The Codex is back in the Ethereal Void…

After one month in ten days, did I complete Ultima VI: The False Prophet and sent the Codex back into the void. Well that was quicker than Ultima V now, was it?

Now doing the three catacombs actually went really quick – it basically took less than a hour to do, and I’m pretty sure it took me longer to write my blogpost yesterday!

So first went to the Shrine of Control. The Shrine of Control is basically focused on puzzle involving levers in order to open various grates… I know this is not a view share by everyone, but I actually enjoy these kind of puzzles personnally and much prefer this to having non-stop hack’n slashing like most RPGs do.

And so here I came in front of the statue of Mondain:

Now I gotta say the idea to bring back the Triad of Evil as guardians of the Gargoyle’s Virtue is actually just brillant and helps to bring stronger ties to Age of Darkness trilogy. Even though I wasn’t fond of the Avatar retcon at the time, it still felt interesting even then and the developpers really throught well about how to integrate the personalities of the bad guys with the Gargoyle’s philsophies.

After learning the Mantra of Control, I then got to the Shrine of Passion (just for information: I actually walked there!). This one was easier because it has no puzzles of any kind – so it basically consisted of going to Minax’s statue and talk to her then get back.

Now of course there wa the issue of the many deamons there, but I just went quick and avoided them. Two mantras done, one to go!

The last one was of course the Shrine of Diligence. The Shrine of my nightmare… the Shrine that got me stuck for years on the Atari ST. Diligence is basically a bit maze of room looking all the same with doors on each sides. The whole thing is actually kind of a trap because it tends to get you to go and open each door and look into each room, while in fact you need to find a secret passage in one of the corridors which lead you to the second level upward where Exodus is.

As you can see, yes I was invisible because the area was ROMAING with Deamons – so I basically got myself invisible and solo’ed to Exodus to avoid the beasties.

Now I was time to get back to the Shrine of Singularity (with more ballooning of course…) where my quest was sacralized.

Which allowed me to pass the Gigantic Guardiands guarding the Codex.

And so here I was in front of the Codex ready to send it back to the Ethereal Void, after having put up all the nessarry items (Lenses and Vortex Cube).

This was the end.

And Lord British was pissed, but then he doesn’t really got a clue, does he? You know I actually kind of wonder what was the message the Codex had written upon it… they could have let us see it!

Now of course, taking into account that the Gargoyles will be moving to Britannia, which means the Shrine of the Codex would have been accessible to them… what really was the point of sending it back to the Void, hmmm?

But in any case this is it for Ultima VI! That really was thrill and an awesome game – and I have to admit that as great as U6P it doesn’t have the same magic the original has for me.

I hoped you enjoyed these journey to Britannia, because we are now gonna back a small disgression by heading to the Avatar’s next adventure in the Valley of Eodon.

So next step: The Savage Empire!

Some thoughts on the Gargoyle Culture…

This was originally a part of my previous post… but it already got so long that I thought it deserved a post on his own.

One of the most interesting aspect of Ultima VI, is about exploring the Gargoyle’s Culture. This comes through their Virtues (and the many similarities they have with the Britannian philosophies), but perhaps most importantly through their way of life.

I feel the way it is presented in Ultima VI is really interesting because of how… alien it is. We’re talking about a culture of creatures, all hatching from the same family of eggs (altough we don’t yet know where those come from) and from which any Gargoyle can be either winged or wingless. Winged are intelligent and can fly, while wingless are strong but are basically uncapable of cognitive thought and more like small children that need to be guided their whole life, but which are loved and protected by their Winged brothers. So this is basically a culture which is very different from our human point of view, simply because this is a specifice that is totally unlike us.

Taken into the context of the series this is also very interesting when look how it evolved because in a sense, Ultima VII really diminished the point of the original gargoyle culture. By making Winged and Wingless gargoyles basically identical (except for the obvious lack of wings for the wingless ones), it kind of remove the whole point of the Gargoyle culture to begin with, because it just renders them too human. Now the point of this is that it lead to some numerous messages and discussion about racisme and tolerance (altough IMO a tad too heavy-handed), but it feels like it kind of missed the original point.

