Ultima VII: The Black Gate -- Classic Game of the Week

I realize that many hold in high regard games like Baldur's Gate and the D&D Gold Box games, and with good reason, but when I think about the pinnacle of my CRPG experience one game stands above and alone: Ultima VII - The Black Gate. The introduction to what, I suppose, was the third and final Ultima trilogy and its ultimately misguided arc that would fizzle out with the largely disappointing Ultima IX, The Black Gate was itself an absolute masterpiece from beginning to end. In my mind, the reveal of The Guardian through the static of my computer screen as the opening centerpiece of the game is one of the most iconic beginnings, if only because I associate it in my mind as the prologue of one of the best video game stories told.

The game is almost literary in its structure, set initially in the context of a murder mystery in the town of Trinsic, but eventually stretching into a grand epic across the face of Brittania. The world that you return to after a presumed 200 year absence is both exactly and nothing quite like the one left behind. Aside from the considerable technical improvement in the game's presentation, the presence of The Fellowship which has become the moral leaders of the realm adds a phenomenal layer to the already complex moral landscape of the series.

I'm not sure that a game world ever felt like more of an evolutionary leap from anything I've played before it that Ultima VII. It's certainly true that modern worlds are often more interactive and more complex that that of 1992's Brittania, but for the standards of the time this game's technical achievements are mind bending. For a series that had established itself with games like Exodus, Quest of the Avatar and the criminally underrated The False Prophet -- to say nothing of the Ultima Underworld games -- that it managed to top everything that had come before by an arbitrary factor of ten is proof positive that it is one of the all-time classics.

Comments

Reading this, seeing that cover, I'm not sure if it feels more like sex or drinking good whiskey. I want more.

I'm not one for second play-throughs. Once I've played a game, that's usually the end. This is the only game I've spent serious time trying to reinstall and make run on a modern computer. It's certainly the only game I've struggled to get running again multiple times. It's sweet, sweet Silver-Serpent elixir, and I don't think I'll ever get enough.

To my eternal shame, I've never played the Ultima games, aside from the debacle that was Ultima IX. Ultima VII is totally up my alley too, but seems like it might be a little too archaic to really sink my teeth into now.

My favorite Ultima was always VI, The False Prophet. I probably played through that game 4 times and I am not one to replay games. Ultima VII "only" got replayed three times. In my opinion the Ultima series is the greatest RPG series of all time with the Baldur's Gate series coming in second.

God I miss this game. I laughed my ass off when I found the wrecked Kilrathi ship in the field.

Like Cetis, I never played any of the Ultima games except for one; in my case, it was a brief stint in Ultima Online when it was first released.

$16 used without artwork sounds like a decent deal for this game, though, if it's as wonderful as is claimed.

Admit it, '92 was the first time you got laid, and that's why the memories of anything that happened that year are so sweet to you.

I'll keep my eye out for this game. I just got a gametap account and have been going through some of the greatest hits of the 90s, so this would fit well into that theme. If not on gametap, is there anywhere else I can find it?

wordsmythe wrote:

Reading this, seeing that cover, I'm not sure if it feels more like sex or drinking good whiskey. I want more.

Or like having sex while eating a pastrami sandwich.

It's certainly the only game I've struggled to get running again multiple times. It's sweet, sweet Silver-Serpent elixir, and I don't think I'll ever get enough.

DOSBox is your friend. I don't understand the struggle to make old games run on a modern machine when DOSBox makes things easier than they ever were with the original machines we ran the game on. I don't have to mess with voodoo memory, EMS, XMS, EIEIO or anything else. OK, this isn't completely true, but I certainly get things running faster than I do when monkeying around with trying to get things working in XP, Vista or Win 7.

Edit: The only "classic" games I always make sure to set up when I do a new build for myself are Xcom and U7 complete. If you're going to play U7, you might as well play Serpent Isle as well. It's all one story.

I can never decide if I like this or IV more. Obviously inventory management, graphics, etc. were much better starting with VII, but I dunno...maybe it just depends on my mood.

For anyone who's interested, there's a fair bit of activity updating the entire Ultima series in various guises; more info here. The Avatarship NWN module is probably the best of the bunch that I've had a chance to try, but almost every game is represented — notably absent, unfortunately, are both The Black Gate and Serpent Isle. No love for VII.

Certis wrote:

To my eternal shame, I've never played the Ultima games, aside from the debacle that was Ultima IX. Ultima VII is totally up my alley too, but seems like it might be a little too archaic to really sink my teeth into now.

This particular game made it into EA's Retro Replay pack for the PSP (with several other notables).

EDIT: I should note that the PSP games are all culled from SNES or Genesis versions of the games...they may be significantly different.

