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Megakrang avatar 8:19 PM on 11.03.2012  (server time)
Ultima VII: My Journey Begins

I donít really have much of a history with the Ultima series of games. Other than vague memories of my older brother playing the games on his Amiga 500 when I was a kid, and a brief stint playing Ultima Online around 1999, I havenít played any other games in the series. With that admission out of the way, I can honestly say that I have always been interested in the series. Iím aware of the importance the games have in Western RPG history, and if thereís ever an article in a magazine or online about the games then Iíll happily read it. Iíve always found the idea of the fictional world of Britannia, and the long lived ruler Lord British, to be fascinating. I also think itís neat that the aforementioned Lord British is the alter-ego of the creator of the series, Richard Garriott. Thereís something cool about the creator of the game youíre playing being a character in the game, in a weird sort of way.

Richard Garriott as his alter ego, Lord British

So, now that Iíve established my brief and tenuous history with the series, Iíll move on to the meat of this post. Yesterday I purchased Ultima VII from GOG, as part of their weekend EA game promo. I was in the mood for some retro gaming and the sale struck at just the right time, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to re-introduce myself to Ultima. I knew, in a vague kind of way, that Ultima VII had a good reputation as one of the best in the series and a quick Google search for opinions quickly confirmed this. Without any further ado I clicked back on GOG and purchased the Ultima VII Complete pack.

If any of you out there have ever purchased games from GOG youíll know that they go the extra mile with the added extras you get. With Ultima VII you get a multitude of manuals, guides, hint books, a perfect scan of the original cloth map from the boxed version, a black and white version of the same map, and a huge collection of design documents from the development of the game. All in all itís a pretty awesome package for only $2.39 I spent on it.

After skim-reading the (very well written) manual I dove straight into the game. I was greeted by a red-faced ape like creature with a booming voice advising me that he was keen on becoming the new ruler of Britannia. He actually seemed quite genial and friendly, but I got the impression that he was supposed to be the bad guy. I guess Iíd learn more as I went along.

Stepping through a Moongate, I entered the world of Britannia and appeared in the town of Trinsic. Rather conveniently I immediately bumped into a guy called Iolo, who I gathered was an old friend of the Avatar (the character you play). He explains that a brutal murder has just taken place in town and that you should investigate. Iolo joins your party, a green arrow appears on screen, and youíre now in control. I was initially worried that, like a lot of older PC games, I would be overwhelmed by the control scheme. I was very happily surprised to discover that pretty much the entire game is controlled using only the mouse, making it a very accessible game. Movement is achieved by moving the cursor to where you want to go on screen and holding down the right mouse button. Opening up your character screen is achieved by simply double left clicking on the character, and likewise for your party members. I walked into the stables where the murder has taken place, which is right next to where you start, and was confronted with a rather grisly scene. The town blacksmith has been torn apart and his mutilated body is lying on the ground. I should mention here how the game is presented graphically. You view proceedings from overhead camera angle. Youíre not directly above the scene, you view things from a slightly lower angle. Buildings appear solid when youíre outside, but once you walk inside the roof disappears to allow you to move around. Overall it is an odd perspective, but I quickly got used to it.

The grisly murder scene that greets you when you start the game

Back to the stables, and I decided to experiment with the control scheme. After clicking about on every object I could find I quickly discovered that you can pick up and move pretty much every item in the game. Like the look of that bucket? Pick it up and put it in your pack. See some tasty bread sitting on somebodyís shelf? Steal it and have a bread feast later on. I picked up a couple of clues from the scene, a key and some gargoyle jewellery (a gargoyle was also murdered, stuck to the stable wall with a pitchfork), and then decided to heed Ioloís advice to talk about the murder with every townsperson I encountered. Talking to people is as easy as double clicking on them and following the dialogue trees. I must say, the dialogue in the game so far is very well written and entertaining. Every character definitely has a distinct personality. In particular the town armourer, and his constant demands for you to either buy something or get out of his shop, made me smile.

Trinsic is a walled town and you canít leave without getting the password from the mayor. In order to do this you need to gather clues and then make a report to the mayor about the murder. If he is satisfied with your progress he then asks you some questions about locations around the world of Britannia to confirm that you truly are the Avatar. I imagine that playing the game back in 1992 this part would have been quite a treat, because it requires you to refer to the cloth map in order to give the mayor exact longitude and latitude locations. Iíll admit that for this section I simply used the included guide which gave the answers. Now satisfied that you are the Avatar of legend, the mayor gives you the town password and sends you on your way to continue investigating the murder. He mentions that crime is very reminiscent of a murder that happened a few years ago in the capital, Britain. With that tidbit of information fresh in my mind, I travelled to the town gate, gave the guard the password, and stepped outside into the land of Britannia...

The gate through which I left Trinsic

I plan to continue with these blogs detailing my journey through Ultima VII. I realise that theyíre probably only going to be of interest to a pretty small group of gamers, but Iím really looking forward to exploring the game further and documenting my adventure. I hope you enjoy journeying along beside me.

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