Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ultima III: Opening Thoughts

From the light-hearted adventure that was Ultima I and the disjointed mishmash that was Ultima II, it's time for me to move on to the more seriously-bent Ultima III, and the end of the Ages of Darkness. If Ultima II was the awkward adolescent of the series, then I suppose that makes Ultima III the high school graduate, having sorted out a little better idea of what it wants to be and beginning to act upon said idea.

Ultima III was released in 1983, and marked a lot of firsts for the series. This was the first Ultima to allow a full party rather than just a single character, for instance, and the first game in which combat takes part in a separate tactical screen. It's also the first game to take line-of-sight into account during travel. And most importantly to my pianist-slash-violinist background, it's the first Ultima to feature music! Needless to say, even though the DOS version doesn't include the music, I've patched it in for the full experience. I've also patched EGA graphics into the game (again thanks to The Exodus Project), but this should be the last game I modify graphically. I considered for a bit using the more recent version of the project, which decreases food consumption and increases enemy spawning, but I mentioned earlier I'm trying to stay as close to the originals as possible, so I declined.

The plot isn't entirely novel, as it's the same defeat-the-baddie as the past two games - this time with Mondain and Minax's progeny-of-sorts Exodus - but it does take a more serious approach, so I'm looking forward to seeing how this all plays out - Ultima III is the first game I've blogged about here that I haven't actually played in its entirety before.

Ultima III came with three manuals of sorts - one for the game itself, and one each for the two brands of magic that are used in the game. And the game documentation is really starting to shine by this point - all three come with beautiful illustrations, wonderful flavor text, and set the stage excellently for the game ahead. Although it does make some allusions to potential mechanics that don't pan out in-game - the suggestion that party members can be recruited in the game world, for instance. Maybe it's just poor word choice in the manual or something planned but not implemented.

The manuals also leave some questions open about game lore and such, but that's half of what I love about the series - I actually find a setting that isn't 100% consistent with itself and only expounds upon relevant details somewhat more believable than an impeccably designed one where every detail is consistent and explained, but it's a fine line to walk! Ultima III's documentation does a decent job of this, I think - sixth circle of mages? What's it like for the other five - and the three above that? What's this 'One' the clerical book of magic refers to, the 'Dark Lord' one invokes for the P-spell? Enough seeds to get the imagination churning, and I love it.

One last thing to mention about the game documentation - the map. No towns, dungeons or the like are actually marked on it, just the general landscape, and I like this idea a lot. Actually having to notate the map as you explore - that's a nice touch.

I don't have a whole lot of experience with Ultima III, especially compared to its predecessors. It never quite clicked with me, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact I'm more used to Ulimta IV, which streamlined things a little more - here you have to keep track of all four of your party's food, weapons, gold, etc., whereas later it's just one big pool. Most of my time with Ultima III was just fooling around with different characters, wandering into combats and playing around with the system a bit. So I'm interested to see what happens when I actually hunker down and play the game with the intent of seeing it through.

It took me far longer than it probably should have to figure out what my party's make-up would be. I toyed with the idea of including a druid (on account of Aric having been a wizard in Ultima I and a cleric in Ultima II), but eventually settled on a paladin, ranger, wizard, and cleric - Aric filling the role of the cleric, and the other three named after characters of mine from elsewhere. I went with a paladin and ranger instead of a fighter/thief combination for a bit more spellcasting ability, giving Ivan the paladin enough wisdom to cast a healing spell if need be and Olivia the ranger enough stats to at least open a chest.

So with my party assembled, my map ready, and my notebook close and hand, time to fling myself unto the breach again and strike down Exodus!

The adventure begins...


  1. Just an FYI that you can turn off the balance fixes in the 3.1 patch. I figured that some folks would still want the tech upgrades but preserve the original experience.

    I'm enjoying your blog posts, looking forward to your next one!

    1. D'oh! Missed that... ah well, I already had 3.0 downloaded and good to go, and giving the 3.1 feature list a glance-over again I'm not seeing any differences from 3.0 that I'd have made use of for this run-through anyway - though they'll be interesting to play around with in a repeat, I'm already finding myself wondering what a different experience the game with be with a different party make-up. Glad you dropped by, gives me a chance to say thanks for the work you've put into these patches!