Home > Ultima Worlds > Ultima VIII: Pagan > About > Ultima VIII Review
?>
60% OFF EA Origin SALE: All Ultima games, Wing Commander, Populous and many other EA classics are going at 60% OFF at www.gog.com till Apr 22, 2014

Ultima VIII Review (HTMLized by Ganesh - Bootstrike.Com)

Download old classics now!

PAGAN: ULTIMA VIII from Origin Systems
Reviewed by Ron "Is Shamino Dead Yet?" Dippold

 
          Computer        Graphics        Memory          Disk Space
Minimum   486/33 *        VGA             4 MB            35 MB
Max/Rec   486/50                          8 MB
			 

Control: Both Mouse and Keyboard required
Sound: MPU-401, AdLib, Sound Blaster, Wave Blaster, Gravis Ultrasound (with patch)
Notes: The game will run on a 386, Origin just doesn't recommend it.

Reviewed CD-ROM distribution version (game + speech pack): 486/66, 16 MB RAM, ATI Graphics Ultra Pro ISA, Sound Blaster 1.0, Gravis Ultrasound, MPU-401 w/Kurzweil 2000

Reviewer recommends: 486/66, 8 MB RAM, Sound Blaster compatible for sounds, MIDI device for music, CD-ROM verison

I've been playing Ultima since before ULTIMA I, through the transition from Apple ][ to PC, through Worlds of Ultima, ULTIMA UNDERWORLD I and II, and all four pieces of ULTIMA VII. If I wanted to proclaim to other drivers "Yo, geek inside!" I might have a "Born to play Ultima" bumper sticker. So I'm a big Ultima fan and awaited PAGAN: ULTIMA VIII eagerly. On the other hand, I have big expectations...

To go along with these big expectations is a big review, because the game is, well, big.

CONFIGURATION (Whoever dies with the biggest hard disk wins)

The first thing we need to get out of the way is the configuration question - you can't play the game if you can't run it. At the last minute, Origin changed its recommendation from 386/33 to 486/33. Good news for those who can't afford a 486: it _does_ work on a 386, and several people I know have been playing it on 386/33 and 386/40s, although I wouldn't recommend anything slower. What's really important here is a fast video card - Pagan shovels an incredibly large number of bits to the graphics card, so a 386/40 with a fast local bus graphics card might easily be faster than a 486/33 with a slow card like a Matrox.

Pagan runs in 4 megs, but 8 megs definitely makes things perkier because you can give 2 megs to a disk caching program. And you _want_ to do that, trust me on this. The game doesn't thrash your hard drive like Ultima VII did, but it still looks to it. Without a cache, loading a game takes about 25 seconds, saving takes 80 seconds. With a good cache that delays writing, loading and saving take about 10 seconds each. You're going to be doing a lot of saving and loading.

INSTALLATION ("Who is General Failure, and why is he reading my drive?")

Pagan is much more system friendly than Ultima VII was. Installation is nice and easy, and as long as you don't load any EMM managers there's no problem. Several people on Usenet got bitten by the old problem with defective floppy disks that characterizes Origin products, but that's solved by exchanging it for a new copy.

That's one of the reasons I like the CD-ROM distribution version. Origin has discussed an Enhanced CD-ROM version of Pagan for later this year with extra sound and graphics, but this isn't it. You "just" get the game and the speech pack, and it still has to be installed to the hard drive. But it's cheaper than buying both and your arm won't fall off from disk swapping.

AUDIO ("Poor, poor Avatar!")

It may seem strange that one of the first things I'd mention is the sound, but the audio in Pagan really contributes to the atmosphere.

Pagan runs a four-sound digital sound mixer, meaning that you can hear four sounds at once. This is used to excellent effect - the Avatar makes different sounds as he walks depending on the terrain he's stepping on. Weapons make clangs and "Schwing!"s. Thunder rumbles, people scream, explosions kaboom, earthquakes grind, doors squeak and clunk, ghouls groan... you get the idea. The sounds are good quality and used unsparingly, and really add to the "you are there" quality of the game. Apparently support for Sound Blaster digital only is hard coded into the program, which causes problems with several sound cards.

If you have the optional Speech Package you'll hear several of the characters talk to you. For example, the Guardian will taunt you whenever you load a game, and at several key locations during the game. Having the Guardian boom "Ouch! That must have _hurt_, Avatar!" after you've been hit by a fireball rubs it in nicely. And having Pyros speak is much more impressive than just watching the sentences on screen. This is a double-edged sword, however, because sometimes the voice effects overwhelmed the voice and I couldn't understand what was being said. I had to turn off the sound and replay that scene so I could read the text and make sure I wasn't missing anything.

It's the music that really shines, however. The music on FM- synthesis cards like a Sound Blaster or PAS-16 sounds like the standard kazoo band you normally get. With a good wavetable or midi card like a Wave Blaster, Ultrasound, or Sound Canvas (ahh) , however, the music takes on a whole new dimension. There are 69 different compositions for different locations and special events (like combat). The music sits in the background under your level of attention, but slowly gnawing on your psyche. For the most part it's haunting choral type music, the kind of score where you look around nervously for little boys named Damien: lots of vocal "ahhhh-ah"s, tympanis, and vibrato strings.

This significantly effects the character of the game, in my opinion. I even extracted the music the game so I could have it playing in the background while I was doing other things.

GRAPHICS (Is that a sword, or are you just happy to see me?)

Superb, absolutely superb. I loved Ultima II, and was peeved for years when Ultima III thru VI placed all the action in a small window on a screen. Ultima VII restored action to the whole screen and brought the graphics to a whole new level of detail, and Ultima VIII carries on with the tradition.

Pagan is more orthogonal than any Ultima we've seen before: you seeing everything at a top-down diagonal angle. This get you more "into" the action, and it lets the graphics for objects look nicer, since you see things from the side instead of just looking at the top of everyone's head. And, since you can only see the inside of two walls of any structure, you only need to search half as many walls.

On the flip side, you can't see as far as you used to, and everything is slightly closed in. Also, it's quite easy for something to hide behind a wall or other immovable object, where you'll never be able to get to it again. This is extremely nasty because there are many objects the game won't let you walk or jump over. If there's a flask hidden in a doorway you need to traverse, you can't get through. Here's a tip: go into combat mode and just start attacking where you think the item is. With luck you'll hit it and it'll bounce into sight, where you can deal with it.

The animation is extremely fluid. Origin claims 1200 frames of animation for the Avatar alone, and I can believe it. When he walks he really walks. Get him too close to the edge of a precipice and he windmills his arms and twists his body (and yells "Whoooooaaaa!"). Get him too drunk and he staggers around and bends over to throw up. Eat the wrong mushroom and watch out as your world goes psychedelic. All the graphics are well designed and the animations are nice and smooth with lots of in- between frames. Someone spent a lot of time on explosions. Outdoor scenes are particularly beautiful, with lots of different types of vegetation, dirt, and water, especially near a waterfall.

Of course, with all these graphics, something had to give. In this case it's the representation of the Avatar. Regardless of what he's wearing, he's always completely armor-clad while wandering around. He doesn't hold different weapons while walking around like characters did in Ultima VII. In combat, whatever weapon you're using looks like a mace or a sword, even if it's something else like a hammer. There are no animations of such things as the Avatar climbing into bed and sleeping, presumably because there are too many different types of beds to draw pictures for. Also, everybody is just a mirror image in left and right orientations, so they're left handed when facing one way and right handed when standing the other.

You may have noticed that I always refer to the avatar as He. There is a "paper-doll" inventory window where you can make your Avatar wear and hold things, and your only choice for representation here is good old blond haired, blue eyed Rod Beefcake. Given the minimal effort it would have taken to change this single static picture to other races and sexes (especially since the armored Avatar is sexless and raceless) I assume they just ran out of time.

All these graphics may overstress your system. Origin has been nice enough to include several options in the game which let you skip frames or otherwise tone down the graphics so you can play with a slower machine. Biiilyuns and biiilyuns of pixels are being dumped to your machine, so card which is fast in standard VGA mode is a must (Windows acceleration won't help you here).

THE WORLD ("Yew ain't from around here, are yew, boy?")

The world of Pagan is impressive in many ways, disappointing in others. It's simultaneously very small and rather large, very realistic and very unrealistic. Just looking at the cloth map that comes with the game will let you know that things are different - it's been a long time since the map was so totally useless as far as gameplay goes.

There was much worry that Pagan would be much smaller than previous Ultimas, based on comments in some publications. 25 hour playing time rumors were tossed around. Not to panic! Pagan itself is rather small, being only one island on a world of water. However, you can cram a lot into an island, and since we're closer to the action, distances appear larger. I never thought it was very realistic for the Avatar to go traversing around the world in a day - this is much more reasonable.

Things a primitive physics engine. Things go flying and bouncing when you blow them up, or fall if you drop them. It's fun to throw something into the water and watch the splash, or toss a Molotov cocktail into a room with lots of objects (you can do a lot of pyrotechnic things in this game). Try holding onto a lighted flask of oil....

