Ultima 9 Preview Videos

I’ve been doing some spring cleaning today, not sure if it’s 6 months late or early but either way it included clearing up a pile of DVD’s and figuring out what was on them. I came across an ancient backup disc that along with my registration email for Wing Commander Secret Ops had a handful of videos from the Ultima 9 website prior to the game being launched. I thought I’d stick them on the site for posterity since I’ve not made any more progress with Ultima 6 yet. With these videos coming from 1999 they are all quite brief and low res. I would still have been on dial-up when I grabbed these off the web.

RGU9Int

These first 2 videos show a younger looking Richard Garriott talking a little about what we can expect in Ultima 9:-
rich3.mpg – In game tutorial
rich5.mpg – Combat

virtues

The third video is an introduction to the virtues. This one is definitely up on Youtube still:-
virtues.mpg – Introduction to the Virtues

gametour

The final and longest video is Richard Garriott giving a tour of the gameplay in Ultima 9:-
UAwalk_384.mpg – Ultima 9 Gameplay Tour

It’s no wonder some of us were disappointed with the game when promotional material like this ended up with lines like “..masterpiece epic Ultima that is fitting for the conclusion of the entire Ultima series”. I still think it’s a fun game on its own merits but that’s taking it a little too far.

It’s nothing to do with Origin but I’ve added a scan of the Jedi Knight guide to the downloads page. Unfortunately for me scanning it in, the publisher appears to have been using the same strategies as a student who didn’t think their coursework looked large enough. There really isn’t a whole lot of content for all those pages. While I had the scanner going I also did the far more fun Loom Hint Book which is now available in both original and clues revealed versions.

Ultima 9 Reviews – PC Format & PC Gamer

Spoony’s review of Ultima 9 from a day or two back appears to have divided viewers while rekindling some old arguments about the merits of the game. Speaking for myself, the review did a better job of being irritating than funny and went on for way, way too long as a result. That isn’t to say I can’t understand where he is coming from.

I thought I’d dig out some reviews to see what the UK press thought at the time. I only found a couple but the reaction wasn’t actually all that bad and appears to depend largely on how many bugs the reviewers ran into rather than the gameplay/storyline. The game was held back until after the final patch before release in the UK but this review from the February 2000 PC Gamer is of the original US release:-

PC Gamer Ultima 9 Review - Page 1 PC Gamer Ultima 9 Review - Page 2

PC Gamer Ultima 9 Review - Page 3

Despite the low score the review is actually extremely positive and they suggested a score of 94% if it had run perfectly. They are a little less keen by the time the promised update arrived in the May 2000 issue:-

PC Gamer Ultima 9 Review Update

I can’t say I’ve ever found the game to be anywhere near as buggy or slow as the above review suggests and I’m clearly not alone in that. This far more generous review comes from the February 2000 PC Format which at 91% puts it ahead of Thief and System Shock 2 for this reviewer:-

PC Format Ultima 9 Review - Page 1 PC Format Ultima 9 Review - Page 2

PC Format Ultima 9 Review - Page 3

Ultima 9 Demo – Second Attempt

I managed to persuade a friend who was heading in the right direction to pick up that Pentium II on my behalf and he dropped it off Wednesday night. From what I’ve seen it looks like it’s barely been used which is exactly what I was hoping for. It turned out to have a 400 Mhz CPU which is perhaps a little slower than I was aiming for but it’s enough.

Getting the PC was only the beginning as I needed to set it up from scratch at this point. This is quite a chore with making boot disks, searching around for old drivers and then struggling to transfer files to a machine with no networking. It was a lot faster than it would have been had I not been through it before relatively recently.

I soon had Windows 98 set up and working with my Voodoo 3 + SB Live. I’ve slotted in my old AWE 32 sound card as well with the idea of setting it up to dual boot DOS next. I’d forgotten just how big the AWE32 cards were – it must have the same sort of surface area as the motherboard itself. The biggest pain in the process has been swapping my USB keyboard and mouse backward and forward, along with my memory stick. I’ve just ordered an extremely cheap second-hand KVM switch + cables off Ebay so I’ll see how that works out. The idea I had of not spending any money on gaming in the new year isn’t really working out so far but at least it’s only dribs and drabs.

Having got Win 98 running, I thought I’d better give the new machine a proper test so I loaded up the Ultima 9 demo and started from the beginning again. U9 must have been one of the last games built with 3dfx cards and Glide specifically in mind, largely thanks to its extended development time. This makes it probably the most demanding game I’ll ever throw at this PC. I wouldn’t say it ran silky smooth but it’s more than playable, especially for a prerelease version of a game that was notoriously demanding at the time.

U9DemoII0001

I dashed through to the previous sticking point with the floating vase. This time it drops to the ground as it’s supposed to allowing me to play through the rest of Stonegate.

