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Ultima VIII: Pagan

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Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994) is the eighth part of the computer role-playing game series Ultima. It was not as well received as Ultima VII, leading many, including lead designer Richard Garriott, to blame its faults on a hasty development timetable forced on the team by Electronic Arts.

Overview

Following the defeat of Batlin on Serpent Isle, the Guardian banishes the Avatar to a world that he has already conquered, Pagan.

The world of Pagan is in eternal twilight as the result of an ancient battle between the Elemental Titans and the evil "Destroyer", which resulted in the victory of the Titans. However, the people of Pagan had to pay a high price: the Titans had to henceforth be worshipped as gods. The Titans bestow powers on their most ardent followers, but they are otherwise cruel and unloving rulers, and their followers terrorize the general population.

In this part of the series, Garriott delegated most of the work to others, and the result disappointed many fans. Garriott later explained, "... I sacrificed everything to appease stockholders, which was a mistake. We probably shipped it three months unfinished." (Computer Games Magazine, 1999)

Common complaints were:

  • The world was much smaller than in the preceding parts
  • NPC portraits were no longer included
  • Day-and-night cycles were removed (Pagan's twilight was truly perpetual in-game)
  • The game went back from the "party" concept to the "lone hero" of the first two Ultimas
  • Battle against enemy characters was pure hack and slash mouse clicking. There was some resemblance to the later game Diablo
  • Poor game balance. Among other problems, a spell learned early in the game granted total invulnerability, rendering all further combat trivial.
  • Platform game style running, climbing and jumping across moving platforms was introduced
  • Assaulting a citizen or stealing usually resulted in immediate execution by the town sorcerer
  • Major holes in the plot
  • Frequent bugs/glitches

A patch was released to correct the game's bugs as well as fix some plot holes, and eliminate most of the problems with jumping (the original release contained many moving platforms to be jumped across; the patch stopped their motion), but by then the damage to the game's reputation had already been done. However, this fixed version was an immense improvement for some users.

Ultima VIII has a much darker tone and a very different premise, in comparison to most of the Ultima games. The world of Pagan is entirely different from that of Sosaria: the Virtues were not part of Pagan's culture, and the magic systems and monsters were entirely different. As a result, many fans of the series were upset with Ultima VIII, despite its numerous interesting features.

The Ultima VIII engine was later reused in the Crusader game series.

Plot

Ultima VIII sets off where Ultima VII ended: The Guardian has grasped the Avatar from the Void, and now drops him into the sea of the world Pagan through a pentagram-shaped portal. In the introduction, the Guardian reveals his plot:

You have been a thorn in my side for far too long, Avatar. Your two worlds will be crushed. Britannia first, then Earth. I shall parade you before your conquered peoples as the fallen idol of a pathetic ideal. I banish you to the world of Pagan. No one here knows of the... Avatar.

The Avatar regains consciousness on the shore after being rescued from the sea by a fisherman (who turns out to be an important character later on in the plot). He soon witnesses the execution by beheading of a townsman, ordered by the tyrannic ruler of the region, Mordea.

Later, visiting the wizard Mythran, he learns that there are four Titans on Pagan, each one having one of the Elements as his/her domain: Water (Hydros), Air (Stratos), Fire (Pyros) and Earth (Lithos). The more privileged followers of Lithos are identified as necromancers, the followers of Pyros as sorcerers, the followers of Stratos as theurgists and the (albeit highly selective) followers of Hydros as tempests. Apart from those, a fifth type of magic known as Thaumaturgy exists and is pioneered by Mythran. In order to escape Pagan, the Avatar has to overcome many obstacles and master the ways of all titans, finally becoming the Titan of Ether: the magical field and fifth element.

During his quests, the Avatar collects the four artifacts of the Titans, unleashing violent thunderstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes and meteor showers by doing so. These artifacts allow him to enter the Ethereal Plane and defeat the Titans on their own turf. The Avatar then reconstructs the original blackrock gate that originally allowed the Guardian to enter Pagan. By entering the reconstructed gate, the Avatar is teleported back to Britannia, which is now ruled by the Guardian.

