2, Issue 12
February 15, 2000
and sorcery in the computer age.
about Wheel of Time in a
past article, I mentioned the difficulty of working in the
Fantasy genre, it being a form that even bypasses science fiction
with its obsessive hermeticism. Unlike sci-fi, however, Fantasy
is far less a mainstream past time. It doesnt seem to have
an across the board kind of appeal, relying instead on a select
although fiercely loyal audience. While science fiction certainly
has its devoted fan base explaining the bulk of its success, one
can imagine the common man going to see a sci-fi film
or reading a sci-fi book (just look at Michael Crichtons
career) long before they would go to see the new Beastmaster
flick or grab Devil Dwarfs of Mordar off the rack.
There are people who treasure Aliens and X-Files
and books like Dune that will tell you that they dont
even like sci-fi. Now, a rebuttal to this can be offered in the
form of the remarkable success of shows like Hercules and,
even more so, Xena.
programs rely on heavy doses of camp humor to draw in as relatively
diverse an audience as they do, a mix of self-awareness and seriousness
that more often than not slides towards the laughs. One tentacle
of the entertainment beast, however, where straight forward Fantasy
seems to have less difficulty in winning over people who otherwise
show no particular dedication to the genre is the video game market.
are prepared to run with anything provided it makes a good game.
or dragons, race cars or damsels in distress, zombies or...zombies,
as along as the action is there and the story is worth while,
then game players will have at least a passing interest. For me
Wheel of Time, while an admirable attempt, was really rather
boring. Its possible to convey the Fantasys genre
uniquely convoluted back stories without being ponderous, and
the cinematics of Ultima IX: Ascension, a new game developed
by Origin, do just that.
of a dragon glides across the desert floor. We see a small plateau
atop a spindly tower of rock from which sprout cracked pillars.
A shaft of light pierces the center of the ruins, and a man appears
frozen in the beam. After a second it deposits him and, looking
dazed and baffled, the knight finds himself face to face with
a rather crispy end. Dragon and rider fly up before him, and he
barely has time to raise his arms before being engulfed by flames,
courtesy of old scaly. Cut to a dark throne room where a man and
his rather demonic looking lord watch the proceedings on a large
mirror type gizmo.
is a fairly simple one and yet quite charming. The overall tone
is similar to one of the better Saturday morning offerings from
a decade ago, like the fantastic Dungeons and Dragons animated
series or the legendary Legion of Doom vs. the Super Heroes
cartoons that you just cannot find on anymore (I wish that Cartoon
Network would shelve some of those duds they produce and get their
priorities straight...but pardon the rant). What united these
cartoons was their faith in their own colorful melodramas, a seriousness
of purpose matched with a wonderful air of childhood excitement.
Ultima IX is not so in depth a work that I can rave on
and on about the creators intentionality, but the feeling
is just great, demonstrating an unusual attention to detail. The
heroic theme, heard when the man appears at the ruins, is ever
so slightly off kilter, a tonal uncertainty that perhaps parallels
the disoriented state of the hero. When we see the evil castle
in the distance, swarming with dragons, the music becomes appropriately
menacing but knowingly so, the kind of deliberate use of cliche
that you would miss if it wasnt there. Overall the music
is pretty standard fare for a film soundtrack but, like Nocturnes
score, is unusually well produced for a video game, sounding somewhat
reminiscent of composer James Bernards work for many of
the Hammer films from the fifties and sixties. The animation that
accompanies this orchestration is pleasantly expressive in itself.
of the characters are nicely detailed. Of particular note is one
sequence in which the deposited knight, faced with the dragon
and its rider, reaches for his sword and, finding nothing there,
slowly raises his head and stares apprehensively, eyes wide and
mouth slightly open, into the face of his executioner. In turn
his enemy grins back with a smile that is both childish
and evil, a brain damaged kind of glee.
in the castle, the wizardish looking man, apparently called Blackthorn,
replete with evil looking goatee (oh man that means trouble) and
a voice humorously similar to William Daniels, begins letting
us in on just what the heck is happening. Through his banter with
a brickish looking demon sitting on a throne, we learn that the
man we just saw burned is the avatar and that he poses
quite a threat to their plans to rule Britannia. The
basic plot is laid down here, but rather than being tediously
unwrapped like a stale old blanket, it is conveyed smoothly and
with elegant simplicity, its vagueness making the game all the
more tantalizing (and any piece that has a character use the word
lackey is okay in my book). The creators again demonstrate
their subtle building of character by having Blackthorn, turning
to leave after being dismissed by the demon, roll his eyes and
grimace slightly, mugging to the camera with a very
Alan Rickman kind of oh god Im sick of this
look to let us know how fed up he is with this lord.
And when the demon sits back in his chair with a look of smug
self-satisfaction, you know that youre just going to have
to wait and see how this is all going to turn out, but that the
ride may just be an enjoyable one.
IX: Ascension is
a fun little bit of cinematics. The creators have fashioned more
than an effective set-up to the game. If nothing else, the piece
deserves some credit for successfully bypassing Fantasys
generic pitfalls, relying on subtle touches and a smooth delivery
to avoid what could have been just the same old sword and sorcery
Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames.
He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee