Day 136 – Ultima 8

I’ve finally reached the much maligned Ultima 8. Like every other Origin game in this period this was released unfinished and later patched. Apart from that I gather there were changes to the core gameplay with some un-avatar like behaviour and a load of jumping type puzzles which put off a lot of long term fans. Its a game I’ve never played so I’ll have to judge things for myself. I’m actually quite positive going into this – I think the core gameplay could do with a change. Ultima’s become far too much of a series of alternate virtues and I’d hope that Ultima 8 will get away from that at the same time. Developing this theme in Ultima 4 was inspired and revisiting it with alternate/anti virtues was a good idea also but we’ve seen it over and over now and its time for some originality. Its a real sign of staleness in a series when it has to repeat its predecessors too much (See Monkey Island 4 for an extreme example of this). Above all I’d like to see a strong original plot – I was a bit disappointed with Serpent Isles story and it was the first time in the entire series that I don’t think I could argue that it was a better game than its predecessor. 

The intro picks up where Serpent Isle left off – the guardian banishes me into the world of Pagan while he goes off to conquer first Britannia and then Earth. It’s brief but sets the scene nicely.

I wake up on a shore and get a little background information. I’ve just been fished out of the water in this guys fishing nets. He tells me of a couple of elemental gods of some sort (earth and water) and that the bodies of the dead are sent to the earth god in his halls.

I get my first look at the new engine – its certainly different. It is now fully isometric with smoothly animated characters. The portraits are gone which is a shame – I’m sure disk space dictated this. My avatar now has animations for running, sneaking and walking in each direction though and on the whole things look better. It’s a little early to say if I prefer this approach to U7 – its possibly a little artifical with everything being obviously in neat blocks again – Ultima 7 had moved away from this and no longer looked to be based on tiles (even if it was). It reminds me of a much improved version of the likes of Alien-8 or Knight Lore.

With the isometric view comes a restriction in movement direction. I can now only move the avatar in the 8 compass directions. This feels like a step backwards and was last seen in the Ultima 6 games. If I am to control the avatar in this way I’d prefer to use the keyboard to walk him around but this doesn’t seem to be an option.

I make my way West to some docks and get to see a scene of a man being executed. I’m forced to stand back and watch. Some sort of rule is being broken as the mans body is supposed to go to the earth god and not the sea god (lurker). The gods are clearly not imaginary as a giant creature comes out of the water to swallow the mans head after it rolls in. At the end of this scene, the main protagonists leave with just the dead mans wife being left behind and a guard who grills me then  stops me from talking to her. He isn’t hostile as such, just suspicious and lets me go. I don’t tell him I’m from another world as I don’t expect it would go down well.

I hardly had any time to get started on this and thats as far as I got. On first look, the new engine is probably an improvement. The background music is more ambient and adds a bit of atmosphere and the extra detail in the graphics made this cutscene make more sense than the equivalent in Ultima 7/Serpent Isle would have done. I will miss the portraits but the better animation may make up for this. I’m a bit skeptical as to how artificial the world could end up looking with the isometric tiles but I need to have a better look around before I can make my mind up.

5 thoughts on “Day 136 – Ultima 8

  1. So, are you playing the last patched version? or a previous one?

    That’s because jumping in the unpatched version let you jump a set amount of space on a direction, while jumping in the patched version let’s you jump to the selected place.

    Also the jumping puzles are out of the game as such. In the unpatched version there were some rocks that fell underwater and then came out again, and vanishing platforms, while in the patched they are all fixed and you just have to jump to them.

    The engine is quite good in my opinion. It has some good physics that should have been difficult to implement, but being as detailed as it is, the overal game is a bit too little, and the schedules are also limited.

    If the game have had more development time, and did not have the floppy disk space restrictions it could have been a lot better.

    The story is good, at least it’s different from the other ones and way better than what Ultima IX was

  2. Its the patched one off of the Ultima Collection CD. The jumping sounds a bit like ultima 9 then which was more or less point and click as I remember it. I can imagine that the old system could be seriously annoying.

    I’m kind of expecting the game to be a bit unfinished even after the patch – you can really see how EA killed off Origin when you play through all the games one after another like this as I’m seeing it over and over again, yet each game is so near to being finished you really wonder why they didn’t delay for the sake of a few more months. I’m getting it easy playing all the patched versions at least but it must have annoyed a lot of customers at the time. Its not like all of us could pop on the internet to download a patch back in those days either.

  3. Well, you can see how EA killed Ultima when you see that they cancelled Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale, or what Ultima IX became…

    At this time, they still had some good games (System Shock 1 for instance).

    I hope the guys at find it eventually among all the things they got from Origin.

    Probably it won’t work with the patched version anyway.

  4. I’d be surprised if the lost vale was anywhere near finished so I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I’d love to have a go at whatever there is. In some ways it might be nice not to have it while I’m playing U8 now though as it removed some of the RPG elements out of Ultima 7 and SI.

    Despite EA there are still plenty of decent games to be going at. I’d say most of whats left in fact. Some of them should have been better still given extra time of course.

    I’m not sure if I disliked Ultima 9 as much as you appear to, although I admit I haven’t played it since it came out + I’ll have the benefit of the whole series behind me when I get round to it this time. I do remember the actual ending being hugely disappointing – its a pity that will end up being the final climax of months of blogging.

  5. Actually, I liked the ending. A bit too short, but I liked it.

    I don’t dislike Ultima IX as much as some other Ultima fans do, it’s just it was a let down in terms of story. The engine was ahead of it’s time (and very buggy even patched). The visuals were (and are) incredible.

    Ultima IX needed a little more time to fix bugs, and a better story that regarded the older Ultimas.

    As a stand alone game it’s a good one, specially for when it came out.

    Well, as far as I know, the Lost Vale was finished. I have hope for it to appear somewhere lol

    About the expansions ruining the RPG elements of U7. Well, that’s the reason I play them near the end of the game. Also there are some different things if you play them in the end.

    In the Forge of Virtue there is a moment that Erethian makes a demostration of his powers, and if you have destroyed the Tethaedron generator, he transforms into a dragon and into a gargoyle (with the corresponding portraits), whereas if you haven’t destroyed the generator he transforms into a cow.

    And in Silver Seed Karnax says something different if you have already released the plagues. He says that the Tree will make possible to ressurrect the people of Serpent Isle (so, at least then it has some purpose)

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