Eodon is saved from those nasty ants!

Which means I can get back home and rest (or not considering how exciting my Avatar’s life is!)

So as I mentioned it yesterday, due to this nasty bug I decided to go back and do the two big remaining quests: the rescue of Aiela and the ancient Kotl city.

The first part went pretty fast – I had already learned where the hidden Urali tribe one, and upon arrival (and carefully avoiding of a nasty T-Rex thanks to sea turtles) I made a deal with the Shaman there: save the statue of their spirit Fabozz, kill Darden (the bad guy who had captured Aiela) and he’ll join him.

So I did! I first headed to the Fabozz statue which was in cave northward – I had to kill a couple of tribesmen, but thanks to a good photography I freed the statue and sent it back outside (It’s MAGIC you know!) Note that there was a point of doing it: by freeing the statue the Uralis all became friendly with me, so I could now travel freely. I know went to the southern cave and freed Aiela – which gave a the lovely hero kiss I deserve:

I then wacked the nasty Darden, and so Aiela was free and both Urali and the Kurak had joined my insecticide association.

The next step is a tad more complicated, but doable since I had all I required. I need to get inside the ancient Kotl City where Dr Johann Spector (modeled after Warren Spector himself) had lost his mind and became an evil Foozle. That required a big Gem to make the entrance appear, but Aiela just happened to have it in her inventory. Nice heh ?

Then came the exploration of the ruined City, which started by repairing an Automaton (no, not a Serpent Isle one), and then finding weapons to fight the Myrmydex and the generators to free Spector from his madness. This part of the game is a bit annoying due to the fact that some part of the city feel like a maze, but also pretty nice because it allows to get powerful weapons against the Myrmydex.

After finding the generators and destroying the control panel, my Automaton friend was destroyed as well as the city, and Spector (which had recovered his sanity) joined my group, thus making my party complete. This also meant the Nahuatla were freed from tyranny and as such had joined my union! Yay!

So now I returned to my T-Rex boulder, hoping to have the bug resolved. And much to my surprise it was! No more stuck caracter, no more party horse… it appears that having a full party can circumvent and prevent this nasty bug to happens which is good.

At that point, I know had united the whole tribes and was ready for the final battle. So I headed to Drum Hill and called the reunion, ready to kick some ant’s butt.

(Between this and Ultima VI and its ant mound, one has to wonder – did Origin had some issues with Ants?)

The myrmydex cave is unfortunately not a great example of game design: basically consisting of boring rocky cave with many monsters to kill (well… I guess it IS like the U6 Ant Mound!). After a bit of exploring I did come in front of the evil Ant Queen, which was well… damn ugly.

I have got to wonder though: have I lost an Eight here?

Behind the Queen, laid the goal of my Quest: the gitantic ruined Moonstone which created this mess in the first place. A couple of attacks and it was gone!

And such ended my quest in Eodon. The tribesmen celebrated happy to be freed from the evil creatures… but my king appeared to me, telling me I need to get back home cos’ you know, he just MIGHT need my help. So I had to bid farewell to my beloved Aiela. 😦

I mean forget about Nastassia, Raven or Frigidazzi. All true fans know it: Aiela WAS the Avatar’s one true love!

And so here I was, leaving Eodon behind through my good ol’ Red Moongate… Farewell my friends!

But this was not the end of my adventures with Dr. Johann Spector as I would soon find out on some odd planet called Mars…

For indeed this will be my next step: Martian Dreams!

In any case, while I have to say Savage Empire was much shorter than I remembered, it was one hell of a ride – while note amongst my favorite Ultima games, it most definitly is a great game.

I know that many people missed it but I can’t stress it enough: if you call yourself an Ultima fan you ought to play it a least once in your life because you won’t regreat it!

What the hell is that horse doing in my party?

And no, it’s not Smith!

My quest for uniting the tribes is going well most of the smaller tribes have joined and all that’s basically left to be are the two bigger quest the Kurak/Urali one, and the Nahuatla one. Except I had one other left before that, the quest given by the Sakkhra lizardmen.

You see, there is an evil T-Rex threatening them, so I have to kill him. The way to proceed is simple.

As you can guess, the basic idea is to send this big rock falling upon the T-Rex, thus killing it. The process is simplye really: all you need to do is use a grenade!

Ultima with grenades? Yes indeed! You see crafting in Savage Empire allows you to create primitive grenade by creating gun power and then putting it in a hard clay pot. It can serves as a weapon of course, but will also come in handy for some quests such as this one. So I used my grenade and there it was…

There: a T-Rex burger!

But seems I stumbled unto a (known but) severe bug which I never encoutered before. I was solo-ing with Shamuru (*) at that time, and just couldn’t get back to the party of any other character – the game said I couldn’t do that while sailing. So what the?!

