The Slasher of the Veils has been banished!

Ans thus, after a mere 12 days into the Abyss, have I banished the Evil Slasher of the Veils from out plane.

What can I say? Heroes waste no time!

I was already pretty close to the end yesterday, so as I suspected it didn’t took that long to finish the game. Level 7 was fairly long to to beat though with lots of twists and turns and some coming up and down necessary to Level 8.

But in the end, I prevailed and beat the evil Wizard Tyball (what sort of a name if Tyball anyway?)

But as it turned out he really was trying to save Britannia in his own self serving ways. So whoops I guess.

Of course I did manage to save the Princess!

But then she left with not even a goodbye kiss! Meh! 😦

Now at that was left to me, it banishing the Slasher of the Veils. But for that I needed to get access to the chamber of the Codex and destroy the artefacts of Cabirus in the heart of the volcano.

But first I needed to get the three part key (which involved a lot of going back and forth) and to bury the bones of Garamon (which involved… a lot of that too).

But I did it, and I prevailed. The Slasher of the Veils (which looks suspisiously like the Arcadion portrait in Serpent Isle actually) was banished in the Ethereal Void… with me.

Now that was a freaky place, but again… We’ll talk about it more in Underworld II. So I ran for my life, and exited through this green moongate to Britannia.

How come nobody complains about the odd colored Moongates in Underworld by the way? 😛

But thus here I was… having saved the world once again and I got back home. Did Lord British even HEARD of that quest really?

Side note to Garamon: was moving the settlers of the Abyss to Destard such a good idea? I mean you should know this IS a Dragon’s Lair…

I figure they ended up all being eaten by the time of Ultima VII. Oh well.

So this is it for Underworld. This was a nice romp, and I really look forward to get to Underworld II… but of course I need first to face the Guardian the first time in Ultima VII: The Black Gate!

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OMG! Pac Man!

Or the first sign that… you know, there is something wrong with the guys at Looking Glass.

But we should expand more upon that when reaching Ultima Underworld II.

But yes: Pac Man! You see there a part on Level 5 of The Abyss… which is called a mine is reachable by a teleporter… and basically you need to get blue nuggets while walking over them, and being chased with ghost.

I mean seriously ? 😛

But in any case – things have been going well. As I am now almost finished with Level 6 of the Abyss and have found the eight talisman of Sir Cabirus. Which also means I have the best sword and Shield and the game (in addition to a full plate armor I got from the Knights of Crux Ansata after joining them) and infinite light. Yay!

It’s still great fun, but the downside is that I’m not getting near the end of the civilized areas, since from what I remember the later levels offers little in terme of NPCs.

I am on the whole not too far from the end of the game. Still a few hours (and a tiny bit of backtracking), but most of it is behind it.

It’s a nice ride but I gotta to admit I am looking forward to finish it, because I am just very eager to get started with the Guardian Saga…

How come I’m whiping the floor with all these monsters?

I mean this is a legitimate question.

I remember the Underworlds being these very hard game in term of combat, where monsters could basically come and kill you on the spot. And yet… I’m pretty much killing any creature in the game with no issue, from lowly rat to dangerous Gazers.

Talk about underwhelming.

Now granted I created a fighter with a focus on Swords and Attack, but that should be somewhat harder than that. Oh well.

Which reminds me I didn’t mention the character creation of the game, which actually comes as fairly basic. It offers the 8 traditionnal Ultima classes, but you only have to choose which one you want to use from a list. After that it defines you starting stats and skills depending on your class (with a random value set), and you can pick a couple of skills to enhance. Pretty conventionnal alas.

However the choice of the class is of no incidence to the game in itself since it is fully skill based – meaning you can train your warrior in magic to cast as good as any mage, or train your mage to become a powerful swordsman. The sky’s the limit!

This is a good system though (which is actually inspiring me for Return’s) as I feel an Ultima game should never limit the capabilities of a character. I’m less fond of the medidate at Shrines approach for training though, altough I guess it IS Ultima-ish.

