Ultima VII: The Black Gate
Developed by: Origin Systems
Published by: Electronic Arts
Description: A third-person RPG that combined a deep plot that departed from previous Ultimas with some incredible graphics and a depth of world modelling that has never been matched. The game starts as the Avatar returns to Britannia, only to be faced with a grisly murder the likes of which hasn't been seen in Britannian society before. As the game progresses, the player discovers that while Britannia may be prospering, social changes are building up that an evil entity known as the Guardian could successfully use to take over the world.
Notables: As mentioned above, the darker plotline was a departure from previous Ultimas, and a welcome one at that. It effectively forced the Avatar, paragon of virtue, to deal with issues from the real world, like religious fanatacism and drug abuse. The world itself was gorgeous, with incredible artwork and a tile system that didn't require all tiles to be the same size like in previous Ultimas. Houses now had roofs for the first time. Everything in the world now appeared much closer to scale, making suspension of disbelief even easier than it had been in Ultima VI. And where Ultima VI's world modelling had been novel, Ultima VII's was pervasive and incredible - about 90% of the objects in the world could be used and produced a real-world effect. You could put diapers on babies, use a brush, palette and canvas to paint a picture, play musical instruments, bake your own bread, raise and lower drawbridges, etc. This effect has never been reproduced in any subsequent RPG to date, to the best of my knowledge.
My Opinion: A superb RPG, one of the best ever made. However, I personally didn't like the substitution of real-time combat for the turn-based combat previous Ultimas used.
Notes: The original version of this game was written for the PC. A conversion was created for the Super Nintendo, it was simply called Ultima: The Black Gate. Most of the plotline was "softened" for the Nintendo version.
This game can be very difficult to get running on today's systems, as it uses a very old memory management system and does not have a frame limiter. Forunately, two different groups have solved this problem in very different ways.
A new utility has been created called U7Run that makes it possible to run Ultima VII and Serpent Isle in Windows 9x or 2000 by providing an interface between the game's memory manager and Window's DPMI services. This also has the natural effect of slowing the game down. You can get U7Run at http://members.iinet.net.au/~rsd/U7inWindows.html
There's also the Exult project, which was created to replace the existing Ultima VII engine with a new, fully customizable, cross platform one. The engine still uses the original Ultima VII resources so you must still have a copy of the original Ultima VII to play, but Ultima VII is no longer tied to the PC - versions of Exult exist for Windows, Linux, MacOS X, MacOS 9, BSD and BeOS (oddly enough, there's no Dreamcast version...yet). You can get Exult at: http://exult.sourceforge.net/
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