U9DemoII0006

Immediately before I walk out of the front door, I’m teleported into Despise. I’d forgotten that this was even included in the demo. It is slightly altered from the final game as the entrance has been sealed off and I’m sure I wouldn’t usually get a full set of armour + sword so these must have been placed to beef up the demo’s fledgling Avatar.

U9DemoII0007

Other than that it appears to be basically the same dungeon, with only minor differences such as a much duller looking Kiran shield when I get that far. I remember my way around well enough to not have any trouble progressing if it wasn’t for the incessant bugs. I’d hoped that this would prove to be bug-free now I was on appropriate hardware but no such luck. The best bug I run into involves some impromptu bareback rat rodeo. Once superglued to the rat, I can’t move and have to reload only to discover that I can’t move my Avatar from that savegame either now and have to go to the one before all the way back in Stonegate. From here on I save very frequently and always into a new file. I did find out later that this loading bug could be cured by restarting the game.

U9DemoII0011

Several crashes, glitches and restarts later and I get to the bottom of the column at the end of the dungeon. There is what would have been a surprise in store if Natreg hadn’t already reminded me, as Iolo/Ooli isn’t there and is replaced by a demon who keeps summoning skeletons. I ignore the skeletons and hack away at the daemon. He is tough but falls after 20 or 30 hacks.

U9DemoII0013

Immediately after grabbing the glyph, the advertisement avi plays and then I’m dumped back to Windows.

There was loads of gameplay in this demo and other than the bugs it showed most of the best aspects of U9, apart from the (fairly) open world. Getting it running might not be easy though and it needs a large dose of patience with the initial U9 release looking positively stable by comparison.

Ultima 9 Demo

I’m not convinced about the effort/reward ratio with all these demos I’ve been playing over the last few days. I’d quite like to get stuck into a game at this point instead of all this switching around. There aren’t that many left now though. This demo comes from the Xmas 99 PC Zone Cover CD. I’m sure it is widely available so I’ve not bothered uploading it.

I remember the demo well from the time actually. It was released world-wide although here in the UK, we were way behind the USA in terms of when we got to play the finished game. By the time it was released here it was the final patched version, making everyone in the USA beta testers in effect. It was a rare occasion where us Brits were better off with the extra wait. Of course, I’d paid a princely sum at this point to import the Dragon Edition which was never sold over here and ended up having to cheat my way to the end of the game thanks to one of the many bugs.

The demo starts with the impressive intro cinematic which was certainly up there with the best I’d seen at the time.

The playable part consists of the Earth training level + Stonegate and all the FMV that went with it. Any changes to the released game are minor except for the bugs which didn’t cause me a problem back in 99 having something approaching the ideal PC, but trying to run this now caused me quite a bit of grief. First off my “fixed” Win 98 machines new PSU decided that it would refuse to start up and would instead flick straight off immediately after I let go of the power button. I swapped the old PSU back in there which got it starting but it was completely unstable again and crashed within moments of the 3D sections starting. I think I’ve confirmed the problem anyway but I’m out of PSU’s at this point.

So I go back to running it on Windows 7. I tried the D3D mode and nearly all the textures were missing, so I swapped to using a Glide wrapper instead and it wouldn’t even start. It turns out that it refuses to run from anywhere except c:U9. Once I’ve discovered that much I think I’ve got it cracked and set into playing the demo. I have to say that the Glide wrapper isn’t a patch on what it looked like for the few seconds in was running on a Voodoo 3. There is a lot to be said for using the original hardware still where possible.

I did run into some problems with my avatar getting stuck in combat although jumping usually got him out of it. Other than that, it’s all going well until I run into the bit in Stonegate where I have to blow this vase onto the pressure plate and it simply isn’t having it. The vase always ends up floating in mid-air, presumably due to the same speed issue that causes the floating rune bug in the final game. No problem I think and try to switch the flying avatar cheat on but this refuses to work also and I never did make it to the end of the demo.

I can at least play the fmv that would have come up had I made it out of Stonekeep which shows a load of screenshots from the game. These screenshots must have been faked, they certainly aren’t from the game as any of us ever saw it. The clipping and fog would kick in way before the castle would show up, even if the game hadn’t already crashed at these viewing distances.

The hype surrounding Ultima 9 up to its release was quite something and it’s no wonder people were disappointed with it after so much buildup and screenshots like this. Looking back at it now, it’s genuinely enjoyable with some of the best dungeons of any game I’ve ever played and a fantastic looking world to explore. It isn’t an RPG by any stretch of the imagination though and was a dismal failure in terms of providing the climax the series deserved from a narrative standpoint. It’s a game I have mixed feelings about. If it wasn’t ending the series and/or didn’t have the Ultima name I might regard it as something of a classic. I just wish the voice acting had been shelved in favour of good old-fashioned text conversations with some actual depth.

I remember people spending quite some time exploring every aspect of this demo, with the most famous antics being using the breadmaker to build bread bridges to get to inaccessible areas. I’m sure there was a teleport behind the house which could be reached this way and I recall seeing extreme screenshots of someone miles in the sky on a winding trail of loaves.