Friday, January 17, 2014

Ultima I: Look on My Works, Ye Mighty

Aric's adventure in Sosaria continues apace. After bouncing back and forth between the Tower of Knowledge and the Pillars of Protection, bumping up my stats from the both of them as much as I was able, I nabbed a few supplies from the nearby town of Yew and delved into the dungeons on my first proper monster hunting trip.

Yep, that's a cube in there.
Perinia was the closest dungeon (I find the dungeons in this game to be rather imposingly named for what they are - the Gorgon Hole, Where Hercules Died, Death's Awakening, and so forth) so I popped in and hunted about for ladders to take me down to the third floor of the dungeon, where I found a gelatinous cube waiting for me! Fortunately I noticed it and took care of it before it managed to eat my armor, not that it would have proven too difficult for me if it had (after all, there's a bug in the remake that ignores armor in dungeons). I hurried over to the Lost King to tell him of my deed (how does he know I did, by the way? Am I still covered in gelatinous slime?) and he kindly gave me a red gem, along with the information that I would need all four to win the game.

That was not the easiest part of the map to navigate.
Having accomplished all I could in the Lands of Lord British, I bought myself an aircar and made my way to the next continent east. My approach on this continent was much the same as they were in the Lands of Lord British - visit the towns and get a sense of what amenities were where, drop by the castles and get the quests (which were to kill a carrion crawler and find the Southern Sign Post), then head over to the signposts to up my stats. In wandering the towns, I had my first glimpse of a town arrangement where the magic shop is hidden within a maze of a forest - magicians sure do have it rough in Ultima I, needing to navigate all that they do just to find the shops where they need to spend a good deal of money for the spells that they use.

The Pillars of the Argonauts and Ozymandias boosted my weaponry and my stats, and once that was done it was time for more dungeon delving for that carrion crawler. Avaril's Hole was the closest one to me, so I popped in and wandered my way down to the fifth floor. Killing a carrion crawler wasn't particularly difficult, not with my new blaster from the Pillar of the Argonauts - it was making my way back out alive that was the difficulty! I was dead set on making the venture without any ladder spells, and I got absolutely swamped by monsters on the trek back, heavy hitting ones! I was just barely over 100 hit points by the time I made my way back into the light. The hit points I earned from all the monsters I killed in the venture made up for the ones I lost, but only barely. At least I had plenty of coin to replace the armor that a gelatinous cube had absorbed.

Two down, two to go...
I also discovered that my spells were working just about as well as my weapons, now that my stats had been boosted and I had the best weapon in the game. There's really little convincing reason that I'm seeing to choosing any class but a fighter, since they get extra stat boosts from the get go - they can cast spells too, after all, and even then, relying on spells doesn't seem to have any sort of advantage. Either way I kill an enemy in a couple hits at most, and weapons have more range than magic missile, it seems. All it is is another money sink, and it's not like there's not plenty of those to begin with. (Outer space, anyone?)

Anyway, I made my way back to the Castle of Rondorin to let its monarch know I had completed his quest, and I was rewarded with a green gem and the knowledge that I would need a time machine. Another continent conquered, I drove away from the Lands of the Feudal Lords and came to the Lands of the Dark Unknown. I started my explorations here, finding the Sign Post (what's it even here for? Although I do like the fact it reads 'Ultima Thule!' and makes use of the game name SOMEwhere, even if for no reason that to use it) and nabbing castle quests - even rescuing a princess in the Castle of the Black Dragon, which I do out of tradition. I mean, only seems fitting to save a princess from a black dragon.

Kind of fitting this raises wisdom.
My location question this time around was to find the Pillars of Ozymandias, so after I made my way over there (travel by aircar is interesting in that it can't go through forests, incidentally, it really makes one look at the map differently) I returned to the King of Olympus, who boosted my strength a substantial amount for the effort. What's the motivation of the monarchs wanting me to find specific locations, I wonder? The monsters I get, but exploration? It's got me curious.

I called it a day there, having two of the four gems I need now. The depths are going to get more difficult to navigate as I go on - for the Lich I have to kill, I have to make my way down to level seven of a dungeon - and I still have space to travel. But it's all an enjoyable romp, as it always is. Now, to go prepare myself for more dungeon delving...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ultima I: In Which I'm a Wanderer

My first day of adventures in Ultima I, of course, began with making my character. I normally play a fighter, just for the extra stat points (they get boosts to two stats, rather than just one like the other classes do) but I'm determined to do things differently to keep things interesting for me this playthrough, so I made myself a mage instead so I have reason to mess with the spells more.