Trivia

There are several Easter eggs in Ultima VIII:

  • In Mythran's house, a magical item that shifts between the shapes of a cube, sphere and tetrahedron is found. This item is a jab at Origin Systems' recent new owner Electronic Arts, similar to the one in Ultima VII. When this item is double-clicked, the Avatar says "I have not the strength, nor the wisdom to master such power... but one day I shall!".
  • By performing a certain ritual in the Lower Catacombs area of the game, a room filled with every magic item and other useful things can be accessed.
  • In the Ethereal Plane by the large pentagram, causing an explosion by means of a spell or otherwise will dislodge a book from behind the east pillars. The book contains a short story, of which the final line is "Eat cheese and perspire!". The book is known as the "Cheesy Book" by fans of the game. The book was written by programmer Jason "Jely" Ely as a test of the book 'gump' code. It was left in and placed into the Ethereal Plane by Richard Garriott and John Watson.
  • In several places there's a book called "Eye of the Boulder, the Runes of the Myth Drainer". It is a parodic reference to Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor. The book describes how a magician finds an artifact that makes his memory grow weak, his vision grow low in resolution, and his hearing fails. He leaves his tower "staggering forward at a gruelling pace, one step at a time". He concludes, "I sought nothing less than the Ultimate, but instead received only a pale reflection", which is a reference on how Ultima Underworld series was technically much more advanced at the time.
  • In the original installation of the Ultima VIII, if the source archive is manually unarchived (as opposed to by an installer) an extra file appears which is a story about a penguin named spot.

Expansion packs

Speech Pack

The Speech Pack add-on was released concurrently with the game. This pack adds spoken lines for certain key characters, such as the Guardian, the Titans and Khumash-Gor.

The Speech Pack did not sell very well as a separate add-on, mostly because the CD-ROM version of Ultima VIII, which was released shortly afterward, also includes the speech files, and the floppy version was seen as too expensive an addition that didn't offer much. The speech files are also included in the later budget releases and the Ultima Collection release.

The speech pack was available in English, French, and German.

The Lost Vale

This expansion to Ultima VIII was planned from the outset, and was much anticipated, but never released; it was cancelled when the main game didn't sell as well as had been expected, despite being all but finished and ready for duplication. Hints from texts in the main game suggested that the expansion pack would have added a new story regarding resistance to the Pagan gods and followers of the old religion known as Zealans.

A single Lost Vale game box surfaced in October 2005, and was confirmed to be genuine soon afterwards. It was auctioned in eBay for US$1923. Some low-resolution scans of the box are located on this web site.

Compatibility with modern systems

Ultima VIII has problems running on modern systems. The game has problems starting on Windows 98 and later, and even with a later-made fan patch (see External links) it may still run unstably.

Ultima VIII works reliably under DOSBox environment.

A fan engine rewrite called Pentagram (similar to Exult for Ultima VII, and primarily developed by the same team) is in the works. It allows you to play the game from beginning to end, but does not implement all the functionality yet.

Fan remakes

There has been relatively little work on Ultima VIII remakes. One of the most actively pursued ones was titled Ultima VIII: Exile, based on Neverwinter Nights engine, but this project was cancelled.

An online version of Ultima VIII called U8O is currently being developed as a Source Forge freeware project. This is being built on top of the Pentagram project. The website for the project is http://www.zeliepa.com/u8o

See also

External links



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Ultima series
Ultima: The First Age of Darkness | Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress | Ultima III: Exodus | Ultima IV: The Quest of the Avatar | Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny | Ultima VI: The False Prophet | Ultima VII: The Black Gate | Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle | Ultima VIII: Pagan | Ultima IX: Ascension
Other games
Akalabeth: World of Doom | Ultima Online

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