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Ultima In 2021, Ultima V is still the greatest open-world RPG!

Discussion in 'General RPG Discussion' started by Drunken Irishman, Apr 25, 2021.

  1. Drunken Irishman Augur

    Drunken Irishman
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    It is astonishing in how much it manages to achieve with it's technological limitations. What could modern game designers learn from Ultima V?

    What Ultima V does right?

    1) World and setting

    Ultima V throws you into a very compelling situation. The world is governed by an oppressive government and you are the outlaw.

    A modern game designer could just take the same idea and situation, because the setting of Ultima V is just such a good idea, that it easily creates a potential for a lot of interesting situations and moments.

    A modern game designer can also learn from U5 how to connect a gameworld and it's theme in such a way that they complement each other. Connect your world with the theme of your story and it can create a powerful narrative experience.

    Hide secrets inside the world, but give them a reason to exist in that world. Make the player search and discover.

    In Ultima V, the player has to really engage with the world. For example, the player notices some of the villagers behaving strangely. They are not going home after the evening in the pub. So he follows them. They have a weird midnight meeting beside the well. Now the player knows that these people are more than what they seem.

    Ah, but the player hasn't joined the resistance yet. They are not going to reveal their secrets to anyone.

    Where could the resistance leader be hiding?

    This sort of engagement with the gameworld was really lacking in Witcher 3. And I believe that's why Novigrad didn't work. It was just a background for the neatly scripted cutscenes interrupted by combat. You didn't actually engage with the town or it's residents in Novigrad.

    2) Shades of Grey

    It's not perfect, for all it's achievements, it is still just a game from 1988. The npc's don't have that much text to really go deep into the themes.

    But there is a little bit of that. Some characters think that the oppressive regime is doing the right thing.

    A lady working in the clinic supports the regime because it has decreased violent crime.

    However, people on the resistance consider Lord Blackthorn to be just evil and self-serving.

    And then there was that one contemplative old man, who considered, that Blackthorn is not evil. Just misguided.

    If you give the inhabitants of your world different perspectives and opinions, it creates layers of complexity.

    A modern game designer with the same setting, would hopefully flesh out the characters more, flesh out their perspectives. For example he could notice that many of the resistance are the upper class of the former regime. Why do some peasants love Blackthorn, but the resistance is mostly nobles?

    You can really hit on some profound insights into human condition when you follow it through.

    3) Feeling of desperation

    Towns are supposed to be safe havens. But Ultima V changes that. You are not safe. Anywhere. You can not trust the people in the towns. You can not trust law enforcement. You should actually avoid law enforcement, because they collect taxes. In Minoc, it's half of your money.

    In the beginning, it's really hard to get ahead. You need better weapons, better armour, you lack money, and the little you earn you need to spend on basic necessities like on food and spell reagents.

    Okay, the player says. If towns are not safe, I guess I'll just go dungeon exploring. But it's not that easy. Dungeons are locked for public safety. And the people who know the secrets to open them, are hiding from the regime.

    That creates a feeling of desperation, where every discovered secret feels like an achievement.

    A modern game designer can consider creating a similar feeling of desperation in the player. If done rightly, it can be very fun. It should be done in the way that encourages the player to explore other options, to take risks, to try out the different tools the game world offers him. Because if done wrongly, it can actually kill the motivation.

    You need to give the player the feeling like he's barely holding his head above water, without actually making it hard work.

    4) The Illusion of a Living World

    Npc's schedules. Day and night cycles. Characters sleep during the night, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the pub, and work in their job during daytime. Some npc's behave oddly, like sleep during the day and walk around the town in the night. They probably have a reason for odd behaviour. Skyrim's npc schedules were not more complex than Ultima V's. It adds to the game. It really does.


    What is flawed in Ultima V?



    1) World progression

    The world doesn't really change.

    Once you've destroyed the Shadowlords, done the resistance quests, collected all the crown jewels.... nobody reacts.

    To it's credit, there are some things that the game remembers. Like when you release the prisoners in Yew, they will be gone from the game. (It's noteworthy, because in previous Ultima's the towns reset every time you leave) Or how people will remember your name, and some characters will even approach you, “...remember the thing we talked about?“

    Ultima V does give you the illusion of world progression. As long as you are still in the process of figuring things out, discovering secrets, learning about the key players, it will feel like the world is progressing along with your actions. After all, finally destroying a Shadowlord is a big change.

    But then there comes that moment just before the endgame dungeon, when you have done all this, and then you look around and see... nothing has changed, the world is still the the same.

    Ultima V will be forgiven this, because it is just a game from 1988 with technical limitations.

    But Skyrim erred in the exact same manner.

    Once you defeated Alduin and came back from Sovnagarde... no one cared.

    And if you hadn't done faction quests yet, they will still play out like nothing had happened, being their own little pocket worlds.

