The blurry image above can only mean I’ve decided to play Ultima V on the original hardware so it’s more phone-cam screenshots for this playthrough I’m afraid. I did try using an emulator with the aim of running the game a little faster than intended but this resulted in it becoming uncontrollable so I figure I may as well have the real thing.
Ultima V starts well enough with a series of virtue questions + a cutdown version of the Ultima V introduction. These are a definite step up from the other two games in the NES Ultima trilogy which were more cut down at the start even than this. Given the size of Ultima 5 it’s surprising to see the cartridge space being used for this actually.
The graphics and gameplay have been given a radical overhaul into an Ultima 6-like single scale engine. Attempting this on the NES was ambitious to say the least. Ultima 6 wasn’t as demanding on hardware as Wing Commander back in 1990 when it came out but it was still very much a product of the move from the Apple II to the far more powerful PC platform. Graphically I don’t think this looks all that bad actually on the NES at least on first impressions. It’s not the style I expect from a NES game losing the Japanese RPG aspects. On the downside there is no smooth scrolling when moving around which begs the question if it’s making the best use of the hardware – I’d expect this to almost come for free on the NES but it is clearly struggling to run the game as is.
Another improvement from Ultima 3 & 4 is the incorporation of a conversation system. This uses keywords keeping track of those I’ve learned from elsewhere and works as well as I’d wish for even including character portraits for the first time in Ultima 5. The conversations are seriously cut down though so it’s not all good but I’d rather have this than one line per person. This first character I run into immediately appears when you walk out of and back into Iolo’s house at the start of the game. There was a hint in the manual to do just this or I wouldn’t have thought to try. It does beg the question of where and why he was hiding and what Iolo has been up to that salty sea dogs come out of the closet the moment they think the coast is clear. My reward for finding him is a sextant which will no doubt be extremely useful.
I made my way down to Britain to have a look around. It’s a lot more sparsely populated than I’m used to with 4 or 5 house + an enormous but mostly empty castle. I talk to everyone I meet learning the mantra of compassion and getting a few hints about the resistance and the like. What conversation there is, is perfectly acceptable but they have clearly been drastically cut back much like the rest of the game. Unless I missed it, I could only find one level for LB’s castle so there is no treasury raiding to be done in this version unfortunately. On the far side of Britain I see a ladder leading into the ground which it turns out is a dungeon entrance. I talk to the guardian of the dungeon (another change) with the word of power I’ve learned and he lets me down. I only poked my head in for a quick look as I assume I’m not ready for dungeons yet. The 3D dungeons are gone which is something of a shame to be replaced by U6 style overhead maps. I beat up a few slimes in here and ran for the exit to return much later.
The way I remember U5, the first port of call is completing the shrine quests. I soon find the shrine of compassion with its own stone guardian who lets me by with my recently gained mantra know-how and I get my first quest to the codex. Where I find a boat to get to the Isle Of The Avatar next is anyone’s guess and this is as far as I got for now.
I only spent about 30-40 minutes on this in the end and I’ll go into the combat and controls in the next post. So far it doesn’t look that awful actually – it may well be a sorry excuse for Ultima 5 but it appears to be playable and the new engine has it’s good points. It’s definitely a little slower than I’d like but my main complaint by some distance is the music which is the same 15 second loop over and over and over. The tune isn’t that offensive but it’s hardly good and last night the jaunty little jingle embedded itself into my brain so deeply that I’ve not been able to get rid of it 24 hours later. I’ve been in a bad mood all day and I’m attributing it entirely to this. This game needs a government health warning not to play with the sound on.
What makes this worse is that the music and sound are credited to Martin Galway. How the same guy who did the epic C64 themes for games like Wizball or Times Of Lore can be responsible for this aural equivalent to water torture is anyone’s guess. I can only imagine that he was given an hour to knock something together and next to no space on the cartridge. In the interests of retaining what sanity I have left I’ll be playing with the TV sound switched off from here on anyway. Hopefully any lasting effects will wear off after a day or two and I won’t be left with any permanent scarring.
I’ve finally gathered the willpower to start on NES Ultima 5 now that I’ve finished Bioshock Infinite. I was a little disappointed in the end with the new Bioshock. The story was intriguing but not necessarily well told with large amounts of exposition coming in the latter stages in a flood. The gameplay was the main letdown though and as an FPS it was barely above average. In hard mode it could be quite poorly balanced especially in the later boss battles where I ended up relying on cheap tricks/poor ai. To be fair a big hitch was that my graphics card proved to be not quite up to the job which will have influenced my opinion and it hurt combat mechanics with aiming being harder than I would have liked. I’m going to have to upgrade before the Star Citizen alpha and I think I may treat myself to a GTX 670 in the next month. When that arrives I will go back and give this another go, possibly in 1999 mode and I expect I’ll like it more. There still isn’t enough new here though and the original Bioshock made far more impact on me. Out of the last two games I’ve played I can honestly say I enjoyed Death Gate more than Bioshock Infinite – not an opinion you are likely to see on any other website.
