The original Adventure game appeared in the mid-seventies and was to be found on many mainframe computers. For all its success, there were some who wanted to see an improved operating system, as Adventure only accepted a simple showing each character's status. In 1977 a group at the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a new parser that would understand commands like: KILL TROLL WITH SWORD, OPEN GREY BOX and GET ALL BOOKS EXCEPT THE RED ONE.
The first game to use this was Zork. Originally developed on a Dec 10, it was later converted for other computers but in each case required a memory of megabytes rather than kilobytes. With the rise of the micro, the operating system for Zork was rewritten in ZIL, Zork Implementation Language. The saving in memory was fantastic.
Apart from its parser, the main feature of an Infocom game is the highly descriptive text. Although complex commands are possible they require the first six letters of a word to be typed in, rather than the more usual four. Infocom games are as good as anything else on the market, but I feel that we should not be blinded by hype. I wonder how many players actually type in TAKE EVERYTHING EXCEPT THE BLUE BOOK, rather than TAKE ALL. followed by DROP BLUE BOOK.
Underground Zork 1 is a great adventure. Of all the early Infocom offerings, this is the one for the beginner. It is not easy, but is fun and brings a great sense of achievement when you win through each puzzle. Also known as The Great Underground Adventure, Zork 1 starts outside an apparently deserted house in the middle of wooded country. The entrance to the underground domain is in the house, but the countryside around also has hidden treasures. Your prime aim is to gather treasures and put them in a trophy case. Drawing a map as you go is vital but complications arise when exploring the two mazes. The standard method to map a maze is to drop objects so you can identify a location when you go back to it. However there is a thief roaming around, so objects dropped may not be there when you return. You will meet other characters, some of whom you will have to fight. This was a first for the original Zork.
DIAGNOSE will display your state of health and, if wounded, the number of turns to full recovery. The location descriptions are very colourful and you may choose their length with VERBOSE, BRIEF or SUPERBRIEF. There is the unusual option of being able to ask questions with commands such as WHAT IS XXX? or WHERE IS XXX? You may not always get a useful answer. Try asking WHAT IS A GRUE? Grues are Infocom's own special nasties that will grab you if you stay too long in the dark. A battery operated lantern is found in the house. Use it with care, as batteries will not last forever. There are matches, candles and a torch so, keep your eyes open for sources of light.
The underground system is not a natural cave system as in the original Adventure, but is created by a mixture of magic and really high technology. You will come across a hi-tech dam, a coal mine and the entrance to Hades. This game is devious; watch your score closely to see how well you are doing. Do not take too much underground to start with: you will not be able to carry many treasures back to that trophy case. You can find several weapons, some of which are more effective than others. Read books very carefully. Remember that they may have more than one page, and SAVE your game position before pressing any buttons.
If Zork is a classic text adventure, then Exodus: Ultima III has got to have a similar standing in the field of computer role playing games (CRPGs). It is produced by Origin Systems and distributed in the UK by Microprose.
NOT surprisingly, Ultima III is the third in a series of CRPGs. I and II are not available for the Amiga, but IV should be here any time, and V is in the final stages of completion. Several early CRPGs gave you the option of assuming the persona of various different classes of character -lighter, cleric or magic user and so on. Ultima III was one of the first to enable you to venture forth with three companions, each having attributes and characteristics of their own.
The underlying plot of the Ultima series is the rise of evil in the land of Sosaria. Called through time and space by Lord British, your mission is to gather a team of adventurers to defeat its present manifestation. Although the setting and weapons are mediaeval, there are hints that this civilisation is on the downward spiral from a past that knew much more.
The spawn of evil from the past overshadows any other concern, as you and your team struggle to unravel the clues to its existence. Origin may not produce the cheapest games on the market but its standards of quality and presentation are of the highest. Ultima III comes with a cloth map of Sosaria and three manuals. One is general and the other two describe the various priestly or sorcerous spells your characters may use. A simple reference card covers all the options open to the player.
