Playing Ultima IX Ascension – Day 1

Preface

I am a hardcore Ultima player; I have played and won almost all of the games, but there’s one I never got around to play: The dreaded Ultima IX. Hated by legions, said to be the most-evilest-thing ever to be created by mankind, I saw and laughed at spoony’s review, but in my opinion you have to witness with your own eyes what a game is before giving your opinion about it.

The only “real” 3D RPG I have played is Dungeon Siege back on the early 00’s (That is if you don’t count Ultima Underworld 1/2 for being pseudo 3D), and I only played briefly (I think I had a demo or something), so this may double as my first experience with “modern” RPGs.

Yesterday I checked my gog.com account and found it there, so I decided it was time to give it a shot.

Now, there are some things I had clear on my mind before starting playing the game:

  • Even though this is a 3D game, for me the representation of the world is still meant to be fairly abstract, not really too far from what it is on its 2D predecessors (specially Ultima 6 and 7, which were the ones to transition into a single-scale world). As such I don’t expect the game to fully recreate visually and in scale what Britannia as a world is to me.
  • I am going to ignore all the newbie bootstrapping features that were clearly included in the game to make it accessible to mainstream newcomers who had never played the series. This includes some dialog options that clearly made no sense from the viewpoint of the historical avatar.
  • This includes the blatant change on the connection between U8 and U9. So I patched that on my mind, and the introduction actually takes place before Ultima IV, then everything goes fast-forward until you get teleported by the Guardian at the end of U8.

In general, I would approach the game in a positive way, fortunately it’s been some time since I watched the reviews so it should be pretty fresh to me.

So I fired my noisy windowzer box (which I only use when I have to run MSSQLServer or work on Flash games), downloaded the game from gog.com and had it run.

Day 1 – Earth, Lord British Castle and Britain

After watching a short intro showing the rising of the columns and the dead of a poor commoner, I am shot into the Avatar’s house at earth in a kind of in game tutorial which I found much needed since the movement system may seem weird at first, but I got accustomed quite quickly. Trained in the yard behind the house and then shot some wolves and bandits in the park; this one’s clearly intended to be a tutorial area that’s why it makes sense for the seemingly out of place enemies to show up. I also swam with the swans and explored a spider cave which gave me good memories of me exploring the caverns on Savage Empire.

This area activated most of the important game elements including a journal were everything gets written and you can access a nifty lot of information, as well as the backpack and the compass.

Then I proceeded to talk with the gipsy… I went for a fighter since I felt that’s what I’d enjoy most of this game, that was pretty straightforward.

I appeared on some mountain where I was attacked by a Wyrmguard and I saw Blackthorn talking with the guardian. Apparently someone saved me and put me on a place out of their reach.

I was sent into a cozy room with some equipment and books where training continued, specially on how to use the linear spells for puzzle solving. Once I got out of the tower it was beautiful: The statues for the shadowlords were cool! I couldn’t help look up the tower and see how it streched into the sky. Awesome.

I whacked the wyrmguard and appeared on Lord British castle. Explored around talking with people and the Gargoyle, got some info about how the gargoyles now look at humans as lesser beings and isolated themselves under a water dome.

Then I talked with Lord British who briefed me on the situation; in a pretty similar to Ultima 6 way he’s basically staying at his castle not doing much while Britannia crumbles around him. Fortunately I am here to help.

I accidentally slept on my quarters, for when I left the castle it was night already as I explored Britain.

I was startled by the Britannian night: Trammel and Felucca in all its splendor, the quiet night at Britannia, it was a great ambiance, albeit it would have been nicer if all townspeople were sleeping instead of just living their life in the dark. I jumped into a river and had some trouble trying to go back to the ground but after a short while I could get out of it.

I explored the museum and found out a lot of awesome renditions of critical items from the series; the displays are clearly magic renditions (holograms?) of the items, and you can toggle the displayed artifact on each one. There’s also the magic tapestry which describes the adventures of the avatar and predicts his end.

I also talked with the major which has a new policy of sending the poor into Paws so that Britain economy may thrive and they can send them food and medicine. The temple of love was also pretty cool, and hinted about a pirate woman (some thug in the docks also talked about her), so I guess she’s an important piece on the plot.

Britain is awesome, I love how everything looks, definitively projects the same feeling I had on Ultima 5 while traversing the Britannys and Britain, may be it being night has helped.

Lord British told me to go to a dungeon to the Northeast I think, but I want to go to paws to see how’s the poor people doing.

One thing I hadn’t liked much so far are the portraits/paintings in the game, there seems to be too little of them and they look like pretty generic middle ages / renaissance stuff, plus some renderings of Lord British all around.

So far I haven’t hit any game crashing bugs in the game.

News from Britannian Underworld

Art

I have been in conversations with a lot of fine artists from TigSource, trying to define a target budget for the monsters set. The idea is to launch a crowdfunding campaign for this, as it seems to be the only way to source this much needed work. More info soon.

Level Design

Orlando has advanced greatly on his design for the first level of Deceit. He presents us his design as a 3D model.

Engine

Exodus Destiny has added more features to the engine, including switches that open doors as well as keys needed to unlock other doors, he’s also added a sample sprite from one of the artists I have been talking with, just to give us an idea of how it would look inside the game. You can check the current version here

A flying demon
A flying demon

In other less relevant news: Yet another small website movement! http://blog.slashie.net is now the URL for this blog.

Short news about Britannian Underworld

The project development has slowed down quite a bit since we still don’t have a pixel artist, however there are things of relevance to note.

Art

We are still looking for an artist for the project, if you’d like to contribute and gain great fame and virtue, here’s a list of stuff 🙂

Engine

Exodus Destiny has completely remade the engine using WebGL instead of the hand made raycasting software rendering he was using on the first version of the engine (which was pretty impressive from the technical POV), in his mind he’s achieved what he wanted to do with it in, learning a lot in the process of making it and pushing it to its limits; however the game still ran a bit slow on low-end machines, and that was his main motivation to do the new one.

Different Height floors

 

Along with improved performance, this will allow several new things like:

  • Easily support different height terrain, as can be seen in the current demo
  • We could eventually incorporate some 3D models (UW did it with the rocks :P)
  • Rendering stuff is simplified, leveraging ED’s development power to work on more things directly related to the game

Of course, we are keeping with the initial idea of following the original Ultima Underworld style, so we won’t be using all the power put at our disposal with WebGL. The only drawback is that now you’ll need a browser that supports WebGL.

You can find the current version here, it’s Open Source so if you want to take a look and collaborate, it’s here

The former, simpler version of the engine is probably going to be used in the future for a simpler 3D dungeon hack’n slash game.

Music and Sound

This version also includes the first track sent to us by Cantarelli Cantarelli, it’s a melancholic track that we are going to be using probably in the menu screen. We were also contacted by Stephen Johnson, a sound design / voice-over specialist, whose skills may come in handy for the weapon and environmental SFXs, as well as a possible Intro ala UW.

Level Design

We have been chatting along with Orlando, defining the posibilites given by the engine for puzzle design.

News on Britannian Underworld

Pixel Art

We still haven’t been able to find artists for the team, however I’ve broken down a list of the art we need for the monsters (that’s the main asset we are missing, we can handle textures and UI art for the most part.) The full list is here.

We are looking forward for community contributions! if you can do the art for one of the enemies you are welcome to contribute, let’s build this all together 🙂 The continued existence of the project is in your hands

For each enemy we need the following 4 frames animations:

  • Front, walking towards the player
  • Attacking the player
  • Taking damage
  • Dying

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.06.55 PM

Engine

Exodus Destiny continues advancing on the engine, working on the first version of the Enemy Factory, doing fixes on the texture rendering for walls and continuing polishing the Angled walls.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.19.38 PM

Level Design

Orlando has sent us new drafts for the design of the first level of Deceit, he’s onward to finish phase 2, after which we’ll proceed to boil it down to the tech design including the textures needed.

nibel 1_V1

Music/SFX

So far, Tony Vai and Cantarelli Cantarelli have joined the team and are willing to start composing awesome music and SFXs for the project. More news about this soon

 

A possible radical change

We have been debating on what direction to take the project towards, since we haven’t been able to find an interested pixel artist (interested to make it just for the love of it and not for money), this is a sample of how it looks using the original 16×16 graphics from U4, which is definitively a complete change from the original idea. I personally like it, but we haven’t decided on it yet… we are considering at least increasing their resolution to 32×32. You can play online here. (Remember it looks better on firefox)

Should also note that Exodus Destiny has so far added support for pixel fonts as well as the js minification pipeline. The new UI is WIP, using sprites from Denzi.

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 10.47.00 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 10.47.47 PM Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 10.48.19 PM

We need a pixel artist

Different height stuff
Different height stuff

Exodus Destiny continues working on the engine while Orlando’s been working on the design for the first level.

A preliminary draft for the first level
A preliminary draft for the first level

Newest additions to the engine include interacting with objects using the mouse, as well as varying height walls and objects. He also continues on his quest for perfect behaving angled walls. Check it out

WE NEED A PIXEL ARTIST! This is critical for the project to continue onward! Are you a hardcore Ultima fan with awesome pixel skillz? you are welcome into the project! We need:

  • 64×64 Textures for the levels: Walls, floors and other level adornments
  • 64×64 Animated sprites for the enemies
  • User Interface frame (320×200)

Britannia Underworld, definitions and alpha dev

Exodus Destiny continues working on the engine, current version allows the following (and more):

  • Looking up and down (Using 1 and 3)
  • Water tiles
  • Walking animations

I also continue working on the design, coordinating some stuff related to the level design with Orlando, the wiki keeps growing.

Also exchanged some ideas with Mike Mann regarding Pixel Art, he might surprise us soon with some UI and tiles work.

Britannian Underworld – Level design stuff

We have advanced on defining a process for Level Design, I also gave a first look at the dungeon layout for Covetous. We are using a lot of information from the excellent Codex Wiki. All will be posted in the design repo (specifically, in the wiki)

buw.

Team building goes on, so far we have contacted the following:

We’ll be reviewing the sound portfolios and rounding up the graphics part which is crucial to get things going. The plan is to have first level of the dungeon covetous and retrofit the design process.

Just to clarify, this is a fan project, not commercial in any sense, plus there is no payment involved of any kind.

Britannian Underworld – Advancements

Exodus Destiny continues working on the engine for Britannian Underworld; he’s released a new version of his alpha including floor/ceiling texture casting as well as angled walls, both changes make dungeons look much better and allow more freedom for the level designers.

He’s also been tinkering with different kind of traps, like trap floors and flooding rooms.

We have been contacted by some graphics and sound designers, I’ll soon be posting the first listing of required assets so we can start defining the team.

As for levels, we have defined the following parameters so far:

  • Size: 64×64
  • Three layer of tiles (ground, ceiling and main map)

More news soon!