Ultima 2 Gamebook

Today is the 30th anniversary of Ultima 2. It’s a game that tends to be regarded as the worst in the series but it gets a hard time if you ask me and needs to be seen within the context of what else was available in 1982. Ultima 2 was where Garriott first learned to program in assembly and gaining the skills needed at the same time as making the game was never going to be ideal. There were impovements over Ultima 1 with better dungeon graphics, characters you could talk to (albeit briefly), scrolling town maps and many different time zones and planets to explore. It did veer away from what is considered canon these days with the Earth/time travel elements but Ultima 2 introduced cloth maps, boxed Ultima games & moongates which were all staples from here on out.

If nothing else, the speed improvement from being in assembly was significant and if everyone had to play the original BASIC Apple II Ultima at the speed it ran on that system, I expect it would be Ultima I that dropped to the bottom of the favourite Ultimas list. I doubt I could ever have made it through that particular game without speeding up the emulator.

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In honour of the anniversary, here is a scan of the Japanese Ultima 2 gamebook. This was published on November 1 1986 by JICC and conveniently has a passage in English on the back cover so to quote:-

These days, this world goes mad! I was in New York city, or at least I believed so. Now I’m in a strange land trapped within time. And many weird things and monsters attack me!

Realizing Minucks, apprentice of Evil Lord Mondine, devised these things, I set forth to destroy Minucks, through the time and the space. But, what a terrible end! How could I imagine it, and Minucks is mad with joy!

Spelling differences aside, that sounds roughly like Ultima 2 to me but as ever I haven’t got the Japanese skills to say much more. A scan is in the downloads for people who have.

For the rest of us, there is loads of artwork scattered throughout the book which I’ve put into a gallery below:-

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Ultima 2 Review – Computer Fun

I’ve just been glancing through a load of Electronic Fun magazines which was a short-lived gaming publication that started life in December 1982, to be renamed Computer Fun for the last issue or two before dying off in April 1984. There were plenty of interesting articles, with my highlight being an interview with Roberta Williams done shortly before Kings Quest came out. I almost entirely failed to find anything relevant to the blog though but the very last issue did have this short review of Ultima 2 on the PC:-

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Ultima 2 FM Towns – Part 2

I decided to have a concerted effort to finish off Ultima 2 last night. The first thing I discovered was that my save game wasn’t quite up to date for some reason and I had to go back to raising money again before I could use the quicksword. After 20 minutes more of this, I was ready for the dungeons again. What I hadn’t considered was that since I’m playing a fighter, I’m not allowed to buy spells in this game. This meant that I was going to have to fight through all 16 levels and back again to get the tri-lithium.

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I tried one of the towers first. This had plenty of ladders going up several levels at a time which made rapid progress to the top possible but I was forced to go up and down again on some of the high levels. The monster respawn rate on these higher levels was insane to the point that I’m wondering if it was a bug with the emulator. They would literally be respawning so fast in front of me that I could hardly move around. If I had been trying this with a less powerful character, I’d have died in no time.

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As it was I just about made it to level 16 which was full of chests containing tri-lithium but gremlins had stolen all my food by this point and there was no way I could have made it back out. I tried this tower several times before giving in and going for one of the dungeons instead. This time I couldn’t skip any levels with no ladders bridging more than two floors. There did seem to be slightly fewer monsters though and I just made it back out again. I would definitely recommend having a character with some magical abilities if you ever play this game from my experiences here.

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The dungeons don’t quite play the same as Ultima 1. There are no force fields, no trap doors, I can’t search walls for doors and most significantly the monsters move around. I recognised the majority of the monsters but I’ve included screenshots of those I didn’t recall seeing last time around.

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I’m not short of cash after fighting through 100’s of monsters to get a few precious chunks of tri-lithium. I stock up my character again, steal a plane and head off to borrow a space shuttle from the future USSR.

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I quite fancied exploring the solar system but I was running out of time so I headed straight to planet X. It’s a pity with Ultima 2 that more wasn’t made of all the planets as it should have opened up the scale of the game rather than being an optional (and ultimately pointless) extra. At least when I get to Planet X, it does actually look quite different to Earth with a very blue tint.