Before wandering into the wilds of Sosaria you must create your characters - up to 20 - and form a party. You can go adventuring with less than four but this is not wise. In creating each one, you must choose the name, sex and race (human, elf, dwarf, bobbit or fuzzy). Each race has different potentials - dwarves are strong, elves are dexterous and so on. Next comes choice of profession -barbarian, thief, wizard or ranger. There are 11 possibilities and care must be taken to finish up with a balanced party. Finally you have 50 points to apportion for your characters' strength, dexterity, wisdom and intelligence. Fighting types need strength, thieves dexterity, clerics wisdom, and magic users intelligence. A table in the manual lists the professions and tells you what type of armour, weapons and spells each can use. A good combination to start with would be ranger, thief, druid and wizard, providing good fighting ability and characters win) can cast healing and offensive spells. You are now ready to journey into the unknown lands of Sosaria. The wind in your hair, open rolling plains behind you and a small walled city before you.
THE display is a plan view, with one character indicating your party's position. Water is shown to the right of the map and two buildings represent a castle and small town. You can see some woods to the west. To the right of the map is a display showing each character's status. This provides such information as food supplies, hit points, magic points (spell casting ability) and their level (all start at level 1). By typing Z, you are told how much gold they have, what they are carrying and their present statistics.
Each character starts with a dagger and cloth armour, but you must tell them to 'R'eady the dagger for use and 'W'ear the armour. They have a limited amount of gold. The sensible thing to do next is 'E'nter the town to buy additional weapons and armour. Visit the tavern where gossip may be heard, or bought for the price of a few drinks. Most towns have a grocers for food, and some other interesting places. Explore towns carefully and talk to the people - you will pick up all sorts of useful information. Purchase a bow, even if this means pooling your team's gold.
Out in the open, everything that moves will attack you. If you can kill some of them before they can get to you, it will save some hit points. Kitted out to the limit of your purses, leave the safety of the town. Monsters come in a variety of different guises, from ores, trolls, ghouls, zombies and giants, to daemons, dragons, devils, balrons and even sea serpents. When combat takes place, the display shows a larger scale map, with the four members of your party towards the bottom and the foe towards the top. Once conflict has begun there is no retreat. Battle at a distance is possible with a bow, magic or by throwing daggers.
Your team may only swing or throw weapons to the north, south, west or cast, and the enemy may also strike on a diagonal. Each time a member of the team is hit his hit points decrease. Once past the initial stages, I found the combat and magic balance one of the best I have come across. Every time a member of your party kills an attacker, he gets additional experience points. Initially, for each 100 gained, Lord British will increase your potential hit points. Time ticks away inexorably but the game's pace is quite acceptable. You may pause to take breath and consider your options by selecting to use a weapon and then delay in aiming it.
Having won, the vanquished foe leaves behind a treasure chest. These are often booby-trapped, but may be opened safely using a priestly spell. Thieves may be used as they are more likely to spot traps. If it has been a costly battle do not hurry to open the chest as a spot of healing may be worthwhile. You can use chests as a barricade to protect your flank. Hit points lost during combat will come back as time passes; the same goes for magic points expended in casting spells.
Many towns are dotted around Sosaria - explore them carefully to find out what and who they contain. In some places injured or poisoned characters may be healed - for a price. Keep a pencil and paper handy. Dungeons are 3D mazes. The four keys that you've been using to move N,S,W,E now refer to forward, retreat and turn left or right. Dungeons are dark. Spells will light your way but last only a short time, so you are better off with a torch. These and other useful items may be purchased from guild shops found in some towns. Initially only a few spells are available to you as their use depends upon the number of magic points a character has. When creating a magical or clerical type it is wise to allocate the maximum number of points to the appropriate attribute.
As you explore coastal areas, you may find yourself under attack from a pirate ship. If you beat the pirates, the ship is yours and you can explore Sosaria more thoroughly. There are many pirates at sea, so be prepared to meet them either with cannon or a boarding party. Another means of travel is via Moon Gates, ancient structures which only appear at certain phases of Sosaria's twin moons. Entering one will teleport you to another gate. To help you to understand the working of these portals, the phases of the moons are included in the main display.
Exodus: Ultima III presents a real challenge and has much more to it than just bashing monsters. There are 20 commands issued with a single letter input - the mouse duplicates some of them. There is an option to type in additional commands such as DIG or SEARCH. It is not too difficult to learn to stay alive, but solving the real puzzles behind your quest will take a little longer.
People who downloaded Ultima 3: Exodus have also downloaded:
Ultima 4, Ultima 6, Ultima 5: Warriors of Destiny, Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, Ultima 8: Pagan, Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress, Ultima 9: Ascension, Ultima 7: The Black Gate
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