Ultima VII, the Black Gate: Virtual Worlds, Emergent Gameplay

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Ultima VIIUltima VIIBy request, this week's Matt Chat covers Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Ultima VII is a masterpiece of the early 90s, with tremendous scope and important innovations that would influence many later games. It's definitely not hard to see this game's influence on later hits such as Diablo (1997) and Baldur's Gate (1998).

This video was particularly challenging for me, because The Black Gate is truly a game of epic proportions that is very difficult to condense into ten minutes. I could easily have dedicated hours to the details of its virtual world, emergent gameplay (baking bread!), party dynamics, storyline, witty interactions with the characters...The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, it's somewhat difficult to get this game running (properly) on modern hardware, so Exult might be the sensible option.

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Rowdy Rob
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Many thoughts on this: mostly good!

Matt does another video, and again I want to play the game in question.

As for the commentary, it is probably your (Matt's) best yet. Perhaps the microphone in front of you allowed you to be more free, or not (I don't know), but something clicked. It was almost as if I was watching a webcam of a radio host's broadcasts.

Which brings me to.... the visible microphone. I liked it. Like I said, it was like watching a radio broadcaster's webcam. You'll probably get some flak for it, though, from others. I may be a minority, but it almost seemed MORE professional with a visible microphone, with the added bonus that your smooth commentary delivered in spades.

One needling criticism, though... If you use the visible microphone, drop it down a hair so it isn't right under your chin. It kind of looks awkward there. But not enough to ruin what may be the best Matt Chat yet.

If the mic allowed you to be more free with your commentary though, keep it in, just position it better. The commentary itself was extremely smooth, confident, and interesting, clearly making the case that you were only touching the surface of this deep, interesting game that no true gamer should resist! I can't be certain, but I think it was your best commentary yet. Confident, intelligent, and interesting.

The cutaways were great, despite whatever hardships you had to endure to get them in the production (which I hope you've smoothed out). From now on, no Matt Chat should be without cutaways. You did it to yourself. :-) The only problem I had was the obviously "Photoshopped" 'girl in the middle of a D&D session' cutaway. Come on, let's not stretch the realms of believability here, as if a female would be caught dead with male D&D geeks. :-)

As for Ultima, I played Ultima II, and it was a great game! Ultima III was a little harder to grasp, since I didn't care for the "line of sight" viewpoint that obscured much of the screen, and plus I didn't get much of a chance to play it, due to my computer-club friends hogging the machine playing it. From that point, my "Ultima" experience ended, save for a very fun freeware Ultima-alike on the Amiga.

But this Ultima VII, Wow! It looks and sounds like the best CRPG ever!!! How does this not get your vote as the best CRPG ever, as opposed to your favorite, "Myths of Drannor?" It sounds a whole heck of a lot deeper and more flexible.

Also, does Ultima VII still have the speedy "World view map" as you travel between cities? That was my favorite part of Ultima II, as it reduced the feel of "slogging" through a terrain.

If ever there was a Matt Chat deserving of a "Part II," it may very well be Ultima VII. As cool as you were in the video, it really sounded like we viewers were only getting a minor taste of what made this game a classic. You made that very clear in your video, and it left me hungering for more info on just how deep this game really was.

Other than the microphone positioning criticism, this is possibly your best Matt Chat yet! I greatly enjoyed it, and am trying to figure out how I'm going to play this game. I suspect this video will get lots of positive response from the Ultima community.

P.S. Of course I was joking about the "Myths of Drannor" reference. :-) Everything else I said was no joke, though.

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Matt Barton
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Haha, I almost spewed my

Haha, I almost spewed my sweet tea when I saw that line about Ruins of Myth Drannor. Thanks for not calling it Pool of Radiance. That games does NOT deserve that title. It's really fun that I've managed to talk to about three different people who were involved in the original PoR, including the guy who wrote the music (Warhol) and the main programmer (Brors). That must have been one heckuva team! I only wish they had been a bit more persistent about updating the engine; no matter how great the content, I like to see noticeable improvements from year to year. Richard Garriott definitely had the same mindset with his Ultima series. He was always taking things to the next level, and I admire that about him.

I am sad to say that I never played any of the Ultimas growing up. I don't know how I managed to miss them, really. I guess it was just dumb luck that brought me to Bard's Tale and Pool of Radiance. I also missed Dungeon Master, the LucasArts adventure games, and Eye of the Beholder. There's this big gap in my gaming in the early 90s, because I was stuck with an old Amiga 1000 and a Commodore 64, with hardly any way to get new software. Of course I was unable to do much gaming in college due to the expense and studying required, but I'm trying to make up for it now. It's kind of sad for me, though, because I know I would've adored all those games. So random--like how'd I end up with something like Police Quest and didn't get to play any other Sierra games until much later. OF course you can go back and play them, but it's never as exciting.