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Once here, it’s straight to Father Antos who gives me his blessing.

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Then it’s back to Earth again, to pick up the ring from the old man under a tree.

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On a side note, while travelling around I discover a sign with an Easter egg of sorts as reading it gives some credits for this version of the game.

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I’d been completely ignoring the time of legends so far but I head there to clear out all the monsters before attempting the final assault. Rather than massing around the entrance with the timegates, they are instead congregating in the middle of the map around the castle. New monsters spawn in about as fast as I can kill these off but most of the new ones are far weaker and I whittle the numbers down eventually.

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After a march back to Britain, I pay LB enough times to get my HP up to 8000 and then head back for the final assault.

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The music in the castle doesn’t seem too appropriate as it’s the same jaunty town music I would have got in New San Antonio. It hardly creates the appropriate atmosphere of dread. The castle itself is just like in previous versions except without the unkillable monsters. The force fields look more like lava but the ring has the same effect of keeping me safe walking through them.

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Minax is in her usual hangout in the top right of the level. She takes exactly 100 points of health each move once I get within reach, and vanishes to the other corner of the map when I get a strike in.

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After clearing out the various monsters, this final battle becomes a formality as I walk back and forth across the map. Compared to the dungeons this place is a walk in the park and I really didn’t need all those HP’s. It’s quite an anticlimax really and was tougher on the PC.

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With Minax’s death, the CD music kicks in and I’m treated to a handful of static screens for the winning sequence. Unfortunately, the text reverts to Japanese so I couldn’t read a word of it.

This has certainly been a better looking version of U2 than I’m used to although the novelty has worn off with so many shared resources with Ultima 1. I don’t know if the better graphics are entirely a good thing as it does feel less epic when less is left to the imagination. The changes to the gameplay made it a more challenging game though and it’s good to see a purpose to the dungeons. My only real complaint is the monster respawn rate which was crazy throughout. If this is carried into Ultima 3, it could be nightmarishly difficult.

Despite its quirks this is still the best Ultima 2 I’ve played. If I was recommending a version to anyone who has never played any of the games, I’d point them at this. With Ultima 3, I’m not as convinced that there aren’t better options but I’ll give it a try in the near future. I’ve heard that it has the same music as the rest of the trilogy and I need some time off before I hear that overworld music again. It will be Wing Commander 3 on the Playstation next.

Ultima 2 FM Towns – Part 1

It’s been a strange sort of week where I’ve struggled to find any time to devote to the blog. Not the least of my problems has been that I was interviewing yesterday to hold onto my current job amid the current wave of redundancies where I work. I’ll find out next week whether I’m one of the ones leaving and if so would be out before the end of the month. I’m not so sure I wouldn’t be better off with a move in all honesty although this wouldn’t be the time I’d choose to be job hunting. I’ll deal with that if and when it happens anyway. If it goes quiet on here at the end of next week, you can safely assume that I’m devoting all my spare time to sorting out another job.

In better (and more on topic) news, my second parcel of Origin stuff is finally on its way over from Austin. This contains all the larger items that would have been way too expensive to send via conventional means. I should have been picking it up from the airport Saturday morning, but for some reason it didn’t get loaded on the connecting flight and is currently stuck in Atlanta. After what must be 5 months setting this up another couple of days is neither here nor there, although I may have to call in a favour since it’s going to be showing up when I’m working. Not having to go the airport did mean that I could get started on the FM Towns Ultima 2 at last.

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Like it’s predecessor, Ultima 2 has a new intro which is run as a separate executable on the CD. I can’t understand a word of it of course but it appears to show the Avatar being sent back through time to save Britannia via a conjured moongate. I’d be curious to know if there is some attempt here to explain it being set on Earth.

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Luckily the game itself is in English and I can understand what I’m doing. It’s got another nice new start screen but other than appearance this is very much Ultima 2 as I’ve played it before with identical character creation.