So I reloaded and rekilled the T-Rex without soling… and then I noticed the issue: Shamura dissapeared from my group, not following me anymore. I can’t do anything more with the character – he’s stuck and when talking to him, he asks BOTH as if he were in and out of my party, so I can’t have him join or leave. I tried having him leave before… but that just lead to another character suffering the same fate.

So I thought, okay let’s try to cheat the game and let my Avatar die – this way I’ll get back to the original village and get my stuck companion back, hopefully.

And instead I got this:

A horse! I got a freaking horse as companion! So I can’t talk to him, he has no portraits, I can’t remove him… and he serves as party member, with stats and inventory. And it’s a horse.

I mean.

What.

The.

Eck?

So as it is I’ve reloaded my game and decided to go and do the two big remaining quests and finish with this one, with the hope that it’ll work properly, but I’m not too optimistic about this. Hopefully this will not be preventing me to finish the game.

If all goes well, I suspect I will have finished it by tomorrow night in any case – this will not have been long, but Savage Empire is a pretty short game, albeit a great work.

(*) On a side note I must say one of my main issue in the end with Savage Empire is the whole Triolo, Dokray, Shamuru plotline – you see these characters appears to be your old friends Iolo, Shamino and Dupré who have somehow gotten themselves in Eodon with a blank memory, but this doesn’t lead anywhere. Oh well.

How do you put a bell on a T-Rex’s neck?

This is one of the numerous question that find an answere in Savage Empire.

And this is also a perfect illustration of the brillant design ideas that can be found in Worlds of Ultima.

But first things first, for as usual I began my exploration of this new Ultima game… by reading its manual! As always in Ultima, the manual of Savage Empire takes a fully “in-universe” approach – but rather than the “History Book” feel the Britannian Ultima have, this one is instead presented as very earthly and pulpy magazine called “Ultimate Adventures” with articles, fake ads, letters and so on… It is just very well written and just a thrill to read. The most important aspect of this manual however is the “Valley of the Thunder Lizard” which is actually the introduction of the game written and told by the Avatar himself! This is an awesome read in itself especially since the introduction in the game itself is a tad too short for its own good.

(On a side note, I’ve found out that the writer for this manual and the game itself is none other than Aaron Allston – which is known for having written many Star Wars books – small world it is!)

Starting the game was pretty neat. One thing I like about Savage Empire is that it kept the traditionnal Ultima character creation aspect through questions, but transposed it in the Eodon context of the game. Which is pretty much a great idea (and really what we are doing for Return to the Serpent Isle as well). The creation is a bit short on account of having only 3 questions, but it’s a nice touch.

After that came the game itself.

Now while Savage Empire is a great game – it should be noted that it does not have the scope of an Ultima VI. Eodon is much smaller than Britannia, and while it offers close a dozen of different tribes to visit and speak to, each of them only have a handful of true NPCs, and many more generic NPCs serving has ambiant background (basically: they all have a different name, but all say the same thing). Also Savage Empire continue the transformation iniated by Ultima VI in that the hardcore RPG elements really are in the background this time – indeed you actually start directly at level 6 which leaves little room for character progression, and there aren’t that many combat. But the game does shine in world simulation and interactivity, and also kept the traditionnal night&day and schedule (altough day tends to feel a tad TOO short).

The purpose of the game is basically simple : you need to unite all the tribes of the Valley to fight against the Myrmydex, big gigantic ant-like creature which threatens all human life on the valleay and also holds to key to getting back to regular Earth. It has more than that ans some interesting subplots but the ghist of it consist of going from one tribe to the next and do task for them to accept to join your cause. (Yes! This was Dragon Age already!)

Now these tasks vary depending on the tribes and can be long and multilayered like saving an imprisoned princess or as simple as getting a bunch of swords for the Tribe’s elder. But they can be inventive, as show as the bell T-Rex.

For instance the Disquiqui quest I just did !

The elder asked me to put a bell around the neck of a dangerous T-Rex so that his warriors could see him coming. The thing is that T-Rex in Savage Empire are unkillable: no matter how experienced you are you can’t attack them head on or you’ll die. So you basically have to use a powerful and stunnign liquor on a spear and then throw it at the dinosaur to stun it. Then you can use the bell on hims and the quest is done.

So I’m sure some people who argue that this is more of an adventure game approach than a RPG one – but I would say only if you hold a narrow view of RPG and consider these should be hack’n slashy. This is exactly the kind of creative quest and design modern RPGs ought to have rather that just having us kill anything that come close.

But I digress.

In any case I’m really having a blast playing Savage Empire. While it might be a RPG Lite, all that matter is that it is a great game. I like the tone, style and atmopshere of the game, and speakign of which I should menstion one aspect: the music.