Interestingly the the oft maligned Ultima IX actually takes an approach that does go back to the roots of the Gargoyles Culture, with an obvious intellectual difference between Winged and Wingless ones. However it also brings back the Winged/Wingless conflict aspect of Ultima VII – thus basically joining these two different approach into one. And this is one of the very interesting thing about Ultima IX (because oh indeed, Ultima IX has plenty of interesting things), but I’ll get more into this once I get to actually playing Ascension…

The quest for Singularity…

Well… that was a busy day for Ultima VI!

Having now Eight of the Map Pieces, it was time to go back to Bucs’ Den and Homer in order to get his map piece.

But first I really wanted to have a boat. So I orbed to Jhelom and bought a Frigate for the sake of it. Now really it’s worth mentioning that there is no point of buying a frigate in Ultima VI, since unlike Ultima V – the skiff can go anywhere on the seas and you can also carry it in your inventory, which make the Frigate rather mooth. Now the frigate DOES offer the ability to attack with its canon, but Ultima VI has so little in terme of sea monsters that it’s not really worth the risk.

But I really wanted a frigate for the sake of it, so I got one. And I chose Jhelom because Frigates are really cheap there. So after that it was time to go back to Bucs Den and I decided to head westward… but I kind of forgot a tiny thing.

Holy flat world Batman!

Indeed the world it flat, so you can’t sail around as you usually did. So I kind of had to get all the way back around Serpent’s Hold, and also kind of got lost in the process. In other words: it tooks me aeons to finally get back to Buccaner’s Den. But I eventually did, and got the last map from Homer in exchange of the promise to get him a Storm Cloak (which reminds me: I probably should get back to him to give him his gift now!)

I then returned to Castle Britannia where I decide to put down and analyse the map in order to find out where the pirate cave could possibly be.

And so here I went! I had left my Frigate at New Magincia, and such decided to sail with my skiff to the former isle of Sutek. I thought a nasty big Hydra there and dug an entrance to the gave. And here I was: pirate cave!

Now this cave really is a maze and it took some time and one death to finally get through it. But I found the treasure, the tablet… and before the night was done I had Orbed to Moonglown and walke to the Lycaeum to bring the two tablets parts to Mariah.

So I learned I am the False Prophet and that I am destined to destroy all the Gargoyle race! Which is good right? I mean it IS what I have been doing the whole time right? But following Mariah’s advice I went to talk to Sin’Vraal which told me I could get to the remnants of the Gargoyle Lands (or the Underworld depending on what you choose to believe :P) through Hythloth.

I expected Hythloth to be kind of a pain in the ass, but actually… not so much in spite of the deamon, so I found out my friend Captain John (which had for some reason lost an “e” between games) who told me that the Gargoyles… really are not evil and are just defending themselves and that I need to help them by learning their langage and joining with Beh-Lem.

I gotta to say that is probably gotta to be one of the most awesome twist in gaming history. The evil daemons you’ve been killing all along are actually good guys, and you’ve been destroying the little left of there culture after you had already and unwittingly begun the destruction of it by stealing the Codex. I don’t think anyone could have seen this coming at the time (unfortunately… I was spoiled way too much already the first time I played U6), and I wish I could have seen the face of some fans upon this discovery. Now this is a pretty big retcon of the end of Ultima IV, but while there is a part of me who’s never liked this, I must also say how important it feels when you take the series as a whole. Also I feel this is important for the events that follows: when you mention the word “Sacrifice”, I’m sure that for many people this is just any other keyword to say to keep on the game – but it has a strong resconance if you take an in-character perspective, because there is no doubt that the Avatar would be willing to actually sacrifice his life to save the Gargoyle culture if that were the only way.

And that is pretty much awesome.