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It doesn’t take long to spot some differences on starting the game though. Getting going is seriously hard as the monsters in the world map spawn extremely quickly and there is no holding back with some of the toughest creatures being thrown at me. It took me 6 or 7 attempts to make it to the nearest town with so many monsters that I was actually boxed in by them on occasion and unable to move.

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The death screen was all too familiar during these early stages and unlike Ultima 1 there is no resurrection. The game merely loads from the last save automatically. The graphics on this screen are straight from Ultima 1 and this applies to a lot of the game. As feared, Ultima 2 does have the same overworld music as Ultima 1 and it wasn’t long before I was playing without sound.

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Once I’ve battled my way to a town, I find that the armour and weapons are much cheaper than expected and I can get my character quite well equipped. I can actually afford most of the best items immediately although my stats wouldn’t have let me use many of them. The towns are all close/exact recreations of the originals so I’ve no trouble finding my way around.

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That leaves me with the question of how to go about gathering money to raise my stats. In Ultima 2, the key was sailing round and round the time of legends in a boat shooting everything with a cannon. This means getting a blue tassel by killing enough thieves and waiting for a boat to turn up. Surprisingly, I get a boat really early on in the modern-day world, only to discover that killing things with my cannon doesn’t get me any gold or experience in this version.

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This calls for a change of plan and virtue goes down the drain at this point as I look for a way to grind myself wealthy. I discover that one of the oddities in this game is that the guards aren’t all that tough even to a starting character. This means that I can get a large amount of experience roaming around LB’s castle killing everything and everyone and I even get to raid his vault for some decent weapons and armour. Despite slaughtering the entire population of his castle, LB doesn’t hesitate to raise my hit points with my ill-gotten gold, just before I add him to the heap of bodies.

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Everyone springs back to life if I leave and return to the castle which would make continual slaughters a very safe way to raise money. Only the guards ever fight back with the rest of the population being free experience and gold. Before resorting to this, I decife to try a tower or dungeon and head for the nearest one I can find to have a quick look around. These turn out to be near enough identical to Ultima 1. I spot a couple of new critters among the more familiar “faces” but I don’t hang around for long as it’s outright dangerous in there to my undeveloped Avatar wannabee. My HP aren’t increased on leaving the dungeons either and they clearly aren’t somewhere I want to be at this stage.

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I return to my town raiding ways and after getting a good supply of HP and food continually raid New San Antonio clearing out the customs guards over and over. There are no invulnerable guards in this version and the fight is so easy I can often come out of it with more HP than I went in.

The clerk at the Hotel California behaves a little differently. I can offer him any amount of gold I like but from a few experiments he appeared to raise a stat by 1 if I offered him 101 gold or more. When I paid 500, I still only got a 1 point rise so I gave in on that and just went one point at a time. From what I saw, which stat is raised is truly random and not done on the number of moves like it was on the PC.

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After about an hour of mowing down the residents of Port Bonafice over and over, I’d finally got my character to a stage where I can equip the quicksword and wear the best armour. I figure that this has to be good enough for now and I’ll attempt to beat the game from this position if I can.

I can’t say this has been as much fun as Ultima 1, as it’s really just been a case of mindless repetition for 90% of the time I’ve been playing it so far. There was plenty of that in Ultima 1 but it was still more varied than this. Things should start to pick up now and I’m interested to see what the planets are going to look like when I get there. Before I can think about going to space, I’ll need some lithium to power my spaceship.

I’m sure this was called trilithium in true Star Trek style on the PC. Whatever it’s called, I haven’t got so much as a scrap of it through playing the game so far. I did get a hint that there is lots of it on the 16th level so it looks like I’ll have to properly explore the dungeons next.

Ultima Trilogy Press Release

I’ve been tinkering with the site design and have gone for a simple red theme for now + a completely new menu. It still needs work but I think it’s improving. At the very least it’s a change. What I really need is a logo and/or a background image. I do have some ideas for that but I’ve spent long enough on this today as it is.

Since I’ve been linked from Ultima Aiera, I thought I ought to post something Ultima themed but I don’t have much time and this was the first thing that came to hand. It’s a single page press release for the Ultima Trilogy from 1989, or at least the front half of it. The back which should have shown the specifications is blank.

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