Ultima VII: The Black Gate

Jeff Pack, Brown University '99 (English 112, 1996)

Origin's seventh installment in the Ultima series, The Black Gate, was set 200 years after the events of Ultima VI. The plot centered at first around a murder in one of the cities of Britannia, but the heart f the story lay in the world itself rather than specific events. The land had become a strange blend of the preindustrial and the postmodern. Tensions between man and Gargoyle (a race of red-skinned humanoids) were on the rise; the virtues introduced in Ultima IV were being ignored or supplanted by "The Fellowship", a rival value system with obvious parallels to modern-day organized religion (the questions raised by the Fellowship, however, are mistreated later in the game, when it is revealed that it is a front for an evil creature attempting to subjugate Britannia.

This was the first Ultima to be released only for the PC (as opposed to having ports to the Commodore 64 and/or Apple II), and would only run on an 80386 or better processor. Now able to write software specifically for more powerful machines, Origin completely redesigned the game engine. Instead of taking place on an invisible sheet of graph paper, virtual Britannia was demarcated by "cubes" of space approximately 2 feet to a side. Since objects could take up multiple "cubes", this gave the game a far less blocky feel than the previous ones. No longer were a butter knife and a broadsword equal in size.

The interface was also now completely mouse-driven, though with none of the oversimplifications found in the icon-driven Sierra games. The right mouse button correlated to the feet of the Avatar (the character controlled by the player); right-clicking would cause the Avatar to walk toward the mouse pointer, and double-right-clicking would move the Avatar to the position of the pointer, if possible, using a pathfinding algorithm. The left mouse button was the Avatar's hands and eyes. A single left-click would identify any item; a double-left click would "use" it (occasionally bringing up a crosshairs pointer to determine what it should be used on), and the Avatar could move objects around by left-clicking on them and dragging them around the screen (if they weren't blocked by a wall or other obstruction; though distance didn't seem to matter. Apparently, the Avatar was psychokinetic).

Conversation in Ultima VII was similar to that in Ultima VI, but it was also completely mouse-driven. The player was presented with a list of keywords to select from, instead of having to type them in. This had the drawback of allowing the player to easily exhaust all possible topics of conversation if he or she wished; however, the writing was consistently good enough to warrant reading the conversations instead of speeding through them to convince the game that the Avatar had spoken with a given character.

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