With ten games in the main series, plus the two Worlds of Ultima games, plus the two Ultima Underworlds, and Akalabeth, that's fifteen games total. I've now made my way through seven, and though that's technically shy of halfway, finishing Ultima VI does feel like something of a turning point, as its completion marks the beginning of a detour, the Avatar's adventures apart from Britannia and the watchful eye of Lord British. As such, it feels like a good point to pause for a moment and reflect a bit on this wacky little adventure of mine.
This definitely isn't my first time attempting to play my way through the Ultima series in its entirety, and it isn't even my first time attempting to blog about the experience while doing so. I think the first time I tried to blog about it, I barely made it through Akalabeth, and was so dissatisfied with how it was shaping up that I scrapped the whole thing. And even this time around, it was something of rough going in the beginning - I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe part of it was because I still hadn't quite figured out my 'groove,' the particular style I wanted to approach the project, and maybe part of it was because there just didn't feel like there was a lot to say about the early Ultima games. That was a good portion of the reason I came to a screeching halt partway through Ultima I, in addition to my life getting busier than I'd planned on right about then. I felt like I didn't really have anything to say that wasn't just reiterating what happened in-game, and so I set it aside for a time until I could figure out what to do with it.
The hankering to play Ultima again came before I really figured that out, though, and it didn't feel right doing so without starting up the blog again. So I did - I still had my old save file kicking around, so I threw out a brief 'I'm back' sort of post, fired off a quick email to the Ultima Codex about much the same, and played.
I think that's about when things shifted.
Thanks to WtF and the Codex, I found myself with something of an audience. And that helped - knowing someone was actually paying attention gave me a bit more motivation to keep things up. I think I hit my stride somewhere around Ultima II, or at least I felt like I had a better grip on how to approach things. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact there were a fair few things about Ultima II that didn't quite sit right with me, which gave me fodder for things to talk about besides simply my exploits in the game. The further along I've got, the more verbose I feel I've become, partly because the games have gotten larger and more complicated, and partly because I feel more confident in both my scrutiny and my expression of what conclusions I draw.
And that's what it comes down to, really. I find I play the games differently than I used to, partly because I know I'm going to be blogging about it later, so I consciously look for moments that would be worth examining further, expanding upon. I read books differently now that I'm a writer, I watch movies differently ever since I spent a month in Rome with a film study program, and now, thanks to this blog, I find I play games differently, too. And it's kind of neat to look at something I've enjoyed for so long through different eyes, actually taking the time to peek past the veil and figure out what makes them tick as a narrative experience, poke and prod at them and figure out what works and what doesn't.
And ultimately, I think that's the biggest thing I've pulled out of this blog. I enjoy this sort of thing. Yes, I'm a writer, and I love crafting stories, planning them, spinning them, weaving them, but more than that, I love talking shop, as it were. Examining, analyzing, teasing out the tricks of the trade and recognizing when techniques work and when they fall flat - and not just the what and the how, but the why. There's dozens of things I could talk about outside of Ultima in that vein. What the movie War Horse taught me about the uses of negative space in a story. How powering my way through Planescape: Torment in a couple days helped me cope with the death of my grandmother. How I managed to pinpoint the killer in an episode of Castle from his first appearance on screen, before I even really knew who the character was, based entirely on how they chose to frame the shot. The longest 150-page book I ever read that was so tedious and obnoxious I wanted to throw it out the window multiple times, the way a character's voice actor managed to make me seriously feel terrible about a small action in The Wolf Among Us, scads of other moments like these that I simply view differently than I might have once due to the time I've spent digging through the world of stories in all their forms. And it's nice to have a platform to muse on these sorts of things, maybe even spark a little conversation in the process - I know I've enjoyed the ones I've had as a part of Spam Spam Spam Humbug (another something that I might never have actually done if I hadn't started this crazy venture in the first place).
So that's where my brain is at, now that I've made it sort-of halfway through the series. I figured I'd just make it through the canonical games, maybe poke through Lazarus or the Ultima 6 Project or one of the Neverwinter Nights remakes of Ultima IV when that was done, and call it good. Chalk it up as a fun little experiment and let that be that. But now I find myself wondering if it might be worth... expanding, down the road. There's a lot of other stories out there I'd like to experience and examine, whether for the first time or for the twentieth, from books to movies to TV to games. Maybe it's worth considering continuing in this vein once Ultima's done with.
I'm coming to discover this is something I love, after all. And being a guy who's currently between jobs, uncertain of exactly what sort of career I do want to have - well. Maybe having an outlet for something I've discovered to be a passion of mine is a good thing right about now.
Only time will tell, right? It's certainly inspired me in other ways - I've wanted to read through the Hugo/Nebula winners, watch the Best Picture winners... and for some reason I've had the germs of an idea for a fanfiction-y novelization of Ultima I bouncing around in my head lately. Maybe I'll spend NaNoWriMo hacking away at it?
In any case, I've learned a lot from this venture, and I look forward to seeing what more I learn going forward. And thanks for stopping by my little corner of the Internet - it's always easier to say your piece when you know someone's listening. Who knows - maybe at some point down the road, it'll be a little larger.