But it's easily confused. If you drop an object where Pagan doesn't think it should go, it may start wildly bouncing around until it finds a resting point or flies of the screen. That it wouldn't let you place the object somewhere which would be supremely reasonable for it to be in the real world (stacking one book on another, for instance) is a serious flaw. Pagan is just so _damned picky_ about where you can place things that you spend much of your time trying to figure out where it will allow you to put items.

Unlike Ultima VII, you have to be close to something to pick it up. This makes sense from a realism point of view, but Pagan is also picky about where you step, so it might be hard to get near it. And once you get close enough to pick it up, it might think that you're stepping on it (when you're clearly not) and won't let you pick it up anyhow. Also, because of the orthogonal view, you'll block anything you're standing in front of.

Ditto for character movement. Pagan will let you step over and climb on to some things, but not others. You can walk all over a dead skeleton, but can't step on or jump over a dead ghoul or a potion. Getting around can be an exercise in frustration at times, especially when you can clearly see that the opening you're trying to squeeze through should be large enough, but the game decides that it's not.

The world here is not internally consistent. In Ultima VII you had one big world, and if there was a dungeon in a mountain range, then the size of the dungeon was limited by the size of the mountain range, by God! Pagan divides things up into chunks of limited size. There are many ways you can get "outside" of the area the game thinks you're supposed to be in - by climbing on top of things, or walking somewhere that someone forgot to block off. You can end up walking _under_ the map, or off in nowhere land, leaving a trail of Avatars.

If you're supposed to meet a character at a certain place and time, you can't just go to their house and sleep, or wait there. You need to exit the area of world you're in and go to another one for the character movement to kick in. This "chunky character" problem shows up vividly when a character is in two locations at once.

I miss the "if you can see it you can use it" philosophy Ultima VII had. You could pick up a bucket and use it on a well to get a bucket of water, sit in a chair, take things off the wall, make bread, break glass and mirrors... in Pagan, many things are just there to be looked at. You can't sit, you can't use wells, things on the wall are probably just decorations.

MOVEMENT and COMBAT ("Ha! Thrust! Parry! Dodge! Pounce! Boing!")

The Avatar has three movement modes: small mincing steps, walking, and running. You indicate movement by placement of cursor on the screen, as in Ultima Underworld - the farther from the Avatar the cursor is, the faster he moves. There are some problems - at times he almost refuses to step off the edge of something, at others he happily plummets to his death. Everything is mouse controlled, which is very frustrating at times, especially in combat, when you'd like to be able to back up but still keep attacking, and you're also fighting the mouse controls all the way. The Avatar has inertia, and all together it's a pretty clumsy combination. I dread narrow doors, because the Avatar likes to keep going, and often resists efforts to line him up with the door.

You can climb things now... this is very interesting, because you can do things you never thought of doing in previous Ultimas. If you can't get in a locked house, you can at times climb up to the roof and get in via the second story. It took me three days before I shook the old habit and realized I could do this. It opens up another dimension - for instance, climbing up and down is a good way to escape monsters. But there are some flaws - you can climb up to places you can't climb down from. The wise and powerful Avatar just steps off the edge and falls to his death. Oh well.

The Avatar has three jumps - straight up, forward, and running. I mention this because he has no intermediate jumps. This is particularly stupid in situations where a short hop would land the Avatar on that rock sticking out of the water, but he jumps right over it and into the briny deep (he can't swim, either). This leads us to the worst part of the game - the arcade parts.

Yes, that's right, arcade parts. There are sections of the game where you need to dodge rolling spiked balls, run between electrical zappers, and worst of all jump from platform to platform. Lots of the latter. Miss one jump and you die, of course, and the Avatar is a lousy jumper. These sections of the game devolve into 1) Save the game, 2) Jump, 3) if you made it, save the game again. Otherwise, 4) reload the game and go back to 2. The mouse controls are clunky, so you're going to die often. Since loading and saving games is not quick, this is supreme and pointless tedium. Stupid, stupid, stupid, and a bad way to extend game play.

Combat has changed as well. It's in real time, like Ultima VII. However, now you don't have to worry about nonexistent companions killing each other, and you actually have to do the fighting. You can attack with a weapon, kick, or block (useless). The best strategy for fighting seems to be just to hack as fast as you can. Combat and explosions are somewhat "realistic" in that the Avatar can get knocked over and has to get back up. However, this guarantees his doom in certain situations where he has no chance at all to get away - he gets up and immediately gets knocked down again. Frustrating. And he falls over far too often - apparently the Avatar suffers from an inner ear disorder. Actually, your best combat strategy in many cases is just to run like hell - you're much faster than anything else.

You can't stop combat by opening your inventory any more... Better grab that Frisbee of death quickly, because those ghosts aren't stopping while you rummage around. Even opening your stats window doesn't stop the action. One nice touch that helps out here are a pair of status bars you can place in the lower right corner of your screen showing hit points and mana. They like to disappear, unfortunately, but it's MUCH better than nothing.

CHARACTER INTERACTION (See New Places, Meet New People, and Kill Them)

Interaction with NPCs (Non-Player Characters, i.e., anybody but you) has always been a prime component of Ultima, and the series has tried many variations on exactly how you converse with people in the game. Pagan uses a method fairly close to Ultima VII's. All your conversation options are listed on the screen, and you click on what you want to say. Whatever the NPC tells you opens up some avenues of conversation and closes others. Especially interesting in Pagan is that some options disappear if you don't follow up on them for a while, and unlike Ultima VII you can say some fairly insulting things. You need to choose carefully at times.

There are several annoyances, however. First, there is no way to stop the text (in a rather ugly font) from going away after a certain amount of time. You can increase this time, but not make it infinite. When you're frantically trying to copy down critical information only to have it disappear off the screen because Pagan decided you should be done now, the urge to hurt something is strong. Second, when you want to advance through text instead of waiting, you have to click on the actual text itself, not just anywhere on the screen. Because the conversation is bouncing around between at least two places on the screen, there's a lot of mouse action involved here for no sufficient reason.

The Avatar comes off sounding like a moron, because he often just parrots everything back the NPCs say. Sorcerer: "We serve Pyros." Avatar: "You serve Pyros?" Quite a few people chide our hero for sounding like a fool and at times I'd have to agree.

The NPCs suffer from selective amnesia. An NPC may have been instrumental in the death of another NPC, yet after the death of that other NPC all the pre-death options are available, even when the death finishes off a major story plotline. This results in schizoid conversations in which the NPC expresses sorrow at someone's death, then tells you to go talk to them.

Finally, there's the lack of portraits. Ultima VI and VII used detailed facial portraits of whoever you were talking to. Origin claims that the bigger animated characters here make that unnecessary. Hah! You can tell characters apart, certainly, but a 10 pixel high face doesn't offer much room for expression. I thought it just might be me, but several Ultima players I've talked to agree that this decision results in a significant loss in terms of relating to NPCs. There are so few people in the game compared to previous Ultimas that the work wouldn't have been overwhelming.

THE STORY (See Avatar. See Avatar run. Run, Avatar, run!)

That's the point of a computer role playing game (CRPG), right? The story. You wouldn't know it from viewing several recent offerings, and again rumors were worrying, but Pagan comes through. When viewed as a whole from the point of view of having completed the game, the story is quite decent. The Avatar is finally coming into his own with much needed development.

Not to say that some people aren't going to be confused. This game is much less linear than previous Ultimas - you may find that you have to come back to some place you've already "completed" to do something else. This plot makes you work a bit harder to figure out what you're supposed to do, and the major plot development takes some time to build. There's lots of wandering around looking for things to do. You need to _carefully_ read books looking for hints. There are even quests which are wild goose chases, which is almost unheard of in a CRPG. After being led around by the nose through both parts of Ultima VII, I consider this an improvement. However, there are still lots of "Bring me this item" quests, and in the first part of the game you may simultaneously feel totally lost and that you're playing "Avatar the errand boy."

Let me tell you right now that after wandering around in the catacombs for a while you may be tempted to do a "del /s *.*" on the game. Don't do it! Things really pick up afterwards. If this was intended to increase the feeling of loneliness and isolation you feel, it succeeds. When you start out you're on an immediate downhill slide. The Guardian has dumped you on an unknown world. You have NO connection to previous Ultima characters (except the guardian) or terrain for the first time since Ultima I - I hadn't realized how much I enjoyed re- exploring familiar places. There aren't very many people, and all the ones you find are rather depressing. Your mood will not be improved after wandering through a city of the dead for several hours. There are occasional flashes of humor in the game - mostly in books which you'll read, sometimes in a conversation. These serve to lighten the mood slightly.

Then things start to pick up... a plot forms, hope appears, everything starts making sense, you start meeting new people, and things take off from there. There is a bit of suspension of disbelief involved at how eager these supposedly suspicious people are to help and even trust a total stranger, but that's always been one of the hallmarks of the Avatar.

There are a few places in the game where you can't avoid acting like a total bastard to continue your advancement, which can be another emotional roller coaster. On one hand you just completed a major part of the plot... on the other hand you just made the lives of a lot of people miserable. Bummer. Of course, you have to distinguish these from the nearly infinite number of places where you can be a total bastard though it isn't necessary. If you find that you end up stealing lots of food and money from people you might consider a career in politics.

