Monday, 29 September 2014

Mondead

I finished up Ultima 1 at the weekend. It's a pretty simple game at heart, but an odd one. The first three Ultima games are very much Richard Garriott finding his feet before settling into the Avatar groove we know and love with Ultima 4. As such. Ultima 1 has some pretty wacky happenings - the most well known of which is the sudden trip to space midway through the adventure, but more on that later. To win the game, you have to travel around the world visiting kings and doing quests for them. Certain quests bag you one of four gems, and once you have all four gems you have to jump in a time machine and go destroy the wizard Mondain and grab the power gem he was...ummm..doing something with (the story's pretty flimsy, and I've forgotten the details already). So yeah, there's a time machine, but actually all it does in game is teleport you to the wizard's lair at the end, so it may have well just been a magic portal. You also notice after a while that although you begin by buying horses for travel and swords and shields for equipment, before too long you're buying land speeders and blaster rifles. This is a game that has no desire to stay within the traditional bounds of Tolkienesque fantasy. Anyway, the manual tells you that these kings you need to visit are basically pretty mercenary people and not at all nice to each other (a bit like real medieval kings, I guess) and every castle has a prison cell with a captive princess locked inside. These princesses provide the best source of XP in the game, so if you want to level up (which you need to in order to trigger the final quest, then you need to rescue them. In fact, you need to rescue one princess in order for her to reveal the location of the time machine. So far, so typical fantasy. So, you want to rescue the princess; how are you going to unlock the door? By using the thief's unlock skill? No. By using the mage's unlock spell? No. You need to have the key, and who's got the key? The annoying jester. Can you pick-pocket him? No. Can you talk to him? No. You have to kill the jester to get the key. This random act of violence has the palace guards chasing you - quite rightly - so you have to slaughter them, too. The jester has one key, and there are two prison doors, only one with the princess in. This means that 50% of the time you'll have the key to the wrong door and will have to leave and re-enter the castle to make the jester respawn so you can kill him again to try for the key. It's ridiculous, and this needs to be done to proceed with the game. The soon-to-be-avatar, if he is the same person, has to commit mass murder on a huge scale for absolutely no reason but because. That's not all, though. To further proceed with the game, one of the kings tasks you with stealing exactly nine items from his stores. There's absolutely no reason for this, he just orders you to do it. I was a mage, and not the best thief, so I was caught stealing quite a lot by the palace guards. If you're caught, the only escape is to slaughter all the guards and flee the palace, then re-enter and try and steal again. I can see now why parents did think that these games were having a detrimental effect on their children if this was how heroes were supposed to behave! And oh yeah, the space bit. The final vehicle that you can buy in the game is the space shuttle. One of the princesses that you rescue tasks you with becoming a space ace before she'll reveal the location of the time machine. So, you jump into the space shuttle and zip off into space where the game completely changes and you have to jump around the galaxy, stopping to refuel every now and then, and shooting down 20 alien invaders. It's weird, very weird, and feels like it's only there because Garriott had written a nice starfield generation program and wanted to use it. Other than that, the rest of the game is an obvious mechanical evolution from Akalabeth. The wireframe dungeons are basically the same, with an overworld segment built on top of it. It was actually quite good, simple fun in a crazy way, and it didn't outstay its welcome. Also, I liked the way that at the end of the game it tells you to press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to restart!

Next up on the series list is Ultima 2, which most people consider the weakest game in the series. It's also a step back in the graphics. The first game was remade in EGA, but Ultima 2 never got that treatment and remains in its CGA glory. First, though, I'm going to have a look at ATAC and see what that's about. Oh, and I just noticed that Ultima 1 finished takes me to my magical 10% completed target, yay!

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