My daughter (aka Goddessdaughter) is lacking in certain important life skills. She doesn’t know that you jump on Koopa Troopers so they won’t be able to attack you in Paper Mario. (And never mind that that lowers their defense so that your other attacks work better.) She skips past dialog faster than any regular person could read it, and then wonders why we know stuff she doesn’t (when we haven’t been playing Paper Mario any longer than she has). “You have to read that stuff,” I told her.
“I like it better when someone reads it to me,” she said.
“You don’t always get voice overs,” I said to her. “Particularly in these older games.”
“Oh,” she said, looking dejected.
I play a lot of these jRPG style game, not so much lately as a few years ago. Back then we had a roommate who played them even more than I did. The Goddessdaughter always asked to play them, but we told her she had to be able to read to play them, but then she could play them all she wanted (well, within reason). Now she can read and doesn’t bother.
She wouldn’t last 5 seconds into Ultima Underworld.
I’ve recently started playing UU along with Corvus Elrod; we’re blogging about it on G+, and I’m generally having a good time with it. We talked about doing this sometime last year, probably August or September, when I started playing through the entire Elder Scrolls line (I didn’t quite finish Arena, and “played” Oblivion mainly by watching Kat finish every quest in it.). Ultimately, I want to think about how these games are similar and different, and what they do well.
The people who made UU went on to make some of my favorite games. Their studio became Looking Glass Studios where they made my favorite stealth game, Thief (which might also make for a nice playthrough, before Thief 4 comes out.) I knew it was an older game, which comes with challenges. Gog.Com took care of the primary one — getting it to run, but there’s a big difference, as I noted to my daughter, between modern games and the ones from the UU era.
There’s precious little voice acting in UU, and very very little hand-holding. I have hints about where I can go, and there’s no log of quests (or todo lists) for me. I’ve got the basic one: find the princess by going deeper in the abyss. But there’s notes everywhere, and little bits of dialog. Everything is there to politely imply things, to make you think about the puzzles and environment in certain ways. This led me to a bit of logical reasoning that simplified one jumping puzzle, and made me feel really smart.
Here’s the thing: UU hasn’t just abandoned me to figure things out, much like Arena did (where sometimes what you needed to do was go somewhere, find out about it, and then load a save game to prepare for it. see: Ice Wolves). The information is there, but I’ve got to find it. It’s often right in front of me but I have to look at it, I’ve got to read.
And reading is both literal and figurative here. There’s lots to read: conversations with the denizens of the abyss; scrawls and plaques on the wall; notes left behind in haste. There’s the map that fills in as you go, but doesn’t show you everything; and sometimes shows you things you didn’t (or couldn’t see). This is a functioning world, moving on without you, much like TES. You have to inform yourself about it, though, no one is going to just lay it all out for you.
I like this, it feels like I’m actually exploring, not just going to where there’s an arrow over someone’s head. I loved Skyrim, but sometimes I needed to just unfollow the quests so I could see the world without the games’ interpretation of it. It was nice to turn that on, and do my todo list, but UU makes me pay attention. I have to, to survive.
And when I do, it rewards me, and I feel smart, competent and capable.
I descend to the second level soon, where I hear things get that much harder.