There are quite a few side-plots, which is a big plus for me. You don't _have_ to explore everywhere, and you'll probably find that when you finish the game there are still several places you haven't visited yet. It's fun to stumble across one of these while you're wandering around. Many of these mini-adventures involve finding some of the many magic weapons which abound in the game.

MISCELLANEOUS ("That's not a pentagram. It's a pentacle. Really.")

This is definitely a PC-13 game... lots of blood, body parts, and adult themes (including the obligatory Ultima child killing scene). There's no nudity and no bad language.

There are groups which might be taken aback by a huge red horned creature materializing out of a pentacle, but I imagine they'd already be quite put off by the magic elements of the game. The Avatar has to learn and deal with several different types of magic, namely Necromancy, Theurgy, Thaumaturgy, and Sorcery, each with its own rules and methods. It's quite fascinating - if you thought the "mix reagents" of the previous Ultimas was a pain in the rear, wait till you try Sorcery. The whole magic system is very well done.

The Avatar still uses the "items in a container" method of inventory control. This sounds bad, but it has two major improvements over Ultima VII - first, items remain where you place them. This is a _big_ win, and means you can keep things arranged to your liking. Second, you can get key rings, like those in the Silver Seed add-on. Just add all your keys to the ring, then use the ring on anything you want to unlock. If you have the right key on the ring it unlocks. These features combine to make the inventory quite usable.

Pagan is very unbuggy, which is welcome, not to mention surprising in something this big. I experienced an occasional controlled crash where Pagan returned to DOS with an error, but nothing frequent, and nothing like the abominable disappearing key problem of Ultima VII or the trigger problems of Serpent Isle.

OVERALL ("Speeeet it out, man!")

So I've rambled on and on about various parts of the game and said various good and nasty things about it. What's the verdict?

Two toes up. It shows several signs of being slightly unfinished, which is a disappointment, but the overall package is still top notch. I played it for two weeks and thoroughly enjoyed myself, then went back and continued exploring. I have polled several people who completed the game, and they were all enthusiastic about it.

Yes, you may be aimless and even depressed at first, but this makes the second half of the game even better. Persevere! I don't often get so immersed in a CRPG - the sound, graphics, and story combine to make it quite an experience (which makes it all the more jarring when the occasional arcade section makes you load and save the game a dozen times).

Yes, there are some niggling frustrations, but once you learn what they are you quickly learn to work around them. I even got pretty good at combat, eventually. And the overall game overwhelms the details. Some of the details are disappointing only because of the high standard the rest of the game lives up to.

All this makes me eager for the next offering, which will hopefully build on the best parts of this one and get rid of the irritations. I don't want to spoil the plot, but the ending of Pagan opens up huge new opportunities for the direction of the series, assuming they don't turn the Avatar into a wimp again at the start of the next Ultima. If you have a machine that can handle the strain this is absolutely worth taking a look at.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Ron Dippold for Game Bytes Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

ULTIMA VIII - PAGAN by Origin
ULTIMA VIII SPEECH PACK by Origin
Reviewed by David Pratt

               Computer   Graphics   Memory   Disk Space     O.S.
Game Minimum:   486-33        VGA       4 MB      32 MB     MS-DOS 5.0
Speech Pack:       *         ---       --         5 MB        --
				

* A Soundblaster, OR 100% compatible is required for the Speech Pack.

Reviewed on: 486-66, 16MB, Soundblaster 16, MS-DOS 6.0.
Reviewer recommends: 486-33, 8MB, Soundblaster 16
Control: Keyboard, Mouse required (100% compatible MS mouse v7.0 or higher, Logitech driver 6.0 or higher, or 100% compatible driver)
Sound: All major sound cards Notes: Boot disk highly recommended
Copy Protection: None - Backups recommended

So Avatar, you've defeated the Guardian in ULTIMA VII. You pushed your limits in SERPENT ISLE to keep the upper hand. Somehow you feel that it's not quite finished yet. Something remains incomplete...looking back into the void you see his hand. That huge red hand, reaching for you, stretching ever closer to you. You think, "this can't be happening...I thought I'd done away with him. This should have been the end!"

Enter the world of ULTIMA VIII - PAGAN by Origin

You awaken in the Guardian's grasp, and he proclaims that you have given him trouble for far to long. His hand starts to turn, you can't hold on, and you find yourself plummeting towards open water. The Guardian's voice echos above you..."I banish thee to the World of Pagan...No one here knows of the Avatar."

The Adventure begins...

"I'm sure you have many questions Avatar. I will try and help guide your path to the correct answers. But beware! The journey ahead is full of danger! ...You ask of the Guardian? We were but teased by your previous victories over the Guardian, as you well know. And he has returned with a vengence! Seeking to regain control over Britannia and Earth, the Guardian has banished you to Pagan. How foolish of him to think that you, the Avatar, could not find your way back to Britannia. But first you must determine why the Guardian has left you here. Perhaps to try and tempt you with power. To beckon you down his path of evil...

What of your allies from previous encounters?...I am sorry, but they will not be joining you on this adventure. I assume that the Guardian has some special plans for you.

What is this place called Pagan?...It is a world of beauty, but scarred by evil pacts. It is a world that has long been conquered and divided by the Guardian. Ruled by the 4 Titans, Earth, Sea, Air, and Fire. You must discover the secret behind each of the Titans power, and determine if a fifth entity exsists. Perhaps it's the Guardian himself.

Will you return to Britannia, or confront the Guardian here on Pagan? Hurry Avatar...Britannia is already under attack, and the world of Pagan awaits!"

ULTIMA VIII - PAGAN. (U8P) ORIGIN produces another winner!

Installation:

Upon reading the box, I noticed it stated the minimum disk space required was 25 megs. Well, that's a little underestimated. My total count during the installation was 31 megs, and after it completed it settled down to 28 megs.

ULTIMA VIII - SPEECH PACK adds another 5 megs into the equation. Saved games can account for an additional 10 megs.

U8P contains 8 3.5 inch floppys, and the Speech Pack contains 3. ** NOTE: The SPEECH PACK states a 386-33 is the minimum requirement. Don't get confused, the mimimum processor is a 486-33. **

The kit also contains a cloth map, and a pentagram coin.

The map is a crude layout of the area of PAGAN you will be exploring. So crude in fact, that it was virtually useless to me. But none the less, it is a beautiful piece of work. There is no automapping feature, and your best directions will come in the form of conversations with others. The pentagram coin is a "gimme" when purchasing the game.

If you are a newcomer to epic RPG's then the Installation Guide was made for you. After rolling through 8 floppys, the guide explains in laymens terms how to optimize your system for U8P to run. Thus my high recommendation for a boot disk.

The guide explains step by step how to create the boot disk, along with creating your own autoexec.bat and config.sys files, line by line.

A Playguide is included and covers all aspects of the main character. The "Avatar" is the main character and is the one you'll be controlling. U8P is primarily mouse driven. Your hands and eyes are controlled with the left mouse button, and your feet are controlled by the right. Unlike the earlier Ultima games, you are not resurrected if you die. I learned early to save often.

"The Chronical of Pagan. A treatise on the glorious history of this fore- most society" by Bentic, humble scholar and student. Sounds good, huh? It's an Adventurers guide to Pagan. I heartily recommend reading this "history book" prior to playing. It lays out your quest without giving it away. Well written and conveyed from Bentic's point of view. It's enjoyable to read and finishes within forty-five minutes.

MUSIC-SOUND EFFECTS

Ahhh...the background music is subtle most of time. The tempo of the music changes with your surroundings. It's not overpowering enough to be a nuisance, yet it is a catchy tune. The sound effects are great! From the swish of your sword to the roars of the beasts. ORIGIN boasts 4 voice digital sound. I could actually hear footsteps, running water, and some beast howling all at the same moment.

MANIPULATING YOUR ENVIRONMENT

I can say nothing but bravo! U8P has a perfect point and click interface while exploring your environment. Two left clicks on an object will "use" that item. One click will identify an object. One click and hold will "pick up" an item. Two clicks will bring the Avatar to arms. One click to advance on screen text. It's simple and effective. Every game should be this user friendly. It should take you all of 3 minutes to get the hang of it.

CONVERSATIONS. AND MORE CONVERSATIONS

Get a sharp pencil and pad. You'll need them. With the details of your quest coming from conversations, you'd of thought that ORIGIN would have the game pause while talking. Not! Of course, with that fantastic point and click interface, you're only 3 swift clicks away from battle readiness. A lot of time is spent conversing with folks that have clues for your adventure. You're given anywhere from 2 to 4 "response" options to either question or answer with. The responses range from serious to antagonistic to humorous.

ULTIMA VIII SPEECH PACK is a wonderful addition to this great game. The speech is limited to the Titans, the Zealans, Khumash-Gor and the Guardian. So it's limited only in that aspect. The voices are crisp and clear. Why, they even offer up French and German accents. Playing the game late at night, I had chills run up my back several times by the voice of the Guardian booming out. It always seemed to me that it would happen when things were real quiet too!