Onwards and downwards to Ultima 5 anyway. This was released in 1993 and unlike previous entries in the series on the NES must have been developed within Origin judging by the credits list. It’s main claim to fame is often being described as the worst RPG on the NES and generally being regarded as legendarily bad. Hopefully this isn’t entirely deserved but I’ve not got high hopes now that I’m about to start on it. Today I’ll just be doing what may prove to be the most fun part, having a quick look at the packaging and manual.
There is no cloth map here but there is a large paper map with a mostly familiar looking Britannia depicted on it. It’s been squashed together in a square but it’s recognisable which is good enough for me.
The back of the map has most of the dungeon maps. This certainly takes one element out of the game if these are revealed right from the start but I expect I’ll be grateful for anything to speed me through the game. Despise is missing from the map and placed in the manual instead. Also missing are 4 floors out of every dungeon due to the limitations of the NES.
The manual is fairly hefty at 64 pages but nowhere near as much fun as the original documentation. It makes up for lack of character and atmosphere to a degree with plenty of colour and drawings at least. It’s already on replacementdocs.com so I’ve not scanned this one in. The USA manual for Ultima 4 served as a hintbook to the game to help out us simple Westerners and this follows in the same vein with most of the book being tips for each town and strategies for beating the game. The phrase hint book on the front is still slightly misleading as it also contains regular sections on game controls and a bestiary. The story is presently woefully briefly and does a terrible job of representing the heritage of the series up to the point with most of the space being used for the hints. I’m sure I’ll find it all useful and intend to take full use of any help I can get but the out of character presentation does nothing to draw me into Britannia.
I suppose I can’t put playing this off any longer so I’ll get an hour in now and see if it deserves the reputation it has.
While the pile of Origin ephemera I picked up a year back contained a fair share of obviously collectible items, it also contained a good deal of odds and ends that probably only have any appeal to the more “dedicated” fans such as myself. That doesn’t stop me sharing them however and this is one such item, a design board dated September 7 1988 for the Paths Of Destiny clue book flyer that was bundled into copies of Ultima V.
As with all these design documents, it’s a mosaic of cut out sections glued together. I can’t compare this to the finished version since I haven’t got one in my copy of Ultima V and the Internet has failed me in digging up a photo. I do notice that the clue book cover here contains a full size picture in the arch window framing and no title. The other thing that struck me was the 3-4 week delivery time which I seem to recall being standard for anything mail order when I was a kid. I doubt Amazon would be the size it is now if this was still the case.
Hope you all have had a good Christmas. Apologies for the lack of posts in December but spare time has been at a premium in recent weeks. This isn’t going to change anytime soon but I thought I should dig out another random item from the collection for a quick post:-
This is the separates and proof for a 1/3 page magazine advert for the second Ultima Trilogy and Wing Commander Deluxe which dates to March 1992. The $79.95 price for the Ultima trilogy puts the recent GOG sale into context where you could get nearly all the Ultima games for around $15. The trilogy still sounds like good value compared to Wing Commander Deluxe at the same price – it’s a whole lot cheaper to be a gamer these days. I love the “more than 5.5 megabytes, for long-term play value” quote which truly shows the age of this particular advert.
On a different topic, I’ve been informed that there is an issue with the Ultima Patcher on Win 8 64 bit not installing the Ultima 5 graphics/music patch which I’ve replicated. This may well affect all versions of Windows as I’d be more likely to blame GOG’s version 2.0 installer having changed something. I’m not going to be able to look at this for at least another week but will take the opportunity to add the new default install locations into the search directories when I do and have a quick check of all the other games. If there is anything else I should be fixing/adding, now would be a good time to let me know.
I thought I’d pull another random item from the collection today. This is a standing advert that was presumably used at a trade show around late 1991/early 1992. It’s about A3 sized and features a generic Ultima advert with all the games up to Ultima 7 including all the NES releases and Runes Of Virtue on the Gameboy but curiously no mention of Ultima Underworld. It might be from the 1991 Winter CES by when Ultima 7 should have been (but wasn’t) released but that is strictly a guess. It has something along the lines of Sega Hilton 4556 SPA written on the back which may mean something to someone:-
I’ve been catching up on various mundane jobs since I got back last weekend and one piece of news that sneaked by unseen behind a pile of ironing yesterday was that another Origin classic Bioforge has been released on GOG for the usual price of $5.99. This was one of Origin’s best efforts without a doubt, a kind of updated sci-fi Alone In The Dark with strong movie-like story elements. It could have done with a sequel but is certainly recommended at the price if you’ve never played it.
Also yesterday, Star Citizen reached its first million in the fundraising campaign and immediately launched a Kickstarter. I’ll admit that I was unconvinced that a Kickstarter was a good idea as I thought splitting the funding would just cause confusion among backers. Since the Kickstarter is closing in on $200,000 after one day, I was clearly completely and utterly wrong. I guess you can never have enough sources of money or publicity. Here’s hoping RSI reaches the $2 million total by this time next week and they can start working on those stretch goals.
Finally, if you have some money left over, Lori & Corey Cole of Quest For Glory fame just launched a Kickstarter of their own. It clearly isn’t going to be on the scale of Star Citizen but I can’t be the only Sierra fan who has been waiting for this one.