Its been a good while now since I finished U9. I’ve had a half written summing up which I’m not entirely happy with on my pc since then. Half finished or not, it’s high time I got around to posting it….
When I started this blog a year ago, I just thought it would be fun to play through the first few Ultimas before I started on Lazarus. This blossomed into the insane idea of playing every Origin game. A year, 62 games, 1000’s of screenshots, and countless hours later I still haven’t played Lazarus but I have managed to play every single Origin game (more or less).
I went into this blog as a long time fan of Origin and their games and that hasn’t changed now. The standard has been excellent with only a very few exceptions along the way. The only genuinely poor title was Metal Morph with the other games I didn’t like being as much a matter of personal preference as anything else.
Having played every title, the effect that EA had on Origin after they were bought out is far clearer to me now as I saw one title after another released with bugs and not quite reaching the potential it had. Despite this Origin still produced great games with some unmatched production values for their day. Origin reached their highest point just before and around the EA takeover when they moved over to VGA PC gaming with a string of fantastic titles. At this time the new technology was still largely being used to advance gameplay. The Ultima series was at its height with all the games (including WOU and UW spinoffs) being true classics + the Wing Commander series got started and showed just what was possible with a modern PC game.
For me, it’s going to be the fairly early days of the blog that I remember most fondly though. Its amazing how you come to accept CGA/EGA graphics and PC speaker sound when you have nothing else for a while. The technology stops being an issue and its all about the underlying gameplay. Playing through all these mostly forgotten titles which I knew little about emphasised how the rules were still being written in the gaming industries early days and there was far more creativity. For a jaded gamer, this sort of originality emphasises what has been lost with the move to today’s multi-million dollar blockbusters.
After this point, EA’s influence became apparent and I also think Origin started to succumb to the malaise that is still affecting most of the gaming industry with strings of very similar titles. The Wing Commander games especially led to endless flight sim spin-offs. Most of these were decent games but they were missing the creative spark that was present in earlier games and amounted to Wing Commander with planes. Even the Wing Commander series itself was guilty of releasing filler games (Academy & Armada). There were of course plenty of exceptions with Wing Commander 4 and System Shock being among my all time favourites.
Wing Commander was the game that drew me to Origin originally but it’s the Ultima series that really forms the backbone of Origin (and 1/3 of its catalog). RG created a truly unique epic that has stood the test of time and still stands out from the crowd all these years later. Unlike the Wing Commander series which tended to have incremental, technology based improvements, the Ultima series evolved as it went along and was never simply the previous game with new technology. Every single game in the series up to Ultima 8 was a classic of the genre in its day. After this point it definitely took a turn for the worse. I didn’t like the gameplay in Ultima 8 at all for many reasons but it did at least keep up the standards of dialog and story telling that we had come to expect. Ultima 9 was something of a return to form gameplay wise but the story telling took a turn for the worse and ultimately its an unsatisfying end to a great series. They are prime examples of how new technology can stifle gameplay although given more time the potential was still there with both games.
More than anything else, I never felt that Origin made a game to make money (at least until EA). It was always about the game itself which is why the games they made are as memorable as they are. They were prepared to push technology but it was not about just putting great graphics on the screen but also expanding the gameplay possibilities and making each world detailed and believable. They always went the extra mile with each new title and no other company simultaneously pushed the boundaries of both technology and gameplay in this way. Their slogan “We create worlds” was spot on and 10 years after their last game no one has stepped in the fill this gap.
Despite complaining about the state of modern games, I’ve upgraded my aging PC to something state of the art and have been working my way through stacks of new games since finishing Ultima 9. This has been keeping me from returning to this blog for the moment along with other commitments.
Out of the games I’ve played recently, I enjoyed Crysis enormously until it fizzled out at the end. After seeing the graphics in this you have to wonder just how much further it’s possible to go. I’ve heard the term photorealistic applied to games for years but this is the first time I’ve ever thought it was justified. Right now I’m trying out GTA4 which I’m also impressed with to say the least. It looks to be a huge game that will keep me busy for a while. Assassins Creed deserves a mention for attempting to do something original but in the end the gameplay became very repetitive and the storyline which had promised much didn’t deliver. It’s most memorable for the monumentally huge cities – the idea of this level of technology being applied to a modern Ultima would be mouthwatering but the nearest I’ll get for now will be Elder Scrolls Oblivion which I’ll be trying out at some point as well.
I’ve also been playing 3 Cards To Midnight which is a new game from the creators of the Tex Murphy series. The feedback from all the fans seems to be great but in all honesty I’m a bit let down by it. Don’t get me wrong, its reasonably good fun and the story is great but its a bit simple and I can think of plenty of puzzle games I’ve enjoyed more. I can’t see it having much appeal outside of a very limited fan base. However, its intended as a stepping stone to a new Tex Murphy game so its well worth the money just to make sure that happens so get over to http://www.bigfinishgames.com and buy a copy.
After a month off, I’m just starting to feel the urge to start up this blog again. I’ll probably be taking a different approach with less of an attempt to walkthrough each game and a lot fewer screenshots from here on out but I’ll see how it works out once I get started. I’ll be back with System Shock 2 as soon as I finish GTA4.