Saturday 15 January 2011

Great Gaming Moments… Ultima V


Ok, since I have had this little laptop handy, I thought it would be a good idea to get Dosbox up on it, so I can play some classic games.  So here i thought I would start with the game that got me into RPGs.  The brilliant Ultima 5. 
My first experiences with Ultima 5 were not on the humble PCs of yore.  I had this on the 8bit monster machine that was the Commodore 64.  Actually, my Dad had this.  He bought it many moons ago as a game we could work on together and we slowly trudged through it, neither of us having much experience with RPGs in any form.

Pc on the left, C64 on the right. Both scenes are the opening view, where the Codex coin materialises above your bed to summon you to Britannia.

As a result, it was slow going,  We kind of worked on it for quite a bit, and were happy when we managed to get the character up to level 3 and had some of the better spells available, but it was not a very successful partnership if one was to judge success of the game as the ruler.  I was about 10 or 11 years old and so had little clue as to strategies.  I was however impressed with the accessories it came with. 

C64 box shots above.

The standard (and only) edition came with a cloth  map of Britannia ( the country where you did your adventuring) and a classy guidebook that was designed as if it was a book made for visitors to Britannia with rules of the land, a short bit on the history of Britannia (which was a quick overview of Ultimas 1-4) and it also came with a little aluminium coin, which was supposed to be the coin that was used in the game to summon you from Earth, through the Moongate to Britannia.  All this for the normal price of a higher-end C64 game. 

Map, 5 and a half(? can’t remember for sure) inch disks and the quick reference sheet, a short story of some travellers and the Book of Lore.  All included in normal box.  My Codex coin has gone AWOL somewhere though.  Darn.

The game came on about 6 floppy disks, making it a huge game in C64 means.  Most games might take up to both sides of one disk, maybe 2 whole disks if it had amazing graphics.  Ultima did not have amazing graphics.  It just had a large world, complex story and lots of questing to do.  After a bit of practise, I began to work out the ways of Ultima and finally began making some headway into the game.  By this time though, Dad was content to sit on the sidelines while I managed to bump the Avatar (for that was your character) up to level 5 or 6 and attempt the dungeons, which had to be gone through to finish.

Night time on top of Lord British’s castle.  night time reduced the amount of screen you could see.  I have a torch lit here, without a torch you could only see a small square around your character. C64 shot.

I really enjoyed the fact that there was a time situation within the game.  night would come, shops would close and the populace would go to bed.  Some would wake up and you could spend a day following a certain person around the town to see what they got up to.  You need to gather information from people and there was a good conversation option with most NPCs.  Also if you killed a townsperson, they stayed dead.  Usually the guards would come and get you, and once engaged in battle with guards, it was extremely tough to live though it.  The whole atmosphere was really well done.  I actually had a nerd-iphany once when I hadn’t played it for a while, I loaded the game and breathed a sigh of relief, “Welcome Home” it seemed to say to me.  That was a bit creepy actually, now that I look back on it…

Battle Screen. PC left, C64 right.

I must stress that  the reason I am playing Ultima 5 again, is not due to some nostalgic need for the past (well, perhaps a little), but more because I never finished it.  You see, the size of the game was immense (for the time, it doesn’t appear so big now) and the c64 was known to be a tad slow in the loading department with certain games.  Although most of Ultima 5 was pretty quick when swapping disks form the world to the towne, keep, etc., when in the dungeons, it was fine until you hit a room…
3-D dungeon roaming. That’s a gremlin.  Good booty and easy to kill, but it will steal your food when close. Pc screen.

You see the dungeons were 3-d affairs, which was a nice change, although when attacked it went into the combat overhead view.  Unfortunately for those on the c64, the switch from nice 3-d effect to entering a room (overhead battle mode) came with a MASSIVE long load time.  I was never exactly sure why to be honest, but it got to the point where I would duck off, make a cup of tea and come back and still have to wait a bit,  you would then zip through the room and get out the other side and progress on unless you accidentally pressed the back button and you would have to wait the 5 odd minutes for the room to load again.

That is what really put me off finishing Ultima 5, The load times would be that bad when travelling from room to room as well, it was most off-putting.  So Ultima V faded away and many years later I got into emulators and found Ultima V again.  Luckily the emulators could speed the load time up greatly.  then one day I thought of playing Ultima V with the best graphics possible.  As far as I was aware, that would probably be the PC version, so off I jogged to find it and discovered the problems of DOS.  Dosbox saved the day, followed by Dosshell and now I have Ultima V on PC.  No disk swapping, super quick load times.  It is fantastic.  The graphics have more colour to them, but suffer a bit of pixilation, however, emulators usually have a smoothing option which I had turned on, but even without, I think the C64 version looks a little more easy on the eyes.  The C64 definitely has better music (what little there is).

In town and just spent a night in the inn (Left, PC).   On my magic carpet and avoiding a Shadowlord, the nastiest of nasties in Britain (Right, C64).

So the reason that this whole game is a Great Gaming Moment for me is because it is sooo huge, it made me aware of how awesome stories could be and it introduced me to the Eight Virtues of the Avatar, which make more sense than most  religions when compared on a spiritual level (Incidentally, Richard Garriott who made the Ultima games received lots of angry letters from various religious groups who attacked Ultima due to the Virtues).  The virtues also had a striking effect upon me and my way of thinking as well, and there was a short time where I decided to follow them as a code of conduct of sorts.  I believe it worked fairly well too.  The final reason for this being a great gaming moment would have to be, Value for money.  That’s after buying it twice, as the first lot of disks ended up corrupted somewhere along the lines.    The trademark in the back of the ‘Book of Lore’ is marked 1988, assuming that Dad bought it around then which I am fairly certain he had, I have been playing this game fairly regularly for almost 23 years.  And I STILL haven’t finished it yet…  That’s devotion to a game, and value for money!  I don’t think any other game has captured me like that before!

The magic of Ultima V (and the rest of the series) can be seen by peoples devotion to it.  Not so long ago, I discovered a version called Ultima V Lazarus (hereby referred to as Lazarus).  Lazarus is a from the ground up remake of Ultima V, using the game Dungeon Siege as the game engine.  they have recreated Britannia, all the towns and most bits and pieces and made it so very sexy.  Even to the point of adding in a few extra quests and characters.  Cove now has quite a bit more to it than the twins and a healer and apothecary in it.  even though Ultima is a quest based on morals, the choices that you faced in the original were all aimed at only one way to finish. Lazarus has made it possible to change the final outcome depending on your game choices.  there are 3 main ones now as opposed to just one.  It is most intriguing and a well made game.  It even has a full orchestral soundtrack which was quite a surprise.  But that is for another post.
Later on, I bought Ultima VI, which adds so much more to the mix, but that will also have to be another post I believe.

Inside the Book of Lore

More screen shots.
Camping C64 style.                                                         Exploring near Cove, PC style.
Waiting for a Moongate near Lord British’s           Fighting some trolls on a bridge because I
castle PC style.                                                         wouldn’t pay their toll. PC.

Outside Lord British’s castle. To the left, Britain, the right, the Brittany villages and LB’s Castle underneath.  In later games they all became one big city. PC left, C64 Right.

Just Found out that youtube can decopher the codec for dosbox. Videos AHOY!

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