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DescriptionThe Avatar sees a strange message on his computer screen. An unknown being who calls himself the Guardian claims that Britannia has entered a true age of enlightenment, and soon everyone, including the Avatar himself, shall bow before the new lord. At this moment, a moongate materializes, and the Avatar steps through it into Britannia. He emerges in the city of Trinsic, where his old friend Iolo tells him that two hundred years have passed since his last visit. A horrible ritualistic murder has just occurred - the body of the local blacksmith was found in the stables. The Avatar learns that a new organization known as the Fellowship has been recruiting more and more followers recently. The champion of Britannia must solve the murder and find out about the Fellowship's true purpose, while still pursued by the ominous warnings of the mysterious Guardian.
Ultima VII: The Black Gate features revamped graphics and controls. The traditional Ultima top-down view of the world now fills the entire screen, with other informational windows overlaid on top of it only when necessary. Both world interaction and dialogue are fully mouse-controlled. Objects can be physically interacted with by dragging them with the mouse. Objects can also be stacked upon each other, and some puzzles are based on this feature. Equipment screen utilizes a "paper doll" concept: equipped items are graphically displayed on the character. It is also possible to physically manipulate inventory items, arranging them within bags and other containers.
The tactical combat system of previous Ultima games has been replaced with a real-time system where only general strategies can be set and party members fight automatically, the player taking control of the Avatar alone. Combat pauses when the player accesses the inventory. Leveling up system is similar to the previous games, the Avatar's parameters increasing automatically once a sufficient amount of experience points has been accumulated. The Avatar and his companions must regularly eat in order to stay alive.
The game's world is vast, populated by many non-playable characters with their own schedules. There are more extensive dialogue trees and individual conversation topics compared to the series' previous installments. As in the earlier Ultima games, the player is free to explore Britannia from the beginning of the game; certain tasks must be accomplished in a specific order to conclude the story.
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The Press Says
ArmageddonThere is a high level spell called Armageddon which kills every person in the game except for yourself and Lord British. If you go back and talk to him he will exclaim "What have you done!?!"
Dead people roomThere is a room in the mountains east of cove (can only be accessed with the cheat) where all the people who have been killed go. Most of them are alive and well and you can even talk to them.
Experience pointsIn case you're wondering, completing mini quests DOES give you experience! For example, the first mini quest you receive in Paws (the Serpent Venom thief story) when completed, gives you and your companions (ie. Iolo and Spark) 75 experience points. Even the very small mini quests which only involve talking to people and conveying conversations to other people "may" give you and your companions experience points.
ExultThere is a project called Exult out there on the web that will allow you to play Ultima VII on a Win9x machine. The only catch is you have to have the original files. The creators of Exult had to work from the ground up to make the game playable, considering the original source code to Ultima VII is not available to the public.
FellowshipThe Fellowship was was largely inspired by many "new age" religions and cults of the time, but most notably it was inspired by the Church of Scientology. Garriott's main inspiration was reportedly the infamous TIME Magazine Scientology article of May 1991. Among other things, regular Fellowship members don't know what is happening in the higher levels of the cult hierarchy, which is typical to cults in general. Batlin's character is very obviously inspired by L. Ron Hubbard's persona. There is even a "personality test" in the game.
InteractivityThe game is famous for offering a high interactivity; almost every item in the game world can be used. The option to bake bread has become synonymous for this.
Lord BritishIf you manage to kill Lord British (the black rock is handy for this) you will find in his corpse (amongst other stuff) a lightning bolt which acts as a missile weapon and is how he casts spells if you fight him.
References: Electronic ArtsThe game starts with the quote:
"Avatar! Know that Britannia has entered into a new age of enlightenment...Under my guidance, Britannia will flourish, and all the people will rejoice! And pay homage to their new... Guardian!".
The Guardian is a character inspired by the attempted takeover of Origin Systems in the early '90s and hints at EA. This links is proven while playing: the three items that power the evil generators in-game are a cube, a sphere and a tetrahedron, the former EA logo.