Now of course I quickly learned that there was an other way, which is to send the Codex back into the void with two lenses and the Vortex Cube. So I got the Gargoyle Lens repaired and prepared to head back to the surface, since well… I discovered that I needed that Balloon I heard about in Minoc and whose creator was last heard going at Sutek’s Castle.

But first, I figured I might as well finish getting all I need for the Codex, so I went to Ephemeries at the Lycaeum’s observatory who crafted me the Blue Lens, and then headed to the Stonegate where I could get the Vortex Cube with the help of two helpful cyclops (note: I love it whenever Ultima comes and present “monsters” as something more that just XP fodder).

Afterward I sailed to Sutek’s palace. Well I gotta say I’ve always wondered how the eck he became so nuts, because he seemed like a perfectly reasonable man in Ultima V. But in any case I went inside the catacombs looking for the architect’s body… but that was… painful to say the least. First I took a wrong turn, which lead to plenty of death, whith lead to me having to reload (yes I know!). This time I found the wrong way, but Beh-Lem had a nasty and deadly encounter with a Silver Serpent… but thankfully my buddy Gorn was there! So I recruited him to carry the body. The architect and his plans were right next to him, so after getting the plans, and I moved back up and sailed back to the mainland (since… yes I had come with my Frigate, altough this would be the last time I used it…)

So I now went to Minoc to get my basket done for my Balloon…. but then I realized that I didn’t had enough money anymore because ressurection Beh-Lem cost me a leg. I have to admit of having fallen to the dark side this time… since I basicaly caved in and went and pillaged the Britain treasury. Come on: it IS for the good cause!

So in the end I went and bought all the necessary items for the Balloon and had it built. Yay! I did move a bit around Britannia with it: notably I went to see Nicodemus for the sake of it, and I also went to see the Wisps to get the Armageddon spell… but I can’t use it. Meh.

After that, I just used the Ord to get back to the Gargoyle Lands (no offence to Hythloth, but I’ve seen you enough for a lifetime), and I used the balloon to get over the mountains.

Now I’ve gotta say the way to use the balloon is really annoying even with the Magic Fan to change winds. I think this is the time to mention one cool thing the SNES version of Ultima VI had: free control of the Balloon, which basically made it the equivalent of Ultima VII’s Magic Carpent – and I had a whole lot of fun going around the world in it. But alas, the PC version make this rather painful….

So as soon as I could, I landed and got into the Temple of Singularity which make me wonder: how did I miss the other books back in Ultima IV? 😛

I did talked to the Altar which has now sent pme to learn of the Gargoyle Principles of Control, Passion and Diligence in their respective catacombs. And this is where I stand now… I suspect I should have finish the game by tomorrow night, but the last few hours should be interesting to say the least!

On the the Pirate Cave…

It took a while, but I now finally have the 8 map pieces.

So I basically started with Destard. The dragons were dangerous, but by being careful I managed to go through it with not much hassle. Once in the final level however, I decided to play it safe and thus use an invisibility ring to get my characters solo-ing in the level in order to get all the loot and the eggs.

Afterward I got back to Trinsic with the Orb and gave the egg for Sandy in exchange for good information about the pirates and their map pieces.

So I basically started with the easy one: I got the piece from Lord Whitsaber, the one stolen from the Gypsies north of Trinsic since I had already got information from Mrs Moorehead (trivia bit: the first time I played Ultima VI I didn’t know there were Gypsies there and thought I had to get that at Zoltan’s), the one from Morchella in Serpent’s Hold (thankfully I already had a magic shield), the one from the shipwreck south-east of Trinsic and the one from the crazy Hermit on Dagger Isle.

One thing I’ve found funny about this, is how many of these map pieces are found in the Trinsic/Serpent’s Hold area. I guess there are many pirates in those parts.

So in any case, that now left me with the three most annoying ones: those inside actual Dungeons – the one in the Ant Mount, the one in Wrong and the one in the Shame.

I first went to the ant mount, kinda worried as I got to admit I have bad memories of the ant mount in U6P, but that went fairly easy and I got of lot of XPs for killing the ants. I found the body of the pirate, and here was the map!

