Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ultima IV: Character Creation

She doesn't look all that ancient to me.

If I have any "regular readers," I apologize to you all for my erratic publication schedule. My job involves occasional unexpected business travel, and this month has been particularly heavy. What I need to do is start writing a bunch of postings when I have the time and then publish them at a steadier pace.

In my last posting, I started talking about character creation in Ultima IV and how unique it is, and then I got so wrapped up in the back story and manuals that I ended the piece before actually describing character creation. Let's look at that now. In the introduction, after reading the book of history, you stumble into a renaissance fair, where your ankh cross gains you free admission. You wander into a gypsy's wagon where she begins a kind of tarot card game involving the eight virtues.



As we'll discover, there is wonderful symmetry in Ultima IV. There are eight virtues of the Avatar, and eight character classes that exemplify those eight virtues. Eight towns serve as home to the eight classes, nearby which are eight shrines in which you must chant eight mantras after using eight runes. Each virtue, meanwhile, has an evil opposite which (usually) serves as the name of a dungeon. In the eight dungeons you find eight stones of eight colors.

The game begins with identifying the virtue and, hence, the class, with which you most closely associate. It does this by having the gypsy woman pose a series of hypothetical questions in which you must choose between two virtues. The first question might pit honesty against honor, for instance. Say you choose honor. The next question might give you spirituality and sacrifice. You choose sacrifice. At some point, you'll then have to choose between sacrifice and honor. Hence, you bracket your way to your ultimate guiding virtue and, consequently, your class.

In confess that in past Ultima IV games, I engineered my way into a paladin class by always choosing "honor," regardless of how I actually felt. (Paladins are arguably the best Ultima IV characters--strong fighters who can use almost any equipment but are able to cast spells, too.) This time around, I resolved to answer the questions based on my own moral beliefs regardless of the final outcome.

"Thou has been prohibited by thy absent Lord from joining thy friends in a close pitched battle. Dost though A) refrain, so thou may Honestly claim obedience, or B) show Valor, and aid thy comrades, knwoing thou may deny it later?" No struggle with this one. No arbitrary command from some absentee boss is going to keep me from helping my friends in a fight. I choose valor, and kiss goodbye to the mage class.

"As one of the King's Guard, thy Captain has asked that one amongst you visit a hospital to cheer the children with tales of thy valiant deeds. Dost though A) Show thy Compassion and play the braggart, or B) Humbly let another go?" I'm not sure this is a fair test of compassion, since presumably one of my comrades would entertain the children as well as I. I don't particularly like talking about myself, though, and I like children even less, so I go with humility. I will not be a bard.

"Thou hast sworn to do thy Lord's bidding in all. He covets a piece of land and orders the owner removed. Dost thou A) serve Justice refusing to act, thus being disgraced, or B) Honor thine oath and unfairly evict the landowners?" My Lord's a jerk, and I was an idiot for swearing an oath to a jerk. No need to compound the error. I go with justice and, regrettably, chaotic-good my way out of a paladin assignment.

"Thou hast spent thy life in charitable and righteous work. Thine uncle the innkeeper lies ill and asks you to take over his tavern. Dost thou A) Sacrifice thy life of purity to aid thy kin, or B) decline & follow thy spirit's call?" I'm never terribly moved by the idea of familial obligations in real life, so it's B). The chance to be a tinker is behind me.

"Although a teacher of music, thou art a skillful wrestler. Thou hast been asked to fight in a local championship. Dost thou A) accept the invitation and Valiantly fight to win, or B) Humbly decline knowing thou art sure to win?" The choice of B) doesn't sound like humility in this case; it sounds like arrogance. How would I know that I'm sure to win? In any event, humility is a nice virtue, but I don't think it should mean that I should avoid winning anything. I wave farewell to the life of a shepherd and choose valor.

A realistically difficult choice.

"Thou dost believe that virtue resides in all people. Thou dost see a rogue steal from thy Lord. Dost thou A) call him to Justice, or B) personally try to sway him back to the Spritual path of good?" Oooh. Really tough call. This is actually a metaphor for a scenario I faced recently. It depends a lot on the likely punishment, but in my case I felt that the punishment was worse than the original crime, so I chose B). I'll do that here, too, even though it means turning my taillights to druidship.

"A local bully pushes for a fight. Dost thou A) Valiantly trounce the rogue, or B) Decline, knowing in thy Spirit that no lasting good will come of it?" "No lasting good?" What about this bully learning his lesson and not picking on other people? Nothing I hate worse than a bully. It's A), no question, which means I reject the path of a ranger and become a standard, run-of-the-mill, no-magic-using fighter instead.