I don't really like having the microphone on screen, but I was hoping it would give me better sound quality. I'll have to keep tinkering to try to find the best arrangement.

Those cutaways should be a simple matter, but it is pure, living hell getting them into the videos. Murphy's Law is always in full effect. It's hell actually getting usable footage that sounds and looks decent, and then Sony Vegas will give you a hernia. It is always bogging down, and the long-ass rendering times (1.5 hours for a 10 minute video??) will frequently crash 3/4 the way through and I'll have to start over. I've ordered some more RAM (2 more gigs, which will bring me to 8), so I'm hoping that will at least alleviate this issue. I usually have everything done around 4 or 5 p.m., but it's more like midnight before the goddamn thing has finally rendered and uploaded. Just such an unforgiving thing.

If I knew what I do now, I'd recommend that folks just put together a dedicated machine for rendering and video capture. That way you could focus on just playing the games on your main rig. If I keep doing Matt Chats, I'm sure I'll eventually want to buy or build such a system. I don't imagine it would be that expensive, but it would have to be pretty powerful, with a fast processor, top notch capture card, lots of RAM, and a big, fast hard drive. I guess it wouldn't need anything special in the GPU department. I wonder what such a thing would end up costing.

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Matt Barton
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Well, this is kind of

Well, this is kind of interesting. I managed to hook up my graphics card into my TV capture card and actually recorded video and audio from my desktop. I played a bit of Freedom Force and noticed no slow down at all while it was recording. I'm wondering how it would handle a really high-end game like Crysis.

Unfortunately, even after trying to crank the settings, the end result is pretty fuzzy and far from pristine. Part of the problem is that it's recording from an SVIDEO cable, so I'm sure I'm losing something here, and the maximum resolution is something like 720 x 480. The image is a bit washed out. I suppose it's much better than nothing.

I'm going to keep tinkering for awhile and see if I can get it to look sharper. Even if I record decent 800 x 600 footage, I could do a lot with that.

Edit: Seems to do great when the footage is at full screen 720 x 480 (i.e., Amiga emulation). The recording is a bit too bright and still a bit fuzzy for some reason, but that could perhaps be fixed in post. At any rate, opens up some interesting possibilities for future video captures.

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Orakio "O Gagá" Rob (not verified)
Very nice video!

After reading the chapter on the Ultima Series from "Vintage Games" I started playing Ultima I on the AppleII. Now that I've seen this one... I must play it too! :)

Gashead
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Wow!

What can I say, just perfect. As I mentioned before I am a huge fan of the Ultima series and of the Black Gate in particular. If you ever make the director's cut version that is over an hour count me in! I'm a bit biased because I love the game so much but I definately thought it was the best Matt Chat yet.

Every time I see the intro with the Guardian I am transported back to the first time I played it. Your right about the villian being up front as being very important to the feel of the game. By the end of the game you start taking all his insults personally! Beating him at the end of the game is probably one of the most satisfying gaming moments ever (well that and finally finishing the water level in Sonic the Hedgehog!).

I think your obvious affection for the game added a really good feeling to the video. Great to see Ultimas I,II and III as cutaways. Perhaps you would like to take up my earlier suggestion and do one video per Ultima game! Well maybe not for Pagan ;) I know you can't really do a whole Ultima series but I would love to also see a Matt Chat about Ultima Underworld. It was also truly groundbreaking in the 3D world that it created.

Anyway time to load up Exult again and go bake some bread :) And maybe rob the bank (always fun). Of course there are also more 'adult' forms of entertainment in Britannia that I won't mention on a family website.

Thanks this video made my day!

Matt Barton
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Upcoming Episodes
Gashead wrote:

I think your obvious affection for the game added a really good feeling to the video. Great to see Ultimas I,II and III as cutaways. Perhaps you would like to take up my earlier suggestion and do one video per Ultima game! Well maybe not for Pagan ;) I know you can't really do a whole Ultima series but I would love to also see a Matt Chat about Ultima Underworld. It was also truly groundbreaking in the 3D world that it created.

Thanks, Gashead! I agree about UU being a great choice for a future episode. I probably won't do it right away, but it is in the queue for sure. I also want to do Baldur's Gate I or II, and perhaps Planescape Torment. Then there's Fallout, of course. So many brilliant RPGs to cover. I could easily do episodes on Temple of Apshai, Tunnels of Doom, Dungeons of Daggorath, or Wizardry, one of my personal favorites.