    A game like Witcher 3 works around it, by giving you restrictive quest order, thus the key characters will move around the world, depending on how far you are in the quest trail. But that's also an illusion.

    This is a problem a modern game designer needs to find his own solution to. In some sense, all game worlds are static. The trick is in how well you can maintain the illusion of world progression.

    2) Experience and Level up

    Experience points are only gained by combat and killing. All the cool open-world questing and secret discovering doesn't give you experience. Or if it does, it's so little that it doesn't really help much.

    And to level up, you have to wait for a random visitation during sleeping, which will then randomly raise one of your stats. You have no say in the matter.

    This is a major design flaw in Ultima 5.

    So, realistically speaking... when you've done with all the quests, and you only have the endgame dungeon ahead of you, you are about level 5 to level 6. That's either 800 to 1600 experience points.

    To get to level 7 you need 3200 experience points, and to get to level 8 you need to have 6400 experience points.

    You don't actually need to be level 7 for Dungeon Doom. I did it with level 6 characters. It might be possible with level 5 too.

    But if you really really want to be level 7 or 8, just that you could get those level 7-8 spells... well there's nothing else for you to do than start grinding.

    It's like Ultima V is simultaneously the platonic ideal of open-world rpg's incarnated and just a game from 1980's. However, the ideal was indeed captured in this incarnation.

    A modern game designer could just copy the entire game, make a few changes (i.e, Lord Bloodthrone), introduce some modern features and designs... and he could say, “Ultima V? Never heard of it,“ while basking in the admiration of millions for creating the best open world rpg ever made. And only few would know that he just copy-pasted an older game, a game that did it right.

    This is a serious post for serious people. Thank you for your time.
     
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  2. Ol' Willy Arcane Zionist Agent

    Ol' Willy
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    Comparing CRPG Ultima 5 to popamole Skyshit and interactive movie Twitcher 3, hmm
     
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  3. Dorateen Arcane

    Dorateen
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    I would counter with the openess of Wizardry VII, with its dynamic NPCs who pursued their own agenda, moving about the gameworld even competing against the player. Multiple staring areas, due to its predecessor Bane of the Cosmic Forge, which continues that adventure arc with multiple end paths in leading up to Wizardry 8. In addition, Crusaders of the Dark Savant is a real cRPG with full party creation and a much stronger combat system and mechanics.
     
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  4. Drunken Irishman Augur

    Drunken Irishman
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    Ultima V and Skyrim are actually very similar in many ways.

    You have an overworld map (check) and town maps (check). Each town goes for it's own unique feel (check). Towns are filled with character npc's and town guards (check). Town characters have a day and night schedule (check).

    In Skyrim, not every town character gets to interact with the player, but they do have their own personal lines. Which is about as much text as many town characters in Ultima V have. And all town characters have their own place in the town, their own beds where they go to sleep, their own daily activities.

    It's actually funny how little some things have changed. I found Ultima V town guard behaviour to be very similar to Skyrim guards.

    What else. You have a kind of civil war setting in both. In Ultima V it's the regime vs resistance, in Skyrim it's the Stormcloaks against the Empire.

    In Ultima V towns get visited by Shadowlords, in Skyrim dragons sometimes attack towns.

    Out of all the games ever made, Ultima V and Skyrim are probably the closest to each other in their way of creating a "living world".
     
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  5. Drunken Irishman Augur

    Drunken Irishman
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    I am not talking just about openess, but how well the game simulates the feel of a "real world" and you being and doing things in that world, engaging with it as a simulated "real place". You just don't experience Wizardry 7 the same way as you do Ultima V. They're not doing the same thing, or even remotely similar things, and they don't intend to.
     
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  6. Mud' Learned

    Mud'
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    I played Ultima V Lazarus and loved it, the extra features really help the game not to feel as dated.
     
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  7. Dorateen Arcane

    Dorateen
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    Wizardry VII's world building is excellent, and the melancholy atmosphere is communicated brilliantly by D.W. Bradley's prose. For what it's worth, there are also NPCs who have a day/night schedule, and the setting always felt real to me. The Dark Savant is portrayed as a catalyst for change, or progress, and there are those who might welcome that while the natives of Lost Gaurdia watch in despair. Someone once describe the experience as an "archeological" cRPG because the way the player uncovers secrets and digs into the lore of past civilizations, who are now vying against outside invaders.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2021
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  8. Drunken Irishman Augur

    Drunken Irishman
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    Aye, that D.W Bradley is a unique feel indeed.

    But I retain that blobbers offer a different type of experience than the open-world I had in mind. The world in blobbers is more abstract, more deliberately artificial. In Wizardry 7, you don't see the npc's moving around. You step on a tile and you have an encounter. You engage with the world as you would in any other blobber: you move around labyrinthine maps, you encounter monsters, you encounter npc's, etc. The difference between town and wilderness is really just the tile color.

