Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Ultima VIII: The Lost Vale

I think, as Jay will attest, that the failure to release Ultima 8: The Lost Vale, was one of the biggest let-downs of our combined video-gaming careers. To put it bluntly, it's been a thorn in our sides for far too long.

Ultima 8 was released in 1994. At some point around where our timelines converged, Jay and I realised that we had the game in common, and we both had a blast playing it. The game signaled our introduction to this noble, long-running franchise (not counting Ultima 9. What a disappointing cluster-fuck), a series rich in history and continuity. You play as the Avatar, the paragon of virtue, resident of two worlds, Britannia, the amazing fantasy land of Knights, Magic and mythical beasties, where people say "dost" and "thou" a lot, and Earth, that planet we all come from. The premise is that the Avatar lives on Earth, until some shit goes down in Britannia and you've got to mission over there to sort said shit out. Kind of like with Batman and the Bat signal or the Commissioner with his red phone, but I digress.

Ultima 8 was a bit of a break from tradition. The Avatar's nemesis, The Guardian, gets so pissed off at the Avatar consistently messing up his schemes, that he literally rips him out of one dimension (at the end of Ultima 7: Part 2) and dumps him in another world while he goes off and busts up your 'hood (Britannia first, then Earth). The world the Avatar gets stuck in is called Pagan. Ultima 8 was different from earlier Ultima games, because it was a lot more action oriented. You didn't have a party of mates to help you out, and the people on Pagan didn't care about the virtues that your character is the embodiment of. Basically, no one knows who you are, and very few people give a shit about your predicament. The place is ruled by a tyrannical despot and four hateful (well, three out of the four) entities that personify the four elements. So you master these elements and hatch a plan with the previous deities, the Zealans, to steal the power of Titans to get back to Britannia. On this world, the Avatar can't rely on doing the virtuous thing to get what he wants, so he pretty much ends up fucking up the whole status quo on Pagan just to get his ass home.

The whole game was an absolute blast. I've finished it a dozen times. Jay is... um, yet to. Wouldn't it be great if there were more of it?

Well. There was supposed to be. Both parts of Ultima 7 (The Black Gate, and The Serpent Isle) had expansion packs (The Forge of Virtue and The Silver Seed). In this day and age of downloadable content, it seems unthinkable that you wouldn't get to play an expansion pack you know they'd not only started, but finished. And this is exactly what happened with Ultima 8.

The Lost Vale was planned from the start of Ultima 8's development. Despite its inherent awesomeness, Ultima 8 just didn't sell. So The Lost Vale never saw the light of day. This expansion would have added an extra storyline where the Avatar investigates a lost tribe of The Zealans, the group of Pagan's inhabitants who dominated prior to the rise of the Titans. The Avatar encounters them, finds out they're suffering some endemic warfare and he sorts them out. In the original game, there's this part where you go into a cave, and there's these two massive tower doors that just will not open (if you use the cheats you can actually move them off the wall, and see that there is nothing behind them). This is speculated to be the place where The Lost Vale actually starts.

A bunch of screen shots were released, as well as scans of the one box that was created for the game (check out some details here). So we've got a game, a box, but no distribution. I was kind of hoping it would be included in the Ultima Collection, released back in 1998 (Shit, has it been that long?), but no dice. As far as I'm aware, Ultima creator and grand poobah Lord British (aka Richard Garriott) has no actual say in its distribution, and EA aren't coughing up.

We've got the internet now (well, more developed internet). You can charge people money for downloading one-off files. I'd hate to think that a major company like EA wouldn't archive its work properly. If the game is in the can, and ready to rock, why doesn't EA just offer it as a download package, and make a bunch of us nerds happy with very little effort?

Come on. Hook us up!

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