I think Garriott's problems began with Pagan. At that point, it was pretty clear that something just wasn't the same. I guess he was too busy with Ultima Online or something, but things just got worse. I think he had given up trying to be a leader and was just trying to copy what other folks were doing. Roberta Williams did the same thing about that same period--giving up on the audience, disrespecting them by assuming they wanted dumbed down games with more action. What they should have done was just stick to their guns, making Ultimas and King's Quests that were bigger and better, not watering down the formula with stuff best left to Nintendo. I think by that point all of them were just in awe by the ubiquity of console gaming and how much bigger the pie was becoming. I know a few of us really love that consoles won out, but it just leaves me saddened.

At any rate, I'd also like to cover more classic adventure games, such as King's Quest, Deja Vu, and Day of the Tentacle. It'd also be great to cover Syberia and a few more modern adventures. I still haven't heard anything about my Floyd Lives proposal. I hope that our agent is able to find a publisher. I know you guys would like what I had in mind for that book, but finding a good publisher is proving very, very difficult. Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.

I've been thinking hard about one of Epyx's olympic games titles soon. I would probably end up doing the Summer and Winter games in a special episode, perhaps making mention of the later ones. I'll have to do some research, but I might even be able to get Bob Citelli to answer a few questions about the games that I could stick in there. That's another good game to show running on different platforms.

Then again, I haven't really done a straight arcade game yet. I was tempted to do an episode on Defender and/or Robotron. I'm starting to really feel the pain of that 10 minute time limit. I keep having to cut out good stuff just because it won't fit. I guess it's for the best, though, rendering is enough of a $@$@ as it is.

I still badly, badly want to do Deja Vu and some other Macventure games, but have yet to be able to find the Mac roms for them. It just isn't worth doing if I can't get hold of the originals.

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Rowdy Rob
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Thoughts and Matt Chat ideas.
Matt Barton wrote:

Thanks, Gashead! I agree about UU being a great choice for a future episode.

I can see UU or Ultima Online being a good choice for a Matt Chat, since both are obviously "groundbreaking" games in their own right, but I disagree with GasHead on covering each Ultima game in its own Matt Chat. U1, U2, U3, etc. etc. That might get tiresome. Perhaps an overall "Matt Chat: the Ultima Series Parts I & II" might be in order, covering the whole arc in one or two fell swoops.

Matt Barton wrote:

I think Garriott's problems began with Pagan. At that point, it was pretty clear that something just wasn't the same. I guess he was too busy with Ultima Online or something, but things just got worse.

Perhaps there might have been a bit of burnout mixed in there as well. Imagine a guy as creative as Garriott stuck in the same mythos, year after year after year. Admittedly, it was his own mythos, but maybe he was boxed in to Ultima when he might have wanted to do some other types of games. I may be wrong, but it's a possibility.

Matt Barton wrote:

I've been thinking hard about one of Epyx's olympic games titles soon. I would probably end up doing the Summer and Winter games in a special episode, perhaps making mention of the later ones.

That would be an excellent choice. I loved those games, at least the ones I played.

Matt Barton wrote:

I guess it's for the best, though, rendering is enough of a $@$@ as it is.

You might hate me for my next idea, then. :-) Since you've placed yourself "off-center" in your camera view (to better see the games on the shelves, I presume), you have space for TV-news-style "insets." Instead of cutting away to a new scene, you could have the game cover "pop up" to the side of you.

It might be cool, but it sounds to me like you either need to find better video editing software or figure out what's causing your rendering problems first before tackling that one.

Matt Barton wrote:

Then again, I haven't really done a straight arcade game yet. I was tempted to do an episode on Defender and/or Robotron.

Two words: "Donkey Kong." Two more words: "many views!" Just speculating, but if there's any arcade game that you could fill ten minutes talking about, it's "Donkey Kong." Pretty much everyone loved that game, it was groundbreaking, it introduced Mario and Donkey Kong as cultural icons, had many commercial spinoffs and merchandise, etc. There's plenty to talk about there. Defender and Robotron are cool too, but I suspect that Donkey Kong would attract more viewers. Just my speculating here.

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Bob Citelli (not verified)
Summer Games; Winter Games; World Games

The last "Games" title was World Games and was one of the first, if not the first, to include product placement ads from sponsors inside the actual gameplay.

Bob

Mark Vergeer
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Sweet video!

Ultima VII is something I might want to check out - I like the interface as it does not clutter the screen or make the game play hopelessly complicated and slow by continuously having to go through all sorts of menus.

Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Mark Vergeer
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Video reply

Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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