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Default Ultima Underworld - Retrospective @ FaultyPixel

November 25th, 2013, 20:01
FaultyPixel has posted a new retrospective for Ultima Underworld.

As we proceed onward with our Ultima series retrospective we find ourselves for the first time outside of the main series proper as we look at spin-off title Ultima Underworld.

Deviating from the standard structure of the games up to that point, Ultima Underworld was an entirely different beast to that of its siblings, while at the same time being something of a throwback to the older titles in the series.

The game, full title Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, sees the Avatar protagonist return to the world of Britannia, summoned by the ghost of a wizard who claims his brother is enacting a plot which will see the world end. You know, the usual. The Avatar returns at the moment a baron’s daughter is kidnapped and he gets framed for the crime. The baron, who doesn’t recognise the Avatar (the most famous and iconic person in the world of Britannia mind, but suspend that disbelief!) and tasks him with retrieving the girl from where she has been taken; the eponymous Stygian Abyss.

What follows can best be described as a dungeon survival simulation, where the player is tasked with not only surviving, but also conquering, the vast Stygian Abyss, rescuing the damsel and foiling the end of the world into the bargain. As you do…

The game itself is most noteworthy for being set entirely in the first person perspective. While not the first game to do so, Ultima Underworld really broke new ground with its approach. Developed by Blue Sky Productions (later Looking Glass Studios) and published by Origin Systems, the game was released in 1992 and was, quite simply a game changer. Pretty much every aspect of the game was cutting edge, from the ability to explore three dimensional environments more or less at will to simply being able to look up and down.
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November 25th, 2013, 20:01
I loved those games! For those who never played them, think of System Shock in a dungeon setting, and you'll get the idea (in fact, it was the same design team). I believe it was the first true 3D PC game (excluding flight sims). The map allowed you to add your own notes, which was also a first. I thought the combat was well done. Holding down the mouse button to power up your swings made sense; Games today just require a rapid fire trigger finger.
BTW, GoG has both UU1+2 for only $6.

EA owns a ton of old Origin games that are ripe for remakes/sequels, but their bean counters are too stupid to see the gold mine they are sitting on. For example, EA let the Wing Commander franchise rot because they believed space combat sims are dead… So, Chris Roberts rebrands it as Star Citizen and raises $30M in crowdfunding and will probably net ten or twenty times that much as a finished game at retail. I'll bet EA is taking a second look at their much more well known Wing Commander franchise.
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November 25th, 2013, 20:43
UU remains an all-time favorite for me. Part of it is the free-form design (and the "survival dungeon" aspect, which is rare today). It was designed by clueless newbs who bit off more than they could chew, but chewed it anyway, building systems to match the adventure instead of the other way around. I loved that.

That's the thing that many articles about the games (fortunately, not this one) get wrong, IMO. Sure, it was a big deal because it was the biggest, first true 3D first-person RPG. But there was a lot more to it than a 3D environment. It did a whole lot of things in a very different way - acting kind of like a "dungeon simulator" in some aspects - and people don't give that credit. They just look at the visuals and say, "Well, that was a big deal in its time."

I think the retrospective gets one thing wrong though - the Baron knows about the "Avatar," but just doesn't believe you are the guy. That's hardly uncommon in the Ultima series. In U6, you even have to prove you are who you say you are to your old buddy Lord British himself. It's not like there are televisions broadcasting your face to every household in Britannia, or that there's some kind of official Avatar seal that only you can possess. The Baron thinks you are a lying sack of crap.

Not that the plot is particularly tight in any other aspect. I'm just saying that the premise isn't as outrageous as the article suggest.
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November 25th, 2013, 21:35
IIRC it was one of those Ultima's in name only. I also recall serious hardware requirements like the need for a hard drive to have it run. Unfortunately, when I got to finally play it it was too rough for me.

Jay, having to prove you were the avatar everytime I think had to do with the way time moved here on on Earth compared to Sosaria. It made for a handy way to bring in newcomers.

Developer of The Wizard's Grave Android game. Discussion Thread:
http://www.rpgwatch.com/forums/showthread.php?t=22520
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November 25th, 2013, 22:05
Ultima Underworld has always been my favorite game for it's time. It blew my mind more than any other game. When it came out, I stood in the store and read on the back of the box that it has 360 degree perspective. "Yeah, right" I thought. "It's probably actually like the first person Bard's Tale games where you only see north, south, east, and west." But I got it home and sat through the intro where you're thrown into the mountain dungeon and the door is slammed closed behind you. You find yourself in dank darkness and moss and slime, with no way out but to go further in. Then I touched the mouse and the view moved smoothly! Wow! It really is! I then continued to play eight levels of the most immersive dungeon crawl I'd ever seen.
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November 26th, 2013, 00:16
UUW II was stunning back then (didnt play UUW1 until later), i don't agree that it's ultima only in it's name, it really had the Ultima vibe to it. I remember being so happy that the absolutely awful grid based movement was finally gone in 3D RPG's, felt like being free for the first time in a 3D RPG. One of the best, if not THE best, RPG gaming experiences i've had.

SiiiiLENCE the DISCOOOORD…
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November 26th, 2013, 05:45
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
IIRC it was one of those Ultima's in name only.
I disagree. The plot of UU was certainly a side-story to the core Ultima games. But the gameplay itself was Ultima through and through. If you want real Ultima games in name only look to Lord of Ultima and Ultima Forever. But putting UU in the same category as the two aforementioned games is, well, it's a sin and you need to wash your mouth out with soap

Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
I also recall serious hardware requirements like the need for a hard drive to have it run. Unfortunately, when I got to finally play it it was too rough for me.
Well, to be fair, every Ultima game released in the 80s and 90s pushed existing hardware to its max, so singling out UU for this lacks some perspective even if at face value your criticism has merit. And by 1992, most PCs were equipped with hard drives even if you still didn't have one. At least UU didn't require Voodoo and for that I gave the box a big hug. Remember boxes? Ah the memories…

If I'm right but there is no wife around to acknowledge it, am I still right?
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November 27th, 2013, 10:10
I really loved UU; it was the first time I felt so claustrophobic and afraid in those dark tunnels! Moving through a 3d world for the first time. It will always have a special place in my memories.
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November 27th, 2013, 11:51
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
Unfortunately, when I got to finally play it it was too rough for me.
Same for me. I envy all the people who played the UU games back then. I can see how they were awesome for their time, but, without a heavy dose of nostalgia, I think they're pretty tough to get into now.

I recently tried to play UU1 again after purchasing it from GOG, and I couldn't even make it out of the starting area. It wasn't the visuals so much as the UI and the sound. I'm not sure if the sound emulation in the GOG version is accurate, but the music and soundFX are just downright grating to me.
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November 27th, 2013, 12:02
IIRC the sound really is strange in the GOG versions of UU and UU2. They use the wrong soundcard. But I might be wrong here - what I definitely know is that the sound from UU2 is much better than from UU1.

Regarding controls: Yeah, they are outdated. But you get used to them. Interesting enough, I think they would be very suited for mobile nowadays.
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November 27th, 2013, 12:06
Funny this should come up just as I'm considering giving UU another try. Last time I'd gotten used to the controls, didn't have any issue with the graphics, and was starting to get into it, then I had to stop playing for a while and never got around to picking it back up.

The only thing I really remember annoying me is the jumping, but first-person and jumping have never mixed well as far as I'm concerned.
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