THE DIARY

ORIGIN did a good job providing a quick and simple interface to U8P. The Diary contains the intro, read diary (recalling saved games), write diary (saving games), the options, credits and quitting the game. My hat is off to ORIGIN. They had the forethought to deliver a whopping 12 save slots. These slots are complimented by a generous 4 line description field. The Options page is self explanitory. One thing I'd like to point out though. You can toggle on or off the "frame skipping" (skips every other frame, which I found un-noticeable)" and "speed limiting" (I haven't even figured out what it does! I couldn't see any change in U8P performance). ORIGIN does however, recommend turning them off on slower systems.

GRAPHICS

I won't be able to say enough about the graphics. The view is almost an orthogonal view as opposed to a three-quarter view. This new perspective helps pour the rich 256 colors onto the screen. The monsters...what a wonderful job ORIGIN has done. Every single monster I've encountered, (a ton!) has been rendered in full 3-D! These monsters can attack from 8 different directions, making it obvious that ORIGIN has a understanding of life-like 3-D animation.

COMBAT

Outstanding. (OK, by now you can tell that I love this game). The Avatar can carry a multitude of items for combat. Axes, swords, maces and so forth. He can equip himself in a range of armor. All this in the name of combat. The Avatar can attack from 8 sides, as well as defend those same 8 sides. He can kick, block, and strike. During an engagement, he can shimmy left or right. This guy can do it all!

CHARACTER STATS

** Caution -- this section contains some minor spoilers **

This is the only mundane thing about U8P. It has the standard fare:

Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Armor Class, Hit Points, Mana and Weight.

I found it difficult to increase my strength. The documentation says to engage in more battles to increase it. I've hacked and slashed for days only to watch nothing happen. Although I did find other means to increase my characters strength.

Intelligence controls your Mana. Your max Mana is twice your intelligence. Got that? Now, in my terms...the intelligence goes up if I cast more spells. OK, more spells require more "spell ingredients". That requires more searching for those ingredients. These ingredients are found by random searching, and rarely by sticking directly to the quest at hand. My beef is, you are expected to read a lot of books. Like every one you encounter. I assumed as you "learned" what these books had to offer, your intelligence would go up. Not so, you gotta cast those spells!

(Please forgive me. I had hoped to leave a small clue or two on this game, but I wound up with a big dead giveaway).

Armor Class - Pretty much the standard. Start with nothing and work up.
Hit Points - Keeps track of how much damage you can withstand. ORIGIN has added a nice feature here. You can click on the Stats Display and have it shrink to the lower right corner of the display showing your level of Hit points, and Mana points.
Mana Points - The amount of stamina you have while casting spells. No Mana, no spells. It does replenish itself rather quickly.
Weight - The total of your load. Your total carrying ability is three times your maximum strength.

DAVE'S BUGCHECK

I'm proud to say, that ORIGIN has topped the list with only... One bug!! But it's a doozie to me. Opening a saved game would instantly produce half a sentence from the Guardian, and it was usually garbled. All in all, one bug "aint bad!"

IN A NUTSHELL

I am still deeply entrenched in this game. As well as you would be too! The graphics, the Avatars playability, the challenge. All combine to make a game that deserves to be at the top of everyone's list.

The seasoned or amature adventurer will love ULTIMA VIII - PAGAN.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by David Pratt for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.

PAGAN: ULTIMA 8 by Origin
Review by Daniel Starr

          Computer        Graphics        Memory          Disk Space
Minimum    486/33             VGA          4 MB               25 MB
Max/Rec.   486/50                          8 MB          +10MB saved games
				

Control: Mouse (required) + Keyboard
Sound: Sound Blaster, General MIDI, Adlib
Notes: Supports simultaneous sound effects card and music card. Physically possible to run on a 386 but not desirable...
Reviewed on: 486/66, 8MB RAM, Pro Audio 16, Roland SCC-1 Reviewer recommends: Local bus 486, 6MB+ RAM, sound card

FROM THE HALLS OF OLD BRITANNIA TO THE SHORES OF...

Long, long ago, in a role-playing computer game far, far away...in a trio called Ultima I, II and III the player defeated three mighty villains by the power of his keyboard.

Then the games' author, Lord British, had a vision of a role-playing game that would be more than the defeat of a Generic Evil Villain. Thus was born the classic, Ultima IV, in which the player quested to become the Avatar, the embodiment of virtue.

In Ultima V the Avatar was called on to rescue Britannia's sacred ruler and free the land from a usurper's tyranny, and in Ultima VI the Avatar set Britannia on a firm peaceful footing by dealing with the menace of the Underworld gargoyles. And then came... the Guardian.

In ULTIMA VII: THE BLACK GATE we met the evil extradimensional Guardian, who sought to subvert and conquer Britannia, only to be foiled both then and in the sequel, SERPENT ISLE, by the Avatar. So the Guardian banishes our hero to a conquered world, so that the Guardian may work evil at will while the Avatar languishes. Thus begins PAGAN: ULTIMA 8.

"TOTO, I DON'T THINK WE'RE IN 2-D ANYMORE..."

On the desolate world of Pagan, you must gather the mystical power to leave this prison planet and confront the Guardian. You will have to survive the perils of a truly vicious, wretched and lonely realm; and ultimately confront and surmount the Elemental Titans of Earth, Air, Water and Fire who rule here.

As you start your quest you'll find that the graphics and sounds have taken another giant leap forward since the already stunning Ultima 7. An isometric view and large, detailed graphics give an amazingly visceral three-dimensional feel to the game. The people you talk to and the monsters you fight are modeled in large, detailed figures. Particularly on a fast machine, your own character can move very fluidly, and all characters move elegantly enough to convey a superb "you-are-there" sensation. Sounds are unspeakably good -- your steps sound different when you walk on wood or on dirt or on stone; you can hear a sword unsheathed, a blow landed; fire crackles and lava bubbles.

The effect is magnified by the interface that lets you walk, run, jump and climb. As in Ultima 7, the left mouse button acts as your hands and the right as your feet. Various clicks let you step carefully along ledges, jump over chasms, climb up ledges, attack or block or kick.

The sense of physical reality produced by the combined graphics, sound and interface defies description. You can watch and hear the Avatar walk, break into a run, hit a wall, recoil, climb up the wall, jump off the roof, fall down, get back up... it's incredible, and I guarantee that if you play this game you will spend an hour or two doing amazing, silly things with your on-screen hero. "Wheeeee!"

But the genius of the interface is a flawed one. I have spent several minutes looking for the one spot on several inches of identical-looking wall where the computer would let me climb. I spent an inordinate amount of time laboriously stepping my character around tables and chairs to get to the other side of the room. I would curse as my character stopped dead in the middle of combat to sheath his weapon before moving. I groaned as I knocked an object into a place where a wall obscured it from my view.

So the interface can be as rich in frustrations as it is in potential. (A path-finding algorithm and a more accomodating combat interface would have done wonders.) As it is, the player can expect a mind-blowing sensory feast, but also the occasional urge to smash his keyboard. Such is the "curse of technology"...

PAGAN, THE ADVENTURE: HEY, THIS IS FUN!

Of course, after Ultimas 6 and 7 it should surprise no one that Ultima 8 is a technical landmark. The real pleasant surprise in U8 is the adventure itself: what the player has to do to win the game.

PAGAN's adventure design is the best of any Ultima to date. There are no repetitive "find the eight pieces of the map" time-wasters. The "you must do A before B" linearities are well hidden from the player. Challenges are varied and interesting, and the player is asked to think instead of mindlessly following instructions. The upshot is that playing Ultima 8 is in many respects more fun than prior Ultimas have been (and that's saying a lot).

At the start of the game, for example, you get two basic leads to people who may know how you can get off Pagan. You can follow either in either order, as well as pick up plenty of eventually useful information just talking to the inhabitants of Pagan's last remaining city, Tenebrae. When you follow up on one lead -- the Necromancers -- they'll ask you to retrieve a stolen dagger. To do that you'll need a key, but nobody tells you how to get it -- you have to figure out for yourself who would be likely to have the key in question. Later, you have to figure out how to get into a room with no apparent entrance. Later yet, you have to negotiate a number of conversations very carefully to get the information you need. The point is that unlike THE BLACK GATE and SERPENT ISLE, Ultima 8 assumes you have and can use your brain, letting you take the responsibility and credit for solving challenges instead of blindly following the orders of sages and prophets.

Moreover, throughout the game the player almost always has at least two different subplots available to work on in whatever order is preferred; intense combat is interspersed with detective work, detective work with dungeon exploration. PAGAN does an elegant job of varying and pacing its challenges while leaving the player feeling in control.

Unfortunately, excellent adventure design doesn't always translate into exellent adventure execution. PAGAN has two notable adventure letdowns. One is the physical puzzles. To complete the game, on four occasions the player will need to jump across a series of platforms hanging in the air. If the platforms were relatively easy, this would be a modest challenge that got your blood racing as you jumped from one to the next. Instead, positioning for the jumps is so tricky that one ends up just going through a save-jump-die-restore-jump-die-restore-land-save-repeat procedure. This slows the game pace to a crawl and is about as much fun as moving files around in DOS. These four sets of platforms form only a small part of all the challenges in PAGAN, but their frustration factor makes them loom large in a player' mind...

