a game of such magnitude (still unequaled) while creating two additional Ultima games of Savage Empire and Martian Dreams. Let alone the game industry revolution Origin was doing with Wing Commander.

It is difficult to point out to people how fast things were progressing. Young people can only think of the smart phone revolution but that doesn’t even compare to the original PC revolution. Gaming is a good history of the PC revolution. Ultima 6 is frustrating because it is sandwiched in between the UI change between the old keyboard only to mouse only. If you are familiar with the early era, Ultima 6 feels revolutionary as it sheds away the old and begins the open world. But if you are familiar with only the new era, Ultima 6 feels incredibly backward with its keyboard and window roots. (And before Ultima 6 might as well be the Land Before Time.)

What I remember most in Ultima 6 was simply wandering and doing whatever I wanted. I saw a cave and went into it. I didn’t really focus on the ‘story’. I explored a world. Games back then were much more mysterious due to the lack of Internet. Ultima games were also insanely big. You had no idea what was in the dungeon or even in that locked door. Amazing game.

As for the story, I think it is a mistake to look at Ultima 6 as a story contained to itself. This is when Garriot decided to do the Trilogy of Trilogies. Ultima 6 intentionally looks back instead of looking forward and connects to Ultima 4 and 5 and twists them around in ways the player did not expect. To give people not familiar with Ultima where this was going, I think Ultima’s “story” is more fun when looked at through the lens of Trilogy of Trilogies instead of islands per game.

The Age of Darkness

The first trilogy is about a hero summoned to a land taken over by monsters led by a tyrant. You kill the monsters, level up, and then kill the tyrant. Then the game is over. This is what Garriot sees most RPGs still stuck in especially the JRPGs.

Box art from the 1986 DOS edition.

You are the ‘Stranger’. The world is known as Sosaria. Mondain, an evil wizard, has used the Gem of Immortality to make himself literally invincible. Interesting that technology goes backwards in the Ultima series. Sosaria has spaceships, laser guns, and everything else. You cannot beat Mondain. Therefore, you get Doc Brown’s deLorean (sorry, that movie hadn’t come out yet)… a time machine… and go back in time to kill Mondain before he becomes so powerful. You shatter the Gem of Immortality.

Sosaria has four main land masses. Lord British, a young idealistic king, only ruled one of the four. (Shamino’s kingdom was in another continent.) With the Gem of Immortality shattered, Sosaria breaks apart into four pieces. The Lands of Danger and Despair disappear through the Serpent Pillars and won’t reappear until Ultima 7 Part II. The Lands of the Dark Unknown and the Lands of the Feudal Lords vanish entirely (Was Pagan one of these lands?). The Lands of Lord British is all that remains of Sosaria.

Ultima II cover.jpg

Now this game is fucked up. Mondain’s lover, Minax, exacts revenge on the Stranger by attacking Earth. Earth fills up with monsters spilling through the time gates from different time eras and locations. The Stranger returns and can fly in a space ship, has laser guns, and so on. If you guys thought Final Fantasy got crazy with the high technology, you have no idea what was before. Obviously, Minax is killed and, since she becomes dead, the invasion against Earth could never occur in the first place. This game seems more like some pre-historic ancestor to Chrono Trigger in its time jumping craziness.

Ultima III Exodus cover.jpg

Exodus, the machine child of Minax and Mondain, attacks Sosaria. Stranger is again summoned. Exodus is more like a computer where you use punch cards to defeat it (no joke!). This game defines the traditional RPG you see Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy use. It uses a traditional fantasy setting with traditional fantasy characters. With Exodus defeated, Lord British unites Sosaria and the land becomes known as Britannia (named after Lord British of course).

 

The Age of Enlightenment

This trilogy isn’t about defeating a tyrant in a monster filled world. Rather, it is about ‘enlightening’ the world. These are games about spirituality itself.

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It is not enough to unite a land. Lord British fears for the spiritual well-being of his people. A system of Virtue is made. The Quest of the Avatar is one who can achieve virtue and then get the Book of Codex (of Ultimate Wisdom) from the bottom of the Abyss. The Stranger is summoned to do the quest. When you get the Codex, you become the Avatar and a type of Jesus-Warrior hybrid character.