Next came Wrong – or rather Covetous since I went through this entrance (not that it matters, since they are the same dungeon in Ultima VI). It went fairly quick as well: as few unlock magic, a bit of telekinesis, and here I was on the final level and found the map piece.

Finally: Shame. This one was harder since the first time I went through it… I got lost which lead me to exit to dungeon and start over. I finally did found Old Ybarra and traded food for his map, and then got back to Lord British’s castle with the Orb.

So here I am basically: all that’s left for me now is to get back to Buccaner’s Den to get the latest map piece from Omer. Then it’s down to the Pirate cave!

Eight Little Map Pieces…

And the treasure is mine!

As you can guess things have progressed quite a lot since my last blogpost, but I was alas a tad too busy to blog earlier.

So the Eight Shrines of Britannia now stand free of the Gargoyle’s rules, and restored to Virtue – with the 8 Moonstones in my possession.

Well, free might be an exageration since for half of them I basically went in, removed the moonstones, and fled through the Orb of the Moon but… this is not my fault is some gargoyles seems impervious to attacks!

So here I was with 8 shrines restored and 8 moonstones in my inventory. And so I was basically putting all the Runes and Moonstones in a single bag… when I came to the realization: I only had seven of them! Which lead to some fear and panic and backtracking to all shrines, until I found my stone back at the Shrine of Humility.

Thank god this game doesn’t have a dissapearing item at Shrine bug like another one I can think of!

Now of course amidst this questing for Virtue, I also made my way to the Lycaeum where I talked to Mariah which did not recognize and acted like a total stranger (well… perhaps her insanity didn’t start with the Guardian’s generator…), but learned that I had to get another tablet from that Pirate named Hawkins. A small trip to Bucs Den made me learn as well that I needed to get a belt from Phoenix (who hid below the sewers of Britain) in order to get inside the Guild, and thus learn more information about the tablet.

So here I was, back at Castle Britannia and descending in the bowels of Britain. Exploring the sewers and finding Phoenix actually proven very easy and I stood ready to go and cast the Pickpocket spell to steal her belt from her. But then I realized…

OMG! I DID NOT HAVE THE PICKPOCKET SPELL !

You see, I actually went to see Rudyom to get it before, but I didn’t had enough gold, so I figured “Oh well I’ll go back later” but I completly forgot about this. So here I was, in the bottom of the sewers, with no Pickpocket and no luck. I could easily have slain Pheonix with a glass sword and got on with it, but that would have been… unethical really.

So rather thant going all the way back up… I used my usual Moongates super travel thing.

How so?

Well the concept is simple. Look

Basically: I bury 7 of the 8 Moonstones in the ground, keep one for me then use my Orb of the Moons to get back where I need to. I then bury the last remainsting Moonstone near an Obr teleportation point (in this case at the Shrine of Compassion so that I could get near cove), and basically just use this Moongate to get back to the area where I buried the seven other ones.

Smart use of moonstones ain’t it?

Now of course Murphy’s Law came by and when I tried to get back to the underground lair of Pheonix, I OF COURSE ended at the Shrine of Compassions because OBVIOUSLY, the Moon just so happen to be at the same phase as the only stone I didn’t planted underground. I mean what are the odds, heh?

But in any case I got back, used Pickpocket to get Pheonix’s Belt (and her magical helm, armor, shield and glass swords), and the preceeded to wait on the Moongates to vanish. You see the way it goes in Ultima VI in that unlike Ultima V where Moongates would vanish as soon as daylight came, they only vanish (and thus allows you to get back the moonstones) when there are no Moons in the sky. If there is a Moon in the sky, even if it is in broad daylight, a Moongate will appear. So you basically only have a small bracket of one hour near 6 PM to get your Moonstone back. Note that this is actually “important”, because I thought for a long time that Moonstone couldn’t be obtained back because of this… which lead to restart the whole game once at my first playthrough on the Atari ST as I had buried the 8 Moonstones where they belonged and thought there were gone for Good, thus preventing me to complete the game.

