By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff
At last I felt like I was truly exploring a fantasy world as I roamed seemingly endless forests, feretting out bits of magical equipment or treasure as I opened and moved around stacks of cobwebby crates in forgotten caves. Every NPC in every town had their own name, schedule, and jobs, and almost all had unique and interesting dialogue, and the true dungeons were full of intricate traps to bypass and puzzles to solve, all of course capped by the occasional taunting, in still new-fangled digitized speech, from the Guardian, who was there to undo all the hard work the Avatar had put into the world over the past several games.
There were so many great features of the Ultima VII-engine games - the seamless engine which only switched to a different map when you went between the surface and the underworld; the also-seamless multi-story buildings; the usable objects like candles and braziers you could light or extinguish (and if you didn't have a burning torch, a fireball spell would do in a pinch); the cool things you would find if you looked around like haunted wrecked ships full of dead pirate's treasure or Shamino's castle which had disappeared from the land in some earlier game. The world made sense and always felt alive - you never felt like you were travelling through some static rendered image.
Then, all of a sudden, the RPGs started to suck. You might even mark Ultima VIII as the start and perhaps cause of the death of RPGs - the incredibly misguided decision to abandon the party just to have a few hundred frames of pre-rendered Avatar animation (most of which was actually used just to enable the ridiculous Super Mario Avatar jumping puzzles which made the game nearly unplayable), the abandonment of the traditional and familiar world of Sosaria - I don't know many people besides myself who ever finished the game, certainly not before the patch came out which made jumping somewhat less than impossible.
I got into the industry not long after this, and although I still loved and mostly preferred the traditional top-down RPGs to any other kind of game, I had found the type of game that I wanted to make, and that was Ultima Underworld. The traditional RPGs weren't being made anymore, not ones of any quality, and thus crap like Daggerfall could come out mixing a sub-par clone of Underworld-style first person gameplay with aggravating, buggy, and ultimately boring randomized questing, and the diehard fans and even the RPG wannabes fell on it for lack of anything better to do.
By this point, I knew that what I was striving for in my job was to make first person games which had the level of world and object interactivity which Underworld did, mixed with the plot, size, and characterization of the last good Ultima games. Of course Doom came along to derail the promising course which Underworld had set, sticking us with years of games consisting of collecting ten weapons as you wandered through mazes of empty rooms or nailed-down items, always looking for the exit and that one last boss. The few RPGs like Daggerfall which attempted the first person style totally missed the point of Underworld and made their environments as empty and non-interactive as those in Doom. I started to lose hope that I would ever find another game to play which satisfied my RPG cravings as well as Ultima VII or fulfilled my forward-looking yearnings as well as Ultima Underworld.
|Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Beaker's Bent is © 1999 Rich Wyckoff. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. We have ways of making you talk.|