In some ways, this works out fairly well. You see, during Ultima IV I will pick up seven companions--one of each class--to round out my party. There are eight potential NPCs who will join your party, but you don't get to recruit the one who belongs to the same class that you do. Dupre the paladin, Shamino the ranger, and Iolo the bard are three of your most memorable companions from later games in the series, whereas Geoffrey the fighter turns out to be a bit of a wet rag. Thus, I face no great sadness that Geoffrey won't be able to join me here.

Back to the game. Having made my choice, the game informs me that I experience a "moment of intense, wrenching vertigo" while the gypsy advises me to "seek the counsel of they sovereign."


 
I awake in a forest, on an island, outside a city. I have no equipment, but somewhere along the line I picked up 200 pieces of gold and 300 meals. Two moons float overhead, letting me know in no uncertain terms that I am no longer on earth. After checking my iPhone and finding no service, I steel myself and head for the nearby city to see what's up.

19 comments:

  1. No comments? This introduction to virtue, where good comes into conflict with good, is one of the most inspiring things I've ever seen. To get an idea of what's been achieved here, imagine that our political system was able to embrace the idea of multiple forms of good, and seek them out, even when those forms came into conflict with their own goals...

    I can't even type that with a straight face.

    One trivia note: I was exposed to Ultima IV through the NES version, which has been streamlined down, as you would expect from a console port. However, the questions of morality are more subtle.

    I wonder whether you'd still choose the same virtue, if the situations change?

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  2. You know what disappoints me a little? When I was younger, I didn't give "honest" answers during the character creation process, so I can't compare my responses then with my responses now. It would be interesting to revisit this set of questions in a decade or so and see how I do. Maybe I'll end up a shepherd.

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  3. What disappoints _me_ is that I did give honest answers when I was young, but I can't remember which class I ended up with.
    I mapped the entire game and wrote down all dialogue, paranoid that I might miss out on something, and I still have my old maps and notes in a drawer, but I can't remember which class I ended up with. But maybe replaying the game will jog my memory.
    In my own little (only games that sound interesting and doesn't have a too crappy UI) play-games-in-chronological order project I have now come to September 1985 and Ultima IV, after having played Tir Na Nog, Dun Darach (ZX Spectrum titles from '84 and '85) and Bard's Tale 1.
    This time I will not be mapping the entire game and only write down the most important dialogue.
    And I will also use the xu4 version.

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    1. perhaps as he mentioned, you lacked a party member of your own class. your dialog should reflect this

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  4. Your presentation of the game is wonderful.

    I played Ultima IV after having finished my favorite Ultima V.
    I remember it was nice but i left it uncompleted because some of the dungeon levels were endlessly looping and i got tired of that.
    Anyway, now i hope i will find some time to try it again.

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  5. Thanks, Stakon. I hope you keep reading. To finish Ultima V but NOT finish IV is baffling to me.

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  6. Thou begins to feel an irrational scratch in thous nostrial. Does thou: A) Let thous spirit flow to dost wind? B) Hold thou breathe, keeping thous spirit intact?
    >A
    Thou art transformed into the dwarf class and given the name "Sneezy". All of the Kingdom rejoices thou choice.

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  7. i find it rather humorous that so many people lied during a test of virtue in order to get a specific character type. i wish i could remember mine... i think it was druid? not sure. i have a feeling i'd answer the same way now that i did as a kid.

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  8. Ironically, 'Nym, I just lied during this test to get the character I wanted (a paladin) in Ultima V.

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  9. I used to aim for mage myself, but just recently I bought 1-6 from gog.com, and in creating a character for Ultima IV, I decided to answer based on the questions rather than the class. Ended up a shepherd :-)

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  10. When young, I answered honestly the first time through and ended up with a Shepherd...

    ...promptly ended that game, and started lying my way through like everyone else I knew.

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  11. Playing as a shepherd would actually have a lot of advantages. Katrina is pretty worthless, and you almost never get her to Level 8, whereas if you started with that class, you'd almost certainly get there by the end. And the weapon restrictions (no magic ranged weapons) would be much less bothersome for the lead character. Plus, you get Magincia out of the way right at the beginning.

    But no kid wants to play as a shepherd.

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  12. I was led here by google in the midst of researching something. Stayed for a spell reading some of your postings.

    Left, remembering the times in which I played them.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your journey and thoughts.

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  13. I'd ALMOST agree with you CRPG except for the fact that the Avatar can be transferred and in U5, you don't have to get Katrina to join you. In fact, I don't think anyone would waste a slot for a non-spellcaster, like Katrina, in U5.

    Also, for U4, if you start out in Britain, Trinsic or Jhelom... Pirates! Equal free frigates!

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  14. Yes, the character creation system really is fascinating. But in some ways I found it a little problematic. I know it isn't really the point of it, but taking these tests (I was inspired to seek out a copy by your 'Ultima IV and Virtue', but as the accompanying manuals sadly lack any UI documentation I starved to death before I could work out how to eat) I struggled with the fact that the choices available to you were always informed by one virtuous impulse or another.