In any case my quest is progressing well. I’m on a level 4 of the Abyss (so not quite half way through the game), I’m starting to get a few of Cabirus’ artifact, and I’m still looking for the damsel in distress. I have to say that unlike Ultima Underworld II my memory of the game is not that clear though, which means it’s not such as easy ride as it could be. But I never replayed the game that much anyway, which might explains it.

One thing this playthrough make me realise though, and especially after having played 8 other Ultima games before, is that no matter how great Ultima Underworld is. The truth of the matter is that it just doesn’t feel very Ultima-ish. It does feel more like a world of its own rather than being a part of Britannia – and really the references you can find throughout the game tend to feel tacked-on (probably because they actually are!).

Another aspect that I’ve never really thought about before – is how it’s basically never referenced once during the game or its dialogue that you are the Avatar. Yet there are many occasion when you feel you err… might be able to point this out, especially in a colony supposedly dedicated to upholding the 8 Virtues… but nope. Which kind of make me think that the whole Avatar mention in the introdution was implemented at the last minute and that you were originally meant to play some random Britannian and not the Avatar.

Nevermind the fact that the way you do endup on Britannia feels incredibly far-fetched as well.

Oh well.

I don’t mean this as a way to diss the game of course, it doesn’t change anything from its qualities. But it’s also why Underworld II is so much more enjoyable to me, because it feels through and through like an Ultima game.

One down, seven to go…

And thus, I have begun my exploration of the Stygian Abyss. Which to say the least… has changed quite a lot since Ultima IV.

But then it was supposed to be destroyed, so I figure building a city inside a dungeon that doesn’t exist anymore is quite a feat, heh?

But before dwelving further I should perhaps mention first the manual of the game – Memories of Sir Cabirus. It is a very good manual as usual, altough Cabrirus tends to get a bit preachy and shows an anti-Gargoyle bias which is kind of funny.

It also feels short compared to the core Ultima manuals, but since I feel they sometime get a bit on the long way, it’s alright.

The interesting aspect about this manual is how it tries to work Underworld into canon. As I mentioned in my presentation of the game, Underworld has a lot of inconsistent aspect with the Ultima lore due to its late addition as an Ultima game but at least the manual does try to make it fit (with more or less success) in the Ultima lore, which is to be commended.

But now how I can talk of the game without mentioning the wonderful introduction? Well it is wonderful… bu 1992’s standard though, which means it has awefully corny voice acting.

And it also stands as proof that Britannian English should not ever be used for voice acting.

As for the game itself well… it really feels like a breath of fresh after doing all the traditionnal Ultima games and spin off. Having an actually 3D world to move in and explore is just great fun, and so it having dialogues that don’t consist of using stupid keywords. In essence, it gives the game a sense of modernity that still works 18 years after the fact (and indeed Arx Fatalis a few years back really proved that the concept of Ultima Underworld and its core philosophy is still as great now as it was then).

The level design remains wonderful – even if it admitedly tends to feel smaller that one might remember, combat works well, so does magic. So what is there to complain about?

Oh yeah. The UI.

Because this is really the aspect that did NOT age well. While I sitll find it serviceable, in the modern age of mouselook, Underworld’d interface feels archaic at best.

Indeed this almost make me want to do an appeal to the community. DOSBox is both a blessing and a curse, because it has lead to the death of many engine recreation such as Underworld Adventures.

But i’ll say it.

Ultima Underworld needs and engine recreation of the likes Underworld Adventures and Labyrinth of Worlds were doing. These are both wonderful games which are actually not to bad by today’s standard – a simple 3D accelaration would means much more beautiful graphics with filtered textures instead of pixel, monsters models could be replaced, the game could be made to run in full screend with a mouse UI. This would be a dream for many fans I think. Which is why I beg anyone with incling to work on such an engine (or who is already working on one), to do so. This would be an awesome way to celebrate these games!

But I digress.

So as I was about so say, I have finished the first level of the Abyss… this one is pretty straighforward but it’s fun to explore. I do have one rethorical question to ask though:

How come people whines constanstly about the jumping puzzles of Ultima VIII (with good reason if you take the original version account) and Ultima IX (with sheer hypocrisy considering the game has ONE jumping puzzle) and don’t say anything about Ultima Underworld?