Although I really liked the other games in the series, none of them holds up to my memories of Ultima 3:Exodus. Maybe it was because it was the first game I played on my new Atari 800XL with color monitor but there are few games that come close to the level of nostalgia that game generates. Mapping out dungeons on paper, writing down notes from dialogs, ... good times.

I made the mistake of playing the game -- years after it debuted -- almost entirely from a walkthrough. I think this made it more or less forgettable for me. I'll have to go back some day and give it a shot for realz yo.

PissedYeti wrote:

Although I really liked the other games in the series, none of them holds up to my memories of Ultima 3:Exodus. Maybe it was because it was the first game I played on my new Atari 800XL with color monitor but there are few games that come close to the level of nostalgia that game generates. Mapping out dungeons on paper, writing down notes from dialogs, ... good times.

You know what, I'm entirely the same way, right down the Atari 800 (though it was hooked up to a TV).

Ultima VII is in my personal top 5 favorite games of all time. It's the game that MADE me buy a soundcard for my computer after seeing it running in its full glory at my cousin's place: having the Guardian actually SPEAK to me was thrilling and a tantalizing glimpse as to where games could possibly go. With talk of moral systems in games all the rage lately, The Black Gate managed to captivate me in certain difficult moments thanks to its excellent writing and situations that were a far cry from 'rescue this person or kill a puppy'. Even though sometimes you really didn't have any choice, it never felt forced to me. Such an awesome game.

Allow me to divulge my eternal shame: My first experience with the series was Ultima 8.

And I liked it.

But I went back and played 7, so I feel partially redeemed. Didn't finish it, but still.

The first computer game I ever played was Ultima II. I credit it for my love of gaming and for my career choice, both of which have brought tremendous joy to my life over the years. If I am not mistaken, my last ultima game was Ultima IV.

By that time I had moved on to FPS and others. Years later I did try to play Ultima II again via Gametap, but it wasn't the same.

I absolutely love the Ultima games, even the poor broken mess that is IX. I think the original Ultima was my very first RPG of ANY kind, I remember watching "the cool kids" play around with it on our High School's Apple ][ computers and being totally amazed at the size and scope of the world. Since then I've played every numbered Ultima, the two Ultima VI-based spinoffs and the two Underworlds.

An excellent site for remakes & patches to get these games running on a modern PC is Ultima: Aiera, but if you're specifically looking to get Ultima VII running on a modern computer you'll want to check out The Exult Project, an add-on that not only runs the game smoothly and hassle-free on modern systems but adds a whole bunch of extra stuff like cheats and keyrings.

The Ultima series was absolutely the pinnacle of RPG gaming for me in my youth - screw Wizardy (no real roleplaying there to my mind, just a dungeon hack-a-thon), Might & Magic and all the rest. Not surprisingly, Origin was THE developer as far as I was concerned. When I think of playing computer games, I think of sitting at my Apple IIe, staring for hours at the green glow from the monitor playing Ultima and Autoduel.

U4 was revolutionary when it came out, 5 raised the bar even further in terms of environment and interactivity. But everything really came together in 7 (sorry VII). When it came out, I hadn't played a computer game in a couple of years, and I had just bought my first PC... this game blew my mind. The graphics, the ways of interacting with everyone and the environment, and most of all, a great story.

I think the last Ultima I played was VI. And I hated it. Guess I missed out. *shrugs shoulders* One more to the "eventually" pile.

Certis wrote:

To my eternal shame, I've never played the Ultima games, aside from the debacle that was Ultima IX. Ultima VII is totally up my alley too, but seems like it might be a little too archaic to really sink my teeth into now.

I'm pretty much in the same boat. Would you guys say its worth going back and trying with something like Exult or is it better to just leave it be if you missed the party?

I'm certain that there's a large degree of nostalgia at play here. Frankly I have no idea how the game would hold up 17 years later -- probably not that great.

My first experience with the series was Ultima 8.

And I liked it.

You know, VIII was widely maligned, but unfairly so. I thought it was a terrific game, though nowhere near VII. I know a lot of people were really thrown off by playing in a world that wasn't Brittania and didn't have iconic characters like Lord British or Iolo, but overall I had a great time with Pagan.

This is easily one of my favorite games of all time... it's one of the very few that I tend to play through every couple of years just to remind myself of all the great times I had playing it.

So many great moments, from the Guardian speaking to you and stuff moving around when you enter the blacksmith's shop in Trinsic, to the first time you enter the capital city, learning to bake bread, the devastation of Skara Brea.

It was the first game I played that felt like a rich, complete, connected world, and you were given such freedom to find your own way through it.