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The Avatar returns to find Lord British lost to the Underworld and Lord Blackthorn ruling in his place. Blackthorn twists the meaning of the Virtues around and creates unjustice through the land. Shadowlords, form the shards of the Gem of Immortality, aid the corruption. There is no true good or evil in this game. Much gray. The Avatar doesn’t kill Blackthorn. He just rescues Lord British. It is Lord British who banishes Blackthorn and restores order. Saving Lord British has a consequence of collapsing the Underworld.

Ultima VI: The False Prophet

The Avatar is not summoned by Lord British but by the gargoyles who try to assassinate him. Gargoyles have invaded Britannia and taken over the shrines. Britannia’s armies are being smashed by the gargoyles. Does the Avatar kill all the gargoyles? No. Gargoyles are realized not to be demons but people who live on the other side of the world (the world is flat, not round, don’t ask). The Abyss to Britannia is the Abyss to Gargoyle Land as well where they placed the Codex of Wisdom for safe keeping only to find it stolen. The ‘Underworld’ being destroyed is rapidly destroying the Gargoyle Land. Desperate, they wage war on Britannia as their world and civilization has been destroyed by The Avatar without him knowing it. The Avatar sets things right by placing the Codex in the Void where neither man nor Gargoyle would have it and makes peace between the two. Gargoyles are given the island of Terfin in Britannia so they do not become extinct.

 

The Age of Armageddon

I cannot think of a game series where the storyline was intended to be told over multiple games. I do not mean episodic games or a Mass Effect type of thing. These are self-contained games and yet they aren’t.

There is no tyrant to slay in this trilogy. There is no enlightenment of the people to be made. More interesting is that there is a Spiritual War going on between the Guardian and the Avatar. The people of the land get caught up in this spiritual war with some falling towards the Guardian.

More interesting, the entire universe of this game series (decades long!) gets intentionally blown up. It’s quite a site to see and shocking when going through it when it was released.

Ultima VII Black Gate box.jpg

The Avatar is not summoned by Lord British but by the Guardian to witness the spiritual depravity being unleashed in Britannia (200 years since Avatar’s last visit). No one worships the Virtues any more. No one goes to the Shrines. The Fellowship, a competing Virtues system, established by the Guardian, is spreading rapidly and led by Batlin. Guardian is using the Fellowship only to create a Black Gate (Moon Gates are blue that have travel throughout the world, Red Moon Gates from Ultima 6 go to other worlds, but Black Gates are for different dimensions). The Avatar disbands the Fellowship and destroys the Black Gate. But in doing so, he destroys all moongates so the Avatar cannot return to Earth ever again.

In Part II, the Avatar and party chase Batlin through the Serpent Gates to find the reject towns who rejected the Virtues after Ultima 3 to flee from ‘the tyranny of Lord British’. Batlin and the remaining Fellowship members are trying to destroy Brittania since the Guardian cannot conquer it. Armageddon is a good word here. A holocaust occurs killing nearly everyone in the world. The Avatar has to enter the Void to stop the destruction of Britannia. By being in the void, the Guardian seizes him.

Ultima 7 set up the gameplay for Ultima Online which would define the MMORPG.

Ultima VIII box cover.jpg

The Guardian throws the Avatar to the world of Pagan which is the Guardian’s world and his people. Everything is evil. The Avatar escapes by creating a Black Gate (while destroying nearly everyone and everything in this world to do so). While Avatar is stuck in Pagan, the Guardian invades Britannia. When Avatar returns to Britannia, he finds it conquered by the Guardian.

Utlima 8 has to be the inspiration behind Diablo. The themes and settings are EXACTLY the same. Ultima 8 gameplay seems like a direct predecessor to Diablo strangely.

Ultima IX - Ascension Coverart.png

Everything is fucked up in this game. Cataclysms have screwed up the land masses messing up the towns and traditional paths. All the shrines have become anti-shrines. Guardian’s nature is revealed. Ultimately, the people don’t feel they need to be heroic because the Avatar keeps saving them. Hence, the final and most strange ending.

 

So considering Ultima 6, I like it because it fits well with its trilogy. Ultima 6 is not an ‘age of darkness’ or armageddon being unleashed. It is a game of enlightenment. RPGs could use more such games.


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