The second adventure flaw will be familiar to SERPENT ISLE players: nonsensical game flags. At one location in the game you're told to go on a "pilgrimage to the birthplace of Moriens", when in fact you should be looking for the Shrine of the Ancient Ones -- the only place of Moriens' you'll eventually look for is his tomb. Hydros, in turn, won't talk to you until you've completed the Shrine's miniquest, but no explanation is given for this. Finally, a magician will, after describing to you the spell needed to leave Pagan, refuse to give it to you with no explanation -- unless you've freed Pyros. Why? Nobody knows. Again, these things are a small part of the overall adventure, but can be extremely frustrating when you hit them.

On the whole, though, comparing what a player had to do to complete any prior Ultima side by side with what a player goes through to solve Pagan, there's no question that Pagan is set up for a smoother, more enjoyable and more intelligent range of puzzles.

PAGAN, THE PLOT: FOUR SMALL DIAMONDS, ONE BIG LUMP OF COAL?

Of course, the challenges the player faces are only half the story. What makes a role-playing game work is the synthesis of challenge and plot, so that solving the puzzle can translate into saving the world. In Ultima 8, the plot is a definite good news / bad news story.

The good news: the major subplots are superbly scripted. The characterization is every bit the equal of the stunning graphics. People in PAGAN act in realistic manners; some of the personalities practically jump off the screen; events unfold in a manner that is logical, evocative and fitting. Intrigue and betrayal and tragedy and victory all play out in PAGAN in far better form than in most other computer games. Stupid villains and smart ones come to buffoonish or dramatic ends; there are noble deaths and wasted deaths, backstabbers and innocents. Most computer games come off as silly or melodramatic when they try to portrary realistic and serious emotions; PAGAN does it better than I would have thought possible. Where prior Ultimas have offered a mostly static world around the player with ham-handed transitions ("OK, now everybody dies"), PAGAN's people are dynamic, credible and vivid in their intrigues. Like its sound team, Ultima 8's script team is worth its weight in gold.

Unfortunately, top-notch scriptwriting in the details doesn't let PAGAN rise above the problems of the "escape from prison-world" premise. The world of Pagan is a terrible, desperate place. The land is dying, the people are dying, the monsters are taking over and half of those are already dead. Pagan is a world of dank pools and shadows and deadly lava, of long, creepy catacombs and howling ghouls. The people have little to look forward to except death -- half of them worship it and the other half are trying to accomplish it on someone. The graphics, sound and script teams have succeeded so terribly well in conveying the desolate air of the world that unless the player accomplishes something to change it, it seems hardly worth fighting for.

And at the end of the game, what has the Avatar accomplished? What has the player's effort secured? The Avatar was trapped on Pagan, and now he's off it. Great. The Guardian isn't defeated, Pagan isn't somehow restored -- outside of the Avatar himself, nothing fundamental has changed. If Ultima 9 were available right now, so that from escaping Pagan I could leap directly into the final assault on the Guardian, that would be great. But as a standalone game, PAGAN leaves me feeling a bit empty.

Of course, like the movie _The Empire Strikes Back_, PAGAN could be seen as a transition story about the changes the hero himself goes through as he approaches his destiny. Some interviews have implied Ultima 8 was intended to portray the dilemmas of the Avatar's transformation into a demigod. Just one problem: if the Avatar does become a demigod over the course of Ultima 8, it certainly doesn't show. At the end of the game, the Avatar has more fun spells available than at the beginning, but he can't walk on water, can't smash enemies by force of will, can't call up small armies by snapping his fingers, or do much else that reeks of Titanic Power. Sure, given a bunch of reagents he can create some neat effects, but heck, we Avatars have been doing that since Ultima IV! PAGAN as the story of the Avatar's transformation fails because there's no obvious transformation to speak of.

All of this could have been turned around and redeemed by a well-scripted endgame. If the defeat of each Titan had triggered enough conversation or pyrotechnics to convey a sense of real power gained by the Avatar, and real defeat of the Titan; if we had some glimpse of a post-Titan world suddenly convulsing and reforming with new hope; if the Guardian had expressed some rage and renewed defiance at the Avatar's sudden escape -- these would give the player a real sense of accomplishment after playing the game. Instead, the Titans' defeat is ridiculously formulaic, and the endgame animation almost meaningless. Add all this to a desolate world with understandably little exploration to offer outside the player's main goals, and you get a game that when done feels a bit short and a bit empty.

A WORK IN TRANSITION

On the whole, PAGAN: ULTIMA 8 makes more sense as the prelude to the forthcoming ASCENSION: ULTIMA 9 than as a standalone game.

The new interface has its kinks and occasional major nuisances, but the vivid sense of physical reality is well worth it. My copy crashed every few hours, but I encountered no persistent bugs. The graphics are wonderful, the sounds are beyond wonderful, the challenges are varied and well paced, the subplots are superbly scripted... It's a terrific game, except the end leaves you incomplete!

So I can't recommend it as a first jump into the Ultima series. But for those who liked Ultima 7, PAGAN is a must-have as a stepping stone to Ultima 9. If you're willing to think of it as "just the beginning" of the Avatar's final confrontation with evil, then PAGAN: ULTIMA 8 is the best beginning to any Ultima yet.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Daniel Starr for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.

PAGAN: ULTIMA 8 by Origin
Reviewed by Sean Barrett

 
          Computer        Graphics        Memory          Disk Space
Minimum    486/33             VGA          4 MB               25 MB
Max/Rec.   486/50                          8 MB          +10MB saved games

Control: Mouse (required) + Keyboard
Sound: Sound Blaster, General MIDI, Adlib
Notes: Supports simultaneous sound effects card and music card. Physically possible to run on a 386 but not desirable...

SETUP
486DX/33
16M (8M disk cache)
1M Trident video card
DR-DOS (superpck for disk cache)
Soundblaster Pro

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS NO SPOILERS

"Second Thoughts" is NOT in the idiomatic sense of "I wish I hadn't bought this".

CAPSULE SUMMARY

An ok game. Differences from U7, but similar enough to claim that you'll probably like it if you liked U7, although the gameplay is a bit different (some arcade elements).

Not a great game, however. Too many nit-picking flaws for it to be a great game. Even if it didn't have the gameplay aspects which I dislike, it would still be too flawed to be a great game.

Which is really too bad... I'm a bit tired of coming home from Babbage's, $60 down the drain, and finding in the box a good game which could easily have been great.

Funny, this seems to happen all the time.

In the full review, you will see more complaints than you will see positive comments. But remember, overall, my feeling for it is positive, but tinged with a large amount of frustration. I'm not quite to the point where I'm only playing it because I feel obligated since I spent the money, but there have been times when I was tempted to feel that way.

If you have to have numbers, then I will give it numbers. I will compare it to other games so you will know how to judge my numbers:

 
     9-10    still waiting
     8     first impression of Ultima 8
     8     Ultima 7
     7     second impression of Ultima 8 (because of gameplay)
     7     DOOM            (effective mindless arcade game)
     7     Galaga          (effective mindless arcade game)
     5-6   Return To Zork  (a good idea, but horrible scriptwriting,
                            major user-interface flaws)
     3-5   Wolfenstein 3D  (a boring mindless arcade game)

The Ultima Underworlds probably come in somewhere between 7 and 9. Note that DOOM is close to the Ultimas only because the Ultimas had flaws that pulled their scores down; a DOOM-style game would never go above about 7.5 or 8 in my book.

CONTENTS:

Installation The Back of the Box (brought to you by CCAABB) The Game User-Interface Rant

INSTALLATION

Pretty speedy. Eight disks, about 25 M of disk space plus 10 M for saved games. I spent more time trying to free up space than I did "installing" (goodbye unfinished Ultima Underworld II), but see below.

The first recent Origin game to not die a horrible death if you type A:INSTALL instead of A: INSTALL . Of course, you have to type in the "source directory" (i.e. "A:") by hand, but at least it's not fatal.

The installer ran in a 43- or 50- line text mode. I don't know why, there were generally only 10-15 lines of text at once, most of it static. No progress display, but not slow enough to be a big deal.

A cheesy multi-pitch beep signaled the end of each disk, I'm not sure why Origin thinks this is "better" than a "normal" beep...

But wait... it wasn't really done installing after all! The first time you run the game, you will wait "about 10 minutes" while files are decompressed. A percentage timer shows progress. Ten minutes is long enough that Origin shouldn't have thought you'd sit there watching it, but they did. After the ten minutes are up, the game runs the intro, whether you are in the room watching or not. First major nit-pickable stupid flaw.

As an aside, this isn't really about installation, but... Origin's trying to avoid taking flak on this game. On the first page of the "Ultima VIII Pagan Playguide", we have:

> ON PAGANS AND PENTAGRAMS
>
> pentacle - n., a five-pointed figure, composed of five
> straight lines interlacing to form a starlike shape.
> It was a popular design in medieval art, and was given
> a mystic significance by astrologers and magicians.
>
> pentagram - n., a pentacle; also, any figure of five lines.
>
> pagan - n., a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in
> ancient Rome).
>
> Ultima VIII: Pagan is a fantasy role-playing game designed
> solely for entertainment purposes. The game's setting
> involves a confrontation with the classic mythological
> Elemental Titans and their polytheistic worshippers.
> In the game, the terms pentagram and pagan were selected for
> their relevance to the storyline and setting. ORIGIN wishes
> to imply no additional connotations for the words and concepts
> defined above.
>
> (Definitions from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary
> and Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary.)

