Title Ultima VI: The False Prophet (Second Review) Game Type RPG Publisher Mindscape/Origin, 1992 Players 1 Compatibility 1 MB required (AGA users must select OCS/ECS) Submission Adrian Simpson Profiled Reviewer Review I recall reading an interview with the creator of the Ultima series, Richard Garriott, where he said that a question was asked regarding one of the games. The question was, "Can you bake bread in it?", to which someone replied, "Ultima is not about baking bread". As Richard said, this is missing the point of the Ultima series - the point of Ultima is freedom and if you can bake bread from different ingredients that you find in the world, then it shows the depth of that freedom. You don't have to do it, but you can if you want to. This isn't gaming on rails. Richard Garriott (and all other fantasy writers) were influenced by JRR Tolkien, who created a world within a book. The Ultima games are an attempt to do the same within a computer game. I don't think that the first three Ultimas (and the Ultima prototype, Akalabeth) are particularly interesting. The plots are first to kill a bad guy, then his lover, then some sort of machine. By Ultima 4, the plotline started to be more inventive. You have to discover eight virtues, which will become the basis for your actions in all the other games in the series. Your character is an avatar and is supposed to be the living embodiment of virtue. Number 5 in the series saw you rescue the King, Lord British, after his kidnapping and the stopping of a corrupt official who took his place. After Ultima 6, which is the subject of this review, Ultima 7 Part 1 and Part 2 dealt with corruption on a society wide level, Ultima 8 saw the character transported to a new, smaller world (with more arcade-style action) and 9 made the leap into full 3D, but required a monster PC. Ultima 6 was the last Ultima on the Amiga, although it is possible to play the two parts of Ultima 7 in an interpreter. There were also some spin- offs, including the superb Ultima Underworld 1 and 2, which featured early examples of texture mapped graphics and superlative gameplay to match. So, sandwiched between Ultima 5: Warriors Of Destiny and Ultima 7: The Black Gate is, not surprisingly, Ultima 6: The False Prophet. The world is viewed with 32 colour graphics, which are not up to the standard of the 256 colour original PC version. However, this is no big loss, as the world is not realised by pretty graphics, but by the sense of being there which is created. The actual view is a small grid of squares - the rest of the screen is made up of the inventory and icons. Although the movement in Ultima 6 is from one square to the other, it does not feel like a turn-based game, as you keep going without any delay between moves. Battles are played more like a turn-based game, which gives you ample time to plan moves. Crucially, the battles are on the same view and scale as the rest of the game. Ultima 5 had two views, a far-away view to move between cities and a close-up view inside the towns. Ultima 6 always has the same view. This makes it feel like you are actually making an epic journey from one place to another and gives a fine sense of scale. When you are deep inside a dungeon, fighting monsters, you know that you still need to make it out again and journey back to the castle, where you can rest and sort out your possessions, ready for the next quest. You know that it isn't going to take just a couple of clicks on the mouse. At the start of the game you are heading back to the land of Britannia from Earth through a moongate and find yourself almost sacrificed by numerous demon-type creatures. Saved by your old friends, you withdraw to Lord British's castle fighting three of the creatures that followed you. Luckily, they are weak, so dispatching them is easy. A chat with the King tells you that these creatures are called Gargoyles and that they started invading the land and taking over the shrines that represent each of the virtues that you discovered in Ultima 5. This is not good for the land, as each of these is associated with a nearby town. You are given a key to use for exiting the castle. From here, the world is your oyster and the exploration and discovery element of the game comes into play. You are given clues from different people on places to go, but essentially you have a single quest to achieve to complete the game - this is to stop the Gargoyles. This breaks down into sub-quests where you must free each of the shrines. These quests divide into further sub-quests and so on. Some quests are not all that important, but are interesting or beneficial to complete. In fact, the castle itself is a little world. There are rooms, bookshelves, books, telescopes, chests, kitchens and numerous other things to see. You even have your own room to come back to. Under the castle are the sewers of the capital city Britain. Here you can start to build up your character's skills fighting reasonably easy monsters. You collect gold and other items from dead creatures, which can be used to buy goods in the shops of Britain. Soon you will want to leave the castle. You can do so by descending into the sewers and finding an exit or using the key that Lord British gave you on the front gate and drawbridge control rooms. Interestingly, many players have got stuck at this early stage! Britain, the major city, has shops, houses, fields and people going about their daily business. There is a night and day cycle, so, in the evening, darkness begins to fall over most of your screen. You'll need a torch here or you can camp out and sleep until daybreak. Inns offer safe beds to sleep in too. This cycle is part of what makes the world feel so real, but it would have been even better to have seasons with different weather such as snow and rain. The day-night gameplay means that the people of the world will be asleep if you, for example, try and buy something from a shop in the middle of the night. Some planning is needed in this case! From Britain, you can head off on a number of roads to other towns or head off across the wilderness. There are forests, lakes, seas, mountains, swamps and deserts across the land. In the mountains you can find dungeons, which offer an opportunity to fight monsters and find treasure. You head off with a party, which includes three other members, and can recruit further adventurers to your cause. This allows you to carry more and also means safety in numbers. It is also possible to send individual members of the team off alone, which is sometimes useful. You can walk over the world, but there are other forms of transportation, which naturally cost some money. You can travel over the sea in a ship, which is a good form of transportation. There is also a small boat, but this is only recommended when a ship is too large for a channel. Horses are available on land and you can travel via moongates too (if you can work out how to use them properly). Of course, the world of Ultima 6 can never be fully realised on the humble Amiga of 1992 to which it was ported. It requires mighty processing power as there is far more going on than just the smooth movement of sprites around the screen. It is not recommended to run the game on an A500 without a hard disk drive. Hard disk installation is essential and much benefit is gained from a fast processor. An 030 is good. A 1.3 GHz Athlon, running the game under emulation, is quite fast! The game also cheats to a certain extent. There would have been no way to program Ultima 6 to keep track of every monster and person in the world. Sometimes it is obvious that things and people are disappearing when you move away from them the logic of the reality isn't maintained at times. You can sometimes see cracks. Also, you can often search through someone's house in the middle of the night, in their presence, and they will not stop you. Sometimes they will shout "Thief!". The interface does a reasonable job of controlling the game, but isn't as easy as more recent games or later Ultimas. The idea is that there is a separate button for each action. Click on 'Pick Up' and then on an object to grab something into your inventory. Click on 'Talk' and then on a person to speak to them. Simple and not too bad to use. A nice feature is that you can assign an action to the right mouse button. So, for example, you could assign 'Pick Up' to it and then after that every right click will pick an item up. This is very handy. The conversation interface is neat - someone says something and you have to find the keyword to trigger their next bit of speech. You can turn off the option to highlight these keywords, but I don't see the point. Everyone responds to words such as 'name' and 'job' as a default. If you want, you can type something like "What is your name?" - the result will be the same as typing 'name'. So, it's another example of the wide range of options in the game. The whole game is one of exploration and adventuring. Only after playing it for months and to the end will you discover everything it has to offer. The end has a nice twist on the plot too. I really can't recommend this game highly enough.