Richard Garriott also sneaked in a more subtle reference to Electronic Arts. Take a look at the characters Elizabeth and Abraham for example. Just take the first letters of their names. Elizabeth and Abraham have a high-ranked profile in the fellowship (e.g. EA in the publishing business) and go around and perform seemingly helpful tasks (like dragging the Avatar to the shelter in Paws for resurrection every time he dies), but in fact they are murderers and are in a conspiracy to bring a destructive powerful-being, the Guardian, into Britannia.
It's unsure if the reference goes that deep, but Origin originally thought that EA might help it gain more profit and reach more gamers, but EA's counter-productive strategies ended up destroying what made Ultima special and thereby reducing sales.
References: Star TrekCertain residents of Serpent's Hold bear a striking resemblance to the crew of the USS Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, both in their names, their occupations, their characters and sometimes their appearance.
Here's a breakdown:
SherryIn Ultima VII: The Black Gate, you meet Sherry the Mouse (in Ultima VI) for the last time. She's nursing kids at the Royal Nursery at Lord British's castle and cannot be recruited.
SNES portA fairly simplified version of this game was ported to the Super Nintendo console system. Although the same basic graphics were used, the game engine was changed drastically to be even more action oriented. The console version removed the companion NPCs (although they did appear as characters in the different villages) and featured the Avatar only who you controlled in a run-and-slash manner Legend of Zelda style. A great deal of the environment interactivity was removed, and the plot was also sanitized as well (instead of the grisly blood soaked ritualistic murder which the PC version opens with, in the console version you are simply told that the blacksmith was "kidnapped"). More information can be found in its game entry.
SoundtrackThe credits sequence started to go more and more movie-like towards the end, with usual disclaimers ("any resemblance... is purely coincidental", "no animals were harmed"... etc), logos of the technologies being used (Voodoo logos etc), and finally, "Soundtrack CD available from Origin". That was only added as a gag to make the credits look absolutely movie-like, but (because the game obviously has some pretty good music) people started asking Origin about the soundtrack album. Ultima VII: Part Two - Serpent Isle had same sort of credit display - but with a text "Soundtrack CD NOT available from Origin, so don't ask!"
However, Origin did eventually release Origin Soundtrack Series volume 2, which contains some of the tunes from both of these games.
Voodoo memory managerThis game used what Origin called the "voodoo memory manager". What this really was, was no memory manager at all - not even a DOS extender. It used memory beyond the first megabyte directly by popping the processor into flat 32-bit mode; since DOS couldn't access that memory directly, it was used to cache resources (mostly graphics) to improve performance. Needless to say, this "memory manager" was completely incompatible with any real memory manager, including any variety of MS Windows.
Ultima VII: The Black Gate programmer and MobyGames contributor weregamer:
A few years and a couple of jobs later, when Windows 95 was in early beta, I was part of a program where MS engineers working on it met with developers of entertainment and animation software. The engineer we met proudly proclaimed their goal that 100% of DOS games would run under Windows 95 by the time it shipped - "DOS Mode" would not be necessary. I sadly had to burst her bubble by explaining the "voodoo memory manager". She had a hard time believing it - I guess she just hadn't realized just how hard game programmers worked to squeeze performance out of machines in the bad old days.
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Terok Nor (17676) added Ultima VII: The Black Gate (DOS) on Dec 22, 1999
Brian Adams, Bruce Adams, Michelle Caddel, Scott Hazle, Mary Margaret Ipser Walker, Brian Martin, Ana Moreno, John WatsonLead Programming:
Bill Baldwin, Tony Bratton, Philip Brogden, Eric Brown, Chuck Bueche, Charles Cafrelli, Reinaldo Castro, Arthur DiBianca, Jim Greer, Will McBurnett, Mike McShaffry, Herman Miller, Paul Meyer, Zachary Booth Simpson, Philip H. Sulak, John Taylor