Oddly, they omitted the definition of "paranoid".

Seriously, they want to have their cake and eat it too. How is "pentagram" "relevant to the storyline and setting" if the story is based around classic mythology, when Webster's definition of "pentagram" shows no such connection?

Additionally, the whole text is set over a "pentagram" in the background, the kind with a the "starlike figure" embedded in a circle. No mention of that concept from Webster.

I wish they'd just call a spade a spade. The pentagram has certain connotations, and the impact of the pentagram in the story is dependent on those connotations. (Hint-- the pentagram in U8 is associated with fire.)

[Maybe I'm showing my ignorance here, but exactly what "classic mythology" involves "Elemental Titans"? Also, why two dictionaries? Maybe they didn't like certain of the definitions? You can lie with statistics, but can you lie with dictionary definitions?]

THE BACK OF THE BOX
(by Concerned Citizens Against Abuse of the Back of the Box)

This was a good back of the box for Origin. None of the pictures are of cut scenes (well, one is a scene you don't control, but it is of the game engine, not some statically generated picture--in fact, don't look too closely at that first picture, or you might ruin that "cut scene"), not counting the big picture that's obviously not a screenshot (it appears to be a higher-resolution image of a frame from the intro, implying that, yes, the intro really is just 3D rendered graphics.)

There are a few "hype"ish statements on the back, but no obvious mistruths:

"4-voice digital sound that lets you hear more than one sound effect at a time"

We've had mod players and demos and now DOOM doing this forlong enough that I'd prefer to think this is a given. It does beat those cheesy adlib sound effects, though (meow!), so maybe it was smart to mention it.

"Incredibly smooth and lifelike animation"

It's not as smooth as, say, Flashback. But it's good enough.

"400 frames of art per character (1200 frames for the Avatar)"

I don't know whether they counted the "mirror image" frames twice or not, but, once again, every character in Pagan is ambidextrous... even the guy with the pegleg can't decide whether he wants it on his left leg or his right leg, depending which way he's facing. Divide all those frames by 8 for the number of facings to compute how many "interesting" frames there are.

"A closer blend of fantasy and reality than ever before--real-world physics and game play, including real-time combat where you make all the decisions."

I'll say a lot more about these when I discuss the game play. But let's face it, letting objects move with velocity and come to rest... that's pretty weak to call "physics". Also, they make the error of trying to claim they're more realistic, when their new "realism" introduces new "unrealisms".

See gameplay discussion. Anyway, it's not as bad as the Ultima Under- world hype "Every object behaves as you'd expect it to." As to the combat--it doesn't seem particularly strategic to me, so I don't know what "decisions" they mean.

"A wide variety of movements that complement the greater role- playing realism."

Well, there you have it. Nothing else on the box says anything about "role-playing realism", so apparently Origin thinks the general realism (physics) is "role-playing realism". For those following the debate on what makes a game "role-playing", now we know.

[Captain, my sarcasmometer just went off the scale!]

Concerned Citizens Against Abuse of the Back of the Box have presented this analysis of the back of the Ultima VIII box for the purpose of improving your knowledge of the game. CCAABB understand the marketing necessity of the Back of the Box, but wish manufacturers would stick to truths and claims that aren't misleading.

Readers of this section are reminded that it is crucially a criticism of the back of the box, not of the game itself. It also presents useful information about the game itself to those interested in buying the game, but as criticism it is solely directed at the back of the box. DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE.

THE GAME

Runs under DR-DOS with superpck fine on my system, first try. (Unlike Wing Commander II, Strike Commander (which wouldn't even install under DR- DOS), Ultima 7... but 7.5 did work.) The default IRQ for the Soundblaster Pro is not what my factory-setting IRQ is, but I believe this is because the factory setting changed with later versions of the SBP.

Basically, when you come right down to it, there's gameplay, graphics, and sound. I'm going to ignore the sound, and I want to get the graphics out of the way, because they're not the most important thing.

Ultima 8 uses a different perspective than 7. Let me save my thousand words for gameplay, and just show it. Where 7 looked like this:

         +----------
         | \
         |   \            north wall
         |     \
         |       +----------
                 |
        west     |
        wall     |    floor
				

Ultima 8 instead makes verticals be vertical on screen, and n-w and s-e diagonal:

               __---__
           __--   |   --__
       __--       |       --__
          west    |      north
          wall __-|-__    wall
           __--       --__
       __--               --__
                 floor
				

They call this "a more natural perspective" on the back of the box. I agree; the graphics do look more natural this way. Unfortunately, I find it quite unnatural from a user-interface perspective, and I think that's more important. Also, they never define which way "north" is in the game, but people are constantly telling you that stuff is "on the west side of town" etc.

Another stupid oversight.

Anyway, the graphics themselves are in a slightly more realistic vein than U7, especially for characters. Characters no longer have eyes, since there aren't enough pixels for them to show up realistically. They look heavily anti-aliased, if not rendered. They do still have black outlines, though; this leads to some odd visual effects. For example, one character wearing a tan outfit gestures with a brown staff. The staff is outlined in black, and stands out strongly. However, when he swings it in front of himself, so the staff overlaps him, the staff becomes nearly invisible since it's a similar color as his clothing (in fact, I suspect it's anti-aliased as well, which further blurs the two together). Because they don't want to go flat-out no-outlining (which is probably wise because some things are hard enough to see as it is), but because they don't do "interior" outlining, things look odd.

Additionally, I've died several times thinking that I was stepping off from a ledge onto a lower platform, when I in fact was supposed to jump across a chasm which I just couldn't see. Another problem with this perspective.

Character portraits for conversations are gone. This is a shame, since the "realistic" characters don't have much in the way of faces. You're left with the expressiveness of the body movements (and their 400 frames of art). Characters now face in 8 directions instead of 4. However, three of the eight facings are mirror-images of other art, which introduces the old right-handed facing left, left-handed facing right "bug". I know people think that's overly nitpicking (I should be suspending my disbelief, right B.?), but if Origin insists on shouting from the top of a mountain about how realistic their game is, I think they're just asking for me to nitpick them to death.

Although I could be wrong.

The Avatar is shown in full armor, now; there are no visible skin tones. I thought this was to allow them to have their 1200 frames of art regardless of your gender and race. However, you cannot pick a gender or race, and your "paper doll" character is a white male. I have no idea why they did that. Maybe they had intended to do it, and had to cut some things out to meet deadlines... But you'd think there'd be a reason, given that there's no reason why the Avatar should look so different when he arrived in Pagan than he did at the end of Serpent Isle.

The main font (for conversations and such) is hard to read. I personally find it harder to read then the book font used in U7, even though it's slightly bigger. The problem is that it's not a simple font, it's a wiggly font, but at an extremely low resolution. So some of the characters bear only the faintest resemblance to a "normal" one.

You get used to it, though... but I still find it annoying.

Annoyingness reminds me of the user interface. But, no I'll save the user interface comments for the appropriate section. But how about the game, anyway?

Ok, the game.

Quick summary:

speed: acceptable, but slow gameplay: feels like U7 at first, but becomes an arcade game

plot: looks like U7 / U7.5 characterizations: lousy

conversations: evolutionary over U7, not revolutionary object interactions: basically the U7 engine, plus more "physics"

movement: with jumping/climbing, you can reach "more" places

combat: Think Ultima Underworld. Turn to face, deal every blow. But not as easy to control.

realism: addressed on a point by point basis only traps: too many

- speed

It seems to run in pretty much the same way that U7 and U7.5 did, as far as I can tell. It's still surprisingly slow for what it's doing, given the 8M disk cache, but I guess that's just life. Saves and restores are just as hideously slow as they were in U7 and U7.5, which never saved or restored in just a few seconds on my system, despite other people's experiences.

Unfortunately, updating is jerky. Not just slow, but jerky, irregular. This looks extremely ugly (IMHO) when the screen changes centerings to center around the person you're talking to.

The map is divided into sections. When you go through certain portals, the screen fades into black, and the new section is loaded. This is sometimes annoying, since it really slows down the gameflow. Hopefully they did it because it speeds up the game overall. I don't think characters/creatures will follow you through portals.

- gameplay

Open containers, get objects out of them, put them in. Wander around talking to people. Explore. It's U7. At least, that's what it seems like at first. Unfortunately, Origin seems to have decided that with the new engine, some arcade action elements would be good. A bit into the game, there is a section which you have to jump from platform to platform to get past. This is tedious with a 30-second restore time and a difficult first jump--I died 8 times getting through it. (Those who have played the game may think me extremely incompetent. It took me four tries to make the first jump the first time, twice because I wasn't lined up correctly left- right. Once I made the first jump, I was "home free", but I actually managed to miss one of the "easy" jumps, and had to restart--then missed the first jump several more times.) This is immediately followed by an area where you have to carefully time your motion past certain traps. Nice visual effects, but annoying.