So any way after getting my Moonstones back I went back to the Shrine of Compassion with my Orb… and waited for my last Moonstone. I then sailed back to Buccaner’s Den and Budo welcomed me into the Guild while Omer gave me good information about the Map Pieces I will need to find Hawkins’ treasure.

So I am now in Trinsic trying to pry out information from Sandy. Which means I now need to head to Destard and find some Dragon Eggs…

On a closing note I’ll just do a little rant about a monsters I encountered in the sewers:

I don’t know if this had somehow gotten blocked from my memory but. This… THIS is supposed to be a GAZER? This HUGE ball with basically rotating blinking like? Is this a joke? And there are who complain about the Gazer of Ultima IX and let this pass?

This is even worst that the green spidery approach the Gazer took on in Ultima VII.

Geez.

The quest for Good and Virtue…

…has started! Let us go out and wipe those nasty evil gargoyles who threatens our fair Britannia!

What?

Did I say something wrong?

I mean Lord British really insisted about how dangerous how evil they are, so they must be… right?

Erm… in any case here I am, having now started my quest in Ultima VI.

But of course some openiong words about the “Compendium” – Ultima VI’s manual. It is of course written in the same style as the previouses manuals, except it is written this time as a book that Lord British himself would have written directly for the Avatar. Which means it really has this self-rightous feel throuhought and there is something somewhat amusing as Lord British repeating multiple times how fair and just his rule is.

This manual also show the first example of the many retcons Ultima VI offers, starting with of course making the Avatar the one who killed the Triad of Evil. There are also some obious decreprencies, such as Lord British mentionning how the Isle of the Avatar rose from the depth of the ocean when the Codex was arisen from the depth (huh?) and some obvious contradiction between the manual and the game. Not that it’s a big a deal, but worth pointing out.

So in any case I basically set up for my quest, starting by transfering my Ultima V character. Considering how relatively week he was there wasn’t much point realy as I’m basically starting with a Level 3 Avatar wth slighty over 200 XP, lower that what I would have had with a brand new Avatar. I could have used my Ultima IV save to have an overly powerfun one, but I felt it would be kind of cheating so I decided to simply play it fair.

I must say my quest is doing well. I am trying NOT to use the Ord of the Moons until I’ve been to an area first, but in retrospect Ultima VI is really not that big (which makes one wonder… how did I get lost so easily 20 years ago?). So at that point I have already liberated three Shrines: Compassion, Honor and Spirituality – which seems a lot considered I haven’t played that much of the game really.

I also just bought a skiff in order to navigate – since I didn’t have enough money to buy a Frigate and in all fairness, skiffs have little downside contrady to Ultima V, since they can travel everywhere and you can also carry them on your back (which can come in handy in some dungeons actually).

Other that than the game is very enjoyable, altough I’d say the lack of location-based music in Britannia would be my biggest complains. I think the inferface if fine too even if it’s recommanded NOT to use the mouse.

And I still like moving stuff around!

In any case I’ll be back later… I still have many Shrines to free…

Ultima VI: The False Prophet

Released in 1990, Ultima VI marks the final chapter of the “Age of Enlightenment” trilogy.

Do I dare say Ultima VI was once again a revolution? In many ways it was really. Being the first episode developped for the PC, it offered a brand new kind of engine with 256 VGA colors that blew away any RPG ever seen before. It had an even improved interactivity over Ultima V, while still keeping most of its enhancement (like the Night/Day cycle, combat and character schedule), but also a streamlined interface with all action being set to a smaller number of commands.

Oustide of some comesetic additions (such as character portraits, or useable keyword appearing a different color during dialogue), this game’s main addition however was the the appearce of a fully seamless world, with the entire world of Britannia on a single map, towns and wilderness alike. This change also extended to the dungeons which dropped the first person 3D view aspect, and kept the same view and gameplay as the rest of the game.

