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DescriptionFor the last time, the Avatar is being summoned to free Britannia from Guardian's curse. The eight Shrines of Virtues, the pride of Britannia, have been all desecrated by this evil and mysterious creature. The glyphs which protected them have been taken, and put into huge columns the Guardian built in Britannia, with their entrances hidden deep in dangerous dungeons. As a result, the people of Britannia have lost their virtues. The Avatar must now cleanse the shrines and let the virtues return to the people. His task becomes particularly difficult because he cannot trust the people he encounters any more. With the help of a few allies, the Avatar will have to help the inhabitants of Britannia, and learn about the true origin of the Guardian.
Ultima IX: Ascension is the last single-player installment of the Ultima series, and the conclusion of its overarching story. The game still contains role-playing elements such as the series' traditional character creation based on ethically ambiguous questions, a quest-based structure (including side quests), a large world to explore, heavy inventory management, financial system, as well as weapon and armor customization. However, the game has no experience points system; the protagonist's basic attributes are increased only after completing certain storyline events.
Similarly to the previous installment, the combat in the game is action-oriented, and the protagonist has no companions that would help him in battles. The Avatar can use melee and ranged weapons (bows) or magic spells to dispose of his foes. The puzzle-oriented structure of the dungeons further emphasizes the game's tendency towards action-adventure gameplay not dissimilar to Zelda games.
The game features support for EAX sound and a fully 3D world with an almost unrestricted freedom of movement: in addition to climbing and jumping, which the Avatar has "learned" in the previous game, he can also swim and dive; some well-hidden locations can only be accessed in this way. The physical interactivity with the game world has been preserved; almost every object can be moved from place to place or taken into the Avatar's inventory.
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CoverIn an interview with Richard Garriott in the mid-1990's, he stated that the original idea for the Ultima IX cover art was to show the standard Ultima logo in crystalline letters against a cloud/sky background. Another prototype cover, published as a poster in 1996, was done in a stained-glass window style and showed the Avatar rising (ascending) with the Guardian's huge red hand attempting to pull him back down.
DevelopmentThe creation of Ultima IX has a very entertaining history.
After the completion of Ultima VIII in 1994, Origin started work on the ninth episode -- the finale of the third trilogy. It was supposed to be a bitmap game like Ultima VIII; 3D graphic was no issue back then. However, another project was soon deemed more important: Ultima Online. Ultima IX was put on ice, the complete staff was sent to create the online game. When it was finished in 1997, work on Ultima IX continued; as the graphics were hopelessly out of date by now, a 3D engine had to be programmed.
In 1997, there was only one major manufacturer of 3D chipsets: 3Dfx with its Voodoo technology. So Ultima IX was streamlined to exactly that hardware. After all, the game’s release date was supposed to by not too far away, by the end of 1998. Not surprisingly, the creation process took much longer. One particular reason for this delay was a series of ugly staff changes during 1998.
With Dan Rubenfield and Marshall Andrews, two of the designers for Ultima IX left Origin in May 1998. The departure was not a peaceful one. The two ex-employees blamed Origin to sacrifice gameplay for the sake of a fast buck. Richard Garriott, the father of theUltima series, reacted equally harsh: both renegades hadn’t got a clue about game design and would have been thrown out anyway. Rubenfield and Andrews went to Ion Storm to work on Deus Ex.
Only one month later, lead designer Bob White followed the two to Ion Storm, although this time there was no bad blood.
The big bang came in July: project leader Ed del Castillo had to resign. Castillo was considered a whiz kid after his work on Westwood’s Command & Conquer series, and had been enticed away by Origin only a year before. He was responsible for some controversial design decisions for Ultima IX, like giving up on the party. After some serious arguments with Richard Garriott, Castillo took his leave due to “philosophical differences”. He went on to found his own software company, Liquid Entertainment, in 1999.
With most of his design team gone, Garriott, who had been acting as a supervisor up to that time, decided to take charge once again. He became executive designer for Ultima IX in Fall 1998.
Development for the game continued. By 1999, the situation on the market for 3D accelerator boards had changed considerably. 3Dfx had lost its supremacy, the Nvidia Riva TNT chip was the new darling of the gamers. Ultima IX was not prepared for this situation. The game ran perfectly well on a Voodoo board under Glide, but was hardly playable under Direct3D. The problem needed fixing urgently. However, there was no time for that. When winter 1999 came closer, Origin decided that it was time to publish Ultima IX to take advantage of the Christmas business.
The game that reached the public was a technical catastrophe. Despite the enormous hardware requirements, it wouldn’t run fluently on any but the most advanced computers. Many owners of TNT-cards didn’t even manage to get the game working. A serious bug in the storyline made it impossible to finish the adventure without cheating. As the complaints poured down on Origin, the company published a series of patches to address the most urgent of problems.
Although these updates gradually eliminated most bugs, Origins reputation had suffered strongly by then.
GlitchesThere is a design flaw in the game where, if you know where to try, you can climb / jump up the side of the mountains in the park at the beginning of the game (it's all trial and error). Once you crest the mountains and descend the other side, you are now outside the game world looking back in. It's a big floating island where you can walk underneath it. The ground is transparent from your point of view like a one-way mirror. Weird / creepy!
JoshuaIf you perform a side-quest and save Joshua in Moonglow, a book will appear on a table in his house. Read this book. It is called: "Everything an Avatar needs to know about sex".
Message boardOne controversial move by Origin that was the final slap in the face for many gamers was it's decision to shut down it's message boards. Quite simply at the height of the tech-support madness surrounding Ascension's bugs, Origin decided to shut down Ultima Ascension's official Bulletin Boards, leaving them as read-only versions for a while while they re-directed traffic towards fan-managed sites such as The Wayward Avatar and Ultima Horizons.
PatchesBecause Electronic Arts pushed Origin to get the game out for Christmas, the game was notorious for its technical problems and bugs. After numerous complaints, EA responded by mailing a remastered cd with the latest patch plus a bonus copy of Ultima Online to the registered owners of the Ultima IX. Unregistered owners had to download the very large patch from their website. This has to be one of the few known cases where it actually paid to register the game!
SoundtrackAfter all that Ultima sequels, it was to expect as the music level was progressing, that there can easily be soundtrack expected. It was released in 1999. Soundtrack can be bought at http://www.synsoniq.com.
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JubalHarshaw (161) added Ultima IX: Ascension (Windows) on Jan 23, 2000
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