    It's a different type of experience.
     
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  9. Lacrymas Arcane

    Lacrymas
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    Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Can I jump straight into V without having played the others first? I know about the Avatar stuff.
     
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  10. Tihskael Learned

    Tihskael
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    Todd is a fan of Ultima, he has said it many times. He likes dumb shit like baking bread and what not, just like I do.
     
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  11. Tihskael Learned

    Tihskael
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    Classic Codex.
     
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  12. Drunken Irishman Augur

    Drunken Irishman
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    Yes.

    Press T to talk. Press H to sleep in beds or camp outside. Press M to prepare spells.

    Memorize these two combinations. Mix reagants for spell An Nox (cure poison): ginseng and garlic and mix reagants for spell Mani(heal): ginseng and spider silk. These will be very useful to you.

    Press C to cast spell. R is for equipping stuff. With Z you can look at your stats. U is use item. S is search. Sometimes you can find useful stuff in barrels or shelves.

    Q is save game. J is pick lock. You can set an active player with numbers (useful in combat or spellcasting).

    I think you should be able to make it to first town. Press E to enter.

    Useful keywords in conversations: name, job, bye.
     
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  13. Nifft Batuff Liturgist

    Nifft Batuff
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    We are living in the age of remaster/remakes. Even my cat has been remastered. Meanwhile, it is strange that nobody have proposed a remake for any of the Ultimas yet. Thinking about it, it is better that nobody noticed so far.
     
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  14. octavius Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    octavius
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    I'd like a remake of IV, if only using V's engine.
    It has one of the most original "plots" of any CRPG, but the simplistic, slow and boring TB combat combined with far too high random encounter frequency makes me not want to replay it, and actually finish it (before the Internet my quest came to an end when I could not answer the final question in The Abyss).
     
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  15. Lacrymas Arcane

    Lacrymas
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    Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Is IV the one with the perverted and forced virtues? I'd like to play that one actually, I thought V is that.
     
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  16. octavius Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    octavius
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    IV introduced the virtues, V perverted them. (I feel that the 2020s is kind of like living in the world of U5)
     
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  17. ghostdog Prestigious Gentleman Arcane Patron

    ghostdog
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    There seem to be 2 U4 remakes:

    NWN module: https://ultima4.ultimacodex.com/ultima-iv-rebirth/

    Remake in a new Engine that also suns in SCUMMVM: https://ultima4.ultimacodex.com/xu4-ultima-4-recreated/

    Has anyone played any of the above?
     
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  18. newtmonkey Arcane

    newtmonkey
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    THOU SHALT ACKNOWLEDGE THY PRIVILEGE, OR THOU SHALT BE CANCELED

    This stuff writes itself!
     
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  19. Vormulak Educated Edgy

    Vormulak
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    Not an rpg, game only has 1 ending and you're playing a predefined character.
     
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  20. Tweed Professional Kobold Patron

    Tweed
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    Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    I would list that it gets dark way too fast as a flaw, it feels like there's 2 hours of sunlight. I really have to stock up on those IN VAS LORs. While I like VII despite awful combat V is really my favorite.
    IV-VI let you "roll" your character and even transfer.
     
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  21. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

    JarlFrank
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    The IP is owned by EA so I'm glad it's not getting remastered.

    Then again their C&C remaster was surprisingly good so who knows?
     
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  22. Unorus Janco Lurker

    Unorus Janco
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  23. Drunken Irishman Augur

    Drunken Irishman
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    The thing with Ultima is... a lot of games keep getting called Ultima clones. But clones of which Ultima? Ultima I-III? Ultima V? Ultima VI or VII? Or maybe even VIII?

    Ultima didn't really stay constant. It loved to experiment. However we've had enough of Ultima III clones in this world.... Dragon Quest is basically an Ultima clone, and thus indirectly the entire JRPG genre.

    I'd like a continuation of the more experimental Ultima's. The problem with EA making a contiunation: do they really understand the potential of some of the gameplay ideas Ultima experimented with. More than likely, they will have some clueless wokester's making an unholy abomination. Like Star Trek Discovery.

    It's likely that not even the makers of Ultima understood the potential they had. Because Ultima 9 exists...
     
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  24. JarlFrank I like Thief THIS much Patron

    JarlFrank
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    Most "Ultima clones" are Ultima I-III clones, and there are so many because they're easy to make.

    IV and V are a bit harder cause they require a more interesting story premise, VI and VII are much harder cause they are more detailed, Ultima Underworld is even harder to pull of correctly...

    So it's I-III which have been cloned dozens, if not hundreds of times over the years, even when they were already obsolete.
     
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  25. Darkzone Arcane

    Darkzone
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    Somewhere along the long way Garriott has lost his mojo and since then nothing of renown and recognition came out of him.
     
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