By the time you get to the catacombs, however, the game falls apart, in this sense. First you notice that the game gets very slow with multiple creatures on the screen. (As a programmer, I'm not clear on why this is. It shouldn't be due to the graphics, since they often have multiple animated things on screen at once. On the other hand, it shouldn't be due to monster "intelligence" routines, since the monsters aren't.) Then the game gets very very linear, to the extent of teleporting you from area to area as you complete each goal. Furthermore, the game becomes mostly an exercise in running from monsters (or fighting them, if you insist), and getting past traps. Expect to die a lot, especially when the floor caves in under your feet with no warning.

It wouldn't be so bad if the game played at 30 frames/second, gave you three lives, and restored in half a second. I sometimes enjoy games like that, and have even been known to be good at them. But it doesn't make any sense to play it this way, with slow, jerky updating, an extremely difficult to control character (mouse-ahead problems, and the "delayed reaction time" after you're hit--see the discussion of combat), utter death, and slow restore times.

A friend of mine tells me that next up are some areas where you have to jump onto moving platforms. I expect my valuation of the game will drop by another half point when I get there.

- plot/character development

One flaw with the plot is that you can spend far too long wandering around having no clue what you're supposed to be doing until you find the right person to give you a mission, at the very beginning. I think Origin shoots themselves in the foot by not giving you a clearly defined initial task to draw you into the game.

In fact, I encountered one character who asked me to pass a message to another character, but when I talked to the latter, I wasn't given the option to pass the message along. Bug? Or was I not really supposed to ask? I don't know.

I'm not very far through it. (The Guardian hasn't taunted me yet--I don't have the speech pack, though. Don't know if he only taunts you if you have the speech pack, or if you'll get a written version of it.) So maybe I shouldn't talk, but so far, all the missions are "retrieve such and such an item" or "get to the next place".

So it looks like the overall game-following will be very U7ish. It doesn't feel like (but I'm really not far enough through to know yet) the overall plot is going to be either as... interesting as U7's nor as dramatic as Serpent Isle.

On the other hand, this game seems to be the death of interesting characterizations. When the ruler of the town you start in has as a favorite phrase "Off with her head" you have to wonder. Without companions, the witty side-exchanges found in U7 are missing. The Avatar himself has become an utter dope, given to repeating exactly whatever the other person said in an effort to sustain the conversation. This is the worst at the times when you have no control over the conversation.

Not only is the Avatar a bit of a moron, but it seems necessary in this game to give up on the virtues. Maybe I'm wrong, and when I get to the end of the game, the Guardian will say, "Oh, ha ha ha! Avatar, Avatar. See how the mighty have fallen? Not so virtuous now, Avatar. Just what do you think the people of Britainnia will think when they hear of your exploits on Pagan, Avatar? You've played right into my hands, ha ha ha!" (fade to black, and bring in text reading "You Lose! Try again (y/n)?")...

But I doubt it.

One gets the feeling that a lot of effort was spent on the area where you start, and less so elsewhere. The initial area has a lot of "side" conversations that aren't really important. The characters away from the town are more unembellished and to the point. For the people who want "just the facts, ma'am", it's probably just the thing, but as a text adventure fan myself, I would've liked to see much more exciting dialogue.

CONVERSATIONS

Take U7 conversations. Let other characters keep moving while you're having them. Make it a bit more directed (you can't always go back and ask everything).

It's a bit nice, because it integrates barking with conversations, pretty much. On the other hand, given the slow save/restore time, it's a bit annoying to have to restore to "refreshen" a character so you can check alternate speech paths.

No clue whether you can screw up your game by doing a wrong speech, nor whether the game will let you save it if you've done so, or if the save restriction is only when an object or character no longer exists (i.e. is dead).

OBJECT INTERACTION

Nothing particularly novel here. You can throw objects, and they move etc. (like in Ultima Underworld). If something explodes, nearby objects will move or even catch on fire.

A nice concept, but a flawed implementation.

One problem is that you can knock things behind a wall where you can't ever get to them. You can even get trapped by an object you can't see.

But there are more major problems. Sometimes you come on a screen and an object nowhere near you decides that it's "unbalanced" and it "falls" (see below). Maybe this was intended as a feature but it looks silly.

Finally, the world model itself has some serious flaws. Objects do not obey conservation of momentum. Large objects in particular, when thrown or dropped, may not be able to "find" a place to come to rest. The world model will move the object around in an extremely unrealistic manner, looking for a place for the object to come to rest. In certain situations (easily set up, I wasn't trying to test this at all), objects will simply move without end until you pick them back up. Even more noticeable are objects which you try to move a short distance to a spot which the game thinks is "unstable", resulting in the object spontaneously across the entire room until the game finds a place the object can come to rest.

Again, shooting for "realism" is a dangerous game, and it looks like Origin held the target right over their feet.

Speaking of feet, consider how the Avatar gets around.

MOVEMENT

The Avatar moves at three different speeds. So if you're moving fast, you're really running, and the animation (and sounds) are different, showing you actually sprinting from place to place. (Oddly, nobody seems to think you running through the palace is suspicious.)

You can now climb, jump, or even jump up and grab an overhang and pull yourself up. The upshot is "greater realism" about where you can go. It also means they had to add new ways to keep you from going where you shouldn't. I've heard any number of people on the net say that in U8 you can go "more places" because of climbing and jumping. Poppycock. The things that really block are just different visually, now. There are three "new" ways:

Chasms/Water: fall in and meet an instant death. If you move at the slowest speed, you won't fall in.

Double-height walls: some walls are just too tall for you to grab the top, so you can't climb them. A friend of mine built himself stairs up over a mountain, and, "realistically", the game let him get up on top, after which it promptly, realistically, crashed.

Things you realistically should be able to get over: These include a lot of objects (like the darts scattered around many of the dart boards--you have to walk around them), walls with big holes in them which ought to be just like railings, but aren't, etc. There are plenty of places you "ought" to be able to climb or jump, but can't (i.e. railings that look identical to the other railings in the game, but which you aren't allowed to climb onto).

I haven't yet found places which require climbing or jumping in real time, but I've been warned that I'm fast approaching some. And, speaking of real time, there's always combat...

COMBAT

If you enter combat mode, you move much more slowly. You explicitly move, turn, and swing your weapon. That could be a description of Ultima Underworld combat, but note the distinctions: it's not first person, so it's harder to aim (at least starting out). More importantly, it's more "realistic" in that if you get hit, you can be knocked over or knocked off balance, and unable to complete your action until you recover. This basically spells automatic death against some opponents, unfortunately, as they just knock you back over before you get on your feet.

Hopefully I'll get better at it, but so far, I have to say that I really don't like this style of combat. It's ok in first person. (I didn't like the combat in Alone in the Dark either... it was somewhat similar.) It looks like combat against multiple creatures will be instant death, though.

TRAPS

Too many books and chests are trapped. If save/restore were faster, I wouldn't mind. I'm not clear on whether this is intended to dissuade you from bothering to ransack all the chests or not. (For now, I've stopped opening chests unless I have a good reason to think one is important.)

Additionally, I've gotten at least one unfair surprise. A floor caved out from under me, and I fell to my death. [Sorry if you consider that a spoiler. Forewarned is foresaved.] I felt like I was playing a Sierra game or AITD again. Sure, the place where it happened was realistic, but it was unfair, because nothing in the game tells you that they've added "weight sensitivity" to the world model.

If Origin wants to make the world more realistic, that's fine, but they should come out and say in which ways it's more realistic, instead of leaving us to guess. I don't mind discovering the realisms in general, but I do mind it when it comes at the cost of getting killed, and sitting through a restore cycle. I really hope Origin doesn't follow the Sierra path any further.

Later in the the game, there are areas filled with traps of various sorts. There it's not surprising when the floor caves in underneath you, but it's just as stupid. For one thing, if you imagine this as an ongoing storyline, how is this guy supposed to actually be able to get through it without the foreknowledge of trap locations we get by saving and restoring? I mean, if you want to talk about unrealistic, throw in the fact that there's no way in heaven your character could actually get through it without meta-knowledge.

MISCELLANEOUS

The game crashed on me once, when I was moving stuff from a chest into my backpack... wasn't doing anything obviously out of ordinary.

It also crashed when I quit, once, but that may have been the fault of the beta-version of some game I had run just before it.

I've also seen a pretty silly bug. In the first town, you come across two characters having a conversation. Once I came in, and there was only one of the pair. He carried out his side of it, even though there was nobody else there.

There were some other "USECODE" (UEICODE? UEGCODE?) bugs. There's a key you really really shouldn't pick up in front of a particular person, or bad things happen. If you manage to get your hands on it, and then blatantly in front of that person open the door that the key went to, nothing is said. The person doesn't notice in the slightest as you enter an area that person really doesn't want you to enter.

I've seen a lot of grammar errors, mostly in the books. In the first hour of play, I noticed a missing comma, "to" instead of "too", and once there was a quotation where the book split the closing quote mark onto the next page, e.g.

page 1: He said, "I hate you.
page 2: " She nodded.