Man, now I'm going to have to pull out Exult again and revisit Britannia

bighoppa wrote:
It's certainly the only game I've struggled to get running again multiple times. It's sweet, sweet Silver-Serpent elixir, and I don't think I'll ever get enough.

DOSBox is your friend. I don't understand the struggle to make old games run on a modern machine when DOSBox makes things easier than they ever were with the original machines we ran the game on. I don't have to mess with voodoo memory, EMS, XMS, EIEIO or anything else. OK, this isn't completely true, but I certainly get things running faster than I do when monkeying around with trying to get things working in XP, Vista or Win 7.

It's been a handful of years now since I last tried, and the DOSBox EMM and speed tweaks eluded me then. Maybe I'll give it another shot to calm my pre-wedding jitters next month.

Ultima VII was the first true RPG I ever played, on a Pentium 133 no less. My little avatars moved at light speed through the humongous world. I remember Lord Brittain giving me a ship that was supposed to wait for me somewhere. I just zipped through the entire world map, my party breaking up once in a while to fight random monsters. Fastest grinding ever!

Elysium wrote:

You know, VIII was widely maligned, but unfairly so. I thought it was a terrific game, though nowhere near VII. I know a lot of people were really thrown off by playing in a world that wasn't Brittania and didn't have iconic characters like Lord British or Iolo, but overall I had a great time with Pagan.

Yeah, but I think I stopped playing at the jumping puzzles. That engine was not suited to jumping puzzles.

Also, I played VII without having played VI, so I was a bit lost on what was going on. Not sure why I did that.

Yeah, but I think I stopped playing at the jumping puzzles. That engine was not suited to jumping puzzles.

That was, of course, the weak point.

PissedYeti wrote:

Although I really liked the other games in the series, none of them holds up to my memories of Ultima 3:Exodus. Maybe it was because it was the first game I played on my new Atari 800XL with color monitor but there are few games that come close to the level of nostalgia that game generates. Mapping out dungeons on paper, writing down notes from dialogs, ... good times.

Amen! I loved this series back on the Commodore 64. Ultima III was my first and I have the same nostalgia as above for that one. I went back and played Ultima II, never got into Ultima I though. After that, I had years of fun with the rest of the series on the C64. I remember buying a copy of Ultima VII before purchasing my first PC (a glorious 486 DX33). I even enjoyed Ultima VIII and IX. Great series, they just don't make 'em like that anymore.

This was the first computer game I ever played. Well, this coupled with Serpent Isle. All hail Lord British.

Well out of curiosity I looked up U7 and I had forgotten it was the one with the new engine. All this time I thought U6 was the one the went to the newer style but noooo ... and here it is on Abandonia if that is legit on here.

http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/10...

HedgeWizard wrote:

The Ultima series was absolutely the pinnacle of RPG gaming for me in my youth - screw Wizardy (no real roleplaying there to my mind, just a dungeon hack-a-thon), Might & Magic and all the rest. Not surprisingly, Origin was THE developer as far as I was concerned. When I think of playing computer games, I think of sitting at my Apple IIe, staring for hours at the green glow from the monitor playing Ultima and Autoduel.

U4 was revolutionary when it came out, 5 raised the bar even further in terms of environment and interactivity. But everything really came together in 7 (sorry VII). When it came out, I hadn't played a computer game in a couple of years, and I had just bought my first PC... this game blew my mind. The graphics, the ways of interacting with everyone and the environment, and most of all, a great story.

Although I share your feelings on Wizardry I cannot say the same for the Might and Magic series. The World of Xeen is also one of those that is up there in my pantheon.

I think I had the misfortune of catching this one too young. I remember playing it and being intrigued, but ultimately overwhelmed by the openness and the degree of options. I was still coming off King's Quest and Quest for Glory, so it was like being thrown into the deep end. I gave up on it - only to go on to love relatively open-world RPGs like Betrayal at Krondor, Fallout, and Oblivion.
The game is just too dated at this point for me to enjoy really going back to it...but I do wish I'd tried it again just a few years later.

Elysium wrote:
Yeah, but I think I stopped playing at the jumping puzzles. That engine was not suited to jumping puzzles.

That was, of course, the weak point.

I think learning that there was a jump command in U8 was my first experience with gamer cynicism.

Wow, a classic game of the week I've actually played! I have a terrible memory for details, so as a tribute to this particular game; sitting in a musty corner of my room is an inch and a half thick pile of papers, on which is written by hand all the conversations anyone ever said to the Avatar in this game. Oh, and all the dungeon maps plotted out by hand on graph paper. I literally spent months on this game. Richard Garriott at his finest.