First level, and it already has a lot of Jumping, and a real Jumping puzzles, and things are not going to get better, and even more so in Underworld II. And yet they’re still “classics” !

Of coufse this is not a complain on my part – I actually love being able to jump and i feel it’s a necessity in a 3D engine really (note to Bioware: please put Jumping in Mass Effect 3!)… but this has always striked me a odd.

In any case I am no on Level 2, having just talked with some friendly dwarves (*sigh*) and ready to continue my adventure…

Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss

Released in 1992, roughly at the same time as Ultima VII, Ultima Underworld is the first intalment of yet another Ultima spin-off series, but this time quite different from the Worlds of Ultima games.

Oh and it’s one of the most groundbreaking and revolutionnary CRPGs of its time basically.

But let’s start with the beginning. In 1990, newly formed company Blue Sky Productions (which would later be renamed as Looking Glass Studios) under the lead of former Origin employee (and Space Roguer designer) Paul Neurath began working on a new type of dungeon crawler game called “Underworld”. The concept was to basically push forward the Dungeon type of RPG game (of which games like Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder are some of the most renowned examples) with a new kind of 3D engine.

In mid-1990, Blue Sky proposed the project to Origin which immediately loved it, and lead Richard Garriott (which was still fond of the idea of 3D dungeons in spite of their removal in Ultima VI) to suggest reworking the game into the Utima universe – thus leading to its new title “Ultima Underworld”.

Due to its late implementation in the Ultima series, this lead the game to some rather unusual races in the game (such as dwarves!) and a questionable continuity with the main series that did not sit well with some Ultima fans. But the end result is a game that remains one of the most revolutionnary and beloved RPG of all time.

In essence Ultima Underworld is not radically different from game like dungeon master – you basically need to get through the 8 levels of the dungeons until you find a way to destroy the big bad guy. But Ultima Underworld is revolutionnary by the ways it handle this.

For starters: its engine was unlike anything ever seen before. While many people tend to give ID Software and Wolfenstein 3D the credit for “inventing” the 3D FPS kind of engine… this is actually not true, especially taking into account that Wolfenstein 3D (and even Doom) were basically 2,5D engine creating the illusion of 3D. Ultima Underworld however over a TRUE 3D engine: which first means you could look anywhere in 360°, swim and jump, but most importantly it meant a true 3D world with slopes of all kinds, bridges and walls that could go in any direction and not just 90°.

Now there had been actual 3D engines before – notably the Freescape engine used in some 16 Bits games (and the 3D Contrustion Kit game creation tool) which actually allowed the same kind of movement as Ultima Underworld and actual 3D worlds. But these engines were usally stuck to rather simple geometric shapes and also offered no texture whatsoever.

So Ultima Underworld basically pushed new ground in a way that had never been seen before in video game, with a fully 3D world, and fully textured game. In the end, only the creatures and items remained as 2D sprites in the world.

But Ultima Underworld was also revolutionnary in its approach of gameplay: unlike one might think the game is not linear as it looks with a lot of coming and going around between levels. But most importantly it was amongst the first RPG to bring adventure-like dialogues with full sentences and choices. Which lead to a lot of freedom in what to do in the game, and solve certains quests and events.

While the game was not perfect (the graphics were admitedly very pixelated even for its time, the view was very small and the UI has aged a whole lot), it really was and still is an awesome creation in every aspects.

Personally I came to Underworld rather late. Like Ultima VI and VII, it was one of those game that made me fantasize back when I was stuck on the Atari ST, and I couldn’t quite grasp the concept behind it either notably the way the character moved around (altough in retrospect I actually had played with those Freescape game so I should have figured it out).

By the time we finally got a PC however, Ultima Underworld II was out, so I basically went and played that one instead and was rather blown away. I would have to wait a few years to finally play Ultima Underworld (it was in fact, after Ultima VIII!), and while I couldn’t have the same novelty effect to me since I played Underworld II before I loved it as well, notably due the wonderful atmosphere it had.

I also haven’t played it in many years, so I’m really looking forward to revisiting this good ol’ Abyss. Not to mention this will make a welcome change after 3 games with the U6 engine!

Ultima V Cover