Of course, this review will no doubt get out there with a typo or two. But I didn't pay anyone to look over it, nor am I charging you money for the review.

Or maybe they were just being realistic by having the book intentionally have errors? Yeah, that's the ticket.

CHARACTERS SEE YOU DO THINGS THROUGH SOME WALLS.

It *appears* from my limited playing experience that characters do not follow their schedules as rigidly as in U7. It appears that they will only "teleport to the next location" in their schedule if you're not in the same map section as them. In other words, if you're waiting for a particular time for someone to show up, you have to wait for that time, then go through a portal, wait for the new section to load, then go back through the portal, waiting for the old section to load, before the person will be able to show up. This happened to me explicitly with one character when I slept on a bedroll relatively close to where she currently was... she stayed where she was, even though she was missing her "appointed rounds".

It looks like U8's beta-testers concentrated on making sure it was possible to get through the game, not making sure that anything you tried would work ok. It may not be surprising that climbing up on top of the mountains would crash the game, but how are we supposed to know that that's NOT the right thing to try? Why didn't any beta-testers try it? Is Origin continuing to consider a game beta-tested if the beta-testers can get through it using a walk-through (e.g. their memory of how they did it during alpha-testing), without bothering to have testers explicitly try to break things? I don't know. But you have to wonder, when for many people the game crashes in the first 10 hours of play.

And apparently the beta-testers took a cue from the Return to Zork beta- testers when it came to user interfaces...

USER-INTERFACE RANT

Lots of major and minor flaws in the user interface.

Major peeve: they took out the feature from U7 that you could double-click on things from a distance, and the Avatar would walk over to the object first. You have to explicitly move within range of the object to use it. Very annoying, especially in combination with two of the other flaws discussed below. (And sometimes unrealistic--you can't read the clocks from a distance, even.) They apparently just took out auto-navigation entirely, as you also can't double-right-click to walk somewhere.

During conversations, your cursor remains the same as in normal play--an arrow pointing in one of the eight directions, and of one of three different lengths. But you can't move that way. Origin, get a grip. The changing icon is supposed to be there to communicate something to the player. You're miscommunicating by making it still change to all those different shapes.

Also, during conversation, if you want to click past a message, you have to click the pointer on the message, not just anywhere on the screen. Very annoying, because you have to chase the mouse back and forth between the area where you ask questions and where you get your replies. Noticeably annoying when the thing you have to click on is "No." Like many other games, the text now automatically advances after a certain amount of time. You can set the "rate" from 0-9, where 9 is the fastest. Unfortunately, 0 does not mean it never advances, it just goes slowly. I find this sort of thing to be a serious user-interface flaw. There are two major annoying consequences. One, every once in a while you try to click past a message, but the timer expires just before you do, and a new message appears, but you click past that one without ever seeing it. Second, you can't stop and grab a piece of paper and write something down if you need to. Hopefully they solved the latter by making anything important repeatable, but so far it doesn't look like it--you often can't get a character to repeat important information.

I've always had a problem with "automatic" text advancement systems. They're never geared to real reading speeds (I think they must just use number of characters), and so what makes a good speed for longer messages won't make a good one for shorter messages. I'd prefer to just click through them, but the lack of a "never advance automatically" mode leads to some missed messages.

If you try to hold down the right mouse button to move too soon after a conversation or after going through a portal (loading a new map section), you won't move. You have to wait until the fade-in is done, or until you're sure the scrolling to recenter on you after the conversation is done, before you can press the right mouse button. This should never have gotten past beta-testers. It's a trivial annoyance, a trivial thing to fix, and it happens to me about 80% of the time. Maybe Origin doesn't ask beta- testers to comment on the user interface? Or perhaps they forbid it?

The human eye/brain combination is very good at lining things up horizontally and vertically. It's really not very good at lining things up along arbitrary diagonal lines. This makes the new perspective a pain to navigate in. This is the most noticeably flaw about the new perspective.

Additionally, if you're walking along a wall that has an open door, and you want to go through that door, you can't always just aim "diagonally" and have it work. An example:

      --__
    /\    --__
   _\/_      ||             --->
  / || \     ||     __  mouse pointer
    ||     1 ||     | --__
   |/\|-__   ||     |     --__
   |  |   --_||     | 2
                    |
  Avatar            |_
                      --__
				

Note (it's not clear from the picture), the Avatar is going to run into wall #1, not go right through the door. Depending on exactly how he's positioned, if you continue to try to move in the same direction, sometimes he will go through the doorway, and sometimes he will step past it, walking down and to the right, and continue moving along wall #2. (What happens is that he only changes directions at the "end" of a stride, and if he's just above the doorway, his diagonal stride will carry him just past it, to #2.)

This is the part of controlling the Avatar in U8 that I find annoying. The user interface for jumping and climbing are fine. It's not the new features that mess up the user interface. It's the new perspective, the "realistic animation" that makes him only change direction at the end of strides, the fact that you can't double-click from a distance and auto- navigate, and the fact that you can't walk right over cushions and other miscellaneous debris. All of it adds up to annoyance while controlling the Avatar.

Another flaw in movement is changing directions when you're running. If you change from one direction to either of the two adjacent (e.g. from north to either north-east or north-west), the Avatar continues running. If you change by two (from north to east or west), the Avatar stops and turns--which slows you down quite a bit. You have to make sure he goes through the intermediate direction. Again, the problem is that he only changes directions at the end of a stride, so you can move the mouse through the intermediate direction at a pretty slow rate and still get to the new direction too soon. You have to explicitly wait to see him take a stride in the intermediate direction before you finish moving the mouse.

In general, you spend too much time waiting for the Avatar to turn around and maneuver. If you open an inward-opening door, he has to turn around, walk away, turn around again, and then the door opens. You can generally find just the right place to stand to open it without being in its way, but I find that the former happens more often. If you're moving at a normal (walking or running) rate, and you get to a wall or something where you can only move a little further, you take the final step using the slow "baby/careful" step, which eats up extra time. It also looks very silly, since you had no intention of the Avatar being so careful.

The regions of the screen that determine arrow facing are not symmetric top-to-bottom. If the cursor is flush left, only a small area at the bottom will result in the down-and-left diagonal arrow. A much larger area gives the top-and-left arrow. Not a major annoyance, just an oddity. I think this is because the regions are determined relative to your feet, but the centering is not; but this is only a guess. This comes up because while running it's best to watch the Avatar, not the mouse pointer, and so you have to rely on peripheral vision, which can't tell the difference between the arrows.

I also find it very confusing to control the Avatar when only his head or head&shoulders are visible; I keep trying to position the mouse relative to his head.

You now double-click windows to close them, instead of clicking on check boxes. I like this, except that with inventory windows, sometimes when you try to double-click on an object, you close the window instead. It'd've been nice if they let you miss objects by a bit more when clicking.

The "close all windows" key is now backspace, while the "close the 'main menu'" key is ESC. This makes the main menu DOOM-esque, since it's also brought up using ESC. But I think I prefer a consistent way to always close all windows. And it doesn't help than backspace is at the other end of the keyboard from ESC. I think Origin would be better off providing a tiny hotspot in the corner for bringing up the main menu and for closing all windows (i.e. be fully mouse-based for all commands), or else they should try to put all the keyboard commands near each other--since we're obviously only typing with one hand most of the time.

The inventory displays seem to be a step backwards from Ultima 7. With multiple windows open, the relative priority (which ones are on top of others) changes somewhat randomly as you interact with them (actually, it's systematic, just not useful). For example, sometimes you can double-click on a container inside your backpack, such that the new container display will open overlapping the backpack. The backpack will come out on top, because you just clicked in it. Even worse, if you click on an object in your backpack to get its name, and then click on another, the backpack is brought in front of the text naming the first object, obscuring it (if you move the backpack to one side you will see the text was under it).

Maybe the problem isn't with beta-testing the interface so much as it is that they don't have a user interface expert on their team. (There really is such a thing... don't look at me, I just use them.)

Well, I had a few more things about the user interface which annoyed me, but I didn't take notes, and I'm on a deadline here, so I guess I'll let Origin off the hook for the rest of them.

WRAP-UP

Here's my old wrap-up, before I encountered the "arcade" aspects of Ultima 8:

< Ultima 8 is good enough that I expect I'll buy Ultima 9
< (or Ultima 8 part II? hmm...), but I really wish Origin
< would spend more money on beta-testing and user-interfaces.
<
< Bugs and difficult user interfaces make suspension of
< disbelief extremely hard to maintain, and that's one crucial
< factor in making a game great instead of good.
<
< Good work, Origin, but can you do great?

I am no longer willing to make such a polite closing comment. If they hadn't put in the stupid jumping puzzles and traps and such, I'd stand by the above comment.

Sean Barrett never let a game programmer write a review...

This review is Copyright (C) 1993 by Sean Barrett for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.




Privacy Policy - Terms of Use - Contact Us - Site Map - Advertise
All original content (©) Copyright 1997-2011 Bootstrike.Com (ACRA Reg. No 53084890B).