    In many of the cases, the strongest motivating factor I could identify with was actually a vice (cowardice, indifference etc), which left me unsure as to whether I should go with the option that vice would have lead me to anyway, or instead to try and project an idealised version of myself into the scenario in case that led me in another direction.

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  15. I did try to answer honestly when I played this as a kid, and I ended up going with Compassion and playing a bard.

    Which happens to be the one class that makes it impossible to win the game without either consulting a walkthrough or committing a highly unvirtuous act and making up for it later.

    Why? Because to find out the mantra of compassion, you have to talk to an ankh in Britain. But the ankh is surrounded by people on all four sides. One of those people, however, is Iolo, who joins your party. So the idea is that you're supposed to talk to the ankh after you recruit him. Only Iolo's a bard, so if you're playing a bard... yeah. The only way to talk to the ankh is to slaughter Iolo or, worse, one of the children on the other sides of the ankh. So I ended up killing Iolo, talking to the ankh, and reloading.

    ...Or so I distinctly remembered, except that now that I look at some maps and guides to Ultima IV to double-check my memories I find that in fact nothing that I wrote above is actually true (aside from perhaps the first paragraph). There is no ankh in Britain you can talk to; you find out the Mantra of Compassion from a jester. What the hell? Why do I have such distinct memories of the ankh business I described above when in fact no such thing was apparently in the game? For a moment I wanted to think maybe there was a change in a later version when the problem was recognized, but I can find no evidence that this is the case. Did I just somehow manufacture that whole false memory out of whole cloth and then convince myself it was true, and have I been vividly remembering for years a supposed event from the game that never actually took place? Weird...

    Wait wait wait... okay, it turns out there is an ankh like I remembered in the game, but it's in Skara Brae, not Britain, and it's Shamino who's in the way, not Iolo. (At least, he was in the way in the original Apple II version (which is the version I played); the issue was fixed in later versions. Also, it wasn't children on the other three sides, but that's a detail.) So my memories weren't entirely fictitious. Except that I could have sworn I played a bard, in which case I wouldn't have had any problem. So either I'm misremembering the class I played and I'd actually chosen Spirituality and played a ranger (and slaughtered Shamino before reloading), or I'd discovered the potential problem with talking to the ankh if you're playing a ranger and then somehow came to conflate it with my own experience.

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that second one is probably what happened. When I came to Skara Brae and noticed I could only talk to the ankh after recruiting Shamino, I probably realized that if I'd been playing a ranger I would have been in trouble, and that I'd have had to kill Shamino or one of the other people there to get to it. And then over the years, rather than remembering that as something that I realized would have happened had I been playing a ranger, I somehow came to remember it as something that actually had happened... and to fit in with the rest of the memories, therefore, I mentally transposed the ankh to Britain.

    So okay, there were some false memories involved, but they weren't as totally out of the blue as I thought they were for a moment there. Still kind of weird, though...

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    1. LMAO! This reminds me of, after having seen Back to the Future 3, insisting that I remembered seeing "To be continued" at the end of Back to the Future 1. Even after purchasing the DVD I insisted that they simply made a change from the theatrical version to the DVD version. But, after listening to the commentary with the director making fun of all the people who thought it was always supposed to be a sequel, I can only conclude that since they made the end look like a sequel, and that there eventually WAS a sequel, it would say "to be continued" at the end. Wait, this seemed a whole lot more funny in my head. Now that I'm typing, I feel embarrassed and tempted to delete this. Quick, publish it before I change my mind.

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  16. Oh, one other odd memory of playing Ultima IV as a child: For whatever reason, the copy I played was corrupt, and while most of the game worked fine I was unable to enter Castle Britannia. When I finally got a working version and entered Castle Britannia and spoke to Lord British, I thought his statement that "We have waited such a long, long time" was in reference to the fact I had been playing for so long before speaking to him...

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  17. The whole opening sequence is removed from the NES port. Instead after entering a name you jump right to character creation. The manual instead describes the process, but strangely, Hawkwind replaces the gypsy.

    There was another console port to the Sega Master System though, which more closely resembles the PC version. The only difference being you select keywords from a menu instead of typing them out. It makes it a bit easier since you don't have to follow the conversation and note possible keywords, but at the same time harder because you can't randomly ask Talfourd about the rune of justice (your character needs to learn you should ask from one of the druids).

    From what I can tell, all the questions remained the same. I ended up as a Bard.

    The NES version has all eight characters to recruit, but only four (including the avatar) can be in the party at one time. Also missing is food. I just realized this was in Exodus, but completely removed from this game. Once again, the SMS version follows the PC and has all eight party members at once in battles and the need to carry food.

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