Note: When I first wrote
this article I was angry and bitter. I had played Ultima games
all my life and spent years following the development of U9. I
still don't like the game, but after working for Origin I began to
understand it a little better. Nobody ever sets out to write a
bad game, and most bad games don't feel that way when they're
written. The people who worked on this game were some of the most
talented and just plain decent folks I ever met. Of course, I
still hated the damned thing.
Lord British should have just
taken a shit in the box Ultima 9 came
in. Instead he sent a certificate of thanks. The shit, at
least, would have been more in keeping with what the game was going to
be like. Parents, you might wish to have you children leave the
room for this review. It's a rocky ride ahead of us as we take a
look at Ultima: Asscension....or as I like to think of it "I waited 5
frickin' years for this?"
I don't care if you're buggy and unfinished! Out
the door with you!
very first computer
game I ever saw was Ultima. I was over at my friends house and I
saw his father sitting in front of the green glow of the Apple IIE
screen. He didn't even turn his head as walked into the
room. I stared over his shoulder to see what he was doing.
He was playing a game, and it was different from anything I had ever
seen before. This wasn't shooting at rows of pixels as they moved
across a screen. This wasn't Pong. This was something new.
For the next two months I did anything in my power to get in
front of a computer. I smuggled a copy of the game into my school
where a teacher had just brought in an Apple. I would stay after
class just to finish the game.
years went on and so
did the Ultima series. Each game was bigger and greater than the
last. In Ultima II you traveled through time. In Ultima III
you fought a living machine. Ultima IV changed the ground rules
for games by introducing a moral code and offering the gamer not word
puzzles, but genuine moral dilemmas. Each time I entered the land
of Brittania I was captivated. Eventually I found others on BBS's
who loved Ultima as much as I did. I introduced people in real
life to the game. When Ultima VII came out, I didn't own a
computer so my friend and I found someone who did. Instead of
going out searching for parties, we spent four days in a marathon
sitting trying to defeat the Guardian. By the time we saw
sunlight again, we were seeing the world in pixelated form.
Then Ultima 8 came
out. Everything that was grand and epic about the previous 7
games was missing. The characters we had gotten to known we no
longer present. The virtues that mattered so much were
missing. Worst of all was the game play. The plot was
linear, the story wasn't captivating, the world was too small and every
challenge the Avatar faced involved jumping puzzles. I felt
cheated. Perhaps, I reasoned, Origin was forced to make the game
like this because of pressure put on them by Electronic Arts. I
think every Ultima fan felt the same way.
five years us Ultima
fans waited as Ultima 9 was being made. "we understand" said
Origin "that Ultima 8 wasn't what you expected. We will be
returning to our roots to make the epic final chapter of the Ultima
appeased. We would wait.
Finally we caught our
first glimpses of Ultima:Asscension. The natives began to get
restless. Here was this 3-d engine that suggested "Tomb Raider"
style game play. There would be no party. The full motion
video suggested that the plot would be linear. At E3 they showed
off the jumping and the arcade like combat.
"You're giving us Tomb
Raider!" us fans shouted.
"People don't play games
to bake bread" they replied.
Then things seemed to be
getting better. "Of course you can bake bread" they assured us
"Lord British himself is now writing the code. This isn't tomb
Raider. It's every bit as much an Ultima game as you've come to
expect. We'll have a dynamic, epic plot. Just give us a
chance." I decided I would. They had listened to the
fans. They knew what we wanted.
Finally the day
came. I called my local software store three times that day to
see if my copy had arrived. Finally it did. The box was
large and impressive. Inside were Tarot cards, a cloth map and a
pin. Not to mention that little certificate from LB.
After playing U9, Ultima
8 has started to look good.
not going to bitch
about the bugs. It worked fine on my system. I was
lucky. The world itself is beautiful. Butterflies drift
across the screen, the sky is lovely to look at, and everything ran
smooth. The programers did a hell of a job. Most other
people, however, will never be able to get it to run. My friend
has a system identical to mine, but a slightly faster processor.
He can't get it to run. For other people it crashes.
Somehow they managed to ship a game out that wouldn't run on 60% of the
machines out there. Still, for me it worked wonderfully.
Sadly the problems run
deeper than that....much, much deeper.
Remember as a kid reading
all those epics about the lab rats who run around in mazes pressing
buttons to defeat the enemy? Well, I don't either but Lord
British sure does! He must because he promises us a game that is
more like an epic novel. It's just that in his mind epic novels
involve pulling levers and jumping. Alot.
see, that's all the
start off in Britain
where the people have lost track of the virtues. Well, that's
allright as far as that goes. We've seen it before. In
fact, evertime the Avatar shows up the people have lost track of the
virtues. Unappreciative bastards. How many times do we have
to save them from themselves? This time though, you don't have to
teach them to be better people. You don't even have to find the
cause of their problems. You really don't have to care. You
know why the people have lost their way? The people are no longer
virtuous because some shrines in the mountains are broken.
Really. Want to make society better? Well, just find two
pieces of a rune and put them on the altar....the problems sort
themselves out afterwards.
wish I was joking, but
Well, at least the quest
to retrieve the broken rune must be somewhat epic, right?
Nope. Here's the game in a nutshell.
Watch movie. Go to
dungeon. Run around in dungeon jumping and pulling levers.
Beat up on on bad guy guard. Repeat process per virtue.
There. I just saved
you 60 bucks. I just wish problems in the real world were as easily
see, people at Origin
listened to when we said "we don't want jumping puzzles and a linear
plot". They just thought that what we really said was "we want
different kinds of jumping puzzles and a different linear plot."
Have you folks ever
played a game of Dungeons and Dragons where the GM would run adventure
after adventure which was nothing more than a dungeon full of death
traps? No plot, just an implausibly designed dungeon with
traps? Well, that's what this game is.
Perhaps part of the
bitterness involves the missed opportunity. They had all the time
in the world to create a masterpiece. Who knows, perhaps it had
started off with good intentions. All I know is that they wound
up with a game with less depth than a playstaion game.
In the end, whose fault
is it? Was it our fault as fans for promising to buy this game
sight unseen? Did we not shout loud enough? Yeah, I
guess. In the end though what happened to the Ultima series is
the fault of one man...Lord British himself. The story of the
Ultima series ends at the hand of the man who created it in the first
place. What started as a game by a man who loved games, ended as
a piss poor product at the hands of a man who doesn't even play them
anymore. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here.
After promising us that
U9 would not be Tomb Raider, the delivered a game just like Tomb
Raider, only missing the one redeeming quality Tomb Raider had......in
Tomb Raider, at least, we can stare at Laura Croft's chest.