While I wouldn’t say Ultima VI has the same special place in my heart an Ultima IV, it was probably my most awaited game at this time. Indeed I don’t there were any other game back then that I awaited as much as Ultima VI, even though I was only 10 years old.

I was basically drooling at Ultima VI screens and reviews in magazines back then… because at this time the idea of having a PC just seemed like a crazy wild dream and I was eagerly awaiting for the Atari ST release of the game, unaware really that the Atari 16 Bit computer was living its final days.

My brother had a chance to play Ultima VI while he was at the army and even brought back a copy to try to run it under a CGA PC Emulator… but it didn’t work. He tried to tell me that even had it worked, it would have been awfully slow, but I stood and said that it wouldn’t have matered to me as long as I could play it. I als remember him trying to explain it the concept of the game having a seamless world as opposed to the dual maps of earlier game and didn’t quite understood it at the time.

The came really late for the Atari ST really – probably late 91 because I know at the time both Savage Empire and Martian Dreams had already been reviewed and there had already been pictures of Ultima VII and Ultima Underworld (which I was, naive as I was back then, hoping to see ported to the Atari as well).

The Atari ST version was awful really. The 16 colors graphics were really ugly but the main issue is that the Atari ST really wasn’t meant to handle such an engine so it was very slow (it was not quite as bad as the NES Version of Ultima V, but if you tried that one you get the idea). Also the game had to be installed (!) on four floppy disks and required to insert the “Populace” disk whenever initiating a dialogue. And since the game was buggy, using and external floppy drive to use two floppy at once caused the infamous bomb crashes, which means it was a pain to play.

Being the crazy fan that I already was, me and my brother actually devised a way around it : you see we had an Atari STE with 4 Megs of Ram, which was quite unusual… so we basically created a Ram Drive with the extra memory each time and copied the whole game on it as if it were a HDD to play it with no issues. Of course it also meant one should not forget to copy the saves back to the floppy disk before turning the computer on, and that any crash of the computer would make you lose your progress. But it worked.

I really enjoyed Ultima VI in spite of this though, although the glarant continuity issues really bugged me at the time (which should probably come as a shock by anyone who know how much I enjoyed Ultima IX… but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but taken into proper context Ultima VI really was just as bad as Ultima IX in that regard). The game wasn’t so hard to me because I almost knew the walkthrough by heart (you see since at times it felt like I could never get the chance to play it, I actually read it many times), though in retrospect I do feel the Orb of the Moon spoiled things a bit since I spent almost all the game travelling with it. Unfortunately I never managed to finish it : I got stuck in the Shrine of Diligence, incapable of finding the secret doors leading to Exodus.

It took a couple more years before I actually got to finish Ultima VI, and that came in the guise of the Super NES version. You see I saw on a shopping listing in a magazine (from a shop that was doing a lot of import), names for Ultima VI and Runes of Virtue II which of course were never released in France (and hell I barely new anything about RoV II at the time, so can you imagine the indea of a new Ultima ?). I first bought Rune of Virtue II, and then Ultima VI a few month later.

I know this ports tends to get bashed by some fans due to its censorship and reduced interactivity, but it felt like a revelation to me – the minute I plugged the cartridge into the console I was awed by the music and utterly baffled upon hearing the Ultima V main theme (because you see the Atari ST version of Ultima VI was lacking many music and had a terrible rendition of Stones). The game also looked gorgeous (in restrospect even better than the PC version I would argue), and was fast. Sure it has its shortcoming but it was bliss after playing the Atari ST version for so long. And this time I finished it and loved every second of it (because the secret door were rendered far more visible in the SNES version). After that I even went back on the Atari ST and figured where were those damned secret doors!

So while Ultima VI does have that special place in my heart Ultima V has – looking back I think it was really the first game I anticipated this much. And in truth it was also a great game indeed which brought a lot of novelty to the Ultima series.

So this playthrough is gonna be interesting, especially after having played through most of U6P.

Ultima V Cover