Savage Empire has a pretty neat soundtrack really: you see it was made by George A. Sanger, better known as the Fat Man – who did a lot of Origin music back in the day (notably Wing Commander I&II, Ultima Underworld I and Martian Dreams) and it really helps to create a great tone. It also offer some variety which is most welcome considering Ultima VI tended to get repetitive. Altough much like U6 I wish it’d had conditentionnal music alll the time.

In any case this is it for now… Eodon awaits me.

Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire

“Savage Empire” is an Ultima game that was released in 1990 – less that a year after Ultima VI, and which to say the least really came as a surprise title. Indeed, it and its sequel Martian Dreams are probably amongst the most underplayer games in the series… mostly on account that many people haven’t even heard of them!

The logic behind the creation of Worlds of Ultima series is mostly economic but rather sound: since the next numeral Ultima still had a long way to go before its completion, Origin thought it would be a good idea to create a spin off series whose episodes would be released between two majors Ultima products and that to cut on cost it could reuse pre-existing engines.

So the game as it is basically takes the Ultima VI engine, gameplay and interface and puts it in a new context and story.

The context of the Worlds of Ultima series is rather simple but effective: taking the Earth as it backdrops, it uses the premise that the Avatar doesn’t just sit around doing nothing while on Earth and that he also leaves wonderful adventures them, thanks to the help of his Orb of the Moon. The basic idea behind Savage Empire was actually thought up by Warren Spector (who happens to appear as a playable character within the game), altough he didn’t end up developping the game (but would a go and develop Martian Dreams a few month later).

So the game takes place in the lost valley of Eodon, a place on Earth out of time where primitive tribes inspired by various ancient Earth cultures coexists with gigantic Dinosaurs. The tone is mostly inspired by old pulp stories though, and one can notably feel inspiration for the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs – we’re still in fantasy land, but not in a medieval one.

As it uses its engine, the game admitedly feels a lot like Ultima VI. It does some small cosmetic differences however, notably with a camera that feels farther away from the character and a new UI look to fit more with the tone of the game. It doesn’t mean the game doesn’t bring anything new to the table however as it notably has a pretty mindblowing level of interactivity, surpassing any other episode in the series (like for instance snapping a branch from a tree to make a torch and so on…). There are also some changes in terme of inventory since it is now limited to a fixed amount of slots in addition to the weight.

One of the neatest addition however was that the game used the OriginFX cutscene engine (which was used for the Wing Commander games at the time) in addition to the Ultima VI one, which allowed for the use of actual cutscenes to tel some aspects of the story.

Savage Empire did have one very controversial feature though: for the first time in the series you could not chose your sex and were stuck with the blonde white male Avatar that would soon become the standard of the series. While this choice was mostly because of the presence of a romance inside the game, it did not sit well with some fans though.

But in spite of this, it was a trully great game though.

Personally, Savage Empire was one these game i dreamt of playing someday and feared I never would. When I first read of it (in the french videogame magazine TILT), I was just mindblowed : a new Ultima with the Avatar but NOT set on Britannia? My mind had trouble wrapping around the concept really, but that sounded exciting.

Of course at the time I was still awaiting the Atari ST version of Ultima VI, and I figure a part of me hope Savage Empire would come as well (note: it didn’t). Once we finally got a PC later, it was one of those game I really wish to play but could never find anywhere.

Keep in mind that this was an era before Internet so no abandonwares site of any kind and any hope of finding a game was to stumble upon it in a videogame shop. It took many years before I could finally get to play Savage Empire. I don’t remember precisely what year, but it was probably a couple of years or so after Ultima VIII – so it did take quite a while!

You see, we had in France this videotex service called Minitel (which I guess you could compare to BBS in the US) which allowed multiple forums and services. So I put an ad there on one of them, saying that I basically was looking desperatly for Savage Empire and Martian Dreams.

I actual got an answer for both. There was first a guy who got me a copy (as in illigitimate copy) of his Martian Dreams, because he knew the game would not be available anywhere. But a couple weeks later (while I was already deep playing Martian Dreams) I got another answere from a guy who sold me a (legitimate this time) copy of the EA Creative CD Compilation… a Compilation which was sold with some Creative Sound Cards and included notably three Ultima games: Savage Empire, Ultima VII and Ultima Underworld. And it had the documenation as well: Yay !

So I got the chance the play both World of Ultima games at basically the same time which was a very neat experience at a time where I was still eagerly waiting for some game called Ultima IX…

I really enjoyed Savage Empire, altough I would admit not as much as Martian Dreams which I had played before – notably due to the fact that I liked the atmosphere of Martian Dreams more – but to this day I still feel this game to be a marvel of design, with very creative ideas in terme of quests and puzzles and an interactivity that still remains mindblowing to this day.

So I really look forward to sharing this playthrough with you all !

Ultima V Cover