Aric's beginning stats

I spent the majority of my first day wandering around the mainland of the Lands of Lord British, mostly because I had no way of getting off the mainland of the continent for the majority of my first day. My time was mainly spent poking about the various towns, making note of what towns sold what, and which of the magic-shop-possessing towns sold which spells - playing a mage and hoping to really make use of the spells, I felt this was a good thing to pin down!

So that's what I need to do!
I also spent some time drinking in the various taverns and inns, which I hadn't really done before. Seeing as I'm focusing on the story in these playthroughs of mine, though, and the tips you get from the bartender being the main way of delivering clues and hints, I figured it'd be best for me to do so. I was not disappointed - the first time I slipped a bartender a coin for ale, he told me the general idea of the game flat out. That Mondain created a gem that made him immortal a thousand years ago, and that my main goal was to find a way to go back in time in order to defeat him before the gem was made. Some of the "hints" are rather cheesy and fourth-wall-breaking - most notably the one that says simply "Did you know this is a great game?" (I don't disagree, but c'mon, how's that help me make progress?) But some help give direction, like the one that tells me what to do to become a space ace, or one that tells me rescuing a princess will be helpful - especially once I'm an eighth level ace.

Boy I'm glad those mountains are there.
Wandering between towns helped remind me just how tense the opening stages of the early Ultima games can be - enemies dropped in on me a good deal, and having lower physical stats than I typically do due to playing a mage this time around,I had to be very judicious about making use of enemy pathing and landscape obstacles to my advantage. This was made much easier once I finally had enough cash to get myself a ranged weapon (both letting me breathe a sigh of relief and get back to my comfort zone - I love playing archers, no matter what game I'm playing), but until I got to that point, there were some nail-biters - I dipped below 100 hit points on several occasions. Even dipping into the upper levels of the dungeons didn't let me escape, I had thieves and rangers pouring on me at one point and ended up doubling my pre-dungeon entry hit point total when I came back out. And that was after losing about three-quarters of that in the process!

All in all, though, I'm having a grand old time. It's nice knowing the game well enough that I can afford to poke around at things that I hadn't before - rebounding after being seduced by the tavern wench, playing around with Magic Missile spells, straining every nerve to refrain from making use of the Ladder spells... I finished the day by purchasing a frigate and upping my agility and intelligence at the two signposts in the Lands of  Lord British. I'm trying to decide whether I want to delve into a dungeon and kill a gelatinous cube for the Lost King before moving on to a new continent, but whatever the case, it's sure to be an adventure!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ultima I: Opening Thoughts

Happy New Year, all!

After a brief hiatus due to holidays, lots of travel, slight computer issues, and wrestling with trying to figure out what the best way is to take screenshots (I really should have figured that out before I started this thing - can you tell I'm kinda new at this?) I'm finally ready to get back to Ultima and take on the series proper

Ultima I was released in 1980, the first game to bear the Ultima name and kicking off the series proper. The name was the result of a shortening of the intended title of "Ultimatum" (which was a trademarked board game already) - perhaps this worked out for the better, as a series of nine Ultimatums might have gotten a little tedious after a while. (At least I don't think 'Ultimatum Seven' quite rolls off the tongue as well as 'Ultima Seven' does. Eh, personal preference, really.)

The game was released for the Apple II, but in 1986, the game was remade with a few tweaks and released on the IBM PC and C64 as well. This is the version that I'll be playing, as it's the version that's available through and the version I'm most familiar with.

I can't get through opening thoughts without making mention of the game documentation, but when it comes to Ultima I, I've got two versions to mention! The original 1980 version had a manual that was what one would typically expect - what buttons do what, the general mechanics, and that sort of thing. It's got some fairly decent mood-setting illustrations for some of the various monsters the player will face, too, which does help set the stage well enough.

It's the manual for the remake that takes the cake, though. It being a 1986 remake and therefore coming off the heels of Ultima IV, this version of the manual takes the grand Ultima tradition of an in-universe tale of strife and struggle, Mondain having thrown the world into chaos and set the eight kingdoms of the land warring against each other even while they struggle against the evil immortal wizard. It also attempts to paint Lord British as the sole king attempting to rise above all this war, but... well, he's got a princess captured in his dungeon too. But perhaps we'll overlook that bit for now.

I know Ultima I comparatively well by this point, second only to Ultima IV, as I play and replay it fairly often. It's a fairly simple game, mechanics-wise, but still engaging to me even despite its age. I typically play a fighter, so to mix things up a little I think I'll make a mage, as I've never really made much use of any of the spells besides the ladder-up and ladder-down spells - which I'm also going to limit myself on, just to keep things interesting on my end.

We'll see where it takes me! (And just how long those self-imposed limits last.)